April 17, 2006

The American Dream May Become Just That: A Product of Sleep!

As graduation time approaches for many college seniors this year, I wonder how many of them realize the burden the older generations have placed on them. There's lot of talk about education and how beneficial it is, not only for the individual to better his lot, but it's good for the whole nation to have educated citizens. But, access to education isn't easy, because it carries a big price tag; and, it's not getting any better. Not only the US is losing talent to other countries but we are not producing enough engineers and scientists. Fewer people go into the creative arts too, as there's a prevailing cultural attitude that sends young people into fields "where the money is." The conservative bend the country has taken under the current national political leadership is producing a deficit in the three "T"s--Technology, Talent, Tolerance. It is my contention that you need all three "T"s to be a leader and a prosperous country especially in this inter-connected world.

The income gap between the bottom 20% and the top 20% was 30 fold in the 1960s. Today, it's over 70 fold! Obviously there's been a re-distribution of wealth, and since no person operates in the vacuum of space, the national policies implemented in the last 40 years have established certain priorities and have benefits certain groups over others. The argument that rising water lifts all boats might be true, except that in the US the yachts have risen while the rickety boats are sinking. Real wages, or, in other words, the buying power of the mid & lower strata has decreased in the same period. Many Americans have taken a paycut while our economy grew.

What would you say if told that there's a country that has the second highest GDP (behind Luxemburg) but because of its inequality in the distribution of this wealth, this country ranks dead last among all advanced industrialized nations? Not good! Wait, it gets worse! That country is dead last also in fighting poverty! Among the same rich countries, it has the highest percentage of its people that live on half or less the median income. If this isn't a skewed way to divvy up the national wealth, I don't know what is. The working poor and the middle class in our country find it harder and harder to achieve their American dream since the doors of opportunity are fewer today. The commonwealth, the public avenues, the common good are all under attack.

Millions of Americans did achieve their American dream because they could read at the public library when they couldn't afford to buy books. They could go to public schools, and on to higher education, which was public and inexpensive. The GI Bill was a great success--not only in broadening people's horizons through education, but for every federal dollar spend, the economy got $2 back from having an educated and more wealth-producing generation. What happened to this notion of the common good? We've seen a huge surplus turn into a huge deficit in a just few years time, while there are ever increasing cuts in education and in funds that support the commonwealth, that is, all those good things that make a positive difference in the "average person's" life.

The report by the American Political Science Association makes it clear that "increasing inequalities threaten the American ideal of equal citizenship and that progress toward real democracy may have stalled in this country and even reversed." Further, a quarter of all whites in this country have no financial assets, the median white household has 62% more income and twelve times as much wealth as the median black household and that 61% of blacks in this country and half of all Latinos have no financial assets at all!

The illusion that still holds well in this country is that anyone can become anything he/she wants. But, mobility in America has become a myth. Surely, there are exceptions, and we all know of someone who came from very low and rose to heights. But, if we examine the nation as a whole, it's been very hard (impossible to millions of Americans) to climb to economic ladder. Our national leaders speak of an agenda that would further shrink the social services, the scope of the commonwealth, and those mostly affected are the ones with the fewer means. The rich don't need a universal-coverage healthcare system, they don't need libraries, they don't need loans or scholarships to go to college, they don't need the subways & buses to run on time; don't need them at all as a matter of fact.

Yet, our elected leaders who shape our national agenda manage to convince Americans to vote against the latter's own interests! No wonder why the elites want a largerly un- or under-educated public. It's easier to confuse it with a bumper-sticker approach to complicated issues. Sadly, many college graduates are failing the test of citizenship by not being interested & engaged in the political affairs of our country. Politics reflects the people involved in the process, and democracy is as good as the quality of the people. Aristotle characterized politics in the normative sense--as the ultimate duty of a citizen; as the activity in which responsible people ought to be engaged in.

The American dream was about opportunities, about pride in a country as the leader of the free world, about personal & national prosperity, and individual choice and self-fulfillment. Instead our graduates are facing job prospects with lower pay, longer hours, no pensions & health insurance, and a national debt that amounts to $30,000 for every American! [did I hear: bring in the immigrants to share some of this burden] Of course there is hope, but hope for action won't happen by itself. We have to face our problems and deal with them in a responsible way. Dreaming about something we want won't make it so until we decide to wake up and face reality. Otherwise, the American dream will be just that, a dream.

April 12, 2006

A Little Poli Sci Humor

I've seen several versions of the "political science as two-cows", but this one is quite good.

April 06, 2006

The Uneducated Future

How many of our youth must be lost before this nation recognizes that the most important investment in the world is guaranteeing a fulfilling future for the next generation? Education is the most important tool and/or catalyst to reaching life goals. However, believe it or not countless thousands in the United States cannot afford higher education. The lucky ones who can afford to go to school do so baring a much larger burden than their parents once did. An average college student today works two jobs, goes to school full time and relies very heavily on state assistance. The Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) budget has been recently cut and now president Bush is proposing to cut into the most widely used assistance: Federal Loans. About 40 of college students receive the assistance of Stafford and/or Perkins Loans. These loans are extremely valuable because they are provided by the government and have low interest rates. If these loans are cut many will no longer be able to attend College. With the astronomical increase in tuition costs and the continuous cuts in assistance, soon college will be a luxury only afforded to the nations wealthy.
On Monday April 3 Congresswomen Nita Lowey cam e to Pace University to speak to faculty and students about it the importance of investing in this nations youth. The Congresswomen spoke about the many students that would need to incur if it were not for these loans. Lowey also stressed the need for more government action to protect against the reduction and or eradication of federal loan programs. “This is one investment that this country needs to make,” the Congresswomen said and it is quite clearly the truth.
In the end, though it is wonderful to know that some of the nations legislative branch is fighting for our future, we as college students must recognize our importance and find our voice in this struggle for an educated future. Since these legislation impact the youth of this nation the most, it is that same youth that must be heard most loudly.
Know you might be asking: what can I do about this. The answer is that you can do a whole lot. First do a little internet serving about loan cuts or go onto Congresswomen Nita Lowey’s website and see what bills she is fighting against, or lobby for that pertain to education. You should also exercise your right to free speech and contact your local senator. Call them and tell them that you are urging them not to support any legislation that cuts federal loans. Don not be intimidated by calling your local officials, because they really work for you. These officials are elected and you are the one who has power over that so take it. You could also start a petition on campus etc. I think you get my drift that there really is a whole slew of different things you can do. So do not let this nation’s future lose their right, or yours, to a better tomorrow.

April 03, 2006

Motherhood and Apple Pie Still Popular in the US

The other day I attended a Congressional luncheon by the Westchester Community Affairs (WCA). The best part of the affair was the food. The three House members present made a few remarks about the Indian Point nuclear plant, immigration, healthcare, and how hard everybody works to bring good things to life. Obviously this wasn't a symposium whereas a good debate would take place, nor it was the place to acquire knowledge. The elected officials didn't really make news, nor did they fall outside their wide platitudes of all things to all people.

On Indian Point all agreed that there have been serious violations and safety
concerns. The agencies charged with supervising our nuclear plants are dominated by industry insiders and have the efficiency of heck-of-a-job Brownie's FEMA. So, the 20 million people within 50 miles of this plant still face a grave threat. I suppose that the nuclear plants are here to stay as the President's vision of the future (in addition to a Rapturist view) reveals. On healthcare, the most pointed remarks against the failed system and the few who make multi-million dollar bonuses for keeping the rest of us holding the screw came from the WCA's director C. Mooney. The responses from those in-the-know were targeted at blaming the "wrong-doers" but not much in terms of fixing a healthcare system that costs so much and leaves so many Americans unprotected. There were some ideas for yet a few more patches in a worn & small-sized quilt that leaves too many of us exposed. No one wants to talk about a single-payer, universal health care system. We spend 17% of GNP on healthcare, more than any other country. Canada and Switzerland come in second place as the big spenders with 12% and with universal coverage. I wonder how many more Americans are at risk from an inadequate health care system than they are from the deadliest terrorists...

Speaking of terrorists, all are for a secure border, whatever it takes. Never mind that the terrorists didn't need to climb a fence, dig a tunnel, cross a desert, to get in here and do their work on 9-11. We couldn't wisely use our laws and tools at our disposal to prevent the attacks, so instead of being smarter we built a bigger bureaucracy, named it in Orwellian fashion, The Dept. of Homeland Security, and passed draconian laws to make us less free. Immigration poses a threat to our way of life, our economy, our culture, they tell us. Most of the arguments today aren't new at all. They've been re-circulating every so often since the 1800s! A bad law doesn't address reality, and if we get a bad law today it'll stay on the books for a very long time. Maybe DeLay's disgraceful departure from the House will open the door for some fresh air this November.

Like millions of Americans who break the law by buying prescription drugs from Canada, the undocumented immigrants skirt a bad immigration law that's even worse in its application & enforcement. In the din of the forks & knives hitting the china, there was agreement in the room against giving amnesty "to those who broke the law." Though, I think I heard some murmur from the waiting staff, and then I thought that those remarks should have been delivered after all the food and drinks had been served. Having a full stomach, I wanted to ask those upper class people why they've already given amnesty to themselves and to all American businesses that have benefited from this hard-working and underpaid labor pool....

Anyway, I can say that there were many well-intentioned people present and it was nice meeting some of them. I hope I'm invited to the next WCA's Congressional luncheon, because I don't often get to have such a scrumptious food for lunch. And, you know, working in the academia makes one very hungry.