Finding myself in a strange time zone (Tulsa, OK) this week and not able to sleep, I passed the time surfing the hotel's 20-some-odd TV channels. My God, there are a lot of nuts, bigots and radicals out there. I had no idea that there were so many people that think they have the answers to the country's (and world's) problems but who clearly have no clue. Yes, some seemed quite sane, but for too many of the others, I wonder where they got their education and why CNN gives them airtime. Cynically, I expect that giving airtime to these radicals sells soap. My biggest issue is with a CNN newscaster who was fear mongering like the water had risen in Atlanta to the point where it was splashing around her chin. She frothed that people all over the country were panicking as their 401Ks, retirement funds, kid's school money and life savings were dissolving before their eyes... Ah, it's no wonder ordinary people are panicked. I guess I forgot that too many people get their education from watching late-night movies. Unless the Republicans privatize Social Security, it's still paying benefits and will do so for some time--most entitlement programs are totally unaffected by the financial crisis. Yes, your 401K, SEP or IRA might have lost value, but it might also have a cash component that's drawing a low interest rate. It's time to HOLD those stocks, not sell them. Those that sell DO lose value. It's too late to sell. As far as that spare cash earning a low rate of return, it's wise (in my opinion) to move it INTO stocks that have a good long-term future. Today is not a replay of "It's a Wonderful Life" where banks were not insured.
On "entitlement" programs. Ah folks, being near retirement and having paid into Social Security since 1965 when I entered the workforce (that's 43 years), take umbrage at those that think of Social Security as some sort of welfare. Yes, (unlike government workers like Congressmen and Senators and their staff) I was forced to put part of my wages aside in anticipation of drawing the principle back out now that I'm of age. Yes, if I had invested the money myself or the government had put it in private hands I would have very little at this point and the country would be more panicky than it is.
What I also found in the USA Today dropped at my doorstep was a full-page ad placed by the NRA that all but fomented outright hatred of the Democratic ticket and might, just might, push some ignorant nut over the edge to take his "hunting" assault rife and kill someone. I hope to God that it doesn't. IMHO, the NRA should stick to making America safer for everyone--that does not mean putting weapons in the hands of every school kid, college student, teacher, lawyer, ignoramus or Supreme Court justice who feel its their right to shoot first when threatened--or when they even think they are threatened.
I also saw some very frightened people on TV who have been convinced by the passionate Republican rhetoric that Senator Obama is fundamentally evil and not to be trusted any more than some 60's radical terrorist. Some elderly woman in a Republican town hall revival got up, and in a trembling voice said Senator Obama was "...a ... an Arab!". Yes, Senator McCain said, "No, he's an honorable man", but he did not deny that Senator Obama was an Arab. He went back to his speech to further vilify Senator Obama. But what if Senator Obama is an Arab? He's not, but what if he were? What possible difference would it make? These same people think Jesus was white and probably from somewhere in Ohio. Clearly, the "heartland" of the country is still infected with the cancer of racism, ignorance and outright stupidity. Perhaps an Arab would know how to deal with the crisis in the mid-east better than one raised under the guidance of a Navy Admiral that was rarely home. No, the Republican apparatchik running the McCain campaign are not stupid or ignorant but they do know how to whip up the fears of these folks who were convinced to vote for the worst President in the history of the United States because he was on "God's side" or he had better morals than Senator Carey or Senator Gore. They're trying to do it again. Their powerful friends that circle Washington like so many remora know this too.
Personally, I object to the term "Red State" or "Blue State". If you plot the distribution of Democrats and Republicans from the last Presidential election on a precinct basis, you'll see a very different picture. It makes it clear to me that too many Republican supporters are from states where education is slipping, or slanted. Several sites have re-plotted this data to better represent the data visually--to give one a clearer idea of the distribution of the voters and how really close the last election was. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/ is an example. IMHO, it shows that in rural areas, the Republicans do better. Closer to cities, universities and other places where more educated people live (and vote), the Democrats win. CNN is still using this either/or (Red or Blue) approach for some of their maps but have changed some presentations to show shades of blue and red. Too bad their commentators are so radically biased--toward insanity and hyperbole.
The biggest problem as I see it, is if either Senator is elected, the country will be more divided than ever--thanks to the filth, carefully couched bigotry, lies and manipulations of the truth excreted past the sphincter muscles of both parties. I really worry that either candidate might be assassinated even before they took office given the inflammatory rhetoric. And if McCain is assassinated we would be faced with the first President who speaks in tongues, but barely knows the names of the Supreme Court justices--a person who would be ideal for the same Republican apparatchik manipulating the campaign and who have manipulated the Presidency for eight years.
I think that we as a country need to regain the moral high ground. This is not to say we as individuals or as a country are better than others but we live by our faith in God--Moslem and Christian, Jew and Buddhist, and all the rest. Frankly, we're not--not enough of us at least. It's ignorant and blasphemous to insist we're the "best" country. We're not. We might have been, but that age has long since gone. We don't learn from history, but that's a common failing. We no longer manufacture much of what we wear, the electronics we use, and too little of what we eat. Does that makes us better? Does consuming more than any other country (more than some entire continents), being more obese, wasting more, polluting more, imprisoning more make us better? Does killing and wounding tens of thousands a year with guns make us better? Does spending billions on wars but a tiny fraction of that on peace make us better? Is a country where impaired drivers kill more than 40,000 people a year and where we lose more young people to drugs make us a better country? Does having an ever-growing teenage pregnancy rate, or being are responsible for eliminating more species than any country, or having the biggest corruption scandals make us better? Does electing the worst President in history (twice) make the United States best? Our workers kill themselves trying to be productive--and they are, but Congress has moved millions of their jobs overseas--does that make us the best or the most exploited by the wealthy? Our elected government has permitted China to get a death-grip on our economy by opening the doors wide to their often shoddy, unsafe and contaminated imports built in factories where the workers are paid like slaves (or are slaves pulled from their prisons). Does this make the US better? Does electing a Congress that makes anti-corruption and anti pork rules only to ignore them to benefit their political supporters and lobbyists make us a better country? Hardly. We as a country, torture, imprison and extradite anyone we want to off to who knows where; places where US laws can't protect them. Until extraordinary rendition and torture is stopped and those who perpetrated these crimes are themselves sent to Guantanamo or to one of the gulags the CIA has created, we cannot call ourselves a moral country.
It's tough (very tough) to be proud of a country that can't seem to understand that it's not a good idea to elect men and women based on the color of their skin when their heart is black. No one is perfect. Clearly, no one expects an elected official to be pure. We do expect them to be honest--more honest than me. I expect them to be smart--smarter than me. I also expect them to be a better leader than me. Electing a good-ole' boy because he or she grew up in a small town and was confronted with small-town or small state problems is not enough. Electing someone like me, like many of us, is neither wise nor a way back to solid moral leadership.
As I see it the problem might just boil down to a failed education system. Today, thanks to "No child left behind" our schools are corrupted with lesson plans purged of the curriculum that teaches our young people to think for themselves, how to tolerate each other and live in peace. Nowhere does the curriculum teach them to know the difference between the truth and a lie or the gray area in between. As a result, our uninformed adults are easily swayed by politicians and TV ads. Too many sit around coffee shops and beer halls spouting off ignorant racial slurs and bemoan the state of the country but continue to elect the same people that put the country where it is.
We see too many of our kids and young adults are programmed by the media for immediate gratification, to consume, to yearn for goods they can't afford so they go into debt or rebel as they try to fit into this hedonistic consumer society. Some revert to crime and others rack up monstrous debt and the banks and payday loan companies prey on their ignorance and sloth--and the government lets them. High school graduates (and some college graduates) are too ignorant to know how to balance a checkbook, fix a faucet or change a tire or keep themselves healthy without quack medicines--and the drug companies prey on their ignorance--and the government lets them. Kids are encouraged in every magazine and film to have sex but our schools, and parents don't help them learn how to keep from getting pregnant. At the same time, churches and "moralists" are promoting abstinence while the schools are too frightened of the churches to teach birth control. The result is more ignorant kids having ignorant kids.
To me, the moral high ground means that we as a country make it possible for everyone who wants an education gets one--an education free of religiously or politically-guided dictums, at least a practical education that teaches life skills. How to study, how to read a contract, how to negotiate, how to save and how to spend wisely, how to build credit, how to give a good day's work, how to get and keep a job, how to use basic hand-tools, how to fix and maintain the stuff we buy, how we as citizens got to this point in time, what mistakes we made in the past, how to share, how to build and tear down, how to be a friend or partner or lover, how to conserve, how to clean and be clean, how to play fairly, how to keep our bodies strong and healthy, how and what to eat, how to read, write and review critically, how to listen and speak intelligently, how to understand and tolerate other points of view, how to lead and how to follow, how to love and treat others with compassion, how to be generous, how to be wealthy and what to do if you're poor. We also need to teach our citizens what they need to do to makes a good, moral, strong and safe country and how the US can be that country once again. Along the way we need to teach math, science, literature, art and philosophy as well as help kids learn sports and teamwork--even those too unskilled or physically unable to play.
We also need to learn how to tolerate, accommodate and live alongside others that are different. In my opinion, our nation's diversity is a great strength and one of our greatest challenges. We need to learn that being straight or gay or lesbian, a man, a woman or something in-between does not have to mean anything in particular. It does not mean that individual or couple does not value the sanctity of a personal union or the devotion to naturally born or adopted children. It does not make them unfit for service or any particular job. I also does not give one the right to inflict their point of view on others who might not agree with their point of view. Yes, it's hard to tolerate someone that's different but we've fought too many wars and lost too many lives over intolerance.
Yes, I also believe religious education, proselytizing and indoctrination should be performed at a place of worship or in the home, not in the public schools, on the floor of Congress or in the workplace. Wanting to achieve the moral high ground means we don't imprison or persecute people for addictions, or being poor, not agreeing with our point of view or not being educated. I think we should treat the addicted, ban addictive products (or at least stop subsidizing them), discussing our differences and providing basic education to the ignorant. It also means we as a nation don't torture or kill those we imprison--regardless of the crime or how much information we think they know or how evil their crime. It means we make the nation's courts available to everyone. It means we figure out how to accept those that want to visit our country to work without criminalizing them. It means we treat everyone fairly regardless of their sex, sexual orientation,race, creed, color or the country where they were born. It means that we attempt to accept that every religion thinks it's the only true faith and they have a right to think so. Ironically, most of the world religions worship the same God but I believe those that don't are also children of God and should be tolerated as such. No one should force their beliefs on another--not even if the belief is "democracy". It means we don't permit individuals or companies to promote, sell or distribute products that are harmful to our citizens or the citizens of any country. It means we don't impose our addictions, hatred, greed or intolerance on others. It means we tell the truth. It means we don't distort the truth or hide the facts when we're caught. It means we plead guilty when we are and innocent when we are.
The moral high ground also means we treat our planet with the same deference we treat our own bed. It means we don't foul its air, water or pillage its resources. It means we leave room for the plants and animals that God place here and placed in our stewardship. It means we do everything we can to leave the Earth as God gave it to use so those that inherit it (our own children) have a safe, clean, healthy place to live--and don't curse us for the filth we left behind.
I truly believe that if we don't come together as a country and address these problems, we are doomed to repeat history and follow one great civilization after another that have slipped into anarchy and destruction. The ignorant, unwashed masses are at the innocent pawns and soldiers of those who would pillage the country, sucking out it's blood to feed their greed, lust and avarice. The educated and caring are carried up into the conflagration as often they're too lazy, complacent or ineffectual to do anything about it until it's too late.