Classic and Pretender

The 3/15/10 TPP happened to contain references to two works of American literature, one a true classic, and the other a pretender.

Garrison Keillor’s description of The Catcher in the Rye as “slender” is a diplomatically crafted understatement with which I wholeheartedly agree. J.D. Salinger’s book is 190 pages of this mixed-up misfit who gets kicked out of school and wanders around New York City. On page after page, chapter after chapter, all he does is whine and complain about people who drive him crazy and people he can’t stand. Long before the book comes to a merciful end, the author/narrator has become one of those people. The only relief is when you find out what the title means, but, other than sounding good, it is as pointless as the rest of the book.

The Ryder Miller piece about John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and Rich Wartzman’s book about Steinbeck and his great novel was of particular interest to me because The Grapes of Wrath has been my all-time favorite book ever since I first read it in the mid-1960s.

Steinbeck’s words are eerily prescient and applicable to the mood in America today. Eight years of Republican mismanagement, mendacity, incompetence, and warmongering have left our economy, and the general socio-economic aspect of the country, in a virtual shambles. The people are impatient and fed up. We see a Democrat take over, and in the 14 short months he has been in office, he does a less than perfect job of cleaning up the Republican mess. The people are angry, and desperate, and afraid. And now we read that there is at least a fair possibility that a Republican — God help us — will be back in the White House after 2012. The Republican will do nothing, of course, and it will become increasingly obvious that Democrats and Republicans are equally useless when it canes to serving the people who pay their salaries.

In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck could have had a vision of the United States in 2010 when he wrote: “There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success ... And in the eyes of the people there is the failure, and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

John F. Dacey
Lowell, Mass.

Save School Jobs

Jen Jackson tells us the financial woes of the school district in Moab, Utah [“When School Budgets Get Cut to the Bone, What then?” 4/1/10 TPP]. This story is, unfortunately, repeated across the nation. The cause is the Great Recession. The cure is sure to be a changed economy. Many who have lost their jobs will not find new ones in the same industry. In the meantime governments both local and state must find new ways to accomplish their goals. There are only four ways: cut programs and associated employment, cut employment across the board or reduce pay across the board, or raise taxes.

While no one wants their pay cut, the alternatives are worse. By reducing pay for higher-level employees of government (or any suffering entity) everyone keeps their job. This maintains the level of service and has the especially important added benefit of keeping them out of the unemployment lines where competition will be keen for years to come.

This has been proposed by a school board member in Mecklenburg County, N.C. (Charlotte), where it is opposed by the superintendent who would, it seems, rather lay off teachers than have the pay of administration reduced.

Lewis Guignard, Jr.
Crouse, N.C.

What About Special Ed?

Special Education was not mentioned in Jen Jackson’s article “When School Budgets Get Cut to the Bone, What then?” [4/1/10 TPP].

The 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a seriously flawed piece of legislation because it never defined the word education and it never stated the competencies and skills educated adults should be expected to have.

If I stay at home and teach my child how to brush his teeth, I am a mother. If I send him to school and he is taught this skill it is funded and labeled as education. The teaching of self-help skills is not education. It is another totally different service given in the context of a school setting. We need an educational summit to define the word education and to state how the teaching of self-help skills should be labeled and funded. Teachers should not be paid to teach self help skills. You pay a professional salary to a person who has professional duties and responsibilities. ...

The most costly education in the country is going to this [special education] population. From September 2008 to June 2009, 60 students from the Northport, N.Y., School District were sent to special education programs in Western Suffolk County, N.Y., Board of Cooperative Educational Services. The per-student cost for a 10-month school year was approximately $84,327. This did not include the cost of their summer school education.

If educational budgets are being discussed, special education has to be included.

Jane Goldblatt
East Northport, N.Y.

Republicans Don’t Like Government

In “GOP Senators Still Like to Spend” [4/1/10 TPP], John Nichols questions the commonly accepted idea that there is little display of bipartisanship by giving examples of the GOP’s joining with Democrats around funding — job creation particularly. His answer is that Republicans who also joined to fund war, and bail out banks, just don’t want to spend on health reform. They are held back by the insurance and pharma lobbyists and campaign donors. I suggest a deep ideological difference between the parties affect bipartisanship. The Republicans tend to see government as the problem, not the solution for economic policies, preferring to rely on the market as the key source and engine for economic policy. Democrats see government involvement as enhancing policies for the common good of all. So Republicans could easily agree on funding a jobs bill that was free of ideological difference. But health reform brings up the huge role of government in the lives of everyone and can be seen by some as a threat of regulatory control of market forces. For others, generally Democratic, government has a benign implication to limit excess profiteering. To me the working out of their ideological differences depends on whether both sides can become, in the renowned philosopher Tony Judt’s recent words, “statesmen who, regardless of its members’ political leanings, represented a political class deeply sensitive to its moral and social responsibilities” (New York Times, 3/17/10).

Sid Moss
Elkins Park, Pa.

Ancient Scripture

Don Rollins’ article, “Devil in a True Guess” [3/15/10 TPP], urges liberals to become theologically literate so as to be able to better refute the Religious Right on religious issues. But he also says, basically, that the Bible is “ancient scripture” that shouldn’t be taken as “the last word for policy making.” If that is true, then to what is a liberal to look for the last word “of God” for modern policymaking? Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal? Karl Marx? Donald Trump?

At one time, the Bible was cited to justify slavery. Martin Luther King Jr. used it to justify civil rights. It all depends on how the Bible is understood — or not.

Then there are people who don’t know or believe the Bible (or any “ancient scripture”). Are they then not citizens with rights or valid opinions that should be heard? And how many real scriptural arguments have the major media bloviators used to justify their outrageous claims? Yet they blab on and on and on anyway. But liberals can — and do — back up what they say with valid arguments and truths and it’s — “just a liberal’s opinion.”

The right wing even proves its erroneous thinking with terrible results and — somehow — no one calls them on it! They just keep on being more outrageous. Proverbs 26 ought to take care of the whole bunch. But, of course, it’s “irrelevant to today’s situation” because it’s “ancient scripture.”

I rest my case.

Cheryl Lovely
Presque Isle, Maine

You Set Bar Too Low

Your editorial, “Reform We Can Build On” [4/15/10 TPP], was disappointing. This is not something we can build on; it is an abomination. The attitude portrayed in your editorial is exactly why we get stuck with legislation such as the recently signed health care law which is, at its core, a Republican bill. I suspect that the Democratic rank and file who are singing its praises would be railing against it had it been passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican president.

Trusting insurance companies to follow the letter and spirit of this weak legislation is naive, and expecting those of us who know what good health care reform looks like to accept this bill as reform insults our intelligence. It won’t be long before the repercussions of this legislation will hit the fan, and I fear the blowback will be felt on election day. If this legislation is the first step to anything, it is to strengthening the grip of the insurance industry and ensuring its dominion over the realm of health care in this country. The majority of voters support a single-payer system or, at the very least, a strong public option. But corporate America was at the table and we the people were not.

In contrast to your editorial, an excellent piece that appeared in the same TPP edition is David Sirota’s “What’s the Matter with Democrats?” His points were spot on. Also, check out an article that my husband, Ron Stouffer, and I wrote for the April issue of CommonSense2.com — “No Insurance Company Left Behind.”

Ron and I also serve as Berks County, Pa., coordinators for HealthCare4AllPA.org. Volunteers like us can be found across Pennsylvania and in several other states, promoting passage of single-payer legislation at the state level. As I see it, that’s where real health care reform will occur.

Rosie Skomitz
Reading, Pa.

Predatory Health Reform

The health insurance reform act could have been passed in parts without letting the predators get their hands on us and our money. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But there is so much imbalance that you can drive a truck through it. Women are downplayed by this law. They can be charged three to five times more than men. [Editor’s Note: the law bans “gender rating” or sex discrimination, for individuals and small businesses, effective in 2014, according to the National Women’s Law Center.] Also, note that while people wait for anything to kick in, the insurance cartel are upping the cost of their protection, which will really protect women. Look what they did for Mr. Stupak. ... The predators get what they want and the public gets zilch. I am very impressed by hot air. Someone will say health care centers. But you can’t get mammograms there, or abortions there, or laser eye surgery, or any other procedure that costs more than you have. So it’s either sell your body parts or your kids or sell your wife or get two jobs just to pay for health.

Don’t worry about your house, it will soon be on the block and you can join the other displaced people in the park. Great thing, this health cartel bill. One payer is better. The administration claims that it will save millions of dollars over so many years. What if I say the government could save about $400 billion in savings annually — enough to cover all the uninsured and upgrade the rests of the people of the United States. Not a public option. But a one-payer that would do everything this administration wants and much, much more. If you are going to go for reform, go all the way to one payer. Not to reform the reform.

S. Einhorn
Tampa, Fla.

Corporate Fix

In the 4/15/10 TPP, Bob Burnett raised my expectations with the bold headline “Dangerous Visions for Desperate Times.” Then, his #1 idea was to reform campaign finances. Okay, so a few hundred corporate behemoths, mostly in the military, financial, medical, and agribusinesses, control the Congress through campaign contributions. But, if we reform campaign financing, will that end the cronyism and corruption? Will they still have thousands of lobbyists? Will they still be able to run “issue ads” and websites that convince most people that cows raised on corn and antibiotics are good food? And that permanent war is normal and provides lots of good jobs for Americans? Reforming campaign financing is a lame palliative, not a dangerous vision.

These are desperate times, and they call for grander visions than Mr. Burnett’s. We need a full frontal assault on monopoly capitalism, starting with the elimination of “corporate personhood.” This arcane and obviously absurd legal concept reached its apotheosis in the recent Citizens United decision that took the lid off corporate campaign spending. The Supreme Court invented corporate personhood out of thin air in 1886 in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific RR. Whenever they have a right-wing majority on the Court, they add to this dubious legal edifice. Corporations now have the right to be free from searches by government agents, the right to a jury trial, and they get a whole lot more “due process” than your average street criminal.

It will take a constitutional amendment to end a century and a quarter of bad case law. We need an amendment that says no corporation or other artificial entity (robots, clones, etc.) shall be construed to have the rights of a live human person under the law. This would put corporations back into the legal status they had before 1886, when state legislatures actually had the power to regulate them and limit their size. Go to Movetoamend.org for more information and sign the petition!

Steve McGuire
Galena, Ill.

Equal Responsibilities for Corporations

In the equalization of individual rights with corporations, let us include the right to pay a graduated income tax; better, let us all use the same tax form.

George Ross McCombe
Jersey City, N.J.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2010


News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2010 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652