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Has America Jumped the Shark?

On the Road to Ruin?

by DON MONKERUD

America is on the "road to ruin," according to a former political candidate and TV entertainer, who rants about "danger" and "insanity." This Fox employee claims America is engaged in a struggle between "socialism" and "freedom and free markets," and that President Obama threatens to destroy our sacred capitalistic values.

Unfortunately too many Americans share this perception. While the commentator sounds daffy, headlines raise questions about the deep divisions that threaten to rip America asunder. Examples abound. They reveal political forces at work, common sense pushed aside, and ordinary people ignored.

Despite empty praise about the U.S. being "the best county in the world," an International Monetary Fund comparison of the advanced economies of the world, focused on income equality, employment, democracy, life expectancy, wellbeing, food security, prison population, and student performance, ranks the U.S. 33rd. Do these trends bode well for the future?

Meanwhile, we convert public policy to a dollar value. For example, policymakers are currently debating the price of a human life. As the price of a human life appreciates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues for changing the rules from a cost-benefit analysis, which they’ve always advocated as necessary to prove the benefit of any proposed regulation, to a standard more favorable to business. Should money be the deciding factor when making decisions about public safety?

Recent scientific studies link heavy precipitation and floods to global warming. Proving the planet is warming was difficult in the past because scientists said it was hard to distinguish between climate change and extremely bad weather, hence computer modeling, scoffed at by climate change deniers. Will we wait too long to curb our carbon footprint before catastrophe strikes?

The House Judiciary Committee in South Dakota overwhelmingly approved a law making a homicide "justifiable" if committed in the defense of an unborn child. Touted as a way to discourage abortion by allowing doctors to be killed, the law was shelved, but not before invoking public anger on all sides. Should politicians debate the moral right to kill based on an individual’s religious preferences?

The Obama Administration conducted a study to determine what would happen if terrorists set off a nuclear bomb. While this is a highly unlikely event, the report engenders fear that leads to trading freedom for security. Supposedly, staying in your car after a nuclear blast cuts lethal radiation by 50 percent. Should the U.S. return to Cold War days when children were taught to crouch beneath their school desks in case of nuclear war?

Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry proposes to cut the state education budget by $5 billion, eliminating junior colleges, scholarship programs, and cutting teachers’ benefits. He plans to lay off almost 10,000 state workers, but saves money for abstinence-only programs in a state that ranks third highest in teenage pregnancy, 47th in literacy, 49th in verbal SAT scores, and 46th in math scores. Can Texas prosper with an even less educated population?

An additional 42 states cut college funding, resulting in higher tuition and fewer students. Arizona eliminated preschool for 4,328 children; Colorado slashed 5 percent, or $400 per student, from its budget; and Michigan reduced its spending $165 per student. Hawaii is shortening its school year by 17 days; Missouri eliminated school busing for 565,000 students; and New Jersey cut programs for 11,000 students. Some states attack teachers’ unions and cry for more cuts, raising questions about the role of public education in our society. Should we support public education?

Although conservatives call for more cuts, none of them mention Republicans forcing President Obama to protect the high incomes of our nation’s wealthiest. The deal to extend Bush tax cuts creates a deficit of $3.7 trillion over ten years. While such cuts are supposed to create jobs, America’s 500 largest non-financial corporations are hoarding $2 trillion in cash and corporate profits grew 36 percent in 2010, while hiring plummeted. Tax breaks are used to increase CEO pay and expand corporate monopolies. Does this support the common good?

More than 30,000 people die in the U.S. from gunshots every year and over 60,000 are wounded. With almost a million people shot every decade, the National Rifle Association resists even common sense laws to regulate guns. Is this about "the right to bare arms" or is it an orgy of self-destruction?

While a cartoon claims, "Americans are not ready for Egyptian-style democracy," we move beyond democracy and the ability of voters to influence public policy. We now have a corporate-controlled and operated government, influenced by over 10,000 lobbyists. Is this progress?

Corporations continue to promote a survival-of-the-fittest, laissez-faire, free-enterprise capitalism, pushed by brilliant marketing firms employing think tanks to sway public opinion. Did their globalization, anti-tax, deregulation, and privatization agenda create the wealthy elite and the deep depression?

Far from being "on the road to ruin," America is engaged in a huge struggle over its future. Will we become a society devoted entirely to business with radically different living standards for rich and poor, or will we pull together to make a better life for all? Which will fulfill the great promise of America?

DON MONKERUD is an Aptos, California-based writer.