Zera's Blog

A Citizen's View from Main Street

Becoming Aware of Civic Unawareness


education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The United States was founded on the premise that the people could rule themselves without theocracy or aristocracy. Government of, by, and for the masses – int the rich and powerful. It is called The Great Experiment, and its success depends on a well-educated electorate. Sufficiently educated to understand not only  the system that we have, but why we have it and how it works. And how it doesn’t.

The preparation of the voter so that he might express his opinion by means of the ballot, thus insuring political liberty, was one of the main goals of Jefferson’s plan for education which asserted four basic principles:

  • that democracy cannot long exist without enlightenment.
  • that it cannot function without wise and honest officials.
  • that talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition.
  • that the children of the poor must be thus educated at common expense.

http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/winter96/jefferson.html

Jefferson believed the elementary school was more important than the university in the plan because, as he said, it was “safer to have the whole people respectfully enlightened than a few in a high state of science and many in ignorance as in Europe” (as cited in Peterson, 1960, p. 241). He had six objectives for primary education to bring about this enlightenment and which highlighted what he hoped would make every person into a productive and informed voter:

  • To give every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business;
  • To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing;
  • To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;
  • To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;
  • To know his rights; to exercize with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;
  • And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.

The state of Jeffersonian enlightenment in the realm of civic responsibility and the promotion of a healthy democracy is deplorable. The country is full of jingoists and poser patriots, passionate to defend what they do not understand – and are therefore easily mislead.

We have been encouraged to value wealth over community, and the accumulation of wealth over patriotism. Citizenship has ceased to be a code of honor and is now reduced to simply a legal status.

The problem of civic illiteracy is not something new, but it is finally getting periodic bursts of recognition.

Asserting that democracy is not inherited at birth but rather learned in school, O’Connor founded the educational nonprofit group iCivics in 2009 to secure America’s governance and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor seeks to reverse America’s decline in civics

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Plans are being developed to “address the problem”. I say that with a hint of sarcasm because they are still treating it as a mere lesson to be learned. I think the solution will need to stress participation as much as scholarship.

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May 29, 2012 Posted by | Education, Elections, Governance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Madison Protests: It’s Not About the Money



Over the past few years, I have likened the ideologica­l divide to a political civil war. The Democrats still embrace the Federalist view of government while the republican­s now embrace the anti-Feder­alist perspectiv­e.

“The accumulati­on of all powers, legislativ­e, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary­, self-appoi­nted, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
James Madison, Federalist 47

I am hoping that in this attack on the working class, people see the republican­s as going a bridge too far. That this turns into a Ft. Sumter moment for working America.

The country cannot function with this much conservati­ve extremism and hostility. The checks and balances have all broken down. The country is in decline. The political conversati­on has become all about picking sides and bundled agendas. We are facing a Constituti­onal crisis.

We need a major event. Something to rally around. Something that can push us past the propaganda­. Something that can be used to make us take a serious look at ourselves and our future.

9/11 involved an external threat. It was irrelevant to a constitutional crisis.

We have two diverging interpretations of the Constitution. The liberal view is a more principled interpretation, which has benefited the general welfare of the country far better but still needs better definition of it’s limitations. The conservative view is a more literal interpretation, which is more appropriate to a sparsely populated isolationist society with an agrarian economy. Conservative policies have done real harm to this country for decades, and threaten to make our current problems insurmountable.

We need an event that will lead to something like a town hall constitutional convention. A widespread and in-depth public conversation on what we want and need the Constitution to mean. Only then can we decide with confidence how we want to enforce or amend it.

Ignoring the Constitution, or pretending it says something it does not, are not options in a nation of laws.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Direction, Economics, Government, Labor, Unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama: U.S. Businesses Have Responsibility To Hire American Workers, Pay Decent Wages



Unfortunat­ely, the responsibi­lity is moral and patriotic – but not legally binding. Businesses do not exist to benefit society or fuel the economy. They exist to make money. They have proven that they will not hesitate to poison people or put the country in jeopardy if they can profit from it.

In the end, a country is embodied by it’s citizens. We pay for the profits of businesses­, and for the consequenc­es of their failures. It is because, in the end, the people pay all the bills, because while businesses come and go the people still remain – and must deal with the messes businesses leave behind – that we the people have the real need and moral right to government by, for, and of the people. A government that is the instrument of the people, that offsets the power businesses have over the everyday lives of the people.

Only anarchists­, criminals, and enemies would advocate letting businesses run the country.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Economics, Government | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Congressman Paul Broun To Obama During SOTU Address: ‘You Believe In Socialism’



When anything done for the good of society is labeled “socialist­”, when citizenshi­p is reduced to nothing but a legal issue, where is the nation that one can take pride in? To what do patriots give their allegiance to? Corporatio­ns? Deeds of land?

I can see Broun pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States, but not to the Republic for which it stands.

There is certainly nothing of “indivisib­le” in his ideology.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

January 26, 2011 Posted by | Direction | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mike Huckabee Talks Smack about Public Servants


This image depicts the Territorial acquisition...

Image via Wikipedia

I think that the article missed the bigger story completely.

“Employees within the government always believe that it’s about more, more, more. It’s the number one word in any type of government bureaucracy.”

This is a fallacy of hasty generalization designed to demonize public employees. For some, “more” may mean meritocracy at work. For others, “more” may mean compensating for unfunded mandates.

“Every American business and every American family has had to make deep cuts in what they do. It is asking the government to do what they have been forcing on families and businesses.”

This is a fallacy of false cause designed to demonize government. It is also a straw man argument blaming the consequences of private sector corruption and failure on the government.

The biggest fallacy of all is in comparing the government to families or businesses. All three have different responsibilities, authorities, resources, and limitations. All three have different roles in society, and cannot be directly compared this way.

Huckabee Inadvertently Acknowledges Spending Cuts Will Cost Jobs

Is that all you read between the lines? Eternal vigilance, people.

Huckabee Inadvertently Acknowledges Spending Cuts Will Cost Jobs (VIDEO)

January 22, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Economics, Government | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Pays As Prudential Invests Troop Death Benefits


I saw this on broadcast news weeks ago. This story has a bit more background, but – Déjà vu.

The patriotism of the citizen soldier has been reduced to a profit center.

This country has lost it’s way. Citizenship has been reduced to a legal status. Communities have become virtual. For too many, the national motto has become: “In Gold We Trust”. or “Caveat Emptor.” We only partially speak the same language, using conflicting definitions at every turn.

When the Colonies broke away from British rule, we subtly changed the world. When we entered, WWII, we dramatically changed the world. But now, we have lost the grand uniting challenge. Our national character is beginning to reflect the character of our corporations, and that is a sad thing indeed. What is a nation of artificial persons, if not an unfeeling business model?

Do we send our sons and daughters to fight for the right to be bilked and defrauded by corporations? Or do we send them in harm’s way to defend the lives and rights and property of living citizens?

For too long, we have been devolving into a nation of plantation owners and carpetbaggers. The biggest buggy-whip economy in the world.

We are a nation divided. Divided by ideology, by purpose, by principle. Our national identity has become senile. We need to take a cold, hard look at who we want to be, and how we can realistically achieve it. Together. E pluribus Unum.

(Too over-the-top?)

After a service member dies in combat – including the more than 4,000 who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan – the Department of Veterans Affairs sends Prudential the full amount of each family’s life insurance coverage, usually $400,000.

Ninety-five percent of survivors paid by Prudential ask for lump-sum payments, the VA says. Since 1999, the company has sent out more than 60,000 Alliance Account checkbooks, instead of checks, covering more than $7 billion in death benefits when families asked for full payouts.

Prudential assumes the vast majority of mortality risk for the participants,” he says. “We also assume all of the investment risk.” He declined to elaborate on what the company’s insurance and investment risks are.
U.S. pays as Prudential invests troop death benefits

The problem is that this is not insurance. This is bookkeeping. This is the government outsourcing the payment of benefits to a company that is refusing to honor lump-sum payment requests so they can profit from holding other people’s money.

Terminate the contract. Open it to competitive bidding. Better yet, let the VA handle it. They have the greatest interest in doing it right.

Fraud and abuse like this is why the private sector needs regulation and oversight. It also shows why the government needs transparency, and the country needs a free press.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

‘After a service member dies in combat – including the more than 4,000 who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan – the Department of Veterans Affairs sends Prudential the full amount of each family’s life insurance coverage, usually $400,000.’

‘Ninety-five percent of survivors paid by Prudential ask for lump-sum payments, the VA says. Since 1999, the company has sent out more than 60,000 Alliance Account checkbooks, instead of checks, covering more than $7 billion in death benefits when families asked for full payouts.’

‘”Prudential assumes the vast majority of mortality risk for the participants,” he says. “We also assume all of the investment risk.” He declined to elaborate on what the company’s insurance and investment risks are.’

The problem is that this is not insurance. This is bookkeeping. This is the government outsourcing the payment of benefits to a company that is refusing to honor lump-sum payment requests so they can profit from holding other people’s money.

Terminate the contract. Open it to competative bidding. Better yet, let the VA handle it. They have the greatest interest in doing it right.

Fraud and abuse like this is why the private sector needs regulation and oversight. It also shows why the government needs transparency, and the country needs a free press.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | Capitalism, Economics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert Hurt, Virginia GOP Candidate, Refuses To Participate In NAACP Debate


VA-5 GOP candidate Robert Hurt

VA-5 GOP candidate Robert Hurt

Republicans seem to be turning away from everything that gives democracy it’s power. Debate is a traditional and powerful means for voters to evaluate the candidates and make intelligent and informed decisions.

It looks like they are unwilling to put their character under public scrutiny.
Perhaps the republicans do not believe that a robust democratic process would work to their advantage.

“A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”
– James Freeman Clarke, Sermon

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

September 13, 2010 Posted by | Candidates, Elections | , | Leave a comment

Stephen Hawking: God NOT Needed For Creation



I am thinking of a scene from Dark Angel when Max and Brain were hiding behind a desk in the police station.

He asked her if she knew what the probability was that both of them would be in that particular spot at that particular time.

The probability was 100%. They were at that place at that time.

People used to think the Earth was flat.
People used to think the Sun orbited the Earth. Unbelievably, some still do.
Some people think that God created humans only a thousand generations ago. How can they begin to imagine the effects of a hundred million generations or more?

What are the chances that the human race could evolve from scratch? 100%. After all, we are in this particular place, at this particular time.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

September 5, 2010 Posted by | Evolution | , | Leave a comment

The Content of our Foolishness


“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”
– Sinclair Lewis

This seems to have been a rally of people running on emotion and a vague understanding of what they support and what they oppose. A group of people who have not thought consciously about the American Dream until they felt it slipping away. And along comes Glenn Beck, a conservative shock-jock turned revivalist preacher/snake oil salesman, telling them it is patriotic to do as he says, to follow his lead. It’s OK to be a religious zealot. You do not need facts or comprehension if you have faith. You need to restore the dream. Not the dream of MLK. Not the American Dream. The dream of theocracy, of One Nation Under God. The Christian God. The Republican God.

I look at the crowd, and I see people literally and figuratively wrapping themselves in the Flag. Paraphernalia Patriots trying to reassure themselves that they are the true Americans who represent the will of the people. People who know what’s best for the country based on their emotions and “common sense“, and not a deep understanding of the problems we face as a nation. Our Country, Right or Wrong. One Nation, Under God. Give Me Liberty, or Give Me a Gun. Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. God Bless America, the land of Sloganites and Sheeple.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have We Really Seen This Recession Before?


People keep comparing this recession to past recessions here and in other countries. Other debates argue about what policies worked or failed. But how valid are the statistics and assumptions of the past, when applied to today?

After WWII, we were still a creditor nation. THE creditor nation. Our debt was held domestically. We are now THE debtor nation. Interest payments on the debt now leave our economy, not reinvest in it.

We had the largest undamaged industrial capacity, countries in need of rebuilding, and a trade surplus. Now those countries have been rebuilt, regained their economic independence from us. We are shipping manufacturing capacity off-shore, further weakening our economy. China has replaced us as the economic Titan of the world. The trade surplus has turned into a deficit that undermines the economy even more than budget deficits.

We benefited from the “Brain Drain” of German scientists and engineers, to achieve technological supremacy. The new brain drain has worked against us. We have educated the rest of the world to our level. We have exported our tech base along with our jobs. We have driven some of our best and brightest overseas through lack of research funding. Companies are calling for more H-1B visas with the claim that we no longer have the experts their companies need. Our education system has fallen far behind much of the rest of the industrialized world.

All the economic advantages we held during the Cold War have been erased by globalization and excessive conservatism. Continue reading

August 5, 2010 Posted by | Budget, Capitalism, Direction, Economics, Labor | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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