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Volume 10 Number 1 - The Curmudgeon Letters

About Volume 10 Number 1

Previous Entry Volume 10 Number 1 Jan. 27th, 2012 @ 06:12 pm Next Entry

Political Science from a Curmudgeon?

I know that this is a looooong TCL, but I would appreciate it if you would read as much as you can and give me any criticism or comments you have.

I am considering building on the material in this TCL to produce a book. And, that’s why I would greatly appreciate any comments you might have on that topic.

Can We Make Our Democracy Work?

Everyone seems to agree that our political system is “broken” but I haven’t seen anything that I believe would fix it. Part of the problem is that it is a very complex and complicated system of interdependent subsystems and the solution(s) will not be simple.

Uninformed Voters
I think that the foundation for a genuinely successful democracy is a well-informed electorate. And we get an informed electorate only to the extent that we educate our populace. And I mean ‘educate’ not ‘train’, e.g. teaching physics rather than phys-ed, communication instead of English, how to think clearly rather than how to do arithmetic and problem solving rather than test-passing.

We are spending less (per student) and falling further and further down the ranking of how well-educated we are among nations. We have seen a decades long attack on teachers and our education system.

“A recent study (included in the Handbook of Early Literacy Research, Vol. 2, edited by Susan Neuman and David Dickinson) shows that while in middle-income US neighborhoods the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1, in low-income neighborhoods the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. … Over 80% of preschool and after-school programs serving children from low-income families have no age-appropriate books for their children.” – the Hunger Site

We must recognize that there are more low-income voters than upper-income voters. Politicians and advertisers don’t have to fool all of the people even some of the time. Politicians just need to fool enough people once every 2 to 6 years to tip the scales to their candidates/positions/petitions.

We also need to change our societal view of the value of teachers, education and intelligence. Sayings like “High intelligence is very close to insanity” or “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach”, are quoted by those who don’t know and never learn! Young people hide their intelligence because it makes them unpopular.

In today’s society, those who can’t or won’t read cannot be informed voters.

Respect for Government
Since Ronald Reagan, the American people have steadily bought in to the nonsense that “government is the problem!” A few weeks ago, when Rick Perry and Ron Paul were shouting that they would eliminate the Department of Energy, Rachel Maddow presented a list of things that are done by DoE. It included many important things, e.g. managing the destruction of nuclear weapons!

We must find a way to promote the understanding of the federal government and its proper roles in our country. It’s interesting that the public has also been persuaded to believe that state governments are a part of the solution (states rights, 10th Amendment, etc.).

I think that we must include this kind of “understanding” of the federal government in our public education system. Do we still have “social studies” or “political science” classes in our schools?

A User’s Manual for Owners of a Human Brain – A Guide to Clear-thinking
I have only researched it briefly, but from what I have found, I don’t mean a text book for a course in “Critical Thinking” as taught almost exclusively today in the US. Primarily, I mean understanding language, not understanding something written in a language, but how language works in a human brain.  Creative advertising professionals and political campaign professionals are skilled users of language to obscure, persuade, confused and befuddle customers and voters. For example, consider the difference between  “sharing the pain” as an argument for increasing the tax rate on the 1 percent, rather than talking about how the “take home pay” for the 99 percent compares with the 1 percent. “Sharing the pain” makes people think that we are causing pain, while “take home pay” emphasizes the how little pain would be caused to the 1%. Mitt Romney and his wife in 2011 had a taxable income (i.e. after deductions) of $2.73 million, and are paying 13% in taxes. His “take home pay” was $18.27 million. If we increased his tax rate to 30%, he would pay $6.3 million and be left with only $14.7 million. A couple who earned (by actually working for it) $32,000 will be taxed at 15% ($4,800) and their take home pay would have been $27,200. That would be about $83/month above the 2011 Federal Poverty Level.

Clear-thinking, informed voters never cast a protest vote. Actually, if they are very confident that the best candidate will be elected anyway, they may cast a protest vote. Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 because of protest voting and if George W. Bush was elected (not appointed by the Supreme Court) in 2000, he was elected because of protest voting. Those are probably the two worst US Presidents in the last 100 years, and the damage done to our country by the Supreme Court justices that those two Presidents appointed is immeasurable. As a result, we now live in a country in which the expressed (not necessarily actual) suspicion of sympathy with, or “support” of a terrorist is all that is required to imprison an American citizen forever without charges or a trial. I think that is a useful definition of a totalitarian dictatorship.

If we want a government “of, by and for the people”, then the people―each of us―must come to relish our responsibility to study, research and think clearly about the issues, carefully and thoroughly evaluate the candidates (or propositions) and vote. We should strive to reach the point that the expected turnout for an election is the literacy rate―and then we should increase the literacy rate.

Capitalism and Money In Politics
Corporate management, in the US, is required by law to do everything they can to increase profits and, even worse, to limit long-range planning to one fiscal year.

Corporate managers cannot be “job creators.” In fact, every corporate manager is supposed to be striving to develop, produce, distribute and sell their products with $0 spent on labor. They call this high “productivity”.  They are professional job-eliminators. They are also motivated to strive for near, but not zero production costs with a finite but insanely large profit margin, e.g. $0.01 for labor,  materials and distribution costs and 5,000,000% profit margin (sale price $500). Note that internet information products can approach this ideal!

It’s a fact, trickle down economics been tried more than once and has never worked! “Under Democratic presidents since 1930 who have emphasized people programs and resisted tax breaks for the richest, annual growth in GDP has averaged 5.4 percent, according to Commerce Department and Office of Management and Budget statistics.

Under Republican presidents who enacted tax cuts for the rich, paralleling the policies being put forth by the current crop of Republicans, GDP has only grown by 1.6 percent.” See End Trickle-Down Economics to Pay Off Debt

Actually, trickle-down economics is just one of several deceits that maintain the power, position and wealth of the 1% and their domination of the 99%. But 99% is a majority! If we can become a clear-thinking, well-informed electorate, we can manifest our majority.

Religion in Politics
Clear-thinking does not allow arguments based solely on religious beliefs. We must as a society come to understand that religious beliefs―e.g. every human life from its beginning to its natural end is sacred―are non-factual and must not be enshrined in law. Note that this belief includes the belief that “beginning” and “natural end” are factual, i.e. that we can define a scientifically measurable and meaningful event for those terms.

A New, Generally Accepted, System of Ethics
It appears to me that essentially all of the ethical systems accepted in existing societies and cultures (but certainly in the US), are based largely on the religious belief I used as an example above―an individual life is sacred. However, we have entered a new phase in the history of our species, humans. We can now cause extinction of our own species. I think that it is unreasonable to take any risk of causing the demise of our species. We need a new ethical basis. We must make the survival of our species that basis. In my opinion the abortion question that has caused so much divisiveness in our society is moot. The question is not whether or not a fetus is or is not a “person.” It is about whether or not our world needs another person.

When someone argues that maybe global warming may not be happening or that we can’t do anything to stop it or that we shouldn’t do anything that would cause some people to lose their jobs or corporations to go bankrupt when it could lead to our extinction, they are arguing for unethical behavior. When someone argues that we should do anything to increase the birthrate (e.g. in vitro fertilization), they are arguing for unethical behavior. When someone argues that birth control and abortion should be prohibited, they are arguing for unethical behavior. All of these behaviors increase the risk of the extinction of the human species.

This raises the issue of why ethics is taught mostly by religions. Don’t we need substantial education in ethics taught in the public schools? Most people don’t even believe that “ethics” can be free of religious beliefs. And just because, essentially all religions contain the principle contained in the “Golden Rule” does not mean that it cannot be a principle in religion-free ethics. It’s a principle that makes our lives much more peaceful and pleasant―the essence of an ethical principle.

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