Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Ate The Bones!

By Keith McDowell

The latest marketing jingle from Kentucky Fried Chicken unwittingly expresses a condition now becoming all too well known to Americans. Under the dual rubrics of “balancing the budget” and “reducing the deficit,” right-wing, self-proclaimed conservative politicians continue to push for the now discredited austerity budgeting measures that have failed so miserably in Europe and are deprecated by almost all economists.

Their strategy is simple. Ignore the facts. Obstruct all progressive legislation. Engage in a massive and organized campaign of sloganeering and disinformation. Filibuster. Introduce and vote for absolutely worthless and stupid bills. Trash talk any and all initiatives supported by President Obama, no matter their source. Divert attention from the real issues facing America by creating phony and trumped up sideshows. And demagogue issues that play to the heart of the extreme right wing who now form the presumed base of the Republican Party. In short, just say NO!

The litany of these actions and their outcomes has grown into a cancer metastasizing all across our nation.

Take, for example, the small community of Buena Vista, Michigan. This week, the school district laid off all the teachers and closed down the schools. The children will not finish out the school year because the district ran out of money and the state is balking at further infusions of cash. How ridiculous is this? Where is the adult leadership? I’ll tell you where. They are busy pandering to their political base instead of solving the problem. Buena Vista is but a microcosm of what is happening everywhere and at all levels.

I’m especially impressed by the vote on Wednesday in the House of Representatives regarding overtime pay, namely, the notion that an employee should have the ability to defer overtime pay in preference for paid time off at a later date. As anyone who has ever supervised people in a business knows, this would be a major loophole ripe for plundering by management. Employees will be pressured to put in the overtime and somehow that promised “time off” will never appear. I should know. I’ve lost many a “comp hour” to this game.

The tragic story which unfolded this week in Cleveland reveals yet another dimension of the austerity mindset. As camera crews and reporters searched for and interviewed anyone willing to add their bit of trivia, parents and relatives of other missing children and young adults requested that their stories be broadcast in the hope of another miracle. Unbelievably in America, something like 100,000 such miracles are needed! So, exactly what resources are we providing to law enforcement to empower them to close this astonishing gap?

Sadly, the Cleveland story also revealed another aspect of life as we now experience it in America. Did you by chance notice the teeth of many of those people interviewed by CNN in their coverage? You would think that most of the people inhabited a third-world country given the condition of their dentures or lack thereof. How is it in America that so many people have come to such a condition?

And then we have the madness known as sequestration – unless, of course, one happens to be a congressman in need of a reliable flight back home to woo constituents and convince them that you really are taking care of the nation’s business. I’ve previously described the effect that sequestration, or “secastration” as I call it, will have on our innovation ecosystem, but I’m compelled to reiterate that plight.

Every scientist or engineer who has ever participated in proposal review in Washington, whether at the National Science Foundation or any other federal agency, knows that roughly a third or more of all research proposals are excellent with nothing to distinguish one from another other than possibly the identity of the organization and geographic location of the proposer or possibly the chosen funding initiatives of the agency. But in the world of secastration, only about one out of ten proposals will be funded. Folks, that’s not going to get the job done when it comes to keeping America competitive. We are dooming an entire generation of young STEM researchers who don’t have some form of tenure or stable support to a wasteland where even the bones are consumed.

And with a “Hi-Yo Silver, Away,” a masked man from Texas rides into Washington to save the day. Only this masked man doesn’t wear a white hat. His name: Congressman Lamar Smith, chairperson of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology – a committee that I had an opportunity to testify before in 2005. I once met Smith a decade ago at Texas Instruments and talked with him about nanotechnology and the future of technology commercialization. He’s an amiable person and looks the part of the Lone Ranger.

But behind that fa├žade of being on your side, he’s just as screwed up as the rest of his counterparts on the GOP side of the science committee. He wants to politicize scientific research and the funding thereof by pushing forward a bill entitled the High Quality Research Act to require oversight of the scientific research process. He has even demanded that the NSF justify to his committee certain funded projects that were approved by panels of independent scientists. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, also from Texas and the ranking Democrat on the committee, immediately fired back a blistering letter rebuking Smith. Details of the proposed legislation and Johnson’s response are available at the Huffington Post. As one of my friends described it, Smith is attempting to lead America on “a race to the bottom.”

And then we have an example of one of the true nut jobs, otherwise known as James Porter, the new President of the NRA. As a confirmed genealogist and student of the South, I know all about the “war of northern aggression” versus “the war between the states.” Despite politically correct protestations from revisionist historians, the phrase “war of northern aggression” is an apt characterization of how Southerners viewed and named the American Civil War – the best title for that event. But going down the rat hole of debating such points is not what Porter’s comments were about. This is a man who believes that armed rebellion against THEM, presumably those of us who support the federal government and its three branches as created by the Constitution, is a likely event. What nonsense! And it all has to do with guns and the second amendment.

I believe in and support the second amendment, but I also believe in domestic tranquility through gun safety. There is no reason for individual Americans to own or possess guns or weapons capable of rapid fire with an essentially unlimited supply of bullets, although the exact limits on that can and should be debated. Furthermore, background checks are an essential part of gun safety. I personally support the registration of guns, but that’s not likely to happen. Think about it! I have to get a driver’s license to operate an automobile and I have to register my car and transfer the title when I sell it. These requirements and the attendant bureaucracy don’t stop me from owning or operating multiple cars. The same will be true for proper gun safety regulation.

I could go on describing and documenting the cancer that is spreading in America. How about the diversionary tactic of the Benghazi blame game? Or how about the senators from Oklahoma who are stoking the right-wing flames by claiming that “Obama’s” Department of Homeland Security is buying up ammunition to defeat the second amendment? Do they really want to turn on another Timothy McVeigh?

I have a message for moderate Americans. Stop whining about all this. Stop whispering that maybe Obama should drink beer with the nut jobs or maybe that he’s not getting the job done. Embrace the real F-word: fact, not fiction! Get out the vote, stand up for middle America, and remove from office using the ballot box those who espouse the nonsense. If you don’t, they’ll be licking their chops while burping “I ate the bones!”

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