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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/27/10

Wisconsin's conservative Paul Ryan eats organic

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Within this major grouping are also subsets based on age, educational levels, and existing skill sets, among other characteristics. On behalf of finding employment, each subset has its own array of possibilities and obstacles. Those under 45 or 50, for example, and those who are older. The older one is, the more difficult -- if it's even possible -- not only to find a replacement, but for any position. For a variety of sound business reasons the older worker is frequently not as good a bet as is, say, a 30- or 35-year old. If the job comes with health benefits, health insurance for the older worker will be increasingly more expensive for the employer, regardless that it's statistically unlikely the older worker will be more productive, commensurate with the higher insurance expense the employer will bear.

Retraining the laid-off worker to another field is often touted. Think about it, however. Retraining means precisely that: going out and being educated to do something one previously was not qualified to do. How long will it take? How much will it cost? Who or what entity will pay for the education and training? Then, once completed, the graduate will have no actual experience in the field, or so little as to effectively have no actual experience; experience that, given current job competition and employer's demands, will still, for all intents and purposes, leave the mature applicant unemployed, unemployable, thus vitiating the value of the retraining in the first place.

The out-of-work mature person intimately knows all of this. There are no illusions, but a host of very real, Fortune 500 types of business decisions that the mature person is forced to confront, not the least of which are, where's the money for the retraining going to come from; personal savings, when there are none? From funds the family needs just to eat, pay the rent, utilities? Borrow the money? From where? And once borrowed and the schooling completed, how will it be repaid, given the low wages or salaries paid to those with limited practical experience? What if the to be retained person either has no personal means of transportation, or cannot afford to put gas in the car, not for employment, but to the training facility? Perhaps the training is available over the Internet. By definition that means one must own a computer and subscribe to some utility providing Internet access.

The real life facts of life are that many of the millions unemployed don't have either of those prerequisites. As a country, as a government, what fundamental obligations do we have to those who find themselves victims of bad luck? Tell them to suck it in? Pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Because conservative fiscal prudence says that's just the luck of the draw?

None of the above were noted as excuses to do nothing. Rather, they are issues the conservative fiscal mantras overlook entirely. After all, by their own admission, they eat organic.

According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, fully 75% of all public school facilities in the US are seriously deficient for more than one of the integral building components (electrical, HVAC, plumbing, etc.), or are so obsolete in one or more necessary structural components that the basic education task is negatively impacted.

A school facility is not an expense, it is an investment made with the expectation that the benefit to the purchaser, in this case, the society, will far exceed the construction costs. With the full expectation that the country will be better off in the future, we commit to investing in the education of our young. Or that's what we claim, no matter that the proof of school facilities give lie to the assertion. Once again, as with private enterprise, borrowing the "cost" sums necessary to cover an "investment" is how business is transacted. Cringing against the enterprise because it will add to the national debt is simply penny wise and pound foolish.

But conservatives rant that education is a local issue, that the federal government has no valid place in the mix. It wasn't wasteful overspending that catapulted our school districts into the financial toilet in which they find themselves today. One reason was a surging population base the local electorate chronically refused to acknowledge and, via adequate taxation for new or revitalized facilities, to adjust for. The other was the collapse of the stock market, the housing market, and the economic base that should have funded new or revitalized facilities. Arguing whether education ought to be a federal or strictly state responsibility misses the point entirely. Educating our youth, whatever it takes, is not something a country that hopes to have any future economic role puts aside.

Ray LaHood, the current Secretary of Transportation, not too long ago testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that the condition of the United States transportation and infrastructure is decrepit; too often dangerously so. The overwhelming majority of bridges and overpasses are at least 40 years old -- their anticipated life expectancies when they were first built. Many are more than 60 years old and in seriously deteriorated condition. Regardless that our traffic load has more than quintupled, we haven't made an earnest improvement to the Interstate freeway system since the early '70s.

Per the secretary, backed by insurance company records, across the US, the motoring public and private enterprise waste more than $1 billion annually on vehicle repairs that are made necessary only because of the condition of our roads. Additionally, American competitiveness is adversely impacted because we sit for hours on freeways, wasting time and fuel while we spew millions of tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air.

Freeways and local roads are not the only elements of our national infrastructure we have, as a nation, blithely and foolheartedly ignored. Our airport facilities, by and large, are completely obsolete, causing major delays and risking air traveler safety.

A short time ago, the transportation secretary attempted unsuccessfully to cajole Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball," into buying the notion that the administration's pledge of $5 billion to build a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, was a major investment down payment on high speed rail in this country. While China, Japan, and Europe have dedicated 200 mph-plus lines linking their major metropolitan areas, the US has not one, and not a one on the drawing board. The 45-mile Tampa-Orlando link will not reach beyond 180 mph and does nothing serious about ameliorating what has become a highly expensive national transportation deficiency. What about tying the Bay Area to LA, to San Diego? Or Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio to El Paso? Or Chicago to the eastern seaboard, and the eastern seaboard metropolitan areas -- Washington, DC to Boston, and everything in between?

The sewer systems of many of our urban cities are a century or more older, held intact on not much more than prayers. Our water treatment plants are wholly inadequate to present needs. We don't have an efficient energy grid. And on and on and on.

Everyone who has ever purchased a house or an automobile knows that the purchase is merely the beginning of what can be anticipated in the way of cash outlays for everyday maintenance or borrowed sums to cover major rehabilitation. Major rehabilitation is not an expense, it is a costable item, an investment. But whether it's been making the serious investment or just maintenance, we've been negligent to the point of inexcusable stupidity.

But that's where the conservatives and Republicans insist prudent fiscal policy inheres, and that borrowing, while prudent for private enterprise, is a sacrilegious betrayal of sound fiscal policy when the borrower is the federal government. That is, of course, unless the borrowing is for military adventurism in foreign lands, or to fund agricultural subsidies.

But then . . . they eat organic.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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