Published in the Delaware County Daily Times, November 30, 2018
By Joseph Batory, Times Columnist
It’s a con game called: “Let’s not look too closely at America.”
Its many skilled players are elected officials from the White House to the legislative chambers of the United States Congress to the state houses and governors’ mansions. They wave flags and make patriotic statements. They waste time demonizing anyone opposed to them. They specialize in insignificant distraction issues (immigrant invader armies are coming to take over the USA) to keep the focus of the American people away from the significant problems.
Lester Thurow, a distinguished economist, has offered this summary of the USA political power structure ignoring what really matters: America’s elite … more and more resemble the oligarchy of Latin American countries where a handful of immensely privileged people have it very good and don’t care at all about the true issues facing our nation.
So, what are some of the real issues confronting America? Here are five of them:
The Budget Debacle
- The federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2019 is projected to be $985 billion. In simplest terms, this outrageous deficit is occurring because our government spending of $4.4 trillion is higher than its revenue of $3.4 trillion.
Regarding expenditures, federal government decisions about the budget cannot keep occurring in a “business as usual” spending frenzy. Appropriations for entitlement programs, government services, military readiness, and national security are often “sacred cows” to politicians. But each of these budget areas needs to be balanced with critical deliberations about “how much is really necessary” and “what is in the best interests of our citizens.” And this kind of in-depth analysis is not happening.
Another major contributor to the budget deficit is that while government spending has been perpetually increasing, politicians have simultaneously reduced the revenue needed to pay for it. The Bush tax cuts resulted in a loss of $2 trillion in government revenue. And the Joint Committee on Taxation has revealed that, even with some anticipated boost to the economy, the recent Trump tax cuts will reduce incoming revenue by a total of $1.0 trillion in the coming years. This lost revenue in tax reductions makes no economic sense and is working against any hope of reducing the immense national debt.
It is irresponsible financial management by the federal government to keep running up the national debt and increasing interest payments on it. Budget balancing is admittedly difficult and often controversial, but our politicians choose to keep pursuing deficit spending in a vacuum as if there will not be an eventual recession or worse.
Protecting The Environment
- Scott Pruitt’s 16 months as Environmental Protection Agency boss created a nightmare legacy for the United States. Before his many scandals forced him out of office, Pruitt’s anti-environment actions violated his primary job function of protecting our nation’s citizens from environmental dangers. A climate change denier, Pruitt spent much of his time in office meeting privately with executives from the fossil fuel, agriculture and chemical sectors about how he could lessen environmental regulations.
Small wonder that Pruitt rolled back more than a dozen EPA regulations that prevent pollution and environmental hazards, including the unraveling of federal restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions and toxic waste discharge from coal-fired power plants. He led the reversal of the EPA’s clean air auto emission goals, which were to be achieved by 2025.
Pruitt refused to acknowledge that businesses worldwide are turning away from coal. Natural gas is currently the most clean and cost-effective fuel source for power plants while renewable energy is making impressive inroads. In fact, barely half of all coal plants earned enough money last year to cover their expenses, according to a report by Bloomberg Energy Finance.
Environmental protection should be a priority goal of government. Lowering that priority to accommodate corporate profits endangers present and future generations of citizens in the United States.
- The USA’s disgraceful poverty rate evokes little concern and even less action from too many of our elected leaders. Within the affluent halls of the seats of government, too many politicians are far removed from those who struggle in poverty.
The latest U.S. Census has revealed that about 40 million Americans still live in poverty. For too many in government (and perhaps some of us), it is easy to generalize these poor as lazy or without goals or aspirations, that is, blaming impoverished persons for their lack of success in life. But that is far from being true. The main causes of poverty are often beyond the control of the individual: Being born into a poor family, the loss of employment, inadequate education, substance abuse, emotional distress from adverse reality (many suffering war vets), and mental problems … and each of these situations is not easily overcome.
Responsible government should be developing strategies/plans to reduce poverty in America.
Having large numbers of citizens in poverty not only hurts the affected people … ultimately, it creates tremendous negative impacts for our society and on the nation’s economy.
- The mass murders of groups of innocent victims has become an all too regular occurrence in our nation. The locations change but the response is always the same. A host of political hypocrites offer “thoughts and prayers for the victims” and then do nothing of real substance to curtail this repetitious epidemic of killing that is unique to America.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), heavily subsidized by gun businesses along with a host of contributions from right-wing individuals and organizations, spends huge sums of money for its political advertising machine. This NRA advocacy is little more than a “legacy of blood, political corruption and corporate greed.”
The lack of any political courage to tighten gun purchase regulations in our county will only cause more needless deaths and much pain and suffering.
Unequal Funding for Public Education
- An analysis of research on the funding for public schools in America supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s series In Pursuit of Better Schools shows the effects of unequal funding (These funding differences in the United States range from less than $4,000 per pupil to more than $15,000 per student).
This unequal distribution of public education funding creates huge disparities among schools and school districts in the quality of school buildings, facilities, curriculum, equipment for instruction, teacher experience and qualifications, class sizes, presence of auxiliary professionals, and other resources. As a result, education outcomes for students vary tremendously across America.
These different levels of financial support occur because more than half of the USA’s funding for public schools comes from local property taxes. This means that the amount of funding for school districts often varies according to the wealth and will of individual communities. No other advanced nation in the world funds its public schools with local property taxes. Except for the United States, these advanced nations use formulas for per-student funding from nationally generated tax revenues to fully fund all schools throughout their countries.
Unequal funding of public education leads to unequal outcomes for students and this creates a host of problems for our country.
In summary, each of the issues cited above is complex and without simple solutions or easy fixes. But difficult decisions need to be made. Too many of our elected officials are choosing to simply ignore these major national problems as if they will somehow magically disappear. In doing so, these politicians are betraying their responsibility to our democratic republic and damaging the future of the USA.
Joseph Batory is the author of three books and numerous articles on politics and education.