Saturday, November 05, 2005

IDEAS: Molly Ivins -- What is your suggestion for America's priorities?


Subject: AlterNet: Getting Out Of Our Pickle

By Molly Ivins, AlterNet. Posted November 2, 2005.

Instead of dwelling on the ever-increasing failings of the only president we've got, let's see if we can figure out how
to get out of the mess we're in.

Leap I lightly, with the grace of a gazelle, over such mundane news items as indictments at the White House and Supreme
Court nominations. All the better to continue my crusade to focus attention not on what's wrong, but on how to fix it.

Forget, for a carefree and frivolous moment, the manifold failings of the only president we've got. Instead, let's see if
we can figure out how to get out of this pickle. More than one pickle, I grant you -- this administration is a pickle
factory. Thinking helmets on, team.

Before we even begin with some useful lists of, "Let's stop doing this and try doing that, instead," we should salute the
Values Crowd with the sincerest form of flattery. I suppose we could have a giant Values Debate, with Bill Bennett on one
side and Bill Moyers on the other, but even values have fallen into the partisan pit these days. We need to go at our
problems in some way that doesn't immediately set hackles up so that the only point of the exercise becomes to beat the
other side.

How about, instead of a Contract With America, we see if we can get some agreement on what kind of country we would like
to see America become.

Here's a starter: I would like America to be a country where we spend more money on educating people than we do on the

On a panel in New Haven, Conn., the other night, Ray Suarez of PBS answered the "How do we fix it?" question with the
proposal that we make K-12 our top priority. He suggests this would have so many unexpected side effects -- ranging from
science to race relations -- it would effectively be a revolution.

I'm not asking you to endorse that idea, but do consider the astonishing magnitude of such a shift. It's difficult to get
a compete grasp on how much we spend on the military, since not all of it is under the Department of Defense. The
Department of Homeland Security, for example, pays for much of the "war on terror." But basically, the Pentagon is now
getting about $500 billion a year, or 52 percent of the discretionary federal budget -- according to the Center for
Budget Priorities.

("Discretionary" basically means what Congress and the president have any say over. The rest of the budget goes to stuff
we have already committed to and can't get out of, like paying interest on the national debt.)

Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, whose purpose is to educate the public on how the federal government spends our
money and what priorities are, suggests cutting 15 percent from the military budget and redirecting it. The Center for
Arms Control and Non-Proliferation says we now spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined spends on
theirs. There is no country that could conceivably defeat us militarily, though we certainly do manage to get ourselves
stuck in some unpleasant places. Anyone who has watched the poor National Guard getting called back to Iraq again and
again can figure out quite a bit of this money is not being well spent.

Just for starters, is there anyone -- anyone -- who thinks we need more than 1,000 nuclear warheads in order to have a
credible nuclear deterrent at this time? By cutting back to 1,000, we can save $13 billion right there.

Another $26 billion would be saved by scaling back or stopping the research, development and construction of weapons that
are useless to deal with modern threats. Many of the weapons involved, like the F/A-22 fighter jet and the Virginia Class
submarine, were designed to fight the defunct Soviet Union. All of this is according to Lawrence Korb, whose credentials
are endless -- senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information,
former vice president of Raytheon, etc. The $26 billion does not include the old Star Wars program, now called missile
defense, which could be cut back to basic research for a savings of $7 billion.

I'm trying to give you some sense of scale here. According to Korb's research, we could take $60 billion out of the
defense budget, 15 percent of the total, without remotely affecting military readiness. Any think tank, left or right,
can come up with a similar scenario for cutting military spending without harm to security -- the details may differ, but
you will find a surprising degree of overlap, as well.

OK, so we could shift $60 billion into education without even breathing hard. Then, how would we continue toward of a
goal of putting more into education than on stuff to kill people? For starters, we could try having fewer enemies in the
world. Then we wouldn't need so many ways to kill them, eh? And how do we get there?

Nothing simple about this effort -- anyone who thinks international relations and diplomacy are simple, straightforward
subjects has not been paying attention. This how-do-we-fix-it series is a conversation, not a lecture, and all
suggestions are welcome. You can e-mail your suggestions to me at

Molly Ivins writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.


agitator church and state
Posted by: eileenflmng on Nov 2, 2005 5:25 AM [Report this comment]
Over 40 years ago, Rev. MLK warrned:
ÿÿAny nation that year after year continues to raise the Defense budget while cutting social programs to the neediest is a
nation approaching spiritual death.ÿÿ
In his farewell address, Eisenhower warned us NOT to tie the USA economy to the Defense Industry.
'We the People' ignored them both.
USA public school's today no longer EDUCATE our young, they TRAIN them how to take tests:
which trains them to be 'good soldiers'; ones who don't ask questions and don't think creatively.
WE THE PEOPLE are the government and we the people are the only ones who can fix the mess we now have.
What we need is some creative non-violent anarchy for the old ways do not serve the people and we the people "have it in
our power to change the world"-Tom Paine

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Corporate power
Posted by: setterwoman on Nov 2, 2005 5:28 AM [Report this comment]
I think we need to get back the regulations on corporations that existed pre-Reagan era. No one has equal rights in a
society controlled by corporations. Nor can we have sound environmental policies or sound health care when so much is
controlled by chemical and drug manufacturers.
We also need to fund political campaigns from the federal budget with each candidate getting an equal amount. Campaigning
doesn't need to begin until 4-5 months before the election. All candidates need to be included in any debates.

Not Too Little, Too Late to Begin
Posted by: LJAllen on Nov 2, 2005 5:41 AM [Report this comment]
I heartily agree with Pepper regarding the size and complexity of this country's problems. And as a Black woman and
History graduate student--and descendant of four generations of educators--I understand and applaud the poignant and
accurate assessment of education. Yet....
As we contemplate the enormity of this nation's problems, we cannot afford cynicism precisely because it offers no
solution and it stymies even the smallest attempts at making a beginning. The key is "to begin."
Demanding cuts in military budgets and advocating increased funding for K-12 will not cut the cost of heating oil,
gasoline, or raise our President's Grade Point Average. But increasing funding of K-12 is at least a start--no matter how
meager--at insuring that at least a segment of our future population may not grow into adults who are as ineffective and
bewildered as many of us are right now.
It is easy and understandable to feel a sense of hopelessness in light of what confronts us. It is far more difficult,
however, to take one small step, the results of which we may not reap the full benefits of. Yet we must begin, somewhere.
L J Allen

Just Imagine...
Posted by: Rod in 83706 on Nov 2, 2005 5:57 AM [Report this comment]
Cutting $60 billion from the defense budget without affecting readiness sounds reasonable. But imagine how much we could
cut the defense budget if we had a rational foreign policy that resulted in fewer enemies. How about choosing neutrality
in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How about bringing our troops home from Saudi Arabia and every other country where
they are stationed? How about using our foreign aid dollars at home instead of filling the Swiss bank accounts of petty
dictators all over the world? How about closing our embassies in most of the podunk, crap-hole countries that hate us
It all starts with rational thinking, which seems to be non-existant inside the beltway.

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New thinking
Posted by: Lincoln fan on Nov 2, 2005 6:31 AM [Report this comment]
Molly is right on. We need a new idea. How about a bi-partisan effort, I know that this will not sit well with some
people of both parties. There are bitter feelings on both sides. But each of us has issues that are important to us.
Let's get Democrats and Republicans that support the same issues together. Instead of voting for the party that is not as
bad as the other, make the parties try to be better than each other. It can be done, and done before the 2006 election.
Many people want a violent solution or a complicated solution that involves strikes, protest marches, rallies, and
brilliant leaders. None of this is necessary. My idea is not complicated, difficult, nor time-consuming. Go to my
web-site and join the movement. There are no dues, no contributions, no leaders, no passwords and no registration. In a
nutshell the idea is (1) write four letters. (sample two sentence letter provided) One to each of the parties' national
campaign headquarters (addresses provided) and one to each parties' state campaign headquarters. (link to addresses
provided). (2) E-mail the idea to your friends and, if you want to, spread the word in other ways. Visit the website.
You've nothing to lose. a new idea

One small step
Posted by: LPB on Nov 2, 2005 7:00 AM [Report this comment]
Thank you, Molly, for beginning this constructive talk. We badly need to come up with a plan. It seems more and more of
us are seeing that our system is greatly flawed and we desperately need solutions. I believe education is the first step,
although right now it might seem like a small one. Spending more money on education and less on the military would show
where our true priorities lie, and in the current "pro-life" environment of our society it seems an obvious choice to
value life more than death.
But we must also question how we are educating our children. Back to the basics has been our national educational policy
for some years and that is all well and good; kids need a solid academic foundation. But we must also expose our children
to higher concepts and ideals. People need to learn discernment and critical thinking in order to make good, informed
decisions. Our children are being taught just the opposite: unquestioning, unthinking compliance. They should also be
exposed to the arts, to music, drama, philosophy, creative expression, and appreciation for beauty. These things help us
to see the beauty in our world and to value it, and each other, more highly. In our current social climate, we have
obliterated many of these things from our public educational system so that only those who can afford to pay for it
themselves have any meaningful exposure to these things. Practical academics are a vital foundation, but allowing our
kids to experience the beauty we are capable of creating develops their hearts and souls and we need that too.
We must also stop confering rights and privileges without responsibilities. We expect a lot of responsible behavior in
our everyday lives. For example, if we want the privilege of being allowed to use the public roads, we must accept the
responsibility of driving safely and following the rules of the road. But it seems that we are allowing corporations to
have the privileges of individuals without requiring them to accept the accompanying responsibilities.
We have taken years to arrive at the place we are in now, and it will take years to effect any great changes. We may not
see the results of any actions we take for many years to come, but if we start now with our children they may very well
reap the benefits of actions we take now. Molly's suggestion may seem to many like only one small step, but it's a small
step in the right direction.

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Choosing action by our vision instead of by our problems
Posted by: bgorzinski on Nov 2, 2005 7:13 AM [Report this comment]
It seems to me that Molly's point is that if we start prioritizing by our dream of what we want our nation to become,
we'll get away from all the crisis management that makes us freak out and attack one another. We've prioritized military
in response to immediate (and I think misperceived) threats--not even by a dream of being the biggest, baddest military
power on the face of the earth. But if we prioritize education out of the dream of being the smartest, most savvy font of
wisdom and knowledge on the face of the earth, won't we be better for following our dreams? If people disagree that
education is the place to start, isn't it heartening to learn that a big chunk of change could come out of our military
budget, as Molly says "without breathing hard"? Why do people decry her suggestion for not solving our problems now? Are
we so radical or reactionary that we want to blow up the bus station rather than change the routes a little bit to fit
our needs? I'm not a big Bush fan but I buy into all the rhetoric about the wisdom and greatness of the American people
and I think we could do better if we choose to settle down and think with a bigger vision for ourselves.

Molly's thought continued a bit further...
Posted by: John Rice on Nov 2, 2005 7:27 AM [Report this comment]
Molly writes "How about, instead of a Contract With America, we see if we can get some agreement on what kind of country
we would like to see America become." We love where you are going with that, because it leads directly to the Neither
Party (at Sort of, that is.....
We call it "Transcending Politics" because rather than focusing upon the differences dividing people, we focus on what
unites people while healing old wounds and making the body politic stronger. We focus on what our citizens need, to fully
participate in the transition of our governance toward one truly by, of and for the people and away from the special
interests now in control.
The mechanism for achieving that is a now-evolving (wiki-styled) "Contract for America", whereby all running for office
from all parties, agree to conduct themselves based upon these commonly-held and pledged for precepts, or the NP would
guarantee they face an opponent who would. And I hate to disagree with you Molly (and rarely do) it is as simple as that.
Funded with only private donations, the support suggested amounts to only "A Dime a Day for Democracy" (less than a cup
of coffee per week) or$36.50 per year. With the support of only a fifteenth of our population, we could force a change in
our governance with 700 million dollars per year. If those funds were focused toward those individuals supporting this
pledge, real changes can be made faster than most can imagine.
This movement, still in its fledgling stage, is growing slowly, but surely. Our platform issues are maturing as well.
More people are joining our efforts to not simply reform, but to transform America into a nation we can be proud of and
the world once again can admire. Soon we will fly.
We need no congressional powers to do so, and we need no support from the special interests. We need a mandate by the
people, never achievable before in this de facto duopoly--we need the Neither Party.
Molly, this is not an incredibly huge undertaking given modern-day technologies and especially the internet.
It is underway, it is the future American way, and it is an empowering movement awaiting your support.
If change is needed in the near future, it is the only comprehensive plan known to me to put forth not only the
what-to-do, but the how-to-do it, too.
Come on Molly (and other thoughtful readers) if not, why not?
John Rice

k [« Reply to this comment] [Post a new comment »]

» RE: Molly's thought continued a bit further... Posted by: Lincoln fan

» A New Idea Posted by: BlueTigress

» RE: A New Idea Posted by: jwg

While we're at it, let's fix our energy woes, too.
Posted by: monkeywrench on Nov 2, 2005 7:37 AM [Report this comment]
We could also take some of the money saved by emptying our military's pork barrel and put it to use developing REAL
technologies to replace oil and coal as our primary energy sources (like using the Earth's own internal heat to generate
power). That way, we could ameliorate the effects of global warming, help insure energy independence, and...hold on
now... actually create new industries and JOBS! America could become an exporter of something, energy technology, for a
change, giving us a chance, after the effects of a better educational system kick in, of becoming something more than the
credit-card wielding, rapacious consumer culture that we are today.

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» RE: While we're at it, let's fix our energy woes, too. Posted by: barogw

The first step
Posted by: jazzyjer on Nov 2, 2005 7:57 AM [Report this comment]
The fact remains, as Cyclone said, nothing much matters unless the Bush-Cheney hydra is slain. People power could do
this, as in Ukraine, Georgia, the Philippines.
We need a couple of million people to march on Washington, surround the White House, and holler "Bush must go" for as
long as it takes.
I call this the Blue Revolution. It can't happen overnight, but someone with connections needs to start working on this.
The current administration simply is deaf to words it does not generate. Civil disobedience is the only answer.

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» RE: The first step Posted by: Lincoln fan

» jazzyjer that civil disobedience thing...I'm up for that! Posted by: Michiganman

What we need is a new K-12 plan
Posted by: fairygirl on Nov 2, 2005 8:00 AM [Report this comment]
Perhaps what was learned during the Johnson administration about money and public schools was that throwing money at the
system without a plan didn't necessarily fix the system. As a former educator (both in public school and for non-profit
arts), I can honestly say that while the public schools are in desperate need of money, they also need a realistic plan.
No Child Left Behind (or as I call it Every Child Left Behind) is a joke. As Americans, we need to decide that K-12
education is our top most priority. There are pockets in this country where this is happening but quite often it is
outside the box schools.
In my community we have a charter school that has adopted a more "European" style of education (grades 6 - 12) with 6th
grade students taking Latin, Physics, Chemistry and Biology in addition to English, Math, Social Studies, Art, Music and
P.E. In 7th grade they take either French or Spanish for a minimum of 2 years, Public Speaking and elective possibilities
that include Drama, P.E., Art and Music. In 8th grade, they take Economics and by high school, they are taking A.P.
courses in their main subjects. And because this is a charter school (gets the same funding from the state as public
schools), there is no tuition to attend. A minimal book deposit (usually around $70) is requested at the beginning of the
6th grade year and carries throughout the child's attendance at the school. Drawbacks are no bus transportation to or
from the school and parents must provide lunches (no meal program at the school). Upside along with the curriculum is
that there are only 350 students at the school.

A teachable moment
Posted by: Sojourner on Nov 2, 2005 9:01 AM [Report this comment]
Yes, the neo-cons are out to destroy public education. And charter schools are not necessarily a threat to public
education. And, yes, we now have what is called a "teachable moment."
Nothing would better begin the repair of the damage done since Reagan (not to mention Nixon) than to put some substance
behind the politician's hue and cry about education first. 'First' so far has meant way down the list in my state,
California. My city, Long Beach, at the top of the list nationally for children living in poverty, is doing some
courageous work in education.
The city is still run by the right-winger nativists who got here first and therefore own everything. But the momentum for
change is happening and nowhere more so than in the schools. If we can educate a generation of minority kids (and truth
is they don't yet believe in education, so it's a struggle) it will be a major advance.
Immigration both from Mexico and from the African American ghettos has integrated the community and the school system, as
was imagined by Brown vs. Board of Education. Results show that it can be made to work. So, as Molly says, don't give up!
We just have more work to do. Two steps forward for each one back.

K-12 Funding?
Posted by: mikewiz50 on Nov 2, 2005 11:46 AM [Report this comment]
Molly's proposal that K-12 receive top fiscal priority, though good in itself, is not completely right and just. The
absolute top priority, in my humble opinion, must be to provide every homeless person in this nation with a place to
live. That tens of millions are on the streets or living in cars is diabolical and the ultimate shame of this, the most
wealthy nation on earth. Second would be to provide meaningful work at a just and liveable wage to all who are able and
willing. Education would then follow.
Mike Wisniewski
Los Angeles, CA

education as a priority
Posted by: sdonaldson on Nov 2, 2005 1:02 PM [Report this comment]
Supporting Ivins's suggestion is this admittedly small datum: Every year for about the last 15 years the Olympia, WA,
Fellowship of Reconciliation has had a table at the Thurston County Fair with copies of the War Resisters League's annual
analysis of the federal budget, showing how much goes for military expenditures, current and past (retirements, etc.),
and how much for other needs. (Is that the word I want? Is the military really a need? When Iceland and Costa Rica--and
maybe other countries, too--have no military at all?) At any rate, in addition, passersby who stop to read and chat are
given 10 pennies to divide up into 10 budget categories: the military, health care, the arts, agriculture, education,
housing, etc., however they choose. *Every* year, education gets the most pennies; every year, the military gets the
least. Of course, the outcome is partly the result of the interests of the sorts of people who would stop at a
peace-and-justice table in the first place; but still it says something strong that education consistently is where this
segment of the overall population would put their tax money--if they could.
And why can't we choose what is done with our tax money--which, after all, *is* *our* tax money?
This seemingly radical notion I first heard from David Eisenman, back when I was a member of McKinley Memorial
Presbyterian Church in Champaign, IL, in the 1970s, where David was an active member. He envisioned a fairly simple set
of boxes to be printed on individual tax forms, listing the cabinet areas, which could then be checked by the individual
taxpayers as a part of submitting their forms--from which the federal budget for the next year could be planned.
Not really so radical, certainly not very difficult, and certainly also very democratic.

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Talking to the other side
Posted by: BKLN on Nov 2, 2005 1:18 PM [Report this comment]
I really really believe that our first fixit item is how to deal with the growing and deadly rift in our country and the
breakdown in the American community and American dialogue. I first posted this upthread, but wanted to put it out in its
own post.

Posted by: aedwards on Nov 3, 2005 12:39 PM [Report this comment]
Instead of shifting that $60 billion you were talking about to a government run education system how about getting rid of
the government run education system all together and using the money to help familie pay for thier children to go to
private schools. Not only would the education improve significately but parents would have a lot more control over the
education system. The wages of teachers would go up a great deal and the education system would be run a lot more
efficientlly then it is now.
The government is corrupt, we know this. Why would you let a corrupt government control the education of you child?
Of course this is just one idea. Any other suggestions would be appreciated.

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Posted by: aedwards on Nov 3, 2005 12:42 PM [Report this comment]
The force is strong in you young padowan, but you must take precautions against the dark side.

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