Friday, March 19, 2010

Who Sacrifices?

I'm off geological topics today, but I am talking about education, my other life concern...

I heard stories from my grandparents about life in the Great Depression and World War II, and I have heard and read plenty of accounts about how the country came together to try and deal with threats and the intractable problems of those times. My grandparents still had some of the ration stamps that they used during the war. It was an astounding time in the country's history that we came through a horrific war and terrible depression all the stronger for our collective pain.

This week, a number of my friends and fellow earth science teachers got some of the 23,000 pink slips that were handed out in California because of the pathetic budget situation in our state. I know that similar things are happening elsewhere across the country, and I share their fears and uncertainties. I'm one of the lucky teachers that continues to have a job, but the budget cuts have cut close to home, and I am concerned for the future of education in this state, and in the nation.

Shared's how our society is going to survive and thrive.

For the last few years, the sacrifice has fallen disproportionately on different groups of people.

We have been and still are fighting two of the longest wars in our nation's history. Who is paying the price? Mostly our military personnel and the reservists who have been trapped in a de facto draft. They fight the wars of wizened old men in Washington, and 5,000 have paid the ultimate price. Tens of thousands more are maimed and scarred for life. Who has benefited? As far as I can tell, it is the companies and corporations that build the weapons, and oil companies who are securing future petroleum resources.

How many people have followed the rules and followed their dreams to buy their own home? Because of the greed and stupidity of the banks and insurance companies and their financial shenanigans, we are sacrificing in a big way now. Foreclosures and lost equity have devastated millions of families and destroyed the budgets of states all over the country. Those responsible for the financial meltdown sit in their Wall Street offices and continue to collect billions in bonuses.

How many people have followed the rules and purchased or tried to purchase health insurance, only to have their coverage denied or canceled because they had the bad form to actually get sick? The so-called "death panels" are with us now, and have been for a long time. They're called health insurance companies. People are sick and dying, and the company executives collect record salaries and bonuses.

So here we are in the worst recession since the 1930's, and where I live, some counties have unemployment rates comparable to the Great Depression. So who is sacrificing now? It is the unemployed, a massive group of people who want to work, are ready to work, but who cannot find work. It is the homeowners, who were buying into a dream, but were being sold a bill of goods by con men. It is the teachers, who have given over their lives to make the lives of children better, and the students, who will be all the more ignorant and ill-prepared for life.

Of course, there is a resource that we could draw on to help in these terrible times. Those in the uppermost tax brackets had their taxes cut a decade ago, and they have seen their incomes double, triple, quadruple and more while the wages of the middle class have lost ground to inflation. These people are the bank presidents, the executives of the weapons companies, the health insurance CEOs. Why haven't they been asked to sacrifice in these difficult times? We haven't asked them to sacrifice because our elected politicians who should be doing this are no longer elected, they are bought and paid for by the people who sit in those executive offices. Heaven forbid that we ask them to pay a price, in the form of slightly higher taxes, equal to what they would have paid a decade ago....

A simplistic stream of consciousness today, I know. But I recall a certain uncomfortable Bible passage, Luke 12:48: "And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more."

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