Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Road to Ruin is Paton with intentions (not all of them good.)

About a week ago I attended a Republican debate in Springerville. I have blogged about the Congressional District One race before, but I decided I would go see for myself what the GOP is sending us for candidates this year.

All four of the GOP candidates for the office were present, Patrick Gatti, Gaither Martin, Jonathan Paton and Doug Wade. The GOP establishment has annointed Paton, and given their track record in choosing candidates whether local Republicans want them or not (think Rick Renzi, who jumped into the district from outside and spent big outside money to defeat Louis Tenney in a primary in 2002, or Paul Gosar, who did live in the district but who also got a lot of outside money to beat several other candidates two years ago before abandoning the district this year) I suspect Paton will be their nominee. Like Renzi, he jumped into the district just to run; also like Renzi, he is bringing a lot of outside money into the district; and also like Renzi he is ethically challenged (as I discussed in this post about a month ago.)

So what kind of a GOP nominee is he? Well, he sounded very much like a career politician (a good reason for that, because he is a career politician) in most of his answers, consistently ducking and weaving while avoiding providing a lot of direct answers unless the question was a softball (i.e. "did you vote in the last election?") However, he had a couple of answers I would like to talk about right now.

I had one chance to ask a question, so I decided to ask it about the Paul Ryan budget, which Paton is on record (both in 2010 and 2012 as supporting.) The Ryan budget proposes phasing out Medicare for workers below 55 and replacing it with a series of exchanges where seniors could purchase subsidized private insurance. Of course this is exactly what is at the heart of Obamacare, but according to Republican logic, Obamacare is better than Medicare for seniors, but nothing at all would be better for the rest of us than Obamacare. So, I mentioned my age (presently 49) and the fact that I have paid Medicare taxes since I had my first job at the age of sixteen (a third of a century ago) and asked about how he felt about the Ryan budget's plan to privatize Medicare. He of course hemmed and hawed a great deal, going back and forth and finally saying it would be 'wrong' to "deny coverage to people that have been paying their entire lifetime into anything." Which was a classic dodge-- the Ryan plan does not seek to deny coverage, it seeks to change it to a privatized system. He then went on to discuss Social Security (which I had not even mentioned in my original question) and said, "I don’t believe I’m ever gonna see a dime of the money that I’ve put into Social Security, and I think most young people believe that today. We should be able to do with our own money what we want to. And I think that’s the right way to go." In other words, keep your money and invest it yourself. Which is to say, no Social Security. Exactly the same thing the Bush people were saying when they tried to privatize Social Security in 2005. Their arguments may be evolving, but make no mistake about it, the plans set forward by the Cato Institute to privatize Social Security are still intact, and Jonathan Paton's comment makes it clear that he will be on board the next time they try to privatize Social Security.

The only other thing I'd like to remind people of concerning the Ryan budget is that as bad as their plans are for Medicare and Social Security, Paton and other Republicans who have signed onto it are also supporting deep cuts in a wide range of programs that benefit virtually everyone, in order NOT to cut the deficit (as they have tried to say to sell it) but to finance deep tax cuts for billionaires. The tired old logic that low taxes on so-called 'job creators' will boost the economy should have pretty much been disproven by now, as taxes are already at historically low levels so if they really helped the economy we'd be seeing it boom right now. Instead, tax cuts only reduce tax revenue, which in turn creates deficits. Using deficits as an excuse to cut spending on programs, while at the same time pushing tax cuts for billionaires that will add back onto the deficit is pretty brazen, though I do have to admire their messaging people for convincing people not to think about the math (maybe there really IS another reason for all those cuts we've seen the GOP push in education the past few years.) But make no mistake about it. Paton is fully on board with the entire Ryan budget, including the 'cut spending to reduce the deficit and then cut taxes to blow the deficit up again' math.

There was one other answer I would like to dicuss that came from Mr. Paton, and one which left me cold. Someone asked him a question about treaties that we have entered into with other nations as well as the United Nations, and also about the second amendment. Paton first said that we should not observe 'any federal law that's unconstitutional.' Huh? I thought that it was up to the courts to decide whether a law is unconstitutional. And if they do make that determination, then the law is no longer in force. So what exactly does he mean by that? How will he determine which laws to obey and not to obey as 'unconstitutional,' since we already obey only laws which the courts have upheld or which have not been challenged. But it was the rest of his answer which really bothers me. He talked about people (presumably members of Senate, since the Senate ratifies treaties) who vote for treaties made with the U.N. and said, "we should not vote for it, and if you do vote for it, I think you’re a traitor, you’re a traitor to this country.

Excuse me? If you vote for a law that he believes is unconstitutional, then you're a traitor? It's one thing to disagree with a law or what it says. It's quite another to accuse people who exercise their Constitutional duty to vote on whether to ratify a treaty, "traitors" if they do not vote the way he believes they should. Yeah, I know. Just what we need to fit in with the image of Arizona. Another member of Congress who goes to Washington and calls people who disagree with him, "traitors."

After going to the debate, I can only say that it is of critical importance that we NOT send Jonathan Paton to Congress!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Joe Paterno offers us a chance to have an honest discussion about cultural obsolescence

[Workers at Penn State remove the statue of former football coach Joe Paterno]

Joe Paterno had the highest of standards, and paradoxically at the same time the lowest of standards. Paterno, who coached the Nittany Lions as an assistant coach beginning in 1950 and became head coach in 1966 and coached until he was fired in late 2011, was undeniably 'old-school.' An Ivy League product (from Brown,) "Joe Pa" made very sure his athletes graduated and got the academic help they needed to remain in school. Nowadays this would be less remarkable since the NCAA has made academic success a part of what is needed for football players and other athletes to remain eligible, but he did so from the day he began coaching, when there was little or no concern about academics in college football. "Saint Joe" literally had a halo painted over his image in a mural on the Penn State campus. For that matter, when the NCAA caught up with where Paterno had been for years and began to focus on academics and other rules, Paterno's program was able to avoid a single NCAA infraction. The idea of using bribery or other illegal methods to induce players to play for him was unthinkable. Besides academic success, Paterno preached lifelong character, and his players as well as many others upheld him and his unassuming, humble nature as a model of character.

All of which made the Sandusky scandal all the more shocking. It would have been shocking at any university, but at Penn State it was a scandal of monolithic proportions. It would have been no more shocking if the Vatican itself had been caught covering up for pedophiles in the priesthood (wait a second, let me restate that.)

For Paterno to be guilty of covering up such an awful crime as child rape was unthinkable. Except that it's true, spelled out right there in the Freeh report.

In contemplating how this could happen, I keep coming back to Paterno's age (he was 85 when he was fired, and died not long after.) Now, don't get me wrong. I'm 49 and in a few weeks when I turn fifty, I do plan to join AARP. One reason why is that AARP has a long history of fighting against 'ageism,' the term for discrimination against older people in the workplace and elsewhere. But to get to the root of ageism, we need to examine both the myths and the realities of age, and discuss a concern that is at the heart of ageism but is not often discussed because to do so is sometimes difficult.

This concern is simply put, that older workers may be obsolete. I know, you’re thinking this is a post about obsolete job skills. NO, IT IS NOT!! We all know that as the workplace is modernized, all workers of any age must update their career skills to adjust to new technology, innovations and other changes that go along with any job. And Paterno did so. Penn State has over the past two decades (since Joe Pa became eligible for Social Security) been a college behemoth. In every aspect of the game Penn State was an elite football program, often appearing in the top ten in recent years and winning three Big Ten championships after joining the league in 1993, most recently in 2008. Obviously he was still up to running a top level football program.

But it’s a more sensitive job issue that ‘obsolete job skills’ is sometimes used as a code word for. It is obsolete cultural skills.

Let me say that again: obsolete cultural skills.

Some years ago I was on an interview committee for a teaching position. One of the candidates was an elderly gentleman who had some teaching experience, though it was decades old. During the interview, he referred to female students as ‘co-eds.’ This is a term that hasn’t been in wide use since at least the 1970’s, and this and other answers led the committee to question whether he might unintentionally say something that would offend someone. Language is one aspect of cultural skills. The terms we use to describe people or groups of people change. For example, when I was growing up in the 1960’s, I first learned the term, ‘negro’ as a word for black people. However, today the term would be considered so out of date that it would be close to racist, and should never be used.

Returning to Joe Pa, he may have done a good job of adjusting to a more pass-oriented, faster paced offense or to new NCAA rules on recruiting, but he did a poor job of adjusting to a new world. Consider the world he began coaching in, in 1950. Surely child sexual abuse happened, probably at least as often as it does now. But it was never talked about. If something was said about it, most people at the time would (wrongly) assume it was likely a single (or even several) instances of easily correctable misbehavior, and a talk with the offender would have been good enough (with little or no thought given to the victim.) Whether Joe Pa ever had such a talk with Sandusky we will probably never know. One of them is dead, and the other will spend the rest of his life in prison and what he says from now on probably has no credibility at all. But whether he did or not, we now know that child molesters are never ‘cured’ (certainly not by a quick chat or word of warning.) And the crime itself has come to be taken much more seriously. In the 1950’s, very rarely would anyone be prosecuted for the rape of a child, unless perhaps the parents of the victim pressed charges (though the victim would often be too ashamed to acknowledge this in the first place.) People like Jerry Sandusky could count on that, and then he took advantage of troubled kids, who often did not have parents who would stand up for them to begin with.

This is not in any way to excuse Paterno. It is instead to point out that for older workers (whether they remain at their jobs or start new ones) the culture around them is changing. If you want to work until you are 85, as Joe Pa did, that’s great. I commend it. BUT, you have to do more than learn to use the newest computer program or new way to fill out a form. You have to keep up with the world, and adjust your thinking. And when you do, you have to act on it.

I believe that unspoken concerns about cultural obsolescence are at least as big a factor in the decision to pass over older workers as concerns about obsolete job skills. And until we can have an honest discussion about these concerns, we won’t really be able to make the job path smoother for older workers, even those who have a mind as sharp as a tack and who have kept up with every new technological development that comes down the pike.
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