Fiscal folly keeps growing

Venus Fly Trap plants outside Myrtle Beach. (Brad Nettles/Staff)

A new study by German scientists concludes that a plant species has the capacity to count. And a new milestone for the national debt counts as alarming evidence that the U.S. government continues to spend vastly beyond its — and our — means.

The counting-plant study featured in last week’s issue of Current Biology focuses on the Venus fly trap. According to the summary of research conducted by a team from the University of Wurzburg:

“When an insect visits the trap and tilts the mechanosensors on the inner surface, action potentials (APs) are fired. After a moving object elicits two APs, the trap snaps shut, encaging the victim.”

In other words, the plant counts the action potentials before closing the deal on its victim. Also from that summary:

“We found that the touch hormone jasmonic acid (JA) signaling pathway is activated after the second stimulus, while more than three APs are required to trigger an expression of genes encoding prey-degrading hydrolases, and that this expression is proportional to the number of mechanical stimulations.”

No, you won’t be tested on this material.

However, both major parties’ presidential candidates are largely failing the test of paying more than lip service — if even that — to the specter of an ever-rising tide of red ink that threatens to swamp America’s economic future. That includes hardly any discussion, beyond some occasional generalizations, on precisely how they would achieve necessary — and long-overdue — reform of unsustainable entitlement programs.

And the national debt’s steep climb over the last 15 years, when both Republicans and Democrats have had ample chances to do much more about it while in alternating control of executive and legislative branches, shows that there’s plenty of bipartisan blame to go around.

The debt was $5.7 trillion when George W. Bush was sworn in as president early in 2001. It was $10.6 trillion when Barack Obama entered the White House early in 2009.

Then on Jan. 29, it hit the $19 trillion mark. To comprehend just how immense that number is, consider:

If you started counting and kept going at one number per second, it would take 608,000 years to reach 19 trillion. That would be a feat for people or plants, including the very best bean counters.

Consider, too, this intriguing press-release insight from Professor Rainer Hedrich, part of the counting-plant research team, on how to avoid being devoured if you do land in a Venus fly trap:

“If you just sit there and wait, the next morning, the trap will open and you can leave. If you panic, you induce a deadly cycle of disintegration.”

And no, we can’t panic our way out of the federal government’s disastrous course toward fiscal disintegration.

But we can demand straight talk from political candidates, including those seeking America’s highest elective office, on what they would do about our record — and still recklessly growing — national debt.