Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lessons from the Appalachian Regional Commission

A long, long time ago, I worked on a consulting project, creating an evaluation system for an organization called the Appalachian Regional Commission. The Commission had been formed when Bobby Kennedy visited the region and discovered abject poverty, a demonstrably ineffective transportation network, poor health care, and low economic activity. Mainly, the region covered the South, although its reach extended from rural New York down to Mississippi.  Its geographic coverage was mainly a matter of politics.  The Commission was a Federal-State compact aimed at social and economic development throughout this region. Highway construction, health care and other social and economic activities characterized the work of the Commission.

In looking at the Commission, I was impressed that states could actually work together on common problems, and that federal assistance (read money) could be put to work in an attempt to uplift a whole region.  States had a role, but only when working together.
I now look back at that period with some wonderment that a thing such as a regional pseudo-government could actually function effectively.  With the recent S&P downgrading of America, falling on the heels of the worst political act in modern times, makes me wonder about America as a single entity.
I have thought for some time now that all of our “too big to fail” banking institutions should be immediately dismantled and broken up, perhaps down to the state level, i.e., no bank should be permitted to operate beyond its state borders and no bank should be allowed to gamble with the public’s money (I.e., investment management).
But then I thought about America, and whether it needs restructuring of the same kind. The level of hate spewing back and forth in the country makes me think of what the nation must have been like during, say 1860, or 1861.  The radical right really appear to hate anyone not associated with their party. Some hate all non-Christian Taliban. Some hate Blacks and Latinos. Most on the right hate anyone identified as a Liberal or Progressive, or simply as a democrat.  They all appear to hate that “uppity Black man in the White House”.  I note that their extreme concern for deficits and the national debt only dates to 2008, with the election of a Black man to lead the nation.  The really radical fiscal irresponsibility that characterized the period 2000 through 2008, when our economy collapsed, seems to have been missed entirely by our Astroturf Teabaggers.  And they wonder why people think they are racist.  But the republican party appears to have cleverly scooped up all these hate groups and made them the core of the party. Apparently all non-radical republicans have gone into hiding.  It’s interesting that people of the ilk of George Will never seem to comment on this radical group, yet he continues to hammer away at profligate Liberals and their irresponsible president.  He and his colleagues remind me of the Catholic Church’s inability to comment on their priests who rape little boys, or the Mullahs of the Islamic world who seem incapable of commenting adversely on the terrorists among them who blow up innocents in marketplaces. That republicans are now defined as radical cannot come as a surprise, given the absence of public debate within the party.
So, perhaps it is time to revisit our nation, much as Yugoslavia had finally to deal with its own divided country, or as the Brits had to deal with a divided Indian subcontinent.  Perhaps we are no longer one Nation, under God, or not.  Which brings me back to the Regional Commissions of old. Maybe we need to subdivide ourselves into people who hate one another a little less.  It is already clear that two of the contenders for the republican leadership have mentioned secession of their respective states. Maybe they are right. Maybe we should have a Northeast Region, a Northwest (or West) Region, a Southeast region, a Middle Region, a Southwest region, and a Northern Tier Region.  Perhaps the Rockies might forge a coherent Region.  We would, of course, have to divide the national debt, the National Treasury (empty at the moment), the Military, and a few other trinkets currently belonging to the entity formerly known as America.
Perhaps some of the regions could join other entities (say the Northeast might ask Canada if they would be interested, and I am sure that the Southwest region would be comfortable joining Mexico). Alaska and Hawaii are a bit of a problem, but perhaps we could sell Alaska back to Russia, or to Canada. Maybe Hawaii could just stay Hawaii, and bring back the king.
Just a thought.
And on another exoplanet, the Governor of Texas has declared that the Empire State building is obviously a huge phallic symbol, and is therefore anti-Christian and should be torn down immediately (or sold to the French who like that kind of thing).
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