Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Return to Sanity

It is May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy addresses the Nation:
 “. . . I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
Much cheering, especially among those of us who are in the aerospace business. Me, an engineer with the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, was especially cheering. Sounds great to me.
But then reality sets in. The first thing Senator Everett Dirksen does is to convene a meeting of the Senate Republican leadership to decide how to most effectively counter President Kennedy’s call for a National program of space exploration, beginning with putting a man on the moon and safely returning him to earth. In the meeting, Senator Dirksen gets approval to use all means at their disposal to oppose this initiative, deny its funding, and to oppose by any and all means all such programs. Dirksen is quoted as saying, “If Kennedy succeeds, the Democrats will have another major accomplishment to crow about, like Social Security and Medicare. We must not allow this to happen.” And that meeting sets into motion the major GOP initiative to derail all Kennedy initiatives. The fight is on. And ten years later, Russia succeeds in placing the first man on the moon, replacing the US as the leader in world space exploration.
Oops. You mean that didn’t happen? Nope, I just made it up.  What happened instead? Well, the Nation coalesced around the President and his initiative, and, despite his murder several years later, that space initiative continued on to become a keystone of American science achievements. We placed a man on the moon and returned him safely back to Earth. And no, the GOP did not work hard to stifle that initiative.
I wonder too, what might have happened to the Nation’s interstate highway system had the Dems decided to kill the Eisenhower initiative to build that highway system.  The nation might still be connected, but by little two-lane byways instead of high speed interstate highways.
What marks the key difference between then and now? Mainly a more responsible GOP and Democratic leadership who, despite all the political infighting, was still capable of acting in the best interests of the Nation. When push came to shove, they all shoved together.
So, what the hell is going on now? Ever since the 2008 election, Republicans have been driven to prevent our duly elected President from accomplishing anything.  All the birther crap and the formation of the Tea Party is, at its core, simple racism raising its ugly head in a way not seen since the Civil War.  Added to that issue, we have another—power-seeking. The current Republican leadership has viewed the Affordable Care Act as equivalent to Medicare and even Social Security.  Those programs they hate because of their success.  The worst nightmare for Republicans is that the ACA might succeed. So, to prevent such an eventuality, they have committed themselves to its destruction. Think of that. We have 40-50 million people without adequate access to health care. We are the only Nation in the industrialized world that does not have universal coverage of its people, and we have an opposition party committed to preventing such an achievement.  They argue that the Government has no business in health care. That the private sector is more capable of providing such care and that the government will screw it up. In fact, the private sector has already dcemonstrated that it is not just incapable, but more to the point, unwilling to provide a system of universal access to health care.  A major part of the problem is that our current system is employment-based, and our employers have decided to find ways around the requirement that they support a full employee benefits program. Some, actually many companies are simply too small to provide such benefits. But then you have companies such as Wal-Mart who find legal ways around it, like hiring mostly part-time workers.  And then we have the private insurance companies who keep rigging the system with its pricing system and its exclusionary clauses, such that people either cannot gain coverage, or simply cannot afford such coverage.  Coverage is so expensive that many young folks decide to pass on obtaining health insurance. They reason that they are young and healthy and can afford to risk going naked.  But those folks are: 1) ignorant of the actual costs of a health care emergency --$25,000 to $50,000 for a single event is not uncommon; and 2) they are assuming that, if they get desperately ill, requiring hospitalization, they can go to the Emergency Room and they will be admitted and someone else will pay the bill.  Partly that’s true, but partly it is also a fairy tale.
So, what needs to happen?
Well, first, the American people need to awaken to the rampant racism now alive and virulent within our Nation. Racism is a poisonous condition—it is alive and well in the Middle East and responds often in mass deaths. Such an outcome seems unlikely here, but it is possible. The Civil War, and many decades of lynchings and KKK violence are our experience base.  So, the public must awaken itself to the very real risks within our Nation, risks that may well exceed the risks from outside terrorists.  One way to counter those risks is by voting, something current Republicans seem intent on inhibiting, through their attempts at limiting the rights of democrats to vote.  So, democratic voters need to move past those road blocks and vote. Remember, it’s important. Annoy a Republican—VOTE.
But this all leads me back to one of my earlier blogs—one on the need to maintain balance. What kind of balance? Well, two kinds. First, we need political balance between republicans and democrats.  Single party control always eventually leads to tyranny. Second, we need serious balance between government and commerce. We need a healthy commercial sector because that produces economic health. But we need a healthy government because that government can protect us from our own worst instincts.
What I said then was in the form of an open letter to our incoming President Obama. It read:
President Obama, we must stand for balance in everything we do.
1.                In economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation, that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy.
2.                We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.
3.                Organized religion has become dysfunctional. For reasons I cannot comprehend, religious leaders have lost their way on matters of intellectual thought. Science is now being posed as some alternative to faith—as though people of faith ought to be opposed to rational thought. There is no conflict and there never was. The public must be convinced that leaders who find conflict are charlatans interested only in enhancing their personal power. If God gave us this magnificent universe, God also gave us brains to ponder its majesty. Those who wish to stop science are trying to return us to the dark ages, where they ruled through fear. We dare not return there, but Bush and his coterie of 12th century leaders, opened the door to religious extremism, with all its fearful consequences.
4.                Terrorism continues to grow, and we currently have no effective way to check its growth. It is now clear that policies under Bush have been the growth medium. We are breeding terrorists, and every time we kill innocents, ten terrorists take their place against us. George Bush was presented with a golden opportunity, briefly, to resolve the Middle East mess. But he is an imbecile, and chose this idiotic course of war in Iraq. The Nation has finally kicked the Neo-Cons out of office, but we now need to reverse their disastrous course. 
5.                We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources.
6.                We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits.
7.                Similarly, we must pass a system of health care reform. Clinton had the best opportunity in 50 years and he allowed the Republicans to take it away.  When Republicans used demagoguery (what health care crisis, they argued disingenuously) we should have used data to demonstrate that, while republicans do not appear to believe that all Americans should have access to health care, democrats do. We need a single payer system.  We need to stand up for what is right here – 40 to 50 million people who have no health care is not right.
8.                Republicans, with their “no-Child-Left Behind” Act, were attempting to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to work on the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a drop out rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people.
9.                We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. It is possible that Mr. Bush could have, indeed should have anticipated 911. He still needs to answer for that failure on his watch. New structures might be required, but Homeland Security and the Patriot Act are not answers to any problem we currently have.
President Obama, you have an opportunity to articulate a new vision of America, one that includes openness, an embrace of democracy through peaceful means, and an impassioned defense of rational policies that seek to better this once-proud nation and indeed the entire world. It is well to remember that societies will be judged ultimately by their treatment of those less fortunates who cannot care for themselves.  We stand for that principle against the forces of darkness unleashed by the neo-cons and the Bush Administration.
Our continued existence as a free society may now be in your hands. Do not waste this opportunity. There may not be another.”

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