Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It's 1183 Again

Yay . . . it’s 1183 again. Well, I know, technically it isn’t but, what the hell. It’s where we seem headed. We just watched a wonderful old film in our collection, The Lion in Winter, with Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. It’s about an aging King Henry and his quarrelsome and underhanded kids, all of whom wish to be king or at the least Lord of their own realm.  Their realms are, of course, fairly scruffy since it was 1183.
And I thought, as I watched, “why this is what our republican brethren wish to recreate.”  Not sure who is aiming to play the various parts—Rand, of course, wishes to be Richard, the ablest of the nasty clan, trying very hard to position himself as the heir apparent.  And the King . . . hmmm. Perhaps Rupert himself, since he seems to want so badly to crown one of the little republican hopefuls. And I thought, maybe Michelle, or Sarah for the queen. They’re both every bit as devious as Queen Eleanor, but neither seems much smarter than my pet rock, so they wouldn’t really serve the part well. But then most republican hopefuls seem a couple of beers short of a six pack, so perhaps the girls are “normal” in republican world.
And as Henry goes about kicking his royal loyal armsmen in the ass to get them moving whenever he wants to go somewhere, or do something nasty, I thought, why yeah, that’s their exact model. And, of course, there’s no safe drinking water since safe water hadn’t yet been invented. In our case, the republican heavy hitters are all about polluting our air and waterways (see the Kochs)..

Yeah, so it’ll be fun seeing 1183 come back. We serfs will have to make do with the leftovers from the repub banquets and I suppose we will learn how to sleep in the corners of the realm. It may even be fun watching the republican idiot-savants fight one another for their piece of the pie, while Rupert, Rove, and the Koch’s sit by and watch the mayhem they invented.. Yeah, good times are just ahead. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Age of Discontent

I wonder what the old folks thought about in, say, 1932, or maybe in 1939 . . . when the world seemed as though it was collapsing around them. In one case, the bankers and stock brokers of the world, in pursuit of ever greater profits, caused the financial world to collapse, ruining millions of people—rich and poor alike. 1932 must have seemed a dismal time indeed. I know it was for my folks and grandfolks. And then, before anything like a recovery was at hand, came the prospect of WW II. Yeah, it must have been great to be approaching 80 during that period.

So, now, it’s 2014, and as I approach my 41st 39th birthday (me and Jack Benny), the world seems almost as dismal. Muslim crazy folks throughout the Middle East and Africa are intent on killing as many people as they can, just because they can.
And then there’s the world of finance. We seem to have recovered, sort of, from the George Bush-inspired economic collapse, but it’s been an expensive recovery. The nation had to foot the bill to keep the financial world afloat—they really seem like dim bulbs in the world of finance, incapable of learning from past mistakes. The lure of gigantic payouts continues to dazzle them, despite the risks to the global economic system. They seem not to care actually, so long as we stand ready to bail them out when they screw up, that is. I guess they lost a lot of dough during the Shrub era, and they have been trying to make it up ever since.
And then there’s the political mess. Not sure when it happened, but our political parties began acting un-American, if not downright anti-American, right after our Prez was elected. The GOP apparently decided that its name should really be the Grand Oligarchical Party, so they all signed on to the effort to defeat our Prez and “the other guys”—Dems don’t you know.  And defeat isn’t just another term for disagree with—no, the GOP seems to want the complete destruction of the Democratic system of government, beginning with the Democratic Party.  They really want an Oligarchy, recreating the United States as a DINO—Democracy in Name Only.  And of course, their official cheerleaders, the Faux News Network become ever more absurd daily. Employing the best form of reductio ad absurdum, Fox has now declared that there is an “unholy war on Easter” or maybe just on religion generally, attributed of course to Liberals, Atheists, democrats—all their sworn enemies.  Ahh, Mr. Murdoch you take absurdity to new heights of . . . absurdity.
So, I find myself becoming increasingly uneasy as I approach that exalted age—uneasy because I hate the idea that we as a human race, have become so destructive that we seem no longer capable of rational thought.  And that makes me sad, because of the kind of world we are bequeathing to our grandchildren.
And I wish I could look ahead, as one might have done in 1939, to a world that would one day be freer of demagogues and hatred and murderous rage, and unparalleled greed than it is now. But it’s hard, really hard to see such a world.  All I see is a world in which people in this country seem to actively hate one another, just because we all possess different views about many subjects.  Makes me wonder whether in this climate we could ever have invented the Peace Corps, or Americorps. Wouldn’t the GOP label them as un-American and part of the Dems’ class warfare?  Wonder what ever became of the concept of noblesse oblige?
Hello, World . . . anyone home there??

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Corruption is a Two Way Street

I am always saddened when I read about our political system being corrupted. But I am downright annoyed by the frequent portrayals of such corruption. It is almost always a discussion of how a political figure is corrupt, mainly because he or she (but it’s almost always a HE) accepted money in some quid pro quo arrangement to facilitate some business deal.  Two things:

1.       First, mainly the reports portray corruption in terms of downright bribes—you give me $100,000 and I will assure that you get your . . . whatever.

2.       Second, the portrayals almost always give us mainly a picture of the corruptee—the pol, as distinct from the corrupter—the bidness person.
I think the time has come to begin correcting that image. Again, two things:
1.       When we discuss corruption, perhaps the least destructive form is the bribe, a specific quid pro quo arrangement in which a bidness person offers a financial payment to an official who agrees in exchange to take some action benefiting the bidness person. Damaging, yes. But even more profoundly corrupting is the system by which wealthy folks, or maybe wealthy corporate “persons” (those fake people dreamed up by Tony and the Supremes) donate very large sums of money to campaigns or to parties in exchange for smiles from the politicians, who will later rule in their favor at every opportunity—Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, come to mind here.

2.       And note that we need to always discuss corruption as a two-way street. We have government being corrupted and bidness doing the corrupting.  So, it is not, as portrayed by the GOP that we have a system of government strangling the poor honest business people of the world. Rather, we have a system in which very rich dishonest bidness persons locate dishonest government persons and connect to produce a government system in which only the wealthy win.
We really need to revisit this entire subject. Government regulation, for example, exists for what purpose? Well, all regulations exist to rein in the worst instincts of otherwise unfettered commercial folks. Perhaps the most prominent form of regulation that bidness persons hate (see the Cocks) is the sets of rules aimed at preserving the environment, which includes the air we breathe and the water we drink. Left to themselves, folks like the Koch’s will destroy the land, water and air if it is needed to make them more money. They simply do not care. So, we have to rein them in. Similarly, although we no longer seem to care about monopolies, we used to think that competition is good and that too large is bad, because it reduces competition. Look at banks and you will know we no longer care. My view is, if it’s too big to fail, it’s too big to exist.  That would include banks, auto makers, Internet service providers, or health care systems.  As we head towards a world in which we will have one shop (Wal-Mart) one bank (your guess) one ISP (again, your guess) I think we need folks representing us in the government who are willing to challenge the notion that bigger is better. It never is.
I should note that the last statement would produce a counter from the right that, “well government is too big, so maybe we should break it up.”  I would counter that there is no notion of competition in the realm of government.  Government is as big or as small as we the people wish to make it. It may well be the case that we need to revisit the concept of government structure as it continues to grow. Perhaps we need new forms or new structures to more effectively and efficiently manage our public affairs. It may be,  for example, that we should examine the concept of regional structures, akin to the old Appalachian Regional Commission. We definitely need to re-examine the manner in which our federal Congressional representatives oversee the work of government. My overall impression is that much of government oversight, as played out in Congress is simply a bad political joke. They pretend to oversee and we pretend that they have done their job if the Faux News Network, or Wolf Blitzer provides enough coverage on TV.  Mainly, Congress isn’t in the problem-solving game. They are told about a problem by someone who is paying attention, they hold a hearing, and then they throw money at the problem.  Hearings are held to determine that the problem is alive and well and they should continue throwing money at it.
So, yes, we do need to examine the structure of government and how we employ government to solve problems. Perhaps our most grievous fault in applying government to solve problems is in the area of war and peace. We love to throw a war at folks with whom we disagree. But rarely is war a reasonable solution. Mainly, it just pisses off the folks with whom we become involved, often our ‘friends” and our “enemies”—sometimes you can’t tell one from the other without a program—see Pakistan.
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 (Supremes take note). 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 in part:
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.                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.
4.            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. Otherwise, leave Social security alone.
5.                Republicans, continue in their zeal to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to repair the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a dropout 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. Charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, and worse, fake private schools that are on-line, are not an answer.
6.              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. 
There were a few other points that need not be repeated here. What we continue to need is watchful citizens—citizens who are willing to question both private commercial interests and public government interests. Corruption is a problem that will always be with us, so long as we have serious economic imbalances and so long as we have citizens who are basically dishonest—remember both the corrupters and the corruptees are dishonest.  Both need to be exposed and punished. It is why, by the way, that we continue to need whistle-blowers.  Say what you will of the Assange-Manning-Snowden groups, but they have informed us of some very unpleasant things about ourselves. Transparency is key here, and we definitely do not have transparent systems in either the public or private realms (thanks again Supremes).
We all need to stand up and be counted. And that means we need to vote, regardless of the efforts by the GOP to prevent folks from voting.  If you don’t vote, you will get the government you deserve.