Thursday, April 7, 2016

How Did We Get Here?

How Did We Get Here?

It’s a bit baffling, and more than a bit annoying. We seem to have a legislative branch of government that is now completely dysfunctional.  And our Judicial branch is less than fully functional, because it is now divided 4-4 due to the death of the Court’s most corrupt justice—Mr. Scalia.  How relatively functional is the Executive Branch is at least arguable. That branch seems to be the only fully functional arm of our government. At the least, folks show up to work each day, unlike the legislative folks.

I wonder, suppose this was 1940, and we had the Nazi’s knocking at one door, while the Empire of Japan was thinking of knocking at the other door.  Wouldn’t we simply collapse in a heap of confusion, of mal-attention, because we were too busy decrying one another?

In 1979, when I was at the time, working for a non-profit research center in Washington, DC, I was asked to join the Carter Administration to run a small office within the Office of the Secretary, carrying out program evaluations of legislative programs. That was the work in which I had been engaged in the non-profit, and so it seemed like a good opportunity. But that was 1979. In 1980, Ronald Reagan came knocking at the door, and burst through like a hurricane.  I never quite understood Ronald Reagan. His main claim was that “Government was not the solution to any of our problems; government was the problem.” Now, think about that. A man claims that government is the central problem in our nation, and then he says that he wishes to run that government.  Anyone else see a problem there?  Oh, I know, you’re thinking that he came to Washington to swap out that bad old government with a brand new one, one that was all sparkling clean, a well-oiled machine that would replace that cranky old thing that had been operating under folks like JF Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and those nasty old Democrats.  He would bring to the Nation’s capital the same forces he brought to California, ignoring for a moment his devastating effects on the California public education system, and the California economy.

One author[1] characterized Mr. Reagan’s tenure in California thusly:
Once elected, Mr. Reagan set the educational tone for his administration by:
a. calling for an end to free tuition for state college and university students,
b. annually demanding 20% across-the-board cuts in higher education funding,[2]
c. repeatedly slashing construction funds for state campuses
d. engineering the firing of Clark Kerr, the popular President of the University of California, and
e. declaring that the state "should not subsidize intellectual curiosity,[3]"

And he certainly did not let up on the criticisms of campus protestors that had aided his election. Mr. Reagan's denunciations of student protesters were both frequent and particularly venomous. He called protesting students "brats," "freaks," and "cowardly fascists." And when it came to "restoring order" on unruly campuses he observed, "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with. No more appeasement!"
Several days later four Kent State students were shot to death. In the aftermath of this tragedy Mr. Reagan declared his remark was only a "figure of speech." He added that anyone who was upset by it was "neurotic."[4] One wonders if this reveals him as a demagogue or merely unfeeling.

Governor Reagan not only slashed spending on higher education. Throughout his tenure as governor Mr. Reagan consistently and effectively opposed additional funding for basic education. This led to painful increases in local taxes and the deterioration of California's public schools. Los Angeles voters got so fed up picking up the slack that on five separate occasions they refused to support any further increases in local school taxes. The consequent under-funding resulted in overcrowded classrooms, ancient worn-out textbooks, crumbling buildings and badly demoralized teachers. Ultimately half of the Los Angeles Unified School District's teachers walked off the job to protest conditions in their schools.[5] Mr. Reagan was unmoved.
Ronald Reagan left California public education worse than he found it. A system that had been the envy of the nation when he was elected was in decline when he left. Nevertheless, Mr. Reagan's actions had political appeal, particularly to his core conservative constituency, many of whom had no time for public education.

And so, when Mr. Reagan came into power via the US Presidency, on a campaign wherein “government was the problem, not the solution”, he began his 8-year reign of denigrating the government.  So, perhaps it comes as no surprise that republicans, who sanctify Mr. Reagan, have also adopted as a central theme of their campaigns that government must simply get out of the way. Government is an evil force that must be neutered.

And, as an aside, while I was working in the Department of Health & Human Services, running an evaluation office, Mr. Reagan brought in as a political appointee to run the office, a man who, a) knew nothing about program evaluation, and b) turned out to be the stupidest person I ever worked with or for, in my then 25 year career.  He really seemed to know little about almost any subject.  Finally, when I feared becoming brain dead working under Reagan, I quit government and began a new life working on my own as a management consultant.

And that began the republican mantra, Government is Evil.  Now, with republican politicians beating that drum, ably assisted by a right wing media, it seems at least a strong possibility that able folks—thinking Americans possessed of some skill set—would begin to think about alternate career paths.  I imagine, over the past 30+ years that many potentially thoughtful people who might otherwise have chosen a career in government, especially in political government, have opted for a different path altogether.  Instead, we got a bunch of Gomer Pyle’s, with nasty dispositions.  The kind of dude who, brings a snow ball into the halls of Congress and tosses it out for all to see, as evidence that there is no global warming. 

The central question here is, how can we reverse this trend and begin to attract thinking creatures back into the Halls of Congress?  First, I think, is for the voters of America to decide this coming November that they do not want idiots running government. Mainly, I would suggest that voters seriously consider eliminating republicans in office. Only, it seems, if the republican party suffers a catastrophic defeat this fall, might the party begin to reassess its priorities and its mantra. If we really wish to make America great again, perhaps we might begin by attempting to make American Government great again. One way to do that, perhaps the only way, is to recruit intelligence into its ranks—get thinking adults to seek office, and adopt rational policies likely to enhance our Nation.  
I will close with some thoughts from an earlier posting.  The thoughts seem to need repeating.

 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. 

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.

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.

[1] ©2004 Gary K. Clabaugh