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38 Responses

The Washington Post weekend Magazine section has a feature this week:

Fix this democracy — now

38 ideas for repairing our badly broken civic life

There are 38 contributors, from across the spectrums. Some of the ideas I agree with, some I don’t. But I reacted strongly enough to many of them that I decided to write 38 responses.

Require Everyone to Vote

This is one of several entries around the theme of changing how people vote to make voting more meaningful more most people. I generally agree with it.

A New High School Course: Identity 101

Oh, wow. I understand the premise, but it’s a Catch-22: those who agree with the proposal wouldn’t change with the course, and those who oppose it wouldn’t let their kids be changed by it.

One Month Without Social Media

The idea is to get people to interact with others more. On behalf of other introverts, no, thanks. You’re addressing a symptom, and not one I give much weight to.

Befriend a Libertarian

Hell, no. I hate Libertarians. They aren’t some middle ground we can all agree upon; they’re the fringe who are part of the current problem, the current administration’s plan to burn government to the ground through neglect or sabotage. This was one of the more blatantly self-serving proposals.

Tackle Tough Subjects at Dinner

In theory, nice. In practice? How are some parents going to react to tough topics from their children, such as, “I reject your religion,” or, “I’m not straight,” for example? The idea behind this is better summarized by another proposal still to come.

Outlaw Private Education

This proposal suggests that if there were no private education, people would put the gifts they give to private education into public education. That’s beyond naive. In theory, yes, all kids starting school should have access to comparable educations. In practice, some private schools are better at teaching fundamentals, and some are worse. Interesting goal; wrong approach, if you ask me.

Ignore the Cultural Elite

Ignoring the elite is how we got Donald Trump. Question the elite, sure, but ignore?

Mandate Military or Civilian Service

I like the idea of mandating some form of public service, but recent reports about fears within military ranks of white nationalism, including within the military, give me pause. Mandating service would reverse some of the self-selection that skews the military members toward white nationalism, but I’m not sure making more of them serve with their perceived inferiors will negate their learned white nationalism as often as idealists would hope. Maybe the split between civilian and military service would mirror today’s political polarization if we’re not careful somehow.

Allow Garage Unit Rentals

I don’t think the problem with American democracy today is largely caused by housing in some areas being unaffordable, letting the upper middle class become isolated from the working and lower classes. It might be a worthy idea, but it doesn’t help the core topic, in my reading.

Keep Dreaming

I’m sure my political opponents dream; they just dream of different things.

A Women-Led Evangelical Movement

On the one hand, I’d be happy with more female leadership within all religions.

On the other hand, having seen some of the social efforts led by churches, such as using religion to justify discrimination against sexual or racial minorities, I’d prefer more secular leadership than religious leadership of social movements. I hope liberal and progressive religions get more socially active outside their own faiths, but I won’t assume religions are part of the answer.

A Constitutional Amendment on Equality

I’d like to see Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions enforce laws resulting from such an Amendment. We aren’t even enforcing current laws on equality. Attitudes have to come before legislation and enforcement. Prohibition — and, fifty years later, drunk driving — proved that.

Establish National Unity Week

As long as there are political parties and elections to be won, unity will always be threatened by the political benefits (for some) of fomenting division.

Switch to Instant-Runoff Voting

This, I like! This weakens the two-party system and creates room for moderates and third-party candidates. Would Trump have won if every state had used Instant-Runoff Voting? People would have voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson and known that they could still indicate a preference for Hillary over Trump if it came down to that.

It gets trickier for lower level elections. Would people learn enough about local candidates for office to make intelligent decisions about offices? Still, I like this for the same reason I like compulsory voting: it gets people involved and allows for more nuanced voting.

Remind the Government: It is Beholden to Us

Civil servants know to whom they’re beholden. It’s the elected leaders and political appointments, in my experience, that corrupt that.

Rein in the Congressional Budget Office

Someone doesn’t like the CBO. I don’t think the CBO is the cause of the breakdown of American civic involvement.

Teach Critical Thinking

I want to like this idea. I like the idea of critical thinking.

My concern is, everyone at Breitbart News as well as every conspiracy theorist thinks they’re using critical thinking. “Challenge the status quo! Question what they tell you? Do you really think jet fuel can melt skyscraper support beams?” Galileo was once right in the face of opposition from the Establishment, so every climate denier might be right, too! Critical thinking, man!

It may be that critical thinking currently is corrupted by anti-establishment biases. Critical thinking is always vulnerable to unrecognized biases.  I’m not sure how to address that.

Give Every Teen a Black Box

Can you teach intellectual curiosity? If you can, that probably promotes critical thinking and helps inoculate people against biases, but I’m not sure you can on a large scale.

Fund Art Centers

For some personality types, sure; for others, no. I’ll accept this as a minor part of the effort and accept that I won’t like some of the art.

Push for Civil Rights Education

Every moron who’s telling about white genocide knows what civil rights are now defined to be. I see some benefit from teaching today’s youth that the struggle is constant, However, education isn’t the issue when we don’t agree on the fundamental value and worth of all people.

Prevent Left-Wing Media Bias

People don’t trust the mainstream media because they’re being taught not to trust them. Who’s teaching them that? The fringe movements on both the right and the left; the right are just better funded and now have their own shameless large media arms.

Bah, humbug!

Let Government Co-Own New Technologies

I get very skittish around things that reek of socialism. I don’t trust unchecked capitalism, but neither do I endorse the government claiming the benefits of private entrepreneurship.

That said, I agree that government grants should somehow have a payback scheme written into them so that government-funded discoveries bring financial benefits to the government.

Redefine the Flag

This proposal seems to be about reframing arguments to use the buzzwords of the audience you’re trying to win over. I’m sure I missed something here, but I’m not sure what.

Stop Obsessing about White Privilege

This seems to stipulate that we’re not doing what we know and agree we have to do because we’re still arguing about causes and degrees of guilt. I’m not sure this stipulation is valid.

End the Blame Game

As I noted earlier, unity is vulnerable to the political advantages of divisiveness, and blame games fuel that divisiveness. In theory, great. In practice?

Celebrate Government

In theory, great. In practice, ugh. Take streets and roads. “Government built and maintains these roads! Thanks, government!” “Why did government build the roads instead of letting developers build them and HOAs maintain them?” “But then HOAs are just a form of govenrment.” “Which is why I don’t live in an HOA!” “And who pays for the road you live on, and the roads it connects to?” Ad nauseum.

Peer Review for Candidates

Donald Trump wasn’t reviewed and evaluated by his peers? Of course he was; we called it “Primary Season.” Some would argue that Democratic super-delegates peer-reviewed Bernie Sanders and voted for Hillary Clinton. Many Sanders supporters are still livid about that. This is where I prefer “instant runoff” voting instead.

A Marshall Plan for America

The Marshall Plan was for rebuilding a continent devastated by war. Trump’s rhetoric withstanding, we’re not that dysfunctional yet.

Create a System of Voting Credits

I like the proposals to shake up voting. I’m not sure how many people would use their credits wisely, either spending too many too early, or having too many left for an election for which they have no strong feelings. Implementation details will be nasty.

Keep Education Public

Or, as least in this effort, kill school voucher programs. I can get behind that; they seem to be a failed experiment.

Take a Stand, Local Officials

Local officials in the South took lots of stands in the Civil Rights era. I’m not sure that’s what George Takei meant.

Mandate Gun Insurance

While I like this idea, it addresses a symptom of America’s polarization, not the polarization itself.

End American Arrogance

Oh! My! God! The American right just had collective apoplexy. It’s another Catch-22.

A Grass-Roots Revolt Against Fake News

No one likes Fake News. Not Donald Trump, not the “liberal” mainstream media, not Fox News, not anyone!

See also, critical thinking.

Revive Human Decency

Again, this is a symptom of the polarization, not the cause, at least not at a level we can work with.

Bring Back the Cold War Economy

The Cold War economy was justified by a shared fear. It benefited the military-industrial complex — and its owners — more than the workers in the factories and fields. No, thank you.

Persuade Voters to Keep Clicking

See also, critical thinking and alleged media bias.

Cultivate National Gratefulness

They’re proud to be Americans, and they keep singing to say so. That doesn’t seem to have done enough so far.



For Paul Ryan (& Joel Osteen?)

He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Mt 25:33-40

Paul Ryan may wish to remember, Jesus didn’t give any credit to the tax collectors who gave the poor tax breaks and investment credits so they could start their own businesses with capital (that they didn’t have) to develop a business and eventually feed themselves or clothe themselves. He was much more about immediate results.

Remember that time thousands of followers came to a rally but forgot to bring food and drink? He gathered up what food and drink He and his staff had and used it to feed all of those gathered, despite their appalling lack of planning and self-sufficiency.

He cured the sick, of course, without worrying about co-pays and pre-existing conditions. Maybe that was because He was a carpenter, not a doctor. If He had thousands of dollars of student loans, would He have…. No, that probably wouldn’t have made a difference, would it? He didn’t qualify his teachings with such considerations. He was pretty much, “If you can do it, do it to help others.”

He didn’t even go in for that, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats forever,” type of teaching. He gave people fish and wine. He healed them instead of opening a healing school to teach others how to heal as He did. He was very much about immediate results, not about establishing the conditions for long-term economic recovery in Galilee. Despite that short-sightedness, His teachings persisted, and eventually a movement followed; others learned to help and love based on his examples, not because he gave seminars at Jesus University on how to help and love.

Reminder: sometimes I say the obvious, in case it’s not obvious. For Paul Ryan, and possibly for Joel Osteen in flood-ravaged Houston, apparently it’s not obvious.

NPR, Among Others, Has Lost Its Way

I am very much a child of the Sixties and Seventies. I started first grade in the fall of 1969. The war in Vietnam was on the evening news, or so I am told. Jack, Martin, and Bobby had all died during my brief life so far. The Vatican II convocation had been over for years; I only remember masses in English, with the priest facing the congregation. The Equal Rights Amendment was still a possibility. Female lectors and soon eucharistic ministers weren’t unusual, although I never served as an altar boy with a female altar servant.

It’s not that racial prejudice had simply vanished. Even as a child, I knew that there were racists in America. I might have thought they were mostly confined to the South, but I knew they existed. I also knew they were wrong. They were behind the times. They clung to outmoded, wrong beliefs. My first political memory is from the fourth grade, watching a mock debate about the ’72 Presidential race and asking what made McGovern think he could end the war in 90 days or whatever his pledge was. So, I don’t remember George Wallace being shot, but I knew as a child that he represented that segment of society that clung to the past, to white supremacy.

The environmental movement was starting. I didn’t notice as an eight-year-old when the EPA was created, but I knew that things like Earth Day and my green ecology lunchbox meant that we were trying to save the earth. There didn’t seem to be much doubt that we had to repair the environment; pollution was awful, epitomized by burning rivers (OK, only one; I was a little confused as a kid) and public service ads on TV showing fish dead in rivers due to pollution. We might have to convince greedy corporations and greed people to do the right thing and change to prevent pollution, but there was no question that the environmental movement was at some level right and necessary.

As I grew up, things got more complicated. There were women who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, for some perverse reason. There was opposition to school bussing to achieve public school integration — even in the North. Before I graduated from high school, Ronald Reagan was taking the contrary view that government was the problem, not the solution. He didn’t say that racism in America was bad; he just implied that government efforts to address it did more harm that good. He implied that about lots of government programs. Two years earlier, Allan Bakke had sued one of the University of California medical schools, claiming “reverse discrimination.” Some whites were starting to push back when they felt they were the ones paying the price so minorities could be given the chance to succeed.

Reagan, of course, was elected President in 1980. The ERA wasn’t ratified by enough states in the time allowed for its passage; it wasn’t brought up again, but laws about women’s rights were pursued at sub-Constitutional levels. Reagan tried to neuter the EPA, but public opinion forced him to reverse that attempt.

Before Reagan’s second term was over, I completed my education and tried to become an adult, whatever that meant. I remember watching the network evening news in the fall of ’87 about that day’s stock market crash. However, I soon acquired the habit of listening to National Public Radio affiliates. They weren’t government broadcasts, although some received a minuscule amount of public subsidies. It was enough that they weren’t owned by corporations but instead were run as non-profit efforts. If they were more liberal than “mainstream,” corporate-owned TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers, maybe it was due simply to the lack or corporate influences on their choices of news items and how they were presented. The Wall Street Journal went in my eyes from a respectable major newspaper to a paper with a specific, visible slant in favor of business over other interests. Other mainstream, respected outlets weren’t so pronounced in their biases, but I’d hear rumors that GE had killed this NBC story or Westinghouse had somehow meddled with a story on one of the stations it owned. Such accusations against NPR were less common and thus more shocking the few times they came up.

I listened to NPR during the tail end of the Reagan years and through the George H. Bush years. I kept listening during the Clinton administration with its violent tug-of-war with Republicans in Congress who refused to engage constructively with the administration. Some “reforms” were passed, such as sentencing guidelines and welfare “reform.” This was also the time when traditional broadcasting and journalism were starting to be augmented by “the Internet.” By the time the Clinton administration yielded to the Gore George W. Bush administration, American politics were becoming sharply polarized. There were new channels and publications on the right that accused the mainstream media of being too liberal, never mind NPR or its even more leftist “public” rivals, such as Pacifica Radio.

My NPR affiliates changed as I moved, from the Binghamton, NY market to Elkhart/South Bend to Detroit to Washington, DC itself. I felt some sadness verging on anger as Bob Edwards was pushed out by NPR and soon ended up on for-profit satellite radio, for crying out loud! But, under Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43, NPR remained fairly consistent in its tone. It also remained fairly consistent as I bounced through Illinois during Obama’s rise in stature into the Presidency and my moves to Austin and then back to the upper Midwest, now in Madison, Wisconsin.

Something about the rise of Donald Trump, culminating in his election to the Presidency, shook NPR, as it shook many media outlets. The mainstream media, including NPR, consistently underestimated Trump during his primary campaign and his Presidential campaign. He was such a repudiation of fifty years of concern for the downtrodden and the minorities. He was the voice for the spiritual descendants of Allan Bakke, proclaiming that they were being held back because of considerations given to minorities. Never mind that automation killed more factory jobs than affirmative action, multi-lateral trade pacts, or illegal immigration. Here was Trump proudly making statements that might have gotten him tossed out on his ass during the Sixties and Seventies and were too extreme for widespread acceptance in the Eighties and Nineties. NPR and the rest of the mainstream media kept waiting for “respectable conservatives,” to figure out how to beat Trump, for Trump’s rising support levels hit a ceiling and for normal order among conservatives to be restored. They also struggled some with the rise of Bernie Sanders. Was the declared Independent really going to upturn the Democratic primary system and beat Hillary Clinton by running from her left? How far left was her left, anyway? Was she a moderate who was too friendly with Wall Street, or was she the progressive who had pushed for heath care reform in her husband’s early years as President, only to come up short, and later had spoken truth to power at an international women’s conference in Beijing?

The Internet gave all kinds of voices ways to find their audiences. In particular, it let well-heeled corporate influences attack the mainstream media with the rise of Fox News and conservative talk radio, and that in turn led to the rise of ultra-right, or white nationalists, or whatever label you’d like to give them to the right of the visible right. The break in the streak of forty-three straight white Christian men as President with the election of Barack Obama somehow energized those fearful of minorities. Mitt Romney spoke in 2012 of 47% of America that would never vote for him because they benefitted too much from government largesse. His comments were quickly and loudly denounced by the mainstream, but surely they added fuel to those far-right activists who were convinced they were victims somehow — or that they could get rich convincing others that they were victims, not merely unlucky in the changing economic tides of the world.

Karl Rove was wrong in 2012 on election night, when he was so damned sure that Mitt Romney had more support than the press gave him credit for, that he was going to upset the incumbent Obama. However, in 2016, those making similar claims about Trump proved right when Trump in fact pulled off the upset against Hillary Clinton. The mainstream media immediately went into a frenzy worthy of the title of this blog, “Overanalysis While You Wait.” Had Trump won, or had Hillary lost? Was she a poor candidate, or was she a victim of a quarter-century of right-wing smear campaigns dating back to the Whitewater scandal in Arkansas? Had the FBI, deliberately or otherwise, sunk Hillary’s campaign by giving legitimacy to the alleged scandal of her e-mail server? Had Russia somehow sponsored the leaks about internal Democratic e-mails that made Clinton look less like a progressive hero and more like a political operative who’d do whatever it took to win?

NPR, among others, decided to take the tact that Trump had won somehow on the merits of his positions in the eyes of the voters. Even as Trump stacked his transition team and eventually his administration with Wall Street billionaires, NPR and others decided to find those voters who had turned out unexpectedly strong and possibly against their own self-interest to vote for this populist-sounding candidate. Euphemisms like “economic anxiety” were invented as the reasons all these good American folk embraced a candidate with xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic views. Never mind that so much of what Trump had claimed from the first day of his campaign was demonstrably wrong. His supporters were treated as if their beliefs and their faith in him were rational and reasonable. Never mind that xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and religious discrimination were un-American and in some cases specifically prohibited by our foundation documents, including the almighty Constitution. “Economic anxiety” was presented as a powerful motivator, even as hate crimes against blacks, Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, transexuals, and other marginalized people exposed the lie that this was somehow about “economic anxiety.”

Worse, NPR has decided, perhaps by default, to legitimize Trumps administration despite the vast catalog of lies told by Trump himself and by his representatives, such as Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka. They even refuse to label Trump’s untrue statements as, “lies,” claiming they can’t be sure enough of his intent to call them more than untruths or mistakes. When people like Spicer and Conway repeat Trump’s claims as if they are unquestionably true, even in the fact of evidence to the contrary, NPR continues to interview them and allow them air time, and they still don’t call them lies. This isn’t like eight years of opposition to the Obama administration. These aren’t policy arguments about whether healthcare should be universal or whether a President in the last year of his term can nominate a Supreme Court justice. The rate of self-serving lies, the number of policy changes being justified by demonstrable falsehoods, hasn’t yet caused NPR to stop treating these people as legitimate.

Journalists like to claim that their job is the pursuit and revelation of the truth. Some outlets, including the staid New York Times, have done so with enough gusto to become clear targets of Trump’s paranoid ire. If NPR has drawn Trump’s ire at all, it’s only by accident. They’ve forgotten the quote from Orwell: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want published; everything else is public relations.”

NPR can’t be cowed by fear of criticism from the far right. They need to regain their old tone and adapt it to this age of routine deception by our incumbent administration. Challenge, challenge, and challenge some more, and for God’s sake, stop letting these liars and self-deceivers present their message directly. They aren’t NPR’s listeners, and they don’t deserve NPR’s consideration.

Government Is Not a Business

I find myself reminding myself that government is not a business lately. Some of that is due to Voldemort’s ascension to the head of government; people seem to think his alleged success means he’ll be successful at running the government. But we heard talk of running the government like a business long before he threw his wand into the ring. I think I remember hearing it during the (now only) Clinton Administration twenty years ago.

I was always amused when after people screamed about running government like a business they got upset when they found government managers paying their employees well and having lavish meetings to reward their best employees. Hey, that’s what some kinds of business do: they motivate their best people with rewards, not just praise, and sometimes they pay more to hire better people than merely competent. But, I digress.

Government exists to do the things that individuals and businesses can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t. They do things for a common good, which is very different from why a business operates. National defense is an example. All of us collectively have an interest in keeping our country safe from foreign aggression, and sometimes keeping our country safe means making alliances in which we trade the promise of other countries’ support of us in a time of need for our promise of support of them in their times of need. It turns out, we can find businesses that will provide soldiers and weapons, but they don’t offer their services to individuals or small communities; they offer their services to countries.

Fire protection is another service managed by governments. In the early days of America, fire protection was sometimes provided by insurance companies for their clients — but that caused problems as fires spread from one company’s client to another company’s client’s property. Communities recognized that fire departments were community assets and that fire protection was a community’s shared responsibility.

Law enforcement and criminal justice is another area that is — or should be — a public interest service, not a commercial enterprise. We want those enforcing the law and those prosecuting offenders to be beholden to all of us, not just those who pay for the services. While some legal matters are civil matters handled by private parties in lawsuits between each other, other matters are offenses against the state, against the collective good. Murder isn’t a crime because of the loss felt by relatives or friends of the victim; it’s also an offense against the peace shared by all of us, against our security and safety.

There are other things government does for the benefit of all of us when the will of the people is not to trust private enterprise with some goal or task.

The National Park Service and, to a lesser extent, the US Forest Service, are examples of government doing things for a collective common good instead of letting private enterprises manage those things for some combination of our common interest and their own private benefit. We the people own Yellowstone and Yosemite instead of the Disney Corporation or the Hilton Hotels chain because our collective interest is in conflict with some of their interests. Yes, they may be well equipped to collect park entrance fees and run campgrounds, but they have concerns about economic returns that we don’t want to subject natural treasures to. The Forest Service has a somewhat different mandate, focussing a little more on allowing the use of resources of managed private benefit while arbitrating among competing interests for the maximum benefit of all. So, they permit logging, for example, but in ways that will ensure the continued health of the forests, or so the expectation says.

The Environmental Protection Agency, that scapegoat for all that ails businesses, is an example of an agency that pursues goals that have intangible benefits, benefits few private enterprises would recognize, let alone make priorities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, is another such agency, protecting workers against economic pressures that might motivate private enterprises (and governments) to act against workers’ interests. Both the EPA and OSHA were founded after public outcries arose about abuses that were too scandalous to ignore. Worker safety wasn’t a priority for business owners during the Industrial Revolution until the collective public outcry led to OSHA’s foundation and various laws about worker safety and workers’ rights. Similarly, the EPA and other government agencies with mandates to fight pollution arose because business had no economic case to care about soil pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and other forms of pollution.

This is why I don’t give much of a care about business whining about the high cost of fighting global warming, or “climate change” if you want to call it that. We know that businesses have various economic incentives to ignore long term effects in pursuit of quarterly earnings or protecting the the existence of their market. To the private individual, long term thinking asks, “Will there be a healthy planet for my grandchildren’s grandchildren?” but the long term thinking of an oil or coal executive might ask, “Will there be a market for our products in fifty or one hundred years?” You might hope there will be other uses for oil or coal that damage the environment next, or other uses for the technologies they currently use for those fields, but for those businessmen, maximizing their economic return over the time periods they care about means preserving their markets as they are, pollution be damned.

I hear interviews on the radio with voters who want this candidate or that to downsize “government.” I have yet to hear someone say, “Let’s start with not filling in the potholes on my street.” Everyone always wants to start with the government functions they don’t use. Do we really need OSHA to make sure fishing in the northern Pacific fishing fleets is safe? Do we even need OSHA to tell me how to keep my workers safe? We don’t, until someone cuts corners and cuts more corners and suddenly our worker mortality rate is climbing. Mine safety? Well, sure, profit margins are getting thin for coal because natural gas is getting even cheaper and even more widely available, but, yes, those miners’ lives matter, even if they’ve become numb to the danger.

OSHA barely monitors, let alone regulates or enforces, safety in health care. Are nurses routinely asked to risk their bodies in how they do their jobs, moving heavy loads or working with dangerous diseases? OSHA has a mandate to do that, as they do with any job in which people get injured or killed, but according to a news story a I heard a couple of yeas ago, they have no funding or staffing to fulfill that mandate.

Can the National Park Service and the US Forest Service keep all of their capital investments and improvements in good working order, or is maintenance and upkeep slipping due to budget pressures? Why would we build visitor centers and campgrounds if twenty-five years later we can’t maintain them? (Please don’t talk about capital investment compared to expenses; look at the big picture and tell me if the result is right, not how we got that result.)

I would love to see some agency or perhaps some NGO think tank look at every branch of the Federal executive branch, at every Department, at every agency, at every bureau, and compute how much it would cost to do all of their jobs correctly. Would some park say, “We need 425 Rangers but we only have 230”? Never mind if we could find enough qualified people to do that work; just tell me how much you would need if you had access to the resources you need. Add all that up, and then tell me what the Federal budget should be. Then tell me how much more income we need than we have.

Every government agency and program exists because at some point in time, there was a compelling case to create that agency or program. Despite Tea Party intuitions, very few agencies or programs exist just because no one thought to kill them when their role disappeared. Politicians love to take credit when they can find a program that has outlived its usefulness and retire it. Government unions aren’t so powerful that there are 312 buggy whip inspectors now because we once needed 312 buggy whip inspectors.

People’s interests naturally conflict. I want the best tools at my work to do my job; my manager wants the lowest costs, unless we can demonstrate that the higher costs are justified by higher incomes as a result. I want the shortest route from Madison to Chicago, but there are small towns between here and there that don’t want an Interstate highway through their downtown and other cities in the region that want the highway to come close enough to them to be useful for them, too. Government exists to mediate among those competing interests. The rich and powerful might be just as happy without that mediation; they could just buy or bully their way to what they want, if they’re so inclined. But those limits on their ability to do that are meant for all of us, because all of us have times here or there when we can’t protect our own interests on our own.

Businesses are meant to be great in competitive situations; competition is supposed to keep those businesses honest in their dealings with customers and to encourage improvement.

Governments are meant to work in non-competitive situations, where there is a common good, regardless of whether their are tangible incentives to meet that common good. They’re also meant, as I just said, to provide balance among competing interests, to provide equal protections for all so that might and justice go to all of us, not just the most powerful or the richest.

Government is not a business. It’s not meant to be. The sooner we remember that — or admit that — the sooner we should return to a functioning, equitable government that serves us all.

When and How to Panic?

My family was raised to under-react. When all around us are losing their heads, we might be the ones assessing the threats and triaging the initial casualties before deciding how to react. Some of that comes from our dad, who was trained as a Red Cross disaster aid volunteer and a National Ski Patrolman volunteer as well. Part of that comes from having both parents having hyper-rational educations and mindsets. There probably are downsides to this, such as when people wonder if I care about something because I’m still trying to figure out how to respond rather than validating their panic and fear.

This has been a great week to under-react. Tuesday’s election results in the USA were shocking for many of us in the USA, partly because the pollsters had been so encouraging about the likely outcome, and partly because of the horror at what’s been promised by the victor and what he represents. Freedom of the press? Overrated and such an inconvenience! Prosecution of the winner for alleged crimes that have already been investigated and deemed minor or innocuous? Hey, what’s the use of winning an election if you can’t rub it in the loser’s face? Persecution based on religion? Oh, maybe it’s not a real religion, so maybe it’s fine to assume guilt and just prosecute them and exclude them! A blind trust for the alleged billionaire’s businesses? Sure (wink, wink, nod, nod)! It’s be as blind as the victor’s tax returns are transparent!

It’s eight or nine weeks until we remove “-elect” from Voldemort’s new title. Some things are being announced now, such as who’s leading certain areas of the transition team, but many things remain unknown. Sadly, he hasn’t renounced most of his stated positions, and it’s not clear what his few attitude adjustments actually mean. Worse, many of his appointments to his transition team are consistent with our worse fears. A global warming denier is heading the transition team for the EPA. Dr. Ben Carson has a role in the education area. His kids are going to be heavily involved. And a notorious science denier, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, now has oversight over the whole transition team, replacing unindicted felon and co-conspirator Chris Christie.

The Republican establishment kept control of the Senate and the House. Are they going to be a check on Voldemort after he spent so much time being disdainful of the Republican establishment, or will they try to get their patrons’ interests passed since they might align with Voldemort’s patrons’ interests as well? That, frankly, is an unknown. It’s hard to imagine veterans like John McCain rubber-stamping blatant war crimes as new American policies, but then again, it was hard to expect some of the things McCain has said in the past twelve months.

Will the Civil Service acquiesce to Voldemort’s desires, or will they slow-walk all changes in an effort to simply outlast what may be a short attention span? The political appointees will try to do their master’s bidding, but the career government workers may know why things haven’t happened that way before and why they shouldn’t, such as international laws or federal laws and regulations that can’t just be waved away. Admittedly, Pence as the replacement in case of impeachment gives us no reason to believe he’d roll back most of Voldemort’s notions, perhaps with the exception of some of the most radical ideas, such as leaving existing multi-lateral trade agreements or embracing war crimes as a way to secure der Fatherland.

So, the inner core of the new administration looks as corrupt and wrong-headed as we feared. The Congress being Republican means it won’t be as strong a check on the Executive Branch as a Democratic Senate would be. What about the courts, especially the Supreme Court?

Everyone’s waiting to see who will replace Scalia eventually on the bench. I’ll remind you, though, that Scalia never opposed any of the Right’s favorite goals. It wasn’t Scalia who found a way to upload the Affordable Care Act, and he never embraced reproductive rights over “right to life.” Yes, some decisions will be 5-4 instead of 4-4 as they’ve been since Scalia’s death, so that may resume some of the national slippage to the right, but it won’t accelerate it. That will wait until one of the reliably progressive voices on the Court dies or steps down. I can’t imagine Stephen Breyer or the Notorious RBG voluntarily stepping down, knowing that they’re replacement would change the Court’s philosophical make-up, but Scalia didn’t step down by choice, either. Death comes to us all.

Worse, the Republican Senate of the past two or three Congresses has left many Federal court benches partly empty. Those may now all take a sharp turn toward reactionary positions. Interim decisions on issues doing eventually to the Supreme Court will sooner take positions repressing diversity and civil rights in favor of business interests and theocracy. I don’t see the Senate being too nuanced in which conservatives they consent to to fill those positions. Whoever has talked to Voldemort last will get a lot of judges the like in lasting positions of power.

Finally, there are The People. A narrow minority of them, located in precisely where Voldemort needed them to be, supported his bid for the Presidency, so Voldemort can’t say he was supported by a majority of voters or even a plurality, let alone a landslide. Still, there are already reports that some Death Eaters, especially younger Death Eaters, are being emboldened by his ascension and are already threatening and trying to intimidate the mudbloods’ counterparts in our world: Muslims, Latinos, and members of the LBGT community. There certainly have been several well-publicized cases so far, but in many cases less extreme Death Eaters are rebuking these acts of intimidation and hatred, perhaps waiting for when laws and policies will inflict similar indignities under the cover of authority. It’s also clear that many progressive groups and traditional civil rights advocacy groups are preparing for a long series of struggles to protect the gains of the past sixty years in the face of the revival of opposition to those gains.

I don’t follow British domestic news closely enough to know if their surge of Death Eater activity after the Brexit vote has continued. That’s where the safety pin was first taken as a symbol of tolerance and acceptance directed as those who might otherwise worry about tolerance and acceptance. Is it needed now in Britain all those months later? Is it needed here, or is it just a quick way for some people to feel like they’re doing something in response to this horribly upsetting election?

I’m still in under-react mode. The composition of Voldemort’s transition team tells me that concern is warranted, that the initial calls for national unity were errant or at least simplistic. I would never united behind a science denier running the EPA, even on a transition team, and it has nothing to do with things we fear but haven’t seen yet. Seeing the charlatans who will be choosing those who will set and enforce policy is enough to say, some reaction will be required. What I’m not sure about, yet, is where I’ll need to focus my support, financial and otherwise, to do the most good. I can see why Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and anti-poverty organizations like Oxfam America are ramping up fund-raising activities. I just don’t know to direct my support among them, yet. I will; it’s clear that private efforts will have to replace existing programs or counter Federal and state efforts to roll back protections.

I fear that in a year, all of those asking for my support will in fact be in positions in which my support would have been well deserved; it may be a multi-front, multi-cause debacle in our near future. However, I need more certainty than “may,” so I’m trying to wait. I live in a “red” state, one that has elected and re-elected a Koch Brothers disciple and twice now sent a tea party moron to the Senate. Will Death Eaters from the surrounding rural areas come to Madison and try to purify it of its multi-cultural, progressive nature? I hope not, but if they do, resistance begins at home. If we’re spared that particular battle, when I’ll look beyond for which causes that I support most need my support.

Keep the powder dry, but make sure “they” know we haven’t put the powder away.

No metaphors were hurt in the writing of this essay, but several were mixed poorly.  

The Next Impeachment

If the Republicans hold the House of Representative, which seems likely thanks to gerrymandering, there are insanely partisan Representatives who’d like to start impeachment hearings against President Hillary Clinton on January 23, 2017, on the grounds that they’ve been trying to catch her at something for more than twenty years, so she must be guilty of something. If somehow enough social conservatives stay loyal to the Republican brand and our next President is Donald J. Trump, he, too, would face impeachment hearings on January 23, 2017, even if the Republicans keep the House. Being caught on tape talking casually about committing sexual assault is simply too horrible to tolerate if any of those politicians want to be reelected in 2018.

Impeachment is a protracted process, as many of us learned in the late-Nineties. A committee has to vote to send articles of impeachment to the full House. Nothing happens in the House without a debate, and then the full House votes — but impeachment is only an indictment, not a conviction. That happens by trial in the Senate. The Senate has convicted people in an impeachment trial before; there have been four convictions in my lifetime, all of Federal judges. Nixon resigned before the House started the inevitable impeachment process; a Federal judge after Nixon was impeached but resigned before his Senate trial. At any rate, if the House starts the slam-dunk impeachment of Trump on January 23, 2017, either Trump declares that he was never serious about being President and resigns on January 24, or he tries to lie his way out of it and is convicted just before Independence Day.

Impeachment requires a vote by two-thirds of the Senate. There’s no way two-thirds of the Senate will be Republican in the next term, even if you throw in a couple of coal state Democrats who are obliged to hate Hillary because of her position on coal. So, the rabble-rousers might try for articles of impeachment, and the feckless House leadership might tolerate it, on the grounds that it’d be a good not to actually deal with Hillary’s legislative agenda, but even if the House plays it out and votes for articles of impeachment, Hillary would be absolved by Independence Day, and she and Bill would be a footnote in history about the first couple of impeachment recipients. Actually, that would be overkill; she’ll be the first woman impeached in US history anyway.

If you accept this logic, then the revelation of the tape today makes this race Clinton v. Pence. At this point, all the scummy things Pence has done, both as Governor of Indiana and as an elected Representative, should come back to haunt him. It’s almost enough to make me wish the last two debates were indeed Clinton v. Pence, but Trump won’t allow himself to admit that his goose is cooked. So, the loyalists to the Republican brand will be happy to have someone with that brand in the White House, whether that’s plausible or not, and won’t admit their disgust until they lock up their chance to pack the Supreme Court. That assumes, of course, they have more luck filling Scalia’s seat than Obama has had. In this polarized age, I wouldn’t take that bet.

Words Have Meaning

The deplorables are starting to wonder if govt has been lying to them about Hurricane Matthew intensity to make exaggerated point on climate

Matt Drudge posted this on Twitter this afternoon; presumably the 140-character limit explains why he can’t be bothered to punctuate his complete thought correctly.

Beyond the “Cut off our note to spite our face,” stupidity of questioning the sincerity of hurricane warnings, the use of “The deplorables,” also amuses me.

“Hey, we’re doing to stick it to The Man by taking their term for us and making it our own! Yeah!” It’s one thing when it’s a term that has no use in polite language; in North American English, “faggot,” has only one meaning, and it’s ugly. So, if homosexual men want to turn the word into a term of prideful rebellion instead of shameful insult, that’s their choice. The same applies to “the N-word,” that Obama can use but I can’t.

“Deplorable,” isn’t such a word. You might not hear it in the neighborhood much, because it almost qualifies as a “ten-dollar word” that would be used by someone pretentious, but it has a specific meaning. It’s vaguely similar to “unindicted co-conspirator,” a legal term for someone suspected of something but against whom no indictment has been formally found. When liberals adopted the term in the ’70s, it was to thumb their nose at the almost fascist reactionaries in the American government who were trying to quash the resistance to the Vietnam war. But it wasn’t a term used in public much until the Nixon gang referred very deliberately to some of their enemies that way.

“Deplorable,” though, isn’t a term-of-art, used is a specific dialect of English for a specific purpose. It’s a real word taught in high school or even junior high school as a specific combination of “wrong,” and “shameful.” Your English teacher would have been clear: it wasn’t a compliment.

The question becomes, does “shame” exist in modern America? Popular culture has become so crass, moral guardians continuously “tut, tut…” about every public display of affection or rebellion that five decades ago were kept in the dark and private recesses of our private lives. People now glorify “greed,” although sometimes it’s a example of, “Clearly missed the point.” People glorify being “sex positive,” without much consideration that maybe there’s a happy medium between flagrantly obsessed with sex and horrendously repressed about sex. And, now, people seem to be glorifying being racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and all the other qualities Hillary Clinton threw into the “basket of deplorables.” Shit-stirrers like Matt Drudge or Eric Trump who defiantly adopt the term are the embodiment of the heresy that there’s no such thing as expertise, authority, or even unambiguous fact. These are the morons who believe that the fervency of their beliefs can trump the correctness of our facts and the moral standing of, yes, our morals.

I’m glad Matt Drudge doesn’t deny the term “deplorable,” but I wish he understood the concept of “shame,” and why one ought to be carefully before casting shame about an idea into the dustbin.

It really feels like so many genies are out of their bottles. It’s going take a long time, I fear, before there’s any consensus in America about what things are shameful any longer.