Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The B Attitudes

If the meek shall inherit the earth
Just how much is it worth
With scars everywhere
And wars here and there
And for the poor in spirit
It’s heaven they inherit
But what does that mean
For us in between
A loss of all face
Or some Amazing Grace?

We live in amazing times and in an amazing society where the meek get pushed around and those who are poor in spirit are being led to their inheritance of heaven a little faster than necessary. If you are brash and bold and lay claim to the earth and exploit its wealth and resources, then you are authorized to dig mining holes anywhere or poison the water we all need for life. The current administration came into power with a promise of “compassionate conservatism” but has shown neither compassion nor conservatism. Instead, we have seen a cascade of bad news created by bad policies that have made life more difficult for the vast majority of Americans. Given our global economy, the bad news has become international. Pain without borders…what a concept!

In the past eight years, the nominal pay for the average American has declined by $1,000 while the real pay, considering inflation has declined by $5,000. Meanwhile, we have had an eight-year lecture series on the benefits that derive from a “free market.” The final examination on this Bush “free market” is a life-performance exam where the proctor is an unlicensed proctologist and we have all had the probing finger jabbed where it hurts. Multi-trillion dollar deficits have been followed by a trillion dollar bailout followed by worldwide fear and retrenchment. And it is not over. Even the use of the “free market” phrase is an amazing affront. We have witnessed record quantity and value for no-bid contracts and watched a Bush payback to drug firms through the most profligate Medicare Drug Plan that could possibly have been authored by the drug firms themselves. This was a “free market” where the government, representing all us people, chose to prevent competition in the marketplace to the detriment of the consumer and the possible destruction of Medicare. This gave a new meaning to the old saw that “Freedom isn’t free.” We are paying dearly for this “free market” through worse jobs and fewer of them.

One reason to remind ourselves of the dismal failure of the policies of the past eight years is that there are still people out there who firmly believe that we simply did not go far enough in the destruction of the state and the building of corporate power. The neocon theory seems parallel to an earlier theory and time when the state was to wither away and the proletariat would rise to power. At this juncture, these theories appear to be equal and opposite forces that need to be uncovered for the frauds that they both are. If we look briefly at our history since Richard Nixon, the contempt for government has become a growth industry. Ronald Reagan, the uncanonized patron saint of the modern GOP, spoke eloquently of government being the problem rather than being able to solve a problem. On of his early acts (August 1981) as president was in direct contradiction to this pre-election letter (Oct 20, 1980):

“Dear Mr. Poli:

I have been briefed by members of my staff as to the deplorable state of our nation's air traffic control system. They have told me that too few people working unreasonable hours with obsolete equipment has placed the nation's air travellers (sic) in unwarranted danger. In an area so clearly related to public
safety, the Carter administration has failed to act responsibly.

You can rest assured that if I am elected President, I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety....

I pledge to you that my administration will work very closely with you to bring about a spirit of cooperation between the President and the air traffic controllers.

Ronald Reagan”

Obviously, Reagan saw the hazards of overworked and overstressed air controllers as evidenced by his letter written prior to his election as president. After his election, he made no changes in equipment or work schedules for the controllers but put the hammer down on the union. He fired the controllers. Ideology triumphed over practicality and safety, as well as the concept of keeping his word. And remember, that Reagan was a likeable man, unlike GW Bush who has artfully managed to alienate most of the world. Ideologues can act consistent with their ideologies in spite of overwhelming evidence that their theories are suspect or unworkable. What is interesting and sometimes terrifying is that an ideology can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that government is the problem and then act on that belief, then you act to destroy government rather than improve it. You place administrators like John Bolton who hates the UN as ambassador to it. You place a failed horse show administrator, Michael Brown, in charge of FEMA and continue to curry favor with Texan Joe Allbaugh, major Bush contributor, to hire his friends without regard to competence. These hirelings demonstrated personal loyalty rather than competence. More dramatically, you hire occupation administrators for Iraq, including Paul Brenner, that have correctly answered loyalty questions on such irrelevant criteria as Roe v Wade or their favorite president but have no language or functional skills to conduct the real business of an occupation in a potentially hostile space. Then you can say, “See, I told you that government couldn’t do the job!” Arrgh! Prophecy fulfilled. Now we can outsource fully half of the war. Mission Accomplished! And you never have to say you are sorry for the failed construction or logistics or intelligence or security of an outsourced function. And that is truly priceless.

Unfortunately, the process of damaging government from within has a long-term effect of bleeding confidence from the citizenry, especially when denied examples of good government for eight years. Given the example of the Bush Administration demanding loyalty as an end item, people soon learned that a contrary opinion was viewed as disloyalty and a direct challenge to authority rather than a search for good answers. The downward spiral begins. The incompetent government shifts priorities from supporting the common good to defending the decisions made to enforce loyalty. Recently and in stark contrast, President-Elect Obama chose to avoid rewarding such pandering loyalty on an early dilemma. Senator Lieberman could not have been more disloyal to Obama during the campaign, and yet Obama has asked Senator Reid to avoid punishing Lieberman. This was impossible under Bush.

Serious damage to the rule of law and to the concept of commonwealth has been done by this extension of the Reagan concept of “small government.” Small, in this context, begins to describe the smallness of the heart and smallness of the intellect instead of a true smallness in size of an effective government. The two largest expansions of government in our lifetime have been built by the two loudest proponents of small government. Each has, in his turn, presided over the largest increase in government debt in history to his point in time. Reagan had a reputation for B movies and he had a B attitude about government. Bush never reached a B level in 8 years. His attitude about government was a miserable F and his government failed miserably. We have inherited the country as it is and it is up to us to make it into something worth inheriting for our children and grandchildren. Pray for the strength to do it. The work will indeed be hard and the critics many for our attitudes have hardened against government. It will truly take Amazing Grace.
George Giacoppe
13 November 2008

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