Saturday, November 01, 2008

Chaos by Design

How long shall we endure
The deliberately obscure
When ‘clear sky’ pollutes
And nothing refutes
The lies and the errors
Describing the terrors?
We need abatement
Of the signing statement
And a word that just seems
To say what it means

As we ponder these 2008 elections, we need to make sense of the claims and counter-claims as well as the specific results. Most of us try to do that with whatever knowledge and experience we bring to the voting booth. Good for us. Unfortunately, political campaigns excel in hyperbole, so we need to calibrate our expectations with our internal “smoke detectors” and make some decisions based on an integration and weighting of lots of factors. Normally, we do this without much conscious thought, but when election season is upon us, we have polls that slice the data in ways that only pollsters could love, and in ways that not even they understand.

The question I need to pose to each of you is this:
When you make your everyday decisions about what you eat and wear; your health care; your investments; expenditures for transportation shelter; entertainment and safety, do you know what you are doing? Seriously, do you know what you are doing? Cessation programs such as those for smoking or drinking ask that you keep logs so you know the circumstances of when you partake. That presents one side of the equation and perhaps it might help, but life has become so complex that knowing yourself is simply not enough. Is there melamine in that milk or formula? Are you swallowing a fast-track drug or is it simply a placebo? Do your children’s toys contain lead? Does the mortgage interest rate change? Does your credit card rate change? Does your spinach or ground beef patty contain E coli 0157: H7 or does your chicken dinner have salmonella? Hmm…think about it.
Now what if I asked you what protected you from the unknown in all the areas of your life? If the FDA is to protect you from untested drugs or reports authored by “scientists” with a conflict of interest, do you know if that has that been subverted? Similarly, if the bright imported toys are laced with lead, do you have a test kit to detect the lead? Do you really have an airbag that will deploy in an accident? What protects you from predatory lending or financial products that cost more than they earn?
Stay with me. Of course, we have federal agencies that are chartered to test and investigate, but will they? What if I told you that the system depends on the existence of adequate regulations, funding and staffing of agencies and the desire of the inspectors and investigators to enforce the rules? We know that the “Clear Skies Initiative” actually adds pollution…but how much? The name gives us no clue. In fact, it sounds like a good deal. Everybody wants clear skies.
Political rhetoric has become confusing. Take this quote from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin:
“And Alaska—we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs. … It’s to maximize benefits for Alaskans, not an individual company, not some multinational somewhere, but for Alaskans.”
Ms. Palin became shrill in her denunciation of Barack Obama for his plan to share the wealth by planning tax cuts for the middle class and rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the more wealthy. She used “socialist” as a pejorative and then words such as “liberal” were thrown into the mix, but it was Teddy Roosevelt, a conservative Republican, that established a graduated income tax nearly a hundred years ago and it has been policy ever since. So if she spreads the wealth in Alaska, it is “American,” but if we continue the graduated tax in the entire country, it is “socialist.” Division is a useful tool when wielded by experts in the process who use political code words for building fear and even panic in a population that has not done due diligence in researching issues but is ready to blame our ills on some “outside” group or person. Likewise, when Palin denounced Obama for voting against an Iraqi funding bill, she left unsaid that McCain also voted against an Iraqi funding bill. One had time lines and one did not.
My point is simply this: Similar to the impossibility to self-analyze our health, safety, and investment decisions because of their complexity and lack of individual tools and skills; we cannot determine the truth or falsity of claims and counter claims in the political arena because there is so much that is hidden from view. Bush has signed bills into law and then added a record number of “signing statements” that gut the legislation. Right at this very moment, Bush has a task force working to deregulate as much as possible before he leaves office. This is not only a low profile event, but is actively hidden from view. In a way, there is a biblical quality to all this activity. Recall the parable in the New Testament where Jesus describes the prudent steward who, one by one, writes down the debts owed his master so as to set up a good life after his pending dismissal. Bush is leaving office and will deregulate those industries that will offer him the continuing good life; the nation be damned. Given his record on deregulation that brought on the chaos of the mortgage meltdown and the lending laments expect the worst, and you will not be disappointed. An ideologue to the end, Bush will leave office continuing the support of lobbyists that were the hallmark of his reign. Will we keep a log of all the regulations that need to be reinstated? Perhaps if we do, we can avoid another catastrophe rooted in the ideology of deregulation. Again, the enemy is not government, but BAD government where chaos is introduced and nurtured by design.

George Giacoppe
31 October 2008

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