Five Minutes that Can Help You Stay Sane

Coronavirus entered my consciousness somewhere around March 6. I had heard the term and read a few stories about it, but it didn’t seem like much of a threat at the time. Some people were dying in China and Americans were becoming trapped on pleasure cruises. But people in China have been seen wearing masks during outbreaks of various viruses for years. And pleasure cruises? Why do people even spend their money on them? Major diarrhea outbreaks on Carnival cruises are so common they barely make the six o’clock news any more.

The evening of March 6, I attended a retirement party for a friend at The Wursthaus in LJ. There was, at that time, beginning to be some nervousness about being in crowds, but no one really thought much about picking up a life threatening ailment as a result of hanging out with our friends that night. We were there to toast one of them who had served our Center for the Arts and Sciences for some 35 to 40 years.

You could still have that kind of a party on March 6 without tempting death and we all made it into the month of May without anyone testing positive for COVID-19. (Have any of us been tested? Sorry. That was a needless distraction.)

The next day I got a haircut. Life went on pretty much as usual. Then LJ and the rest of the country started locking down. We learned about curbside grocery shopping from HEB. We learned how to order and pick up at The Local’s curb. Some were even learning how to cook at home. We learned how to wash our hands properly and how excruciatingly difficult it is to keep from touching our faces. And we got constant news of the horror coming out of Washington (the state with a snake for a governor), New York City, California, Spain and Italy. For us Lake Jackson folks, those were faraway places and, while we had concerns about loved ones in those places, we felt fairly safe here.

Summing Up: After the Plague

For the last few days I have been setting down a few of the things that America needs to work on right away. The experience of dealing with a pandemic during a period of such ineptitude in national leadership has made it very clear that we need to do these things. Limiting DJT to a single term will help, but it won’t fix the things that need fixing. So, today I would like to quickly review the items covered and then offer a quick list of some additional things to work on once we have a congress and administration willing to begin dealing with the realities of our world.

Last Tuesday (May 28) I suggested that the first priority should be to adopt a program of universal health care.

Next, I talked about the electoral and legislative processes that could benefit from some tuning and the application of current technologies. The guiding objective would be to improve the fidelity of communications so that voters can be assured that those in the seats of power in government hear “their masters’ voice” more clearly.

On Thursday, I addressed the need to correct the imbalance in income and wealth distribution that has occurred over the last four decades of Tea Party tax cutting and the Republican attacks on the graduated income tax.

Saturday (May 2), I talked about the necessity of having the public sector and education professionals in charge of primary and secondary education again.

And, finally, the need to restore the civil service and properly staff the government with qualified, independent, non-partisan professionals is also of paramount importance.

That should keep the 117th Congress busy for a couple of years. But there is so much more that needs to be done while we have at least two branches of government enlisted on the side of sanity, goodwill, and a spirit of sharing. Here are a few:

  • Maybe we should look at how we are teaching civics and government in public schools and in college. We are experiencing a generation of voters who have no clear understanding of their job and responsibilities in a democracy. They think it is enough to have an opinion, wave the flag and cheer for other people’s sacrifices without understanding what the government does and how to apply one’s own constitutionally endowed power to make it work for their own interests and those of their families. So, enough about the patriotic symbols and hero-worshipping the founders: Let’s teach about the principles underlying our constitution and the mechanics of governing.
  • Make our foreign policy consistent with the need for promoting governments around the world that will take care of the rights and needs of women and children as their top priorities. (Of course, we must first make that our policy here. Much of that can occur if we take care of those top five items I discussed.)
  • Make major investments in infrastructure consistent with Green New Deal goals that will provide jobs and address climate change issues.
  • Put climate change at the center of our domestic and foreign policy concerns. Four long years have ticked off the clock of doom while DJT gave his pulpit over to science denial and the short-term interests of industries that make money from environmental exploitation. And while we are at it, we need to re-examine the principles of American capitalism and how It relates to government and the people.

And as we take on this list of necessary reforms, we need to always keep in mind the constitutional features that have tended to make us less a nation and less a democracy. It may be time for us to try nationhood and democracy rather than the federal system that works pretty well so long as people behave as if we are a nation. However, lately it has proven to be an impediment to national action when we most needed to act as a single nation.

And, democracy? We owe our tears and shame for what we have done to that sweet ideal as DJT has exploited and corrupted our public purposes at every turn and has placed America on the side of dictators and power hungry narcissists like himself, wherever he finds them in the world.

Item #5: Restore the Civil Service – Enough of the Shallow State

When I was in college in the early 1960s, I developed an intense interest in government. Government seemed to be a potent tool that could be developed and used as an instrument of peace. That fit so well with my personal values that I decided to make a career in it. I believed that there was sweet spot somewhere between anarchy and absolutism that met the needs described by Thomas Hobbes in The Leviathan to transcend man’s natural state without government:

“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

A tour of duty as an officer in student government persuaded me that my personality was not suited for service in public office, I gravitated toward civil service where most of the policies of government were implemented. Pressed for employment after military service and with our first child on the way in 1971, I secured a position as a social service worker with the Texas Department of Public Welfare.

Item 4: Repair and Restore Public Education

The public and private response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the failure of public education into sharp relief. But let me be clear, this failure is not the product of “bad schools”, teachers, or uninspired learners. It has roots in many sources including poverty, poor nutrition, underfunding, electronic distractions and, maybe most significantly, the combination of pinch-penny funding and legislative meddling in the professional business of educators.

And what does this have to do with the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t strain your eyes looking for science illiteracy, weak critical thinking skills, lack of knowledge of government, history, health care policy, international politics and the basics of public communication.

Popular notions of American exceptionalism have led us to think that the USA would be the world’s leader in addressing any crisis of this nature. We have the science, the technology, health care infrastructure, manufacturing and distribution capacity. So why are we struggling to explain to the public that injecting Clorox into the veins is not such a good idea? Or that injecting UV rays into the veins – even if it were a good idea –presents unique challenges? Maybe the physics department at Trump University can work on that one.

My Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America

For the last few days I have been musing about the things that clearly need to be repaired as soon as the pandemic subsides, Congress re-assembles and DJT is an unpleasant chapter in our history. I started this list on April 28 and I will continue until I run out of ideas. The list may seem like a partisan list of Democratic Party objectives. It is not. I think everyone may have learned something about America, our national purposes, and the way we are governed. I plan to delve into many areas of our social and religious lives.

I invite your reading and comments. Trolling is not helpful. Please don’t do that.

Post-Pandemic Fix No. 3: Did You Say Raise Taxes?

The next big fix on our post-pandemic list is wealth and income distribution. Of course it involves raising taxes. But not for everyone. We need to raise income taxes at highest levels of compensation and get back to an effective graduated income tax. The purpose is not to punish the rich. It is not even to raise revenue for the government.

The two major reasons for doing so are 1.) to allow tax cuts at the lower levels and 2.) to remind corporate managers what their jobs really are.

Yes, of course, people who work hard and have big ideas should profit from their industry and their innovations. I accept that they are deserving of rewards exceeding minimum wage. By golly, I don’t even have a problem with smart, hardworking people getting rich. But really, some limits are needed.

Why? Because, contrary to what we all learned in business economics in junior high school, the purpose of a business is not to make money. The real purposes of any business are a little more complicated. They include:

  • to provide some product or service needed by the market,
  • to provide a livelihood for the owner and ALL others involved in production,
  • to provide enough profit to expand and perfect production and distribution and to reward investors through the payment of dividends,
  • and to do all this while taking proper care of the environment in which they operate.

When CEO compensation rises to levels that exceed their needs by obscene levels, they tend to lose sight of those purposes and focus all their efforts on shooting for the numbers to which their compensation is tied – often the short term capital gains of the corporate stock.

Workers become expendable, the environment is theirs to exploit without compensating anyone, and production is focused on what sells and not so much on what serves. It is a recipe for environmental, social, and economic disaster. Thus, controlling CEO compensation is more than simply middle-class envy, it is an essential step in re-focusing them on their real purposes and making their businesses socially responsible and productive beyond typical balance sheet measures.

There is ample evidence of rapid growth in income and wealth inequality, especially, since the beginning of the Reagan years in 1981. We once effectively moderated the maldistribution of resources in the economy with a graduated income tax. We have slowly eroded it with a variety of tax reductions and dodges available only to high earners (a term I use advisedly) and the imposition at the same time of regressive sales taxes at the state level. As a result, a small proportion of the people have benefitted inequitably from the growth in the economy post-WWII while the people who drive the economy, producers and consumers, have seen incomes stagnate. I am not sure what we should call this but it isn’t capitalism.

The instant high level of unemployment that occurred with the closing down of much of the economy to control the spread of the virus gave us a quick lesson in the true engines of our economy. It turns out that all those highly touted innovators and job-makers were only part of the key to economic growth. They needed consumers at the household level, or it all went for naught. It is workers and families who drive economies, not rich white guys who manipulate markets and turn obscene short-term profits to justify obscene salaries and bonuses.

So post-pandemic fix number three is to repair the distribution of wealth and income so that all Americans stand a chance of prospering some humane level. And, of course, that requires much more than a simple tax increase on the wealthy. But it gives us a clear starting poing.

Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America: Thing Number 2

Bringing our electoral and legislative processes into the 21st century is the next item that commands our attention. Really, this includes several things we tend to think of as separate concerns: the security of electronic voting devices, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and legislative processes. But they really all become part of the same problem if we accept the premises that full voter participation is desirable, that political power should be distributed equally across the voting population, and that modern technology should be applied to make participation easier for voters, more secure from manipulation by bad actors, and available to Congress to enable remote participation in situations like the one they are confronting now.

If this seems like a Democrat’s partisan wish list, I simply point to the person who found his way into the White House with the help of a foreign power, who continues to seek their help for re-election, who won the office with less than a majority of the vote, and who avoided removal from office by threatening primary opposition to any disloyal Republicans in the Senate. The result has been a travesty of government, something that looks more like low budget television than a process for governing for the welfare and defense of a nation. Even the Republicans I hang out with don’t like it. And, for all that, it’s not even entertaining.

And, more consequentially, it has left us poorly equipped to meet the challenges of the pandemic. We started late, we planned poorly, and we put out incorrect information and dangerous advice.

Continue reading “Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America: Thing Number 2”