It is time to show a few scenes from walks around town leading up to 73 days in lockdown.
Only a few houses down, this family was celebrating an Aggie graduation. I enjoy seeing the yard signs and they offer a nice way to celebrate during The Year of the Plague. They will always remember 2020. And Lacie will always remember that they did this for her.
Just around the corner on That Way, one family has planted flowers around their mailbox to add a touch of beauty to the neighborhood. I was a couple of days late. By this time they were a little droopy but still bright in color and attitude.
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.
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 willtake 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.