Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Old Glory in Tatters"

I am increasingly dismayed at the course our country seems to be taking. Since the bottom fell out of the housing market and the sub-prime mortgage crisis burst on the scene, plus the sudden and unexpected explosion in the price of gasoline and other petroleum products, I have to admit that my optimism about the future is on the wane. I find it utterly incredulous at what has happened and the speed with which it has come crashing down on our heads.

The tapestry of this country; social, economic, political and spiritual seems to be unraveling before our very eyes. What has happened to our national character and those principles we hold inviolate?

We are no longer shocked by anything. Crime is rampant. People are beaten to a pulp while waiting at bus and train stops. Parents are killing their children and each other. The most heinous sex crimes imaginable are now commonplace. Hit and run crimes are routine. There is total disregard for those needing our assistance in emergencies. We drive by them as if they don’t exist. Drug-related crimes are at epidemic proportions. Metals are being stripped and stolen from roadsides, sports arenas, parks and other public places, to be sold for a pittance (and shipped to China) to support the habits of meth and other addictions. White-collar crimes seem to be little more than an annoyance and regarded as just part of the cost of doing business. Have we become so impervious to what is going on around us that we no longer notice? Do we even care?

The personal set of values, which governs our lives and the way we behave, are fluid and situational. There is no basic core of principles to guide us. We can rationalize and reduce any issue to whatever is expedient at the moment. Lying is no longer regarded as terribly serious; just a question of degree. Whatever one can get away with or whatever the traffic will bear seems acceptable. Everything is in the moment, any long-term consequences be damned.

I see us descending into a state of anarchy and, frankly, that troubles me deeply.

Our economy is in shambles. Despite the finger pointing and blame that is going on, we all share some responsibility for this rather sad state of affairs. Fewer and fewer of us appear to be anchored in a belief system that demands principles of decency and integrity to guide our actions and behavior, and that serves the common good. We believe we are inherently entitled to whatever the limits of our credit cards will permit, common sense and good judgment not withstanding. The pursuit of pleasure is almost a national obsession. Our heroes are entertainment and sports figures whose empty and shallow lives contribute nothing of substance to our daily lives. They offer little, if anything, that could be construed as enhancing the finer attributes of our human nature.

Intellectual pursuits are the fare of the few and the indifference of the many. Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses. I would submit that passive participation in society, clouded by possessions and fun, is now the opiate of the masses. If we are to dig ourselves out of the morass in which we now find ourselves, we have to raise our sights from the mundane to the relevant.

I believe our schools should devote the time and resources necessary to make sure the youth of this country have a well grounded knowledge of the history of our government and how the institutions of our democracy and government are supposed to work for the welfare of everyone. They need to understand what the system of checks and balances is and what purpose they are designed to serve. They should know and understand the vital role of the Fourth Estate in keeping our government honest, and how the news media is supposed to work in fulfilling that sacred responsibility to the citizens of this country.

Those who have great wealth should not be allowed to profit from the misfortunes they have been instrumental in creating for others. We need safeguards to protect people from their predatory practices and their tentacles that suck the very lifeblood out of our lives.

I see within our government and our political institutions a class system that has placed disproportionate power in the hands of a few. They seduce the populace without benefit of kiss. We lack the good sense to realize what is happening to the economic institutions and systems that have been the bedrock for gainful employment and a decent standard of living for the average American. The American Dream should be more than a dream. It should be a solemn duty one generation has to the next. Greed, usury and manipulation of our economic systems for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many hardly raise an eyebrow.

As we witness the collapse of our economy because of the excesses of those who revere great wealth, our government is manipulating what are touted as relief measures for the common man, but do more to bail out those affluent interests who have created the problem. The taxpayers owe greedy investors, speculators and corporate “leaders” not one scintilla of support. They should bear the full weight of their avarice, judgment, ambitions and investment failures; not the taxpayers.

I believe the ultimate purpose of every government institution and public servant is to serve the people of this country. Our elected representatives promise us the sun, the moon and the stars, only to pursue their own agendas once back inside the Beltway. The centralization of power in Washington, D.C., and the resulting exclusivity, has created a self-serving monolith over which we have little influence and practically no control. They violate our rights and squander our tax dollars with impunity. They feather their nests at our collective expense. The proliferation of influence peddlers and lobbyists underscores how removed our “public servants” actually are from the people they are sworn to serve.

There is no real system of checks and balances. Instead, we have a legislative branch that is probably the most exclusive club in the world, far more concerned with their own self-interests than for those who elect them to office. Instead of voting our wishes, they re-define them in their own terms and vote their own interests. We have an imperial presidency that runs rough shod over the Constitution, our individual liberties and any attempt at congressional oversight. The Supreme Court is more political than judicial, as evidenced by the 2000 presidential election, and our disproportionate concern about the political persuasion of judicial appointees than we are with their record in jurisprudence.

I see scant attention being paid to conflicts of interest. We have a Defense Department awarding contracts to defense contractors with little more than cursory attention to outside oversight, including any meaningful budgetary constraints. We have an Executive Branch unilaterally awarding no-bid contracts to companies having questionable ties to the office holders themselves. What public interest is to be served when the President has the power to pardon those who violate the laws they are sworn to uphold?

I dare say any reasonably good CPA and a competent lawyer could probably design a system of safeguards that would significantly curtail the excesses in our nation’s capitol. We should have an independent national review and auditing body that really works to ferret out conflicts of interest, corruption and self-serving practices within the various institutions of government and every government contract.

Except for bona fide issues of national security, all deliberations within our government should be carried out in the light of day with absolute transparency. Secrecy has no place where the people’s business is concerned.

Term limits might well be key to ensuring our elected officials have no opportunity to claim “squatter’s rights” on any public office, and curtail their ability to amass vast amounts of personal influence and economic power that could be used contrary to the public interest.

I have very little confidence in our major political parties. I see them as just another means for special interests to dominate the national agenda. The purity of their philosophies is fundamentally flawed by the natural tendency of the human component that, more often than not, pursues its own interest at the expense of the common good. Democrat or Republican - both are members of the same plutocracy that has an iron grip on our federal government. Those of us who vote them into office are mere spectators, make no mistake about it.

Where are good old common sense and the basic rubrics of a meaningful system of oversight these days? We are supposed to be a nation based on a system of laws, equally applicable to every citizen in the land. How does that jibe with the ability of the President to summarily grant immunity to cronies who have violated those laws? How does that jibe with a legislative body that can vote itself salary increases, fat benefits packages and perks that are the envy of the world? Shouldn’t the basic principles of adherence to the law and avoidance of a conflict of interest be fundamental to any office and institution of government?

Jimmy Carter may be a great statesman at this point in his life, but his performance in the White House was abysmal. He opened the Social Security Fund to plundering by immigrants at the expense of our own citizens who look to the integrity of that program for a modicum of security in their old age. How does that square with the “party of the people?“ Give me a break!

During his terms in office, Ronald Reagan heaped more debt on the backs of the American people than all of his predecessors combined. How does that square with the principles of “fiscal conservatism” that is the hallmark of his political party?

Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and removed all oversight on the financial industries that, essentially, cut working Americans off at the ankles and opened the doors to their wholesale exploitation by every financial huckster in the business. We are left with a massive exodus of American industries and jobs to cheap labor markets around the world. Our financial markets and institutions have been reduced to pillage and plunder by greed on a scale not seen since the days of Warren G. Harding. The only risk and burden associated with these actions fall squarely on those who have to work for a living. What Monica Lewinsky literally did for Clinton pales in comparison to what Clinton figuratively did to the citizenry for the benefit of big business and great wealth. And he calls himself a Democrat? Bull puckey. In name only, you can be sure of that!

Then, if the foregoing examples are not bad enough, along comes Georgie Porgie, Sickey Dickey and their happy band of Neocons who make the egregious actions of any and all of their predecessors look like child’s play. Public debt amassed by Ronald Reagan pales in comparison to what the Bush Administration has accomplished. It didn’t take them long to bankrupt the country, remove all safeguards for the consumer, destroy the nation’s infrastructure, sacrifice thousands of brave men and women on a pack of lies, trample on the Constitution, violate the very laws they were sworn to uphold, etc., ad nauseum. Meanwhile, John Q. Public continues happily down the yellow brick road to the land of milk and honey, all the while totally oblivious to the impending catastrophe awaiting them. We got exactly what we deserve because we are either too lazy, too corrupt or too stupid to know what is really happening!

We are where we are because there are no ideals to which we subscribe, no tenets of decency which we hold inviolate, and no moral compass to guide us. We no longer hold to account and apply standards of conduct to those we have entrusted with our very lives. Why? Simply because we no longer stand for much of anything of substance. There are no excuses. The blame rests squarely with us, individually and collectively.

Old Glory waves proudly, as she always has, but her fabric is tattered because of our benign neglect for all she symbolizes and what we are supposed to stand for. Until we regain our lost character, re-learn how to stand on genuine principles and subscribe to ideals that mean something, our descent into the same morass of all failed civilizations is, perhaps, all that awaits us.

We have become much like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. We seem to be searching for what continues to elude us - courage - with the conviction and determination to back it up.

After this next election, Obama and McCain will probably retire to the bar at the Mayflower Hotel and muse over how they slipped it to us once again. They will raise their glasses in a toast and quietly exclaim, “Well, we gave them exactly what they wanted; the best damned President money can buy.“ Being the poor, ignorant fools we are, we won’t have a clue as to what has befallen us yet again.

Anybody game for a parliamentary system?

Cowboy Bob
August 6, 2008