Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Can government do anything right ?

I disagree with those who maintain that government is inherently wasteful and ineffective. The public sector certainly can be both just as the private sector often provides poor quality workmanship and customer service.

Democrats are often better at governing than Republicans as they have a more positive attitude toward government activism. Government agencies can become more innovative and customer friendly with the right leadership and values. There is no reason for example that government offices cannot be open more flexible hours (like evenings and weekends) to offer better service to the public. Like big corporations, public bureaucracies can encourage a drone-like attitude among employees or promote an organizational culture of innovation.

Government can be as efficient in delivering services as the private sector. I think our military has done a great job considering the demands and limited resources that they must work with. Our police and firefighters show courage every day to protect and save lives. I can't imagine rent a cops and private firefighters showing the same dedication. The postal service ? Well, that could use a lot of improvement but much of the decline in service quality can be traced to the replacement of career civil service workers with the temp-like "casuals" who don't always have the same dedication to their duties.

Jacksonville,FL has a city-owned electric authority (JEA) which does an excellent job of providing power to the Duval County area. The rates are actually lower than profit-making private power companies such as Florida Power & Light and Tampa Electric.

I am not suggesting at all that every enterprise should be run by the government but rather that government can do and actuallty does some things better or as well as the private sector. And there are areas like education that have traditionally been a public-private partnership like education. I'm all in favor of public education and some of our public schools excel at educating and training their students. Of course, some students fare better in a private or church-related school environment. Private and parochial schools have always educated a significant minority of our children. I see no conflict between experimenting with voucher programs to assist low to moderate income parents who wish to send their kids to a private school with supporting and further improving the public school system.

Likewise, I don't think it is always a bad idea for government to outsource certain functions to the private sector if a business can be made that they do the job more efficiently without compromising the quality of service. A lot of services in our society can be potentially be a private-public partnership. There is nothing wrong with workers in the public sector competing with those in the private sector as long as both are given the necessary tools to do their job. The answer isn't always creating or making a government agency bigger or mindlessly just declaring government bad and contracting all functions out to the private sector. In privatization mad Florida under the leadership of Jeb Bush, we've seen examples of how private companies often performed less efficiently than government agencies. Governing sometimes requires a little common sense and removing the ideological blinders - right or left.

* REPUBLICANS REWARD BIG BUSINESS - NOT VALUES VOTERS

I happen to oppose gay marriage (and support a constitutional amendment banning it) but agree with this UK Guardian columnist via the Tapei Times. The Republicans want to use social conservatives for votes while big business gets whatever they want. Progressives need to recognize that big business is the real enemy - not the socially conservative values voters.
Democrats must realize as JonathanFreedland that getting into a conflict with values voters is unwise. Our party needs to stress economic issues and allow for a difference of opinion on social matters such as gay marriage and abortion.

http://tinyurl.com/q4glr

Bush's play to the Christian right is a red herring
The US President is once again pandering to so-called `value voters'over gay rights, but Democrats and other progressives should not bedistracted from the real enemy
By Jonathan FreedlandTHE GUARDIAN , LONDONSaturday, Jun 10, 2006,Page 9

"Well, it gave US President George W. Bush the presidency once before, so why not use it again? Our old friend gay marriage is back, evoked anew by the man in the White House to scare "values voters," most of them Christian conservatives, into voting Republican one more time."

"It did the business in 2004, when Bush's efforts to turn the election into a referendum on same-sex unions may well have tipped the pivotal state of Ohio, chiefly by persuading social conservatives to get out and vote. So it's no surprise to see a tired Bush, facing second-term poll numbers in the Nixon depths, reaching for the same stick now."

"Bush wants to amend the Constitution so that that precious charter of rights and liberties will include a new sentence defining marriage exclusively as an arrangement between a man and a woman. Such an exclusion clause would demean the document, like graffitis crawled across a sacred text. The Constitution has been altered before -- but usually to expand rights, not to restrict them."

"The president and his allies wrap this up in the usual preachy language, of course -- stand by for the radio pastors intoning that 'It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' -- but there is nothing holy about this mission. It's brazen politics, an obvious lob of red meat to the hungry of the Christian right. If they gobble it up they will show just how easily they are bought. Abroad it will confirm an impression many have had of the US for awhile: that the country is on its way to becoming a theocracy, with the evangelical right organizing methodically, and over decades, to take over the commanding heights of the country. Europeans and others shudder at the polls which show that 40 percent of people in the US would support a ban on the teaching of evolution in schools, while two-thirds believe creationism should be taught alongside Darwin in the schools."

"With a leader who shares those sentiments ruling over White House, it's been easy to see this as the faith-based presidency. In this view, the salient feature of the Bush era has been its religiously rooted, Manichean vision of the world, seeing the US as locked in a holy struggle of good against evil."

"Such a view is certainly appealing: it's simple and it would explain a lot. But it would be woefully incomplete. For there has been another force at work during the Bush years, one that can claim amuch larger, if less publicized, role in shaping the policy of the present era. Take this very week in Washington. While the talk shows and blogs are humming with gay marriage, the Senate will debate the permanent abolition of the inheritance tax. Republicans are already rebranding this the death tax, as if the wicked government insists on squeezing even the corpse on the undertaker's slab. But the truth is that only three estates in every thousand are eligible for tax under the current law: everyone else pays nothing. But those three matter, because they're the estates worth more than US $4 million -- and it's those families Bush wants to help. No change there."

"In his very first months as president, Bush passed a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefited the wealthiest 1 percent ofAmericans, a redistribution of money from poor to rich that will leave the most affluent a staggering US $477 billion better off over a10-year period. That, rather than any religious crusade, has been the true hallmarkof the Bush era. In every sphere it has been the wealthy, andparticularly big business, who have been the true beneficiaries --and often architects -- of Bush policy."

"Energy is a case in point. Just 10 days after his arrival in theWhite House, Vice President Dick Cheney, fresh from running the oilservices and construction company Halliburton, convened a secret "energy task force," an unelected group that set about makingthe oil and gas companies' dreams come true. Whether they wanted more drilling, mining or deregulation, they got it."

"One telling documentwas a wish-list memo from Enron: a later congressional analysisshowed that 17 policies sought by Enron, or which directly benefitedthe company, were included in the task force's final report. Again,no big surprise: Enron had been a generous giver to the Bush-Cheneycampaign in 2000.Cheney managed to keep the task force away from democratic scrutiny,but occasionally the curtain was tugged back."

"A rare and choice example is the case of Philip Cooney, who served until last year aschief of staff for the White House council on environmental quality.It turned out that Cooney had been quietly editing reports bygovernment scientists on global warming, wielding his pencil to castdoubt on climate change. One sentence asserting that the world is 'getting hotter was rewritten to say that it 'may be."

"Yet Cooney had no scientific training. His sole qualification for the job was that he had previously worked for the American Petroleum Institute, the chief lobby group of the oil industry. He was forced out of the White House, but that was no problem. He got a new job --as a spokesman for ExxonMobil.""There are countless other examples, from the gutting of the Clean AirAct to Bush's attempt to dismantle the US pensions system known as social security -- a Roosevelt-era institution valued by Americans on middle and low incomes, but irrelevant to the rich and powerful."

"The symbol of this closeness between the White House and the boardroom remains Halliburton itself, which was awarded three massively lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq without even suffering the inconvenience of having to bid for them. We're told that Cheney played no part in allocating those contracts. But he wouldn't have to, would he?Those who want to take on the Bush administration should keep all this in the forefront of their mind."

"The Christian right may be the juicier, more telegenic target, but they are not the sole, or even central, driving force of US policy.Where does that leave Democrats? It suggests they must keep their sights on the real enemy. It does not pay to get into a fight with 'values voters.' More important is to make a moral case against poverty, environmental despoliation and a greed culture."

* GUN RIGHTS MOVEMENT SETBACK AND VICTORY

Congratulations to the Amendment II Democrats for making a valiant effort to persaude the Texas Democratic State Convention to adopt pro-gun rights language to the state party platform. Progress was made in raising awareness about firearms issues among party activists and many connections were made with other pro-Second Amendement Democrats at the conventionlast weekend in Ft. Worth. For information on Amendment II Democrats, check out their website at http://www.a2dems.net

A great victory for our Second Amendment rights was won Monday in a California Superior Court as a judge struck down a San Francisco voter initiative banning residents from owning handguns within the city. The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

"In today's ruling, Judge James Warren said California law, which authorizes police agencies to issue handgun permits, implicitly prohibits a city or county from banning handgun possession by law-abiding adults."

"That law 'demonstrates the Legislature's intent to occupy, on a statewide basis, the field of residential and commercial handgun possession to the exclusion of local government entities,' Warren wrote in a 30-page decision."

The article quoted Chuck Michel, attorney for the NRA which the voter approved ordinance as stating,"We're thrilled that the judge recognized that law-abiding citizens who possess firearms to defend themselves and their families are part of the solution and not part of the problem."

Few cities would ever consider enacting such extreme and un-Constitutional laws as a gun ban. The fact that 58 percent of the voters in San Francisco would approve a prohibition on the ownership of handguns shows just how far the city is away from mainstream American public opinion.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Populism is a major American political philosophy

A study released in April by the Pew Research Center shows that populism is still a major political philosophy among American voters.It is a fascinating poll. Go to the link and check it out as there is some really interesting survey data.
http://tinyurl.com/zv3uc

Here's an excerpt from the Pew Research Center report:

"In the political caricature of recent years, America is a nation divided: red vs. blue, conservative vs. liberal. "Liberals" tend to favor an active role for government in regulating the economy, but oppose government attempts to regulate morality or private life in the social sphere. "

Conservatives" take just the opposite approach, preferring a smaller role for government in the economy but a bigger role for it in promoting morality. Not surprisingly, liberals and conservatives are political opponents on most issues."

"But while there is little question that U.S. politics have become more polarized in recent years, the red-blue political shorthand is far from adequate to describe the full spectrum of Americans' political views. Judging by their opinions on a number of issues, many Americans simply do not fit well within either the conservative or the liberal ideological camps, instead falling into one of the two other important U.S. political traditions - libertarian and populist -or defying attempts to pigeon-hole them."

"Americans espousing a "libertarian" ideology oppose government regulation in both the economic and the social spheres."

"Populists,"by contrast, favor an active role for government in both the economic and the social spheres. Still more Americans are distinctively non-ideological in their political outlook, and so don't fit neatly into any of the four ideological camps."

Many of us don't fall into the standard left-right ideologies . There is no logical reason why one cannot - for example -opposing abortion and gun control while favoring national health insurance and public funding of political campaigns. Populists do have a consistent political philosophy - that government uphold the rights of workers and consumers as well as traditional moral values.

OUR FUEL CAN BE MADE IN THE U.S.A.

Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) is right that our fuels need to have a "Made in America"sticker. We must move quickly to encourage the use of ethanol. It is a cleanand renewable fuel and increased use will be great for our nation's farmers as well as reducing the trade deficit.

One interesting thing that I learned recently is that ethanol can be produced not only from corn, but also from sugarcane. According to the New York Times (04/10/06), Brazil which has widespread use of ethanol gets eight times the yield from sugar cane based product that is made in their country than from corn based ethanol. We grow sugar cane already in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii and sugar beets are grown inMinnesota and Montana. Our government needs to take the lead in promoting the development of sugar cane based ethanol in the United States.

All vehicles with engines built after 1970 can use the 10% ethanol, but we need to get more new vehicles on the road that have the capability of using the E-85 ethanol which consists of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

EVIDENCE OF GROWING INCOME INEQUALITY

I don't always agree with The Nation magazine http://www.thenation.com/on social and foreign policy issues, but find that they are right on target when it comes to economic matters. The article below by Leon Friedman about the rising income inequality in our society shows how the rich are getting richer as the poor get poorer while the middle class just slowly fades away.

"Every three years since 1989, the Federal Reserve Board has prepared a Survey ofConsumer Finances (SCF), which carefully measures the net worth of all households in the nation--that is, the total assets owned by all Americans. Thesurvey, the most complete and thorough analysis of individual wealth, summarizes the financial resources of different groups of the population, such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, business assets and real estate. The most recent report, issued early in April 2006, details the massive inequality of wealth in the United States between a small number of households at the top of the income scale and those in the bottom half. This report and other similar studies emphasize that this wealth inequality is growing and is becoming a permanent part of our society."

"The latest report examined the distribution of wealth in 2004 and makes detailed comparisons showing the change in wealth among various population groups. It notes the following:"The total net worth of all Americans in 1989 was $25 trillion (in 2004 dollars).Of that amount, the top 1 percent owned 30 percent, or $7.775 trillion. The bottom half owned 3 percent of the total, or $763 billion."

"Fifteen years later, in 2004, the total wealth of all Americans had doubled to$50.25 trillion. The top 1 percent of the population now owns 33.4 percent ofthe total, or $16.774 trillion. Their percentage share of the total has increased by more than 3 percent in fifteen years. At the same time, the total wealth owned by the bottom 50 percent increased to $1.278 trillion, but its percentage of total wealth declined from 3 percent to 2.5 percent in the sametime period."

"Thus the wealth of the top 1 percent was ten times the wealth of the bottom 50 percent in 1989. Fifteen years later, the wealth of the top 1 percent was thirteen times the wealth of the bottom 50 percent.""Examining the type of wealth owned by each group, the SCF reports that the top 5 percent of the population owns 85 percent of closely held business assets in the country, 79 percent of the publicly traded stocks and 70 percent of mutual funds."

"At the bottom of the scale, the story is far different. While many reports have claimed that about 50 percent of households own some stocks or shares in mutual funds (either directly or through IRAs or company pension plans), the actualamount held is quite small. According to the SCF, the bottom 50 percent own less than 1 percent of business assets, stocks and mutual funds--so much forPresident Bush's claim that we need to reduce taxes on dividends and capital gains because we are an "ownership society" with so many Americans owning shares. The principal asset of the bottom 50 percent is the value of their homes, usually heavily mortgaged."

"The reason for this change is not difficult to discern. Beginning with the reduction of income tax rates in the Reagan Administration (from a high of 70 percent for the richest taxpayers in 1980 to 35 percent now), Congress has steadily reduced tax rates. It has reduced and is seeking to eliminate the estate tax altogether. In 2003 Congress lowered the tax on dividends to 15percent, rather than treat it as ordinary income subject to the highest tax rate of 35 percent. It also reduced taxes on capital gains from 20 percent to 15 percent. Necessarily, these changes greatly benefited the households at the top of the wealth ladder."

"Where can this largesse for the wealthy come from? If the government has a program of tax reductions for the wealthiest, necessarily this leads to budget shortfalls and then a decrease in welfare payments to the people at the bottom.Where else could this money come from? Certainly not from military expenditures.Congress passed a budget resolution last year that cut $10 billion in Medicaid programs, $3 billion from food stamps and $7 billion from student loan programs.The House has passed new resolutions this year calling for even greater reductions in these programs."

"The growing inequality between the very rich and the bottom half affects every aspect of American life--healthcare, education, occupational opportunities. But those in the bottom half find it harder and harder to move out of their sorry condition, as those on the top fight to protect their position and have the assistance of the politicians who pass law after law favoring their interests."

This article can be found on the web at: http://tinyurl.com/g43of