We could learn something about democracy from our mother country…

September 1, 2016

Who knew? The United States of America was formed after breaking away from England with the intent of developing a new democracy. But after more than two centuries it seems maybe we could learn something from the modern Great Britain where its prime minister, its executive, has to face the legislative branch of government on a regular basis and through their parliamentary form of government cannot remain in power if he or she (she in this current case) cannot keep enough support in the parliament.

And often, instead of polarization between competing political parties, opposing sides are forced to work together to maintain the government and have any influence. Most of all I am impressed with how articulate the prime ministers are. Was impressed by the late Margaret Thatcher, and am impressed by that nation’s second female executive Theresa May.

Of course the United Kingdom or UK as it is sometimes called is not the only nation to have a parliamentary form of government, we are actually the oddity among democracies I think with our federal system. I am not at all sure that ours is not as good or better, but the parliamentary system does seem to have an advantage in that it keeps the executive in check and it seems to force cooperation among competing parties and allows for more than just two major parties in most cases.

But so far I am really impressed with this Theresa May, just from listening to her. I wished we had someone of her caliber running for office here. I will give Hillary Clinton credit for being articulate and being able to present a coherent argument. I do think, however, she often sounds like a lawyer (which she is) trying to make a case for a guilty party by picking and choosing facts and parsing sentences.

But then again, maybe all politicians find themselves having to do just that, at least from time to time.

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Public faced with reality that services require revenue; better off to make decisions at local level; yet another fire department talks about not rescuing people…

June 12, 2011

Was it just a week or so ago that the Alameda, Ca.  city fire and police were in the news for failing to make a water rescue because it was against their policy because due to budget cuts they had dropped the ongoing training program for “land-based water rescues”?

Alameda reportedly moved to reinstate the program after the negative publicity.

But as I was driving through Sacramento the other night, I heard on one of its local radio stations that due to budget cuts the fire department there might have to drop some rescue programs.

Part of the problem here may be that the public does not seem to see a connection between tax revenue and basic services and not everyone agrees on what constitutes “basic” services. I think it was Sacramento that was also telling the public that the good news is that they won’t have to cut fireman positions and in fact are adding them at one station thanks to a federal grant (the locality for this is not important for my point). That is part of the problem. Local governments have become far too dependent upon the state and federal governments for funding. But in times of economic downturn the well is running dry.

California’s problem is exacerbated by Prop. 13 that dates back to 1978. Local property taxes were severely limited and ever since local governments have been hard-pressed to provide services, even basic services (even though some local governments do waste money on inflated pensions and job perks and possibly unnecessary and grandiose projects).

It looks as though citizens are finally going to be called upon to foot the bill for the services they demand in a more direct fashion.

Now of course true libertarians, which I am not (only sympathetic at times), would say everyone should pay their own bill for everything and government is only there for perhaps the common defense (and that is iffy) and keeping a record of who owns what.

But it would or will be healthy if the citizenry at large is closer to the money and can see first hand how much is available and can prevail upon their elected people on the more localized level concerning what spending priorities should be, rather than depend upon some mythical endless pot of money from far away. When you depend upon help from big government, you also submit yourself to the control of big government. Also the supply of money is not really endless, which we are all funding out with some amount of pain.


Something wrong with a policy that prevents rescuers from rescuing…

June 5, 2011

So it is old news now that in Alameda, Ca. firemen and police officers stood by a let a guy drown –well he wanted to drown; he was committing suicide — because a city policy forbade them to do land-based water rescues.

And that is because their water rescue program was discontinued after it ran out of funding due to tight budgets and taxpayer resistance to higher taxes.

Now, I understand, the program is to be reinstated and the policy has or will be changed in favor of the rescues.

The current fire chief, who just recently took the post on an interim basis, as I understand it, was said in one report to have implied that the same response, or non-response would have taken place had the victim been a small child (not suicidal).

One or more talk show hosts suggested that this might be a sign of the times or a harbinger of things to come in this era of tight budgets and taxpayer resistance.

And there was talk to the effect that rescuing someone in the water without proper training or even with proper training, is a risky venture. Often those being rescued pull the rescuers down with them in panic.

There was also talk of emergency personnel being damned if they did put aside policy and damned if they didn’t break policy and perform a rescue.

Here’s the thing in a nutshell as far as I see it:

I will not second guess the emergency personnel rank and file.

And I will not automatically blame “stingy” taxpayers. People resist taxes partly from the fact of the outrageous and true stories they hear about fraud and waste in government.

Who I blame is the so-called leaders, be they city councilmen, county supervisors, department chiefs, whomever, for not having enough guts and even enough common sense to realize that you cannot have a policy that forbids emergency personnel to respond in an emergency.

And the leaders in Alameda must be especially dense. I mean Alameda is on an island. It is surrounded by water, yet they had forbade their emergency personnel to perform water rescues.

To add irony to all of this, I understand, the water was only chest deep on the victim.

Maybe some fire chiefs and other city officials are more concerned about planning their plush retirements than ensuring they are operating under reasonable policies.

P.s.

The good to come out of this is that other localities are examining their own policies in this regard after the incident that has drawn national and even international attention.


It helps to have public employees who are happy at their jobs…

March 1, 2011

I almost feel guilty about not already speaking up on the behalf of government workers. I for one do not want to see them have poorer working conditions or even necessarily see less of them — even with ballooning local and state and federal budget shortfalls.

A few years back now I came down with cancer and had to be on state and then Social Security Disability for a time. I also had some income tax questions. I got a lot of help from government employees and I found virtually all of them to be quite courteous and the whole process quite efficient.

People who are relatively well paid and have good job security are more likely to have a disposition that allows them to serve you well.

Whether it is in the public sector or the private sector we always run into some who are not so cooperative. But I have had good luck with most government employees.

Certainly the public’s funds are not unlimited and there has been much abuse in some sectors when it comes to salaries and especially retirement packages (especially in some local governments, it seems). But one has to remember the public’s funds were not put at risk by the employees. It was our elected representatives who voted to spend the money and we all voted for them.

I think that now that times are tough there is a lot of scapegoat going on, and it is easy to get the public riled and make them jealous of those on the public payroll.

All this does not mean that I think public employees should be paid over or way over what those in the private sector get. What I do think is that when you need something from government you want the people who will get it for you to be happy in their work.

Just something to consider.

P.s.

Now I feel better. And thanks for the help.


I recommend the King’s Speech; We could use some noblesse oblige about now…

February 9, 2011

Saw the movie “The King’s Speech” and I highly recommend it.

Besides being entertained, what I got out of it is that in another time and in another world and maybe even now in this world people need a member of the elite class to look up to and to reassure them in times of crisis and that it can be lonely and scary at the top.

This of course took place in England and things are no longer quite the same there nor here (in the U.S.) for that matter.

I can’t say what it has always been here, but it seems that for the most part in modern times we either don’t get the leadership from the top or we don’t respect it.

And let me go back to the actual movie. There was an interesting line when the lead actor, playing King George VI, who had to deal with a stuttering problem, groused that people were depending upon him for so much and yet (under the system which leaves the modern monarchy with little to no actual political power) he really had no authority to do anything — except be the image of leadership as the head of state.

The interesting part here to me is the idea of an elite in society feeling it has the obligation to lead. I have referred to or alluded to this a few times in recent blogs.

The history of our United States by definition is a resistance to monarchy. The 13 colonies revolted against the King of England and set up their own democratic republic with no king, although there had been talk of handing the title to George Washington. He declined.

In my lifetime, the only president we have had that was nearly treated as a king, rightly or not, in my mind, was Ronald Reagan. His death was treated like that of a monarch and people even recently celebrated his 100th birthday — and he’s dead.

Reagan was a lot more show than substance, at least in my opinion. But that may account for the adulation. He carried himself well and personified the idea of American exceptionalism and confidence coming out of a period of self-loathing and with an occupant in the White House who personified weakness and a lack of leadership, despite his no doubt good and noble intentions.

A close second, and more to my liking, would be John F. Kennedy. The whole Kennedy clan was almost treated as royalty, and with their wealth, and the fact that the heirs to old Joe Kennedy were never required to do actual work, living off of trust funds, and yet dedicated their lives to public service and looking out for what they perceived to be the interests of the common man rather than just the rich, they personified the whole idea of benevolent monarchs or noblesse oblige.

We don‘t need monarchs in the U.S.

We could use some more noblesse oblige about now, especially among the Wall Street and corporate set.

I would prefer that to the rantings of Hitler (shown briefly in the movie) or Hitler-like people such as Glenn Beck et al. or the empty platitudes and jingoism of the highly unsophisticated and apparently poorly educated Sarah Palin.

Hire American. Invest in America. Believe in America, not just your own bank account.


The revolution may come in America, and the real problem may be professional politicians who are out of touch with the real world…

February 7, 2011

Somewhere down the line I foresee an uprising in America. I may not be around by that time, but I see it as a distinct possibility.

If it were not for unemployment benefits, and unemployment benefit extensions, and for Social Security Disability, possibly, there might have been one already here in the U.S. since the disaster of 2008.

People who lose their jobs and cannot feed themselves or their families get desperate. But we have a safety net, such as it is.

But with the advance of technology there are fewer and fewer jobs, even when or if the economy rebounds — it is said to be rebounding now and rebounding a lot faster than the employment rate.

And technology has not only wiped out industrial and other formerly labor-intensive work but it has hit the office place too. Executives and lawyers type or key in their own memos on computers in some cases. There are a lot fewer open positions for executive secretaries and other administrative personnel — not that they could not be used. Have you ever noticed the paper work coming out of some of these places?

Automated switchboards have replaced live voices — much to the exasperation of customers, but no one in business cares because that is the way things are done now.

An interesting thing to me in this current situation in Egypt and other troubled Middle Eastern nations is that a whole lot of the demonstrators are young people with college educations but they cannot find work. So sending everyone to college is certainly not the cure all/end all.

In the U.S., the government’s debt piles up with the populace unwilling and to some extent unable to pay higher taxes and there are fewer taxpayers all the time. Social programs have to have some type of revenue stream.

It could all come to a head. How long would relatively soft Americans last? Not long.

Meanwhile the politicians dither. Not a statesman among them.

I really think the problem is that we have professional politicians. I really think sometimes we would be better off with people who simply serve a term or more as a public service and do it for a stipend. Now of course this could well limit the field, but would we really be worse off?

People who have to worry about being elected every few years — every two years in the case of the U.S. House of Representatives — have to spend more time campaigning and selling out to lobbyists with their corporate checks than doing what they were elected to do just to keep up their livelihood.

There is the thought that if you did not have professionals holding office there would be too much turnover and not enough institutional memory or built-up expertise and that the void would be filled by paid and unelected staff. Of course that is a problem, but I think we could elect honest people who could be vigilant.

There is a thought that any kid can grow up to be president. Well, nice thought, but really should just anyone be president? I don’t think so. I would want someone who has proved his or her worth outside of politics. I want someone who can demonstrate knowledge and have a good educational background. I want someone who is not carrying water for some private interest or who is not straight jacketed by ideology, but of course who supports our form of representative democracy. And I really think when you get to higher office, especially president, you need someone who is to some extent in the class of elites. The world is too complex for people who are unworldly and too simple minded. Sarah Palin need not apply.

But most of all I think that the problem is that we are stuck with people who are professional politicians and who have been out of the real everyday world so long they have not a grasp of the true needs of the people, even though they may think they do.

I realize my talk of electing elites seems to run counter to my suggestion that we need people who are more in touch with the citizens. But I think people who are in what you might call an elite class, be they from the business sector or from the intellectual sector or a little of both, might have a better grasp of the real world that those pampered-at-the-public-trough bunch we have in Washington.

Just a thought.

P.s.

I have never understood why many small to medium sized towns — at least here where I live in California — have councils that serve for mere stipends while the board of supervisors members in the counties wherein they lie get salaries equivalent to as much or more than many or most of their constituents make in a year, plus other perks, such as health insurance and even retirement, and most or all of them have outside jobs or business interests. They may be good people. But if they really were in it totally for the public good they would accept a stipend.


With the BP oil mess and Katrina and 9/11 as a guide, one wonders just how much security our government provides…

June 7, 2010

If you stop and really think how unprepared our government and industry (at least BP) was for the Gulf of Mexico oil blowout, you almost have to think about how unprepared we are for most any dire contingency, such as a nuclear strike or a dirty bomb.

The weather or a natural disaster offers a special challenge, because there is nothing you can do to prevent it. But a prepared and willing government can come to the aid of its own people or it can act woefully incompetent, as in the case of Katrina.

The right hand can not know what the left hand is doing or rival government agencies — the CIA and FBI — can allow a situation that results in disaster, such as ignoring terrorists on a watch list, thus allowing them to board and hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings, ala 9/11.

Watchdog agencies can be starved for funds and/or filled with incompetent bureaucrats who take bribes for looking the other way and not making waves, the exact thing they are supposed to do (make waves), resulting in tainted food and oil well blow outs a mile-deep in the ocean, with proper procedures and safeguards ignored, and dangerous and fraudulent financial transactions that endanger our whole economic system.

We all thought for so long that there could never really be another event like the Great Depression because we had safeguards. We shed some of those safeguards in the name of unhindered capitalism and greed some time ago, and the remaining safeguards were useless because regulators looked the other way and watched porn while drawing government paychecks and because in the end nothing really trumps greed.

A lack of confidence that our government is there for us in matters of security is enough to bring the whole system down.