Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 27, 2011

Sanity, Substance

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Mark Chubb on July 27, 2011

This past weekend, the world witnessed three very different events in three places very distant from one another that produced three very different public responses. Each has something to tell us.

In the first instance, Norwegians’ demonstrated that no matter how powerful the pull of emotion, humans are capable of engaging the most senseless acts of violence in very sensible ways. On the other side of the planet, New Zealanders greeted an icy blast of Antarctic weather that dumped 30cm of snow on their tattered landscape with sighs not screams. “The icing on the quake,” was greeted with as much relief as resignation despite the disruption it caused. Meanwhile, back here in the United States, our leaders in Washington demonstrated that neither the tug of emotion nor the power of reason is strong enough to dislodge our leaders and their supporters from the entrenched positions fueling their partisan brinksmanship.

Norwegian leaders and citizens alike made it clear that Anders Behring Breivik’s rampage will not undermine their continued commitment to maintaining an inclusive, tolerant society guided by respect for human dignity and the rule of law. No one has minimized the challenges facing societies like Norway’s that struggle to embrace multiculturalism on a continent organized around and indeed defined by national distinctions rather than assimilation. If anything, the massacre has rekindled interest in redoubling efforts to accommodate cultural differences without sacrificing quality of life or equal protection of the law.

In Christchurch, people have learned repeatedly to find pleasure in the simplest things. In other cities, including their own in days past, a snowstorm of this magnitude would have been greeted very differently. People would have wondered whether the inability of municipal authorities to keep transportation and economic activities going were some dark sign of their inability to do anything. People have come to expect both more and less of those in government in the after last September’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake and more than 7,300 aftershocks left their city in ruins. They expect more information, more involvement and more empathy from government officials. At the same time, they are more forgiving of errors, uncertainty, and delays, especially when they see public officials confronting many of the same personal and professional challenges they themselves must face.

Our leaders in Washington, however, seem capable of doing little more than what suits their own peculiar political interests. Not long ago a political impasse like the present one would have been resolved by recourse to party loyalty and party discipline. These distinctions pale in comparison to the ideological differences driving the present debate (or lack thereof). Rather than accepting and addressing the urgency of the present situation, both sides seem more committed to leveraging it for ends that enhance their future prospects at the polls at the expense of someone else’s. The principles of inclusiveness, equity, and shared sacrifice have no more to do with either side’s proposals than compromise or collaboration have to do with the way they have engaged the problem or one another.

In Norway, a country that enjoys one of Europe’s highest standards of living, lowest unemployment rates, and strongest social safety nets, the disturbing actions of an individual or small group of extremists in their society have opened both eyes and minds to the need to work harder. In New Zealand, a disruptive snow storm demonstrated that even the most urgent, necessary, and difficult work can wait when conditions require it. The peaceful beauty of the snow can even serve as a brief respite and reminder to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, especially the company of one another.

This leaves me wondering, what will it take to not just get the attention of our leaders and a broad cross-section of American society, but to get then to engage the dilemmas facing our country without resorting to simplistic, self-serving soundbites? What will it take to restore sanity and substance to our politics?

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6 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 27, 2011 @ 4:53 am

Ah interesting post! CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY! Few leaders in the USA hear the citizenry. Perhaps that should be the real discussion. I account for that because of corruption of the political process rampantly supported by SCOTUS decisions totally unfaithful to early John Marshall decisions recognizing that the corporate form was designed to limit liablity not to provide corporations the rights of individual citizens.

But as usual there is much of substance in Mark’s post. One sentence of interest–”No one has minimized the challenges facing societies like Norway’s that struggle to embrace multiculturalism on a continent organized around and indeed defined by national distinctions rather than assimilation.”

Yes the long history of Europe is really about racial and ethnic cleansing and ferocius eleimination of the “other”! Not so much in the USA but certainly possible. And in fact a new ferocity and unwillingness to support the community and the commons now self-evident in the American political leadership. Did the Clinton’s for example really need to amass a post Presidential fortune now estimated at over $150M? Was there self-esteem and the reflected glory of the Presidency so low that piling up dollars was a necessity to cover for their various often self made disasters? Well as role models they fail just as Clinton efforts in Haiti fail as that country plunges further into the dark ages but for help from Cuba. Time will tell how the USA lost its way but the debt ceiling debate is symptom not the disease.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 27, 2011 @ 7:12 am

In a democracy the people get the kind of government they deserve. I think Adlai Stevenson said it first.

It will be interesting what, if any, shifts emerge from the President encouraging the American people to contact their representatives in Congress. Yesterday, I wrote my cut-cap-and-balance Congressman.

There are structural and cultural complications to our representative democracy reflecting the will of the people. In the present case, we might be better off if the old republican traditions were still capable of representing less our willfulness and more our best judgment.

Norway and New Zealand have had the “benefit” of a shared disaster. We have not — recently enough? — had the benefit of this sort of unifying event. Greater cause for unity (or the opposite) may be on the horizon.

The agents of unification at Christchurch were horrible earthquakes; in Norway a monstrous murderer. Right now it looks like the United States may be on the edge of mind-boggling financial suicide.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 27, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

Not all nation-states are premised on the will of the people. But if they are then Phil is correct that governments reflect their people. Is that what the USA has now? A corrupt government reflecting a corrupt people?

Comment by John Comiskey

July 28, 2011 @ 7:08 am

In wealthy democracies people get the kind of government they deserve and can afford. When the wealth runs out it hard for the same government to say we can no longer afford cradle to the grave entitlements especially when members of the government have suggested that those entitlements are the norm.

IMHO, America is spoiled and is dysfunctionaly dependent on government largesse.

Major dysfunction: lack of self-reliance.
Remedy (IMHO):

1. Transparency in government: start with campaign finance predicated on singular idea that any politician can receive any amount of money from any individual/organization so long as he/she “fully” discloses all contributions. All contributions are published on government website.
1a. Term limits for Congress.

2. Education predicated on self-reliance ethos to include forward looking life-long learning curriculum to compete in a rapidly emerging techno-industrial society.
2a. Teachers at all levels elevated in stature by qualifications that reflect the aforementioned. Teachers crowned “nation-builders.”

3. Financial Policy: get back to basic: what do we want and what do we need. Default to transparency and especially pork-barrel expenditures.

4. Energy policy: portfolio-conservation platform. Endeavor to harvest any and all natural energy and manufacture energy from multiple platforms coupled with national conservation strategy. Go green intelligently.
4a. Futuristic goal: burn garbage cleanly for energy.

5. Defense policy: spend less by prioritizing national security goals. Ask question: what can we afford in the long term. Accept limitations: seek greater international collaboration: hold UN to its mandates. Ultimately, accept degradation of US international preeminence.

6. National Health Strategy.
6a. Promote wellness and prevention.
6b. Four-Tier National Health Program (IMHO)
1.Tier 1- Minimum Care. Every citizen and resident alien entitled (government pays): Minimum care to include annual medical, dental, and hospital care. Patient has limited options, e.g. must accept assigned doctors and facilities.
2.Tier 2 -Standard Care: Member and/or employer pay annual fee. Services include all of Minimum Care options AND some choices about doctors, dentists, and facilities to be used.
3.Tier 3- Premium Care: Member and/or employer pay inflated annual fee. Service include all of Standard Care options AND significant choices about doctors, dentists, and facilities (private rooms) to be used.
4.Tier 4- Ultra-Premium (Cadillac Plan) Member and/or employer pay ultra-inflated annual fee. Service include all of Premium Care options AND all available doctors, dentists, and facilities (private rooms) to be used.

7. Immigration Policy
1. Maintain Status border security less the big –fences (they don’t work)
2. Deny illegal aliens:
a. Work: No green card no work. Employees who knowingly hire illegal aliens subject to criminal and civil sanctions.
b. Non-essential medical care. No green card equates to no services.
c. Education: no green card equates to denial of services.
e. Driving privileges: no green card equals no license.

Other events will come; terrorists/madmen (or madwoman) will strike the homeland, it will quake and snow, and other economic crisis.
o survive as a great Nation, the US must resolve to be resilient predicated on self-reliance and the will to be great.

The US can remain a great nation –it has to want to.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 28, 2011 @ 10:07 am

Interesting comment! The USA does not control capital flows so at the moment the giant sucking sound is almost all capital of USA going offshore searching higher returns on that capital. Just as the rollups sucked capital out of many small and medium size towns in USA this process is creating a dustbowl out of reinvestment in American polity and systems. So in fact John’s solutions while having some merit perhaps don’t really address the issues facing the USA. Simply put is it Wall Street and American capitalism that has given up on American reinvestment? If Bush tax cuts had never occurred no deficit crisis or debt ceiling problem. Tax equity meaning same rates for all but don’t just include income taxes but all taxes. Payroll included.

Comment by Mrs. Love

August 10, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

No it’s just a corrupt government period! To blame it on the people would be wrong.

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