God, Greed and Government Part 1

Government, Greed and God.

These three words, in no particular order, sum up the problems facing the United States today. The problems are huge and the solutions, of necessity, radical.
While my mission is to save the world one compost heap at a time, I do have some thoughts that could possibly save the United States.

As it is government that would have to implement solutions, let’s start with what needs to change in government in general and Congress in particular.

The 20% of the population who DO approve of the job Congress is doing, must not watch the news or read newspapers very much. Members of Congress seem to spend very little time actually in the House (just look at the empty seats even during a high profile debate, if debate is the right word); they are either planning their re-election campaign or schmoozing with lobbyists. The simple way to eliminate both those time-wasting and expensive activities is term limits. Or rather term limit – one term only. The term can be quite long 8, 10, 12 years, but one term only, with the possibility of recall if the incumbent turns out to be a real dud. This would apply to the President, the Senate and the House of Representatives and down to the local level. As things stand now, if you want to be a Representative, you have to wage a protracted and obscenely expensive campaign to get elected, you spend a few months settling in, and then you start campaigning again for the next election which is a short 18 months away. You are besieged by lobbyists who promise support in return for favourable votes for their special interests and you are pressured by your party to vote along partisan lines if you want party support in the next campaign.

I am sooooo not a Republican, but I have a lot of sympathy with the idea of smaller government. Why, for example, should the Federal Government pay for an unnecessary and largely unwanted Transportation Center in my small town? Or to put it another way, why should the people of Arizona, Nebraska or Vermont pay for our little folly.

I even have sympathy for the idea that there is no need for a Department of Education, whose main aim seems to be that as little information as possible is passed on to the next generation. There is so much information to be passed on that we should be working extremely hard to make sure that every child learns something different. A good education doesn’t mean graduating children who have all managed to memorize the same small body of knowledge. A national curriculum based on text books is the surest way to dumb down the population. Standardized tests show nothing more than how many children have learned how to take tests. And they are unnecessary. Teachers know whether their students are learning, principals know who their good teachers are.

A good education results in an adult who can think, who is curious about the world, who may know very little about the Civil War but has the tools to find out if he needs to know more. A good education results in an adult who is open-minded and sympathetic to other ideas, someone who can look at any situation and assess its merits based on facts. And it matters not one whit whether said adult knows the date Columbus sailed the ocean blue, or whether the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of its two adjacent sides. What matters is that said adult has learned to think, and along the way has accumulated a fair knowledge of the subjects that interest him.

Government is intrusive on so many levels. Take New York State liquor laws.

The South Africa that I grew up in did not allow women in bars. Some establishments, like private clubs, were allowed to have Lady’s Bars, but the drinks had to be poured somewhere else. Were women so stupid that they didn’t know whiskey came out of a bottle?
In New York you cannot carry a bottle of wine or tequila or whatever out of the store unless it is in a bag. Why? New York State purveyors of wines and spirits cannot sell beer. They cannot sell mixers. Why? You cannot return an unopened bottle of wine or whiskey. Why? Eighteen-year-olds can vote, drive and die for their country but can’t drink. Why?

In Australia there was once the five o’clock swill. Bars were open only from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. So what happened? Men got out of work, headed for the nearest bar and downed as many Fosters as they possibly could in two hours which lead to the practice of lining tankards up on the bar and filling them with hoses. Then, the men reeled home and either abused their wives or fell asleep at the dinner table.

On the other hand you have Italy and France, where drinking wine is part of life from a very early age. In Italy my two year old daughter served grappa to the monks of Farfa Abbey. In both countries, drinking is as natural as eating. Sure there are some winos sleeping under bridges, but the only time you see someone drunk and disorderly it is a tourist.

Regulating the consumption of alcohol is about the most counter-productive activity I can think of, as Prohibition proved, and current legislation confirms.

This is my particular pet peeve. Everyone has one, and government would do well to listen to complaints and consider the unintended consequences of intrusive legislation.

But, back to elections.

If re-election is not an issue, each member of Congress is free to make a reasoned, unbiased judgement each time a vote is called for. In effect, each member is an independent, who can pick and chose which way to go. In effect, each member can weigh each vote on its merits and vote his or her conscience, influenced only by the will of the people in his or her constituency.

And that first election campaign? Three months, tops. If you can’t get your message across in three months, then you don’t have a lot to say. Because we are striving here to have elected officials who actually represent the people, it is a given that campaign contributions are limited to individuals, and limited in size. No $100,000 contributions from corporations or influential individuals. Up to, say, $5000 per person. The number of contributors says a lot more about how you represent your district than the size of the donations. Besides, with a short campaign, you don’t need all that much money. Especially not if there were to be some public funding for equal air time, giving everyone who wishes to serve their country a chance to run for office. Holding public office is a chance to serve one’s country, to do some good, to make a difference. It is very much akin to serving on the Board of a non-profit organization. You give your time for a number of years and then make way for someone else.

It should not be a career.

To quote Jim Hacker in the incomparable BBC programme “Yes Minister” “A career in politics is no preparation for government.” and “Being an MP (Member of Parliament) is a vast subsidized ego-trip. It’s a job that needs no qualifications, it has no compulsory hours of work, no performance standards, and provides a warm room, a telephone and subsidized meals to a bunch of self-important windbags and busybodies who suddenly find people taking them seriously because they’ve go the letters ‘MP’ after the their name.”

So that just about takes care of Government.

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