LET’S GET ON WITH THE BUSINESS OF GOVERNING, AND OF SAVING THE PLANET

By Paul

Now that election 2012 is over, and the results are so promising, it’s time to get on with the business of exactly why we elect people in the first place, namely, to govern. 

Not so much governing has taken place for quite some time in this interminable run up to November 6th.   It seems as though that run up by itself has lasted for at least a couple of years.  So, it’s definitely time to get back in the saddle again.  It’s obvious that the first order of business has to be the so-called Fiscal Cliff, those automatic spending cuts and tax hikes which will go into effect in January of 2013.  In my view, it would be a complete disaster if they happen, as it would probably trigger at least a “mild recession,” according to any number of economists.   But even a mild recession, in the wake of the Major Recession we have just gone through, could be devastating.  In fact, it brings to mind the latest nor’easter to hit New York and New Jersey on the heels of Hurricane Sandy.  Ask the folks there, who were without power and literally under water, and who are again going through a similar ordeal, if another blow is an easy thing to take.  I think you’ll get an earful.  It would be the same thing if the President and Congress are unable to work out some sort of compromise to prevent us from heading over this fiscal precipice.

But that’s just the beginning.  There is a whole host of things on everybody’s plate that needs to be attended to.  It’s almost as if things have been on hold for two years, and now finally it’s time to get a move on.  The President has already said that Immigration Reform will be high on his list, and that is surely a good thing.  This country has actually always had a love-hate relationship with its immigrants, in spite of the comforting old myth of the melting pot.  Very few of the established Anglos wanted those damned Irish, or the Italians either for that matter, back at the end of the nineteenth century, just as many don’t want the Mexicans, or other Latinos, today.  And just as with the Europeans, so too with Hispanics, epithets such as “lazy” and “free loaders” are thrown around with nothing to back them up.  We won’t get to a truly fair and comprehensive immigration reform package, I believe, until we come to terms with how we really want to perceive, and therefore how we treat, new arrivals to this country.

Another major problem that has to be fixed is the economic one.  I am nothing if not a liberal, and I hope a progressive, but I do agree with conservatives that something has to be done about balancing the fiscal books.  We cannot go on spending so much more than we take in, and we most definitely cannot go on simply borrowing money from China and elsewhere in order to cover the gap between spending and income.  Toward that end, we have to be upfront and transparent about how we spend the money we do have.  One of the most despicable things about the administration of George W. Bush was how they hid the cost of two wars.  These military incursions were utterly unfunded; they never even made it to the budget talks.  And this is aside from the fact that, in my view anyway, they were both totally unnecessary in the first place.  But that’s another question entirely.

The only way to balance the books is some combination of reasonable spending cuts and equally reasonable tax hikes.  It also assumes that we will come up with a way to handle so-called entitlements, although personally I hate that word.  It always comes off to my ear as sounding as though people are getting something for nothing, something they don’t really deserve.  That is not the case in regard to Social Security, which those of us who receive it (myself included) have paid into for upwards of forty years, or however long a person has worked.  The same is true for Medicare, although in regard to medical costs in general the country has also got to have a very serious conversation about what is actually appropriate, and in the end, what we can afford.  This will not be an easy discussion, inasmuch as it concerns both ourselves and the lives of those whom we love, and just how much care is enough care.  But the topic has to be on the table.  These are things that adults talk about, and that we need to talk about.

Beyond these things, education looms high on the list, too.  For far too long we have been putting off decisions about comprehensive funding that will get our children – all of our children – ready for the highly competitive world of the 21st century.  It will have to be a discussion that takes place at the national, the state, and the local levels, since funding for education and decisions regarding how kids are educated happen at all three levels.  But when a baseball player (nothing against baseball, as much as I find it one of the most boring sports on the planet), or a football player, or a movie actor, or a CEO of a company that rapes the planet, earns millions of dollars, and educators are paid a pittance, it seems to me that there is something seriously wrong with our value system as a society.  And remember that politicians are really only reflections of ourselves.  We hire political leaders in the first place by voting them into office, and by keeping them in office (or not) once we’ve seen how they perform.  So, if we continue to elect people who do not value the things we say we value, then in the end we have to examine ourselves, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. 

 I could go on with a long list of things that have to be dealt with, and no doubt anyone who reads this could add others, equally as important.  Clearly, the economy and jobs go hand in hand, and you do not fix one without the other.  And this includes jobs for everyone, including people who have been traditionally shunted out of the good life of the American middle class, people of color in particular who have suffered more profoundly than anyone else during the years of the Great Recession.  Other things come to mind, as well, things like the infrastructure of the country, which is crumbling, care for the sick and the indigent and those who cannot care for themselves, always a bell weather in terms of what a society considers important, and so-called energy independence, a silly pipe dream in itself unless and until we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.  Which leads me to the final point that is on my mind in regard to the new administration, and the Republicans in Congress as well, because the latter can block almost anything they want with the majority they have in the House of Representatives.  And that topic is the eighteen thousand pound gorilla in the room, namely, climate change. 

Now here is a topic for the ages!  And not many more ages, in fact, if we do not somehow come to grips with its disastrous implications.  I have to say that I was appalled at both candidates during the presidential campaign that the words climate change or global warming almost never passed their lips.  It is, though, a topic that in the final analysis trumps all others.  And I do mean all.  Because we can do whatever we want to fix the economy, to create wonderful jobs for people, to educate our children, to care for those who cannot care for themselves, to grant equal rights to minorities, pay down the debt, and on and on, but if the planet rebels – in ways that I think we have only begun to see – then none of these other things matter.  If we do not have a hospitable planet on which to live and to raise our children, and even, God help us, to play baseball on, then everything else is for naught.

The old Republican adage of “drill, baby, drill” sounds almost like a hateful curse to my ears.  It is at very least the cry, and maybe the last cry, of the utterly deluded.  There are surely things that all of us can, and must, do in order to help play our part.  We can and should conserve and not be wasteful, find alternate sources of energy, recycle, and we absolutely have got to stop having so many children. At seven billion people and counting, the world already has far too great of a population for the planet to sustain.  And we must find a way to satisfy our need for power that does not, as a byproduct, pollute the air, the water, and the earth itself.       

All of this is necessary, and some of it can be done on the personal and the local level.  Even so, that will not be enough.  Governments, and whole associations of governments, absolutely must take this on as a priority – no, as THE major priority – because the ravages of catastrophic global climate change will not respect race or ethnicity, wealth or poverty, one economic system over another, or anyone’s arbitrarily drawn political boundaries.  It will get us all, if we do not take steps now to make a difference. 

So, I admire and appreciate President Barack Obama very much.  I also feel for him, and hope and pray that he will have the strength and the wisdom and the determination to take on these problems we are all faced with.  If we do not assist him in this task, then we are all to blame.  It is time now to act and to stop playing politics.  And if we do not, there is no doubt in my mind that we will all suffer the most dire of consequences.

Eggheads, Elections, Marriage Equality, Etc. (Exchange of Letters)

Dear Kevin,

I do think that there are lots of subliminal lines running underground, as it were, between humor and art, and spirituality, too, no doubt.  I suppose you’re also right that to a certain extent we’re both hopeless eggheads when it comes to what and how we write.   Case in point: I also just posted something on the blog this morning, mine being about the recent European elections in France and Greece, and how they are both similar to and dissimilar from US politics.  Could you get much more “eggheady?”

Anyway, as you say, I guess the blog will be what it will be, and we leopards appear to be more or less unable to change our spots.  Nor do I think it’s even desirable to try, do you?  Once you start attempting to be somebody other than who you are (for better or for worse), you come off sounding inauthentic and, well, just a little silly.  So, if people want to read us, I suppose they’ll have to read us as we are.  In fact, maybe we ought to change our blog name from TwoOldLiberals, to TwoOldEggheads, what do you think?

This all makes me think about poor old Adlai Stevenson, too, back in the fifties, when he was running for the presidency against Eisenhower, a Republican.  My parents — and everybody I knew at the time — were staunch Democrats, to say the very least, but even so they were very leery of Stevenson.  People called him an “egghead,” and I remember thinking at the time: “What in the world is an egghead?”  I guess Americans have always mistrusted anybody who comes off as an intellectual.  I don’t have to remind you, of course, that Stevenson lost, and when reporters talked to him afterwards and mentioned the whole egghead controversy, his comment — perfectly apropos — was: “Via ovicipitum dura est!”   I assume that some of the reporters listening didn’t understand what he was saying in Latin, which was: “The way of the egghead is a hard one.”  But it certainly was perfectly in keeping with who he was.

I noted this morning, too, that the good Christians of North Carolina voted overwhelmingly to shut gay people up when it comes to their annoying demand for equality and constitutional rights.  In fact, what they seemed to be saying was, let’s actually change the constitution in order to make absolutely sure that “these people” don’t get too uppity!  Of course, voters did the same thing here in California, so I shouldn’t be too surprised about the Carolinians, should I?  It is curious, though, that every poll you see indicates that a majority of Americans are now in favor of allowing gay people to marry, at least by a slim majority, and yet time after time initiatives to allow that are defeated in one state after another.  I do think that eventually this will change, once the demographics change and — I hate to say it — once some older conservatives die off.  But nobody seems to know how long that will take. – Paul

Dear Paul,

I absolutely LOVED your blog article about the European elections. I found it so informative and balanced. I think you ought to submit it to “The Economist” or some other publications that explore global economic trends. As you know, I am a Francophile as well, having lived and studied in Aix-en-Provence for six months as a very young man, and spending a month-long Christmas holiday in Paris, where I painted a mural on the kitchen wall of my hostesses in exchange for lodging and meals. I certainly wish Francois Hollande the best. And I agree with you that the economic answer lies in a combination of stimulus and belt-tightening, even though almost nobody seems to be in the mood to strike such balanced and inclusive compromises. We must do the same thing here. If we don’t, we will be in very big trouble rather quickly, I should think.
 
Regarding our eggheadedness, I think we can only wear it as a badge of honor. I remember Adlai Stevenson very clearly and with great affection, because he was a hero in our household, when I was a child in the 50s. My parents were very disappointed by his second loss to Eisenhower, who now looks like a raving liberal, by the way, when compared with today’s mainstream Republicans. Eisenhower wouldn’t have a prayer of surviving today’s Republican primaries. Dick Lugar proved that yesterday in Indiana. Anyway, I have to tell my very favorite story about Adlai Stevenson — one that demonstrates his wit and intellect: A reporter asked Stevenson to comment on the fact that Norman Vincent Peale was preaching his conservative right wing politics from the pulpit, in light of the fact that Saint Paul had also talked about politics in his sermons. Adlai Stevenson shot back, “In Paul, it’s appealing. In Peale it’s appalling!” Smart man, that Adlai Stevenson. He would have been a great president.

Where the NC vote to amend their state constitution to ban gay marriage is concerned, I don’t think anybody is surprised, even though it is certainly disappointing. Similar ballot initiatives will soon be considered in three more states – MD, MN, and WA. So far gay marriage has lost every contest even though the majority of Americans support it in polls. One commentator said yesterday that it appears that the subject of gay rights motivates the right wing to come out to vote in greater numbers than progressives. Also yesterday, President Obama surprised me and many others by making a strong statement in favor of gay marriage, just a few days after Vice President Biden had paved the way, whether by design or by default. In either case, the Obama campaign seems to have calculated that it was a worthwhile risk for the president to reveal his true colors on this matter, since the majority of Americans are with him. We’ll see come November. I personally think that President Obama may also simply be the kind of man who doesn’t want to win another term if he has to do it by falsifying his true positions and beliefs. Yes, I am suggesting that he is, in fact, a man of real integrity, unlike his adversary, Mr. Romney, an opportunist who will say and “believe” whatever he thinks will thrust him into power, regardless of whatever beliefs he may actually hold. For Romney the ends justify the means. So, he’s a flip-flopper. Such people are dangerous and not to be trusted in my opinion.

It looks to me like it is going to be a very close election on all fronts this season. The recall election of Gov Walker and many of his lieutenants in WI is coming up in a little over three weeks. Even though Walker is funded by out-of-state right wing sources at a level 20 times the campaign accounts of his challenger, Tom Barrett, the Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee is currently one point ahead of Walker in the polls. I suspect that the results in WI will be interpreted by many as a harbinger of things to come in November, no matter how it turns out. It is hard for me to imagine how the contest between Obama and Romney could possibly be close, but apparently it is going to be a squeaker. Robert and I were certainly planning to vote enthusiastically for a second term for President Obama, whether or not he had come out in favor of marriage equality. As it is, we will just pull that lever with a bit more vigor.

Our fervent wish is that he would wake up and get with the environmental program to reverse Global Climate Change and stop the Keystone Pipeline. I would trade those positions for his support of gay marriage any day, because if we don’t make the tough decisions required to reverse Global Climate Change very soon, we won’t have the luxury of resolving any other issues confronting humanity, including gay marriage. First things first. We have to save the planet as a habitat that will support life. Then we can argue about who may marry whom. Okay, okay… I guess it isn’t a matter of doing one or the other. We can probably do both things at the same time. But my point is that in the face of the potential extinction of all life on Planet Earth, every other issue looks miniscule and insignificant to me. Global Climate Change is by far the most fundamental challenge that humanity has ever had to face, because it is about the survival of our species, as well as all the other life forms on the planet. We have to go into warp speed in reverse on Global Climate Change, and I want President Obama to “evolve” all the way to full enlightenment on this issue as well as gay marriage, and the sooner the better. – Kevin