Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Return from the Detour

Author: Gary Hart

Whether tomorrow or seven years from now, the passing of the current US Administration will leave behind a to-do list of some dimension.  Without seeming to be pushing anyone out the door, it is not too soon to be considering the priorities for damage limitation and damage control.  Even if no further damage is done, the list of those priorities already is daunting.

Though it is by no means certain, one must assume that the historic US political pendulum will deliver a reasonably centrist Democratic or center-right Republican Administration into power.  After this experiment in reversion to the age of Hoover (Herbert that is), emerging new realities demand a return to a mainstream at home and abroad.

Given Heraclitus’s admonition regarding constant change (you can’t step in the same stream twice), simply returning to 2016 will not be an option.  But there are some mainstream conditions that offer guidelines.

First, in the world.  Reality, in such short supply these days, will require the United States to resume partnership with European and Asian allies on issues of trade and security.  Despite Brexit, some form of the European Union will survive and will welcome a United States Government that once again seeks some neo-NATO security alliance, if for nothing else than to show a united front against any Russian adventurism in the Baltic States or along its Western border.

Likewise, that same reality will demand a regular order in trade with guidelines on tariffs, cross border transactions, and systems for dispute resolution.

And, yes, with wiser heads in charge, a process for addressing looming and long-term climate deterioration must be restored.  This alone will require respect for science, facts, and reality.  But the same is true of Arctic warming and its attendant regional revolution, as well as recurring threats of pandemics in Africa and elsewhere.

At home, the restoration will be daunting.  Continuing work must be done to rescue and reform the Affordable Care Act, if nothing else than to make it truly affordable.  The public school system, which Jefferson thought was a necessary precondition to democracy itself, must be restored to its rightful place in every community and saved from the privatizers.  We must reject the ugly and awkward exile from the global community on climate rescue.  A genuinely national infrastructure restoration project must begin.  Forget about a wall.  A thoughtful and humane immigration program and a genuinely fair tax system will be high on our national agenda.  Much else will need to be done.

But we will not seek simply to return to a world before the Trump detour.  New realities are intruding even as we stumble ad hoc through a confusing Trumpian jungle.  Tossing aside the nationalistic, isolationist, populist approach to a national greatness that was never lost will not be sufficient.  New regional alliances on trade, security, and immigration will be required.  New international agreements on climate, environment, energy, and nuclear arms control will be necessary.  All will require a respect for statesmanship presently missing.

Most of all, those who truly care about America and its continuing leadership role in the world must reject divisive forces here at home that seek to blame one group or another for the challenges we face.  Once again, Pogo was right: we have met the enemy, and it is us.

Unless our current President changes his mind, and he has repeatedly shown his willingness to do that, several thousand sequestered documents related to the John Kennedy assassination will be released in days.  Despite the President’s claim that he is releasing them, they are being released according to a law passed by Congress in 1992.

Though by no means a conspiracist, I was a member of the Senate Select Committee to Investigate the Intelligence Agencies of the U.S. Government in 1975 and 76 and thereafter became a charter member of the new Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee created on the recommendations of the Select Committee (popularly known as the Church Committee for its chairman, Senator Frank Church).

One of our most startling discoveries was a pattern of attempted assassinations of half a dozen foreign leaders by the CIA from the late 1950s until the mid-1960s.  The most notorious and persistent of these plots targeted Fidel Castro of Cuba.  To carry them out the Agency employed three well known Mafia figures who knew Cuba first hand.

The Warren Commission tasked with investigating the Kennedy assassination was not aware of the Castro plots or, most importantly, the Agency’s partnership with the Mafia figures, for one important reason.  A member of the Warren Commission was Alan Dulles, then head of the Agency.  Because he placed protection of the CIA ahead of a search for truth, and to avoid the embarrassment that would be created by its hand-in-glove relationship with the Mafia, Dulles chose not to reveal the Castro plots to Chief Justice Earl Warren and other Commission members.

Now suppose how this information might have changed the path of the Warren Commission.  It certainly considered Castro a suspect, in part out of retaliation for the successful U.S. stand-off with the Soviet Union over Russian missiles proposed to be deployed on Cuban soil and more crassly to create a vendetta for Kennedy’s attempts to assassinate him.

But had Mr. Dulles candidly, and secretly, shared with his colleagues on the Commission the CIA-Mafia plots against Castro, suddenly a new set of those with interests in assassinating John Kennedy would have arisen.  The Mafia’s interest in getting rid of Castro was to re-enter Cuba and take back its extremely lucrative network of casinos and hotels.  The Kennedy settlement with Krushchev included an unpublicized agreement to end U.S. efforts to overthrow Castro.

Overnight, the Mafia’s hopes of regaining its hundred million dollars a year income from Cuba, real money in those days, went out the window.  Motive enough for partnering with the CIA in the first place and real motive for retaliating against a President who crushed those hopes.

Whether any of these government documents promised to be released will confirm and shed light on this dark corner of an even darker assassination remains to be seen.  But each of us is left to decide whether a loner with a mail order rifle or the Mafia had a greater motive or the means to carry it out.

PS: The Church Committee sought to interview the three key Mafia figures in this drama.  Two of them, Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana, were brutally murdered during our investigation.  Their murders have never been solved.

The Founders and Donald Trump

Author: Gary Hart

The Founders of the United States created a republic on a scale never before attempted.  In doing so, they hewed closely to the principles of historic republicanism from Athens and pre-imperial Rome forward through Venice, the Swiss cantons, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, and the English and Scottish Enlightenments.  They feared most of all corruption in the form of special pleading factions and concentration of power in an executive, especially one with an unconventional agenda.

As argued before by this writer [The Republic of Conscience], we have succumbed to the first of these fears in the past three decades.  The question for consideration is whether we are edging toward the second.

The vaunted “balance of power” government they created was the principal bulwark against concentration of power in the Executive.  The Legislative branch alone can enact new laws or repeal old ones.  The Judicial branch can declare Executive branch rules and Legislative branch laws unconstitutional.

At least that is what the framers of the Constitution and Founders of our Republic intended.  But the “checks and balances” government does not always work perfectly.  The Judicial branch can decide that private corporations, legal constructs, have the same freedom of speech rights as private citizens [Citizens United].  The Executive can dispatch military forces to the far corners of the earth without the Legislative branch declaring war as required by the Constitution.  And the Legislative branch, especially when constituting a majority of the Executive’s Party, can expand Executive authority to govern by fiat, such as single-handedly and arbitrarily dismantling the previously enacted Affordable Care Act.

Though steeped in history and skeptical of human excess, the Founders assumed on the part of all three branches of Government that an enlightened and educated citizenry would demand that the national interest always be placed ahead of party and ideology.  If men were angels, they knew, government would not be necessary.

Early on the Founders decried “factions”.  But very soon factions formed, Parties were created, and ideologies began to dominate the national interest.  Fissures, formed by slavery, region, economic interests (manufacturing versus agriculture), income gaps, and more, cracked and widened.

Very little in the Constitutional debate addressed how fissures such as these, the frictions they created, and most of all the domination by one Party of all three branches of government, thus erasing the checks and balances, should be dealt with.

The Founders were idealistic but not naïve.  They were, as John Kennedy said, idealists without illusions.  Early on they dealt with populism in the form of Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion and were not loath to use force to put down rebellions that even faintly suggested insurrection.

The shorthand description for our recent political upheaval is, for lack of more sophisticated analysis, populism.  There is a pattern of populist uprisings, usually during eras of economic upheaval (late 19th century agrarian rebellion, the Great Depression).  It is now commonly believed that globalization, technology, cultural revolutions, and mass migrations have created the conditions for the rise of Donald Trump, an unlikely populist to say the least.

Populists of the past, William Jennings Bryan, to name one of the tamest, seldom have risen to occupy the Executive branch, with their Party simultaneously controlling the Legislative and Judicial branches.

The peculiar brand of Trump populism seems motivated only by irrational repudiation of his predecessor’s record and retreat from 70 years of U.S. world leadership, both strange if not irrational motivations.

We all have our theories as to where all this unique period will lead us.  Historians with the broadest perspective seem to take the position that the nation is strong enough to weather even unprecedented behavior and destructive conduct.  We are now testing that national strength.

Will the “center”, representing the norms of the past and the dwindling company of statesmen, keep the nation on a stable path?  Will men and women of principle and thoughtfulness emerge to protect our national principles?  Will those in power now attempting to repeal decades of bipartisan progress in health, education, environment, climate, and much else be able to institute irreparable harm?

Thus, our nation faces a challenge from within, not from international fascism and communism, but from forces of regression, isolation, and delight in chaos.  Will they succeed?  That will depend on the strength and virtue of the American people.

The Age of Regression

Author: Gary Hart

Service, first through religion then through politics, is what gave life meaning.  It was the light which guided a young man’s journey.  But then the light of public service flickered and dimmed.  The public one believed in and wished to serve turned fickle, angry, and bitter.  It did not respond to idealism.  It rewarded naked self-interest and excused vulgarity.

Threats replace diplomacy and sharp elbows displace patience.  And of statesmanship there is none.

And if there is doubt about regression, consider public education, climate and the environment, health care, sustainability, the Paris Accord, foreign policy leadership, trade agreements, arms control.  Pick a topic.  We are turning our backs on every area of human improvement.

How is one who has sought and experienced public service to rationalize a world that seems increasingly irrational?

Did the character of Americans change overnight?  If so, then why?  Reasons, even excuses, are given for a gross deviation in public values and civic virtues: globalization; economic competition; mass migrations; re-emergence of nationalism; income disparity; wage stagnation; and government corruption, most of all.

But all these together cannot account for a massive shift in national character.  More is required to account for the departure from asking what we can do for our country to acceptance of devil take the hindmost.  The watchman was asleep when the iceberg opened a gash in the forward starboard side hull, the lifeboats are full of first class passengers and lowered, and most of the rest of us are still on board.

How has it come to this?  Were we all, especially we idealists, asleep as the ship entered this ice field?

Some comfort can be found in this search for explanation by the replication of political and social regression in much of the Western world.  Right wing, even crypto-fascist parties, have emerged in European democracies.  Anti-immigrant movements have arisen in a variety of otherwise sophisticated, enlightened nations.

So, we Americans have company in this journey backward into a different time.

That does not, however, ease the anguish of experiencing a nation losing its idealism, even if that loss is only for a time.

To add to the bewilderment about our nation’s course, there are ancillary battles now being waged over whether those whose job it is to deliver the news can be trusted and even whether science itself provides a stable factual base for analysis.  Language is uncoupled from traditional norms by political Administrations who say “We create our own reality” and “Facts are what we say they are.”

All this sense of unhingement can be dismissed with a sigh if one believes it to be an aberration gone with a single Administration.  But who is to know?  What if we are experiencing a radical and permanent departure from the world we had come to know operating on rules generally accepted by all.  What if we have disappeared down an historic rabbit hole or through a looking glass into a new, different, and frightening world where nothing means what it used to mean?

There is increasing evidence of young people now attracted to politics in all its manifestations by the promise of financial reward in the new Lobbying State.  Do not go to Washington to promote civil rights, equality, justice, and progress.  Go to Washington to serve on a staff, learn legislative intricacies, and then cash in with one of the myriad of lobbying, influence peddling, campaign fund raising, media manipulation outfits in the exploding multi-billion dollar a year “swamp” of corruption.

When the fourth branch of government is entitled Special Interests, anyone protesting on behalf of the national interest is seen as naïve and laughable.

For that idealistic young man so devoted to public service to enter this new world near the end of life’s journey is to be almost overwhelmed by disappointment.

The course of our nation is not inevitably toward progress.  Like empires before us, even noble ones, we are not insured against corruption, loss of faith, and sacrifice of principles.

Our only hope is the restoration of our principles and our Republic.

The Assault on Language

Author: Gary Hart

When words lose their meaning, tyranny is at the door.  Behind all the unprecedented cacophony emanating from the White House, there is an assault on language, words and their meanings.  Many Americans have brushed aside all the talk, during the last national campaign and thereafter, about “fake news”.  That is a mistake.  If society loses its respect for commonly understood and accepted definitions of everyday words used in politics and elsewhere, communication of important information necessary for self-governance in a republic is replaced by propaganda.  Propaganda is the essential tool of dictators.

The New York Times, among others, has tried to keep track of an ever-expanding list of lies told by the President and others in his Administration.  This is one way of trying to protect definitions and meanings.  But the lies, or misstatements if you prefer a kinder word, are promoted on purpose.  They are to create a different set of realities.  This is a language meant to communicate with the “base”, those whose outlook on the world insists that there is no climate change, immigrants steal jobs, foreigners are not our friends, everything President Obama did is wrong or even evil, liberals are ignorant at best and evil at worst, trade agreements should be shunned unless they clearly give us advantage, and Russia may be a better security partner than our traditional NATO allies.

A dramatic nationalistic right-turn can be managed only if traditional language is replaced by a new vocabulary, one that may insist that night is day and wrong is right.  George Orwell was prophetic.

Those of us who think we have seen it all and believe that our fellow countrymen cannot be duped should think again.  Even if one shrugs off the new humpty-dumpty vocabulary, serious damage is still being done.  A third of our fellow citizens are learning to dwell in an alternative political universe, one whose language is different and whose realities themselves are different.

If this alternative universe takes root and transcends generations beyond a single presidency, America will think much differently and more importantly it will behave differently.  We will be divided not so much along class lines but along language lines.

The groundwork was laid before this presidency.  High level deception was practiced in the Vietnam War, during Watergate, and in the lead up to the Iraq War.  In each case, public trust was seriously eroded.  In too many cases it took the mainstream media too long to question authority and then when it began to it was criticized by authority for “undermining America.”  So we learned not to trust authority and not to trust those who came to question authority.

But all those chickens have come home to roost in a big way.  And when corruption in Washington involving both Parties encourages and reinforces cynicism [See: A Republic of Conscience], the floor is open for a new vocabulary of propaganda.  A lie is out the door and down the street before Truth gets its pants on.

American history shows that we’ve been through something like this on more than one occasion, for example the populist era of the late 19th century.  Except for Philip Roth’s fictional account in The Plot Against America, however, the chief propagandist never made it to the White House…until now.

It is for all of us, in day to day discourse with friends and neighbors, to politely insist that there is such a thing as objective truth, that words have accepted meanings that even the president cannot change, that science is based on provable evidence, and that our Founders knew what they were doing when they wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident….”

Today, virtually all Americans will remember or be reminded of the early 21st century’s version of Pearl Harbor.  For the few of us who saw something like 9/11 coming, and warned the nation, it will forever be tattooed indelibly on our souls.

Because the lesser versions of that evil hour have been more or less home grown and carried out by deranged fellow citizens in theaters and kindergarten classrooms, we tend to think that a 9/11 will not, possibly cannot, happen again.  After all we have, as the US Commission on National Security for the 21st Century urged eight months before 9/11, a US Department of Homeland Security, TSA, and increasingly militarized local police departments.

Don’t be too sure.

And don’t assume that, having made it more difficult for a handful of young men to highjack domestic airplanes and crash them into tall buildings, we have solved the problem of domestic terrorism.

The late, unlamented Osama bin Laden saw as his goal not the killing of a few thousand Americans.  His announced goal was to severely damage, if not destroy, the US economy.  So, we have just begun to see the tip of the cyber warfare iceberg.  Because corporate America refuses to accept US Government guidelines for securing and hardening its vast computer systems, some of us have warned that we can expect serious, and possibly successful, attacks on the computer networks that control our financial systems, our communications networks, our transportation systems, and our power production and delivery networks, that is our critical infrastructure.

We have already been told that it will take weeks and probably months to recover many of these systems after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Think what a cyber hurricane can do.

For those of us in the business of seeing that history does not repeat itself, the question has to do with lessons learned.  All the TSA’s in the world cannot replace diligent leadership, presidents, cabin members, and members of Congress, who a window open to future potentials and think of ways to anticipate and protect against the worst.

If future national commissions or even alert individual citizens warn of impending danger and policy makers at the top refuse to listen, as they did in early 2001, no amount of forecasting of impending doom will prevent it from happening.

Those whose inclination is not to trust their own Government, and whose personalities are tuned to happy talk and not danger, will shy away from alerts and warnings of hazards ahead.  And they will always tell us that not every danger can be avoided.  But even if true, that is no excuse for not trying to anticipate the iceberg.

It was all summed up for me personally, as I have reiterated before, by the statement made by the Director of the US Secret Service when protection was provided to me as a national candidate: “If someone wants to kill you,” he said, “they will probably kill you.  Our job”, he continued, “is to make it as difficult as possible.”

To make terrorism on the shores of our nation as difficult as possible requires intelligence, foresight, wisdom, strength of character, and seriousness of responsibility.

In the age ahead, we should demand nothing less from our national leaders.  We owe it to the victims of 9/11 now sixteen years ago, whose loss could have been prevented, to hold our leaders accountable.

There is a consensus, with a high degree of confidence, among relevant US intelligence agencies that some individuals and groups in Russia hacked into computers regulating the 2016 US national elections.  Whether these hackers were authorized by the Government of Russia or were free lancers, and how extensive the interference was will require some authoritative report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

At the very least, it would be a mistake of historic importance to let this matter simply drift away into the dust bin of history.  If nothing else, prudent people must conclude if it happened once it will surely happen again.

Interference in our elections by a foreign power or foreign agents is not just one more damn thing left over from the Cold War.  Boys will be boys, cynics will say, and besides, are we Americans absolutely sure that one or more of our intelligence services, or their myriad of “private consultants”, have not done the same thing against other countries.  Without the highest security clearances, who’s to know?

But Russia remains a special case.  As one who has had extensive experience in Russia, both in arms control negotiations and in organizing major telecommunications projects, and as one whose adult lifetime, since as early as 1964 in the US Department of Justice’s National Security Division, has been highly focused on national and international security issues, this is a matter of considerable consequence.

If Russia, or anyone else for that matter, can hack into election computers in Pennsylvania, or Colorado, is it not clearly possible that the final tally of votes can be manipulated.  And, if so, cannot Russia, or someone else, determine the ultimate winner of the presidency or any other national office.

We have learned in recent hours that someone or someones in Russia purchased US election advertising on the Internet.  If so, our vaunted free elections are no longer free.  It is one thing to be manipulated by the Koch brothers.  It is quite another to be manipulated by the Kremlin or some private entity that it owns.

Our hope, and it remains a somewhat fragile one, is that Mr. Mueller and those who assist him are able to pin this tail on the right donkey.  If so, it will be against the best efforts of this White House and this Administration.   In the sardonic humor of Washington, Mr. Mueller better have someone else start his car in the morning.

It is a safe bet that, in the just over three years before the next national election, little will be done to harden election computers, all operated at the State level.  The cost would be considerable and funds are lacking.  The same safe bet says that State election officials will set this problem aside until their computers are dusted off and tuned up in the summer and fall of 2020.  Too late.

There is one option that costs little.  We can do what should have been done since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  We can seek to build a better relationship with Russia based on the many more interests we have in common than those, such as Syria, Ukraine, and Crimea, where our interests conflict.  We have a common interest in a conflict free zone in the Arctic Circle, for example, and a North Korea in its cage.

The beginning would be a solemn, and detectable (“trust but verify”), commitment from the Russian Government that it will cease and desist from cyber tinkering with our elections which we hold sacred for the preservation of our Republic.

Vignettes for These Times

Author: Gary Hart

*Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist signs are not in evidence in Houston these days.  It would be interesting to hear how a lily-white society and government might have prevented Hurricane Harvey or managed its response better.

Indeed, what is striking about the dramatic pictures from Houston is how multi-racial the rescue is.  Blacks helping whites.  Hispanics helping blacks.  Asians helping and being helped.  Why does it take a natural disaster, or for that matter a war, for race to take a holiday?  America is always at its best when we are all in it together.

*Texas is among the most conservative and anti-national government States in the Union.  But the Federal (repeat Federal) Emergency Management Agency is there on the front lines of rescue and recovery and not a word is heard about the wasteful government in Washington or the tax dollars that it is spending.

Which brings up again the unanswered and unanswerable question: what are the functions of the national government they want to get rid of.  Texas’ former governor Mr. Perry wanted to eliminate the U.S. Department of Energy.  Now he is its Secretary and only beginning to find out what the Department does.  He did not know, for example, that about half of the Department’s budget goes into the development and management of our nuclear weapons stockpile, as well as development of new technologies for nuclear energy, and that the Department administers a wide range of national laboratories performing futuristic and cutting-edge research.

*It is also noteworthy that, at least until recent months, there has been a general unspoken consensus between Democrats and Republicans on immigration and multi-culturalism.  The last serious immigration reform measure in the 1980s was truly a bipartisan effort, but of course that was in an era where Republicans were not pilloried by right wing media for cooperating with Democrats.

Under Reagan and Bush administrations guest worker programs, some leading to citizenship, were permitted and sometimes even encouraged because pro-Republican agriculture and hospitality industries needed low wage workers in the fields and kitchens.  There may have been winks and nudges toward white nationalists but, if so, they were subtle and not, as today, blatant.

*Many Democrats, including this writer, deplore the rise of an “alt-left”, especially in its more virulent form.  White nationalists and neo-Nazis want violence and to provide it is to play into their hands.  The vast majority of main-stream Americans, imbued with the principles of our Constitution, can and must stand their ground and represent our best values.  But the job of enforcing law and order is best left to professional law enforcement.

*Our ever frustrated and angry President says he wants to get on with “tax reform” which we know is code word for cuts in corporate and wealthy tax rates.  The theory, restated so many times it is redundant, is that corporations will use newly untaxed dollars to expand and grow and “create many new jobs.”  Really?  What’s to prevent Big Guy, Inc. from increasing dividends to shareholders, increasing executive salaries (already completely out of any relation to productivity growth), buying new company jets and retreats, building new expensive corporate headquarters, increasing advertising budgets, and the list goes on.  None of this adds any jobs or increases national productivity.

Why not substitute tax credits for tax cuts, that is let Big Guy, Inc. deduct from annual taxes productive investments, such as new plant and equipment or worker training, AFTER these investments have been made?  Harry Taxpayer can’t claim a tax deduction for medical expenses before he gets sick.

Tax “reform”, that is reduced tax rates for those at the top, should not be based on hope.  They should be based on performance.

*Once more: how can the Texas Congressional delegation insist on massive federal reconstruction assistance after Harvey when almost all of them voted against the same kind of relief urgently needed by their fellow citizens in New Jersey and New York after Sandy.  There are a number of words that describe that kind of behavior and hypocrisy is the mildest.

And, finally, how can Texas, or anywhere else for that matter, harbor so many “nationalist” who don’t believe all Americans are part of the nation.

Into the Unknown

Author: Gary Hart

School did not prepare us for today.  Our American history courses, obedient both to the Constitution and an establishment fantasy that rational people act rationally and will select only rational leaders, did not leave open the possibility of children of the Enlightenment throwing away the compass of reason and selecting someone untutored in the lessons of civility, casual with the truth, and almost totally unequipped to lead the nation.

For those operating under the delusion that they have nothing to lose, this is a big thumb in the eye of others they assume have much more to lose.  Broken crockery in the White House (“a big dump”) is the occasion for raucous laughter.  Governing, more or less, from a resort shows how easy it is and how little needs to be known.  Belittling phone conversation with foreign leaders is just our man “telling it like it is.”

Accepting a leader’s uncouth behavior shows how easy it is for a presumably enlightened and civil society to slip its moorings and drift into the backwaters of civility.  How could the nation of Beethoven and Goethe let itself be led by a Hitler?, was the 20th century’s great unanswered question.

“Telling it like it is” is a glib excuse for vulgar behavior and acceptable only to those who smoke in the no-smoking section and spit watermelon seeds on the floor.

Thomas Jefferson thought it necessary to make the case for revolution out of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”  What if you don’t give a damn for the opinions of mankind?  Then, even as president, you can do pretty much whatever your impulse of the moment tells you to do, even at the cost of respect for your nation.

This president’s partisan enablers are willing to let this man-child break the furniture with impunity so long as they save their political careers by avoiding a red-State primary from someone even further to the right of them.  And to hell with the nation.  Some believe he is destroying his Party.  If so, so be it.

You must be ridiculously self-absorbed to think that keeping a death grip on a public office is more important than the stability, reputation, and principles of the nation you were elected to serve.

And you would have to be totally delusional to believe that renewed racism and nationalism just happened to come along.  Hardly.  Whether blatant or dog-whistle, virtually every signal to come from the White House these last seven months has provided aid and comfort to those who arm themselves to restore a white, male, “Christian” society.

Count me among the many Americans grateful for retired General officers in this Administration.  They, especially, know the meaning of duty, honor, service, and country.  We must count on them to prevent our Republic from stumbling into great danger around the world during this strange and disconcerting period.

No one, including the man nominally in charge, knows where this will all end.  It is much too early to tell.  At the very least precedents are being established every day for setting the acceptable boundaries of intelligent, thoughtful, and principled leadership far out into a murky swamp.  (Speaking of which, how’s the progress on draining the Washington swamp?)  At the very worst, America is building a different road into the future, one which our Founders would neither recognize nor accept.

Every effort must be made to resist that outcome by those of us who love our country.

The Speed of Governance

Author: Gary Hart

William Becker, the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project and a former colleague at the University of Colorado, raises an interesting and important question: is the speed of change generally and technological change particularly outrunning our ability to respond with public policies when required.  In other words, is governing too slow when the world all around us is experiencing revolutionary change.

Here are some examples Bill provided with his question:

“Regulators and electric utilities are scrambling to keep up with the rapid growth of rooftop solar energy. Several states are embroiled in controversies over how to compensate customers feeding energy into the grid.

“One or two ideas on how to address the lag-time problem. For example, lawmakers could give more discretion to elected leaders to make policy adjustments when the need arises. If Congress or states decide to price carbon, they could give public officials the power to adjust carbon prices within a specified range when an adjustment is needed to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals.

“Another possibility would be for the federal government — the White House perhaps, or the Congressional Research Service — to have a standing futures group that analyzes trends and issues periodic public analyses of what’s on the horizon.

“The futures group could draw on the analyses already being done and scattered across agencies — DOE’s Quadrennial Energy Review, the military’s Quadrennial Defense Review, the National Climate Assessments, weather trends from NOAA, earth science analyses from NASA, and so on. FEMA might weigh in on weather disasters, Agriculture on national soil and water conditions, etc.  The key would be to make the information as localized as possible so that state and local officials can act on it.”

So, as he shows, there are ways to speed up governance by anticipation, rather than delayed reaction.

Conservatism works when circumstances are quiet.  It is frustrated when the world we experience requires adaptability.  New realities require new policies and methods.  As Heraclitus wrote more than two millennia ago, you can’t step in the same river twice.

Here a distinction is important: fundamental principles abide and should not be tailored to fit changing circumstances.  But what must change to accommodate new realities are programs and policies.  A warming climate is foremost among those new realities, as are nuclear proliferation, a host of new technologies, the opioid epidemic, the rise of China, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the list goes on.

It would be convenient if simple slogans, rely on markets for example, solved all problems.  Were that so we would have affordable health care for all Americans without Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and so forth.  The same would be true of climate change.  Leave it to the markets.

Alas, markets cannot and do not solve all problems.  There are many realities, old and new, that simply cannot be addressed by reliance on the profit motive.

But when the changing times require a public policy response the institutions of government cannot be stymied by rigid ideologies, old slogans, and rhetoric.  The Government of the United States is not functional.  Its elected representatives in the executive and legislative branches have substituted slogans, and worn out ones at that, for ideas and solutions.

Public anger is directed at those who refuse to adapt, to compromise (on policies, once again, not principles), to put nation over party, even though the voters who elected these officials more often than not did so out of partisan motives.  You can’t have it both ways…rigid partisanship and functioning government.

The Founders clearly understood that the government they created had specified duties and responsibilities, but they did not design it for maximum efficiency.  Checks and balances were all about preventing the consolidation of power in a few hands.  Nevertheless, in a revolutionary era such as we are now experiencing public institutions must function effectively and should use state of the art technologies to help do so.

Why is it that we can lead the world in sophisticated military equipment but not do so in the areas of domestic need, such as health, energy, and environmental protection?

Given current political stalemate, it is difficult to imagine a concerted effort to increase the speed of governance.  If your slogan is that “the government is the problem” then you have no interest in making it operate more effectively.

A crisis of one kind or another will, sooner rather than later, force us to decide as a nation.  Either we agree to make our government more effective at dealing with dramatically changing conditions or we insist on dysfunctional governance and accelerate the long, slow decline into mediocracy and join other major political powers throughout the ages, powers who shuffled off the stage of history for their refusal to deal effectively with new realities.