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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

Protecting the Boats

Author: Gary Hart

Dunkirk is a haunting movie on several levels in the sense that it stays with you and its scenes recur during the long nights.  What follows is not a movie review but rather a review of why it has that quality.  Many will see it as a war movie, albeit one of the best, but others like me cannot let it go because of what it says about humans in combat and the moral lessons derived from them.

I’ve known many military men and women of all ranks and stations.  None is more distinguished than an Air Force pilot I am privileged to know who, after serving too many years in a Vietnamese prison, returned to achieve the rank of General.  I thought of him while watching the movie and afterwards sought his response to it.

Not surprisingly, he observed the scenes of a few British Spitfire planes trying to hold […] Continue Reading…

Distraction as a Strategy

Author: Gary Hart

There are not many reasons why a leader creates chaos.  One might be that he thinks it encourages creativity.  Another might be that he doesn’t know how to manage in any normal or systematic fashion.  But the only rational reason for the purposeful and continuing chaotic turmoil around a national leader is to create distraction.

Assuming this national leader is rational, what is he seeking to distract the public and the media from?  The obvious answer is Russia and the several investigations underway to discover how and why the Russian Government meddled in the U.S. national election last year and whether there was collusion, to use the favorite word of the day, between the Russian Government and the Trump campaign.

As bizarre as it seems, giving a political speech to the Boy Scouts of America, demeaning his own Attorney General, ranting about the failure of his Party to destroy the Affordable […] Continue Reading…

Aberration or New Reality

Author: Gary Hart

Though it is far too early to consider whether America’s current political circumstance is an aberration or a new reality, it is instructive to contemplate both alternatives.

Aberration: the Trumpian era, whether four or eight years long, is a frolic and a detour, signifying nothing historic except the result of accumulated anger by a significant number of Americans at immigration, globalization, the seismic shift of our economic base from manufacturing to information, a cultural revolution, and perhaps most of all the widening gap between the urban elites of wealth, education, and power and virtually everyone else including a stagnant and eroding middle class.

As with populist eras in our past, this one will run its course when a dispossessed generation has shuffled of this mortal coil, technology creates even more new economic opportunities for the successor generation, the middle class stabilizes and recovers, and optimism regarding the future returns.

Central to the […] Continue Reading…