I was in Sacramento for some meetings this week, and have a few thoughts and observations.
The first is the most important. The people in and around our government are good, dedicated people who are doing those jobs because they care and want to do the right thing. You don’t make big money in public service. In the last few decades a government job meant less pay than a comparable “private” sector job and a number of working-environment hassles, like the extra procedures (paperwork and bureaucracy) that are required in public positions to involve transparency and accountability. And, of course, they have to put up with the Republican-inspired abuse of people who work for the government. So give these people a break and assume good faith.
After decades of budget cutting our government is universally strapped
for resources and it makes for a difficult workday. The things people
went into public service to accomplish are being stripped out from
under them by the state’s structured-to-fail system (see below). I
hope the Bush years trigger some serious thinking about what things
would be like without a government, because we are getting close to
The state government is now structurally designed to fail — and this latest budget deal compounds the problem. This situation was created on purpose by anti-government ideologues, usually corporate-funded. Thus really is a choice between government by the people or government by a wealthy few who happen to be in control of large corporations. To them government is “in the way” of making money. Government means food and safety inspectors so people don’t get sick and workers don’t get hurt, and protecting workers and the public costs them profits. Government means regulations stopping them from dumping stuff in the water or air and properly disposing of waste costs them money. Government means regulations that make them pay back customers who are overcharges. Government means regulations requiring delivering goods and services that were promised. SO you can see why the hate government and regulation — they keep them from just taking your money and giving nothing back!
So they have used the power that comes from their access to corporate resources to set up a state system that is giving them what they want. They pay petition-gatherers to get anti-government initiatives on the ballot, and then they flood the TV and radio with lying ads that trick people into voting against their own interests — and here we are.
Here are just a few of our designed-to-fail structural problems:
- Term limits mean that thinking must be short term, and encourages passing problems along instead of solving them, because then the problems will be “not on my watch.” People who are effective in their jobs are forced out, and voters who want to keep them there are prevented from doing so.
- The campaign-finance system puts corporate-backed candidates in office by necessitating big money to win elections. And corporations, designed to amass resources, are perfect vehicles for pushing the interests of the few who control them.
- The two-thirds budget requirement means that a few anti-government extremists are able to sabotage the process, keeping any budget from passing and shutting down the state.
- The disappearance of political reporting in California media means the state’s citizens are uninformed about what is going on. The corporate-owned media concentrates on sitcoms and what Britney is wearing, and does not let the people find out what government is about.
These are just some of the structural problems, and the system is. of course, structurally designed to keep us from fixing them. The only way we are going to address this is to get lots and lots of people involved. The election of Barack Obama tells us this is possible but I despair at amount of work that will have to be done to accomplish it.