Ruminations of a Feisty Old Quaker

Of The People, By The People, and For The People

October 27, 2017

Tags: government, taxes, government workers

I am a former government worker.

That's not a confession, that's a point of pride. I was a librarian; I worked for a county library system. For eighteen years, I helped people find information they needed in a collection of books and journals and other documents which they owned but did not know how to search properly. I was their search engine. They owned the buildings the collection was housed in, too; it was part of my job to make sure the buildings were quiet, well kept, and reasonably accessible to their owners. The community thought what I did was helpful enough and important enough that they were willing to tax themselves to pay me to do it. I accepted this with gratitude, and I always tried to do the job they had entrusted to me as well as possible.

My wife was a government worker, too. She ran the medical lab in a small student health center on a state university campus. Her paycheck came partly from student tuition and partly from the taxpayers; in return for that paycheck, she helped keep the students healthy and the university - which the taxpayers owned and the students paid to attend - protected from outbreaks of communicable disease.

That is what government really is, at least in this country: people providing useful services to the community they live in. In order to assure that these services continue, the community taxes itself to pay the people who provide them, and to purchase the equipment and build the buildings and maintain the land necessary for those services to be properly carried out. That's what taxes are for. That is all they are for.

Unfortunately, that is not the way too many people view government today. In a reversal of its real role - providing solutions to community problems - government has been defined, not as the solution, but as the problem. In place of Abraham Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," the country has accepted Ronald Reagan's "the scariest words in the English language are 'I'm from the government, I'm here to help you.'" These myths have been promulgated by a few people, primarily wealthy people, who want to be able to stop paying taxes and to eliminate the regulations that prevent them from using the money they save that way to do whatever their current whim might be, irregardless of whom or what that whim might harm. They have succeeded in selling these myths to the voters by appealing to the greedy streak within each of us: eliminate government and you, too, will be wealthy and can follow your whims. That false promise is today far too widely accepted as reality.

What this means is that, as Progressives trying to win elections, we are consistently talking about the wrong things. Progressives don't lose because people disagree with our positions on the issues; polls show that most people actually agree with us about the changes that need to take place in society. We lose elections because people don't see government as a path to those changes, but as an obstacle to them. We are talking about eliminating corruption in government to people who have been taught to believe that government is corruption; we are talking about wasted taxes to people who think that taxes are waste.

We are talking about what government should be doing, to people who have become convinced that government shouldn't be doing anything at all.

Here is our problem: we have been campaigning on positions when we should be campaigning on definitions. If we can't take back the definitions, it doesn't matter what our positions are. Positions, sadly, have become irrelevant to current political discourse. How government should fulfill its role is not something that can be intelligently discussed until it is understood that government actually has a role, and that this role is relevant to voters' problems.

How can we do this? I don't have a complete answer, but I think I know a place to start. I think those of us who have been government workers, and have been paid by taxes, need to be far more open and proud of what we have done than we have been in the recent past. I think voters need to see their government, not as a faceless bureaucracy, but as the faces of their friends and neighbors and family members. I think they need to see their taxes, not as money stolen by the government, but as money going to those friends and neighbors and family members to pay for the services that they provide.

Here is a concrete suggestion: a weekly series, in newspapers or on television or somewhere prominent on the web, consisting of interviews with government workers. Cops, librarians, meteorologists, park rangers, garbage collectors, public school teachers - anyone. All levels of government - city, county, state, and federal -should be represented, and all levels of work, from the superintendents of our National Parks right down to the folks that hold the signs for one-way detours around road work. The common denominators should be a passion for the work they do, an ability to articulate what they do and why they do it, and a paycheck that comes from taxes.

We could call it "I Am Government."

Let's reclaim Lincoln's great words. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people is not just a phrase in a history book. It is us.

Wake-Up Call

October 12, 2017

Tags: climate change, wildfire, hurricanes, externalities, wine

Are we awake yet?

As I write this, there are 22 wildfires raging
- that word is accurate - raging through California's Sonoma and Napa valleys and the eastern part of the Central Valley, along the base of the Sierra. At least 3500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. Thousands of people have been evacuated, including the entire city of Calistoga. Much of Santa Rosa is in rubble. The official death toll currently stands at 23, and authorities expect that to rise "significantly" when they are able to go into areas that are currently quite literally too hot to enter.

Two days ago, the smoke from those fires briefly reached my home in Oregon, 400 miles to the north, driving air pollution counts into the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" range for (more…)


September 5, 2017

Tags: wildfire, climate change, science methodology, objective truth, smoke, Oregon

As of last night, there were 1,194 wildfires burning in the United States, almost all of them in the West. Most of them are in the five states that form the western and northern border of the West: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Yosemite National Park is burning. Glacier National Park is burning. Crater Lake National Park is burning. The Columbia Gorge is burning. The Columbia Gorge fire was caused by some idiots playing with fireworks, but almost all the rest have been caused by lightning. Record heat and lack of rain have turned the western forests into a tinderbox. Thunderstorms have intensified in recent years. We are currently living with the result.

More than 100 of those 1,194 wildfires are within 80 miles of my home (more…)

Take One Consideration With Another

August 19, 2017

Tags: Gilbert & Sullivan, Steve Bannon, evil, Donald Trump, Quakers

When a felon's not engaged in his employment,
Or maturing his felonious little plans,
His capacity for innocent enjoyment
Is just as great as any honest man's.

When the coster's finished jumping on his mother,
How he loves to lie a-basking in the sun;
Ah, take one consideration with another,
A policeman's lot is not a happy one.

-- W. S. Gilbert
The Pirates of Penzance

So Steve Bannon is out of the White House. I should be cheering. After all, I've wanted him out from the moment he walked in. The choice of a major alt.right guru like Bannon as his chief strategist was among the first indications from Donald Trump that he had no intention (more…)

Love and Diarrhea

August 13, 2017

Tags: love, diarrhea, cats, George Fox, Quakers, miracles, hate

We have been dealing with a sick cat. Rosie, our Siamese-tortoiseshell mix, has been suffering from episodic diarrhea and vomiting for the last two weeks. All will be well for several days, and then she will go through eight to twelve hours of shooting from both ends. Usually in one of the carpeted areas of the house. Usually coming on too quickly for her to get to a litter box.

OK. We plan to take her to the vet tomorrow morning. But first, this story.

Saturday was one of her bad days. The messes on the carpet began appearing (more…)

I Always Think there's a Band

July 6, 2017

Tags: Music Man, con, bamboozle, Trump, McConnell, Ryan, love, health insurance, castles in the air

Toward the end of the fabulous 1962 motion picture production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man, there's a line - almost a throwaway line - that brilliantly sums up the secret behind every successful con. It comes as Professor Harold Hill, the flim-flam man who's just about wrapped up one more town-load of (more…)