Wednesday, February 24

Future of Government: Evolution or Intelligent Design?

Where we have arrived as a nation is a disdain for the Government we have elected, appointed, and volunteered to be a part of. But really, is it in lousier shape than say during the Civil War? In reality, the times we are now are experiencing is a lack of cohesiveness about national identity. Resistance to taxes, the belief that the government is creating more problems than it is solving and so on are a symptom: we don't know where we are going as a nation.

In the good old days of manifest destiny, we could spread from coast to coast and there was plenty of reward to be reaped by all who were of God-fearing and descended from European stock. After the world wars, we continued our ascent through economic growth and industrial colonization. But with that came the need to underwrite favorable governments' leaders and prop them up with our military materiel and cash. And that was and is an expensive proposition particularly when you send in our troops to back up those leaders.

Our national debt has grown as a result of growing our military (roughly $800 billion per year), $$383 billion in interest on debt, and 1.3 trillion on medicare and social security.

This part of government growth we could call Intelligent Design -- simply doing God's will so that He/She would continue to bless us with greater abundance and allow us to be the great "exception". We would be the lantern that all other nations would turn toward, as heathens would turn to Jesus and our brand of Capitalism.

However fortunes favor those who have control of the economic supply chain and have lots of room for market growth--and that is no longer our strongest suit. We have to share the stage with burgeoning economies that are percolating in India and China and other places. Plus our balance of trade is badly out of whack as we continue to import more than we export (the trade deficit widened to $40.2 billion in December 2009 from $36.4 billion in November).

As corporate interests have paralleled government interests, one might question the incestuous nature of that relationship and wonder how government will evolve if the pattern continues. We have all borne witness to how the private sector has branded itself on public buildings and in government agencies. Imagine the world order if corporations are brokering deals between nations? Oh wait they are (See: World Trade Organization).

As both the left and right are becoming increasingly angered by the corporate and government pick-pocketing that they perceive happening, it stands to reason that there are two prime possible choices for the Government. Either Government reforms itself or Government represses dissonance. We will have to see how that "hopey changey thing" turns out. Of course, we have a lot to say about it.

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Tuesday, February 16

Chet Culver Needs to Get Out More

While out of state in Ohio this past weekend, I felt badly for missing Gov. Culver's visit to the Hamburg Inn for a chat with The People. Having not supported the Big Lug when he ran against Ed Fallon in the last go round, I am not particularly surprised at the way his first term has gone. When I attended the Labor Day picnic and watched him spend most of his time pitching E-85 to members of local unions, I thought, this guy really doesn't care about his audience much. And, given his insular behaviors as Governor, it should not be surprising that he is likely going to be fighting the campaign of his life, if he is to be re-elected--and this is sort of sad with the stellar group he is up against.
But, as a Democrat in a state that needs to create and save jobs, Culver has been remarkably disappointing. First, because he has bitten the hand of labor that helped elect him (though very recently threw them a bone)and, second, by a lack of creativity to use the resources he has at his disposal to improve the welfare of the state. For instance, why has the "reinvention" of state government not been a "day one" priority? Why did he call for 10% across the board cuts to agencies when some agencies are of higher priority than others (e.g., anything having to do with human services)? Why hasn't the Governor negotiated with AFSME for salary cuts in lieu of forced-retirement? And in offering incentives for retirement, why hasn't the state at least required retirees to live in Iowa for the 5 years that the state is paying their health benefits?
And I won't go into the failures on agriculture, the environment, but to say that Culver hasn't lived up to his campaign promises on these two fronts. Iowa has massive potential to feed and fuel itself, but to do it sustainably has been the trick. Monsanto and ADM have done well for themselves under Culver, but not the local family farmer or those who would grow organics. Part of this, of course, is in part because of Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, but the Chief Executive of the state has a lot to say about policy.

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The Political Landscape: A Receding Hairline?

While glancing at the mirror the other day, I had the feeling that my hairline and the current state of American politics have a lot in common: hairy on both sides and empty down the middle. Yeah!--Huh? Follow along.

The real Left and real Right are angry and looking for leadership to help them coallesce. In the meantime, like my hair, they fire shots across the bow of each other. The central point of agreement is that it is all Obama's fault--either for not using taxes for the right things or for taxing them at all. In both cases, they are missing the point--left/right division doesn't get anything done, the Middle does. However when it comes to nominating politicians, the Left and Right know that's where they have a significant say and are actively pushing from the grassroots (or the hairline, if you will).

The Middle knows that there is something going on but, with trying to hang on to the job, the marriage, and taking the kids to assorted activities, who has time to pay a whole lot of attention? What they are paying attention to is the feeling that their lives may change--or not, depending on what happens in 2010--for reasons they don't quite get yet. They don't know for instance whether Obama is a "Radical Socialist" or if Republicans are the "Party of No," but they do worry whether they will be okay and their kids will be okay. The Tea Party Nation doesn't speak to them, but neither does Noam Chomsky.

Typically during the election cycle, the Middle does what I used to do with my hair, push it to the right or left for maximum coverage. I wonder if a real Independent Movement would be to go after the Middle, find out what it cares about and form a party around it? A real populist movement, not one formed by anger on the edges, but based on practical politics--a chicken in every pot sort of stuff. If this movement should happen, I wish it more success than my hair. But, I do know that my right and left hair-mispheres will not be coming together anytime soon.

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Thursday, February 4

Not Enough Canvass To Cover the Circus

Last night's gathering of interested folks at the Old Capitol Center to participate in the Project on Public Rhetoric Inquiry turned to be more inquisition than inquiry. The topic of discussion “Words Matter: On-line Postings in the Iowa City Press-Citizen” was the first of three seminars in the “Media, Space and Race” Public Rhetoric Seminar series.

Three panelists and the public were to austensibly examine an article that appeared on the Press-Citizen (“Curfew passes second reading by council 4-3”) and associated on-line commentary. No one was required to have read the article, and many, it appeared, did not.

As the panelists Jeff Charis-Carlson, Opinion Editor of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Frank Durham, Associate Professor of Journalism, and Andre Brock, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science framed the discussion around their unique perspectives, the commentary form the crowd was centered around the Press-Citizen's choice to allow comments on their website and the deleterious effect that has on the dialogue of human relations in our area. Some questioned the paper's policies to allow persons to post anonymously or rather pseudononymously because of the ability of those individuals to say whatever they choose (albeit within the confines of the "terms of service" of the paper which removes comments that aren't up to snuff).

Interestingly, not one person on the panel or in the audience directly commented on the curfew that the article addressed. Conversation focused on the relative merits of the Press and the commenters and bloggers. At one point a frequent blogger took umbrage at an assertion by Prof. Durham that online comments were "grafetti" and that bloggers are not held to the same standard as Journalists.

I will say that I found this part of the evening interesting. I have no problem with what the professor said as it is true that bloggers, myself included, could benefit from both a good editor and a fact-checker. Fortunately, in the blogosphere, the comments we receive from others often act in these two capacities. I know I've fixed posts when presented with new information or clearer editing eyes. I will also say that broadsides like Prof. Durham made are not likely to win any sympathy from people who do believe that the Press is elitist. I frankly appreciate facts in reporting the news that I read, even if it doesn't remove the writer or editor's bias.

I commented to the moderator that it was a good discussion because everybody's ox was gored, however I walked away with the same notion that some people have about online comments, what good was it?