Good Government

BY GAREN YEGPARIAN

No doubt many politically right-leaning readers will see an oxymoron in this title.  I see an almost redundancy.  So I’m hoping to address a few issues in this realm, particularly since the New Year brings with it new laws, which are nothing if not manifestations of government.

An example of bad government is the choice made by a city in Georgia, newly incorporated in 2005, the first since the 1950s.  Three others followed in its footsteps (bringing the countrywide total to five).  Instead of truly constituting a city government with all its trappings, they farmed out most of the functions to some Denver based company.  This was not a move to reduce taxes.  Those have remained the same.  But allegedly, services are better.  But a key factor is the description of this city as “affluent” with its residents having complained of supporting less affluent unincorporated parts of the county.  Evidently, this is unprecedented in U.S. history.  I can only hope it is the last gasp of the pell-mell rush to privatize initiated in the Reagan era.  Private entities, corporations, are constituted to make money.  That’s their purpose, not providing services.  It’s a very different mindset from government.  It’s only a matter of time before these two purposes collide.  And, consider that if the price tag is the same, public vs. private provision of a city’s services, then given that a profit is quite naturally and understandably accruing to the private company, somewhere, humans are getting less than they would through public administration of the same funds.  It might be that employees are paid less or get fewer benefits or that residents get less service.

It is a net loss.  I read about this some two and a half years ago, and haven’t seen anything since.  I wonder how this vile experiment has progressed.

While we’re on the topic of public vs. private, let’s take an example of regulation.  An effort to minimize the use of foil balloons failed in California.  Interestingly, an Armenian representative of the balloon lobby had an op-ed piece in the LATimes opposing the legislation at the time.  The tone was mocking, “How dare the legislature deal with balloons when much bigger issues are at stake?”  The writer had focused on the argument that these items cause power outages when they stray between power lines, claiming this was unsupported.  Then, there’s the “boohoo” argument about “what will families do without balloons?” contention.  Even if the percentage of outages due to these balloons is small, minimal, or microscopic, there’s another problem.  Speaking as someone who’s often obliged to clean those things up once they’re released and waft into park and wilderness areas, I can tell you the metallic ones stay inflated longer and travel farther than the plastic.  I’d like someone to explain why those who are out to enjoy a quiet walk in the woods are obliged to clean up someone else’s garbage.  This is just another example of a special interest, moneyed, with some kid-appeal as cover, obstructing perfectly good public policy.  It’s another argument for publicly financed campaigns so legislators are free to address issues, not cater to sources of campaign cash.

No doubt, some think the previous paragraph’s topic is an example of overly intrusive government.  But I’d bet many of those same people would not think the same of banning same sex marriage or legalizing (and taxing the hell out of) marijuana, a far less harmful substance than tobacco and alcohol.  Similarly, this crowd would probably be thrilled with a new gimmick Orange County (California) is implementing.  If you’re arrested, they’ll let you go, no charges will be filed, if you give them a sample (your own, of course) for their DNA database.  The mob couldn’t have come up with a more extortionous racket!  Talk about intrusive, destructive of privacy, and government overreach!  Yet for the right wing, this will be painted as “necessary for public safety”.  Ridiculous!  But when someone, through no fault of their own, can’t obtain any identification because of quirks of fate, then we know that bureaucracy, vs. human trust, has become too potent a factor in our society.  We have such an underclass in the U.S. which is condemned to anonymity because it lacks a birth certificate, consequently no ID, ergo effectively non-existence.  So what? Why isn’t a mother’s say-so good enough?  Or friends’?  Or family’s?  Or teachers’?  Just how many people would “sneak in” though such options and is that worse than condemning someone to a gangland life and likely early death (see LATimes, August 23 2009 “No papers, and no way to get ahead”).  The same “it’s too intrusive” crowd from above would probably not give a damn about such unfortunates who truly suffer from too stringent (intrusive) standards for “existence” in our increasingly paper-cum-computer based society.

Such are the needs for reform that they are very difficult to implement because established, entrenched (usually moneyed), interests obstruct them.  Why?  Because they know that with greater fairness, they would lose control, or at least influence.  That’s why the Electoral College system (of presidential election infamy) hasn’t changed in two-and-a-fifth centuries.  Only two states (to my knowledge), NJ and MD, have implemented conditional workarounds of that primitive monstrosity.  They have legislation in place that will be triggered when enough other states pass equivalent laws.  They pledge to cast their electoral votes for whoever wins the popular vote country-wide.  California was considering this approach, too, but I don’t recall its passage as law.  The only thing that almost happened was a Republican ballot measure that would have cast the electoral votes along Congressional District lines.   This was a way to steal presidential elections concocted by the California Republican party.  It fortunately got nowhere.  But if this was to be implemented countrywide, simultaneously as NJ & MD propose, then it might be fair.

On the state level, efforts to constrain “independent expenditures” in California have met little success.  These massive inputs of political money circumvent voters’ expressed desire to spread out the sources of campaign cash (minimizing the influence of any one source/person/company) and know who/what are the sources.  Remember what happened in Paul Krekorian’s campaign for LA City Council just a few weeks ago with hundreds of thousands spent against him via independent expenditures.  This desire and need for transparency has suffered another blow with recent court rulings allowing supporters of Measure 8 (the anti-gay marriage proposition) to mask their possibly nefarious marketing strategies by not revealing campaign e-mails.  What could reasonably be more public than something involving elections?  What are these people trying to hide?

You can see that a positive mindset is not evident regarding public policy.  People are either afraid of government, suspicious of it, or ideologically committed to weakening it.  The last group is the worst offender because they do things to contribute to the enhancement of the first two groups’ fears.  A great example is the threat of closing state parks as a result of the budget crisis California has been suffering.  This feeds the fears of those suspicious of government.  Those proposing such action know it.  They want people to expect being let down by government so thay can eviscerate it.  Instead, we should be c
oming up with ways that government can serve the people.  That would be us, ALL of us.  Even those who think they “made it” without government’s help (riiiiiiight- public education, roads, laws that allow business to be confident in the stability of American society and markets, etc. are all the province of government, the ultimate enabler).

Let’s all commit to a year of thoughtful, helpful, and forward-looking government.  Then let’s take those lessons to the Republics of Armenia and Artzakh as well.

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