Friday, March 30, 2007

Immediate Local benefits had better be the Federal priority.

The Blog | Rick Jacobs: California's Speaker Asks the Candidates to Speak with California | The Huffington Post

While Iraq occupies the headlines, we have a country that is practically falling apart. The California experience is emblematic of the series of problems that face the nation. A high percentage of the military executing the president's war in Iraq is a product of a public school system that offered those now serving few choices beyond the military. To put a fine point on it, about half of those who enroll in the ninth grade in LA public schools drop out before graduation. And unfortunately, a fair number of those who graduate are not well-equipped for a job or a higher education, the latter of which is now unaffordable for many in California, a sad post script for a state that was built on the guarantee of excellent, free education for all.

If you are rich enough to send your kids to private schools, which most who write on this blog are, then the public school debacle seems other worldly. For those of us here in LA, that other world is about to collide with the cosseted west side in ways we only imagine. Hundreds of thousands of kids, now in their twenties, have no education, no jobs and no hope. How long can that human catastrophe continue to grow without it erupting into a crisis that feels like an earthquake?


At the most basic level, government must primarily serve those whom it depends on for it's continued existence - not just those who wish to be the primary beneficiaries of corporate welfare, the spoils of war and personal power or access to it.

A Digby-long post follows the cut that seems to have an overall point in my current state of sleep-disturbance.

Now, oddly it may seem, coming from me, all of these things have their place; the worker is worth the price of their hire, and money is not the only thing that motivates people. Those who go into public and social services are primarily motivated by things other than money - and they are due that reward. Moreover, they are so driven by those rewards that it's critical to ensure there are legitimate paths to it leading to important and useful vocations suited to their ambitions.

But not at the expense of those they are supposed to be serving.

We also need to realize that if we do not invest in the future - we will not have one. The future for all America (Indeed, ALL the Americas) - poor and rich, corporate and counterculture, public and private, left right and center depends absolutely upon educating our children up to a basic standard of capability.

If there is any area where we should spend liberally and not groan about the price, it is education, for education is an investment that pays off handsomely. Always has, always will. Anyone telling you otherwise, or that you should begrudge the few dimes it costs you because you don't have children is doing you a disservice. Do you wish to have to teach all your new hires to speak English and do basic sums? Do you LIKE having to buy cash-registers designed for illiterates, or being served by those who confuse "dos" with "three?"

Don't bet that private schools will graduate enough trained thinkers that you can afford to hire them, or that those pushing the voucher systems have superior curricula in mind. Most of the materials for the "home school movement" and the incestuously related "voucher" movement are more focused on NOT teaching skills that would bring religious "truths" into question than creating truly educated people capable of an informed decision about their faith or, indeed between soy and dairy in their Latte.

Good private schools, historically, are for those destined to lead, while in the main, public schools are primarily designed to equip followers to follow effectively, comprehend the tasks they are given and, ideally, not lose limbs to the machinery in the process.

This is how they were set up around the turn of the last century. The problem is, nobody has revisited the basic premise in that time. We have fewer and fewer "Dark, Satanic Mills" to send our children to, we have less and less need of blind followers capable of memorizing by rote and not thinking about what they memorize. The machines we do employ are more and more complex, requiring more educated operators to justify having them at all. You will find equipment on factory floors today that did not exist outside of research labs twenty years ago, and stuff coming down the pike that will require people capable of understanding them and exploring their capabilities in a practical context.

We have an increasing need for the ability to find out new things, to think critically, to derive new facts from facts on hand, and most importantly - to learn how to learn. What your kids learn in school today, from the very best, most expensive texts is already five to ten years out of date, so unless they learn how to learn from these texts, learning their contents is pointless.

The crisis is even more apparent in the context of private and advanced schooling. One only has to look at their product to see how very critical their failures have been. Consider how many people in our current government are from Yale, Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League. Would you consider them ideal - or even adequate - leadership figures?

Condoleeza Rice was considered a leading academic within the Ivy League before she was recruited by this administration. It has depended significantly on her expertise in foreign affairs and public policy, and has presumed as much upon her academic crediblity. It seems that the academic community either served her poorly, or worse yet, permitted her to continue teaching and believing nonsense.

Now, of all the states where reality based education is critical, it is California. It's economy depends upon a well-educated workforce, and (unfortunately), materials developed for California schools propagate throughout the entire nation because the education industry is very strongly represented there.

Again, folks; how well has that been working out for you?

My reading of the Constitution is that the Federal Government exists only to the extent that it serves common needs; not just needs common to the several states, but primarily needs common to all citizens that might otherwise be compromised by the ambitions or prejudices of those in charge of those states. It's most significant role is to set standards, to generate universal systems, to hear all sides, maintain an impartial system of justice, to regulate markets so that access is fair and transactions honest. It is not designed to have imperial ambitions - and most especially, none of it's ambitions are to be at the expense of any citizen of these United States.

It is a saying that "you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs." This is true - and that is why Omelette's are an unconstitutional dish for our presidents and lawmakers. Eggs are sacred. Presidents, Representatives, Senators and appointed officials are not, save to the extent that they are citizens as well.

It should be a free choice to go into the military. It should equally be a free choice to work in retail, to become a public servant or to pursue a higher education, for all these choices are those of people who consider service, in one form or another, to be a higher calling than immediate financial reward.

Does that sound socialistic to you? It is by no means. I merely admit a fact - that if there is to be an entrepreneurial class, it must rest on new ideas, will depend on good government that is not in the hands of competitors and will absolutely require employees capable of working upon the cutting edge. Furthermore, those motivated primarily by financial reward must both employ and serve those who are primarily motivated by other things. It is a critical factor of interdependence that Neocons neither admit nor apparently understand. I advocate nothing new or even terribly radical simply a deliberate re-visitation of the accidental circumstance that created our middle class and the largest economy in the world.

It was a simple idea, born of the Great Depression and the threat of an immediate communist takeover - or indeed, something worse, fueled by poverty, desperation and the idle hands of very clever people. It was the idea that if people had the option, they would tend to make good choices, on the whole, so government should invest in good choices with large payoffs in terms of improving infrastructure and the potential for industrial development. Enough people will take those paths so that social unrest is kept to a minimum, while the success of those who make good choices will create more opportunities than government could possibly plan or administer. Or in other words, Government made a choice to actively trust the good will and common sense of the People, unless specific circumstances and individuals prove to be exceptions to the rule. I would suggest further that, without any great change in what we do about such exceptions, they should also be considered evidence of potential systemic problems that may be creating a tendency to make poor choices.

Human Liberty is all about choices. A government that values the Libertarian ideal will value the idea of providing as many free choices as possible, rather than trying to limit the absolute number of choices there are. It is an ideal of governance that inherently requires fewer people dedicated to oversight of choice, but will require rather more involved in informing choices. Personally, I think that a much better use of expensive and valuable human resources - and will certainly result in a philosophy of regulation that will not inevitably breed contempt and evasion.

This is the brutally real basis of the concept of an "inalienable right." It is a right so basic to survival and dignity that no government may place a barrier to it or conditions upon it with any expectation of success. Take "the right to bear arms." It recognizes that people have the inherent right to defend themselves by whatever means seems prudent to them, and will defend themselves against government itself should that government become a threat to them. Most governments consider that a threat to their survival - our Constitution establishes that "not being a threat" is a condition of government existing in the first place, it's legitimacy depending upon an armed citizenry who, while capable of removing it, sees no benefit in doing so.

Ultimately, regulation of what weapons a citizen may own is pointless if the Citizenry sees a greater benefit in ignoring the law than in obeying it, and should there arise conditions where rebellion becomes a reasonable proposition, or indeed, even reasonably foreseeable, the people WILL arm themselves in defiance of whatever law there may be. No government may expect to enforce laws that have the effect of making citizens feel less safe and less secure in their persons, property or individual affairs, and yet, this Administration has committed hundreds of such offenses against the dignity and security of it's citizens. It can no longer command the respect of the American people - and polls support the fact that neither the Executive nor Legislative branches have the respect a used car salesmen is generally given. Respect for the Judiciary and trust in the impartiality and constitutionality of their decisions has been badly eroded by the court-packing of Bushistas.

This is something that our national leadership had best consider an ultimate priority, with certain actions made obvious and apparent as steps toward regaining the respect they need to govern. Impeaching those most culpable for gross abuses of the people's trust would be a start, but it had best not end there. A priority of attending to the real needs of real, individual citizens, rather than pandering to industry and special interests focused on restricting the rights and choices of individuals is critically overdue.

Now, I wish you to consider for a moment what a wealthy State filled to the brim with educated, adventurous people such as California could do to any force determined to force it to continue to support efforts it is viscerally opposed to at the expense of the priorities of it's taxpayers.

I mention this, as the Pentagon has fairly much stopped recruiting officers from the Blue States, preferring the sort of reflexive obedience found in the Southern States. It seems to me a reasonable proposition that some within the Pentagon think it may be needful to administer a judicious "spanking" to increasingly truculent Blue states, especially those that have the clear ability to be nation-states on their own, should they so desire. New York and California head this list - with more States on the list as potential allies. Yes, the potential for domestic civil war has been obvious to anyone who cared to consider the matter for the best part of the Bush Administration, with grumblings that go back at least as far a Regan's vast expansion of Federal power.

So - and without getting too specific, since it's not yet time to be creating manuals of arms - let us just say that with access to Home Depot and the sorts of basic chemical knowledge used to make methamphetimene without blowing oneself up, I could easily create an improvised, quite functional Self-Forging Munition. For a little more effort, it could be made to appear identical to a manhole cover.

I could easily set up a shop in a garage to churn out silenced sub-machine-guns in quantity, from easily available materials. In Pakistan, the manufacture of Rocket Propelled Grenades is a cottage industry. It could also be so in California - though in a general insurrection they would likely be the product of computer-aided manufacturing. I am pretty sure that there are folks in CA, already disaffected, who in the context of a civil war could easily design and engineer fuel-air explosives that would be the equivalent of tactical nukes. FAEs are one of those things that, once you know they can be made at all, can be made fairly easily, and are appealing to our armed forces because they have a very high "bang for buck" ratio.

The sort of expertise we try to forbid North Korea, in terms of rocketry and guidance systems is well within the knowledge of domestic hobbyist groups who often include current and former weapons designers! Should they wish to launch real payloads, instead of going for altitude records with bowling balls I think they could produce genuinely frightening results within a couple of weeks using materials on hand.

Things like home-made Claymore mines, hand-grenades and mortars are disturbingly simple to construct. They might not be quite as lethal as military issue devices, but the things one can do with simple smokeless powder, bb shot, PVC pipe and any number of simple detonation devices is disturbing in the extreme.

Here's an example of an "improvised" mortar. Here's some "improvised mortars" found in Northern Ireland. Such devices are the stock in trade of an insurgency who would like to "shoot and scoot."

I should add that most households contain the materials to construct several improvised munitions, even without access to conventional explosives.

Good heavens, the number of small shops and personal garages across America hat contain metal-working equipment should give any government strategist pause. A state such as California could easily field a standing force equipped as well or better as any standing army or national guard force - without depending on any extant arms manufacturers at all. Any well-equipped machine shop could set up to create, say, Browning Automatic Rifles. Shops with stamping presses can turn out even cheaper things, such as Uzis and AK's, if the trivial question of legality is removed.

And of course, there ARE such manufacturers in California and the Western states,as well as two VERY porous international borders.

This is of course aside from all actual weapons and explosives in private hands that are not "misused" simply because citizens see no reason to "misuse" them. Any government who thinks that is primarily the result of laws that forbid and penalize their possession and/or misuse is sadly mistaken.

Should our government choose to continue to view it's citizens as potential threats - as it clearly does - it is the inalienable right of the citizenry to remove it as a genuine threat to their own individual and collective security, using whatever force and by whatever means is required. This is a right the Constitution recogzies for a very good reason - because there is no way that any government can survive the general opposition of it's citizenry. This is no theory, it's a matter of observable, historical fact, with the only variables being ones of ultimate body count.

I encourage the Pentagon to wargame the outcome, using the metrics available from Iraq and Afghanistan, while recognizing that for the most part these irregulars and insurgents are operating at a far lower level of effectiveness and with a lower quality of co-ordination, intelligence and leadership than would be the case in, say, the occupation and pacification of the Western Seaboard.

This series of facts are presented as an incentive toward a reconsideration of the role the federal government plays in our individual lives and it's relationship with local and state Governments. We have been patient with the Regan Revolution, just as we were patient with the compromises demanded of us during the Cold War. But these sacrifices and compromises have brought nothing but bitter fruit and an increasingly arrogant Federal Government, one that seems barely capable of treating an individual citizen with anything resembling respect.

Such respect is due, and one way or another, the people of these somewhat united states will have it. The only question is how and when - it is long past a question of "if."

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