Archive for January, 2008
By Edward Flattau
The conservative Heritage Foundation is trumpeting the legacy of Ronald Reagan as the answer to what currently ails the nation. It is orchestrating this campaign by posing on its website the question: what would Reagan do in response to today’s problems. Some Right Wing radio talk show hosts have picked up on Heritage’s parlor diversion and waxed nostalgic over how President Reagan would set things straight if he were alive and in office today.
Well, let’s play the game as far as environmental issues are concerned, using Reagan’s record in the White House as our guide. Throughout the exercise, it is important to remember that Reagan considered the federal government more often than not to be part of the problem rather than the solution. In his view, regulation usually stifled business and should only be imposed to avert a highly visible public crisis.
That being the case, he would not be sympathetic to current congressional attempts to strengthen air pollution standards for power plants. Instead, he would likely voice his long held conviction that vegetation was a far worse polluter than human beings, and that in any event, market place competition would force industry to voluntarily comply with whatever factory emission reductions the nation required.
Regarding our national energy policy, Reagan would be a big booster for the expansion of nuclear power, characterizing as exaggerated any concerns about health hazards posed by disposal of radioactive waste. There would not be any big push for
clean, renewable energy. He considered the mass use of such “exotic” technologies to be a pipedream. Thus, he would likely reduce rather than increase federal subsidies to aid in their development and marketing. Government financial assistance for energy conservation would get short shrift, too. If renewables and conservation had any merit, in Reagan’s view, they could make it on their own. In his universe, the United States would meet its energy demands through increased reliance on fossil fuels, with no area—public or private—off limits to bull dozers and oil rigs. That means it would be a free-for-all even in such previously protected locations as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the waters immediately off our East and West coasts.
Forget about increasing automobile fuel economy standards. Reagan would argue that the cost of retooling vehicle engines would put Detroit at a competitive disadvantage to foreign car makers.
He would be adamant about expanding timber cutting in our national forests, including ecologically invaluable old growth trees. Setting aside tracts as wilderness completely off limits to resource extraction would be a waste of productivity in his view. Reagan would oppose letting nature take its course in the forest because dead trees were “pure waste and harmful to the ecology.” [He never did grasp that dead and rotting trees return nutrients to the soil, thereby serving as a vital instrument of regeneration.]
Reagan would emasculate the Endangered Species Act because he considered it an impediment to development. He also regarded the law as largely an absurdity, especially when employed to save such living organisms as “fish, weeds, and spiders”.
Despite the nation’s growing population, there would be a moratorium on the expansion of the national park system in deference to privatization. To halt whatever environmental degradation was occurring on federal lands, Reagan would advocate transferring the tracts to private control (on the theory that the for-profit sector could do a better management job than dedicated public servants.)
Finally, Reagan would empathize with President George W. Bush’s diplomatic unilateral approach and sluggish response to global warming, positions that have infuriated friends and foes alike. Come to think of it, the Reagan years were Bush’s source of inspiration for this much disparaged foreign policy in the first place.
@Copyright 2008, Edward Flattau
By Edward Flattau
The idea of mandatory national service has often been bandied about and usually perfunctorily dismissed. But events dictate that now is the time to put the concept into motion—the sooner the better.
A shocking number of our youth are totally disengaged from the country in which they live. They have no sense of our country’s place and responsibilities in the world or how such concerns relate to their own lives. Many would not even know how to establish such a connection. Less than 50 percent of Americans age 18 to 24 bother to vote. You won’t have any difficulty finding youngsters unable to identify federal government officials beyond President Bush (if even him)—a dubious tribute to history and civic classes in our secondary schools.
Our multicultural society is badly fragmented, with ethnic, racial, religious, educational and economic differences creating widespread segregation that fosters discrimination. With only a small percentage of our youngsters in the military or other voluntary government programs, there is a stark inequality in national service.
Our military ventures’ enormous drain on the national budget has left public works projects and other federally subsidized social programs desperately short of manpower. Management staffs at national parks, forests and waterways are badly undermanned. There is a perennial shortage of personnel to work on urban and transportation rehabilitation projects. People are needed to help out in hospitals, senior citizen homes, youth recreation centers and other facilities providing public service so that full time employees can focus on their areas of expertise.
In the case of the armed forces, especially front line assignments, a glaring disparity in sacrifice exists between those in uniform and those who are not. A large percentage of the volunteer army comes from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and/or minority groups. Patriotism is becoming less of an incentive for voluntary military service than are rampant unemployment and sizable enlistment cash bonuses.
The relatively modest participation in the military and civilian national services impedes our society’s transformation into a true “melting pot”. Undue preferential treatment of the affluent abounds, and the inequality contributes to a climate in which crime and perpetual poverty are all too commonplace.
Enter mandatory national service that would give young men and women a choice of either military or civilian duty. It would be a program that would accomplish a number of important objectives besides acting as a societal equalizer and beefing up public work projects and services. The camaraderie and rigors inherent in the program would make a dent in crime and obesity rates. Youth would be given opportunities to learn vocational skills and perhaps even find inspiration for a lifelong career. For many, the idea of government service and of the nation itself would no longer be abstractions.
Yes, an additional government bureaucracy would have to be created to administer the program, including wages and housing infrastructure. But the economic gains derived from the productive labor, reduced crime, improved health and greater sense of national unity would more than offset the administrative costs. A major criticism of mandatory national service is that it is un-American because it intrudes on individual freedom of choice and will make our kids slaves to “Big Brother”. Those critics should keep in mind that freedom is never free. Whether or not we realize it, “Big Brother” does a lot to protect us throughout our lives, so the least we can do is give back 18 months to two years before going our own way. Many other countries don’t seem to have any difficulty with the concept, so why should we? What about interruption of careers? Flexibility could be built into the program so that the participants could opt to serve any time between the ages of 18 and 30.
Each youth would be asked to list three preferences in descending order, and exemptions would be granted only in extreme circumstances. What if not enough youngsters selected the military and the armed forces failed to fill its quota? A lottery could be instituted to eliminate the shortfall.
Our country needs a resurgence of national commitment and purpose, revitalization of urban centers, and renewed dedication to environmental protection..
On the scale that is required, it is not happening voluntarily.
@Copyright 2008, Edward Flattau
Edward Flattau is a Washington journalist.
by Edward Flattau
If sanctioning destruction of a renewable resource for a one time use is justice, then justice is blind. Hopefully, the courts will agree when they consider the merits of disastrously polluting mountain top mining whose residues contaminate the communities and streams in the valleys below.