Thu, Jun

So, What’s It All About, This Government of Ours?


EASTSIDER-After an overdose of Republicans vs Democrats, uncivil debate, and the gutting of the economic underpinnings of our society, I thought it was time to take a pause and look at the issues that define all of us, not just our deeply flawed political parties. 

Hat tip to James Kwak, co-author of a really good book about the financial meltdown called 13 Bankers, and proprietor of a blog, The Baseline Scenario. Here’s his 27-word new economic vision: 

An education

A job

A place to live

Health Care

A decent retirement 

Seems like a pretty good starting point to me, and a decent baseline to fact check the performance of government. Whether you live in Hemet, Bakersfield, Santa Ana, or Los Angeles. 

We don’t need Fox News, CNN, or the LA Times to tell us that something is fundamentally wrong with our society and its governance. Most of the folks that I know are surviving, not thriving, with younger people living at home or leaving LA in droves. 

If I look back to the post-war California of the late 50s and 60s, and compare life in LA then and now, it seems to me that our children are being manipulated into a significantly worse life than we enjoyed. They have it tougher than we ever did, with the full compliance of a broken political system. So... 

An Education --  Education, including Community College, State College, and the UC System, were free under California’s 1960 Master Plan for Education, except for some minimal registration fees.  

Now, Charter schools suck public education money out of the K-12 system, moving us more and more to a two-class educational system. Equally bad, those who want to go to college can’t get the classes they need and want to get in and out. And as student debt from college has been all too-well-reported, our young people are screwed before they even get started with privately funded massive debt that will never go away. 

A Job -- Most people worked for a single company for their working lives. In fact, if you had too many jobs on your resume, you would get passed over pretty quick. Now, if you’ve been with one company too long, you will probably get passed over. Ever since Bill Clinton, those jobs have gone away; people try to go from job to job, with increasing difficulty as they age and/or develop health problems.  About 30% of the working population is out of the labor market entirely, and all too many are in the “gig” economy or are manipulated into being “independent contractors.” 

A Place to Live -- My first home in the over by Melrose and Vermont, adjacent to LACCC, cost $22,500. It took ix6 months of bank investigation, multiple meetings with the bank loan officer and a $5000 deposit before the bank would finally give me a loan. That was because the bank owned the loan.  

Now a house in Glassell Park costs around $800,000 brokered through a bunch of financial services tricksters and a “come on down” pitch. Nobody can afford a home, and nobody can afford rent outside of the decreasing RSO housing stock. There is no affordable housing in LA, and everyone but the politicians know it. 

Health Care -- Health care, including retiree health care, was fully paid for by the lifetime employers back in the day. If you went to another job, the same was true. Now, employers are not permanent, there is little retiree medical coverage, and what there is costs more and more and often excludes dependents. 

For those who have a job, too many employers manipulate hours to avoid providing coverage at all.  For those in need, what’s left of ObamaCare is mostly MediCare and MediCal, with more and more medical institutions/doctors refusing to take patients without supplemental plans. This is not full health care. Bernie had it right. 

A Decent Retirement -- What retirement? Back in the day, private sector employers had defined benefit pension plans with guaranteed lifetime monthly benefits, and as long as you vested in the plans, you could parse together multiple plans for a decent retirement. Carl Icahn and his vulture capitalist buddies destroyed them as they took over companies for the purpose of looting them. Along with destroying most private sector labor unions. 

Now the last remnants of defined benefit plans are in the public sector and are under attack, instead of demanding that private sector employees get one too. Social Security (also under attack) is a poor substitute that was not designed to be a retirement plan. 

The Takeaway 

This is not written as fanciful reminiscence about the good old days. They weren’t. Retirees, for example, died mostly within two years of retirement, usually from a stroke. Racism was real, up front and ugly, as was sexism. A track system in high school decided who was going to college and who was not. I could go on. 

But I honest to god fear for the future of our children and for all those currently in the workforce. We no longer have a sustainable society, and all the politicians are responsible -- Democrat or Republican; they all suck from the same financial services industry trough that is literally turning us into a two-class society. Or as we said in the sixties, a Banana Republic. 

Old, jaded multi-millionaire democrats like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi aren’t up to the job. They wouldn’t recognize an ordinary American if they ever actually ran into one. President Trump and his merry band of thieves are simply looting what’s left of the country behind a smokescreen of tweets. They are probably worse than the dems because they court the very people they are destroying with sweet lies about how they are going to make it all better. 

Ayn Rand’s fake “libertarian” acolytes like Paul Ryan happily dismantle what’s left of the safety net even as they sell us out to already stinky rich corporations and the wealthiest 1/2 of 1 percent of the country, sneaking in inherited wealth provisions worthy of the French nobility of old. Pre-guillotine, of course. 

Ryan’s amoral equivalent in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, doesn’t even pretend to have a philosophy as he redistributes even more wealth to the wealthy, using Trump as a foil, and benefiting his wealthy donors and camp follower elected officials. Check out Mr. Morality, Senator Bob Corker.  

And it doesn’t have to be this way. We have been in a permanent war since 9/11 and currently have troops in something like 173 countries. All that has resulted has been the killing, maiming, and psychological destruction of a lot of Americans, not to mention the anti-American sentiment growing in many of the places we have troops. It turns out that George Orwell was an optimist in 1984 

This military system all rests on a “volunteer army.” If we were honest about declarations of war, and backed them with a draft, there would be no war! It would impact everyone, and the body politic would simply not allow it. We have a cowardly Congress that feeds more and more money into the military/industrial complex and chooses to ignore the cost in human life of all Americans. That money could right many of the issues I’m raising in this article. 

So maybe it’s time for us to abandon the divisive rhetoric of Democrat or Republican and start electing representatives who will actually represent the people in their districts instead of the donor class. You know, help the ordinary folks have some security in the five basic areas we covered. The reason we have a democratic government in the first place: 

An education

A job

A place to live

Health Care

A decent retirement


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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