Saturday, October 29, 2011

THE STATE OF ISRAEL IS IN A SORRY STATE

[A caution first: My political opinions about Israel are in no way anti-Semitic, a term more bandied about to smear an opponent or discredit ideas not to one's liking than used to identify attitudes, beliefs, or conduct which implies the legal, moral, political, or religious inferiority of Jews. Nothing in this column states or suggests such attitudes, beliefs, or conduct. Israel has legal and moral rights to exist--its anti-Semitics deniers of those rights, notwithstanding--but irreversible demographic trends are making the exercise of those rights ultimately inoperative and unenforceable. It is long since time that Americans and most particularly Israelis recognize that reality and its implications. No "friend of Israel" helps the state or its citizens, Jewish and Muslim alike, by encouraging intransigence.]

Events leading to the creation of the State of Israel were controversial, and its existence since its creation has remained controversial. Nothing is gained by re-litigating any issue involved; every accusation has a preceding counter-accusation. Contention may go back to pre-historical times, when Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons lived farther apart in the Middle East than in Europe. Nevertheless, recent history explains the present impasse created by Europeans and perpetuated by everyone.

Russian pogroms in the decades before and after the turn of the century prompted many Jews to flee to Palestine. Reacting to this continuation of centuries of persecution, Zionism encouraged European Jews to leave for Palestine. The migration of Jews to a Muslim-dominated land predictably led to change, contention, and conflict.

Before the First World War, Palestine was a province of the Ottoman Empire sparsely populated by poor Jews and Muslims living in peace under lax rule. The influx of European Jews destabilized it, and the Balfour Declaration, promising it as a Jewish homeland, roused Muslim resentment at British control and Jewish ascendency. In the 30 years between the Balfour Declaration and the U.N. vote creating two states—one Jewish, one Muslim—both groups jockeyed for power. British vacillation between honoring its commitment and promoting its interests increased frictions between the two groups. As statehood approached, both sides prepared for war; when statehood arrived, war broke out, Israeli forces prevailed, and Arabs, exiled or self-exiled, became refugees occupying squalid camps in surrounding countries.

In the next 25 years, Israeli forces defeated Arab armies in 1967 and 1973. In the Six-Day War, Israeli armies conquered and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and Syria’s Golan Heights. Israel still controls these areas today and continues to expand earlier or build new settlements in all but Gaza.

Sixty years of intermittent conflict and ineffectual peacemaking have achieved permanent impasse. Most of the pros and cons of the American debate lack redeeming merit. America’s reflexive support encourages Israel’s intransigence, which is reality-denying and counter-productive. Christian fundamentalist support of Israel, to promote the in-gathering of Jews, a pre-condition of the Rapture, is anti-Semitic in using Jews for Christian purposes. The anti-Semitic New Left abhors the state of Israel as a vestige of colonialism and argues its illegality despite its creation by the United Nations. Indeed, Israel’s continued occupation of conquered areas is imperialistic; worse, it is pointless. That land, occupied in an era of terrorist attack and rocketry, cannot serve as either a protective barrier or a bargaining chip in negotiations. Instead, its occupation offers false security and is self-defeating, for it antagonizes Palestinians, prompts attacks, and impedes a resolution of differences.

The truth of the matter: Israel, intended as a democratic, Jewish state, is an increasingly untenable political entity. The paramount and persisting fact: its population has faster growing numbers of Muslims than Jews. A two-state solution cannot save Israel as a democratic, Jewish state from the signal consequence of this internal dynamic—a fact foretelling a majority of Muslim citizens. Israel’s response is not a strategy with purpose, but a syndrome of fatalism. By continuing to alternate between shifting policy impulsively and drifting indecisively, Israel exacerbates many problems, ameliorates few of them, and postpones the final reckoning.

Willy-nilly, Israel faces a short-term existential choice—a democratic but not Jewish state or a Jewish but not democratic state—with either choice leading to long-term failure. If Israel chooses to be democratic but not Jewish, Israeli Muslims would vote for the creation of, or annexation with, a Palestinian state. The results would be the eradication of Israel, the annexation of its land, and the incorporation of its people into a Palestinian state.

If Israel chooses to be Jewish but not democratic, its options would include the expansion of political or economic restrictions on Israeli Muslims, their expulsion, or their extermination. Israeli Jews would probably reject these options for moral, legal, or practical reasons. Otherwise, Israeli and regional Muslims would react overwhelmingly: insurrection or invasion, with international support of either or both. The inevitable outcomes would be those above, with the possibility of repeating Jewish history: exodus or holocaust.

Either choice leads to an inevitable outcome: the dissolution of the State of Israel. The inevitability reflects the inherent contradiction that a state can be both religious and democratic.

I suggest a two-step, not a two-state, solution. Step one: a single-state protectorate of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza under U.N. administration, like the Allied administration of Berlin, but without zones of occupation (Syria recovers the Golan Heights). Step two: a single state with a constitution consistent with the U.N. charter and guaranteed by the U.N. to ensure democratic rights and representation to all. A Jewish minority would influence, not dominate, its direction and development. A Palestinian majority would support such a state and reconcile with Jews, in keeping with the centuries-long history of good relations between Jews and Muslims.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

JEOPARDIZING PUBLIC TRUST IN HIGH SCHOOL REDISTRICTING, TRANSITION, TRANSFERS

In 2008, the Las Cruces School Board requested and received public support for a bond to build a $112 million high school to relieve overcrowding at Las Cruces, Mayfield, and Onate high schools. The promise was that this fourth high school, since named Centennial, would be comprehensive and comparable in educational opportunities—academic, athletic, and extracurricular—to the three other high schools. On 18 October, while it listened to a presentation about yet another bond request, the Board and the Superintendent placed their public promise justifying its previous bond in jeopardy.

As a rule, redistricting is controversial and contentious. Two year’s ago, redistricting elementary and middle schools was the exception; this year, redistricting high schools is the rule. Yet the Board and the Superintendent have reacted to public comments with panicky dismay and precipitous decisions. School Board Chair Connie Phillips; Vice Chair Maria Flores, Mayfield parent; and Members Bonnie Votaw and Elizabeth Hall, former Mayfield teachers, shied from opposing other Board members who yielded to the demands of former colleagues or continuing friends at Mayfield. Phillips announced her recusal from voting on redistricting but continued to influence discussions and decisions on the issues. Superintendent Stan Rounds, working with Board members, perceived their growing discomfort and acted to give them relief. The results are bad decisions with dire consequences for students and the bond-backing public.

Las Cruces, Mayfield, and Onate have between 2000 and 2400 students apiece. To relieve overcrowding at these three schools means reassigning some of their students so that all four schools have about the same number of students. The obvious problem is that a change in school size not only influences educational opportunities, but also does so unevenly. The general gain comes at the price of specific pain. The minority affected adversely often objects, often vociferously and vitriolically. The majority not so affected, or accepting or approving of the redistricting, seldom speaks up.

With construction of Centennial High School nearing completion, the Board chartered a Redistricting Advisory Committee to draw boundaries ensuring an appropriate assignment of students. Board criteria and Superintendent guidance were clear: balance in school size (numbers of students) and composition (ethnic and socio-economic factors), with consideration to growth in student numbers, neighborhoods, natural or highway boundaries, and safety, transportation, and roads. At the Committee’s first meeting, the Superintendent stipulated balance in school size as 1800 plus or minus 50 students at each school. At a later School Board retreat, the Board, under pressure to leave the Elks area, the most difficult of all, in the Mayfield attendance zone, wanted a wider range so that the Committee could consider more options. The issue was how much wider. To avoid large ranges educationally detrimental, the Board adopted a flexible, non-numerical standard (think pants size options: regular and relaxed fits) which would provide “comparability,” but not uniformity, in numbers and composition (think omelets, not pancakes). All those attending agreed to “comparability” in school size and composition as essential to comparable educational opportunity.

The Committee fully complied with its instructions. It first examined some two dozen scenarios, then some half a dozen more with Elks in Mayfield. As hard as it tried, the Committee could not achieve anything like comparability in school size if it left Elks in Mayfield. At best, the other three schools would average 580 fewer students in 2014/15 and 470 fewer students in 2020/21, the first and last years according to the available data showing Centennial with four full grades. (Those fewer students equal about 19 and 16 fewer thirty-student classes, respectively.) When this attempt failed, Committee members voted almost unanimously to support a finding that a District of one large school (Mayfield) and three smaller schools did not best serve all students. But Chair Merrie Lee Soules, who had been in frequent contact with Phillips, refused to permit the majority’s desire for a statement of the Committee’s compliance with its instructions because, as Soules said, she wanted to avoid “boxing” the Board into its own criteria! However, by the time she presented the Committee’s final recommendation, Rounds had decided on transition/transfer arrangement which would undermine any redistricting plan for many years.

The Committee did not consider transition/transfer arrangements. Until the 18 October Board meeting, the announced transition/transition arrangement was clear: seniors would remain in their current high school, juniors could volunteer to attend Centennial, but sophomores and freshmen would attend it. Athletes could apply for an automatic transfer; others could apply for transfer under the current open enrollment policy. Thus, Centennial would open at least half-full with two full grades of freshman and sophomores, would be fully populated in two more years, and would thereby get off to a sensible, even a promising, start in three years.

At the 18 October Board meeting, Rounds announced a different transition/transfer arrangement: the District would automatically approve transfers by any students in the sixth through the eleventh grades, from their new assignment zone to their original one. In other words, whatever the redistricting plan, the new transfer policy requires no student to attend Centennial for three years (today’s fifth graders would be the first students required to attend), the school will not likely be fully populated (around 1800 students) for four more years, and overcrowding in the other three schools will continue. The Committee would probably think even less of a system of three large schools and one, new, small school—a situation differing from the original one only by the addition of a $112 million building—for seven years.

Rounds’ announcement of the new transition/transfer arrangement revealed that the Board had caved to pressure from Mayfield parents, students, and teachers angered by the loss of the Elks area because its effect on Mayfield’s music and athletics programs. His pre-emptive announcement spared the Board public input of any kind, whether disapproving or supportive. His precipitous announcement made populating Centennial highly problematic and a comparable education of students almost impossible, for seven years. Thus, Centennial will be neither comprehensive like, nor comparable to, the other three high schools for a long time. Its future difficulties will be likely to replicate many of Onate’s past ones.

This task of populating Centennial falls mainly to its first principal, Michael Montoya, currently the principal of Picacho Middle School. Throughout the redistricting process, he was the spokesman for Centennial; in the transition/transfer period, he will become the salesman for a school with no students, teachers, coaches, or activity directors (orchestra, drama, etc.); no curriculum of known courses, athletic teams, orchestra, cast—nothing sure, everything awaiting one student at a time willing to take the risk that other students will join him or her.

The Board and the Superintendent have ensured Centennial of a shaky start. The school will not be empty, only underpopulated. Some students will accept assignment to Centennial under the new redistricting plan. Others from the three current assignment zones may transfer to Centennial and be welcomed under the District’s open enrollment policy. Some “white flight” from the Las Alturas and Sonoma Ranch areas is likely; it will give Centennial an ethnic and socio-economic composition different from that of the other three schools and thus a reputation as a school for rich, white kids.

Worse, for the prolonged period of its start-up, Centennial is unlikely to have enough students in their grades to justify the same array of academic courses which the other three high schools offer. The District has a limited array of options to compensate: smaller class sizes and higher staffing costs, busing, or distance learning. The latter will require the Board and the Superintendent to mislead students and parents that remote learning is comparable to classroom learning. Obviously, this misrepresentation is a self-serving deception; otherwise, the District could dispense with almost all of its teachers.

This is Plan A: crossing fingers. But if Plan A fails, Centennial’s struggles from the start and for years will prompt a transition to Plan B. Initially, Phillips, Flores, Votaw, Hall, and Rounds will invoke, with expressions of heartfelt sincerity, their good intentions to have done everything “for the kids.” These protestations not only will not distract from the truth in this case or justify their decisions, but also will likely prepare for after-the-fact exculpation or accusation. Eventually, they will make charges and counter-charges, and ultimately blame the Superintendent or staff for failing to succeed though their desires and decisions made failure all but inevitable. This is Plan B: pointing fingers.

Meanwhile, many students will suffer the consequences of the District’s lack of leadership and its flawed decisions; and the public will perceive the lack of integrity of District officials in their failure to honor public promises made to secure bonds. Until they remedy this situation, they should make no more promises for still more bonds. If they do, the public should not accept them because they have betrayed its trust.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

HIS PLAYS WERE WRITTEN BY ANOTHER MAN NAMED SHAKESPEARE

I am delighted that war has broken out between the entertainment and academic worlds. The question, to which I give a frivolous answer above, is whether the plays attributed to William Shakespeare were authored by him. I like to sit on the sidelines, so to speak, and watch the ignoramuses and the intelligentsia duke it out.

Oh, yes, as a Shakespearean scholar, Ph.D’d and published, I have no doubts that the man from Stratford and the man in London are one and the same man—some people doubt that equivalence, so I mention it to overlook nothing—and that that man wrote all or large parts of the plays attributed to him (collaboration among dramatists was commonplace at the time).

However, my work on Shakespeare has almost nothing to do with his biography. Almost: I once favorably reviewed a clever book discrediting Shakespeare’s authorship without committing to proposing an alternative. Even so, an amateur wrote this book; indeed, only amateurs write articles and books advancing the thesis that someone else wrote the plays and poems attributed to my Main Man. I have nothing against amateurs, but I have much against those who come to Shakespeare’s text and the relevant historical documents with biases unrecognized or unacknowledged, with their minds made up, and with no expertise in reading them in their literary or historical contexts. A few amateurs, like the author of the book which I reviewed, try but fail to persuade trained scholars, not because of an academic conspiracy, but because of deficiencies in their scholarship. Most amateurs do not write to persuade scholars but to put forth erudite-seeming stuff to gull the public, for fun or profit or even politics.

As others have noticed, the emergence of the anti-Stratfordian movement, the name given the anyone-but-Shakespeare crowd, in the mid-nineteenth century parallels the rise of the detective story. Its existence today reflects a growing trend in anti-elitism, especially of the anti-authoritarian variety, unconsciously intended to exorcise personal demons (Freud, too, had his problems). The irony is that amateurs who are anti-elitist in rejecting Shakespeare’s authorship do so on an elitist assumption: no one from a small town and small school could possibly become more than a bumptious country bumpkin in the big city, could read widely, observe closely, and write well. It also reflects a burgeoning taste for conspiracies about almost anything about which adherents have a deficiency of information and a surplus of zeal. As a famous biographer of Shakespeare once observed, the good which comes of all this anti-Stratfordian fanaticism is that it is not channeled into politics. He made that observation long before the rise of the Tea Party. My prayer is that it stick with Agenda 21 and leave the Bard alone; on second thought, my prayer goes the other way around—welcome, Tea Party, to my field.

The reason why this contretemps amuses me is that the issue is both unresolvable and unimportant. It is unresolvable because the motives of the amateurs are akin to the promptings of faith, not reason; scholarly arguments are dismissed as special pleadings—just an anti-intellectual, ad hominem response. It is unimportant because the answer cannot change anything about our understanding of the plays themselves. For all the energy devoted to denial, no anti-Stratfordian has made the effort to show the identity of his or her candidate for authorship in anyway explains anything in any play or poem by “Shakespeare” or influences an understanding of it.

Even so, I have stooped to join the ruckus. What is at issue, as I hint above, is the larger question of dealing with reality and not denying it. In the case of Shakespeare, I suspect more ink than blood will be spilt; in the case of all else, the results may be quite different. We cannot make good decisions on bad or biased information, but we seem resolved to do so with our current array of some party candidates. (Does Perry think that Shakespeare might have fought against us during our revolt against England, as he dates it, in the “16th century”? As someone once wrote, “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

THE TEA PARTY IS GOD'S OWN PARTY

Public criticism and scorn is diminishing the repute of the Tea Party, if the conduct of local members is indicative and recent polls are credible. Some members hide their affiliation; some operate in stealth. Locally, Jim Harbison, columnist for the Sun-News, and Natalie Chadborn, candidate for City Council, District 1, have chosen not to disclose party membership. Harbison is a rank-and-file member; Chadborn is the party secretary. Its reputation may have peaked, but the Tea Party remains formidable within the GOP—indeed, it seems to dominate it—and detrimental to the public policy of this country.

The received wisdom about Tea Party members a long-term study has confirmed. In “Crashing the Tea Party” (NYT, 16 Aug), two researchers report that its members “are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do”—a polite, academic way of saying white and racist.

The study dispels the notion of a grassroots movement of “nonpartisan political neophytes”; most Tea Party members were “highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born.” Like other Republicans, they favor smaller government. Unlike other Republicans, “they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006—opposing abortion, for example—and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics….The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.”

The researchers trace the increasing opposition to the Tea Party to this emphasis on religion in politics. “Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose. While over the last five years Americans have become slightly more conservative economically, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics. It thus makes sense that the Tea Party ranks alongside the Christian Right in unpopularity.”

The proximate rankings reflect a high degree of overlap between Tea Party members and Christian fundamentalists (often Southern Baptists). The virtual identity of the two groups suggests that the Tea Party is a movement both political and religious, but less the former than the latter. Tea Party members are less political revolutionaries in the American tradition than religious rebels like the Puritans, who meant to establish a Godly city on the hill.

So, given its passions and priorities, the Tea Party is a politically militant religious movement which loathes and opposes the modern secular state and prefers a theocracy. This view explains the “alternative reality” which many critics mock. What they miss is that the revisionist history and the bogus science are serious efforts to infuse or redefine reality with religion. Tea Party members reinterpret many of the Founding Fathers, not as Enlightenment deists, but as conventional but committed Protestants whom they fashion into Christian political saints credited with struggling but failing to abolish slavery. The point is that the purity of their religious principles and moral practices permeated American democracy at its birth and made the country a “Christian nation.”

Tea Party members’ religiosity explains their efforts to supplant science with pseudo-science. They deprecate evolution as mere theory and advocate intelligent design as truth; they deny man’s role in global warming because it goes beyond God’s role. They discount science as a means to knowledge; they value Biblical “science” based on textual inerrancy as a means to faith and deplore or dismiss whoever or whatever differs from it. So no rational discourse dissuades them or dislodges their beliefs, and mockery plays to their self-perception as those persecuted in His name.

Their religiosity also explains their attempts to debilitate the political party seen to promote secularism and socialism, and their opposition to its social and environmental programs. Tea Party members see the rival party promoting programs with government, not God, as the agency addressing human needs; and thereby impeding their efforts to make the country reliant on the Creator and the Christ. While exploiting traditional concerns about the size of government and current fears about deficits to attack their rivals, they expose their pre-occupation with religious/moral issues like abortion, homosexuals in the military, and same-sex marriage. Thus, their legislative priorities have addressed these issues, not jobs or the jobless. Indeed, their efforts to widen the gap between haves and have-nots are a modern, Puritanical way of using wealth to distinguish the saved from the sinning.

Tea Party members speak contradictions: as Christians, piously of reliance on God; as conservatives, politically of self-reliance (aka “personal responsibility”). Many other Americans share those contradictions; they struggle to define the boundaries between church and state. Tea Party members preach but do not practice a don’t-tread-on-me policy; most other Americans do both. So the 2012 election question abides: America—theocracy, plutocracy, or democracy?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

PRIVATIZING AMERICA: IMPOVERISHING DEMOCRACY

The idea of privatization is not a new idea. Governments at all levels have long turned to the private sector—large corporations, small businesses, and individual entrepreneurs or consultants—to provide supplemental goods or services which, for reasons of efficiency, they do not provide for themselves.

For three decades, the idea of privatization has expanded. Initially, starting thirty years ago, privatization has sought to reduce government costs by transferring some routine operations to the private sector. Lately, in the past few years, it has sought to reduce government size by transferring comprehensive functions to the private sector.

Rationalizations of privatization involve one or more of several overlapping factors: waste-fraud-and-abuse, size, power, roles, and responsibilities. But the rationalizations have changed emphases. Initially, advocates claimed that government is so bloated that the private sector can do the same jobs as well for less money—to achieve greater efficiency. Lately, they have also claimed that government is so bloated that the private sector should take over traditional functions—to promote limited government and preserve freedom.

Both of these fundamental ideas of privatization are agenda-driven, advocated invariably by Republicans but advanced in practice by some Democrats as well. With the shift in emphasis and focus—most controversy targets much of the federal government—, privatization has become a political issue, increasingly implicated, not only in questions about government efficiency, but also by challenges to government authority and functions.

The basic issues, underlying the inevitably interwoven motives of profit and politics, are questions about the philosophy and foundations of the federal government, its purposes, functions, scope of operations, and relationships with other levels of government and the private sector. Thus, issues of privatization morph into a critical issue of Constitutional interpretation. The major challenge arises from those who ignore the Preamble and insist on the Tenth Amendment. They seek radical change, with privatization serving as the instrument to strip the federal government of its ability to serve, in addition to national defense, the many diverse national interests and societal concerns of the country’s citizens.

Positions on regulation indicate these contrasting interests. The private sector resists many regulations because they not only provide few, small, or no benefits to individual companies or entire industries, but also raise costs and lower profits. Government requires many regulations because they protect other companies or industries, or promote collective interests benefiting the nation or society, like clear air and water. Privatization would reduce regulation, with benefits to part or all of the private sector, but with baleful effects on the public and its citizens.

In this political context, privatization of functions serving these interests and concerns is inherently antithetical to democratic government. Private-sector entities are accountable to limited, largely powerless numbers of equity holders united by their interests in growth or returns. Government is accountable to all citizens, who have interests other than wealth alone. Because the relative power of the private sector and government is inversely related, expanding privatization diminishes the consent of the governed and reduces the freedom of citizens to control their lives. Two areas of contention between government and the private sector are public health and public education.

Arguments for privatizing health care, long provided by a mixture of public and private institutions, are specious. The first truth is that privatization has had its chance, has failed, and would fail again. If it had worked, millions of people would have had access to affordable health care and health care insurance, and health care reform would have been unnecessary. The second truth is that privatization often leads to poorer health care as providers work harder to cut costs and increase profits than provide good care. Case in point: facilities for the elderly have long been sources of recurrent scandals. The third truth is that government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, far from causing deterioration in health care or a decline in medical compensation, have had opposite effects. Overall, the health of program participants has improved, though, in trying to mediate between effectiveness and economy—that is, trying to prevent private-sector waste, fraud, and abuse by doctors and hospitals providing unnecessary services or overcharging for services—the programs have some perverse effects on quality of care. Moreover, private-sector compensation has not suffered; indeed, the rapid, steady increase in the nation’s health care and health insurance costs suggests that business is good.

Arguments for privatizing education are more insidious. Like health care, education has been a mixture of public and private institutions. Earlier, public funds went only to public schools. Lately, some go to private ones on the ground that they are performing a public function. The thrust is to privatize education by discrediting and debilitating public education, establishing charter schools, and transferring funds (vouchers) to privately operated schools. Research using long-term data discredits claims that they do better than public schools. Worse, private, for-profit, higher-education schools largely funded by government loans to students are providing poor education and strapping students with large debts. Privatized education is becoming a government-funded fraud.

Weakening public education is bad enough; weakening education itself in a privatized system is worse. The future of privatized education is a narrowing of education and the increasing fragmentation of America as a coherent society. If non-public schools become dominant, they or their corporate holders will have power to shape or eliminate educational regulations; and to influence or control curriculum, standards, and testing. Result: diminishing accountability to the public through its government.

The effect on curriculum will be further debasement. Today’s jobs-oriented curriculums will become more so, focusing on reading (not writing or literature), mathematics, some science (in some schools replaced by religious “science” like intelligent design), with little or no history or economics (in some schools shaped to the operators’ ideological views). Result: an education ironically less suitable for jobs and increasing unsuitable to citizenship in a democratic society. If government privatizes education, it loses its ability to perpetuate itself as a means to serve abiding public interests because private interests will have obscured or obliterated them.

Privatization involves economics and politics, but values one more than another: profits first, patriotism second. Its thirst for profits is a threat to freedom.


A Personal Note

My experience in the 1980s with the Grace Commission and a Fairfax County, Virginia, Blue Ribbon committee teaches me that the argument for increasing efficiency camouflages the ambition to diminish government authority. Even at the level of efficiency only, claims of bloat depend, not on findings of major waste, fraud, or abuse, but on begging policy questions; claims of savings from efficiency derive from cuts in goods, services, or their quality.

In the early 80s, at President Reagan’s request, J. Peter Grace directed an investigation by the Private Sector Survey on Cost Control known as the Grace Commission. It announced purpose was to identify waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government—the standard GOP triad of its tirades against government—and to make recommendations to reduce or eliminate them. Committees of businesspeople scrutinized federal operations for efficiencies. A Democratic Congress ignored the Commission report. The report died the victim, not of Democratic, but of Republican, politics. Its real purpose was evident in its recommendations to diminish or dismantle many government programs which were traditional GOP targets.

In the mid 80s, Republicans won control of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and immediately chartered committees of Republican businesspeople to investigate many aspects of county government, again, purportedly, to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. Although legally public, the committees, in contempt of citizens, tried to operate in secret. They announced meetings in fine print in out-of-the-way places, held them in corporate offices during working hours, and did not allow for public participation. In response to widespread outrage or ridicule, the Board rejected all but one of its committee reports. To the consternation of ideologues, the privatization committee, adopted sensible criteria for deciding the conditions which justified privatization on grounds of efficiency. According to them, the committee realized that privatization was not a viable candidate for controlling the costs of any county government operation at the time.

For those who may be interested, I report its criteria. A government decision to privatize an operation for efficiency uses a simple calculation: the total of estimated costs of privatization—continued administration of the operation (contracting, accounting, monitoring, etc.), allocated equipment and facility costs, transfer-of-function costs, and contract costs (business charges for costs and profit)—must be no more than the estimated cost of bloat. In its deliberations, the committee assumed a rule of thumb to justify privatization: bloat must equal about one-fifth, plus or minus, the budget for the operation.