Government workings-some great, some scary


Arnold G. York/From the Publisher

The Bluffs Park deal is getting closer and closer, and soon the Malibu Little League and all the other teams may have a permanent home. At its last meeting, the City Council agreed to buy the ball fields from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. The conservancy at its meeting agreed to accept the Bluffs Park, which includes 90-plus acres, all of which will be turned into permanent open space except for the ball fields, which the city is going to buy. The nearby Crummer property remains in private hands.

The conservancy is then going to go ahead with the deal to buy the Soka property off Las Virgenes Road in Malibu Canyon, formerly known as the old Gillette Ranch because the razor blade king once owned it. Some additional money is going to the conservancy to help the deal fly. Everyone is holding their breath. If it works, then the Malibu City Council has really pulled off a coup, with the cooperation of just about everybody, including State Parks Director Ruth Coleman, the National Parks Service, Joe Edmiston and the conservancy, Sen. Sheila Kuehl, Assemblymember Fran Pavley and a legion of others who worked to put this deal together. It’s amazing what government can do when everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction.

Unfortunately, government and all of its subdivisions moving in the same direction is becoming more of a rarity these days. As I see it, there are two major driving forces in our country today. And how we respond to those forces will shape the next couple of decades. First and foremost, we’re an aging society and we’re all living longer, living healthier and making more demands on government systems like Social Security and Medicare.

When Social Security started in the late 1930s, if you retired at age 65 the odds were you wouldn’t make it much past 68. Besides, there were lots of younger people to pay into the system to take care of the oldies. Today, if you die at 68, people say, “Wow, he died young!” And if you go to the gym regularly, they are absolutely perplexed. It’s as if gym contracts guarantee you life eternal.

It’s a wonderful thing that we’re living longer and healthier, but it means the age for Social Security is going to have to go up to 70 or more to keep the system reasonably solvent and to maintain any kind of fairness between the generations. There was just a report by the Congressional Budget Office that because of the aging of the American population, they predict that by 2015 well over one-half of the federal budget, 55 percent actually, will go to entitlement programs for the elderly. It’s going to be really tough for the government to come to grips with the demographic changes because we old-timers vote and the kids often don’t vote.

The proposals for privatization are to my mind just cosmetic nonsense. What we have to do is raise the age and increase what we pay in, or the numbers just won’t work. We’re also going to have to up the co-pay and put some limits on benefits, which really means some sort of rationing, and it’s going to be tough to do.

The second major force is that of global terrorism, meaning the world has become a more dangerous place. The end of the Communist world, opposite to what many of us thought, strangely made the world more dangerous, not safer. You might have thought of the Soviet Union as the evil empire, but you could rely on them to be rational, which they were. Now nuclear proliferation and the development of biological and chemical weapons has changed the security equation for all of us. Lots more people now have, or soon will have, the potential to cause large destruction. Couple that with the worldwide rise of religious fanaticism, both their fanaticism and our fanaticism, and we have a very dangerous situation.

It’s also so difficult to tell what’s real and what’s fake. A few days ago there were warnings about a group of Chinese and Iraqis that were going to set off a dirty bomb in Boston. It turned out to be a hoax. But some of it is not a hoax. How much of our democracy are we going to be called on to give up to stay safe? How much are we willing to give up? I certainly don’t know the answer for the country. Hell, I don’t even know the answer for myself.

Much as I dislike Rumsfeld and his almost Napoleonic certainty, and even though he’s a mean SOB, down deep there is a certain comfort in knowing at least he’s our mean SOB.

I think the next year or two are going to be very difficult for this country and all of us because it’s going to be a real test of what we believe and how much risk we’re willing to take.