Guest Editorial: The Duuuhhhh! Factor

George Drake

I’m often struck by how shortsighted the voters can be. Take the current energy crisis. The California Legislature completely blew it when, in 1996, it deregulated the State’s power companies.

Some would say that to deregulate an industry so vital to the public shows a dismaying lack of understanding of why we even have governments. The only reason for government, after all, is to provide for the common welfare – to look out for the needs of society as a whole. Politicians who advocate deregulation of industries so crucial to the common good reveal, in my opinion, the most basic lack of understanding of what government is for.

But that aside, everyone seems to agree that how California deregulated its power industry was flawed beyond comprehension. This was the work of total amateurs. Duuuhhhh! Term Limits, guys. Term Limits.

The whole point of term limits was to make our Legislators amateurs. And the voters supported the plan, despite the fact that the obvious benefactors would be professionals from megacorporations who would be called upon to advise our new “citizen’s army” of Legislators. That’s what we voted for and that’s what we got.

The result of putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse is now pretty evident. When the issue is the estate tax, we often hear loud protests about government transferring wealth. But look at the wealth that is being transferred in this fiasco. We haven’t seen anything like it since an earlier deregulation frenzy brought us the Savings and Loan bailout under Reagan. California is taking about a billion dollars a month from the taxpayers and giving it to the newly deregulated power industry. It hardly matters which subset of these vultures is actually

receiving the money -none of it would have happened had the government continued to perform its duty of providing for the common welfare.

True, there may well have been power shortages anyway, but obscene profits in tandem with threatened bankruptcies would not have complicated finding solutions, as they so obviously do now.

This is only one of numerous examples of what I call the “Duuuhhhh! factor.” Our schools have deteriorated terribly since Proposition 13 was passed in 1979, and local control has virtually disappeared as

funding has shifted to the State government. Duuuhhhh! What did people expect? Quality requires money. Power follows money. Two plus two – let’s see, is that still four?

And who benefits most from Prop 13? Large, stable corporations. Houses get traded regularly, and their assessment goes up each time, but large office buildings and facilities rarely change hands. A tax base which was once mainly based in locally collected property taxes now relies on State collected sales and income taxes–which are overwhelmingly paid by “little people” like you (I assume) and me.

Or consider the current rush to State or federally mandated testing that is all the rage in American education. Think about it. American’s are known as brilliant problem solvers. The main reason we have always

been so creative is simple: we have – or had – a decentralized system of education. Every year a new teacher -one that would design, administer, and grade the tests that students had to pass to succeed – gave a new

perspective on how to address the world’s problems. As testing moves into the hands of central authorities, and teaching to the test becomes – as it inevitably will -the standard approach to education, so will true creativity become a rarity in American life. Dare I say it?


And what about California’s incredible traffic problems? We invest virtually nothing, comparatively speaking, in rapid transit. Is there a connection? Duuuhhhh! We all love to travel by car. But the auto is not the only tolerable way–in fact, it is not really even a viable way – for millions of people to commute to work every day. And yet we in America, have almost literally no other choice. Why? Because of political decisions made year after year by politicians we elect.

Politicians whose terms we have always had the ability to limit by voting, and, hopefully, would have limited, if we had only paid attention to politics.

Anyone who thinks politics is irrelevant should watch their power bills for the next few months. Observe what happens nationally now that our government is ruled by people who seem to think only the poor need regulating. Voters must learn to demand more than sound bites before they cast their ballots. If they don’t, government will continue to get more dysfunctional, money will dominate it even more, and government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich will become increasingly aggressive at transferring wealth from “The People” to “The People Who

Count.” Duuuhhhh!

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