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Trusting government

Jack Balshaw 8/28/02


As far as the federal and to a large extent state governments are concerned, I no longer trust them. I think I've crossed the line from being skeptical to being cynical. I don't expect them to be honest.

I used to listen to both side of the arguments and look for truths and purpose. No longer. I expect spin on everything all the main political participants from both parties say to us. How can there be any citizen participation if we, one, don't believe what they say and, two, don't believe they listen to any but organized special interests?

I can accept the Israelis assassinating militant opponents because they don't make it out to be anything but what it is - a method of warfare. I can accept the Palestinians using suicide bombers because that's all they have. Both sides are brutal but at least they're forthright about what they're doing.

Our government hides behind the fiction of secret arrests and "enemy combatants" to avoid letting the public know what's really happening. Note that the FBI hasn't released the cockpit tape of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11 because "it's still a law enforcement investigation". Can you really believe there's a need to still keep that confidential?

The media is almost a co-conspirator with the government in that they immediately saturate the airways with whatever is the latest possible "breaking news". Today it's the new tapes showing al Qaida gassing dogs.

This got me to thinking about the Sherlock Holmes story about the dogs that didn't bark. Sherlock solved a crime because if it had been a stranger that did it, the dogs would have barked. Because they didn't, the killer had to be a member of the family.

If the new tape did nothing else, it convinced me that there is no connection between al Qaida and Iraq. Can you imagine if they had access to Iraqi chemical capabilities that they would have been doing something that crude? The dog didn't bark because there was nothing to bark at.

The President's Economic Forum was a scripted political event and yet, with a straight face, they say it's the voice of the people? Even the media had a hard time swallowing that.

The good news on the local level is that our council isn't doing the things it does for monetary or special interests; they're doing what they do for ideological reasons. The bad news is that doing things for ideological reasons means that, because you know what is right, you don't have to think about the overall public good on anything.

Perhaps this election season will offer an opportunity for the incumbents and challengers to clearly articulate their visions for Petaluma and their thoughts on how major problems such as traffic and street conditions could be reduced. Perhaps Petaluma Tomorrow, the new voice for the progressives, will even present its views of what "tomorrow" should be like.

The difficulty of course is to get people to present their views in some detail and not just fluffy, general, feel good sound bites. This will take the public and the media asking very specific questions at the several candidates' nights we will have. Questions whose answers can't easily be turned into mini-speeches by the candidates. That's not easy to do.

Some questions that might be considered, besides traffic and streets, are:

How should the General Plan population figure be developed? Should a number be selected and a residential plan designed to provide that number of units, or should it be vice versa?

Do you have a commitment to use funds for capital improvements and not more studies?

Will you avoid micromanaging the city manager?

At the local level I think I'm not yet cynical. There's hope yet.


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