I generally try to steer clear of too much politics on this blog. Although I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m a third generation liberal Democrat, I have a surprisingly robust Republican readership including a growing number of Tea Party people. And at least according to my blog stats, nearly 40% of my readership comes from outside of the U.S. and would have limited interest in my spin on current events. Nope, terriers, wine and Mountain Lions are usually safer subjects. But sometimes I can’t help myself. And the current “deal” that averted our totally manufactured debt crisis is just one such occasion.
Hey, I’m only one person. I can’t solve this budget/deficit thing all on my own. But I do have a plan. It took root last summer when I went on my Mission Mission attempting to visit all of California’s original missions along the El Camino Real. One of the most impressive sites was Mission La Purisma Concepción just outside of Lompoc. Sitting in a 966 acre state historic park*, La Purisma remains the only example of a complete Mission complex in California, boasting all its restored buildings and outbuildings and a working farm and livestock areas. You go to La Purisma to see, as nearly as you can, what a working Mission looked like back in the day. Or you go to La Purisma, as many local residents do, to walk through lovely trails and enjoy the flora and fauna of northern Santa Barbara County.
We don’t have this beautiful resource because this one mission magically escaped the decline and shrinkage that all our other missions suffered. What happened was FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corp, one of his New Deal programs — yes, government spending — that was designed to get us out of the Great Depression in better shape than when we entered it. La Purisma has a wonderful permanent display on the CCC and what it did for the mission and what the mission did for the CCC participants. In case you need a refresher course, the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the most popular programs in the New Deal pack, was organized specifically for “unmarried, unemployed males, aged 18 to 25, from families on relief”. But it did so much more than put people back to work, as I learned from the La Purisma display. The young men who joined it were, because of the Depression, kids who had probably never held a job in their short lives. So the program was run as sort of a “job skills bootcamp”. The workers wore uniforms, lived in dorms and were expected and trained to behave with discipline as if they were in the military. Oral and written testimonials from men who went through the program affirm overwhelmingly that the CCC taught them job skills that carried with them throughout their lives — even though very few of them went on to careers in making adobe bricks and building trails in national park land. Program participant after participant talked about how the program taught them the value and rewards of hard work and teamwork. And remember, this was back in the time we all like to talk about as “the time when everyone knew the value of hard work.”
No that’s not my plan. Because, even though Sargent Shriver modeled the Job Corps on the CCC, I think a direct recreation of this program won’t work as effectively as it did back then and can’t be mobilized as quickly as we need it now.
Here’s my plan: let’s cut our losses and leave Afghanistan and Iraq starting today. Yeah, it might collapse into anarchy, but it’s not far off of anarchy now. We served our time and now someone else can step up to the plate over there. If we can’t afford to give our own poor, elderly and children adequate healthcare, we certainly can’t afford continued adventurism in a land that Rudyard Kipling could have told us chews up and spits out Westerners like so many chapatis. But let’s not just bring home our troops to thrust them into unemployment.
No, I say, let’s bring home our highly trained, motivated and skilled military people and get them working on our crumbling National Parks and our immediate emergency infrastructure projects. Benefit One: we are already paying the salaries of these people. Let’s have their good work benefit this country directly. From 1933 to 1942, the CCC planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas. That was back using Depression Era equipment. Imagine what our military could do today. Benefit Two: as people transition out of the military, it will be a lot easier for them to job hunt from a beautiful National Park than from Khandahar. And need we mention the national parks, now shuttered or protected by only a skeleton staff, where undesirables and drug growers have moved in? Problem solved when battle-hardened troops are cleaning out the forest.
Now the CCC type part of the equation: let’s start putting unemployed people back to work in these programs, but under the auspices of the military. Think about it, these are organized units that already understand how to promote leadership and motivate units of people. Don’t reinvent the wheel. We have the wheel. Start moving civilians into the fold under this military leadership. Having grown up in a military family, I can tell you, a posse of good Master Sergeants can instill some serious work ethic faster than anyone. You want some tax cuts for business? How about a tax credit for any business that hires a graduate of this program? Sure this program won’t necessarily equip a young person to compete in the new technology-based world economy. But you sure can’t outsource these jobs to China. Some will stay to make a career of this kind of work, some will move on with valuable personal and work skills under their belts, but all of them will have paychecks so that they can start buying things and getting our economy afloat in the short term.
And why stop there? Before Dick Cheney and his no-bid contract buddies got hold of all the non-combat jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan (and charged us three times as much for half the quality), we used to have a wonderful thing called the Quarter Master and Supply Corps. These were the units in the Army that fed, housed and supplied the combat troops — often under fire themselves and sometimes two klicks away from Panzer Tanks. So if we need to mobilize people, supplies and lunch wagons for teams to clean up blighted inner City areas, these guys and gals can do it. Rebuild the 9th Ward of New Orleans? I’d give a good Army unit a few months and it would be done.
Now, I do have to admit that I have taken a lesson from Washington. It’s all about deals and demands, isn’t it. I’ve got mine. For that National Parks part of the equation, here’s my price. I want at least a Cabinet level position for John the Baptist. Say Secretary of Sustainability. And John’s right-hand guy, Louis? He’s General material. I think four stars would be appropriate.
Now Mr. President, call me, email me, friend me on Facebook. Let’s get this train out of the station and back on track.
*It should be noted that Union Carbide and the Catholic Church stepped up to the plate and provided/deeded over the land for La Purisma State Park in return for the CCC pledge to turn it into a State Park for the enjoyment of all. How’s that for a spirit of cooperation across sectors for the common good of the American people? Can we see some of that today?