Ron Kaye: We're at war with ourselves

All politics is local — even wars halfway around the world in Iraq and Afghanistan. The point comes home with force as we watch our elected officials at every level grapple with a third year of massive budget deficits that are forcing drastic cuts in public services, sharp increases in fees and taxes where they can and causing tense conflict with public employees who face loss of their jobs or reductions in wages, pensions and benefits.

It isn’t a pretty picture, and next year and the years after are certain to be even uglier.

The causes are many.

Sweetheart contracts with public employees who now feel entitled to what they won at the bargaining table in the form of lucrative pensions, retirement at early ages, heavily subsidized premium health care, even shortened work weeks for some.

The economic meltdown triggered by reckless government policies and practices by Wall Street and the too-big-to-fail bankers who cashed in on our obsession with material things — even if we couldn’t afford them, even if they were all made in China and drained our society of its wealth.

But the overriding cause of our national crisis is the cost of war, the damage it has done to our national psyche, the stress it has placed on our economy.

Ten years of unceasing war has caused tragic loss of life and pain to many, including the men and women who serve in our armed forces, and sent our national borrowing soaring to dangerous levels, much of the debt held by foreign nations like China whose interests are not necessarily the same as ours.

Democrats and Republicans have stopped speaking the same language as if our fates were not bound together, as if a nation divided against itself could long survive without paying a terrible price.

The price is to cut discretionary funding to the states and the poor. No less gridlocked by ideology, our own state cuts funding to schools and confiscates funds for local programs, hitting everyone hard.

All politics is local, and that’s where the bills are coming due, even in relatively well-managed cities like Burbank and Glendale.

City officials are going through detailed proposals from each department these days to eliminate deficits of more than $8 million in Burbank, more than twice that in Glendale.

It means reducing services, restructuring of how services as vital as police, fire and ambulances are provided, making increasingly tough decisions about what can still be provided to the public, stepping up pressure on unions for concessions to get through at least the next year.

Tensions are high as values and interests collide as they did last week in the Glendale City Council budget sessions on Thursday, when Dave Weaver and new Councilman Rafi Manoukian exploded into a heated exchange, laced with personal attacks, over the Fire Department’s budget proposal, causing the veteran councilman to storm out of the nearly empty council chambers.

Pressures are rising, and answers are few. The sucking sound you hear is your tax dollars going upward to the state and federal governments with far too little coming back down to our cities and schools to fund basic services, social programs and the infrastructural investments needed to develop the new economies that will put people back to work.

There is no simple solution to the American dilemma today.

We are paying a high price for perpetual war. We are weaker as a nation, and poorer. We have seen the enemy, and he is us — never has that been truer.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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