By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

“We hold these truths to be self-evident”

My Fourth of July is complete. As always, I read the Declaration of Independence in the Boston Globe from start to finish. It’s a great tradition, and I hope it remains unchanged as long as the Globe is in business.

The Declaration is also a living document, and Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders should ponder the meaning of this phrase long and hard:

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.

Happy 6.25 percent sales tax. And I hope everyone has a great Fourth.

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23 Comments

  1. mcough4

    Dan,I agree with you about the Globe's Independence Day tradition.But that's a pretty loaded comment you make about swarms of officers harrassing us.Are you talking about, oh I don't know — the maxed out case workers at the Dept of Child and Family Services? Or the Registry of Motor Vehicles that just announced its closing 11 offices? Or the state college system that is forced to cut back and still has to raise fees and tuition to make up the slack? Dan, vague and unsubstantiated comments like that just feed red meat to those who don't value any government services. I know that's not where you're coming from.Mike Coughlina committed public employee for 28 years.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: A fair observation. And I think that even if we could get real reform, we probably still needed to raise taxes.Still, the public sector in Massachusetts wastes enormous amounts of money, and we all know it. I'm talking about everything from the symbolic (police officers at construction sites) to the very real (a generous pension system when the rest of the economy long ago switched over to 401Ks and 403Bs).So I'm guilty of a little demagoguery. Sorry — I'm serious about that. But so are you in pointing to social workers, who would continue to get screwed over even if we doubled the income tax.And I have a great idea for the Registry. Get rid of it. Let city and town clerks handle routine business, and go with a much, much smaller agency for the other stuff.The biggest problem we face is that there is a fundamental unwillingness to rethink the way we do the public's business.

  3. Treg

    Yeah, but Dan – the Declaration was addressing taxation without representation, right? The comparison is unreasonable.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Treg: In 2008, only 28 of 160 House seats were contested, and only seven of 40 Senate seats. In other words, 82 percent of all legislative contests had just one candidate.I suppose we can't blame the legislators for that, but what does it say about the state of democracy in Massachusetts that no one wants to run for legislative office?The American Colonists had taxation without representation. So do we. Back then it was de jure; today it's de facto.

  5. O-FISH-L

    Happy 4th to you too, Dan. After reading your post, I actually went out and bought the Globe today for the first time in years to check out the D o I in printed form. Last night on FNC, Dr. Charles Krauthammer mentioned that it's also a family tradition in his house to read the D o I on the 4th. Thank you both for the idea.As for the budget, once you're done whacking our brave police officers on this holiday, maybe we could also cut some of the many former journalists now "working" as spokesmen for every government agency and elected official imaginable. Does the Senate President and Speaker of the House each require separate spokesmen, in addition to the bevy of Chiefs of Staff, Legislative Directors, aides, secretaries etc.? And speaking of cops, the state troopers themselves seemed to be doing a fine job with media relations the last hundred years or so, but sure enough, I see a civilian (former reporter) now handling those duties. I won't even get into all of the other state agencies and their flaks. If you're going to suggest cuts, perhaps you could start a little closer to home.

  6. Nial Liszt

    Fish: Please allow me to read my favorite line in political journalism three or four times a week– "A spokesperson had no comment."

  7. Howard Owens

    Dan, careful, you're starting to sound like a libertarian. You might find that Kauffman book even more intoxicating.You're right, of course, we have way too much government at the federal and state level (true enough of New York, too). The spirit of the Declaration has been forgotten by those who would find praise in more and more government agencies to tell us how to raise our kids and how best to spend our money.

  8. Don, American

    What? There's unhappiness in Liberal-land? Is this possible?Go bless America.

  9. Treg

    Dan, that just doesn't follow. Whether they ran uncontested due to apathy, or because their constituents were satisfied with them, they represent us. Another example of getting the government we collectively deserve.But it's not "de facto" taxation without representation.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Treg: There are many possible reasons that seats go uncontested. Unless we can say what those reasons are, then you can't blame apathy or complacency.

  11. Michael Pahre

    Ah, but the difference between taxation then and now is that you are now enfranchised and can exercise that right in order to vote for or against those guys on Beacon Hill. A ginormous difference.Oh, and I suspect that Governor Patrick has, so far, actually decreased the state payrolls, not increased them, albeit under duress due to the state's deep financial woes — it would be worth trying to verify my hunch. That doesn't sound like erecting new offices and sending swarms of (new) government workers to harass us.

  12. Treg

    Dan – What???

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Treg: How about an incumbent-protection system so pervasive that good people are discouraged from mounting challenges?Consider how Tom Finneran killed the Clean Elections law passed by the voters a few years ago. I didn't like the law, but its proponents argued that it would make it much easier for outsiders to run for legislative office. And it was approved by the voters.Consider the way our gelding legislators have invested more and more power in the House speaker and Senate president in recent decades, making the job far less attractive to any bright, ambitious newcomers.Remember what happened in the early '80s, after the passage of Proposition 2 1/2? A coalition of reformist Republicans and progressive Democrats revolted and pushed through something they called the "Better Budget." It's unimaginable that something like that could happen today.

  14. Treg

    Ok, ok! I'm highly dissatisfied with the state of the state as well.Everything you just wrote is perfectly valid, in my opinion.But there's just that little extra hyperbole when you compare the situation to 1776. Maybe a little jest in the spirit of the holiday.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Treg: Of course I was having a little fun. The two situations are in no way comparable. For one thing, taxes were much, much lower in 1776.

  16. Treg

    Good one.

  17. chris

    On July 4th we also celebrate the rights we hold dear, including the right to free speech. Apparently the Little People of America doesn't agree; they've petitioned the FCC to ban the 'M-word' from broadcast TV. Dan, I know you're not a neutral observer in the long and tortured history of the word, but a federal ban? That's going too far IMHO.http://www.newsday.com/news/printedition/longisland/ny-lilitt0612945347jul05,0,5838605.story

  18. Dan Kennedy

    Chris: When I learn more, I will have plenty to say about this. I am not in New York, and don't know what's going on other than what I'm seeing in the media. I was told this morning by an LPA officer that a final vote has not yet been taken.The AP put out a story about this yesterday that didn't have a single quote from anyone in LPA.

  19. Aaron Read

    Whenever I think about government waste, I think about what it was like before the creation of the Federal Radio Commission (precursor to the FCC, of course).Granted, back then it was just AM Radio and nothing else…but it was a madhouse. The major cities (mostly Boston, NYC and Philadelphia) would have dozens and dozens of stations, all crammed right next to each other, and on top of each other, on the dial. It was a total mess; you couldn't hear any given station more than a mile from its transmitter due to the interference, so an "arms race" began with stations installing bigger and bigger transmitters to try and override their competitors.If I remember my history, when the FRC was finally given power to truly regulate the band (a process that took longer than you'd think) they had to shut down at least 30%, I think more like 40%, of the existing stations out there.This lesson isn't applicable across the board, but fundamental truth remains: people are not reasonable. Government exists to force a little reasonableness onto them. It's a lot like police. In theory we don't need cops; we all know what's right and what's wrong. Except for that small subset that doesn't. And if you don't have the police, that subset quickly runs amok. It's easy for most folks to hate the RMV because, for the most part, they follow the rules. But there's a noticeable subset of people who don't and won't. For dealing with them, RMV is a useful tool. It provides the police with necessary information to track and discipline those who break the rules.It is true that the idea has become the institution. But the alternative is still, generally speaking, a lot worse.———————–Chris – the "midget" ban is grandstanding at its finest. Many, many people have petitioned the FCC to ban various words and phrases over the years. Very, very few have succeeded. Even fewer have survived the inevitable court challenges afterwards. The key is that you can't be offensive to just one group of people, you have to be offensive to the "public", which has traditionally been interpreted to mean "the public at large".Check out the FCC's website on the matter. http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/obscene.htmlA lot of people think various material is "obscene" but it's virtually impossible to make the three-pronged test of obscenity. I think technically even "Two Girls, One Cup" wouldn't qualify.The midget question might be deemed "profane" but I doubt it. As offensive as the term is to a particular group, it's still considered descriptive to most of the public. It wouldn't rise to the "grossly offensive" test. As offensive as it is, even "nigger" doesn't always rise to that test, and that's probably the most loaded term there is for describing a minority.

  20. Howard Owens

    Aaron, good, smart comment. A pleasure to read. I would say that while government has its place, and your FRC example is a good one, it doesn't mean all government is good. Mostly, government today, especially at the federal and state level is far more evil than beneficial. We need to return government to human, manageable scale, reduce the size of big governments and return more power and control to small, local jurisdictions.

  21. Aaron Read

    FWIW, we had Chris Myers Asch come speak at HWS a year or so ago…he was talking about his work to create a fifth US Academy. Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and he wants to add the US Public Service Academy.It's based on an exceedingly shrewd observation: a lot of the reason why government is so inefficient is because there's a crisis of staffing almost across the board. During the last great expansion of government, which was not long after WWII, you had a massive influx of good, skilled people who wanted to continue serving their country now that the war was over.Unfortunately, as the 1970's rolled around, a lot of those people started thinking about retiring. Then the 1980's hit and Reagonomics' calculated approach to ensure bad government by starving it to death under the premise that all government is bad. That guaranteed that most of the skilled people left government service. Those who remained were (and I'm intentionally overgeneralizing to make a point here) the dregs who were hanging on to pad their pensions and because by that point they were too old to change jobs, or too useless. Now fast-forward another 20 years. That's 20 years of nobody wanting to enter public service except people who aren't skilled enough to get "real" jobs and/or are hack, patronage, quasi-"no-show" jobs. And even those are all retiring. Nowadays most federal agencies are running at 50% staffing…no wonder government is so inefficient!So Myers-Asch has this clever idea of creating a "Public Service" Academy. You go there and it's a free ride for four years, and all your classes are very task- and skill-oriented, just like the military. In essence, you learn how to make a bureaucracy actually work. When you come out, just like the other Academies, you're required to take a job working for state or federal government agencies for some years…I think 4 or 5 was the minimum.The overall idea was to create a factory institution to get people who know how to make government work and get them into the appropriate roles in government. And since it's essentially a free college education, you avoid the "hackerama effect" so common to government today. Sure the graduates might not stay in government after their minimum time, but that's not a problem in the long run because the Academy will keep replenishing things with fresh graduates. This system actually works BETTER if people DON'T stay in government for fifty years.And there'd be good incentives to hire these graduates away after their "tour of duty". After all, besides some specialized jobs, wouldn't you (generally speaking) consider "West Point graduate" to be a plus on a potential hire's resume?

  22. Howard Owens

    Hiring better people — if one to even accept the premise — isn't going to make government better, less intrusive, less bloated, less of a drain on taxpayers, more efficient. Good government is an oxymoron.

  23. Aaron Read

    Howard, if "good government" is an oxymoron, then so is "free market".Certainly, right now the US has neither. ZING!Anyways, Asch's idea is not so much about dealing with government's intrusiveness or bloat. It's more about making it not suck so badly. A not-inconsiderable amount of the RMV's problems, to take one example, is that they're understaffed, undertrained, and underequipped. And what staff they do have is from a culture that draws heavily on the "useless waste of oxygen" stereotype of government workers.People like to forget that an awful lot of "government bloat" is for things that, when asked, they rather like to have around. Like the FDA, the Federal Highway Administration, the FAA, the USDA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the TSA, etc.All of those departments, in theory, provide badly-needed services. Services that, if anything, our country has recently demonstrated it needs a lot MORE of…not less! And all of which have suffered high-profile gaffs as of late due in demonstrably large parts to low staffing levels and poorly-trained employees.THAT aspect is what Asch is trying to address. The idea isn't perfect; it will be hard to strike the balance of political desires vs. educational realities in dealing with a curriculum and whatnot…and since a lot of industries benefit from poorly-running government (name me ONE bank or financial institution that REALLY wants a more-powerful S.E.C.???) there will be enormous political pressure to have an ineffective curriculum and institution. But by far the US Public Service Academy is the best idea I've seen yet for dealing with these problems.

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