Government, like weather, beyond our control

Two forces affect the lives of many people and are beyond their control.

The weather and the government.

Businesses accept the inevitability of their influence and try to work around the effects of government action as much as they adjust to changes in the weather.

Last month’s unemployment figures show the effect of weather on business. New job creation and construction jobs were well below expectations and many people stopped looking for work, influenced by storms and bitter winter chills.

Those weather-induced impacts may cause the Federal Reserve to maintain its easy lending policies and could encourage the continuation of unemployment payments.

They could also prompt business to step up their online sales, making shopping easier in almost any weather but not creating many new jobs.

Business must adjust to the weather, because it cannot change or influence it.

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it” goes the old saying.

The more worrisome problem is the “us and them” attitude of government, which leaves both business and other people feeling as helpless and leaving them frustrated and unhappy.

Big business is often able to influence government, but most businesses must simply find a way to live with rules, paperwork and policies that seem to them burdensome, costly and pointless.

Government often treats citizens with the same indifference as the weather instead of recognizing that its purpose is to serve the people.

Items in the news recently illustrate the point.

Political staffers of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie engineered a four-day traffic jam in that state’s Fort Lee on approaches to the George Washington Bridge as a way of punishing the city’s Democratic mayor for not supporting Republican Christie’s re-election.

The tie-ups were incredible, slowing ambulances, making school children miss their classes and causing many to be late to work.

The staff showed no concern for the people affected. Perhaps they expected those caught in the jam would figure out the reason why and beg the mayor to support Christie. It didn’t happen.

In this case, politics took precedence over public service. And the instrument used by the governor’s staff was government, supposedly “of the people, for the people and by the people.”

The press, which can be a powerful force it is own right, smelled something wrong and finally got out the story that the blockage was caused by politics and not a phony “traffic study.”

Christie’s staff was forced to release the emails showing that they had conjured up the traffic crisis. But their action only partially solved the problem.

If you look at the emails, you would see that large parts are blacked out, “redacted” as the lawyers call it. Why? No reason is given, but it seems clear the reason is to protect some of those involved.

Not only is the public mistreated, but it cannot gain access to documents written and sent on the government email system for which it paid.

Before people write off New Jersey as a special case, it’s worth remembering that the arms-length treatment of citizens by government happens elsewhere.

In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage refused to release a report on Medicaid expansion, which had been requested under state law by the press and was part of a study costing taxpayers $925,000.

Though loophole-ridden, Maine’s Freedom of Access Law requires such a document to be made public on request. LePage told Attorney General Janet Mills to “sue me” if she wanted to get the document to the public.

It looked like the politics of the situation in which the GOP governor opposes efforts to expand Medicaid coverage and the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, favors it had become more important than the interests of the people.

LePage then changed his mind and released the document, possibly as a result of getting his own legal advice. The political cost of keeping the document secret may have been higher than the repercussions from releasing it.

Washington is even worse. It has taken massive leaks of government documents for Americans to learn their phone records are being collected and kept, and the National Security Agency, which does the collecting, has lied to Congress and the courts.

Millions of documents are routinely classified as secret, often more as a way of keeping government actions shielded from public view than because of the legitimate need not to tip off America’s adversaries.

Frustrated and angry citizens form ineffective, misguided and impractical reform movements or they just don’t participate in the political system. Like the weather, government is unaffected.

Everybody talks about the government, but nobody does anything about it.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.