Want Change? Stop Subsidizing Failure.

It seems to me that our nation currently faces three major continuing crises—deficient public education, opioid abuse with its resulting fatalities, and unaffordable healthcare—that are both true and far reaching.  Unlike so many other crises that affect only one segment of the population or which are dependent on highly questionable data for support, these three are beyond any question fundamental, destructive, and ongoing.  However, after years—or even decades—of diligent effort and literally trillions of dollars of spending collectively to solve them, perhaps it is now worth asking a single, rude question: Is there the very least possibility that government can ever solve any of these problems?

Our current destructive track toward national bankruptcy, which is forever fueled by our propensity for shoveling gobs of government cash at whatever the crisis du jour might be, begs the question of whether problems born of human greed, human stupidity, and human weakness can ever be solved by even the most well-intentioned and thoughtful application of taxpayer money.  Given that government can sometimes barely keep the snow shoveled on a sunny day, it could perhaps be the case that attempting to reconfigure the human spirit to eliminate human frailty is beyond the reach of even the most dedicated government official or employee.

Consider, for example, the many decades—and many trillions of dollars—that federal, state, and local governments have spent trying improve our nation’s mediocre public schools.  By any rational reckoning, we are no better off academically than we were back in 1983, when the “A Nation at Risk” report was issued.  The majority of America’s students still receive their diplomas despite obvious academic deficiencies that will hobble their progress in college and careers.

Seemingly the only clearly demonstrable improvement—albeit a depressing one—all these years of stupendously expensive “reforms” have produced is that our nation’s education bureaucracies have become much better at fudging the dismal numbers to provide the temporary illusion of progress.  The depressing string of test score, graduation, and grade scandals in so many cities and states—now being joined by increasing evidence of dereliction of duty regarding student discipline and safety—has exposed a great many of these supposedly miraculous “improvements” in America’s public schools as nothing more than spreadsheet legerdemain or active fraud.  

Taxpayers are, however, regularly reassured that their local school districts are just one more spending increase away from solving all of their problems because it somehow turns out—when it comes to public education, at least—that prior failures are a guarantee of future successes.  Why any rational person would approve one thin dime of additional funding for failing schools seems to make little sense at first glance, but it is necessary to keep in mind that student success is essentially tangential to the operations of our nation’s public education system.

Why do our schools never improve?  Simply put, everyone understands how the game is played, and the subpar status quo turns out to have many proponents.  Students know that their school system desperately wants to graduate them so that no uncomfortable questions are asked about their ignorance; therefore, it is perfectly possible to glide through the system with little or no effort involved—which is just fine with many children and adolescents.  Teachers know that pencil whipping students through the grades is easy, eliminates the fuss and inconvenience associated with actual education, and keeps the paychecks rolling right in.  School administrators want to point to big, shiny graduation numbers while assuring parents that their child’s terriblestandardized test scores are just a result of test anxiety or poorly designed assessments.  Local communities and their leaders love any good news about their schools that will help to escalate property values and are perfectly willing to accept the free day care that is obligingly provided.  Elected officials never tire of posing with smiling children—particularly if some sort of shiny trophy is being held up.  Contractors and labor unions enjoy building new schools and completing the steady stream of work that arises from basic facility maintenance.

Consequently, everybody wins in the short term, but the long term consequences are appalling.  However, given that our national zeitgeist is to live for today and not worry about tomorrow, our public school systems continue just as they are—and they will continue to be strikingly mediocre no matter how much money is spent to improve them.  A relatively small segment of high-powered parents will always make certain that their children are assigned to the subset of schools, teachers, and classes where some actual learning might take place, the broad middle spectrum of students will continue to float through classes that require a minimum of effort, and the troublemakers and the troubled are always hidden where they can do the least harm to themselves or others.  Meanwhile, everyone cheers at the football and basketball games, Prom is fun, and diplomas are eventually handed to the literate and illiterate alike—just another successful school year in America.  Smile for your photos, everyone!

Our national crisis of opioid abuse is yet the latest chapter of our never ending concerns over our human love of mood-altering substances.  Our country’s history has been one of drinking, smoking, injecting, swallowing, and snorting whatever we can lay our hands upon to blot out either the horrors—or the dreariness—of the day.  Grandma and grandpa were smoking weed in the park.  Your parents were doing Jell-O shots and raiding mom’s medicine cabinet.  Now it’s Fireball and Fentanyl.  Who knows what will be in vogue a few years from now?

Although it could certainly be argued that some of the drugs readily available today are a bit too powerful and dangerous for casual recreational ingestion, the bottom line is that 99% percent of use is strictly voluntary—although incredibly risky and demonstrably stupid.  Presuming that cutting off access to one drug or another is going to sober up our constantly buzzed nation is the same fallacy that led us to our misbegotten national experiment with Prohibition in the 1920’s and 30’s, which produced little but systemic corruption and deadly crime as a result.  

I would prefer that everyone stick to beer, but our nation’s drug and alcohol addled MacGyvers will always find some stronger substance to screw up their bodies and minds when the opportunity arises.  Those who want to use drugs and alcohol, will do so; those who do not, will not.  Spending time and money explaining the dangers of drugs and alcohol to both young and old alike has probably not changed a single mind—but it provides both the illusion of action and many paychecks to those who do the explaining.  However, all across our great nation, America is still drinking, smoking, injecting, swallowing, and snorting whatever is available—and this will continue as long as our planet spins around the sun.  

Addicts straighten out their lives, if they ever do, only when the damage to themselves or others becomes too obvious to ignore—or their minds and bodies simply can no longer take the unending abuse.  Until that day arrives, all the well-meaning government programs in the world won’t do much other than create a national infrastructure that, perversely enough, helps to ease the lives of addicts rather than forcing them to face the consequences of their behavior.  Is continuing to pour money into abundantly ineffectual drug and alcohol treatment programs a good idea?  Make your own decisions about that, all you overtaxed citizens out there.

Finally, watching our government leaders and their minions continue to botch up a mission as basic and important as ensuring that Americans can afford to go to a doctor for necessary medical care is rather like watching a YouTube video of a puppy endlessly chasing its tail—all that frenetic action produces no discernible result.  Anybody with the least brain in their heads realizes that medical device and equipment makers, pharmaceutical companies, and corporate hospital chains have conspired for many decades to raise costs to the stratosphere in order to generate ungodly profits.  Patients and their needs are a hindrance to the real mission—keeping the stock price soaring.  The only way that the overall cost of medical care will actually drop is if Medicare, Medicaid, patients, medical providers, and private insurers simply refuse to pay inflated charges and demand steep and permanent price cuts.

However, price discipline will never happen because it would cause the profits and stock prices of the medical profiteers to drop precipitously (and eliminate a lot of well-paying jobs besides!), which would send these businesses immediately scurrying—cash in hand—to our complicit and compliant government for protection from actual marketplace pressure.  After positioning themselves as champions of change in order to catch all the campaign contributions that are certain to follow, our nation’s elected leaders and their anonymous bureaucratic minions will spend many years—and election cycles—laboring to produce “reforms” that are a boon for the business of medicine but an unmitigated disaster for the economics of healthcare.  Money will get shuffled about, our taxes will be raised in order to pay for all our newly affordable healthcare(however much sense that makes) and the true cost of reforms, such as they are, will be masked by yet more crushing government debt to maintain a fundamentally uneconomical and unfair healthcare system.

Government will never solve these problems—education, drug abuse, and healthcare—but it will happily spend our nation and citizens into the poorhouse trying.  In the meanwhile, perhaps we need to provide a few reminders to those concerned.

Students need to remember that studying your school book instead of your cell phone is the only sure path to academic success.  Our nation’s opioid addicts need to learn—sometimes to their great discomfort—that the high live is no life at all.  All those government officials and consultants trying to “reform” healthcare—and enjoying the ease provided by our tax dollars while they do so—are welcome to continue to fiddle around endlessly while avoiding the ire of their corporate masters, but the fact will always remain that our opaque, decentralized, and bureaucratized healthcare system is a prescription for maximum expense with minimum results.

Want change? Stop subsidizing failure. Start insisting on personal responsibility. Reduce expenses by firing the parasites that spend their time explaining away their waste of our nation’s wealth, health, and youth. We need no more study—we need results.

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Harming By Helping

To seek to help others is, for the vast majority of individuals, a basic human instinct.  We want to comfort the afflicted, aid the helpless, protect the vulnerable, shelter the homeless, and feed the hungry whenever this is humanly possible.  This laudable aspect of our humanity combines with our simple desire for self-preservation to produce many of our governmental structures and policies, and we have typically—but not always—demanded some degree of self-reliance and personal responsibility in exchange for all manner of aid and protection.

However, as much as some might fervently wish it to be otherwise, no government yet devised can protect us against the consequences of every tragedy, personal mistake, fear, or plain discomfort. We cannot outlaw natural disasters or man-made stupidity, although we can—and should—always try to lessen their impacts upon both individuals and communities.

Therefore, the many catastrophes caused in American today by all the “help” our government provides are truly a Greek tragedy of mind-boggling proportions.  Our prideful efforts to provide the most perfect forms of government possible have instead produced family dysfunction, community chaos, state fiscal crises, and national gridlock—all with the added “benefits” of punishing personal initiative and rewarding irresponsibility.  Sophocles would be proud.

Over the past half-century of liberal hubris, we have watched as government in all its glory has pursued a variety of well-meaning but ultimately misguided policies.  These have caused the costs of housing, education, and medical care to spiral out of control while supposedly improving affordability, simultaneously increased both taxes and public debt, and screwed up capitalism so badly that now young people somehow now find socialism an attractive alternative to our present punitively expensive system.  In addition, half of our nation seems to be angry at the other half, our public schools fail to adequately educate the majority of our children, and the legacy costs of big and bigger government—retiree pensions and healthcare—are bankrupting many of our cities and states.

The problems are basic.  Compassion exercised by individuals, private charities, and faith communities is compelled to live within dollars and cents realities that government can easily circumvent by continually raising taxes or taking on more public debt.  In addition, the heavy hand of government tends to alter the cost/benefit ratios of a whole range of human behaviors, which later requires yet more government interventions to “fix” the problems its own programs created in the first place.  The old adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” has never been more true than when the wonders of government goodness are involved.

In American we see this cycle most vividly within the four walls of our own homes—and the brunt of the problems are borne by our children.

The U.S. Census has amply quantified the astonishing increase in single parent households (most of which are headed by women) over the past fifty years, and this has repeatedly been correlated with worsened educational, emotional, and economic outcomes for children who grow up with only one parent.  This trend has been accelerated by all manner of public aid that has served to allow one of the parents—typically the man—to shirk financial and parental responsibilities owed to their children by forcing the taxpayers to raise the offspring whom those parentsconveniently forget.  By decoupling reproduction from responsibility, government “help” has perversely only helped generations of families to deal with yet more of the dysfunctions that are typically—but not always—inherent in single parent households.

The net outcome of the startling increase in the number of single parent households—enabled and accelerated by the government assistance that makes this living arrangement possible for parent and child—has been the equally startling growth of government programs and bureaucracies set up to battle the many problems caused by those other government programs and bureaucracies that initially supported the maintenance of single parent households.  Got that?  This self-reinforcing loop of government “help” has now destroyed families and communities on a scale that would make even the cruelest tyrant proud, and the perpetuation of single parent households across generations continues to wreak havoc and compels taxpayers to subsidize an ever-widening circle of personal injury and societal harm.  Now that roughly 1/3 of American children live with either a single parent or an unmarried couple—a separate arrangement that provides its own unique blend of issues and insecurities—we should not be overly surprised by the many problems afflicting our nation’s young and their overwhelmed parents.

As the number of single parent households has risen, we have seen the inexorable march of the pathologies associated with the poverty, instability, and trauma that often impacts both parent and child.  Rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, drug use, physical and sexual abuse, hunger, homelessness, self-harm, and sexually-transmitted diseases have reached epidemic levels for both children and adults.  Although many times these problems can be attributed to unique personal circumstances or local economic conditions, their sheer number speaks to the rot within the foundation of our society—the family unit.  If families fail to thrive, it is impossible to for a community to flourish.  The most expensive home in the world will collapse if it is built upon sand.

The defenders of our expansive social welfare state will, of course, assert that they are doing God’s work by helping those who cannot otherwise help themselves.  It is an interesting “chicken or egg” argument: Has government helped to create dependency or merely helped those who must depend upon the government?  

One could use the pernicious persistence of generational poverty, for example, to argue either side of the issue.  Those who support the programs that provide food, healthcare, and housing to the poor will whistle up all manner of learned experts who will confidently proclaim that entrenched and pervasive inequality condemns many to lives filled with desperation, and it is the role of government to relieve their suffering.  However, others might point out that programs that provide for all the needs and wants of the poor without the bother of work are a disincentive to developing the self-reliance and self-discipline necessary to provide for oneself and one’s family.  In specific circumstances both viewpoints likely have some validity, and the endless haggling over the shape and scope of welfare reform that has consumed so much attention over the decades points to the near-impossibility of both discontinuing government programs once they are started and convincing people that work is better than sloth when there is little or no price to pay for living life on the couch.

I sometimes see the broad outlines of this debate when I listen to educators bewailing the many difficulties of teaching children and adolescents raised in our nation’s many troubled homes.  Many of these students walk into the classroom completely uninterested in the curriculum being offered because they cannot connect with the idea that education is the key to a better future for reasons that are obvious to them—“we’re doing just fine right now with the checks my family has been getting from the government since before I was born.”  Therefore, why should they bother reading a book, writing an essay, or solving a math problem?  Having had few—if any—examples in their lives of adults engaged with the real world of work and taking pride in their own accomplishments, school is at best an opportunity to hang out with friends and at worst an incredible irritant.  

To this extent, those who blame families for the failures of their children are correct.  As much as many may denigrate the notion of role models, we can unfortunately predict much—but not all—from observing the adults who influence a child’s daily life.  For this reason, teachers can play a key part in changing the lives of these children by opening their eyes to a world of possibilities that have heretofore been closed to them—but this is too often a sad struggle against a host of familial and parental influences that are pulling in exactly the opposite direction.

Government can protect the public in a variety of ways that provide a bulwark against disasters that can be neither foreseen nor readily prevented.  However, government and its representatives must be keenly aware that the more they help—and the longer the duration of this help—the more likely it is that harm will be the final outcome of their best efforts.  Worse yet, this harm will continue throughout the generations yet to come.

The Empty Faucet

There is an old saying that every society is just four square meals away from a revolution; I wonder whether it could also be said that our planet is only one cup of clean drinking water from catastrophe.

We have seen the problems that can arise from a lack of drinking water in other parts of the world; Cape Town in South Africa, a city of 4 million people, avoided running out of water for its residents this past year only by instituting the most draconian possible water restrictions and stringently enforcing them. Closer to home the city of Flint, Michigan was able to provide water—but it was tainted with toxic levels of lead. Many other towns and regions across the United States have dealt with water emergencies caused by contamination from agricultural run-off, industrial pollution, and fracking used for oil extraction. These are problem that appear briefly in the news and are often quickly forgotten, but those residents and their children are left to deal with lifetimes of fear and health problems thereafter.

Although we all prefer to believe a lack of access to safe water is a problem that occurs somewhere far away from us, it has been estimated that 20% of Americans have been exposed to contaminated drinking water at one time or another during the past decade alone. Given that no human can long survive without clean water to drink, these problems should cause more concern than they seem to right now.

It is rather pointless to debate whether the spate of droughts affecting many parts of our nation are due to cyclical climate processes or global warming—whatever the reason, the changes are upon us. As we continue to draw down our supplies of surface water and drain our precious aquifers to sate our vast array of needs for more and more water, we need to consider whether we must better utilize this life-giving liquid before it is too late. We waste immense amounts of water, and much of our waste is either thoughtless or invisible. We pamper our lush lawns, ignore our leaky municipal water systems, and pay no attention at all whenever we run a load of laundry or flush a toilet.

Moreover, few pay any attention to the unending flow of water that makes our daily lives possible, and most would be surprised at the amounts of water used for activities that we take for granted. For example, three liters of water are needed to produce a plastic bottle that holds only one liter of liquid. We expend between 3-7 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of biofuel. A coal-fired power plants uses 20 to 50 gallons of water to generate each kilowatt-hour of electricity. A family of four will use (depending on their shower head) from 400-700 gallons of water per month just to keep their bodies clean. Over 1800 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of beef. To grow but one pound of almonds, over 1900 gallons of water are required.

Agriculture is, by a wide margin, the majority of our water use—and, thank goodness, the rain occasionally does fall. However, modern agricultural practices often rely on extensive irrigation systems that draw enormous amounts of surface and ground water to grow the foods that sustain us. Industrial uses of water to produce that which makes modern life possible—electrical power, plastics, metals, electronics, fabrics, rubber, finished wood, paper, and so much more—are too numerous to even consider listing. Even the mildest and briefest interruptions in our ready supply of water would cause unimaginable disruptions in every facet of our daily lives.

If water disappears altogether, we already know what happens from looking at the historical record: Civilization collapses. We need only to glance back through the millennia to find many examples—the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt, the Mayan Empire in Mexico, and the Ming Dynasty in China being but a few—of highly developed nations and cultures erased from the earth by protracted droughts that ended their existences. Within our recent history the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s destroyed a generation of American farmers. Today’s horrendous civil war in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis in Europe can trace their beginnings to a devastating period of regional drought that began in 1998, which caused large scale crop failures, economic distress, and widespread hunger. The misery that results when the rains do not fall is a tale as old as humanity itself.

Drought and despair will, sad to say, always be with us—but we are now able to reduce their effects due to our globalized systems of production and transportation that allow for the shipment of foods and goods from areas that are unaffected to help those who are stricken. Moreover, although we cannot create water, we can renew what we have through the desalination of seawater and the treatment of waste in order to extend our supplies while we continue to look for more ways to conserve.

However, we can be certain that the continued growth of our planet’s population—and the relentless demands for safe supplies of water that will inevitably follow—will lead to societal, economic, and political stresses and crises that we cannot easily foresee. Those steps we take now to plan for the global challenges that most assuredly lie ahead will be the difference between problems that are manageable and those that bring death and destruction. We risk much if we fail to prepare today for our troubled tomorrows, and we all need to think more carefully about what we can do to reduce the use and waste of water in our own daily lives in order to make our personal contributions to helping others—and protecting our own futures.

The Roots of American Despair

We have long assumed that America is the “Land of Opportunity” for all. Our national belief that everyone is free to succeed—or fail—based on their hard work and personal initiative is a key component of both our self-perceptions and our perceptions of those around us.

However, international rankings of social mobility show that many other nations now surpass the United States in terms of their citizens being able to rise above the socio-economic classes of their births. This increasingly obvious disconnect between our preferred myth and harsh reality is likely one of the root causes of the political and social discontent that has pervaded our nation for many years. Americans, who are generally very hardworking, are perfectly willing to sweat and sacrifice—if there is a payoff. If, however, we are simply treading water or, worse yet, falling deeper into debt and dysfunction each day, our frustrations are likely to boil over.

Although there are many reasons for our extraordinarily divided politics, perhaps we fail to properly acknowledge the role of stagnated social mobility in driving American anger regarding our lives and our leaders. Whether it is the case that our futures are more and more being circumscribed by government that is too activist—or are harmed by government that is not activist enough—is a topic for a very long discussion that will likely do little to sway opinions entrenched on either side of this issue.

It can plausibly be argued that a great many problems that impede social mobility—rampant drug use, single parenthood, poor work habits, lack of personal initiative, the relocation of manufacturing jobs overseas, escalating public and private debts, and a disregard for personal responsibility—have been encouraged by government programs and policies that sometimes seem designed to produce the most destructive possible consequences for individuals and society. However, others argue that it is precisely a lack of more expensive and expansive government programs that leaves so many Americans without the tools they need to improve their lives.

Although I agree that we do sometimes need targeted programs to alleviate local and national problems—I would, for example, love to see more attention paid to our crumbling infrastructure—I also fear the many well-intentioned elected officials, bureaucrats, and policy wonks who seem to excel at producing the least possible benefit at the highest possible price. Anyone who has, as I have, watched a half-century of progressive educational dogma produce generation after generation of students who know very little—but feel really, really good about their ignorance—has to seriously question why any rational person would ever listen to a politician or PhD who claims to be able to improve our lives. Self-esteem, as I have often pointed out, can easily cross the line into self-delusion—and sheer stupidity is one of the most powerful precursors to lifelong poverty.

Access to a quality K-12 education—and the lack thereof—is both one of the persistent challenges now suppressing social mobility and a possible solution to this problem. Effective public schools are probably our single most important mechanism for promoting social mobility. Their continued failures over the past fifty years or so are both very visible and very depressing. We hear the outcome of public schools that fail to educate when employers consistently complain of high school graduates who lack the basic skills necessary for work. We see the consequences of public schools that fail to educate in our packed “developmental” classes at colleges and universities—and the many students who slink off after flunking out their freshman years because they lack the basic skills necessary for academic success.

If you want to cripple the futures of your nation’s people, just be certain they can neither read well, write fluently, nor compute accurately when they finish public school. Next offer them a vast array of social programs that discourage independence and encourage irresponsibility. Be certain that you also promote a range of government policies that drive well-paying jobs out of your communities and country while saddling everyone with frighteningly unsustainable levels of debt that will further retard economic growth and opportunity for all. Repeat this process year after year—and generation after generation—and watch Americans become more angry and less hopeful until they finally turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. Does any of this sound at all familiar?

I don’t worry about Russia; I worry about our own government. Our leaders are much more likely than Vladimir Putin to destroy America—because they want so badly to justify their existence by “helping” us. However, given that the national unemployment rate is currently trending down to levels not seen in half a century, perhaps those who have had their lives sidetracked by decades of government assistance, which has primarily served to assist them into lives of quiet despair, will now have opportunities available to rejoin the labor force, develop a sense of self-confidence heretofore cruelly stripped from them, and begin to reduce some portion of the income inequality that is a legacy of so many decades of government help gone awry.

Secrets and Lies

The recent arrest of a former Senate Intelligence Committee staff member—a veteran of almost 30 years in government service—on charges of lying to FBI agents investigating leaks of classified information surprised some.  However, what really churned the waters was the concurrent seizure of the phone and email records of The New York Times reporter to whom he had been allegedly leaking—but with whom he was most definitely having sex.  They don’t call Washington “The Swamp” for nothing.

This incident and so many like it speak to the inherent tension between government secrecy and a free press in a democracy.  That which government would prefer remains hidden has always been catnip for reporters, but it appears more and more the case that a symbiotic and worrisome relationship has developed between those in government and those working in the press—each seemingly tethered to fewer and fewer institutional norms or traditions.  Given that government cannot operate effectively in a glass house, both the leakers and those reporters who are anxious to disseminate secrets are playing a dangerous game that could have catastrophic consequences.

We generally find government information falls into three broad categories.  

First, we have information that can and should be made readily available to all: the cost of contracts, specific legislative and regulatory actions, court rulings, or initiatives of the Executive branch are obvious examples of information that is critical to the smooth functioning of democratic processes.  There are also categories of information that need to be carefully evaluated before they are made public; troop movements in wartime and active criminal investigations are obvious examples.  We don’t want to either compromise military operations and put lives at risk or allow crooks to escape before they can be apprehended and put on trial.

There remains, however, a third category of information that causes the most practical and ideological problems in an open and democratic society: that which cannot be revealed under any circumstances without causing perhaps irreversible harm to our nation and its people.  

The very existence of this final category of information is offensive to those who believe in absolute government transparency and deeply distrust the idea of government secrecy.  It must be acknowledged that the United States government—like every government in history—has sometimes tried to drop a veil of secrecy over information that would reveal neglect, malfeasance, or plain stupidity.  The question then arises whether revealing this information serves any public good or just causes further damage by either unnecessarily eroding public trust or politicizing what are, in the final analysis, nothing more than instances of human weakness or misjudgment.

Likely the two most famous examples of closely-held secrets revealed during the course of my own lifetime are the publication of the so-called “Pentagon Papers”, which allowed the general public to read the unvarnished political and military deliberations concerning the conduct of the Vietnam War, and the revelations surrounding President Nixon’s role in encouraging spying upon—and sabotage of—his political opponents, which led to his impeachment and resignation.  

In both of these cases the news media decided that our country and our citizens were best served by revealing the secrets and lies of our government officials.  We saw a long-term drop in our faith in government as a result—which is either healthy or harmful, depending on your point of view—but the issues at hand were clearly pertinent to both public policy and the operations of democratic government, so we needed to know the truth.  However, the facts associated with each case had far-reaching and long-term consequences for our country, so the editorial decisions to publicize this information were made only after long and careful internal deliberations concerning the complex balance between press freedom and our national interests.

That was then—and this is now.

Over the past 30-40 years journalistic standards have joined floppy disks on the scrap heap of history.  Our internet-driven 24/7 news cycle has produced a crazed bazaar of half-truths and one-sided opinions presented as facts.  As articles regarding personalities and perceptions—and snarky reactions to both—have continued to crowd out simple reporting in the quest for clickbait, any sense of proportion and decency has more and more been discarded.  Hence, “news” has devolved into just one more facet of our wacky entertainment culture rather than an enterprise where careful fact-checking and an unbiased presentation—combined with a deeply entrenched sense of reportorial responsibility—are considered normal and laudable.

Imagine, for example, if our current journalistic practices had been in place in the past.  Would the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bombs during World War II, have stayed off the front pages of The Washington Post for long?  Would news websites be breathlessly reporting every twist and turn of the Cuban Missile Crisis based on leaks and the wildest unsubstantiated speculation—thereby driving our world even closer to the brink of nuclear war?  On a less elevated level, would some mistress of President Kennedy be providing a slurp by slurp account of their liaisons to 60 Minutes or The Tonight Show—perhaps while simultaneously hawking her new web store with its own line of “Presidential” lingerie for sale?

We need a responsible and inquiring press in a democracy—and many news outlets are still doing important investigative reporting that provides necessary accountability for government and government officials.  However, the disdain much of the American public feels toward journalism and journalists—which President Trump channels and amplifies for his own political purposes—is a direct outcome of the damage done by reporters who have turned themselves into partisans and provocateurs in order to advance their own careers.

There is an old saying in Washington: “Those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.”  We can add a codicil to this saying that is both a reflection of today’s reality and a warning: “and the public doesn’t know why so much talk leaves them knowing nothing at all….”