The next step was not going to be an easy one. For it is widely said that football is a religion down south, but football is as nothing in comparison to how much politics can inspire people to want to take up arms against both family and friends.
Not that there would be trouble within the Erickson ranks. Nonetheless, becoming the next governor of Arkansas was sure to be a very treacherous step to take.
Yes, one could argue that Arkansas is not really down south, but such a person would not get very far with that sort of talk inside the borders of the state. For Arkansas was a proud member of the Confederacy, and much of the psychological damage done by Yankee carpetbaggers during the reconstruction period after the Civil War was yet to be repaired.
Subsequently, Arkansas voters were generally very wary of those who would want to implement major changes to the status quo—even when they were very dissatisfied with the way things had been, and this was exactly what Zeke wanted to do. In fact, the only thing he was really campaigning upon was a complete overhaul of the state’s bureaucracy for the purpose of eliminating as much incompetence and corruption as possible at first, and then seeing what could be done with all of the taxpayer money he suspected was being wasted and flat out stolen by the fistfuls.
No, Zeke’s platform did not go over too well with most already in office, and it certainly did not help them to want to be more accepting that he was one of THOSE Ericksons. For grudges often pass down from generation to generation as a matter of honor and tradition throughout the south, and several descended from those who butted heads with Zeke’s family during the Civil War now held positions of power at several levels of government in the state—including the incumbent governor.
Oh yeah, Governor Mills tried to make a big deal out of the fact that Zeke’s family harbored Yankees and runaway slaves while loyal sons of Arkansas fought and died in the hope of preserving a genteel way of life that no one in Washington, D.C. had a right to end, and it seemed to be working for a while. For every pre-election poll had him winning by a large margin over Zeke and State Senator Thomas.
Governor Mills was a typical southern democrat for the time, who were generally much more conservative (both fiscally and socially) than democrats from other parts of the country. Although, Governor Mills was not nearly as conservative as State Senator Thomas, who wanted state government stripped-down to just working with more local forms of government to support order through the rule of law, as well as help to build and maintain roads and bridges, all while imposing the barest minimum of taxation upon the population.
Zeke was running as an independent, and his platform appeared to have something for both of the other sides to hate. For it promised to greatly change the way Governor Mills and his kind had been doing things while keeping the state government way too large for State Senator Thomas and his supporter’s comfort, but after all of the official votes had been tallied, it was Zeke and his family moving into the governor’s mansion next.
Greatly aiding to Zeke’s cause was the election of a new state auditor, Scot Campbell, who also wanted to get rid of as much waste as possible, but there was still a great problem to overcome. For without legally-admissible evidence of incompetence and corruption to present before the state legislature, there would be no changing of the old bureaucratic system, and with the old bureaucratic system still firmly in place, there would be not much (if any at all) legally-admissible evidence to be found.
Therefore, something drastic had to be done before Zeke’s wrecking ball could start swinging, and in his inaugural address, Zeke revealed just how far he was willing to go to make the state government of Arkansas a model of effective efficiency for the entire country to marvel at. For he announced that under the supervision of the state auditor’s office, he would be paying for a truly independent entity to conduct a comprehensive examination of all state agency policies and procedures out of his own pocket, and in order to insure the integrity of the examination, the U.S. Government Accountability Office would assess the findings.
Oh yeah, there was much pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth in Little Rock (all over the state, actually) that day. For both conservatives and liberals screamed about the governor overreaching to the point of abusing his power. Some even went as far as to file court challenges, which went nowhere fast.
Six months later, Zeke and Campbell were handed a report that found where 70% of state funds were not being used as they should be, with even 50% of the remaining 30% not being used nearly as well it could be. This added up to 85% of state funds being wasted to Zeke, and the state auditor readily agreed.
The press went crazy in anticipation of there soon being much blood in the water after some of the details were leaked, but this did not phase most of the state legislators. For when Zeke presented the full report and offered some suggestions on what to do next before a joint session, most of the members of the state house and senate summarily rejected the findings.
During press conferences afterward, many different reasons were given by state representatives and senators for why they would not accept the findings of the report, nor go along with Zeke’s suggestions, but there was one thing that remained abundantly clear. For his opposition was solidly united in their resolve to keep things as they had been.
So, Zeke and Campbell called a press conference of their own to ask why anyone would be in favor of wasting so much money if they were not profiting from it. After hearing (a lot) from their constituents, many of the legislators were soon swearing that they would be most cooperative, and when it came time to adopt Zeke’s first proposal, he had the votes he needed to pass the resolution.
Campbell agreed with Zeke that the right approach would be to keep everything going as it had been while focusing upon one department/agency at a time. As soon as what was broken about that one was well on the way to being fixed (if not already fixed completely) another department/agency would be focused upon.
Zeke decided to focus upon the state highway and transportation department first. For aside from a great many of the current roads and bridges in the state being in desperate need of repairs, new roads and bridges would open up areas to further commerce and progress.
Speaking of furthering commerce and progress, the road and bridge projects would have a ripple effect throughout the state’s economy. For not only would they provide good jobs in many economically-depressed areas, much of that additional income for workers would be spent in local businesses, and there was also the matter of more tax revenues being generated by those good jobs (both directly and indirectly) which would be of benefit (in one way or another) to all of the citizens of the state in the long run.
Of course, it is arguable that many good jobs were also lost. For several administrative positions were eliminated during the reorganization of the state highway and transportation department, but since the affected were greatly helped to find other employment, very few did much complaining.
It was certainly a different story when it came to outside contractors with the department, though. For many of them had been getting very rich off of charging the state way too much for their services over the years, and Zeke was bound and determined to put a halt to it.
Zeke cited as a perfect example of outside contractors overcharging for their services being a bridge built over the White River in the northeastern part of Arkansas. For the state paid $2.6 million for a project that should not have cost more than $975 thousand to complete—even with a 10% profit margin added to construction expenses.
The construction company that had been awarded the contract to build the bridge cried foul upon the grounds that they had participated in good faith in a time-tested bidding process where the lowest bidder with the ability to complete the project on time would be awarded the contract. When they went on to add that it would not be worth their time to bid on projects where they could not make more than a 10% profit, which was repeated by all of the other construction companies, the stage was set for Zeke to present his solution to the problem.
With over 200 bridges needing to be either replaced or repaired at the time, along with over 16,000 miles of roadways in various stages of disrepair, which was not counting any new bridges or roads, Zeke proposed that the state highway and transportation department should have its own heavy construction division. Taking it even farther, Zeke contended that the state would save even more money (along with providing even more good jobs) by purchasing iron ore on the open market and producing its own steel, with the same result holding true for producing its own concrete and other building products.
In response to critics raising concerns over Zeke’s proposal being the first step down a road leading to communism, Zeke sought to make it abundantly clear that he was most definitely not against free enterprise. He did so by declaring that he wanted the old bidding process left in place, with the only thing changing about it being the state also bidding. Getting down to the nitty-gritty, the state would be required to include a 10% profit margin in its bids, based upon paying very competitive wages (according to industry averages) to all working on a given project and purchasing raw materials for building products on the open market, with none coming from state properties—especially not through the use of eminent domain. In cases when an outside contractor with the ability to complete a project within a reasonable amount of time was willing to at least match the state’s bid, the outside contractor would be awarded the contract.
To appease environmental concerns over the proposed building of state-run steel mills in Arkansas, Zeke contended that great advances in electric arc furnace designs allowed for the clean production of steel—especially with more and more of the electricity for the entire state being generated through the use of advanced hydraulic, wind and solar technologies as coal-fired plants were phased out. Needless to say, the environmentalists were very pleased.
Zeke most definitely did not please the environmentalists when he told them that he wanted to keep the one nuclear power plant in the state online. He fired them up even more by adding that he wished it was possible to build even more, but suffering through a meltdown of their own was averted when he finished with that he could not justify the building of more nuclear power plants until a truly safe way to dispose of nuclear waste was found.
It was not just in regards to producing building products for roads and bridges that the new state-run concrete plants and steel mills would prove to be most cost-effective. For the next target was the state department of education, and a very great many public school buildings were in desperate need of being replaced or repaired.
There was not much opposition to replacing or repairing public school buildings, but it was certainly a different story when it came to the rest of Zeke’s proposal. For Zeke wanted all of the students in the state to have an opportunity to receive for free the same sort of education he had received under the guidance of Uncle Willie and later at various universities. This would include opportunities to receive plenty of real-world experience with practical applications of what they were being taught through more formal methods, and in respect to higher learning, even doctorate degrees from the state universities could be obtained without charge by all residents of the state (regardless of age) able to complete the requirements.
Speaking of more formal methods, one of things Zeke was proposing was most definitely abnormal at the time. For he wanted every public school district in the state to have high-speed internet access so that both students and teachers could benefit from all of the educational resources available online.
Ironically, it was the internet aspect to Zeke’s proposal that public school teachers and administrators felt the most threatened by. For they did not like the idea of students being able to move beyond what they knew and/or were familiar with teaching, and they liked what Zeke had to say in response to their concerns even less. For he told them that they should embrace learning new things right along with their students on account of it being in the best interest of all concerned.
The public school teachers and administrators generally remained resolute in their opposition, and they stirred up a lot of support among parents not quite sure of what Zeke wanted to accomplish. However, Zeke was able to talk five school districts across the state into giving his new curriculum a try for at least a year.
The way the new curriculum was meant to work was that not much would change for elementary and junior-high students—other than what the internet had to offer them. High school students would be encouraged to accept unpaid internships with businesses involved in fields they thought they might be interested in pursuing as a career, with the time spent off-campus depending upon the internship. In order to encourage local businesses to participate in the internship program, tax breaks would be offered to the businesses, and in situations where not enough of the right kinds of internships were available, the school district and/or another state department would provide them.
Since there would be also opportunities for great abuse of the program on both sides, the internships would be very closely monitored. Businesses found to just be interested in taking advantage of the free labor would be dropped from the program until their attitudes improved, with the same thing happening to students found to be more interested in just getting out of a classroom than actually receiving some invaluable on-the-job training.
Allowances would be made for participation in sports, music and other more traditional extracurricular activities. For Zeke was a true believer in making it possible for students to experience all they wanted to—within reason, of course. However, participation (passing or otherwise) in the internship program would not be required for graduation.
At the end of the first year of the public school experiment, most of the opposition from all sides had melted away. For test scores for the participating students were significantly higher across the board than the state average, and several other businesses in the pilot areas were asking to be added to the internship program after seeing how much goodwill it was generating for the participating businesses. Furthermore, the public school teachers and administrators in the pilot districts found that they really liked being around students excited about learning for a change.
Subsequently, all of the public school districts in the state adopted the new curriculum for the next school year, but not all of the districts could take full advantage of it. For high-speed internet access was not yet available in all parts of the state, and from what was being said by the commercial broadband internet service providers, it sounded like it might be many years before it would be because of there not being enough potential for profit in those more remote areas.
So, Zeke went to talk the state legislators into approving the establishment of the state’s own digital media distribution system, and he did not have to say much. For in all of the areas where cable companies already were, people (a.k.a. potential voters) had been literally screaming for alternative choices to be provided because of being charged way too much for very poor overall service. Yeah, people could also get their MTV through a satellite company, but they were generally considered to be as bad as the cable companies in many respects. Besides, the satellite companies did not offer good internet service.
As with the road and bridge projects, a 10% profit margin was calculated into the price for the state’s cable television and high-speed internet service to be fair to private companies wanting to compete for business. The existing cable and satellite companies slashed their prices almost immediately after receiving word of what Zeke was up to, but they still lost most of their customers as soon as ADD (Arkansas Digital Distribution) became available in an area. For not only was ADD’s prices for television and internet service considerably less than what the cable and satellite companies were willing to go down to, ADD’s internet speeds were 1,000 megabits per second for downloads and 250 megabits per second for uploads at less than what some people had been paying for dial-up service while the cable companies were bragging about offering up to 100 megabits per second download speeds in some select areas (for a premium price, of course).
With him now having an overall 90% approval rating, Zeke had accumulated an enormous amount of political capital, and he set about to spend it upon his most ambitious program to date. To be exact, it was actually several related programs. For he wanted to institute radical changes to the state’s social welfare policies and procedures, which would involve education, employment, health care, child care, food, shelter, clothing and whatever else was needed to help make it possible for the downtrodden to live better lives for the benefit of everyone in the state.
Since all of Zeke’s other ideas had proven to be absolutely brilliant, he did not receive much opposition from the state legislators, but state social workers revolted in mass when they heard about what Zeke wanted from them. For at the heart of what Zeke wanted to change about their department’s policies and procedures was having them take as much of a personal interest in the welfare of their clients as possible, which would include truly caring about how well they were actually doing. Whereas, most of the state social workers had become quite comfortable with keeping a good distance (both physically and emotionally) while doing little more than trying to make sure of the necessary paperwork being filled out correctly.
Yes, there is indeed a great need for paperwork to be filled out correctly—especially when dealing with thousands upon thousands of clients, but there is always so much more to a person’s situation than can fit into a written report. Furthermore, aid offered to one might just add to the problems of another. Therefore, personal interest by someone who truly cares about how well their clients are actually doing is crucial to the effective implementation of any program meant to be of genuine help to the poor and needy.
On the other hand, since a majority of the most pressing needs were so painfully obvious, an army of highly-qualified social workers was not an absolute necessity. For it does not take a trained eye to see that people living under highway underpasses are probably in desperate need of food and shelter. Still, it is better to have knowledgeable people in place to help the poor and needy to receive the right kind of help, and there were enough state social workers willing to stick around and give the new system a try to begin the implementation of it.
Although combatting homelessness was certainly a priority, the most help would be received by the so-called working poor. These were the people barely making enough money to survive from day to day—let alone able to live a relatively good life.
Hardcore fiscal conservations in a capitalist society contend that the state should not have to pay for poor decisions made by individual citizens, and the truth is that a series of foolish decisions often do lead to a very great many becoming trapped in abject poverty. Good counseling can help the foolish to stop making the wrong decisions over and over again, but when one cannot afford to go get a job because of daycare for their children costing more than what they would make, how can they start to pick themselves out of the proverbial gutter?
Besides, is it really in the best interest of even a very serious capitalist society to let so many citizens languish? For people with money have a tendency to spend it on goods and services, which is certainly good for business. They also pay taxes, which could fund a true safety net for the benefit of all citizens.
Nonetheless, excessive taxation can lead to an awful lot of resentment. It can also lead to the impoverishment of the entire population, but Zeke’s proposals were not costing Arkansas taxpayers one extra penny. Moreover, there was great potential for all citizens to be able to eat much higher on the hog after all of Zeke’s programs were fully implemented. For a great many of his programs were designed to actually make money for the state so that taxes could be cut.
Speaking of eating much higher on the hog, Zeke proposed that the state should start processing meat and other ingredients purchased from private producers to greatly reduce the cost of food for the poor and needy, public schools, state-run hospitals, state prison facilities, county and city jails, fire stations and other such places. For there was generally a 300% difference between the price for beef on the hoof and even just a pound of hamburger in a grocery store, and over a 3,000% difference for steaks and other better cuts. Margins for plant-based items were generally much lower, but there was still a pretty penny to be paid for commercial processing and distribution.
Part of the new food program was to open state-run grocery stores for those with authorization and able to get out and about to shop for what they wanted to eat. These state-run grocery stores would also serve as distribution centers of both ingredients and cooked meals to be delivered to homebound individuals and institutional kitchens.
In the first year after the new food program was fully implemented, the state of Arkansas (including county and city interests) saved over $10 million—even with a 10% profit margin calculated into the prices so that private contractors could compete.
With news spreading rapidly across the state about just how much cheaper items were at the state-run grocery stores, more and more regular Arkansas citizens starting demanding access, but Zeke resisted the temptation. For he recognized that this could force some privately-owned local businesses into bankruptcy and possibly going out of business altogether, which would not be in the best interest of the state as a whole.
Furthermore, state-run businesses moving into the field of retail sales could lead to financial ruin far beyond the borders of Arkansas. For Zeke understood that the free market-based economy of the entire United States of America had become way too entangled with speculative stock market prices instead of the actual supply and demand of goods and services, and he was not in a position to do much about that. Well, at least not yet.
If you are not quite getting it yet, take what happened to the cable companies after ADD came online. For several other states followed Zeke’s lead and implemented their own digital media distribution systems, and the stock prices for all of the publically-traded cable companies (including even those not yet facing state-run competition) plummeted.
Zeke felt like he did not have a choice when it came to health care, however. For it was plain to see that the benefit greatly outweighed the risk to opening state-run hospitals and clinics to people with or without money and/or health insurance. Besides, privately-owned medical facilities were generally in a much better financial position to remain in business while adapting to the new system than grocery stores were.
As to be expected, not everyone shared in Zeke’s vision. For both the American Medical Association and commercial insurance carriers brought lawsuits against the state of Arkansas.
Since the state was not doing anything unsafe, nor unethical, none of the lawsuits were allowed to proceed past the preliminary stages. Zeke still felt compelled to argue the state’s case before the public, and he had quite an argument to make. For he contended that privately-owned medical facilities were more than welcome to continue to conduct business as usual, and that they should actually be very happy with the establishment of the new state health care system. For they would no longer have to deal with Medicaid and Medicare patients—other than in cases where someone needed to be stabilized and a privately-owned medical facility was much closer than a state-run one.
Oh my, it looked like nothing short of a miracle after the new Arkansas state health care system was fully implemented. For desperately-needed surgical procedures that had been costing thousands upon thousands of dollars were being performed for hundreds—and not by quacks, neither! For very good doctors came by the droves to practice where they did not have to fight with insurance companies over what was obviously in the best interest of their patients, and with the ability to display test results and stream live imaging footage online, consultations with some of the best medical minds in the world were just a mouse-click away.
Under the old system, most people had to have health insurance. For just a simple visit to a family practitioner could cost well over $100, and woe be it unto even those with health insurance if they had to pay a visit to an emergency room and/or be admitted into a hospital—especially if the medical facility was out of their plan’s contracted network.
Making bad situations even worse was health insurance companies restricting the amount of diagnostic testing to the barest of minimums, and strongly discouraging doctors from seeking second opinions when they were not quite sure about something. Tragically, far too many doctors and hospital administrators went along with this so that they could get paid.
Zeke looked upon the old health care system as being another example of how much harm can be caused by unbridled capitalism, and he could see where there was much more that could be done to rein it in. As with the food situation, however, the other things would have to wait until he was in a better position to help manage the fallout.
I should add that another thing looking like nothing short of a miracle was stock prices for publically-traded companies involved in the health care industry only going down slightly before rallying quite nicely. For the major stock traders were betting upon what was happening in Arkansas not being allowed to spread across state borders without the federal government getting much more directly involved, which would surely put out the fire in even Arkansas.
The major stock traders were right about one thing. For when other states started looking into following the example set in Arkansas, federal regulators strongly advised against it, but they left Arkansas alone after Zeke assured them that he would not be trying to implement any more programs that might lead to another great crash of the stock markets.
Having very nice low-rent apartment complexes erected where eyesores once stood was the next major project that Zeke focused upon. Full-time security officers and very effective sound-proofing helped to keep the peace, but it was social workers taking more and more of a personal interest in just how well their clients were actually doing that made the most difference between the way it was now and the way it had been in years past.
It really was a very beautiful thing to see. For with more and more people starting to believe that their welfare actually mattered to those in position to help them, the help became much more personally meaningful to them, and they started wanting to truly care for the places made available for them to live in until they could afford to purchase a place of their own.
Having police officers (both state and more local) to stop treating people they had sworn to serve and protect as adversaries (to varying degrees) also greatly aided in the easing of community tensions. As with the social workers, a great many police officers almost knocked themselves out knee-jerking over the proposed changes to policies and procedures, but those willing to give it a try were amazed at how much easier their jobs became when they started treating people as wanted friends instead of suspected enemies. Of course, there is not much reasoning to be done with hardened criminals, but with the general public helping them to make arrests and obtain convictions for a change, even hardened police officers found themselves actually enjoying interacting with most of the people on their beats.
Those under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol are a horse of a very different color, though. For most people are not the same as they usually are while completely sober.
What Zeke proposed was that junkies and drunks should be given treatment without anything going on a criminal record unless they committed some other offense. He also wanted simple possession of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia decriminalized, along with making it legal to grow, possess and ingest marijuana and peyote for medical, religious and recreational use. He argued that these things would save the state millions in judicial expenses (covering policing, prosecution and incarceration) and taxing the sales of the formerly illegal substances at even a reasonable rate could make the state even more than it would be saving on judicial expenses over time.
As with alcoholic beverages, it would be illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to have anything to do with the decriminalized substances—except in medical cases. Zeke actually wanted the legal age for both lowered to 18, but he felt like that might be asking for too much to change too soon.
There was a lot of opposition to the new program, but Zeke was proven right again. For in the first year of implementation, state and local jurisdictions saved a total of over $25 million in judicial expenses, and despite the threat of the federal government coming in to shut it all down keeping the dispensary business from flourishing as much as could, over $1 million in added tax revenues were collected from the sale of marijuana and peyote. Oh, and all of this happened without chaos erupting in the streets from grade-schoolers getting high and rampaging about (as predicted by several very prominent religious leaders)!
With Jenny and their children looking quite excited behind him, Zeke announced at a televised press conference that he would not be seeking a third term as governor. Before he could proceed, a collective groan rose up from those in attendance outside of the press section, and some groans could be heard coming from among the press, too.
Zeke chuckled to himself that many of those groans might be in anticipation of what they believed would be surely coming next, but he went ahead with saying that he felt like he had accomplished all he could as governor and the time had come for him to try to do even more for not only just the citizens of Arkansas as president of the entire United States of America.
The collective groan quickly turned into a hearty roar of approval, which grew even louder when Zeke continued with that he expected to work very closely with next governor of Arkansas, Scot Campbell. Yes, this was the same Scot Campbell who had spent the last seven years strongly supporting Zeke’s proposals as the state auditor.
Zeke ended his announcement with that he would be running as an independent upon the same basic platform he had before while running for governor of Arkansas. He then took questions, but when repeatedly asked if he would seek to expand upon the programs he had implemented in the state if elected president and what those expansions might entail, he repeatedly answered that it was a wait and see situation.
It was quickly made abundantly clear that major stock traders were most definitely unwilling to wait and see. For the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 10% of its value within an hour of the opening bell ringing the next Monday morning, along with the S&P 500 and NASDAQ composites following suit by losing 12% and 7% of their total values, respectively.
Zeke had purposely chosen to make his big announcement on a Friday evening in the hope of cooler heads prevailing after being given a couple of days to think before the opening of the next trading session, but it took the stock exchanges suspending trading to stop the slide. Zeke took some comfort in many commodity stocks posting sharp gains, but he knew that this did little to mitigate the overall damage that had been done to the nation’s economy.
On the other side of the economic/political fence, Zeke’s opponents were dancing jigs. For they believed they had enough personal resources to survive another great depression relatively unscathed while not believing that Zeke’s candidacy could survive such a catastrophic event.
Like the calm before a great storm, the stock market averages did not move much in either direction for two weeks after the initial plunge. When the first polling numbers showed Zeke’s candidacy dead upon arrival in all but a few areas of the country, stock prices across the board started to make nice rallies.
Nonetheless, the threat of Zeke being able to lead the federal government toward going into business against publically-traded companies still weighed heavily upon the minds of major traders. Subsequently, when it started looking like Zeke might actually have a chance of being elected president, they started greatly reducing their holdings in companies that might suffer the most under an Erickson administration, which triggered sell-offs of many other stocks.
If it was not for so many pension funds being heavily invested in stocks, Zeke would have looked upon the sell-offs as being a good thing in the long run. For unconscionable speculators had driven stock prices to untenable heights, and at least a 35% reduction in overall stock market values was needed to place the nation’s economy upon much more solid ground to sustain true growth of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and prosperity for all of its citizens—not just the wealthiest 1% or so.
Of course, thousands of jobs would be surely eliminated as stronger companies swallowed up weaker ones as stock prices continued their downward spiral, which would add even more to the darkness before the dawning of another golden economic age for the United States of America. Oh, and with so much of what happens here being strongly felt around the globe, the possibility of a repeat of the great global economic depression after the stock market crash of 1929 loomed large upon the horizon.
Zeke saw a simple solution to both problems. For the federal government could retroactively insure actual contributions to pension funds in the same way as bank deposits were being insured, and the federal government could also maintain the incomes of workers caught in the crossfires until another job could be obtained.
So, Zeke asked the ranking member of the Arkansas congressional delegation to sponsor bills and gather support for the passage of those measures. All of the members of Arkansas delegation eagerly agreed to do all they could to help, but staunch fiscal conservatives from other states holding high positions of power in both the United States House of Representatives and Senate made sure of the measures dying a quick death in preliminary committee hearings.
Zeke then played a hole card. For with Arkansas sitting on more than $25 billion in cash reserves—even after dramatically cutting many tax rates, the state had more than enough to fund the measures for at least a year.
It was most definitely a very decisive presidential move, and Zeke had more cards up his sleeve. For the chairman of the National Reserve System Board of Governors was a supporter of what Zeke wanted to accomplish on a national scale, and he worked closely with Zeke to assure his counterparts in other countries that they had nothing to worry about, which kept the value of the dollar stable against other currencies.
The voters noticed what Zeke was doing, and when the November election rolled around, they elected him as the next president by a very comfortable margin. Moreover, enough of his supporters were elected representatives and senators to insure Zeke of having an easier time of it at the beginning of his first term in Washington than he had in Little Rock.
Zeke could not have scripted a better day for his inauguration. For when it came time for him to place his hand upon the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution (along with the other stuff) the ambient outside temperature was a balmy (for January) 70oF. The sun was shining brightly, and there was not a cloud to be seen in the sky for miles. With the ceremony being held outside at the top of the west front steps to the Capitol Building, an enormous crowd was able to be in attendance, and they waited in breathless anticipation of what Zeke was going to say in his inaugural address.
As if all of that was not enough to secure an academy award, the piercing cry of a lone bald eagle was then heard coming from high overhead. After circling the Capitol Building a couple of times, the eagle landed on top of the flag pole on top of the west portico and turned to face the crowd. The crowd gasped as one, and Zeke began to speak.
“It is most appropriate for a representative of the American spirit to be in attendance. For at the heart of the American spirit is freedom, and this is what I want to talk about. Those who know me well understand that I do not like to see people being forced to do what they do not want to. This is at the heart of all I have wanted (and still want) to accomplish while in office. Some think that I want to institute a socialist system in the place of capitalism, but they are mistaken. For instead of forcing privately-owned businesses to get with some program for the greater good of society, I would much rather see those business continue as they want to be and have the government itself provide citizens with what they could at much more reasonable prices. Instead of forcing the rich and powerful to pay for the welfare of the poor and needy, I would much rather help the poor and needy to fend for themselves as much as possible. This is what was started in Arkansas, and this is what I want to see continued for the benefit of the entire country. No, it will not happen overnight, but with a little patience and a lot of understanding of what we are trying to accomplish here, America can start truly shining from sea to shining sea again. We? President Abraham Lincoln spoke of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Nothing of any good and lasting value can be accomplished without your help.”
It was an address that even Lincoln would have had to have been most impressed with. For it took less than five minutes to deliver, and it contained so very, very much.
Oh, and it was obviously what a very great many wanted to hear. For calls with words of encouragement and suggestions on what could be done to improve things started flooding in from every state and territory in the Union, as well as from several countries across the globe.
Those calls were being taken (mostly in their own homes around the country) by a fairly good-sized army of GSRs (Government Service Representatives—not gun-shot residues). For Zeke absolutely hated having to fight through menu-based automated telephone answering systems before being able to talk to a real person, and on the way back to the White House from his inauguration ceremony, he told Jenny that he was sorely tempted to add to his request for help from the general public at the end of his address, “Call now. Operators (actually alive and breathing) are standing by!” Jenny laughed, but she went ahead and told him that she was glad he had resisted.
No, not all of the calls were of a positive nature. Ironically, one of those more negative calls was from a high-level executive at a health insurance company accusing Zeke of being a closeted communist, which was taken by a former customer service supervisor at that very same company, who had lost her job when the company merged with another health insurance company during the freefall of stock market prices the summer before.
The GSR handled the call in a very polite and professional manner by asking the executive if he would like a call back from the White House addressing his concerns, but he showed no class after she also asked him if he knew who was now occupying her former office. For he ended the call without making any attempt to answer either one of her questions.
The telephone call switching system that allowed many GSRs to work from their homes was quite ingenious. For it made it possible for a call to a single 800 telephone number to be answered by a real person within three rings by going through several computerized switching substations at the speed of light until it reached the phone of a GSR not already on the line with someone else.
There were 100,000 GSRs standing by to take calls on Inauguration Day, and the switching system worked flawlessly. Zeke figured that not nearly as many would be needed later on, but with all of the planned changes to this and that, he conceded that even more (maybe a lot more) might be needed before all of the dust settled. Besides, there were over 900,000 other walking wounded from the great stock market price massacre, who would much rather being doing something productive than just receiving a government check.
Within a week, all of the old menu-based automated telephone answering systems being used by the federal government had been replaced by the new GSR system, and in the same time frame, all of the old virtually impossible to navigate federal government websites were replaced by very easy to use ones. All of this was to the delight of everyone but the major telecom companies, who had been making a killing off of the old systems.
Yes, making high-speed internet access as readily available as electricity throughout the country was one of the first major programs that Zeke sought to implement, but instead of making it a strictly federal system, he proposed working with each state and territory so that they could have their own Arkansas-like systems. Needless to say, all of them immediately signed-on immediately after being informed of the plan, with the only fuss being over who would receive the new service first.
It turned out to be that there no need to jostle for position. For it is amazing just how much can be accomplished in an extreme hurry when there is the political will to find a way, and in less than a year, all of the state and territorial digital media distribution systems were up and making their citizens very happy.
Zeke would often shake his head in bewilderment over so many refusing to participate in his programs when it was obviously in their best interest over the long run. After all, just how many of even the greatest of widgets can be sold when they are priced way too high for most to afford simply on account of greed dictating profit margins?
Some were willing to participate to a certain extent, and as part of a compromise with the major telecom companies, they received $5 a month per customer now taking advantage of free (on a limited basis) telephone service over the government internet systems in exchange for keeping their hard-lines in place as a backup for the new systems. Another part of the compromise was that the federal government would pay for the maintenance of their outside lines.
Speaking of outside lines, one of Zeke’s major projects that Congress had already approved funding for was the construction of huge utility tunnels for such things as fiber-optic cables, high-voltage electric lines and plenty of room for other stuff to run through. After his plan had been presented, most in Congress agreed that this should have been done years ago. For the overall cost to the nation’s economy each year from major storms taking down just outside electric lines made the tunnels most cost-effective—not to mention offering more peace of mind to potential voters. Yes, earthquakes were still a threat to anything underground, but with technological advances giving the tunnels and what would be running through them a fairly great amount of flexibility, the threat from earthquakes was greatly minimized.
Of course, the biggest difference between now and then was following Zeke’s lead in Arkansas by having the Army Corp of Engineers construct the tunnels instead of accepting grossly-inflated bids from outside contractors. For plans had been drawn up to construct a utility tunnel between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland thirty years before, but the $10.7 billion estimated cost was too much for the federal and state authorities to go along with. Whereas, a much larger tunnel between the two cities was now going to be built for less than a third of the previous estimate. No, none of the bids made by outside contractors came even close.
There was another major matter that contributed to the utility tunnels being constructed. For plans for large desalination plants to be constructed later on were in the works, and the freshwater from those plants was to be distributed through the sealed bottom third of the utility tunnels to water reservoirs for additional hydroelectric power generation, drinking water and agricultural irrigation during times of drought. The utility tunnel water distribution system would also help to disperse flood waters, with all excess freshwater being dumped into the Ogallala Aquifer.
The utility tunnels were also used to hold pipes for the distribution of refined petroleum products from government-run refineries around the country for use in both public and private vehicles. Oh yeah, the major oil companies threw a genuine hissy-fit over this program, but after seeing news of them making billions upon billions in profits each quarter while charging over $4 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline, their grievances did not receive much support from the general population.
Ironically, the major oil companies did find allies in environmental groups. For they were counting on the oil companies’ greed to keep driving the prices for petroleum products high enough to force more and more people to stop driving vehicles burning gasoline and diesel, but when Zeke convinced them of how serious he was about helping to develop reasonably-priced electric vehicles with enough power to replace even diesel-powered big trucks, which was backed up by him talking Congress into funding the placement of very low-cost charging stations no more than 100 miles apart on all government-maintained roadways, all but the most radical environmentalists backed off.
The major oil companies found out that they had not bought as much influence in Washington, D.C. as they thought, and so did the major pharmaceutical drug companies. For Zeke had the health care program he implemented in Arkansas expanded to include government production of medicines and medical equipment. Amazingly, many pharmaceutical drugs going for hundreds of dollars per dose were made available for less than $1 for several doses—even with a 10% profit margin calculated into the price. The price for a government-manufactured MRI scanner was $3 million (including installation costs) less than machines made by privately-owned companies, and even motorized wheelchairs could be sold to the public for less than $250, with heavy-duty regular wheelchairs going for around $75.
Zeke stayed true to his policy of giving privately-owned companies a fair chance to compete for business by adding a 10% profit margin to the price for the pharmaceutical drugs being produced in government facilities, but he hoped that none of the major pharmaceutical companies would try to play nice for a change. For after it was discovered that they had been holding up treatment advances for years so that they could maximize their profits through patenting formulas only slightly more effective than the one before while already having the most effective formula perfected, Zeke did not want to have anything to do with them.
As it turned out, Zeke had nothing to worry about. For the major pharmaceutical drug companies were only interested in defending their honor by claiming that making huge profits on patented formulas was necessary to pay for the research and development of new and improved formulas that can take many years to complete.
It was an old line well-practiced by the major pharmaceutical drug companies, and it did not take long for it to be proven quite untrue. For when efforts were focused upon truly finding cures instead of simply securing patents worth billions, incredible breakthroughs were being made in a matter months (sometimes even mere weeks) instead of every seven years or so, which is the usual length for patent protection against competitors.
Moreover, those breakthroughs were not costing the federal government billions. For teams of research scientists already in place at several state universities across the country started truly collaborating with each other purely for the advancement of medical science instead of competing against each other for corporate grants.
In all fairness to the major pharmaceutical drug companies’ position, another big reason for why it was now taking far less time and money to make new pharmaceutical drugs available was the process for government approval being greatly streamlined. On the other hand, this was accomplished before the federal government started actually making their own pharmaceutical drugs, and the companies still stuck with their old line.
Streamlining the pharmaceutical drug approval process was one of a great many things that were changed about the federal bureaucracy under the direction of Zeke, and these changes made it possible to implement all of his new programs without raising tax rates, nor adding to the national debt. Just changes to the Social Security Administration policies and procedures (as well as the staff administrating them) alone freed up over $137 billion a year for use on other things.
No, social security benefits were not being cut. That is, at least not for those who should have been receiving them, but billions in actual social security benefits were cut for those who should have been receiving other kinds of much more effective help.
The rest of the cuts to the Social Security Administration’s budget were in administrative costs, where billions were being wasted each year on such idiotic things as having different field offices duplicating the work of other field offices, which always led to complications needing to be resolved by other field offices, who added even more to the complications, with everything having to be finally settled by the national headquarters office (constantly complaining about being overworked and underfunded).
As with the Arkansas social welfare programs, the biggest changes to the federal ones were due to a drastic changes in the way they were being administered down through to the social workers in the field. For billions had been wasted on programs that sure sounded good in the press while actually being worthless when it came to really helping the poor and needy.
Changes to deployment procedures in the military did much more than just save the federal government money. For overall moral increased dramatically when the policy of moving personnel around to different duty stations so much was stopped.
Another big change to the military was expanding its role to include newly-formed active duty National Guard units replacing the U.S. Border Patrol and serving in support positions to state and county police and fire departments. Many of those new National Guard units were fashioned after the Army Corps of Engineers model, but there were combat-ready elements to all of them.
Newly-formed National Guard units also took over much of the field work formerly performed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration and the United States Marshals Service, which set the stage for those agencies and their hefty budgets to be eliminated. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was expanded to directly oversee the operations conducted by the National Guard units in place of the eliminated agencies and take up the slack.
Another big change to the role of the military was professional accreditation being officially given for service as everything from medics to mechanics, which included the necessary schooling. For the way it had been working was that experience gained through military service generally did not count toward professional accreditation in many fields, which forced veterans to have to practically start all over again with schooling and on-the-job training if they wanted to secure a really good job after leaving military service.
No, privately-owned businesses would not be forced to recognize the government accreditations, but to refuse would be to cut off their own noses to spite their faces. For with there now being so many opportunities to work for the government in a civilian position at very competitive wages, the privately-owned businesses simply could not afford to be all that choosy about who they hired if they wanted to stay in business.
Speaking of such, another thing about employment prospects that drastically changed was privately-owned businesses no longer being forced to hire people they did not want to on account of the color of their skin, religious beliefs and other such issues. No, the antidiscrimination laws were not rescinded, but with people of all races, colors and creeds being very welcome to come work at often much, much better jobs for state/federal-run business, there was no longer a need to enforce them, which added up to more government savings each year.
Zeke succeeded in gaining approval for an immigration policy that allowed the undocumented already in the country to stay and gain citizenship if they demonstrated a sincere desire to truly become an American, along with the borders being opened up to all others wanting the same thing. Those who did not have firm grasp upon the use of English were given jobs in state and federal-run businesses and projects where they also received intensive help with mastering the language. Help was also available for those having a hard time adjusting to the ways of American society.
No, Zeke’s immigration policy was not very well received at first, and this was the case with his proposal to make drastic changes to federal criminal sentencing guidelines. For critics considered them to be a return to the brutality of Old Testament justice that a modern, much more civilized society just could not abide by.
Zeke considered the changes perfectly sensible and certainly most cost-effective. For the difference between someone simply making a stupid mistake that resulted in a law (or maybe two) being broken and someone with true criminal intentions needed to be recognized, and when it was, many court dockets could be kept fairly clear and most prisons emptied-out.
Depending upon what they did, first-time offenders would usually just face counseling meant to help them avoid making more stupid mistakes and restitution when damage to person(s) or property occurred. Second-time offenders (and those doing something serious the first round) would face some jail-time focused upon true rehabilitation, with the amount of jail-time being based upon the severity of the personal problem to overcome. The mentally-ill and chemically-dependent would receive treatment in a medical facility until they could function well on their own.
No, there was not much opposition to those two changes—except for hardcore social conservatives demanding harsher punishments, but Zeke’s third major change brought up bile from liberal stomachs, which is usually much more acrid than the conservative variety. For he wanted the death penalty imposed upon all determined to have a true criminal nature (even if their last offense was merely petty theft) with a mandatory wait of five years before execution so that all mitigating factors could be exhaustively explored.
Zeke’s argument was based upon it being an exercise in futility to keep incarcerating those who had no intention of ever being law-abiding citizens—let alone contribute to the overall good of society. Moreover, the old system encouraged convicts to reoffend by marking them as being a risk to society, which kept them from securing good legitimate employment after they had served their time. So, if someone cannot be truly welcomed back into society, how can it not be crueler to keep them alive behind bars than ending their misery?
When the more religious started screaming about only God having the right to end a life, Zeke referred to the sword mentioned in Romans 13:1-6, and gently pointed out where their stand against capital punishment made it harder for the skeptical to believe in the existence of Heaven. For why would they be against making it possible for a tortured soul in this world to go to a better place much sooner than later unless they did not really believe that such a place existed?
All in all, over $2 trillion from the budget Zeke inherited was reallocated each year for use on truly effective measures. When many of those truly effective measures started paying for themselves, more and more was spent on paying off the national debt, which was up to $20 trillion when Zeke took office.
The stage was now set for Zeke to propose an institution of a flat federal tax rate of 15% on personal and corporate incomes until the national debt was completely paid off, at which time the rates could (and should) be lowered even more. Part of the proposal was that U.S.-based multi-national corporations would have to repatriate funds now being held in foreign accounts or lose their status as a U.S.-based corporation, and with the promise of a much lower tax rate being most feasible with privately-owned businesses and government working together to lessen the gap between the haves and have-nots, trillions of dollars in corporate funds were made available to be taxed, which contributed to $1 trillion more of the national debt being paid off each year.
No, the other countries were not very pleased with losing the tax revenues they were receiving from those corporate trillions, but already greatly benefiting from Zeke’s foreign policy directives kept international incidents down to a minimum. For when American aid was now being offered, it did not come with very cumbersome strings attached, and it also helped that several in places of power overseas actually knew Zeke from when he had been on his magical mystery tour years before.
At the beginning of Zeke’s seventh year in office, he heard talk of a repeal of the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution being in the works. This is the amendment that limits a president’s term in office to no more than 10 years, and with Zeke’s popularity rivaling that of George Washington’s when he accepted Lord Cornwallis’ sword after the battle of Yorktown, the repeal of it, which would become the 28th Amendment, was sure to be passed by Congress and ratified by the minimum number of states long before the next election.
In a special address before a joint-session of Congress, Zeke broke down in tears while trying to express just how much he appreciated such an overwhelming show of support. He went on to say that he supported the repeal of the 22nd Amendment, and that term limits should not be in place for any public office. For he believed that properly informed voters participating in free elections served as a sufficient guard against abuses of power while imposing term limits just cheated the public out of getting all of the good they could out of great leaders.
As far as most in the country at that time was concerned, all would have been just fine if Zeke had of ended his address right there, but he added that he did not want to serve a third term as president on account of feeling that it would be in the best interest of his family to go back home to the Triple E. A stunned silence fell over the great hall, but when he ended his address with declaring that he had absolute confidence in the leaders already in place and waiting in the wings to take the United States of America to heights of strength and compassion few dare to dream of, a thunderous standing ovation erupted. With the address being nationally-televised, few doubted that the thunderous standing ovation was limited to just those in attendance.
It was nothing like the first seven, but one could hardly consider Zeke’s last year in office to be uneventful. For there was plenty of fine-tuning needing to done to programs, policies and procedures, as well as fires to put out—both literally and figuratively.
You sure would not have heard anyone on Zeke’s Secret Service detail talking about how easy they were having it. For Theresa came ashore near Pensacola, Florida as a very strong category five hurricane during that last year of his presidency, and Zeke was among some of the very first to respond.
No, we are not talking about a staged photo-op here. For Zeke was always willing to lend an actual helping hand when he saw an opportunity to do so, and being in the middle of the action (even in a limited capacity) let him see for himself if improvements to policies and procedures were needed to be made.
It took some getting used to, but most of Zeke’s Secret Service detail came to greatly admire him for being so willing to grab a chainsaw during a forest fire or jump into a boat to help rescue stranded people and their critters during times of severe flooding. Although, you still would not hear any of them talking about how easy they were having it.
Despite being somewhat easier, another thing that his Secret Service detail had to get used to was Zeke liking to go for a drive and take long walks out of the public eye whenever he wanted to really think about something. Adding a few more grey hairs to the heads of his detail was that these excursions often involved going out at odd hours of the night and in inclement weather.
It was during one of those think sessions the night before he was scheduled to make his first major speech after leaving office when Zeke spotted someone sitting by themselves under one of his favorite trees on the main campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Since the person was almost completely covered with snow, it was hard to tell if he was looking at a man or a woman—not to mention being alive or dead.
Much to Zeke’s surprise, his Secret Service detail had evidently not seen the person. For they were not making any moves in that direction. So, Zeke went over to see if he could be of some assistance to the person sitting in the snow, and when their eyes met, Zeke could not believe what he was seeing—to put it very mildly.
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