Monday, December 27, 2010

States' Rights

 Our newly-elected governor of Maine, Paul LePage, promises to protect states’ rights and get the federal government out of regulating how the state spends the federal money collected from its taxpayers and given back to the state in the form of social welfare and health care reimbursements, social security and veterans’ benefits, defense contracts, educational and infrastructure grants grants (Maine Sunday Telegram 12-05-2010).   Across the nation, the mantra of states’ rights echoes from the right which won landside victories in the recent election.  

I get mad at government, too.  Beginning with family, that primal dispenser of civilization’s control, and fanning out to community institutions—church, school, town, state, nation—I get mad at them all at times.  That is Sigmund Freud's point in Civilization and its Discontents.  The great impediment to human happiness is the control exercised by civilization over individual action, desires, and impulses.  He doesn't see a solution to the problem, and neither do I.  But does state government do a better job of providing for the people’s interests and individual happiness than the federal government?  There appears to be plenty of blame to go all around in our history. 

From Columbus onward Native Americans were viewed as an inferior race but good for work.  When they resisted attempts to enslave them, the federal government made war on them, attempted to get them out of the way, made promises via treaties which were not kept, forced the removal of children from their homes to boarding schools where they attempted to educate their culture out of them, squeezed them on to reservations, forced thousands on a long-distance trek in the dead of winter from the East Coast all the way to Oklahoma along the infamous Trail of Tears. 

The states have an even sorrier record with their legal practice of racism.  The secession of the south that led to civil war was a states’-rights issue.  It took federal intervention to abolish slavery.  And it took more federal intervention and over 100 years to abolish the subsequent segregation (Jim Crow) laws that continued to oppress Afro–Americans. See 

We still live with the unhappy hangover of legally sanctioned racism and sexism by both Federal and State Government.  The recent DREAM Act proposed by Congress would have provided a path to citizenship for children of immigrants, most of them Latinos, who have lived here most of their lives if they go to college or join the military.  It failed to pass.  Women did not have a legal right to vote until well into the 20th century.  And, first proposed in 1923 and passed through Congress in 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment for women has still not been ratified by the needed 2/3 majority of the states to become law. 

When it comes to social justice issues, neither states nor feds by themselves have a great record.  But they can be and have been influenced by grass-roots movements that led to the major advances in civil rights legislation of the 20th Century.  It takes great numbers of morally committed and passionate individuals and leaders to make such advances.  And it requires continuous vigilance and struggle against the forces of greed and power lust that strive to dominate governments.

Judging by the rhetoric from tea partiers and others on the far right responsible for President Obama’s shellacking, I suspect that those currently seeking to take back states’ rights from federal control, including our governor-elect Paul LePage, are driven by forces of greed and power and not by a moral commitment to seek equality and justice for all.   They are opposed to the DREAM Act, opposed to gay rights, opposed to meaningful health-care reform that might reduce profits of insurance companies, opposed to spending and taxing priorities that seek opportunity and justice for all that includes poor, differently abled, disenfranchised.  Do I sound here like an advocate for someone you know, or should know:  “the poor,” “the meek,” “the persecuted,” the peacemakers?”  I hope so.  I’m not trying to be original.

For better or worse, until something better comes along, we need government.  Rather than fighting over turf, I would like to see better cooperation between states and feds and much more public dialogue about the morality of governmental attitudes and actions on all levels.  I would like to see a “trickle-down” theory of morality put into practice, one that promotes peace, justice, and equality for all.

© Alice Bolstridge, 12-27-10

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Tax-Cut Deal

Last night on C-Span, I caught the last hour or so of Senator Bernie Sanders’ courageous speech/filibuster opposing President Obama’s tax-cut deal.  Courageous because, as far as I could tell, he was alone among his colleagues in the senate willing to speak out at such length (8 ½ hours) with such vigor and candor, and because he was willing to raise the important moral issue of corporate greed in America and condemn it.    There wasn’t any significant coverage of this action on the News Hour that followed his speech.  In Washington Week in Review, Gwen Eiffel mentioned it as though it were a mere oddity, and it received little comment from the program participants.  In both of these PBS programs, there appeared to be unanimous agreement that the deal was done, at least in the senate.  Perhaps after a weekend of thought, there may be more support for Sanders by Monday?

Another kind of courage is shown by Clarence Jones, who believed heartily in Barack Obama, the presidential candidate.  He is now advocating tough love for our president: “the template of the 1968 challenge to the reelection of President Lyndon Johnson [of running a different Democratic candidate] now must be thoughtfully considered for Obama in 2012 ( December 5).  From my experience at attempting tough love with important others in my life, I suspect he must be heartbroken with disappointment to have reached this point of attempted intervention.

This morning, President Clinton, coming directly from a meeting with President Obama, spoke to the press from the White House defending the tax-cut deal and “principled compromise.”  I first heard him as saying “principle compromise,” and even after seeing “principled” in writing, I think principle is what he described.  The principle of justice and equality for all is being grossly compromised:  nothing is provided in the deal to curb the greed of millionaires and billionaires, reduce the deficit, or provide significant relief for the lower middle class and poor who are struggling to meet basic needs. 

I regularly see loved ones engaged in this struggle.  A family of four earns its income with a sole-proprietorship trucking business.  Their income has declined over $20,000 in the last couple of years down to about $47,000 because of problems in the economy:  higher fuel prices, not as much work, more difficulty borrowing money (Bank bail outs were supposed to ensure this kind of borrowing.), and higher interest rates resulting in frequent breakdowns of old equipment.  Health insurance premiums are so high they can only afford a $15,000-deductible policy, so they must struggle to pay all of their health costs out of their own pocket.  The children both have learning disabilities, and the family continuously struggles with the school which can’t find the resources to provide an adequate and appropriate education.  A worker was laid off in late 2009 and collected unemployment for nearly a year.  He is now struggling to support himself with part time work and no health insurance or other benefits of full time employment.  A man with a serious and chronic mental illness recently had his food stamps (EBT card) reduced by $40 a month.  He runs out of food and has to depend on handouts from family who are themselves struggling with reduced financial circumstances.  Even though the cost of living has increased with everything from groceries to health care, those living on a fixed income have had no cost of living adjustment for 2 years. 
This scenario is playing out for millions of families across the nation.  But according to David Kocieniewski, “the only groups likely to face a tax increase [with the tax-cut deal] are those near the bottom of the income scale — individuals who make less than $20,000 and families with earnings below $40,000”  (   The US Census report finds that “44 million, or one in seven residents” fall at or below the poverty line defined in 2009 at $22,050 annually for a family of 4, and that doesn’t count the numbers who have moved in with family or found other ways to survive their bad luck (  I haven’t been able to find recent numbers of those families living below $40,000 but in 2007, that number was 90 million ( suggesting that the number now is likely over 100 million.
With those kinds of numbers, what kind of priorities allow this to happen, and what kind of culture thinks of it as only?  Only those already struggling will face a tax increase and be required to sacrifice even further than they already have?!  And for what?  Not for a deficit reduction which this deal will not do.  Not for job creation; it’s hard to see how one job will be created by this deal.  A “principled compromise”?   What are the principles demonstrated by it?
© Alice Bolstridge,  12-11-10