Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Canary, meet Coal Mine

Somewhat lost in the federal health care/war funding/global warming/wise Latina raree show was the sad little, noxious little budget deal worked out in California this Monday.It has to say something about who we Americans are and what we're becoming that the best idea that the Golden State's best and brightest (okay, we'll exempt Da Governator from that, but, still, We the People of California elected his Austrian ass) could come up with to "balance" the state budget was to rob their own counties and municipalites blind, to kick the poor and sick in the crotch, and to cut nonessentials like teachers, garbagemen, cops, paramedics and highway maintenence workers (in the state that practically invented Car Culture, no less...).

You can read all about it in the linked LA Times editorial, but even that supposedly liberal news organ seems to have developed collective amnesia about a couple of salient points.

1. The "we're broke, we just don't have any money, we HAVE to cut your food stamps (AFDC, Head Start, fill-in-the-blank...) or die, you silly Negroes..." meme goes all the way back to the toxic little property tax time-bomb the California GOP wired up in 1978, Proposition 13. We here in Oregon then devised our own little suicide pact, Measure 5, clearly on the conviction that if California was going to be Tom Fool and lead the best plan for us was to be Jack Fool and follow.

The direct result of this was to save Ma and Pa Goober a couple of hundred dollars a year on their rancho deluxe out there near McMinnville while giving Pacific Gas and Electric, Flav-R-Pac, and Megacorp Development an immense windfall of untaxable largesse, which, of course, they immediately rushed out to donate to the widows, orphans, disabled, and mentally ill that the now-tax-strapped state government had to chuck off the welfare rolls and out of the state institutions, colleges and job training programs they could no longer fund, so that the poor devils didn't have to beg for change at the top of the on-ramps of the roads the state could no longer maintain.


2. California compounded their own stupidity by then crafting a 2/3rds supermajority rule for passing legislative revenue measures, which has effectively prevented the state from passing any NEW revenue measures since 1996.

I love this little cartoon because of what it says about the mindset of the people who are fond of this situation. The cartoonist wants us to see that the Republican elephant is a simple but wise old soul, doing his math like a good householder and making his expenditures meet his income, and the Democratic donkey is a maddened policy wonk, all goofy for taxing everything moving to fund kooky-spooky crunchy granola frills.

But the cute little exercise fails when you realize that Jumbo's "a = b" is a logical fallacy. "a" isn't "a", it's "x", and "b" is "y". The animals in the legislature can - unlike the prudent household - change their income and outlays to meet their needs. So, in a sense, it's the donkey's frantic figuring that represents what a real government has to do: try and figure out what it needs versus what it wants, and then what it can take in versus what it would like to take in. The elephant isn't being simply honest; he's being simpleminded, he's using an axe to craft a budget rather than a woodcarving tool. Which explains a LOT about how Republican "governance" has gotten us here.

And so, here we are.

Imagine a nation in which a small handful of wealthy people live a First World lifestyle.

Their homes are nicely maintained, their roads well paved, their neighborhoods patrolled by polite, competent, professional police officers. They and their neighbors get First World medical care in daintily appointed medical clinics, shop at the best locations, dine, party, work and generally live as well as any human society in the 21st Century can arrange.

Then imagine that the bulk of the nation lives in precarious, decaying cities, towns and countrysides, prey to the collapsing, badly maintained public roads, buildings and utilities around them. Their lives are made more random by the capricious nature of their public "servants": seldom present and, when appearing, typically bribeable or even worse, merely indifferent. A fraying middle class lives squeezed between the wealthy, who despise them and the poor, who envy and hate them. Their political power is notional, their involvement in their own government negligible, they are useful only as fodder for the wealthy.

But you don't have to imagine this. All you have to do is travel south, east or west, to find dozens of impoverished Third World nations where this condition is the standard. Every craptacular little dictatorship or oligarchy the U.S. Army helped me vacation in, from Panama to Egypt and points between, featured this vast disparity between the rulers and the ruled. This wasn't a bug; it was a feature.Democracy cannot exist in a feudal society. It dies, or is killed, by the desperation, foolishness and ignorance of the peasants and the greed, venality and indifference of the nobles.

California has now chosen, rather than to even mildly discommode the wealthy, to disadvantage the disadvantaged. Rather than even attempt to close the gap between the rulers and the ruled, it chooses to allow the public weal to fall victim to private wealth.

There is a name for this sort of system.

But "republican", it's not.

Ever since the Elevation of Saint Ronnie, our public discourse has been dominated by the idea that "taxes are bad". In this sense, the conservatives that lost the Battle of Watergate won the larger war. They wanted to concentrate power in the nation's elite, and, largely, they have. They wanted to move the nation's laws - if they could not move the nation's people - to the right and, largely, they have.Well, California has reached the conservative state of grace; the state, and those in the care of the state, now exist to serve the needs of the wealthy. We shall see if the result is beneficial for the state and her people as a whole. We shall see.

(crossposted at MilPub)

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