Thursday, December 16, 2010

Microcosm of a Society in Decline

This morning's (12/16/10) Tacoma News Tribune tells of how Washington state's governor and legislature will respond to the economic crisis that demands budget-cuts. Proposals include shutting down the state's history museum, housed in the refurbished Union Station in Tacoma on what has become a museum row. They also include cuts to gifted-education and  medical and long-term care for impoverished persons and the elderly. The governor allows as how she especially doesn't like the latter cuts to social services, but she suggests that the community must step in to help.

Well, the state is "the community," and it's decline, as is the U.S. Both live in denial about the widening chasm between rich and poor, the consolidation of corporate power that overwhelms politics and small businesses, and the crazy ways we put money into treasuries: essentially by not taxing sufficiently those most capable of paying taxes.  The U.S. Congress just refused to let tax-cut for the very wealthy expire, thus adding to a deficit already surreally expanded by two wars and a military budget that exceeds all other nations' military budgets combined. Our military secures a nation rotting from the inside. Widespread poverty and low wages are low-grade, chronic terrorism.

Washington state has no income tax, so it has to fill its coffers with a sales tax, the impact of which is greater on the poor than on the rich, for obvious reasons.  And then there's the lottery.
 

Meanwhile, The News Tribune, other newspapers, and other media won't report on poverty, bad working conditions, and the impact of low wages.  The Tribune once ran a six-part report on a man who operated a driving-school that was a scam. But it won't report on the economically distressed parts of Tacoma or of the rest of the state.  Nor it will it report sufficiently on the conditions at the federal detention center in Tacoma, where non-citizens languish in bad conditions; this, too, is an economic issue because a lot the folks in there were supporting families and paying taxes.  The Tribune will report extensively on crime but not on how poverty has an impact on crime. To be fair, the TNT is no different from other papers, especially those owned by large chains. Quarterly profits drive editorial decisions. One result is that the TNT ran, on its front page, a story that had been in the Seattle newspaper the day before.  On its front page.  It wasn't news anymore, but someone must have thought it would sell papers. Why not send a reporter out to write about some aspect of poverty?

And where would I propose to cut (since I'm so smart!). I'd probably start with the salaries of the governor, the legislators, and the upper-level judges.  I'd cut the travel budgets for them, too. I'd put an additional sales tax (since an income tax will never happen) on expensive boats and cars--not boats, mind you, that working people are likely to buy for much needed recreation. I'd increase the taxes on hard liquor but not on beer and wine. I know I could find other cuts or additions if I had a look at the budget, but this is a start.

Also in the news is that Tacoma will close two of its library branches.  You guessed it: they are both in lower-income areas of the city.  What a good idea.  The News Tribune should "adopt" at least one of these branches and keep it open.  Think of it as an investment--in literacy, in future readers. Oh, and one of the branches is the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., branch--should we need further agonizing symbolism.

The broader picture is that state can't take care of those who most need care, and it can't even keep its main source of historical memory alive.  It can't keep gifted programs open, thus abandoning one great long-term investment.  At the national level, the president meets with CEOs but not with those who represent working stiffs and the poor. Congress blows another hole in the budget but won't confront war-spending and military spending, both gaping economic wounds.  Meanwhile, the U.S. is the only major industrial nation not to have a comprehensive health-care system for all. In that area, we're inept.  And even in Switzerland, where capitalism basks, insurance companies aren't allowed to make a profit on health-care.  (That's the case in most countries.).  Why? Because it's like shooting fish in a barrel after the water's gone. Everybody gets sick. Why exploit this universal condition for profit--especially when not everyone is insured?  Insane.

But that's where we are.
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