Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arizona's (un)Commons

By now, everyone has heard about the law passed in Arizona last week that requires local police to stop people they reasonably suspect are undocumented to determine their immigration status.

For people concerned about social equity and finding commons-based solutions to the world’s problems, this law should be a major cause for alarm. The Commons must be more than the things we share; it has to be about more than alternatives to the rampant privatization of lands, resources and ideas. The Commons should also be about the trust and relationships that make up the fabric of our communities.

So much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric has been “greenwashed” to couch itself in the language of protecting the environment and the Commons that I wonder where many ‘commoners’ fall. I’d propose that the difference is that the threats to the Commons for us are the powerful interests that seek to shrink, privatize and disinvest; whereas restrictionists and xenophobes see the threats as regular people they view as unworthy of enjoying the Commons.

Sadly, the anti-immigrant line that won in Arizona seems to have some national following. A poll released this week showed that 60% of voters nationwide favor the Arizona law, even though nearly the same percentage (58%) have concerns that the law’s provisions would violate civil rights.

Maybe it’s a matter of competing Commons. The Commons of basic rights and liberties that we all (should in principle) share can be compromised for the sake of the Commons of public safety, schools, hospitals and public lands, IF the scapegoat is fabricated the right way.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Billionaire’s Estate

If anyone with a commitment to a society characterized by the even the roughest of social equality isn’t already nauseated by the results of tax cuts over the past 20 years, this article should provide a tipping point.

Keep in mind that the article is written by people probably in favor of very low or no estate tax. As you read it, think about the fact that the estate tax is what distinguishes the USA from an aristocracy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gratitude Day

Today is Gratitude Day for me. I walk two blocks down fairly even and well maintained sidewalks to a heavily subsidized public transportation system that gets me to work. I note how the trees planted along the street and maintained by the city are blooming now, and I hear a plane overhead and then another, and feel confident they will not collide because of the Air Traffic Controllers. When I get to work, I get a glass of water from the tap and know that it is far purer than any bottled water I might drink. Yes, I am grateful today because I know that that amount I pay in taxes does not begin to cover the amount that I cost—I could never build the infrastructure, do the testing, run the systems that help my life go relatively smoothly. I couldn’t have paid for college or seen hundreds of museums, or borrowed books from the library if I had to pay for it all. I couldn’t have paid a fraction of the cost of the services I have used over my 56 years of life.

“Taxes are the price we pay for membership in a civilized society” said Oliver Wendell Holmes. I am not a Pollyanna and I can see that our society is far from perfect—in fact in many ways it is far from civilized. But many of its problems can be traced to poor tax policy and the degree to which we are able to be in a livable society is a credit to good tax policy.

Gratitude Day. My life is made possible by people who believe in the common good, and I am very grateful.