Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Representative Peter Buckley-Oregonian Workers Are Not to Blame

Representative Peter Buckley is exactly the kind of legislator and public servant that inspires us to keep believing in the political processes that we have been so shaken in over the past few (or longer) years. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Maine Librarian Speaks Our Deep Fears Outloud

I believe we are afraid in this country. I am not talking about the fear that we have of hard economic times, mounting personal debt, losing our homes, or not being able to put food on our tables (assuming we have a table to begin with). No, I am talking about a deeper fear, as Americans. I think we are afraid to face the falseness of our identities as Americans...of what that means about who we are, and who we are not. We already figured out that the country that champions human rights is not above the periodic torture episode. That the "greatest democracy on the planet" has no problem supporting various dictatorships or turning a blind eye to repressive regimes, should it fit our interests. That, in this country, women and communities of color have been losing progress for years instead of gaining ground toward equality-not to mention the LGBTQ community. But more than that-more than any of those things, the thing that we fear the most, as a society is the realization that NO, we don't actually have a representative democracy-that our voices do not count.

While there are plenty of people who have believed and recognized that potentiality for a long time, our collective identity has held strong, labeling those people "conspiracy nuts and radicals"...the exceptions to the rule of belief in America.  Kelley McDaniel, is not among those (most labeled that way aren't either, for that matter) "outliers." What she is, however, is someone whose strong faith in this country has been shaken, and with good reason. She absolutely voices that deep fear that most citizens don't. They don't let themselves go there; afterall, what then?

Here is what she had to say, to her elected representatives-the people elected to represent her (and her community's) best interests:

She told the committee that she recently won a national "I Love My Librarian" Award from the Carnegie Corp. and The New York Times -- an honor that included a check, made out to McDaniel, for $5,000.

"I plan to report that money on my income tax and I expect to pay taxes on it," she told the lawmakers. "Even though I donated the money in its entirety to the public middle school where I work."

You heard that right.

She gave the whole five grand, after taxes, to her school. If you live in Portland, that's your school, too.

It was only the beginning.

McDaniel said she's "happy to pay those taxes" because the way she sees it, taxes are "like membership dues" for being a citizen of this great state.

She said that while she gets lots of things (education, health and safety, arts and recreation) in exchange for those "dues," she realizes "I may not personally benefit from everything that tax money is used for."

She has no problem with that. As McDaniel put it, "I try to trust that elected officials will spend money to the best benefit of society and not just to a handful of individuals."

Then, without missing a beat, she turned her attention to the budget.

She talked about how, over there, the budget contains $200 million in tax cuts -- including an expansion of the estate-tax exemption from $1 million to $2 million -- that largely would benefit Mainers who aren't exactly scraping to get by.

And how, over here, that loss of state revenue is more than offset by $413 million in various curtailments on benefits earned by retired state workers -- many of whom, like McDaniel has at King Middle for the past 11 years, served long and nobly in Maine's public schools.

Observed McDaniel, "I don't understand the rationale for this proposal."

She said she doesn't buy the idea that the tax cuts, putting significantly more money back into the pockets (or portfolios) of Maine's wealthy, will stimulate the economy.

Citing reports from the Congressional Budget Office, McDaniel said "the best way to stimulate the economy is to give modest increases to the poor. Wealthy people tend to hold on to their money, while poor people tend to spend it as they get it."

Then McDaniel, as those experts might say, "re-framed the issue."

"I don't think it's a moral decision, because taking money from people who don't have much money and giving it to people who have more money than the people you took it from seems, well, greedy," she said. "Greed is frowned upon in every major world religion -- and I don't think agnostics and atheists look too kindly upon it, either."

She wondered aloud, "Is this about a quid pro quo? A gift from elected officials to wealthy people who have donated, or will donate, to election and re-election campaigns?"

Finally, as the clock wound down, McDaniel dropped the hammer.

"It's not economically sound. It's not morally sound. And I think you know that," she said. "I would be embarrassed to support something so ludicrous -- taking from the poor to give to the rich.

"Maybe you're testing us, checking to see if we, your constituents, are really paying attention, really listening," she continued. "I hope that's what's going on, because the alternative involves me losing faith in representative government, in democracy and in you, the elected officials."

And here is the rest of it.