Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shutdown blues

As a resident of Minnesota, it irks me to no end that my state is once again in the national and international news for all the wrong reasons. Our government shutdown is now one week old, and to hear the pundits talk, how the budget impasse that created it is resolved will have a large influence on budget discussions at the federal level. In the meantime, some 20,000+ state employees (at least one of whom is a good friend) are laid off, parks and highway rest stops are closed, and state run or funded programs like child care assistance (which one of my sisters receives) are on hiatus. While it hasn't affected me personally yet, the longer this drags on the more the misery the shutdown is causing will spread. Scratch that: this morning I noticed that the tabs on the car I drive expired the day the shutdown began. I don't remember seeing a renewal notice in the mail, but since most of the places to do renewals are not even and you can't do it online, can I still get pulled over for not being in compliance? (If you work in law enforcement, please forget you just read that)

Now I read today that billboards scapegoating Governor Dayton are being put up across the state. Funded no doubt by the very same people who funded the campaigns of Republican legislators who think that any tax increase will bring about the end of civilization (wasn't that supposed to happen six weeks ago?). The same Republican legislators who wasted weeks of the regular session in debates to put a gay-marriage ban amendment on the ballot next fall, and want their pet social causes to be part of any budget deal. The same Republican legislators who seem to think that cutting spending on the very things that in the past made Minnesota a good place to live, like health care, education, infrastructure, and the environment, is somehow "pro-business". I could go on at length, and likely will at some point, about how unfair and unsustainable our current tax system is, but for now I have to wonder if anyone in the Minnesota legislature with an R next to their name has even the most basic comprehension of how and why we have a government.

As with most things in politics these days, the only beneficiary of the shutdown is that small slice of society that derives undue gains at the expense of those on the lower rungs of the totem pole. These are the folks who have already amassed great wealth through commerce (which depends on economic infrastructure and the purchasing power of consumers), inheritance (which depends on the crapshoot of parentage) or ownership of valuable resources (which depends on random distribution, either genetic or in the physical world) but feel some sense of entitlement as "self-made men" (they are most always men). It was nearly a year ago that I earned my degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and there is a screen that is posted above the main reception desk that displays various quotes from the Happy Warrior. My favorite one says "The worst thing a man can think is that he got there on his own." There, I think is the crux of the matter. Those who are already well-off have become so because of a system that is rigged in their favor, yet they cannot acknowledge that fact because if they did their entire case for why they do not need to pay their fair share of taxes evaporates. This is why they, and their bought and paid for Republican legislators, both in Minnesota and nationally, are fighting tooth and nail to keep the public from waking up to the realization that the wealth and privilege this small slice enjoys is based on a system that legitimizes a scheme of Robin Hood in reverse. It was not always this way, and does not need to be this way. Making the system more fair will be challenging, and will only be accomplished amid the incessant howling of those who will be losing the unfair advantages they have enjoyed, but in the end we will all benefit, even those who would be howling. Giving in to the absolutist demands of Republicans in either the state or national budget negotiations means worsening the already severe case of short-termism that has infected American business and politics, so I hope Governor Dayton sticks to his guns and does not let the state he was elected to lead be taken hostage by a moneyed few.

Amid the budget mess I will admit that one good thing came out of this year's session: the tap-room law championed by the Surly brewery that removed a restriction on its and other Minnesota breweries ability to sell their own beer on their own premises. I still have a bottle of 2010 Darkness in my fridge, and I think I'll save for when the shutdown finally ends.     

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