Saturday, October 9, 2010
Please Put Your Fire On Hold While We Check Your Account
This post was written a couple of days ago and I sat on it, wondering if it was appropriate. This morning, I decided I don't care about appropriate so here goes....
I sat in my lawn chair, my ancient laptop balanced on my knees and watched, mouth open in stupefied horror, as Gene Cranick described to Keith Olbermann how firefighters refused to put the fire out as and watched as his house burned to the ground, taking with it all the Cranick's possessions and killing a cat and three dogs. Because Cranick hadn't paid his $75 fire fighting subscription fee.
"What does that remind me of?" I asked Keith who reflected my horror. Keith didn't answer even though I tweeted the question to him. I know he had a lot going on at that point so I forgive him.
Then it came to me. When we lived in Des Plaines, Illinois, there was a controversial area between Des Plaines and Park Ridge that was commonly referred to as Unincorporated Des Plaines. If memory serves, the residents who lived there had to pay extra fees for things like 911 and trash pickup. The kinds of things we take for granted when we pay our property taxes, for example.
In the twelve years we lived in Des Plaines, I don't ever remember hearing about someone's house being left to burn because the residents hadn't paid the "subscription fee."
I felt a certain kinship to Mr. Cranick as he sat there before the TV cameras and lights in his own lawnchair. My heart ached for his loss and for the eye-opening reality that his despair is a shared on no doubt. His just made the news.
When you move from a metropolitan or suburban area to a more rural area, you learn that services you took for granted are no longer available without a fee. In Des Plaines, we paid a tax for our trash collection. Here, you have to hire a private company or haul the trash to the dump/recycling center yourself. Once a week, I fill Roxannes's trunk with trash bags and recycling and go say hi to the nice people who work at the dump. I understand the people who rented this place before us didn't hire the private company nor did they haul off their trash. Instead, they piled it onto the deck until it was waist high. The neighbors complained of the smell and the growing rat problem, but there was precious little they could do. It's every man for himself out here, right?
As bluegal points out in this really fantastic post (that's me saying be sure to open this link), this story also highlights the disconnect between what's available to rural folks versus city folks.
The internets are full of righteous indignation about Cranick's story. For good reason, I might add. Some of us are pointing out that what happened to the Cranicks is just the beginning. It is the thing that Ayn Rand wrought. Others are saying that society's sponges like Mr. Cranick get what they deserve. In this case, you don't pay for the service, then you have no right to expect the services. And you're an asshole if you think your neighbors should pay for you. It's every person for themselves, personal responsibility reigns! Their thinking can be boiled down to this - if the firefighters make one exception for a deadbeat, then everyone will become deadbeats.
These are the same "thinkers" who believe it's fine to charge fees to individuals for a possibly needed service, but we should cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations who use our common good resources every day. I tell you, I do not get it.
As I listened to the second installment of Mr. Cranick's Fiery Adventure last night, I wondered a couple of things.
First - is Mr. Cranick a Republican? Has he, like so many of my neighbors here in Georgia, fallen for the current Republican claptrap that government is bad, taxes are evil, that every person should only have what they can afford and the hell with the common good? Or does he go to a church where the pastor equates being a good Christian with voting Republican? Or is he an R because, like so many old Southern Democrats, he switched parties after the Civil Rights era?
And when the county proposed to raise property taxes by 0.13 per $100 of property value, was Mr. Cranick one of the farmers who didn't like the plan?
Does it matter? Well, it doesn't mean that Mr. Cranick deserves to have lost his home or to have had his animals perish, but it does point out that your vote does have consequences. Follow the money. As Republicans have taken over states' legislatures and local governments, they've cut taxes especially for the wealthy and corporations. Cutting taxes and tax subsidies are a centerpiece of any campaign to bring new business to a state or a municipality. Meanwhile, those same Republicans have pushed for and passed Balanced Budget Amendments for their states. To offset tax cuts and the resulting reduced revenue, services must be cut to balance the budget. It's the law.
Therefore services are reduced, become fee for service or go away altogether.
People who think we can have nice, safe, clean communities with good educational systems, and up to date infrastructure without having to pay the taxes to support it are simply idiotic. Someone has to pay for it. That's why we have the common good and the tax structure. We all contribute and if we don't, our houses may not burn to the ground, but the taxing body has some kind of legal way of getting the money from you.
Being opposed to the common good and the taxes that support it seems just fine until your house is on fire or you get hit with a bunch of new fees (shifted from taxes to fees) when you go to renew your license plate or your kids are now in classes with thirty kids or more or you flatten your tire because the road debris on I75 is left to lay because budget cuts mean road maintenance has been reduced to next to nothing.
I also wondered about the insurance implications of this huge national news story. Will insurance companies now write into their policies that if you live in a fee for service area and you don't pay the fee, they won't cover your losses? What about renters? Would I be responsible for the fire subscription fee or would my landlord handle that? If it's the landlord's responsibility, what happens to us if he doesn't pay it, just forgets, for example?
These are things to think about as some of our fellow Americans continue to promote the ideas of immature Libertarianism masquerading as Conservatism. This idea that you don't owe anything to anybody, that you should not participate in the common good is akin to being an ideological adolescent. You want all the rights of citizenship, but none of the responsibilities. And equally bad is this crazy libertarian scheme of privatizing everything. You really think that companies can provide better services while making a profit is sustainable? And the accountability in such matters is for shit. Just look at what's been done in Iraq by military contractors.
I want to ask this: You don't want government? Fine. Go a day without using the common good. When you're finished emptying your chamber pot in your backyard, let us know how you liked it. And while you're at it, imagine all your neighbors carrying their chamber pots looking for a place to dump, too. That guy who lives in the house on your left? He eats mostly cabbage and drinks lots of beer.