Saturday, March 10, 2007

Democracy and Social Arrangements in Baker City (part1)

One Face of Baker City

Those of you who are interested in participatory democracy, and how it functions here in Baker City and Baker County, might also be interested in my own experience as a concerned citizen trying to participate and give input to local government. But first a little background.

When we think of the democratic ideal, we often think of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence and its notions of equality. Others might think of the “general Welfare” as found in the preamble to the Constitution. When I think of the reality of democracy in America though, I think of a phrase used by Michael Parenti in the title of one of his books, i.e.: “Democracy For The Few.”

The social structure here in Baker City and Baker County is similar to what will be found throughout America. Put in its simplest form, to paraphrase Bill Moyers, “[business people and the wealthy are our] undisputed overlords of politics and government.” If you are a business person (like all but one of our City Councilors), one involved with the Historic District or the culture industry, a member of the Chamber of Commerce or tourist bureaucracy, a large land owner farmer/rancher, a member of a long established family or a part of a good-old-boys & girls network, a health professional or City/County/State department head, a member of the law enforcement community, a leader in one of the many churches, or simply someone deemed “respectable” by the aforementioned, you stand a chance of receiving fair and equal treatment by local leaders and media. The late, great economist John Kenneth Galbraith defined “respectable” as those who are thought by some to be “individuals of sound, confidence inspiring judgment.” In answering his own question; “And what is the test of [that] respectability?” he replied: “It is broadly whether speech and action are consistent with the comfort and well-being of the people of property and position. A radical is anyone who causes discomfort or otherwise offends such interests.” And so it is in Baker County.
Another Face of Baker City

But what if you are a mere commoner, a member of the subclass mired in what some have referred to as the “culture of rural poverty,” or worse yet, a person whose speech and action are not consistent with the comfort and well-being of the people of property and position? Well, then, you need a good lawyer, but you probably can’t afford one. Your ideas may well be quite logical and sensible, or represent the legitimate attitudes of a significant portion of the American population, but unless they are shared by those in the local governing bodies, good-old boy networks, and media, those ideas become irrelevant and may not see the light of day.
One Flag Is Good

If you are a truly poor member of the “culture of rural poverty,” then your participation is reduced to remembering your place and adorning your property with symbols of acquiescence to the status quo. One of the most popular of these symbols here in Baker City is the American flag, the bigger the better, draped visibly in a front window or prominently displayed on a pole. Other than actually offering up the blood sacrifice of one’s children in our imperial wars (which is also popular), this is the one tried and true method for the poor to attempt to redeem themselves and their self-esteem--to earn some piddling amount of social currency. But the poor learned long ago that they don’t matter and know very well that participation in self-interested political battles is a wasted effort from their position of isolation and resourcelessness, so offering up their children and parading the colors and yellow ribbons largely defines the extent of their participation.

Two Flags Must Be Better

Others, such as myself, are slower learners. My efforts to participate and to engage the local power structure, including the media, in an exchange of ideas, has been met with reactions varying from polite acknowledgement to silent boycott, simple disdain, and outright contempt. Largely though, they just ignore me.

For example:
To be continued . . .


On Monday, March 5, Baker Valley presented many pintails, common goldeneye, mallards, 50-60 common mergansers on "Beautiful Lake Bob," buffleheads, 2 gadwall, and the usual large flock of Canada geese. Also heard my first killdeer in the east valley at Shetky Road.

This morning I heard my first of the season meadowlarks west of Bowen Valley on Elk Creek Road. Two bald eagles have been supervising the calving operation nearby for at least the last two days.

As predicted here last week, the Sandhill Cranes have appeared at Ladd Marsh. Craig Bennet of La Grande reported that 6 pairs were seen west of the freeway yesterday morning. 10 were just below the viewpoint on Foothill Road.

Straight Talk:

In addition to the following item from earlier in the week, NPR carried a story yesterday about the second largest provider of sub-prime home loans being in serious financial trouble. Excess has its consequences (believe me, I know!).

Dean Baker | The Housing Bubble Starts to Burst
Dean Baker writes: "While the collapse of the housing bubble was both predictable and inevitable, it is not pretty. Tens of millions of people will be hurt as they see much of the equity in their homes - money that most had counted on to support their retirement - disappear. Millions more will be forced out of their homes as they find that they are unable to meet the payments on adjustable rate mortgages that reset at higher rates. People who had worked hard and saved in order to become homeowners will see their dream disappear."

More on Honoring Our Veterans:

Valor and Squalor
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Monday 05 March 2007
Krugman says: ". . . the administration has broken longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend our nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq the V.H.A., which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system. As the agency's Web site helpfully explains, veterans whose income exceeds as little as $27,790 a year, and who lack "special eligibilities such as a compensable service connected condition or recent combat service," will be turned away.

So when you hear stories of veterans who spend months or years fighting to get the care they deserve, trying to prove that their injuries are service-related, remember this: all this red tape was created not by the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracy, but by the Bush administration's penny-pinching."

See also:

Committee Subpoenas Former Walter Reed Chief
By Kelly Kennedy
The Army Times
Saturday 03 March 2007

No comments: