Sunday, February 21, 2010

Are the United States Getting Their Just Deserts?

Hal Pepinsky,,
February 21, 2010

I think it presumptuous of any human being to believe that justice can be done. “Doing justice” is no more than outcomes of human power contests. In these games in the short run, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In the longer run, all human empires decline and fall. The United States is in imperial decline.
The nation’s governors are holding their annual meeting in Washington. Unlike the federal government, many state governments including my own cannot run deficits. State governors and legislators are forced to decide whether to cut medical care for children, prison populations, schools, infrastructure maintenance, police and fire protection…first.
The U.S. federal taxing structure is the most regressive in the world. The federal government imposes the highest, most progressive taxes. The most regressive, least popular taxes are left by the states for municipalities and counties to collect. Thanks to California’s notorious Proposition 13 in 1978, counties taxation power has since been capped for such basic services as public schools, maintenance of local roads and utilities, and emergency response like policing. And as people get squeezed out of house and pay, the most progressive and major source of state revenue in my state of Ohio (40 percent) shrinks quickly, and so do regressive taxes like sales and property taxes.
I share outrage at paying the bulk of my taxes to faraway Washington. I bristle at the news that the proposed Pentagon budget alone is almost half the entire national indebtedness will incur in the fiscal year to come, and that “national security” spending is exempt from budget discipline. I bristle especially because military and crime control spending in fact imperil the security of me and my fellow U.S. inhabitants. Taxation in the United States has become a mutually assured destructive social process. Taxation is fundamentally unfair.
In my field of criminal justice there is much talk of how to give offenders what they deserve, their “just deserts.” I believe that what goes around comes around. I believe it karmic that after the U.S. military-industrial complex achieved world economic domination during World War II and held onto it for sixty years, fall from economic grace has come to the part of the planet I inhabit. In times of group decline, there is a tendency, as now in US news media, to cling to optimism. No one has yet dared call our “recession” a “depression.” As times get worse, analysts’ optimism over signs of recovery (namely, that “investors” are speculating more heavily in stock markets and earning bigger returns) becomes more convoluted. Where are lost jobs to be recovered? In discussion of whose proposals will work, there is at margins lip service that reduction in unemployment might be a couple of years away. Here we have a classic case of what happens, as Leon Festinger et al. put it in their classic work, when prophecy fails. The prophecy of god blessing America with sustainable economic growth has failed. Some people may take heart that the United States are receiving their just deserts. The trouble is that as prophecy fails, those who have the least hand in creating the prophecy suffer hardest. There is karma but there is no justice. Love and peace--hal

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