Paula Orloff: Bernie and that ‘dirty word’
The “Commons” is a dirty word to some. Bernie Sanders likes that word and so do I.
The commons, or public spaces and services, have enhanced our lives. However, their quality and access may be limited due to the legalized power of a wealthy few. Here is a timely verse from an 18th century folk poem:
“The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.”
What commons are worth protecting and improving? They are public places such as parks, roadways, transit systems and water systems. They also include institutions such as schools, libraries, postal service, housing support and health care facilities.
Air is part of our natural commons. It is unique because there is no way to limit its property rights. However, as with the rest of our natural surroundings, clean air needs to be protected. Fossil fuel, plastics, pesticide and other industries contaminate the air, tamper with the weather and damage our lungs.
We have some air pollution regulations and penalties. I believe we could use more controls and alternative products. There are many reports of the degraded lungs of the earth and its inhabitants. However, wealthy corporations have ways of opposing clean air laws and alternative products. They also have well financed avenues to oppose protection of other parts of the environment — plants, animals, soil and water.
I can certainly understand objections to counterproductive zoning and small business laws, but let’s not throw an all encompassing blanket over the landscape of community life, smothering the commons and spoiling our environment.
What if you got up one morning and found your tax-based water systems gone? Where does your water come from to drink, brush and flush? Mark Twain said, “Whisky is for drinking and water is for fighting.” At least we have a framework for fighting over water and other survival needs, but moneyed interests have a bigger say.
What about man-made commons? Many use a bus or train. What if New York and San Francisco withdrew tax money for subway and train services? They’d have even more traffic jams and air pollution.
When I was a child I remember riding the streetcar. Then along came GM and Firestone tires. They bought up the public transit system and mothballed the busses and street cars. That kind of profiteering is a sin in my version of the Bible. Los Angeles is now beset with traffic jams and car emissions.
How about more bike trails, walking paths, bus, train, and subway systems? That takes money diverted from damaging sources such as big (not small) businesses, their banksters, deceptive wars and the weapons industry that feeds them.
The U.S. government in collaboration with the profitable arms industry is the biggest seller of bombs, bombers, guns, and ammo in the world. Wouldn’t it be a sane idea to invest more in jobs for public transportation, education, health care, housing, parks and libraries? Further, investments in renewable energy could preclude fossil fuel wars.
Do you want to go to the library? Our county finally got taxpayer funding for a large, beautiful library. Now it has a continuous stream of users. A friend made a list of why books are better than drugs:
Books are available in a clean, well-lit library. Books allow you to enter other realities, visit other worlds — and then come back.
Nobody ever read too many books, then jumped off a building, walked through a plate-glass window, or mooned a cop.
You cannot get AIDS, hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver from a book. No matter how many books you have, you can’t be charged with “Intent to distribute.”
It’s extremely rare that anyone gets gunned to death in a book dispute. Such public places and activities as libraries keep people productively occupied, entertained, and educated.
Which brings up a question: Why not fund jobs for rehabilitation, recreation, and education more than for prisons? As noted, our public funds are often misused to profit a few. For instance, much of our public safety taxes are turned over to private prison corporations! They lobby to expand the definition of criminals and make money based on the numbers they can lock up.
Legalized privileges for a few individuals and mega businesses create hardships for many. We need Bernie and others to redirect our taxes to enhance the commons. Everybody does better when everybody does better.
Paula Orloff lives in Nevada City.
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Postmodernism has won the day, and its pernicious effects on our nation may very well mean our demise.