Initially, I thought it might be Mississippi, but in fact, it's Arizona. The governor, Jan Brewer, despite a stff primary challenge from a tea-party-aligned Republican, will send a 1% sales-tax increase to voters in May. Not quite slam-dunk, but, still, a pretty good chance of passing.
Having lived in that backward, medieval, yet beautiful state, for a couple years until the Ponderosa Pine pollen and wild daisies got the best of my allergies, I could only howl with laughter when I learned the reason why. Bet you can't guess what's driving the referendum in addition to a huge state deficit!!??
At least one of the tax issues is that 13 highway rest stops had to be closed because of lack of funding. That's a no-go in a state with long distances between towns and gas stations. We will raise taxes, the Arizonians suggest, when it's in our own self-interest, and at no other time.
Managing deficit issues with referenda is a poor way to handle state needs. Anyone with any brains should be able to draw that conclusion from California's mess. When general funding that should cover service issues must be handled by special taxes, it's a sign that the political process has become very short-sighted. It's also an issue of the citizenry. Has civics gone out the window? Significantly, it's a gross failure of the media to act in any role except that which will bring in profits. Historically, media took on a community leadership role but that's gone also.
The worst example of media failure may well be Fox News. In a better-late-than-never Op-ed in last Sunday's Washington Post, Howell Raines takes on Roger Ailes of Fox News. Raines writes:
Through clever use of the Fox News Channel and its cadre of raucous commentators, Ailes has overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II. Yet, many members of my profession seem to stand by in silence as Ailes tears up the rulebook that served this country well as we covered the major stories of the past three generations, from the civil rights revolution to Watergate to the Wall Street scandals.
As for Fox's campaign against the Obama administration, perhaps the only traditional network star to put Ailes on the spot, at least a little, has been his friend, the venerable Barbara Walters, who was hosting This Week, ABC's Sunday morning talk show. More accurately, she allowed another guest, Arianna Huffington, to belabor Ailes recently about his biased coverage of Obama. Ailes countered that he should be judged as a producer of ratings rather than a journalist-- audience is his only yardstick. While true as far as it goes, this hair-splitting defense purports to absolve Ailes of responsibility for creating a news department whose raison d'etre is to dictate the outcome of our nation's political discourse.
For the first time since the yellow journalism of a century ago, the United States has a major news organization devoted to the promotion of one political party. And let no one be misled by occasional spurts of criticism of the GOP on Fox. In a bygone era of fact-based commentary typified, left to right, by my late colleagues Scotty Reston and Bill Safire, these deceptions would have been given their proper label: disinformation.
Arizona's tax issues, the ethical irresponsibility of Fox News and visual media, as well as raucous talking heads have contributed to the failures of personal and community responsibility. It's no wonder the schools are falling apart and our kids are failing to get the needed education for success in the 21st century.
It's not just media's failure to emphasize community and responsibility. The issues seep out of every rathole, including many of the so-called Christian churches.
One of the best and most thorough popular analyses of the failure of community is Fareed Zakaria's book, The Future of Freedom. Although, it should be noted that David Brooks regularly deals directly or indirectly with the failure of community. See, for example, his recent column, "The Power Elite."
In short, our system has grown some pretty serious problems which are more evident with every passing day. The Arizona tax referendum is just a small potatoes example of our problem.