Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cutboigy! Budgetboigy! No library! Kindle!

Councilman Sigerson! The people have no books!

Well, let them buy Kindles, then.

Tune in again same time next week for another thrilling installment of Chuck Sigerson: City Councilman. Our next high-voltage episode . . .
"They Shoot Red Robins, Don't They?"

COME TO THINK of it -- given a certain council member's alleged weakness for a gal in plush -- perhaps former Omaha Public Library chief Rivkah Sass might have gotten farther with the council if she had shown up for this month's budget hearing in a bird suit. The I-wish-I-didn't-believe-this-but-I-do details are in the latest edition of The Reader:
Every year the city council holds budget meetings where department heads present financial needs and answer questions. This year Sass was the only director asked to defend the existence of her department. Councilman Chuck Sigerson said the Internet and devices such as Amazon’s Kindle might eliminate the need for libraries.

“Sure we can all download books on a Kindle, but who’s going to buy the Kindle for us?” Sass said. “There’s an assumption people can afford these devices and then there’s the thing that chills me to the bone … when the book 1984 disappeared from the Kindle. Talk about the ultimate irony.”

Sass said libraries are changing with the times, beyond e-books and DVDs to involve more people in more ways. For instance OPL now offers etiquette classes, baby classes and parenting classes.

“Information isn’t just something you find in a book; information is about satisfying a need, whether it’s curiosity, educational or informational,” she said.
IT'S TOO EASY to merely label right-wing pols like Chuck Sigerson a civic embarrassment and leave it there. That wouldn't do justice to the fundamental disconnect at the core of the "conservative, family-values" governing philosophy of the American right.

What we have here is a credo that favors decimating the civic infrastructure of a community -- indeed, of a nation -- above the possibility of modest tax hikes for even those citizens who can most afford it. In Sigerson's case, the Republican stalwart of the Omaha council would rather raise the specter of a city without libraries than raise the property tax on a $100,000 home by $25 or $52 a year.

Put it this way: To Sigerson and his anti-tax constituents, all the municipal services that make a city a livable place -- those services that give small comfort to the afflicted and provide nice things for the masses for little or no fee -- are not worth the cost of an Old Market dinner for two (with drinks) on a Saturday night.

Or burgers and booze at Red Robin.

COPS AND JAILS, they'll pony up for. Books and thin slivers of hope? No way.

In the moral and political universe of Chuck Sigerson, when fiscal times get tough, it's those who depend most on municipal services who receive the call for sacrifice. And it's those with enough money to live in nice suburban homes who get off scot-free.

This philosophy, frankly, is anything but "conservative," and it turns the raison d'être for democratic governance -- fostering the common good and protection of the weak from the strong -- on its head. This is radical stuff . . . just as radical as any mad schema cooked up by Lenin or Marx.

What it does is destroy the very notion of collective responsibility for the community's well-being and turn government into a protection racket for society's most well-heeled. And it does this at the expense of -- in the instance of public libraries, for example -- the opportunity of Omaha's poorest and most vulnerable to have something approaching the educational and informational resources of those, like Sigerson, who think nothing of going online to purchase a $299 Kindle.

Or purchase $9.99 E-books to load onto the thing.

LIKEWISE, "conservative" radicals think absolutely nothing of denying low-income youth well-maintained city parks . . . or pools . . . or recreational programs . . . or after-school programs. This for the fiscal sake of people who ostensibly can't shell out a few bucks more in property tax but damn well have the scratch to pay for dance lessons, soccer leagues and iPods for their middle-class progeny.

Oh . . . I forgot Kindles.

This isn't conservatism, it's radicalism. It's government-sanctioned social Darwinism.

And it's a moral outrage.

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