The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 2, 2008

Opinions

Taxation with representation at Town Meeting

Which is more important, a starting point or a turning point? Last week my family traveled to Virginia and was reminded that, when it comes to the American Revolution, the answer to that question depends on where you are and whom you ask.

For instance, people around here pay their respects each year to the farmers who traveled from surrounding towns to fight the British at the Old North Bridge on April 19, 1775. Every Massachusetts school child knows about the “shot heard ‘round the world,’” but do they know that Patriots Day is not celebrated in most other states? Farther south, in New Jersey, schoolchildren will say that the biggest event of the war happened on Christmas Eve, when General Washington crossed the Delaware and marched to Trenton for the surprise attack on enemy forces that provided a needed American victory.

I grew up near the site, and that stretch of the Delaware dwarfs the Concord River near Carlisle. Occasionally, a fit swimmer might swim across, though they’d be swept downstream quite a distance before reaching the opposite shore. Navigating the boats through the current packed with chunks of ice must have been tough for Washington’s troops, many of whom historians say were either sick, or poorly clothed for the winter weather. At Washington’s former home in Virginia, museum employees say he had expected the task to be easier. Perhaps the river seemed small to him, compared with the much wider Potomac that flows by Mount Vernon.

In any event, one impression our family gathered was that two centuries ago many people went to a lot of effort to avoid “taxation without representation.” Thanks to them, Carlisle residents today can have a direct voice in their local taxation, by attending Town Meeting on Monday, May 5.

Town Meeting is the legislative body of Carlisle’s government and is where local laws are enacted and the town’s budget is authorized. This year voters will be asked to approve a balanced budget for FY09 of just under $22 million, along with a $251,610 override to support the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School. If the override is approved both at Town Meeting and at the Town Election on May 13, the average real estate tax bill in Carlisle will increase by 3.7%.

Town Meeting will be held in the auditorium at the Carlisle School’s Corey Building, starting at 7 p.m. Your presence is not only welcome but is important, because some years it has been difficult to reach the required quorum of 150 voters. For those who cannot find babysitters, there will be additional seating available in the dining room next door. An assistant moderator and a temporary sound system will be provided to enable those in the dining room to ask questions and participate fully in Town Meeting. It may seem less of a burden to attend Town Meeting, if we remember what people struggled with 200 years ago to ensure a say in their taxation. ∆

The torch is passé

Ah, friendship, mutual respect, transcending conflict to bring people from many nations together in peace. These are the ideals of the “Olympic movement,” whose proponents always reckon that the ideals should give them a pass on the realities of global politics.

In the wake of the protests during the Olympic torch relay and calls by some political leaders to boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing this summer, there were the predictable and righteous assertions by Chinese and international Olympic officials that sports and politics should not mix (though sports and business can mix just fine, thanks).

The president of the International Olympic Committee opined that the Olympic athletes have the “right not to express their opinions.” As his predecessors have done, he suggested that the sanctity of the Olympics should cause us to cast aside our political views (and, by implication, presumably, our views regarding human rights) and observe the fine moral tradition of people from many nations trying their damnedest to beat each other on the field of sport.

My apologies to any aspiring or past Olympians in our readership, but this is romantic hokum, steeped in the laudable but largely silly belief that the Olympics could themselves foster peace. I’m not aware of a single conflict the Modern Olympics has ever healed. So far from promoting international comity, the competition pits nation against nation. In fact, elite athletes are for the most part cloistered among their countrymen and women and barely mingle with their counterparts from other countries.

The recent bewailing reminds me of 1980, when the Soviet Union, the Olympics-host-designee, invaded Afghanistan. For those who don’t remember: after Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul, President Carter asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to boycott or seek relocation unless the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan within a month. (He also threatened a military response if the Soviets made any moves toward Pakistan.)

Many Olympic officials and athletes were affronted: how could the President be so hard-hearted, so insensitive regarding the self-sacrifice entailed in preparing to become world-class competitors? Some suggested the President had no right to appeal to them in the national interest because the U.S. government didn’t subsidize its athletes as so many other countries did. “Where was he when I was freezing my butt off [in training]?” asked Olympic rower Anita DeFrantz, who complained she had taken time off from her law practice to train.

The U.S. Olympic Committee eventually supported the boycott. The Moscow Olympics went on, without the athletes of 36 countries. (This American got to attend; as Olympics coordinator for the Associated Press, I went to supervise our 70-member staff in providing news of the Games to the world. And I’m sure I got to see a lot more of the sights than I would have, had I been covering the American athletes.) The Soviets continued fighting in Afghanistan until they had no more will or resources to do so. And we all know who’s there now.

Some may boycott all or some of the 2008 proceedings. This will again be decried as unfair to the poor athletes. The gesture will raise awareness but probably not, by itself, move China regarding its hold on Tibet. Meanwhile, the country club that is the Olympic movement will roll on as most country clubs do, promoting business gains and a few precious moments of great and not-so-great athletic entertainment.

 

 

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