Can’t we all just get along? It seems that everyone wants a divorce these days. The Catalonians want to separate from Spain, and secession petitions are circulating in almost every state right here at home. It seems that unions just aren’t working out for lots of folks, for various reasons, with money — that age-old homewrecker — at the top of the list.
Catalonia is irked that, now that the fiesta is over, it is getting stuck with the tab. No one else in Spain has any money, and the Iberian version of soak the rich is not sitting too well with its most prosperous province. This raises interesting questions for the EU as well. Does Catalonia intend to apply for membership? Will it issue its own currency, or stick with the euro — however long that lasts? And what’s with this banning bullfights thing? What next? No more flamenco?
Here at home, we have the same problem. The federal government wants individual states to absorb a larger portion of entitlement costs, on the interesting premise that doing so will help reduce federal deficits without raising federal taxes overmuch. It will, of course, the same way that robbing Peter will pay Paul, but some of these states — notably, California, Illinois and New York — are already heavily saddled with debt, and already tax their residents at the highest rates in the Union. It seems somehow fitting that the folks who did the most to elect Obama will find themselves the most affected by his version of “smaller government,” but it’s still not likely to sit too well with the commons if local taxes start rising.
This won’t really affect that 10% of folks who pay 70% of all income taxes very much, but another proposal might: suddenly we’re hearing about a plan to cap itemized income tax deductions at $50,000 — some even suggest $25,000 — and that’s going to really sting taxpayers in states with high state and city income taxes, as these taxes are deductible from federal taxable income. In New York City, top combined state and city income tax rates are over 13%, which already seems insufferable; eliminating its deductability is adding insult to injury. Buyer’s remorse on the Upper West Side might set in as residents suddenly realize that their tax bills are about to skyrocket in unexpected ways, lending new meaning to the phrase “blue voters.”
Of course, Spain isn’t going to let the Catalonians secede any more than DC is about to part with Texas, so all of this talk is just that — talk. After all, Quebec, which has damn good reasons for splitting off from English-speaking Canada, hasn’t managed the trick, and they are determined folks. Recently, Quebec advised retailers with English names that they have to change them to French names, or, at the very least, add language to their signs that details what they are selling — in French. Stores with hybrid or meaningless names — Ikea, for example — are included. This has interesting implications for big box operators, which will now display the French equivalent of “Walmart — damn near fucking everything you can think of except tractors.”
Of course, nowhere is this affection for division more evident than in the Middle East. They have developed faction into a high art, with twists and subtleties of Byzantine intricacy. What started out as the PLO is now Hamas and Fatah, who, when they are not busy shooting at Israelis, are perfectly content to shoot at each other. Sunnis and Shiites have quarreled for centuries; only the weapons have changed, and the only thing most of the Arab world seems to agree on besides annihilating Israel is their near-unanimous disdain for Palestinians, whom they regard as Semitic equivalents of gypsies, and whom they have largely driven from their territories whenever they start to clump in any meaningful degree. Jordan tolerated them for awhile, but when the opportunity to unload them on Israel presented itself, they took maximum advantage.
That is why a so-called “two-state” solution for Palestinians and Israel is basically a non-starter; based on any historical reality, the Palestinians will require by themselves at least a dozen states, with the option to increase them as further political divisions erupt.
Still, all this faction is disquieting, especially for the one-worlders, whose utopian fantasies are contradicted with such vehement disregard by those who seem to value their own interests over the common good. Uniting the world has never seemed so far out of reach. There is some comfort in this, because we are generally more productive when we are not crushed under the boot of global conformity, but these cultural amalgamators are hard to discourage. The humor implicit in a name like “United Nations” escapes them, and they have little sympathy for those who resist incorporation.
Our sympathy, of course, is with the rebels. We find uniformity distressing, especially when it is uniformity of opinion. This seems to be all the rage these days, with pundits daily scoffing at heretics who refuse to hew to the doctrinal mandate. We remember well the bewilderment many felt when so many voters were “undecided.” What didn’t these people get, they wondered aloud? What aspect of the obvious had eluded them? To be undecided was a greater sin than to be openly opposed. And yet, with each passing day, around our world, we find people who are increasingly undecided, especially about their current state of affairs. Floreat, we say. Prosper and multiply. In our differences lies our strength.