Federalism Could Have Worked

Let me start by admitting I probably won’t be in attendance at the city council meeting later today.  I’ve got a full docket for a change on my day off and let’s face it, the council is going to do what they want most of the time until we all start getting more interested and, even more vital, better informed.  So while I will still attend many meetings, there will be some cases where I’ll just review the agenda and tell you guys what’s going on that way.  Now, let’s visit the agenda a moment for tonight’s meeting!

Agenda Highlights

The meeting is going to start after two quick special meetings, one regarding the city filing for some federal money to set up a couple of additional transit hubs for our busing system, and the other to set up an exchange with the county – water to the county for the use of Ahlshlager Park.  Let’s discuss this matter of filing for federal monies.

Does the Constitution and Federalism Matter?

Our nation’s Constitution, which has been trampled upon and ignored in so many ways by our national government over the years, is actually the very document that prescribed that same government’s structure some two centuries ago.  That is to say, the Constitution established the federal government and the mechanisms by which it would operate.  This is why it is called the supreme law of the land – it gave birth to our national government.

What is and What Should Never Be

Federalism – A system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units.

The system the Constitution established was a federalist system, and that was quite unique at the time and is still fairly rare today.  Certainly more so because we no longer have one ourselves.  So what was so great about our federalist system of government?  It was designed to keep power from concentrating at the top of our political system.  It forced the three branches of government to struggle with one another to get anything done, which is nice because by now we’ve all seen what happens when they start working together full time on matters like deficit spending and foreign policy.  Government grows fast when politicians, regardless of political party, begin compromising to pass news laws that serve the monied interests they all serve.

But federalism was even cooler than that.  Under the Constitution, the states, counties, municipalities, and the people themselves had a lot more power.  It wasn’t unheard of in the beginning for states to issue ultimatums to the federal government, whereas today it’s the national government that issues ultimatums to the states.  Back then federalism shielded our power of representation as states and individual residents.  We elected our state house and senate members, and they selected from among themselves national senators to send to D.C.  This was their representation.  The people also elected individuals directly to the national congress, the House of Representatives.  So the Senate was there to represent state interests, and the House was there to represent the Peoples’ interests, and we could depend on them to argue away most of their days, which again was a good thing.  It kept them from making too many laws.

And So it Goes…

Over the centuries we’ve seen this system degenerate.  The most obvious way it has been broken is by the federal government interacting directly with city governments.  This undermines the sovereignty of the states those cities belong to.  Now you might be thinking about how corrupt our state government is, and you’re right, why not undermine their authority?  But by letting the federal government be the one to undermine that authority, we only undermine our own authority on the state level.  We are making the state government obsolete as a level of representation that should be (and still is, truth be told) capable of shielding our lives from the corruptive influence of bad legislation on the national level.

I know this isn’t a simple issue, and I won’t try to get much further into it with this post.  I’ll wrap it up by pointing out that when our city government files for money from our national government, we end up dependent on that government, and there isn’t a much worse position to be in as a city.  Don’t we want to break free from all the bad policies our federal government has generated?  We can get there, but we have to stop taking their money.  Can you think of a more terrible idea than to let the federal government partially pay the cost of maintaining our city’s police department?  We’ve done that too, and it obligates our very own peace keepers to one of the world’s most violent entities.  Our police should be beholden only to our community.

Old Business (item#16)

There are two old business items on the agenda.  The one that might sound familiar is one they tabled last session about food truck regulation.  Looks like they’ve figured out what they want to do, so it’s time to cram some more regulation down our throats for our own safety.  Since no one else can regulate industry, they are forced again to act on our behalf.  So heroic!

Consent Item #12

This item is set to amend the contract the city has with Legacy Inmate Communications, a company based in Cypress, California.  First off, the council is always going on about bring business to Lawton.  They’ve even asked residents to shop here instead of on the internet so the sales tax can keep flowing into their pockets.  Why are they hiring California firms for local jobs?

Second, I’ve recently learned that our inmates get grossly overcharged for calling their friends and loved ones.  Now you might say “Who cares?”  ..or you might just think of it as part of their punishment – or perhaps you think they are lucky just to be able to call out at all!

But should anyone be making money off our prisoners?  And who pays for those charges?  It’s the inmate’s loved ones, often poor already, who foot the bill.  This is extortion, because many of our inmates are jailed for illegitimate reasons (yeah, the drug war is ridiculous, especially when our law makers can find their own suppliers basically risk free).  So poor families are losing breadwinners, kids are losing parents, and the kind of company that would overcharge these people for the privilege of speaking to their loved ones is the kind of company that we should be ejecting outright from our local economy.

And what about rehabilitation?  How stupid that our prisons are not designed to prepare our inmates to re-integrate peacefully into society.  Rather they learn a whole different way to survive behind bars, and this naturally makes it harder to assimilate back into society.

Those phone calls to loved ones represent an anchor to civilized society.  We should be hoping they have loved ones they can speak with while on the inside!  They can make plans, line up a future job, create a vision for how they will avoid getting thrown in jail a second or third time.  Instead, our city governments extort their already meager wealth and hand it to politically connected firms full of guys in suits, slick bastards who don’t give a damn about us, our plight, anything but themselves.

They are human beings, oft with family themselves, and they consciously choose not to empathize because there is a profit to be made.  And our city pays them to extort that money!  They spend our taxes to steal from the usually poor families of inmates.

So yeah, this item caught my attention because it absolutely should not exist.  We want fewer prisoners, not more, but as long as companies like Legacy Inmate Communications are making a killing, they will lobby for laws that criminalize an ever growing segment of the economy.  They are our enemy, and our city government would prefer to work with them than protect us.  This is just another example of a problem a moral council would fix.  We need to elect better people to govern our little city.

Here’s a quote from the Okmulgee County Jail regarding Legacy’s services:

“I’m pleased with the services of Legacy. Since using Legacy Inmate Communications our revenues have increased and payments are on time. I would recommend this vendor without reservation.”

Another quote, this from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office:

“Since switching to Legacy, we have seen a dramatic increase in revenue generated for our agency, as well as a decrease in telephone service downtime.”

Josephine County Sheriff’s Office:

“The iCON system is extremely easy to use. Legacy excels in customer service, has tripled the jail’s revenue on inmate phones and quickly responds to repairs.”

There’s more on Legacy’s website, but you get the point.  This company is one of many that collude with law enforcement agencies to make money off inmates who just want to stay connected to a world we want them connected to for the sake of their own eventual reintegration, if not in fact for the simple sake of human dignity.  It really says something about our council that such crimes are considered consent agenda material, not even important enough for a discussion.

Lastly, the suggested amendment for this item revolves around coming into compliance with federal regulation on inmate communications.  Now why would the national government have any place at the table that decides how we charge our prisoners for phone privileges?  I bet if you look at those federal regulations, you’ll find out they are the result of companies like Legacy Inmate Communications lobbying our national government for laws that help them make more money.

Well that just covers two topics, but it’s quite enough writing for now.  Til next time!

About the Author


Grew up in Jackson, MS. Moved to Lawton in ’92, went to Tomlinson, then Lawton High, then back to Mississippi for some community college. Finished a degree in politics, economics and philosophy back in ’05ish. Haven’t used it since.

There’s much more to anyone’s story, of course, but for that you’ll have to ask.

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