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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

READER'S FEEDBACK: Federal funding of PAHR

While I am a dedicated genealogist, I am also a strong constitutionalist! It is primarily for that reason that I take keyboard in hand to disagree almost violently with the PAHR and invite your reconsideration of your stance. Our founding fathers had the very good sense to design our government with the concept that the government elements that would have the greatest effect on the lives of the people should be the closest to those people.

The idea that the everyday services needed by the citizens should be provided by local governments is based on the premise that those in local government see their constituents frequently and therefore are more responsive to the needs of those voters.

If your house was on fire, would you want to call Washington? First responders are local. Katrina showed what happens when we try to make Washington into first responders.

The next level of service and responsibility is reserved for the several states with the same philosophy in mind. In the case of Katrina, aid was at hand with the Florida Guard waiting in Tallahassee to be invited into Louisiana. They were never asked. That is because no state can send a military unit into another without being asked. The Federal government was very limited in it's powers in the Constitution and those limitations are often referenced in that document. All powers not granted to the Federal government specifically in the Constitution are reserved to the states.

In the current world, we see the Federal government assuming more and more power that was reserved to the states and the evidence that this does not work well is everywhere. We have highways that the locals don't want being built by the Federal government (currently, The Prairie Parkway). We have bridges that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars being built to serve islands that have only tens of residents that already have ferry service, and which those residents say they prefer. We have numerous research programs funded by the Federal government that are of interest to very few, while important research goes unfunded (such as energy research). Why is this? Because special interest groups convince some member of congress that a program is of importance and should be funded by the Federal government with some of those "free federal funds".

Believe me, Myrt, I surely want to see the states preserve and make available the records created by them for the benefit of the people. But, the government unit that should fund that work is the state government, not the Feds! The people who need this service from the states should be able to influence their closest government unit to do the work that should be done, and financed properly. Will I soon have help from the Federal government to help me decide which records I need to preserve for history? Protect me from the day!

Myrt, I know you mean well, but if we genealogists, who are so interested in history do not learn it's lessons and teach the next generations it's lessons, who can we expect to do it? Please do not be so caught up in the "decimal dust mentality", of federal funding that you lose sight of the proper way to do such things and subvert our government plan. As an ex-New Yorker, I know Maurice Hinchey never met an idea for spending federal money that he didn't like. I think we should do such things, but I think we should do them properly!

I am very concerned that we keep ceding more and more power, and therefore control to the Federal government because we are too complacent (or lazy) to hold our local and state governments accountable for what they are really supposed to be accomplishing. As we expect more and more from the Federal government we will find we have less and less control in our affairs. More laws and regulations that are ineffectively enforced leads ultimately to a breakdown of the system. All this seems to be tied to those "free federal funds" we keep hearing about. I hope it will stimulate a good debate on why we have become so addicted to federal money.

Dear Donald,
Thank-you for writing. OlMyrt here is usually a “states rights” person, aimed at keeping power in the local area. Having survived two of Florida’s hurricanes personally, I understand your concern. Additionally, the thought of spending a hundred dollars for a toilet seat bolt is beyond me.

But since you have taken the time to write, let me explain why I still support PAHR.

The reason is simple – I have been following unsuccessful attempts during two of the past seven years to see that the Tuscaloosa & Greene County Alabama courthouse records are preserved. (Remember, I do not live there, but have close ties with friends in the area. I receive many more reports than appear in my blog.)

The critical element, despite local urging, is indeed FUNDING from local and state government that simply cannot or will not step up to the plate.

Think about your local county courthouse – where 2-3 clerks previously did the job that one does now. These folks are hard working , just to keep up of the current docket’s workload. Getting “riffed” (reduction in force noticed) is a term with which we are all too familiar both in the public arena and the private sectors of industry.

Unfortunately, from my limited observation of the Katrina situation, it would appear that Louisiana’s governor didn’t invite federal or state assistance until quite late into the event. The loss of patients and Charity Hospital are unthinkable. Oversight wasn’t in place to avoid the levee failure despite warnings about known weak points. Was local apathy part of the problem? Was the subsistence level socio-economic profile of the majority of the New Orleans residents the reason for the lack of clamoring to get those levies in shape? Indeed each family should have had a disaster plan, but they didn’t perhaps most likely due to strained economic conditions.

Understanding the forces of nature, and predicting the course of a tornado in Kansas or Missouri is nearly impossible. Some people prepare, other’s don’t take the time. Yet all become victims equalized by the terror and trauma in the wake of devastation.

In the case of local historical records, we cannot wait until disaster strikes. Nor as responsible citizens can we allow apathy or socio-economic conditions of a region dictate the survival of historical documents.

Here’s a little scenario to illustrate my point:

When I was younger (and not into genealogy) I didn’t know I had 3 soldiers who served during the War Between the States. Should we
allow the records of their service, injuries, incarcerations, hospitalizations, subsequent pensions & death fall to the elements of time?

Thankfully pertinent documents were saved by those with more wisdom and experience – that I may have the joy of discovering my roots.

In our additional communications, you wrote "Well, to be honest Myrt, it sounds like a defense of the idea "We know better than you, so we will keep you from making mistakes". Superdelegates, anyone? What about "We, the people..." Forgive the levity, but I think we ultimately have to get back to "an informed electorate..." or risk losing the Republic."

I couldn't have said it better – but until we get to the informed electorate part, let’s not risk losing our republic’s documents.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

© 2008 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

This and previous blog entries are fully searchable by going to Myrt welcomes queries and research challenges, but regrets she is unable to answer each personally.

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