Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Our 51st State?

It seems the idea of a 51st state may not be too far fetched.  President Trump has apparently expressed interest in buying Greenland.  The crazier thing is that the notion has not been completely dismissed within the administration.  While there are scoffers, others have seriously considered and explored the idea.

There are a few features that make Greenland particularly enticing.  It is the site of our northern most military base with Thule Air Base.    It is further at the center of the global climate crisis and frequently mentioned in discussions regarding national security.   An early detection and response location for the east coast.

It is also apparently not the first time we have considered, much less attempted to buy the land.  President Harry Truman apparently offered Denmark $100 million in gold for the island, but Denmark refused to sell.

There too will lie the downfall of this current presidential lark.  Greenland is an autonomous territory of Denmark, who has again refused to consider any offer.  Further, Greenland has made it clear they want no part in this.  Most Americans want no part in it unless the price is shockingly low.  Only a third of those surveyed would pay more than $12.  

This does make me wonder though, how well we are taking care of our 14 territories.   Or more specifically, the five permanently inhabited territories: Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.  

In truth, I think most of the country forgets these exist.  Or that they are home to 3.6 million American citizens (and 32,000 non-citizen U.S. nationals thanks to weird laws in American Samoa).

Residents of these territories have local governments, but only get a non-voting member to the United States House of Representatives.  They have no senators, nor can they vote in the presidential elections.  Though Supplemental Security Income, previously only available to the Northern Mariana Islands, may be extended to the other territories thanks to a recent court case, the citizens do not need to pay into federal income taxes.  No representation, no taxation.

We can even look to those who live in the District of Columbia for a closer example of the problem.  Those 702,455 people live in a similar limbo.  They have a mayor and thirteen member council, and can elect a non-voting representative to the House, but have no senator.    Unlike those in the territories, DC residents are subject to all federal taxes, and in fact pay the highest federal taxes per capita.  Taxation without representation, especially given Congress can overrule all the mayor and council decisions governing the district?

It’s clear we have citizens that are not treated equally by our governmental structure.  It seems to also cause our government to forget them in times of crisis.  Just look at how we’ve treated Puerto Rico following the devastation from Hurricane Maria.

I just have the feeling that if this were Florida or California or North Carolina we were talking about, the conversation would be much different and the situation of recovery would be much different.

So, maybe before getting excited about Greenland, we should expect our government to look at how well we are taking care of our current territories and evaluating whether it’s time for an upgrade in status there?  

DC has voted for statehood, though that presents its own unique challenges. 

Puerto Rico has voted for statehood twice.

Perhaps we should start there.

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