Money Well Spent?

I am reposting an earlier piece that has direct bearing on the current hoopla about disrespecting the flag (No, it will not be in the forthcoming book. Sorry). I recently asked the obvious question: why the hell do we sing the national anthem and salute the flag before sporting events? This post answers this question, or at least begins the discussion. Historically I suspect it started soon after (during?) the Second World War. It is clearly jingoistic and designed to instill in all attendees the true spirit of patriotism and love of country. In a word, it is a form of indoctrination. In any event, it is costing each of us a great many tax dollars. Think about that next time you see a “fly-over”!!

As one who has complained from time to time about the role the Department of Defense has played in helping mold the minds of Americans into a shape more malleable to those with deep pockets in this country, I was delighted to read “Point After” in this week’s Sports Illustrated (Nov. 16, 2015) that helps me to make my case. I agree that the point of the SI article was not to take the DOD to task. Rather, it was to take the NFL and other sports groups to task for “paid patriotism” at professional sports games. The teams apparently collect millions of dollars every year.

The article mentions that the DOD paid $879,000 last year to the Atlanta Falcons to put on displays of patriotism before and during games. They also paid the New England Patriots $700,000 according to the article. We can assume other teams received similar amounts of money for the same reason. It goes without saying that this is our tax money, the money the Republicans desperately want to keep flowing in the direction of keeping our nation strong, defending us against ….. what? Disloyal football fans?

We all know about the obscene waste of taxpayer money when it comes to the Department of “Defense.” For example, when I was coaching tennis we shelled out a precious $30,000 for two “Omni” tennis courts as an experiment. If we liked them it was said that we would get four more. This was exciting, since we were playing on six weathered lay-kold tennis courts that saw their better days in 1968, though I never really believed we would ever see four more Omni-courts at that price. In any event, the men who were laying the courts told me they were headed to the Offutt Air Force base just outside of Omaha where they were going to put down 15 of those courts for the officers at the base. That’s nearly a quarter of a million of our tax dollars so the military brass could whack a tennis ball back and forth — when they weren’t playing golf on their own 18 hole golf course. But I digress.

As I say, we all know about such cases of waste of tax monies at a time when Congress cannot find a way to balance the national budget and the Republicans will simply not allow anyone to touch a penny of the “Defense” spending.  But let’s reflect on the waste of this money on fly overs and other examples of “paid patriotism” at professional sports games. What are the implications?  For one thing, it leads to jingoism, which is often confused with patriotism. The difference is a love of country that leads to such nonsense as “my country, right or wrong.” True patriotism requires a citizenry at least enlightened enough to question what the government is doing and suggest from time to time that what they are doing, (if they are doing anything at all) is simply wrong. But the “paid patriotism” displays are a form of brain-washing that leads people to leave the game convinced that we have the most powerful and greatest country on earth when, in fact, there is much that needs to be improved both at home and in the way we conduct ourselves on the international stage. We have a penchant in this country for telling the rest of the world how to live when our own house is filled with dirt and broken glass.

So there is much to regret when finding out how our government spends our tax dollars. But it is really not that surprising, given the trend I have pointed out numerous times to dumb down this nation and people it with obedient citizens who will do what they are told and agree that what their government does is always the right thing.

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Your Typical Pauper

A recent blog written by “Salty Political Musings” on July 7th received a belated comment this month from someone calling himself “Auth.” In his comment, Auth said that “In Wisconsin we have what is called Badger Care and it has . . . left the poorer citizens having nothing to pay for, when they are the folks who are usually smoking crack and pumping out babies at 1 a year. .. . ” For some reason this comment showed up on my blog and I thought I would respond to it.

To begin with, I have a problem with anonymous writers, though I realize that the broad audience of the blogosphere demands for many people that readers not know who they are. Anonymity allows them the license to say what they think without fear of recrimination. I can understand that, and I respect it. But sometimes it is also a shield to protect the narrow-minded and bigoted, as in this case. The reference to the poor as “usually smoking crack and pumping out babies at 1 a year” suggests a narrow, if not a closed, mind. It suggests stereotyping and castigating all of those who are below the poverty level — what is it, $23,000 a year for a family of four? — as beneath contempt. It suggests that we should have no sympathy whatever for those who struggle to keep their heads above water in an economy where many are going under for the third time. It suggests that the poor are a burden the rest of hard-working Americans must carry about on their backs. Finally, it suggests a heart closed to the pain and suffering of others. It is truly sad.

The assumption seems to be that poverty is the result of a lack of will, that the poor are somehow poor on purpose. These people are not impoverished, they are “bums.” They bring it on themselves, thus we should not have any patience with them or any sympathy for their plight. This view is insensitive and naive to the point of stupidity. It suggests a prejudice strong enough to be called “bigotry.” I have no doubt whatever that there are some, perhaps many, who can be described as the poor are in this comment. I have said before that there are indeed many abuses of the welfare system. Let’s agree that there are thousands. For all those thousands, there are tens of thousands more who are pulled from under the waters and brought back to life as a result of the social programs that have come under attack by politicians on the right side of the political spectrum. This is not acceptable. Surely, we should err on the side of compassion for our fellow humans.

When one reads that a Tea Party audience cheers and shouts “yes!” when Ron Paul is asked  by Wolf Blitzer during a primary debate whether an uninsured man should be allowed to die, one can infer that Auth’s position is not just an anomaly, but is rather widespread in this country. And this is deeply disturbing, though it explains why the Republican Party has received such broad support for its continued call for tax cuts and the reduction or elimination of social programs that sustain the poor. If, as one suspects, there are a great many Americans who regard the poor as lazy and unmotivated, who are poor not through accident but on purpose, then the attacks on social programs by people like Mitt Romney and Ryan Paul make perfect sense.

What is most disturbing about this phenomenon, however, is that we are supposed to be a nation of caring people guided by ethical and religious principles built around the notions of love and charity. But this may in fact be a fiction if there are enough people like “Auth” and those who cheered at Ron Paul’s comments about the uninsured. And if it is indeed a fiction then the character of this nation has assuredly changed for the worse. Time will tell.

Military Mystique

I recall seeing a photograph recently of President Obama sitting in a crowded room surrounded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in all their regalia. There they were fully uniformed, chests ablaze with ribbons representing courage, valor and years of experience defending the country in all parts of the world. And there was the skinny little President in his white shirt and tie looking very much out-of-place — and intimidated. They were considering how to wage war.

The photo made me reflect on an incident from my distant past when I taught at a private school in Katonah, New York and one Saturday we took a group of the boys to West Point for a basketball game. We were all dressed in our best bib and tucker and feeling very good about ourselves — until we started walking around the grounds of the academy. There were the cadets, ramrod straight and neatly pressed (not a wrinkle anywhere to be seen), eyes straight ahead, faces stern and heroic. I started to think myself shabbily dressed, even a bit of a slob — anything but “heroic.” I felt that way walking around Annapolis during my four years of college in that city standing next to a Midshipman as he ordered items from a sales person or walking next to him down the street.

What to make of this? I wonder if part of the reason why the President and the Congress are unwilling to take on the military is reflected in the subtle psychological messages blended into these impressions I recall here? We have a reverence for the military in this country that borders on worship: these are all our “heroes.” These feelings are reinforced every time a sports team hits the field, and our TVs remind us constantly how much we owe these heroes.  If one were to utter a criticism of any one of them it would be regarded as sacrilege. In fact, we have become a nation of military pageants and military presence. Ever since Viet Nam, it seems, the military is held up to us as a model of human achievement. I suspect it is by design. There are parades, fly overs, flags unfurled, uniforms galore, and the air filled with the strains of the National Anthem. It fills us with pride and a sense of awe and privilege. But it is also dangerous, it seems to me.

We need to beware of what I would call the “lure of the military mystique,” the sense that what these people say and do is always right, that they are the paradigm of all human excellence. I dare say that the politicians in this country are intimidated and awed by the presence in the room of a large man in uniform with ribbons agleam on his chest who has a “request” that simply cannot be ignored. It seems a bit of a stretch, but perhaps this is a small part of what Eisenhower was warning us about: some of the power of the military is assuredly wrapped up in the mystique and awe we all experience in the presence of men and women who represent courage, valor, and integrity. Who can say “no” to people like this?

As I say, it is a stretch, but one wonders why an ultra-conservative like Paul Ryan who is intent on slashing every social program in sight and leaving us all without a safety net in our old age would, at the same time (as Chair of the House Budget Committee), recommend increasing the military budget? Indeed, it is one of the oddities of this age that the Republicans generally who want to cut and slash the Federal budget refuse to consider any serious examination of the “defense” budget — much less cuts. And this in face of the fact that we spend 6 to 7 times as much on the military as China and more than the next 20 largest military spenders combined. In fact, this country spends over 40% of the total amount spent on the military in the entire world! Does it ultimately come down to a psychological trick that none of us is aware of: an inability to say “no” to those who are used to giving orders? I wonder.

In the meantime, while we mull this over, the military continues to amass power and spread its influence throughout the world as we continue to spend more on “defense” than any nation in the world and people go to sleep hungry and homeless in a country of vast wealth.

Giving Us The Finger

I have touched on this before at the time when Mitt Romney announced his running mate, (you remember, the next President of the United States….sorry, the next Vice President of the United States) Paul Ryan. As a rule the Vice President of the United States is a titular figure —  he or she Chairs the Senate and mostly does PR for the President when he is playing golf or shooting buckets with some friends. But think of LBJ and think of Paul Ryan as next President of the United States. ‘Kind of sends a shiver up the back, doesn’t it? But he’s like us, he says, because he worked at McDonald’s and he drives a truck. Somehow I don’t find that very reassuring.

But what Romney’s selection does is, in effect, is to present his middle finger to the country. It says, in effect: (1) we don’t give a damn about the poor and those in need; we will continue to cut social programs while we increase “defense” spending;  (2) we don’t care about education and improving the public school system so our kids can compete with the world at large in the coming years — where they are rapidly losing ground; (3) we don’t give a damn about the planet as long as we can continue to amass profits and maintain our “way of life.” The only thing we really care about is saving some tax dollars so you can buy a few more pull-tabs or perhaps a new golf club and we can augment our off-shore bank accounts. And we think enough of you will buy into this plan and vote us in to office in November.

In a word, these two Republican candidates taken together represent the reduction of politics to greed and filthy lucre, pure and simple. There is only one thing that matters and that is tax dollars, though neither man seems to want us to know how much they pay in taxes! The fundamental message sent by a moderate Republican who has already announced a tax plan that favors the wealthy and has targeted the E.P.A. for “reductions” when he selects a Tea Party supporter who is known to favor cuts to social programs that help the poor while increasing defense spending is clear: people and the planet don’t matter. What matters is that we save a few dollars. Let’s hope the American public sees through the smiling political masks to the smirking faces beneath.