Money Matters

As you are doubtless aware, the college football season started recently. In fact, it started with a game in Dublin, Ireland between Notre Dame and the United States Naval Academy. That’s right, they flew the Naval Academy’s football team to Ireland to play a game. That would be our tax dollars, folks, part of our “defense” spending. And we might also note the “fly overs” at a number of other major games last weekend that have become a part of the jingoistic spectacle that is now American sports and which probably cost a dollar or two of our “defense” spending as well.

And we could total up the bill with other recreational spending on the military here and all over the globe where we have forces protecting us against whoever it is they are protecting us against. I suspect the cost of softballs alone would feed a family of four for a year. But that is speculation because I doubt very many people are privy to the inside dope on just what our defense spending goes toward. Ron Paul’s son recently had the audacity to suggest that there should be an audit of the Pentagon, but that suggestion fell on deaf ears and closed Republican minds.

But the Republicans are eager to cut federal spending and bring the government down a peg in order to help balance the budget. Yeah, right! So where will the cuts come from? You guessed it, social programs. 60% of the federal budget in the coming year will go to “defense” spending — Department of Defense, war, veterans affairs, and nuclear weapons programs. 6% will go to health and human services, 6% to education, 5% to the individual states, 4% to the Department of Homeland Security, 3% to Housing and Urban Development, and 4.5% to other programs. Oh, and there’s also a projected 1.5% that will go to helping develop and support new energy programs other than nuclear weapons programs. There are a few other piddling items, but you can see from this list where the major cuts will come — given that the “defense” budget will actually be increased in the future if the Republicans have their way. The cuts will come from programs designed to help folks survive and better themselves. Paul Ryan, for example, has suggested that Pell Grants be frozen or reduced in order to force the colleges and universities to reduce tuition costs for the nation’s college students.

Ryan’s suggestion reminds me of one of our local legislators who pushed through the Minnesota legislature a plan to increase the speed limits on two-lane country roads in order to reduce the speed of the vehicles and reduce accidents on country roads. That’s right: increase the speed limits in order to reduce the speed of local traffic. You heard it here, folks, it’s called “newspeak” or “policalese.” Whatever you call it, it’s hogwash and Ryan’s plan to cut Pell Grants in order to reduce tuition costs for students falls in that category.

Thus, if this crew is elected to run our government, we can brace ourselves for cuts to social programs that help people receive an adequate education, feed themselves, and find temporary shelter when they fall on hard times — while, at the same time, the military gets more money for softballs, golf balls, tennis balls, fly overs, and trips to Ireland to play football. I begin to know how Alice felt in Wonderland.

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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.