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.

Death and Taxes

My mom used to say (over and over) “there’s nothing certain but death and taxes.” OK I get it. But apparently other people’s moms didn’t tell them that. Growing numbers of people in this nation want to stop taxation altogether. “Taxed Enough Already” says the group, the so-called Tea Party. And whether or not one takes the extreme view, it is certainly the case that a great many people in this country (most?) want taxes to be reduced and social programs cut to the bone. Though most I have spoken with and read insist that the bone has already been exposed, this is not adequate for those determined to cut even deeper.

The truth of the matter, has been explained by my fellow blogger “musingsofanoldfart” — a former Republican who woke up to the lies that are being broadcast by that political party (and, yes, there are lies being broadcast by the Democrats as well. It’s the name of the game these days: tell them what they want to hear and don’t worry if it isn’t true). “Musings” tells us that

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, who has measured overall taxes as a percent of GDP in 34 countries for over forty-five years, the US is one of the least taxed countries in the world. Of these 34 countries, the US ranks 32nd in terms of most taxes. Our average tax rate pf 24.1% of GDP in 2009 is almost 10%of GDP lower than the average of these 34 countries of 33.8%. When  our budget was last balanced in 2000, the year before Bush took office, our rate was still much less than the average. We also are at our lowest tax rates in over 50 years in the US. The truth is any politician can get elected saying he or she will lower taxes, yet we need sober discussions now regarding raising taxes as well as cutting spending as recommended by the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan.

It’s hard to accept that we are taxed lower than almost every other developed country because it is being drummed into our heads daily by the Tea-Partiers and their friends that our taxes are too high and need to be cut — or at least held to their present level. Why? To save each of us a few dollars every year. Are we really that selfish? Further cutting social programs that help those in need — no matter how many abuses of social programs the nay-sayers can point to — would suggest that we are a wealthy country that ignores its own citizens in need. As those in need become more numerous and more genuinely needy we begin to take on aspects of a third-world country. I cannot believe that people really want that. It is one thing to have RVs and second homes in the Berkshires; it is another to have enough money to put food on the table or have adequate health care. We are not talking about “standard of living” here, we are talking about life or death.

This country was founded on the principle that government exists for “the common good” — not the good of the 1% or the corporations that make them wealthy, or the fools who mouth platitudes about cutting taxes. All of us should want adequate health care and the knowledge that the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink are safe. Even those who have no children should want this country to have sound educational system that will turn out intelligent and informed citizens. I remember having a discussion with an elderly single women who had no children who thought she should not have to support education with her tax money. That is bullocks! We all need to support education — and welfare; and health programs, the whole ball of wax. We need it in order to be a healthy country that continues to care about “the common good” and does not place selfish interests (like saving a few tax dollars) above the interests of the whole.

Sacred Cows

I have remarked from time to time that we might take an important step toward reducing our national debt and climbing out of our economic hole if we simply cut some of what we euphemistically call “defense” spending. This pie chart tells us that our country contributes a very large part of the money spent in the entire world on what is accurately called the “military”:

As we know, the military takes a disproportionate amount of our tax money in order to maintain this ascendency I am ashamed to say. We also know that our country leads the rest of the world in providing bellicose people with arms and ammunition to fight their wars. But when it is suggested that we cut some of our military spending in order to help balance the budget we hear an uproar. Clearly the military is a sacred cow in this country — much as sports are a sacred cow on the local levels when there is talk about balancing school budgets. Some things simply are not considered in the discussion: they cannot be touched. In the case of “defense” spending it’s not clear why, unless we probe the psychological depths of those who regard the military as essential to their well-being. The word that springs to mind is “fear,” but then I am not a psychologist. I do, however, recognize fear when I see it and I also know how our emotions frequently impair our reasoning abilities. Whatever the reason, what  we spend on the military is positively obscene.

Be that as it may, it is certainly the case that the military is the largest customer in this country for miscellaneous goods which may have nothing whatever to do with defense such as electronics, food, housing, recreational equipment, and clothing — not to mention arms and military equipment (such as planes and tanks) which clearly do. Last week the Department of Defense signed defense contracts with such companies as Boeing, Textron, Honeywell, Lockheed, Raytheon, Northrop Grummen, and Oceaneering International. As a recent report reveals, in part,

The number of contracts reached 90 for the week, ranging from weapons and vehicle development to night vision set replacement across different branches of the military.

The company realizing some of the largest contracts is Boeing (BA). The DoD agreed to pay Boeing $500 million to transition into post production of the C-17 jet because their need was being met. The company is likely still responsible for parts and maintenance for the fleet of C-17s.

Given this situation, when we talk about cuts in “defense” spending we are talking about cuts in the flow on great sums of monies to other segments of the economy that seem to have nothing whatever to do with killing other folks or keeping the world safe for democracy. We are dealing with a giant weed with a multitude of twisted roots that go deep into the economy of this country.

What this means, then, is that the pie chart above reflects the pie-in-the-sky thinking when we have the audacity to suggest cuts in the military. It would appear that the military keeps the economy afloat (though it seems at present to be in need of water wings). It’s no wonder that Republicans, especially, shout “foul” when they hear talk about cutting “defense” spending. It is, indeed, a sacred cow: it is the source of much of their livelihood.

Bizarro World!

I always loved Jerry Seinfeld’s humor and my wife and I watched the re-runs of his sit-com until we could say the lines with the actors. One episode developed the notion of a “bizarro world” where everything is backwards. The idea is stolen from Lewis Carroll, of course, but many a good idea was stolen from someone else. In any event, I sometimes think we live in such a world — especially when I listen to or read some of the comments made by politicians. A case in point is a series of remarks by Mitt Romney quoted in today’s Yahoo News in which he made comments about tax cuts that John Sununu felt necessary to defend. (If we judge people by the company they keep we must be at least mildly concerned by Mitt’s new friends.)  In any event, Romney’s comments, in part, are as follows:

“He [President Obama] wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?” Romney said, referring to the failed recall effort of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker. “The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

Of course, we can expect the Republicans to play the Wisconsin card at every opportunity. Indeed, if Walker had been recalled the Democrats would have played the same card. But in any event, the notion that “America” has spoken is absurd: the voters in Wisconsin spoke on one issue that makes clear their desire to hang on to their money until their eyeballs pop out. It is, as I am fond of pointing out, a case of short-term thinking that plagues us all. We can’t see the forest for the trees. We think that by saving a few tax dollars we will benefit. We may in the short term, but certainly not in the long run: the cost will be irremediable.

There is simply no way reducing the numbers of firemen, police, and teachers can benefit this country. To say, as Romney apparently did, that “it’s time to cut back on government to help the American people” is oxymoronic, to coin a term. How is it going to help the American people to have a few more dollars in their pocket if there are not enough policemen to keep thieves from stealing them? Or if their house is burning and the remaining firemen are putting out a fire somewhere else? Or if their children grow up and keep electing the same damned fools their parents voted in?

I am aware that government has grown huge. But much of that growth has resulted from individual and, especially, corporate irresponsibility. Many of the government agencies that have sprung up are a direct result of the damage large corporations have done to the environment. Many more are the result of the fact that we all seem to lack foresight. But many, if not all, of these agencies are indeed essential to life as we have come to know it.  Making drastic cuts in essential services, especially at a time when the very rich do not pay their fair share of the taxes, is borderline crazy.

The idea that, as Sununu says (defending Romney), “there are too many teachers” is arrant nonsense. It is on the order of Romney’s notion that small classes don’t benefit the students — which I have discussed previously. Moreover, Sununu’s notion that teaching can be done on the internet is an idea that is catching on and I have also discussed that notion. It, too, is absurd.  Real teaching and learning cannot be accomplished on the internet. The suggestion that we need to reduce the number of teachers in this country is all part of the move to eliminate public schools altogether; it would leave more of our citizens uneducated than is already the case. We not only need more teachers, we need better teachers, and smaller classes.

But as long as we remain focused on reducing taxes by eliminating critical elements within this society such as teachers, firemen, and policemen [what are these men thinking?!], then we deserve the consequences that are sure to follow. Our society will become considerably more dangerous and its citizens even more stupid than they are now — judging by the remarks by these two politicians and by the recent vote in Wisconsin. Bizarro world, indeed: black is white, up is down, and we can make our kids smarter by reducing the pittance we now spend on education and our citizens safer by reducing the number of police and firemen.