Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Philosophical Budget

Last week when the current Republican administration unveiled the presidential wish list for a budget, many of my friends gasped and panicked.

Knowing that the thing has to go through Congress first, I held my tongue. I think, though, that an examination of this budget proposal shows a vision of America that is currently being led by a bunch of black-hearted buzzards who are cruel, at best, and evil and inhumane at worst.

If you like wars, blowing up people, and enriching those who are part of the military industrial complex, it's a great budget. I suppose millions of people think that is good stuff.

However, if you dislike stepping over the body of someone's grandmother while you're walking down Main Street USA, it's not such a good budget. If you like art, learning, museums, libraries and Amtrak, it's not a good budget.

If you're a human being who has a heart, it's not a good budget.

Why Should I Pay for Thus and Such Is Not the Right Question

Recently the Republican administration wanted to know why coal miners should pay for PBS (public television) or why a single mother with two kids should pay for something or another.

For the same reason that I have to pay for a F-15 fighter jet when I am a pacifist who staunchly disbelieves in wars and fighting.

You pay your taxes and your representatives put the money where they want it to go, that's why.

I mean, why should either I or the coal miner have to pay for the president to go to his "south White House" and play golf? Why should the coal miner lose his black lung benefits? Why should I have to worry about my health care so that the CEO of any Wall Street corporation can receive a tax break? Why is the entire country paying for the president's wife and son to live in New York when she should be in the White House?

Questions like these are stupid, and I could ask them all day. Phrasing something like that is just a way to throw off the real question, which is: do these people have any sense of morality and/or a conscience? Do they know what "empathy" is? Do they not care about other people at all? Did they not read that "do unto others" thing (Luke 6:31) in their guidebook, the Bible?

Did somebody take their teddy bear when they were in kindergarten and not give it back, and now they're having some kind of subliminal payback frenzy?

Do they not know what common decency is?

To Hell With Everything Else

So this is the budget proposal that says "government pays only for military and security" (and a wall) and to hell with everything else.

This is the budget that would let grandmas starve, and poor people rot in prisons because they can't afford a lawyer and the government would stop providing them with one.

This is the budget that would allow industries to pollute and people with lung-related illnesses to die because of dramatic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. I have asthma; watch me wheeze. 

This is the budget that would make all of our water look like it came from Flint, Michigan, because of the same reason.

This is the budget that would force rural people to drive 200 miles out of their way to reach an airport (it would no longer subsidize rural airports).

This is the budget that stops Amtrak in its tracks.

This is the budget that takes PBS and NPR out of the very rural areas that voted Republican in the last election. (I suspect those entities will survive in larger cities, like New York and San Francisco, but we will see. I think the rural stations will close.)

This is the budget that would offer you a miniscule voucher to send your kid to a private school, like that is going to actually cover even six weeks of education. You get to pay for the rest.

This is the budget that would allow housing discrimination to creep back into our communities, because funding to keep that at bay would be gone.

This is the budget that would let the wife beaters go on to be murderers, because the money to help domestic violence victims obtain protective orders would be wiped out.

This is a budget that says if you're a senior citizen and you've lost your job and need retraining, too damn bad, because the $434 million for that program would be gone.

This is the budget that would take the nation's national parks and turn them into oil drilling and fracking industrial zones. Say bye-bye to that little fuzzy blooming plant over there that might have been the cure for breast cancer, 'cause we will never know. Science has no place in this Republican administration.

This is the budget that would let people who can't afford heat freeze to death; you know, the one that would give us the headlines that say "Ten people in trailer park in up state New York found frozen." Or maybe it would say, "Two dozen elderly die from heat stroke in Birmingham, Alabama high-rise hotel" because the funding for helping low income folks with their energy bills will be gone. Apparently paying for heating and/or air conditioning assistance for poor people is not in the Bible.

This is the budget that would cut funding for Meals on Wheels (which will survive because thankfully much of its funding is from state and local monies, not federal, but again, the rural areas that voted for this Republican Administration will suffer the most from these cuts), because we can't have a 77-year-old man who lives alone (because his wife died and his Army-loving son was killed in Afghanistan) being visited by a young guy who will give him something healthy to eat and ensure he's not sprawled out dead on the kitchen floor.

That would be humane, to continue to pay for that kind of thing out of federal dollars. And the federal government is no longer in the business of humane (or humanity). It's just in the business of business.

And business, by definition, is heartless.

Eliminating the ARC

This is the budget that would eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission, which serves the heart of the president's base of support. This Commission, which I have written about innumerable times over the last 30 years, has helped decrease the number of high poverty counties (295 in 1960) to 107 today. Its programs increased graduation rates, reduced infant mortality, made potable water available to untold numbers of families, and helped create more then 2,000 miles of new highways. In my state alone, the ARC has helped folks increase household income, reduced poverty, and added indoor plumbing to places that otherwise would still be shitting into the creeks and sending their waste into the major waterways of the state. The ARC region, in case you don't know, is a 205,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi. It includes all of West Virginia and parts of 12 other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia (including my county). Forty-two percent of the Region's population is rural, compared with 20 percent of the national population.

Here's a map of the region (I circled my county in yellow, for those who may not believe we're part of this loss of funding):

Community Block Grants

This is the budget that would eliminate Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which I have also written about multiple times over the last 30 years. I know New Castle in Craig County received one of these grants, because I was writing over there at the time. I think Fincastle's sidewalks were put in place in part with a CDBG, and I suspect but can't remember for sure that much of Buchanan's recovery from the 1985 flood came about because of a CDBG.  These grants are used for a multitude of things, from reinventing "blighted" areas to installing plumbing to revitalizing business districts. If people think this money is handed out willie-nillie, they are wrong. Communities go through extensive processes to receive these funds, and their projects have to be well composed and thought out before requests for funding are considered. It takes communities years to obtain these funds. They're not gifts, and regardless of the FAKE NEWS coming out of the Republican Administration, these grants do have measurable results. I've seen them myself.

Yes, I'm a Liberal

This budget proposal does not reflect what I want to see the United States be or become. I hope it is not who we are, because it is a callous document.

I want museums, libraries, parks, and streets. I don't ride on Amtrak but I want to see it continue. I want poor people to receive the help they need, those who need to work receive the education they require in this new world of technology, and all of the other stuff that apparently the black-hearted buzzards in Washington, D.C. have no respect or regard for.

The other day during a phone conversation I was informed with every other sentence that I am a Democrat. I'm really more of a social liberal, but whatever. The word "democrat" was hurled at me as if it were some kind of taunt or insult. This same person (who is a Republican) was unhappy because someone could go into his establishment and sue him if they touched a hot water heater and there was a sign up that said "don't touch."

Hey, that's the free market, Mr. Republican. If there's a lawyer out there who will take the case to take your money, that's the way it is. If you want regulations to stop that kind of thing, then move on over to my side. Otherwise, pay your insurance premiums, which will go unchecked and keep rising. That's the free market capitalism that you love so much.

He also noted that he didn't have to worry about health care because he was on Medicare. Republicans opposed Medicare (and Medicaid) in the 1960s when it began and are doing their best to defund Medicaid now and Medicare is in their sights. So welcome to my side, Mr. Republican. You're enjoying the fruits of my bleeding heart and that of those who came before me. How sad that you would deny that same security to your own children and grandchildren.

People who deride me for being liberal say that word like it's some kind of curse. It isn't. If I must be labeled, it's a label I embrace.

Jesus was a liberal, and that should say something about how one should act. Don't believe me? Of course you don't. But here you go:

·       In  Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus proclaims that how you treat the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and other "least of these," is how you treat Jesus himself.  And if you fail to help the "least of these," Jesus promises, he will send you to Hell.

 ·       The Old Testament is permeated with an overwhelming concern for the poor and for economic justice.

 ·       In the Old Testament Jubilee Year, slaves were released and land was returned to its original owners. That's called redistribution of wealth.

·       And last but not least, there are the famous words of Jesus in Mark 10:25: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

None of that says throw grandma under the bus and give taxpayer money to the rich guys who own Halliburton while we build nuclear weapons so we can blow up the world.

I favor that part of the U.S. Constitution that says "promote the general welfare." I take that to mean we as a society have been instructed to make sure that everyone has clean water, the roads don't have potholes, people who are sick receive the care they need, and that folks who find themselves in trouble have a safety net underneath them so they don't end up living in the streets. We're a wealthy and rich nation and there is absolutely no reason for the abject poverty that I have seen in my lifetime.

Promoting the general welfare doesn't ignore the other parts of the Preamble - establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense. But it is the part that I think is currently being ignored and the part certain people do not recognize or want to recognize. Justice is first, defense is last; domestic tranquility and general welfare are in the middle. But defense -  the one listed last and therefore perhaps the least important to the framers of this revered document  -  is the one that seems to be uppermost in the minds of the current Republican administration.

Most of us want the same things in life, I think. Freedom to move about, live where we want, work at the job we like. We want prosperity, however one defines that. For a select few, apparently, it is vast amounts of money; for others, like me, that means the ability to go the art museum and learn something. It's rather like success - you can define it a million ways and none of them are wrong. You may think I am not successful but I would tell you that as far as I am concerned, you are wrong. And you may think you are successful, and I might disagree. What does it matter if we both are happy?

I would hope that most of us would prefer that our fellow human beings do not suffer; that we want them and their children (as well as our own, of course), to be healthy; we want to live without fear of crime and other boogie men.

The argument is how to achieve these goals. We did the no-regulations-and-work-people-until-they-drop thing already, 100 years ago. We did that back during the beginnings of the Industrial Age and into the early 1900s, before the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911 in New York took the lives of 146 garment workers and showed us the error of allowing industry to go unchecked by regulations and government oversight.

Must we watch hundreds of people die again before we wake up and realize that industries do not police themselves? That churches cannot, or will not, serve and help all who are poor and needy? That $7 an hour doesn't feed, house and clothe a single individual, much less a family? 

It looks like it. I feel like we're moving backwards in time, heading into an era of the plague.

I hope the people of this land find their heart again, or there will be nothing here left to save.


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