Archive for the ‘time’ tag
This month’s Time magazine includes an article, “One Nation On Welfare. Living Your Life On The Dole,” that tracks how one relatively successful author’s life is subsidized by the government nearly from sun up until sun down.
Since the online version of the story is only available via subscription, the above link won’t pull up the whole story unless you are a subscriber, so here is a portion of it that describes a typical morning for Michael Grunwald:
7 a.m.: Subsidized food, water, electricity and clothing
The right routinely portrays government as a giant mess of Solyndra failures, lavish agency conferences in Vegas and pork for society’s leeches. But my taxpayer-supported morning didn’t feel like mooching at the time.
For example, my family pays for that water I use to brush my teeth, about $100 a month. But that’s a small fraction of the true cost of delivering clean water to our home and treating the sewage that leaves our home. And it certainly doesn’t reflect the $15 billion federal project to protect and restore the ravaged Everglades, which sit on top of the aquifers that provide our drinking water. Most Americans think of the water that comes out of our faucets as an entitlement, not a handout, but it’s a government service, and it’s often subsidized.
Similarly, my family pays more than $200 a month for the electricity that powers our toaster at breakfast. But that number would be much higher if the feds didn’t subsidize the construction, liability insurance and just about every other cost associated with my utility’s nuclear power plants while also providing generous tax advantages (“depletion allowances,” “intangible drilling costs” and so forth) for natural gas and other fossil fuels. The $487 we’re paying this year for federal flood insurance is also outrageously low, considering that our low-lying street floods all the time, that a major hurricane could wipe out Miami Beach and that the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America estimates that premiums in high-risk areas would be three times as high without government aid.
Some federal largesse–tax breaks for NASCAR racetracks ($40 million) and subsidies for rum distilleries ($172 million) and rural airports ($200 million)–is just silly. There’s no reason my poker buddies should be able to deduct the gambling losses I inflict on them once a month. (Just kidding, guys!)
The silliest handouts that brighten my morning are the boondoggles that funnel billions to America’s cotton and grain farmers and maybe knock a few cents off the price of my T-shirts and my kids’ breakfast waffles. Uncle Sam sends at least $15 billion every year to farmers and agribusinesses in the form of grants, loans, crop insurance and other goodies. The farm lobby is so omnipotent in Washington that when the World Trade Organization ruled that U.S. handouts give our cotton farmers an unfair advantage over Brazil, the U.S. cut a deal to shovel $147 million a year to Brazilian cotton farmers rather than kick our own farmers off the dole. Our food and clothing may seem cheap, but, oh, we pay for them.
Later in the article on page six — it was a lengthy read by Time’s standards — Grunwald pinpoints the schizophrenic attitude that many Americans have toward government spending depending on whether or not it actually affects their lives:
Americans tell pollsters they don’t like government, much less the taxes they pay to fund government, but they tend to support Medicare, the military and most other services that government provides. This is why politicians tend to spend a lot more time talking about shrinking government than actually shrinking government. President Obama talks a lot about trimming the fat, and Republican leaders talk about almost nothing but trimming the fat. But the status quo has largely prevailed.
This was the central point of the article for me. Conservatives, especially of the Tea Party stripe, can rail against government spending all they want to, but in reality, if we were to strip government down to the degree suggested by Paul Ryan, we would roll back history at least — using 1964 as a benchmark — 48 years, if not further. And as Grunwald noted in his story, if we followed Ryan’s plan, by 2050, we wouldn’t have to resources in the budget to fund anything except defense, health care and Social Security. In other words, infrastructure would crumble, education would go further down the toilet and the poor? They don’t matter.
Over the next decade, Ryan plans to spend about 16 percent less than the White House on “income security” programs for the poor — that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit. (Ryan’s budget would authorize $4.8 trillion between 2013 and 2022; the White House’s would spend $5.7 trillion.) Compared with Obama, Ryan would spend 25 percent less on transportation. He’d spend 6 percent less on “General science, space, and basic technology.” And, compared with the White House’s proposal, he’d shell out 33 percent less for “Education, training, employment, and social services.”
David Von Drehle’s cover story “The Five Faces of Barack Obama” assured me that Obama would be a good choice for President [Sept. 1]. The reason: he has the curiosity to look deeply into controversial issues. I am 80 years old and was raised in Wisconsin, where folks rarely considered other perspectives. I opted to live in Alaska from 1949 and on into statehood. I can well appreciate Obama’s ability to examine an idea or policy that has been suitable and decide to move on if it no longer fits. This ability escapes most Americans. Sadly, the very positive attributes Obama possesses appear to be fodder for voters to doubt his abilities. The only salvation I can see, if any, will be when the older folks die off and the young realize our mistakes and embrace a candidate like Barack Obama. — Rita Ihly, 80, of Bellingham, Wash., Letter to the editor appearing in the Inbox section of the Sept. 15, 2008 edition of Time magazine
This, to me, was a startling and refreshing statement for an 80-year-old to make. While sometimes older demographics of people tend to not consider other perspectives as much as younger generations, and are often adamantly opposed to stepping outside of their ideological box, this isn’t just symptomatic of old people, Ihly obviously being one exception. As Ihly pointed out, it’s symptomatic of most Americans.
And it’s symptomatic, in part, because of commentators on venues like CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and others, which just recycle the same ideas ad nauseum. People try so desperately to lump everything that exists in society, from groups of people, spirituality and ideologies, into compartments that never intermingle : white, black, rich, poor, blue, red, left, right. And it seems we have essentially become so entrenched in the two-party system that thoughts toward other ideas is outlandish, and the news media only propagates this, with the exception of C-SPAN, which does give its due deference to those who consider themselves independent (i.e. Washington Journal”). So, television, and perhaps other media outlets, is one problem. In short, people don’t want to think about complex issues for themselves, they want it fed to them through a drip line. Thus, television stunts creativity and independent thought:
I hardly write any stories and I don’t work on my songs quite as intently as in the past. You know why??? Television Television is the most evil thing on our planet. Go right now to your TV and toss it out the window, or sell it and buy a better stereo. — “Journals,” Kurt Cobain
I would be curious to know, and this is probably not quantifiable, to what degree the two party system has crippled our collective ability to render imaginative and inventive solutions to the problems that confound us, from energy, to our role in seemingly never-ending Middle-Eastern boondoggles, to health care, to education. While wordpress and other outlets like this have their fair share of partisan hacks only seeking to infuse their party’s ideas to as many people as possible, venues such as this one are actually healthy for Democracy, given the amount of ideas being spun out in any given day. But there again, that does depend on our ability or desire to, not only read thoughts we agree with, but to read about ideas that may be vastly different from our own, not necessarily with a goal to change one’s mind about an issue — though that may be one result — but simply to learn.