Saturday, June 1, 2013

Government on the Cheap

on the cheap
If you buy or do something on the cheap, you buy or do it for very little money, often with the result that it is of bad quality

We were all filled with sadness when the residents of Moore, OK suffered through another of many devastating tornadoes they have experienced, made all the worse when it was discovered that small children perished in the Plaza Towers Elementary School.  At first glance, we can feel no more than sadness since after all, this was a weather event and we can’t do much about the weather. 

That was how I felt until reading these words of outrage submitted to the NYT by Angela Minton, a school psychologist who survived the ordeal at Plaza Towers.
I am angry tonight. After our recent record of devastating tornadoes and lives lost, there is no excuse for a public school in a tornado-prone area not to have been retrofitted with a "safe room" large enough to accommodate all occupants. 
Thanks to our meteorologists, we have plenty of warning of impending tornadoes. The people of Moore had at least half an hour to an hour to get to safety. However, the children and teachers who died today had no such option. Sadly, they were forced to take shelter in the sheet rocked hallways of buildings shabbily built in the 1960's. No basement. No safe room. A death trap. Perhaps it is time to rethink our priorities and begin re-directing money toward, not only better educating our children, but keeping them safe in school--and not just from crazed gunmen. 

If only the children in that school had access to a so-called safe room, the school building may well have been destroyed but the young lives would have been saved.  So why didn’t the school have one of these safe rooms?  Not enough money apparently.  In Oklahoma, tax rebates for safe rooms are given out to homeowners through a lottery so those who were lucky enough (or have enough money) had a better chance of surviving a tornado; the others were on their own.    

There is a lot of the mentality (including in red state Oklahoma) that the government is not there to help its people if they are able to help themselves.  But when this ideology of neglect by the government directly results in the death of its citizens, this is going way too far! 

Surely it is a legitimate function of government to protect its own people from harm.  So even if the relatively modest cost of building safe rooms in individual homes was not considered affordable, what is the excuse for not providing public shelters where the citizens of tornado-prone Moore could escape to safety? 

This is all part of our neglected and crumbling infrastructure that at its worst can result in the loss of lives while we are so preoccupied with saving money.  We had a scare when a bridge collapsed on Interstate 5 north of Seattle resulting in vehicles falling into the river.  Had people died, we would have had the usual 24/7 cable news coverage along with the outrage over our deteriorating bridges.  But fortunately, there were no fatalities so the story soon disappeared except for those who now have to deal with the disruption of a major traffic artery.  Yes, there were fatalities in a bridge collapse in Minneapolis back in 2007 – but that was apparently too long ago for most of us to care anymore.   

Another terrible example of where government on the cheap hurts people is when it is unable to respond to those who went to war but have returned home too disabled to work.  The powers that be had no problem sending all of those men and women to war but are now apparently surprised over the huge backlog of claims at the Veterans Administration.
Claims now take an average of 272 days to be processed—an increase of nearly 40 percent from 2011—with some lingering for as long as a year. The error rate now hovers around 14 percent, and the mountainous backlog stands at nearly 900,000, as 53 veterans reportedly die each day waiting for their benefitsaccording to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Veterans advocates say the VA’s ongoing failure to fix what’s broken has had profound repercussions. While awaiting their claims decisions many veterans are losing their homes, unable to pay their bills, and worse. Advocates have also pointed to the claims crisis as one factor that could be contributing to the increase in veteran suicides.

We need to devote the resources to get the VA’s health record systems up to date and functioning properly.  But that takes money that our government is reluctant to spend. 

And while the backlog at the VA has received ample publicity, less well known is the backlog of appeals for Social Security disability
About 2,000 cases were dismissed last year because the claimant died, according to the agency.
The claims process often spans years: Most people who apply for disability benefits are denied and then must appeal to an administrative law judge and then in court, if necessary. The process can get bogged down by overcrowded dockets and the hunt for reams of required medical documentation that most patients don't have on hand or never had because they lack insurance. 
If a person is unable to work because of a disability, the government has an obligation to help before people get to where they have to deal with no money for food or utilities or even a foreclosure on their homes.  The increase in people filing for disability can’t be a total surprise to the government considering that many of the baby boomers are reaching the age where disability claims most often happen.  Certainly more administrative law judges and other workers can be brought on board to handle the growing number of appeals – but again that means more money that our government is reluctant to spend. 

So what is different about the US compared to other countries that don’t have the same difficulties in taking care of its people in need?   More than anything else, it’s that unlike other countries that spend a more modest amount on defense, the US spends as much on defense as the next 10 countries combined!  So while our infrastructure spending is falling far behind China and many others, we are busy feeding the voracious appetite of the growing military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about  back when he left office in 1961. 

How have we gotten away with so much military spending over the years without hurting our citizens?  The simple answer is that we have historically raised taxes on the wealthy to help pay for our wars.  For example, the top marginal tax rate during Ike’s administration was a whopping 91%.  But George W. Bush set a precedent by waging a pair of wars while at the same time approving a tax cut!  And we are still trying to dig out of the hole that has caused! 

So this is an issue of basic fairness here.  There are many (but not me) who really feel that we still have to spend as much for defense than the next 10 countries combined.  If so, then we need the wealthy and large corporations to start paying their fair share of the tax bill like before.  A 91% marginal tax rate might not be fair – but sticking the shrinking middle class with much of the bill like we are doing now is far worse.  

We now have the wealthiest nation in the world crying that we are broke. One where members of Congress have refused to offer aid to a tornado stricken Joplin, MO or to the victims of Hurricane Sandy unless money can be taken away from others in need.  Instead of government on the cheap being a better functioning one, incredibly in a wealthy nation like ours, it has too often become callous at best and mean-spirited at its worst to those who need it the most.
There have been many similar quotations but let’s just conclude with this one from LBJ’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.