Some things America just cannot afford

Published 10:10 am Friday, September 3, 2010

We are the richest nation in the history of the planet.

Our economy is triple the size of the next largest economy.

We have no enemies able to threaten war against the nation.

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Our total tax burden federal, state, and local, is among the lowest in the Western democracies.

Our federal taxes are at the lowest rate in 60 years.

Yet we cannot afford anything that benefits our people.

Right now there is a bi-partisan group meeting under the direction of the President, striving to find ways to reduce our deficits and, ultimately, our national debt.

They will not be able to reach agreement on very much. In order for the group to make any recommendation they must have 14 of 18 participants agree. They will, most likely, only agree on one issue: that we cannot afford Social Security without lessening its benefits.

Others are arguing that the costs of Medicare are too great for our society to bear, and the social safety net is simply unaffordable in these tough times.

States have already begun to reduce food stamp programs, aid to those with disabilities, and home health care support.

The richest nation in the history of the world has already decided that it cannot afford its hungry, its unemployed, its aged population and its sick.

And the movement that exhorts that impossibility of caring for Americans is none other than the same out faces of the conservative right, the current incarnation being the Tea Party movement.

It should be noted that we also cannot afford to maintain our infrastructure, our roads, which are underfunded by some $48 billion annually, our bridges, our electrical network, or a litany of other core services that serve all Americans.

But we did afford two wars, one of which was never an issue of our national security, the other which began as a policing effort that has turned into nation building.

We can afford a military budget that is roughly equal to that of the rest of the planet. We can afford military bases extending the American empire across the planet.

We can afford special interest tax policies that favor international corporations that are no longer American entities at all.

We can afford bailing out mega banks who robbed the nation of its economic security, banks that promptly stopped loaning money to people for houses and cars and home equity.

It seems we can always afford those things that benefit corporations, like war-making and tax breaks, but we can no longer afford basic benefits to the American people.

This week, retired Senator Allen Simpson, on the debt reduction commission, complained that the military had decided to better support Vietnam War veterans affected by Agent Orange.

We cannot afford the cost according to Simpson. And while his comments were certainly obscene, his point, that we can afford bullets forever, but not help for the men and women who fire those bullets, seems representative of the current political conviction that stains our national character.

We are not helpless to better serve our citizens. We can reduce the spending that favors war and corporations and re-direct our government to better serve our citizens.

We can raise our taxes if necessary to fund the programs Americans believe in and value. And we can stop the trade agreements that are destroying our middle class.

But first we must stop listening to the voices of those who believe we cannot, those who would disparage the values and convictions that most Americans embrace. Cut Social Security? Hardly.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.