Thursday, August 02, 2007
Your Tax Cuts at Work
My heart goes out to the victims of the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis yesterday. I can't even imagine what it must have been like for those who lived through it - the fear and unexpected nearness of death - or what it is like now for those who still don't know the status of their loved ones as the search for victims continues. I do have several friends up in the Twin Cities and I sincerely hope that they and their loved ones are all safe.

As it turns out, this bridge (along with another 75,000 bridges nationwide) was already identified as "structurally deficient" several years ago, but what with the enormous federal deficits going to fund the Iraq War and Republican tax cuts causing a lack of funding for domestic infrastructure, there just wasn't the money to do anything to repair this bridge before tragedy struck. In fact, the Republican Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had recently vetoed a transportation bill put forward by Minnesota Democrats that would have funded repairs on bridges such as this one because it would have required a $.05 gas tax.

(Anyone else notice the eerie similarities to Hurricane Katrina and the levees in New Orleans that could have been repaired and improved prior to the disaster if the Bush administration hadn't rerouted the funding for that to Iraq?)

I suppose I should have mentioned bridge repairs in my list of the things we could have done with the $1.2 trillion that we'll likely spend on the Iraq War before it's done. Why are we spending millions of dollars a day fighting someone else's civil war while letting our own country fall apart? If we can't even afford to maintain our own infrastructure doesn't that indicate that perhaps our priorities are screwed up? I mean, this isn't even about funding social programs or all those other things libertarians like to claim shouldn't be the responsibility of government (like education or healthcare). This is roads and bridges - public works - if there is anything that we ought to be able to expect the government to provide us with, it's stuff like that. (Though yes, I am aware that some conservatives are suggesting a horribly misguided proposal to "privatize" even our public roads - a really bad idea for so many reasons.)

I'm not trying to play the blame game and say that it was any specific person or parties' fault that this bridge collapsed. In my view, the problem is more systemic - it's about what we value in our society. When public money goes to build sports stadiums but not bridges, or towards blowing up the infrastructure of another country rather than maintaining our own - we've got the wrong priorities. And it has been both parties and most politicians that have been guilty at one time or another of prioritizing things that are popular in the short run (i.e. that will get them reelected) without making the hard decisions and sacrifices to do what is best for their constituents in the long run. In the words of the old proverb, we have leaders that often tend to be "penny wise and pound foolish", cutting taxes here and there, without considering the long term costs and consequences.

Just my opinion... and I do apologize for turning this sad occurrence into a political rant. My hope is just that perhaps an event like this will help spur a national discussion about what our priorities really are. Perhaps if it does, some small good (however insufficient for the comfort of the victim's families) may even come out of this overwhelming tragedy.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 9:29 PM | Permalink |


11 Comments:


At 8/03/2007 08:15:00 AM, Anonymous EDA

My first thought after hearing the estimated 1.6 trillion dollar estimate for fixing our nation's infrastructure was, "Isn't that how much we just spent destroying Iraq's infrastructure?"

 

At 8/03/2007 08:53:00 AM, Blogger Josh

I met you once at a discussion a couple of years ago and came across your blog sometime after that. I've enjoyed reading it.

However, I have to say I'm disappointed today. For being one not to take sides your examples speak decidedly to the contrary.
Personally, I must admit I'm not a fan of politicians lately. Period.

That being said, the tax cuts have nothing to do with not spending money on our own infrastructure. If you haven't noticed, our national tax receipts are higher than they've ever been.

The war in Iraq has cost an almost unfathomable amount of money. You seem to have made up your mind that it wasn't worth it. Though I have to say I'm not a fan of it at this point, I think it could take a decade before we know the real answer on if it was a "worth it" or not.

Deficit spending has been going on for longer than we've been alive and the balanced budget of the 90's was only so because of paper trickery that would be illegal for a corporation.

It's about priorities in spending. Politicians, in general have no problems earmarking federal money for home district "trophies." Spending money on bridges wasn't a priority because people didn't care about it till now. I imagine that getting money for those fixes will be easy...until the next things comes along. Katrina is a great example of that. Throwing money at the problem after that tragedy resulted in wanton waste of tax dollars. However, the church is alive in well sending teams of people, being the hands of Jesus and helping to clean and rebuild.

Our system is broken. May we, the church, be better stewards of those resources God has given us than our government is.

Blessings on you and yours.
-j

 

At 8/03/2007 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Josh, I've never hidden the fact that I've been against the Iraq War since the very beginning. I thought it "wasn't worth it" before it even began, and I still think that. To me that's a given, this bridge incident is just one more reason why.

And just because federal deficits have been going on for a long time doesn't mean they're a good thing or that we should just accept them. As you say, the whole system is broken - and while I do celebrate when the church steps in to the gaps, I don't think we should just take the escapist libertarian route of just writing off the need for better government altogether. (Truthfully, I used to feel as you do, just totally disillusioned w/politics and uninterested. It was the Bush Administration that convinced me to care again - as I was appalled at the kinds of things the government will apparently try to get away with if no one bothers to stand in their way.) Living as members of a community - i.e. a society or a nation - means taking a communal responsibility for enabling that society to function as justly as possible. And if something is broken, then we have an obligation to try to fix it.

It's not an either/or. Yes, the church can serve others in ways that the government fails to - but government exists for good reasons too (and I would say disaster relief and maintaining public infrastructure are both good functions of government), and when government fails to live up to it's responsibilities it's not wrong for members of a society to call it to account. Nor is it wrong for us to raise our voices and say that we'd rather have our communal money (i.e. tax dollars) go towards building bridges rather than blowing them up.

Honestly, if think that paying to maintain public roads and bridges and rebuilding cities destroyed by hurricanes is just a "wanton waste of tax dollars" I really have a hard time figuring out what you think would be a legitimate use of our tax money. Seriously, what else should the government be spending our money on if not those kinds of things? I'm truly curious.

Peace,

-Mike

 

At 8/03/2007 10:55:00 AM, Blogger John

I really think our future enemy in this country is not going to be terrorism, but our lack of stewardship. This country is racking up debt faster than ever. Even our people our running their lives the same way as the government. I heard the other day that if everyone starting saving just %5 percent of their income that the economy would collapse. Just 5%! No one is saving. Just put it on the credit card and don't worry about it. I want it now!

Then you have China buying up all our T-bills which is lowering the value of the dollar. One of these days they're going to cash in all the chips. The dollar is also no longer the world's standard for currency. You ever tried to go buy something is Britain? The exchange rate is ridiculous. Anyone looked at the American to Canadian rates lately? They're not to far from being equal. I remember when I was a kid you could get 1.50 Canadian for every us dollar. Is anyone waking up?

Yet this country seems to continue to go farther into debt, shifting from other funds (social in-security), and dumping funds into a country (Iraq) that can't stand up and take action on their own. We just continue to go farther into the direction of economic collapse.

John

 

At 8/03/2007 01:24:00 PM, Blogger Josh

Hey Mike.

I've not read every entry, I'm one of those blog title/first sentence or two skimmers. I had thought you stayed away from partisan sides and that was where my disappointment was - it seemed pretty one sided in examples. I don't care for either party though I do like some particular members of both. Or at least I want to like them:)

The wanton waste about the Katrina relief was in regards to the fraud that came with it. It's been a while since I was reading on the topic but a quick google came up with this - http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11326973.

Is it a good use government money for disaster relief? Yes. Is it necessarily the wisest idea to rebuild New Orleans just like it was? The feel good answer is of course yes. But is there a hurricane proof way to rebuild? That I don't know.

I think where the government is spending, it should be done for good and not for evil. We'll have to agree to disagree with Iraq. As I said, I don't believe we have anywhere near the full story on that yet and I don't really care to go into an argument on it. Your mind is made up and I willing to wait.

Back to it, I am not for a "everyone is cared for by the government" system. It doesn't take much looking to see how the more that governments are doing that around the work (i.e. Europe), they find it is an unsustainable system. Socialized medicine, food, daycare, you name sound great until you have to actually pay for it as a society. We're already cashing checks we don't have the funds for in the future.

Yes, roads need to be payed for, children need to be educated, people need water, sewage, and the lot. However, the reason certain things are underfunded has much less to do with the government not having the money to do it but because they choose to spend it elsewhere and, quite often, frivolously (bridges to no where in Alaska, Senator "Smith" Park/Library/Train Station/etc, you name it).

If you think not having the War in Iraq would have meant that particular bridge would have been fixed, I think that's some pretty wishful thinking.

The government tends to be like lots of people with things like that. It's getting to be about time to change my timing belt, but I'll see how far I can stretch it. Some people get away with it, some seize up an engine. That attitude might cost someone the price of a new engine, but when a government has that attitude...

Here's an interesting read in regards to that.
http://apnews.myway.com/article/20070803/D8QPGEE80.html
There's been quite awhile now to fix the problem.

Less money for the federal government means they have to make better decisions about how they spend the money they have. It means more money in the pockets of folks who are much more efficient at helping others.

Yeah, I am disillusioned about politics. It's getting to be pretty hard to find anyone I can actually support.

Doesn't mean I've stopped looking:)

Thanks for the interesting discourse.

 

At 8/03/2007 04:24:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"I had thought you stayed away from partisan sides and that was where my disappointment was - it seemed pretty one sided in examples. I don't care for either party though I do like some particular members of both. Or at least I want to like them:)"

I'm non-partisan in that I don't wholeheartedly support either party, and I won't shy away from criticizing either party when necessary. It's just that the Republicans have given me so much more to criticize lately. (Though as you'll notice by my most recent post, I'll take it to the Democrats too when they screw up.) However, if you think that being non-partisan means I should just avoid talking about politics altogether, well, sorry, can't help you there. :)

"We'll have to agree to disagree with Iraq. As I said, I don't believe we have anywhere near the full story on that yet and I don't really care to go into an argument on it. Your mind is made up and I willing to wait."

Fair enough. For me the outcome doesn't matter at all, as IMHO there was never any possible justification for the war in the first place. Pre-emptive attacks are contrary to almost every Christian ethic of just war that I am aware of. IMHO, there can never be a moral justification to start an unprovoked war. It was wrong from the start, and that can't change no matter how well or badly it ends up. In my mind the end does not justify the means.

"Back to it, I am not for a "everyone is cared for by the government" system. It doesn't take much looking to see how the more that governments are doing that around the work (i.e. Europe), they find it is an unsustainable system. Socialized medicine, food, daycare, you name sound great until you have to actually pay for it as a society."

I think you might want to look more in detail at Europe. They're actually not doing too badly. Have you seen how strong the Euro is compared to the dollar lately? And they seem to know something that we don't about quality of life issues and a society's responsibilities towards each other that we don't quite grasp.

And I suppose "socialized medicine" sounds scary to those still in a Cold War anti-Communism mindset, but not nearly half as scary as being caught without health insurance for your children or for yourself when tragedy strikes (as millions of Americans currently are). As they say, a liberal on health care is a conservative that has gotten hit with an illness in the family. When you start to realize how deeply dysfunctional our current health care/insurance industry is (and when you're hit w/$30,000 of medical bills like Julie and I were when Emma was born), "socialized medicine" doesn't seem quite so bad after all.

"However, the reason certain things are underfunded has much less to do with the government not having the money to do it but because they choose to spend it elsewhere and, quite often, frivolously."

I completely agree. That was really the whole point of my post. We're not spending our money wisely. We've spent the money we do have foolishly, and now it's hard to ask for more (whether through raising taxes or more borrowing) to meet more important needs since we're already so far in debt.

"If you think not having the War in Iraq would have meant that particular bridge would have been fixed, I think that's some pretty wishful thinking."

No, I wasn't talking about this bridge in particular. I was speaking of broader, more systemic issues.

"Less money for the federal government means they have to make better decisions about how they spend the money they have. It means more money in the pockets of folks who are much more efficient at helping others."

I don't mean to be rude, but that to me sounds like wishful thinking. I don't think less money for the government is really going to cause them to spend it any less foolishly. What we need is better government, not more or less money.

Just my opinion.

"Yeah, I am disillusioned about politics. It's getting to be pretty hard to find anyone I can actually support."

It's hard to find any politicians from either major party that actually talks about the issues and values that I care most about. And the ones who do tend to just get written off as a bunch of neo-hippie idealists anyway. :)

But I'm still going to use my voice and try to work for change regardless.

Peace,

-Mike

 

At 8/04/2007 08:13:00 AM, Blogger Josh

Lively. :)

And I think you might want to look into more detail on Europe:) We must be reading different sources on the state of the more socialized European countries. From what I've read, that path isn't turning out well. Are you aware of the tax rates? Guess we'll see what happens and my guess is it'll go that route in this country as well though I'm going to vote for those who oppose it and have ideas to fix the problems and not just take the checkbook out.

I'm very sorry that you all had a great deal of medical expense. Some insurance works very well and some is tragically flawed. However, government run health care isn't the only (nor best) solution there. My favorite uncle who had to spend some time in the hospital after having a near tragic medical emergency doesn't have insurance. He got the bill and didn't know how he was going to pay for it. Some of them women on his block starting praying for him and he got a notice from the hospital that they were forgiving the cost. It was a "Christian" hospital. I'm not saying that happens every time, but it does happen.

Socialized medicine also might have meant that you couldn't see a doctor when you needed to and it might mean tax rates like we see in Europe. It could mean a lot of things. Again, we seem to be looking at it through different glasses and I expect neither of us have the time or inclination to try and prove a view. Like I said, my guess is we'll see what happens in this country as it looks to be the path we're fixing to walk on down.

I don't think less money for the government is really going to cause them to spend it any less foolishly. What we need is better government, not more or less money.

Nor I, but it means there's less for them to waste. And I agree that we need better government. But until they're proven faithful with what they have, I certainly don't think they should be getting any more "talents."

:)

 

At 8/05/2007 03:50:00 PM, Blogger M James

Mike,
I'm right there with you.

I pay $280 out of my paycheck every month for insurance. Even with that though, I still have to pay $45 everytime I see a doctor; around $150 a month for medication; and after what the insurance will pay, I still need to pay around $12,000 to get dental work done.

I can't afford to get the dental work done, so I don't. But I still pay for the insurance.

 

At 8/05/2007 05:33:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Does that $280 cover Jen and the kids too? If so you're doing pretty well. We pay more than twice that for all of us.

And I hear ya' on the dental work. I've needed my wisdom teeth taken out for a while now, but I just can't afford it.

 

At 8/06/2007 11:18:00 AM, Blogger Prodigal John

Easy Mike ...

I check in on 'Emerging Pensees' almost every day, and have grown to enjoy your typically even handed approach to the prevailing political / social / religious / spiritual issues of the day.

Having said that, I gotta suggest that it's a bit premature to haul the soapbox out on this one.

While I would concede that many of the points you made in this post are valid, please bear in mind that from where many sit, a scab hasn't even formed over this tragedy yet.

I drove past the scene of said tragedy on Saturday night. Couldn't see much as I was moving & it was after dark - However, the sight of klieg lights trained on a chasm where the main freeway thoroughfare used to be here in Minneapolis was sobering indeed.

I'm certain that there will be much time in the not-too-distant future for analysing and assigning fault. Perhaps it can wait until we recover the folks who are still missing? I think you might agree that love and support might reflect better on us as citizens and Christians in the eyes and hearts of those who are still hurting indescribably from this event.

My 2 cents man ...

Love & Peace @ ya -

- JDaly / Minneapolis, MN

 

At 8/07/2007 07:16:00 AM, Blogger M James

Yes, it does cover Jen and the kids. So I should be thankful for it in that respect.
Also, now that I'm going through the unemployment process and COBRA hasn't kicked in yet, I start to realize that even though I'm paying $50 for one prescription, the insurance is paying another $600. I guess I'm getting some benefit from it. But then that brings up a whole another discussion about why we can't get cheap drugs from Canada. :(

 

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