Friday, December 24, 2004

Minus three

Finally facing up to the reality of the massive budget deficits generated by its inane devotion to warfare and the comfort of the rich, the Shrub team has realized the necessity of tightening up the federal budget. Their first target?

World food aid.

That's right, world food aid. The shred of our national treasure that goes to help the hungry of the world become self-sufficient and climb out of their grinding, life-destroying poverty is the first focus of the budget-cutters. And they're not just reducing future spending, they are reneging on their commitments like the greedhead welchers they are. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that
the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

"We have between five and seven million people who have been affected by these cuts," said Lisa Kuennen, a food aid expert at Catholic Relief Services. ...

Ellen Levinson, head of the Food Aid Coalition, said the best estimate for the amount of food that was not delivered in November and December was "at least $100 million."
What's more, it appears that the budget for next year will fall $600 million short of what would be needed to maintain programs at their current level. But have no fear, it's all for the best, don't worry, be happy: Chad Kolton of OMB said that for
programs that have been cut back, ... "We are going to look at a couple of different things, such as the importance of the program and whether it is able to produce results."
So long as it can produce "results," everything will be fine! On the other hand, hearing that from a representative of an administration that burns incense on the altar of "market-based solutions" and whose Fearless Leader said just the other day that Medicare's funding problems had been solved even if "the actuaries haven't come to that conclusion" is hardly reassuring. Especially since Lauren Landis, the director of the Food for Peace program at AID, warned a group of charities last month that
the Office of Management and Budget had been pressing her office "to reduce its spending on development programs, and this has been a consistent message over the past year."
Which raises an important if delicate question: Does the Shrub team actually want to fight poverty? Do they actually want economic development among the poor of the world? After all, that would run counter to their magic-of-the-market mantra, wouldn't it - and it ultimately could empower masses of people sufficiently to challenge their overlords. And we can't have that, can we?

And to those who huffily reply that "we're the most generous nation in the world!" an editorial in the next day's New York Times reminds us that the US was among that nations that pledged to provide an amount equal to 0.7% of their GDP toward development aid for the world's poor.
[T]he latest available figures show that the percentage of United States income going to poor countries remains near rock bottom: 0.14 percent. Britain is at 0.34 percent, and France at 0.41 percent. (Norway and Sweden, to no one's surprise, are already exceeding the goal, at 0.92 percent and 0.79 percent.) ...

[N]o one is impressed when a billionaire writes a $50 check for a needy family. The test is the percentage of national income we give to the poor, and on that basis this country is the stingiest in the Group of Seven industrialized nations.
To put that in a form our faith-based audience should understand:
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called [unto him] his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. - Mark 12:41-44
(A farthing was 1/4 penny in pre-decimal English money.)

The measure of generosity is not the amount but the effort. By that measure, despite what we like to believe, we are as a nation, that is, through our government, among the most selfish on Earth.

Footnote: If you'd prefer the Buddhist version of the story of the widow, go here.

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