How are the kids doing?

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Simply put, high national defense costs are stealing the future from the children and the present from the poor.

Jim Wallis, the noted evangelical theologian (not related in any way to the Falwell, Robertson, Dobson clan) says that the most important question we can ask about the condition of our society is “How are the children doing?” It makes sense, because they are our future. I fear the answer we must give if we take a hard look at the condition of the world we have created is that they are not faring very well. Expanding the question to ask, “How are the poor doing?” elicits even a more despairing conclusion. Why is this? What is happening to us?

One answer is that we are consumed as a people by two dominant issues about which there can be no deviation – both parties fight to look better on these issues with the electorate. The first is national security. Democrats work hard to overcome their label of being soft on national security, and the Republicans are determined to retain their reputation as four solid on this issue no matter what the cost. To win political office on the national level one cannot risk being painted into the “soft on defense” corner. So, we fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a “War on Terror” and it does not look good for what might happen in Iran. Pax Americana has darn little Pax in it!

The other sacrosanct issue is taxes. America at all levels of government is consumed with the notion that we are all over-taxed. This is particularly true of Maine. We face yet another referendum in the fall designed to tie the hands of public officials by setting a cap on public spending and taxation. Mary Adams’ initiative would tie increase to inflation and population – a program that almost ruined Colorado until they repealed it for five years this last election.

The loudest voices in Maine for lower taxes are the corporations and the wealthy; they are organized and they have an impact on public policy. Most Republicans (Peter Mills seems to deviate a bit here) in Maine call for lower taxes and less government. They don’t answer the question “What do we do about the children and the poor?” Irrelevant, I guess!

On the national level, we have Bush’s tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy. He plans a $1.35 trillion over the next decade while we continue to accumulate record deficits for which our children will be responsible. Democrats may be a bit less dramatic, but they push tax cuts for the middle class. The end result is less revenue with which to look after the children and the poor. Not much of a choice really!

President Bush’s budget – his moral commitment to America – now before the Congress raises some very troubling prospects. Over five years $36 billion will be cut from Medicare. Similarly, there will be a $13.8 billion cut for Medicaid. Some $2.1 billion will be cut from education. At least 400,000 senior citizens will be dropped from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

Wasn’t Mr. Bush the one who ran in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative?” He seems to have lost his sense of compassion. This budget does not look good for the children and the poor.

This budget will have a direct effect in Maine, placing greater burdens on state and local government that already feel the need to cut taxes and services. Maine would lose $426,260 in WIC funds – a supplemental nutrition program for women infants and children. This, in the face of the fact that 9.8 percent on Maine folks suffer food insecurity – just ask the operators of food kitchens that have seen the largest numbers of clients ever.

Maine will lose $4.6 million in Community Development Block Grants, often a source of funds for economic development and social service agencies. Maine will lose $1.7 million in funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The state will lose $5.8 million in funding for vocational education. These are real cuts that have significant consequences for the children and the poor. One can only hope that sanity will return to Congress and Mr. Bush will not have his way with this budget proposal.

The relationship between the issue of national security and tax levels is pretty clear. A full 51 percent of the discretionary part of the national budget is dedicated to defense – the Pax Americana of the neoconservatives. This does not include the billions (approaching 300) for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Simply put, high national defense costs are stealing the future from the children and the present from the poor. All we hear from Washington is that we must cut entitlements – support for the children and the poor – but requests for growing funds for war are almost always accepted as critical to national security. So we pour billions, yes even trillions, into national security and we provide tax breaks. For this the children and the poor of our time are sacrificed!

It is time to ask some hard questions of our candidates for public office. They are simple questions, but we must require detailed and specific answers. The questions are: “What are you going to do for the children?” and “What are you going to do for the poor?” Honest answers to those questions could open new possibilities for public policy that might both create a more secure world with lower taxes. Can we be any less secure than we are now? Can the fiscal condition of the country be much worse? Can the children continue to lose out and not have significant consequences for our future? And if we cannot do a better job for the poor then we have lost our moral compass.

Please ask the candidates the tough questions as we move into this election season. Do not be satisfied with easy sound-bite rhetoric.

Jim Carignan is a retired educator who lives in Harpswell and is chairman of the state Board of Education. His e-mail address is carignans@suscom-maine.net.

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