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July 12, 2010

The time to rise has been engaged
You’re better best to rearrange
I’m talking here to me alone
I listen to the finest worksong
Your finest hour
Your finest hour

Another chance has been engaged
To throw Thoreau and rearrange
You are following this time
I beg you not beg to rhyme (blow your horn)
Your finest hour (blow your horn)
Your finest hour

Take your instinct by the reins
Your better best to rearrange
What we want and what we need
Has been confused, been confused (blow your horn)
Your finest hour (blow your song)
Your finest hour

Take your instinct by the reins
Better best to rearrange
What we want and what we need
Has been confused, been confused (blow your horn)
Your finest hour (blow your song)
Your finest hour (blow your horn)
Your finest hour (blow your song)
Your finest hour

R.E.M.Finest Worksong

While this isn’t necessarily my favorite R.E.M. song, it does have one of my favorite phrases of any song I know, from R.E.M. or anyone else. “What we want and what we need has been confused, been confused.” To me, that speaks volumes as to how we as Americans live and how we look at life. It makes me “get it” when I start to think that despite the fact that I have more than most people in the world, I’d like to have *just that much more* to be *really* comfortable. It’s the perspective of all great religions that teach advocacy for the poor from Christianity to Islam to Judaism.

Tonight on Chris Mathews, his “Let Me Finish” editorial was about the recovery and the federal debt. He noted that Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles stated at yesterday’s National Governor’s Association Conference that all the taxes that Americans pay currently only cover the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Everything else the government does like defend the country and fight two wars is borrowed from China or somewhere else. The current fight for the direction that American Politics takes is coming from this fact and whether you’re paying attention or not, this fight is what the next few elections will be about.

The conservatives, driven by the agitated and outraged Tea Party movement, are screaming about taxes being too high and government being too big. The progressives, though not as well covered in the media, argue that we are losing our government to corporations and private, well-funded interests. I spoke in my last post about Bill Maher’s comment how, “Only two percent of the people in a ‘movement’ about taxes, named after a tax revolt, have the slightest idea what’s going on…with taxes.” But this time out, I’d like to give you an example of what small government, driven by the desire for low taxes, looks like and it’s right here in Colorado.

The second largest city in Colorado – Colorado Springs – is currently engaged in what has been called an “experiment” in city services cutbacks. Colorado Springs is quite conservative and home to James Dobson’s “Focus On The Family” religious corporation and the New Life Mega-Church that brought us the anti-gay, homosexual pastor Ted Haggard among others. Their politics tend to run towards Sarah Palin and the Tea Party more than say, David Brooks or Andrew Sullivan.

Without going into details about Douglas Bruce, the Taxpayers Bill Of Rights and other politics, just understand that taxes have been slashed in Colorado Springs. As a result, the city has drastically cut back its services. In an article from the Denver Post last January, it was learned that:

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won’t pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.

This July 4th, a followup article was published that outlined the results of the service cutbacks including the buses stop running at 6:15 p.m. now, and most streetlights stay dark throughout the night. Three city pools have shut down, and turf is withering in more than 100 parks. More alarming perhaps are these realities reported by the Post:

The city fire department is down 20 firefighters this year; the police department has 42 fewer cops on the streets. For both fire and police, there are no classes of recruits in training, which is unusual.

“In the last year and a half, we went from being a proactive, problem-solving to a reactive police department, to where we only go when we are called,” said Pete Tomitsch, president of the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association.

“There is a lot of frustration within the department. There is a whole slew of calls we don’t respond to that a year and a half ago we did.”

If thieves break into a car or home and steal stuff — a felony — the report is usually taken over the phone now.

“Our property-crime detectives have been cut by over half,” he said. “When people call the police, they want somebody to show up on their doorstep, and we can’t do that.”

The Post also reports that some charities have taken over some of the services that were once offered by the city. Pools and community centers are being supported and kept open by donated time and money from civic groups. But the danger in this is eloquently expressed by City Councilwoman Jan Martin, who grew up in Colorado Springs. “These medians and parks that are being adopted are in wealthy neighborhoods,” she said. “We are seeing the creation of a community of haves and have-nots.”

If you’re curious how this might even affect the “haves”, consider this. At Village Green Park, just off Carefree Circle on the city’s east side, weeds flourish, and stenciled onto a bathroom door: Restrooms Closed Due to Budget Restrictions. “If you have kids who are potty trained, that’s a problem,” said Rachel Barker, 33, playing at the swings with her toddler. “There’s probably a lot of kids peeing in the weeds.”

I would urge you to follow and consider what is happening in Colorado Springs since it is a real life example of what the smaller government, lower taxes crowd are pushing for. Well, sort of. On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Senator Jon Kyle of Arizona how Republicans can say that extending unemployment benefits will impact the deficit and must be paid for, yet extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which will cost $678 billion over the next 10 years, needn’t be paid for. His reply was that, “you do need to offset the cost of increased spending and that’s what Republicans object to, but you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.” Obviously Senator Kyle doesn’t want to say that he would reduce government services for any of his constituents. Heavens no, that would be unthinkable. But giving the wealthy a tax break of nearly $700 billion dollars, money taken directly out of the federal budget with no corresponding spending cuts, well that’s just fine. Senator Kyle is an idiot.

Bang for Buck

Bang for your Buck

Getting back to the point at the beginning of this post, I think we can all agree the poor are probably more in need of our help than people who earn over $150,000/year. Not only that, they’re a better investment. According to Moody’s Analytics, for every dollar invested in Unemployment Insurance that the Republicans are so wound up about, the return on investment for our economy is around $1.61 in economic stimulus. For every dollar invested in a tax cut, the ROI to our economy is $1.01. If the Bush tax cuts specifically are made permanent, the ROI is $0.31. Now I’m no economist, but even I can see that extending Unemployment Insurance to people out of work is a better “bang for the buck” than cutting taxes. Especially to for the wealthy.

The choices we all make in our next few elections will determine whether we substitute taxis for patrol cars, whether we make it illegal to feed the homeless or illegal to unsafely operate oil rigs in the gulf. Deficits are certainly a concern and there are difficult decisions ahead. Nearly 84% of the US budget is made up exclusively by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Department of Defense/the War On Terror, Unemployment/Welfare and Interest on the Debt. Everything else in our budget from regulating oil drilling and mining to the Department of Transportation to Health and Human Services takes up just over 16% of our budget. If we gut our federal services and eliminate *ALL* of those other services, we would save all of 16% on our federal spending. Yet conservatives and tea baggers would have you believe that cutting waste and fraud in the system will solve all of our deficit problems to the point we can all pay less in taxes. Social Security alone takes up 21% of the budget. This isn’t an easy task and I don’t envy lawmakers their task. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t care about big government or small government, I care about *effective* government.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy McCormac permalink
    July 13, 2010 1:02 pm

    Greg, why don’t you enter politics? It would be so refreshing to have someone sensible like you!
    Of course, there are all those incriminating photos of you from Safe Sex parties….

    • July 13, 2010 1:56 pm

      As you say, there are the Summer Safe Sex Parties I threw, even though I never got any action out of them :-). Then there’s the fact that I actually carried an ACLU card at one time. Plus I just called Senator Jon Kyle an idiot. And since I have a potty mouth, I probably would’ve called him a f*cking idiot in private that would’ve no doubt been captured on a cell phone and ended up on YouTube.

      In everyday life I’m just an ordinary, frustrated citizen who likes to point out problems in a plain spoken manner. That would never fly in politics. I would be painted as a foul mouthed, fag-loving, knee jerk, liberal. Me and Alan Grayson all alone on Capital Hill. 🙂

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