Saturday, September 03, 2005

This is what the era of small government looks like

An online acquaintance of mine bragged yesterday that he had given "$250 EACH to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army". I had to step away from the computer and take a few deep breaths after I read that. This is someone who, like 16% of eligible American voters, voted for Bush, and who has made the argument that charity is "more meaningful" when the donors get to decide how to allocate their money.

To that latter contention, all I can say is: people are dying because of your sentimentality.

If you fight tooth and nail to cut the revenue of the federal government by cutting taxes, thereby undermining the kinds of services that could have saved thousands of lives this week in New Orleans, you are NOT the good guy when you donate money to the relief organizations. That money should have been contributed in the form of taxes and used to reinforce the levees. But as long as individuals, and not the government, get to choose which "charity" projects they're going to support, the projects that will actually save and improve lives will always be underfunded. For example: me. I give money to the Nature Conservancy, Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Doctors Without, I'm missing a few, but one thing you'll notice is that there's not a single civil engineering project or water purifying plant in the list of the Causes I sponsor. People will donate to libraries and schools (both vitally important) before they'll donate to the things that actually make life in the developed world possible.

This somehow is connected in my mind to Salon's review of "The Dukes of Hazzard". It's been bothering me for weeks now.
The press notes for "Dukes of Hazzard" feature a quote from producer Bill Gerber: "I was searching for a project that really captured the American spirit," he begins. "The heart of 'The Dukes of Hazzard' is family and protecting what you love."

Is that really the "American spirit"--to fight for the people you are genetically related to, and to say to heck with the rest? Another name for that "spirit" is "tribalism". It's the system that the most regressive Muslim states effectively operate under; heck, it's the spirit that most social animals operate under. Is that really what America has come to? What happened to "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses"? Has that spirit really been replaced by greed, racism, and xenophobia? If they haven't, what explains the fact that some of the busses to evacuate the people without their own cars STILL haven't arrived--instead of having arrived in the days before the hurricane struck? Why have so many of America's own poor, tired, huddled masses essentially been left to drown?

I forgot one of my charities: Plan International (a.k.a. Childreach). It runs projects in developing countries where the governments don't have the money for social services because of corruption (giving tax breaks to the friends of the leaders for example) or because there's no money (in some cases because the entire budget goes to the military). Right now I have a sponsored child in Indonesia and one in Thailand. I wonder if they'll let me sponsor a child in New Orleans.

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