Our Misplaced Priorities
By Valerie Saturen
April 25, 2011?>
The ax is swinging at both the federal and state level, ushering in cuts that will disproportionately affect low-income people and the middle class. While we can muster the resources for bank bailouts and multiple wars, we are falling disgracefully short in educating our young and providing for the most vulnerable among us. Washington residents are already suffering the consequences of these misplaced priorities, and it will only get worse as long as unchecked greed and an addiction to foreign oil continue to dictate our nation's policies.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have totaled over $1.3 trillion, to say nothing of the human toll. The cost has included over $28 billion for ?>Washington taxpayers. Meanwhile, disadvantaged and middle class Americans are paying the price for an economic collapse caused by Wall Street's recklessness and greed. As ordinary Americans continue to struggle, corporations are raking in record profits and are paying little to no taxes on these earnings. Take GE, which amassed $14.2 billion in 2010 profits and paid no taxes last year. Oddly, President Obama has chosen GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, even though GE laid off 21,000 American workers and closed 20 factories under his stewardship.
Economic inequality has skyrocketed, with the top 1% taking in 25% of the nation's income and 40% of the nation's wealth. Yet the wealthy have access to much more lucrative tax breaks than the rest of us, and their tax rate has steadily declined over the past few decades. For all but the wealthiest Americans, incomes have remained stagnant and have not kept up with the rising cost of living. Health insurance premiums have risen 120% over the past decade, while food and energy prices have shot up. Young people must take on mountains of debt in order to obtain a college education.
Social programs have helped to alleviate the hardships generated by stagnant wages and rising expenses. However, recent cuts have torn such gaping holes in the social safety net that vast numbers of people are falling through. In Washington, Gov. Gregoire has called a special session to reconcile House and Senate budgets that both include over $4 billion in cuts. Overwhelmingly, these cuts fall on the shoulders of disadvantaged people and children. Thousands of people will lose their basic health coverage. Others will lose access to Disability Lifeline, a program for people who cannot work due to a disability. And in a state with the third-most-crowded classrooms in the country, the Senate budget deeply slashes K-12 education, cutting teacher pay by 3% and paving the way for layoffs and increased class sizes. Higher education faces a similarly bleak outlook. Despite swelling enrollment, colleges and universities will see a cut of about half a billion. Throngs of students will arrive on campus with high aspirations, only to face drastic tuition hikes and inadequate course offerings.
Neither the growing gulf between rich and poor nor the uneven effects of budget cuts are accidents of nature. Rather, they are symptoms of the excessive influence of corporate and financial interests upon our political system. These interests celebrated a staggering victory when, in its Citizens United v. F.E.C. ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations may spend unlimited amounts on political advertising. The flooding of our political system with corporate cash, coupled with backroom deals and incessant lobbying, has drowned out the voices of ordinary citizens.
For the first time in generations, our young people are facing a future in which they cannot look forward to the same standard of living as their parents. They are coming of age in a nation that blithely plunges into horrific wars yet cannot provide jobs and education.
It is time to recover our priorities. Instead of pumping billions into unnecessary overseas conflicts, we must redirect our resources toward our urgent needs at home. Domestically, we must also allocate our funds in a way that is just and socially responsible. That's why the Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation has launched a campaign to Bring Our Billion$ Home! If the voices of ordinary Americans have been overpowered by corporate money, we simply need to speak louder.
To learn more about the campaign, and to get involved, go to http://www.wwfor.org/.