Saturday, January 17, 2015

The New Welfare State

During election season, I’m normally frustrated that virtually all that the media wants to talk about is domestic politics and domestic economic news.  Allegedly, Americans only care about their own wallets, and the last things on their minds are the wars going on overseas.  That, at least, is how the media rationalizes covering the rest of the world so superficially.

Fortunately, we’re not going through an election season – we’re about as far away from an election as it gets.  So the media can dare to cover world events, and lately we’ve been getting a major dose of them.   Reports about international terrorism have been blanketing the news.  We’ve also seen stories that flow indirectly from such terrorism, such as the reports that Benjamin Netanyahu has taken anti-Semitic violence in France as an opportunity to ask the world’s third largest Jewish population to “move to Israel, as early as possible.”   (Perhaps if he moved out, they might be more tempted to move in.)  I should be thrilled that Americans are being forced to pay attention to the other side of the ocean and that we’re being reminded that what happens there truly does affect our future here.   And yet … every now and then, a domestic story is reported that must force us to stop what we’re doing and pay attention to our own garden.   Such a story came out yesterday.

Maybe you’re heard the news already, but if not, be prepared to get depressed.  For the first time in history, most American public school children are recipients of free or reduced meals.  Throughout the South and the Southwest, the percentage of free/reduced meal recipients equals or exceeds 50%, and in Mississippi, it exceeds 70%.  That means that most American public school children, and the vast majority of Southern public school children, go to school every morning thinking of themselves and their families as either in poverty or close to it.   Being on the dole has become the new normal here in America.   

The topic of poverty is never far from my thoughts, but I have been reminded of it lately while dealing with the American health care system.   Long-term care providers now frequently charge so much money on a monthly basis that most Americans can no longer afford to pay their bills.   According to the new game plan, first the patients’ assets are completely exhausted, and then the Medicaid payments can kick in.  When the patients die, they die penniless and all they give to their “heirs” is air.  This is how we respect the dignity of Americans today – by putting them on the dole when they are young and stripping them of all their assets when they are old.

Oh, did I mention that we now have roughly 10 million millionaire households in America?  Or that there are well over a million American households with a net worth exceeding $5 million?   Both of those numbers are on the rise as well.

So the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting plentiful, and the middle class are getting scared.  But all is not lost, America.  For at least we still have our sense of humor.  In the last week, it has also been reported that a famous politician will return to the public sphere with a mission of fighting poverty.   This man, or should I say this chameleon, is none other than the same guy who, while running for the highest office in the land, announced that he would be building a car elevator for one of his many homes (the one in the beach resort of La Jolla, California).  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Mitt Romney is back, and he’s coming to give to the poor … if not to take from the rich.  

One wonders precisely what Mitt has in mind as a way of helping the free/reduced meal crowd … and I do mean crowd.   His last idea was for them to “Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.   Sound advice, to be sure.  Maybe they should ask their grandma for the money.   Within a few years, grandma would have given all the money away to her nursing home anyway, so she might as well get rid of it while she can and give it to junior so that he can start a business.  I hear the residential car-elevator business is booming these days.   

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