Fake News and the Federal Budget

The Tea Party folks have been most shocking for their insistence that citizens should have a sort of line-item veto over the Federal budget. We have usually sent letters, etc. to our representatives in Congress to register our unwillingness to spend tax dollars on certain Federal programs or activities that displeased us. However, the Tea Party went much further. They were so angry, so demanding, so intimidating that the entire party backed them and moved far to the right. Then the party, in order to keep their scary Tea Party constituents at bay did things like shut down the government and vote to repeal the ACA about 60 times, and get the party to threaten to “primary” elected representatives to Congress (including Senators of course) who did not fall in line. The party got the “enforcer”, Grover Norquist to back up these primary attacks.

In particular the Tea Party wanted more control over their taxes – how much they had to pay and how it was spent. They had come to believe that their tax dollars were being handed out to deadbeats, to illegal immigrants, to way too many people in the form of food stamps, and to refugees. They were convinced, in spite of fact checks which disagreed with their analysis, that everyone was getting something for nothing but them. According to urban legend, the government was even handing out cars, free housing, and free “Obama phones” (a program begun in the Bush administration). And there was some truth to what the Tea Partiers believed but the abuses were hardly rampant, or budget-busting. The government does keep numbers on this stuff. Do we still trust numbers or does it now depend on who crunches them?

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Talk radio has kept the Tea Party angry for the last decade at least and they expanded their reach to even more Americans as the economy lost steam. The anger fed the people’s fears. Then Fox News piled on because this was a ratings bonanza too good to miss. People like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and Bill O’Reilly and now Sean Hannity have been broadcasting fake news for years. There has always been fake news. It is called propaganda. Fake news did not begin with the 2016 election. But radio and TV outlets that broadcast fake news all the time, any time of the day or night have made fake news a trending phenomenon, allowed to masquerade as main stream media. The popularity of using social media on the internet added a new dimension to the dissemination of news and fake news. And I don’t know that we have previously had to deal with fake news injected into politics in a Presidential election year by a foreign power like Russia who is not generally considered to have American interests at heart.

As a result of the feelings that gave birth to their movement and the overwhelming amount of propaganda that nurtured the hate and anger, the Tea Party is adamant about many things and it is especially adamant about what budget items it will pay taxes for, and which ones it will not. In order to be sure they do not give one dollar to someone who doesn’t deserve it they want to stop giving any tax dollars to anyone. Privatize everything – no food stamps, no welfare, no Medicaid, no Medicare, no Social Security or SS Disability and no public schools. Many Tea Partiers are Evangelical Christians and they do not want their tax dollars to go towards paying for health care in any program that offers abortion, even though the Federal government no longer subsidizes abortions. Some even want to stop helping women get contraception. Send the “illegals” home say these folks and cut off immigration. Don’t take in refugees. But they do want us all to use our tax dollars to build a wall.

Well, if the right has a line item veto over the US budget then the left should also be allowed to say what they don’t want their tax dollars used for. I’m pretty sure that very few people on the left want to pay for a wall along the Mexican border. I’m pretty sure most of us want to see public education remain as a key budget item. Of course, we could put up a web site with various budget items and actually pick what to fund by voting line by line on the budget (recipe for chaos). But there is the matter of laws that were passed or voted down to determine what programs we would fund. Clearly though, some American’s feelings have been exploited by people in the media who know how to use their words to brainwash, to turn their listeners into “pod” people who seem to be convinced that they want to, 1) continue to pay taxes that pay for nothing, and 2) bypass the Congressional system and make decisions according to who does the best bullying. And perhaps the only cure for this is to just decide every single issue in our nation with a popular vote to try to lessen the effectiveness of a media without a soul.

People speak of trends towards fascism, and fake news and nationalism, and racism as if they just popped up in the 2016 election but we have been fed a steady diet of invective over at least the last decade, and it was easy because people had lost so much they were happy that someone was speaking their language of spite and jealousy, fear and despair, and that they were doing it so authoritatively and emotionally too.

I do not want to pay for a wall. I do not want to pay for a deportation force. There are many things the Tea Partiers don’t want to pay for that I feel a society should pay for. Where is my radio talk show to whisper revolution in my ear through the long night? I can’t even stand to watch news at all these days.

The right wing has won and our President elect who could be a unifier obviously is more an easily wounded defender of only himself. If he would show us that he could govern fairly and do that consistently I might not feel so bereft. His cabinet appointments give me little hope. I am thinking that I and other liberals will be left to wander in the wilderness. Any bets about how likely it is that DT can get it together and turn into a real President? Any bets on whether the soulless Republican Party can worry about anything besides owning what was once the government of the people, by the people, and for the people?

Thinking Inside the Box

We are all, as American citizens, concerned about the fiscal
problems our government is experiencing. After all it is the people’s
government, our government and our fortunes rise and fall as the fortunes of
our government rise and fall. Right now we get the sense that we are all
falling. We also do not feel that all is lost. We believe we will somehow right
the “ship of state” and once again our country and its citizens will prosper,
but we also believe that our fortunes may depend on the decisions we and our
government make right now.

We have, through our recent election, discarded the notion
that continuing to make more money available to the wealthiest Americans will
solve our economic woes. We have also discarded the notion that we need to
adopt a “tough love” approach and push all of our poorest Americans out of the
safety net to fend for themselves. We have accepted that our safety net costs
are creating stresses on our federal budget, stresses that will get worse with
time. We have accepted that we will have to accept some changes in this safety
net it we are to keep it at all.

We would all like to contribute to improving the American
economy so that it meets our own needs and keeps us competitive with the rest
of the world’s economies. But many of us cannot afford, at this moment, to part
with any more of our money in the form of levied taxes. However, in times of
need, the American people often pitch in and help. Look at Katrina, look at
Sandy, or even look at the money Obama raised in his recent campaign from
individual donations. Perhaps we need to think outside the box and put a check
mark inside of a box.

You know how there is a spot on our tax forms where we can
contribute a few or many dollars to fund Presidential elections? What if we had
a similar spot on our tax forms where we could donate to a fund for health
care, a fund for Social Security, a fund for education, and a fund for
infrastructure? If people can choose where their dollars will be spent they may
be willing to contribute out of their own pockets to save or enhance programs
they favor.

We often raise a lot of money this way in times of disaster.
This time our disaster is our national economy. People may be willing to
volunteer their financial assistance, even though they might not be happy if
they were required to contribute. Health care dollars could be used to keep
Medicare and Medicaid functional and to prevent it from eating up our budget.
Social Security monies could be used to extend the life of the Social Security
program. Educations monies could be dispersed among the states and earmarked
for specific initiatives (like buying computers). Of course, if our wealthiest
Americans take on infrastructure we might not need a fund dedicated to that
purpose, but if they did not then we could also have a fund that would be
dispersed among states to upgrade infrastructure.

We still need to work on our safety net. There are people
who are able to scam the system. There are doctors who will sign forms that
ascribe a disability to people who don’t actually have one. There are people
with disabilities who could be trained to do a job that will work around their
disability. Our Congress can continue to look for ways to cut health care
costs. If we combine a bottom-up and top- down approach to our safety net we
may be able to keep it almost intact.