Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shared sacrifice: not a chance

    It was Idi Amin who once said, "In any country there must be people who have to die." He was making himself that allowance in reference to sundry uprisings, mass graves and his own political survival. Barbaric? Well, sure.

    His form of leadership brings to mind the sacrifice of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona.

    Not a resident of Amin's Uganda but of our own fair United States, her body was found on Valentine's Day in a garbage bag in a truck alongside Florida's Interstate 95.

    No third-world peninsula: Florida is looking into what became of Nubia. The evidence is that the private agency unto which her welfare was assigned under a state privatization initiative simply screwed up in leaving her with foster parents whom police now implicate in her death. You wonder what is the Ugandan word for "cost of doing business."

       The interesting thing about this story: Now that a little light has shone on the for-profits doing the Sunshine State's bidding, Floridians find that child welfare executives, by way of tax dollars, are making six-figure salaries, some over $200,000. And how are they doing?

       Several years ago Texas Republicans were striving with all their might to reduce the number of children served by the Children's Health Insurance Program, under which the state gets three federal dollars for every dollar, a buck state budget writers will surrender much the way one might eliminate a kidney stone. Amid the screaming and yelping over an "ounce of prevention" approach to healthier children, a report detailed how politically connected private contractors for CHIP had overcharged the state $200 million. I'm flipping through my Ugandan dictionary for a word that describes such an atrocity.

      We are in a period when state lawmakers and governors in stiff collars make statements about the need for broad-based sacrifice to address budget shortfalls.

      The thing is, these policymakers have a very limited idea of shared sacrifice.

      Recently when Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich targeted the obscene largesse of public employee unions (sounds obscene, unless you consider them to be, say, teachers), limiting their collective bargaining power, a study found that teacher pay in Ohio had declined nearly 4 percent over 2008 and 2009. Teacher pay nationally? Over those two years it rose at a breathtaking — well, OK — 2 percent.

     You see, when people who would rather pay profiteers than public servants talk about shared sacrifice, they make sure those at the lowest end of the pecking order, and closest to the public served, take the hit.

     Really,  who is actually sacrificing these days? (Hint: Not the big-bellied person drawing the Hitler mustache on our president at your nearest tea party event.) Here are the people sacrificing: teachers, grade schoolers, high schoolers, college students, the frail elderly, people in the trenches working in social services, and the people they serve — like 10-year-old Nubia.

     What glory to have heard all those patriots, amid the height of the "war on terror," say how everyone needed to do their part to win, win, win. By and large, what was their part? Flag pins. Little bitty Old Glorys in tatters from their car antennas.

      Who sacrificed? Soldiers who went without sufficient protection against IEDs. Families that watched enlistees and reservists get pulled into a stop-loss quagmire.

      Who profited? Contractors overcharging taxpayers for every staple and water bottle.

       Legions of sunshine patriots looked the other way while the war costs mushroomed in off-budget convenience. A tax increase to pay for two wars bought at once? Out of the question. It would hurt the economy, you know. The deficit be damned. Federal income tax rates went down, not up.

       Some people have to die. And some have to sacrifice now that our budgets are overrun. But not you. Not me. Right?

       Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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