Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Parable of the bird feeder

A dear relative of mine sent the following parable as a part of a Thanksgiving communication. He considered it to be appropriate somehow.
I bought a bird feeder. I hung it on my back porch and filled it with seed. What a beauty of a bird feeder it is, as I filled it lovingly with seed. Within a week we had hundreds of birds taking advantage of the continuous flow of free and easily accessible food.

But then the birds started building nests in the boards of the patio, above the table, and next to the barbecue.

Then came the poop. It was everywhere: on the patio tile, the chairs, the table ... everywhere!

Then some of the birds turned mean. They would dive bomb me and try to peck me even though I had fed them out of my own pocket.

And others birds were boisterous and loud. They sat on the feeder and squawked and screamed at all hours of the day and night and demanded that I fill it when it got low on food.

After a while, I couldn't even sit on my own back porch anymore. So I took down the bird feeder and in three days the birds were gone. I cleaned up their mess and took down the many nests they had built all over the patio.

Soon, the back yard was like it used to be ... quiet, serene and no one demanding their rights to a free meal.

Now let's see .... Our government gives out free food, subsidized housing, free medical care, and free education and allows anyone born here to be an automatic citizen.

Then the illegals came by the tens of thousands. Suddenly our taxes went up to pay for free services; small apartments are housing 5 families; you have to wait 6 hours to be seen by an emergency room doctor; your child's 2nd grade class is behind other schools because over half the class doesn't speak English.

Corn Flakes now come in a bilingual box; I have to "press one" to hear my bank talk to me in English, and people waving flags other than "Old Glory" are squawking and screaming in the streets, demanding more rights and free liberties.

Just my opinion, but maybe it's time for the government to take down the bird feeder.
If you agree, pass it on; if not, continue cleaning up the poop!

That lit my fire pretty good and I responded with the following:
We wouldn't be having all this discussion about illegal immigrants if they were white Canadians. Racism against dark people who sound funny is the fuel of the immigration debate. It's a politically correct cover. Every single person I've encountered who is up in arms about the bad things illegal immigrants are doing to America is white and privileged. Sometimes they are good people otherwise and just can't face the fact that different sorts of people give them the willies. The people in Temple (the Texas hometown of my youth) who set up a private swimming pool didn't think they were racists. The just didn't want to share water with those icky black people. It can be a sneaky thing.

In Paul Krugman's new book, "The Conscience of a Liberal" (which I highly recommend), he did a study of how Republicans have been able to win elections despite being the party of rich, white folk. The data made it clear that won by finding the right euphemisms to appeal to closet racists who would otherwise have nothing in common with the Republican agenda.

I am no longer content in letting those euphemisms go unchallenged. So I stand by my position.

You and I differ because I think that the evidence shows (cf Krugman above) that by-and-large big government has been a good thing. Your generation especially benefitted from big government in the form of the New Deal and the GI Bill. Unions were strong and poor and middle-class incomes were at a peak that hasn't been seen since. Tax rates on the wealthy were high. The range of incomes between the richest and the poorest was sufficiently narrow that Krugman labels the era the Great Compression.

Today, thanks to the Republicans and complicit Democrats, big government functions more as a pipeline for big business and special interests. The farm bill is a case in point. The way it is currently structured it is filled with subsidies for inefficient and archaic practices that tend to benefit agricultural middlemen and corporate entities instead of farmers. For example, when we provide food aid to foreign countries the grain must come from government surplus stockpiles and be shipped on American-flagged ships. With demand for corn so high that it is driving up food prices at the grocery there are no surpluses any longer. So we buy grain on the open market here at high prices. The tiny fleet of ships that are American-flagged then transport the grain at high rates because they have an unassailable monopoly. When the grain arrives it rarely is what is appropriate for the local economy so the recipient NGO's have found that it works better to sell the grain on the international market and use the money to buy local products that support the local farmers. The right way to do it would be just to give the NGO's money directly. But this byzantine process lines middleman pockets all along the way with your tax dollars.

Big government isn't evil. Just big government by the richest 1%. And others who aspire to that.

The conversation continues in the comments. Please free to add your two cents.


Kendall Miller said...

As predicted above my relative's response was "Hey, wait-a-minute! You can't call me a racist!" It follows:


You don't understand me at all. I didn't say one word about
illegal immigrants. I wrote about the poor in spirit Americans who want the government to take care of them in a standard equal to everyone else but do not have the initiative to stand on their own two feet, And about Wealthy individuals, companies, and institutions who hire specialists, attorneys, and lobbyists to keep the government largess coming.

Kendall, do you actually believe one of the three top democrat candidates as president with a democrat controlled congress would change anything? Perhaps the recipients of the largess would change slightly. Yours and
my taxes would rise. The truly wealthy would find ways to shield their incomes from taxes. But the Waste would still be there.

Our government is out of control. It will take someone who can speak the truth and not simply revert to talking points to turn things around. I am still looking for that Individual. Right now John McCain comes closest to filling the bill.

About immigration: I think the only way we can have peace and prosperity on our continent is to have completely free trade, Free movement of people and trust between people. Right now we don't even have it inside our own boundaries. I don't know any bad things illegal immigrants are doing. I think most of them are working hard to try to improve life for themselves and their families. I think building a fence the entire length of our borders is the height of foolishness.

But big government being good when you see what it is doing to our country is ridiculous. I think your Krugman is an egghead, or an airhead who could not recognize a truth if it came up and bit him. You see Kendall, we each have our different views and cite different experts to support those views but we share the same family and Space here on earth so let's just bury the hatchet and drop this subject.

Kendall Miller said...

Given the swipes that the “Bird Feeder” makes at illegal immigrants and having pronounced it “WELL-DONE” it was natural to assume that you were in agreement with that opinion.

The welfare-queen myth that was foisted on the American public by that Ronald Reagan character has proven to have quite the long legs. Despite its patent falsity what is it that has made it such a staple of right-wing demagoguery? Perhaps it’s because most of us have actually encountered sponge personalities in our daily walks of life, often within our own families. They are not rare. It is also not rare that well-meaning souls give to them in hope of providing genuine succor only to see those hard-won resources consumed to no discernible positive effect. It is a genuine frustration. So hearts become hardened. It becomes an anathema to see tax dollars consumed in the same manner.

But unfortunately it is a red herring. I don’t disagree that funds are wasted in this manner. But I submit that the focus on it is a carefully constructed distraction by those who are directing multiples orders of magnitude more funds into enterprises that line their own pockets and enable them to retain the power that makes it possible. Welfare fraud is a problem but let us not allow us to be blinded to a much more serious problem, that of corporate welfare.

From Wikipedia, “According to the Cato Institute, the U.S. federal government spent $92 billion on corporate welfare during fiscal year 2006. Recipients included Boeing, Xerox, IBM, Motorola, Dow Chemical, and General Electric.” Now I would call that a significant chunk of change. It seems to me that given the strength of corporate power to lobby and otherwise influence politicians as compared to that of welfare recipients in poverty there are certainly some low-hanging fruit there that can be harvested to reduce the so-called tax burden. It’s a question of political courage. Are we really so afraid to face the bull that we are content to swat the flies that buzz around his droppings?

Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian of Sojourner fame and a popular Christian author, describes politicians as people that run around with fingers in the air testing the wind. He advises the only way to change a politician and keep him changed is to change the wind. Democrats are as guilty of this as anyone. But you can be assured that Democrats are going to be more responsive to an anti-rich, pro-middle and lower class wind than Republicans who have made careers out of carrying the rich man’s water.

You seem fatalistic about the ability of wealthy to shield their money from taxation and you may very well be right. However, as Krugman points out that once was not the case. And the country was better for it. Having been successful before, I see no reason why it can not be done again. Tax loopholes by which wealth is shielded can be carefully constructed such that money ends up doing what tax breaks and government expenditures do today, including fostering investment and appropriate aid to people in poverty.

I think the reason the government appears to be out of control as you say is that it currently under the control of people who want to subvert to their own greedy ends. “Out of control” gives them cover when it performs poorly in accomplishing its proper goals while it is doing quite well at subsidizing the wealthy enterprises that have found that your taxes are a good source for a fancy life-style.

Krugman may be an egghead but he has been right too many times to dismiss lightly. I can understand your frustration about finding someone speaking the truth if you limit your search to the Republican Party. Say, what about the Romney guy?

Unknown said...

Here, here!