Rev Neal Jones on threats of “austerity” in South Carolina: There is no more to cut

On December 25, The State published an anti-austerity column by the Rev. Dr. Neal Jones of Columbia. He opens with a Bible passage appropriate to Christmas Day, Matthew 2:8-9: Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, report to me that I too may come and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went their own way.”

Dr. Jones develops the point that South Carolina’s elected officials are like Herod, in that seek to destroy what they pretend to serve.

Have you noticed what the Herods of our state are saying about the $1 billion shortfall in the upcoming state budget? They’re certainly not considering a tax increase for the wealthy. No, what you hear are more cuts, despite the fact that we have been cutting back our state budget for the past three years.

There is no more fat to cut from our state budget. We have been cutting through muscle, and now they are proposing to crack open the bones and suck out the marrow.

What will further cuts mean? It will mean fewer teachers, fewer remedial programs, larger classes and a shorter school year. It will mean that universities will have to raise their tuition, pushing a college education beyond the reach of more middle-class students. It will mean our children’s education and their future will be shortchanged. It will mean that court calendars will get longer, our law enforcement will be diminished, and our jails and prisons will get more crowded. It will mean that justice will be deferred, and justice deferred is justice denied. It will mean fewer sick people will receive Medicaid and fewer poor people will receive welfare, on top of the 20 percent cut in welfare benefits just enacted. It will mean that more people will die unnecessarily.

Voices like Dr. Jones’ are sorely lacking in the pages of The State…and in the media generally. More typical is this pick-up column in today’s paper from the Washington Post’s Robert J. Samuelson. Somewhat confusingly speaking about about Medicaid and Social Security.

But politicians fear making major changes. They dread an assault from the AARP, the main senior lobby, and the rage of millions of retirees and near-retirees. Public opinion is hostile. It’s high on reducing deficits and low on changing the programs that create the deficits.

Samuelson makes basic mistakes: he presumes what the “major changes” should be budget cuts and since he believes that Medicaid and Social Security “created the deficit” then then those programs must be cut.

There is a mania for cutting now. Columnists and politicians raised on GOP talking points associate cost-cutting with prosperity. The growth in military spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is contributing mightily to the budget deficits, without contributing to the well-being of people at home. Even some right-wing stalwarts like Grover Norquist seem to realize that Defense spending must be cut, though they believe that savings will come from privatizing the V.A.!

Controlling costs in military spending can best be achieved by reducing the U.S. commitments abroad to pre-2001 levels. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t improving U.S. security. They are horrendously expensive and as long as they go on, will be used as a national security argument for reducing social spending.

Meanwhile, Medicaid’s contribution to the national debt (and the disparity between skyrocketing costs and Medicaid payments) could be addressed by a national insurance program. Controlling the costs of procedures by eliminating marketing and insurance overhead without reducing quality of care, or the income of health professionals.

While wealthy commentators like Samuelson and Norquist advocate long-term pain for no short-term gain. As a people we should be looking for ways to make the government serve the people. When we reduce spending on social services at any time we throw people into deeper poverty. That isn’t just an expression, deeper poverty means an early death for many. As Rev. Jones says:

We are on the verge of losing our precious democracy, not to communism or socialism but to oligarchy — the rule of the rich. We are ceasing to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people and are becoming a government of Goldman Sachs, by Exxon Mobile and for Citicorp.

Jones is correct. We have to argue against austerity now for the sake of the people already living with next to nothing in SC.

So let’s be absolutely clear: there are no saviors who are going to look out for us in this crisis. Certainly not Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, one of the companies that will benefit most from his proposed bailout (which is actually a stick up). The only hope of preventing another dose of shock politics is loud, organized grassroots pressure on all political parties: they have to know right now that after seven years of Bush, Americans are becoming shock resistant.

Naomi Klein wrote that two years ago, before the 2008 election. We have to include Obama and Bush in the equation now. No help is going to come from the top. We have to resist austerity ourselves.


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