Sunday, July 28, 2013

America's Imaginary Lavish Social Welfare Safety Net That Exists Only in GOP's Mind


In America, we hate the poor. We really, really hate the poor. We are indoctrinated from birth to hate the poor. Jesus may have said, "Blessed are you who are poor." But America has no time for that Jesus. Our motto is "Screw the poor."

As a result, America has never been big on social welfare programs for the poor. Even during the peak years of U.S. social program spending (during LBJ's "Great Society" years), America had a skimpy social safety net, compared to other industrialized nations.

Compared to generous European social safety nets, America these days more closely resembles the likes of Mexico than a modern First World industrialized nation. Jobless benefits, for example, are far more meager and stingy in the U.S. than they are in Europe. In fact, for one reason or another, millions of Americans don't even ever qualify for jobless benefits. (I know: I was one of them. Years ago, I applied for jobless benefits and was turned down).

The other pillar of the U.S. social safety net, food stamps, is also very meager. I recall recently playing around with the food stamp eligibility program on a Texas state government Web site. I was curious as to exactly how low one's income had to be in order to qualify. I kept plugging in lower and lower income numbers and kept getting a response page that said, "You earn too much to qualify for food stamps." Eventually, I concluded the Web site must be broken. It was only later that I discovered, much to my amazement, that the Web site was in fact working just fine and the Third World-like wages I'd plugged into the search form were indeed considered too high to qualify for aid.

In short, in America these days, if you're poor, you are screwed. The fact is, many low-income and poor people never even qualify for any type of aid. And the shocking numbers of homeless in the U.S. demonstrates that our social safety net is grotesquely inadequate to meet the needs of the needy. The fact that one in five children lives in poverty is a good indicator of that.

In fact, what meager social safety net programs that are around only exist because corporate America wants them to exist (a good indicator of just how corrupt our government is these days).

Take food stamps for example. This program simply wouldn't exist were it not for the likes of Walmart. Since Walmart (a vastly profitable mega-billion-dollar corporation) can't be bothered to pay their workers a living wage, we the taxpayer in effect subsidize their wages via food stamps, (as well as other programs like Medicaid).

Give corporate America credit: they do know how to exploit a situation to boost their profits.

Despite all this, today's Republican Party is convinced that the reason America is going broke is that we supposedly fund all these lavish, generous social safety net programs. Indeed, the likes of Rush Limbaugh constantly ramble on about "trillions of dollars" that are supposedly spent on welfare. The typical Limbaugh listener these days is convinced that America is going broke because of "excessive welfare spending" and "lavish foreign aid."

It's all a lie, of course.

Welfare programs for the non-working poor are in fact a tiny part of the federal budget (5 percent, in fact). And, as a percentage of GDP, America's foreign aid budget is smaller than virtually any other industrialized nation. (In fact, what foreign aid we do spend is often nothing more than backdoor military aid).

It's one thing for clowns like Limbaugh to lie about welfare. But I also routinely hear other, more mainstream Republicans lie through their teeth about America's "lavish" welfare spending.

The reason is obvious. It's easier to beat up on the poor and the needy and make them a scapegoat for America's economic crisis. The real reason for America's titanic deficits (out-of-control military spending and insane trillion-dollar wars) rarely gets a mention in our mainstream political discourse.

Republicans are happy to shovel trillions of dollars into the wasteful, corrupt monster known as the Military Industrial Complex. And then they have the gall to blame needy children for bankrupting the American nation.

The reason is obvious, of course. The Military Industrial Complex employs thousands of lobbyists who are willing to shower billions of dollars on "our" representatives in Congress.

By contrast, needy children don't have any lobbyists to represent their interests.

America is a nation that has a serious addiction to massive trillion-dollar military budgets. By contrast, programs for the poor are a small slice of the federal budget. To blame the latter for America's fiscal woes is the equivalent of a drug addict who spends $500 a day on crack cocaine and then blames his budget woes on the fact that he spends a quarter a day on a newspaper.

I believe today's Republicans are playing with fire when they continue to attack the poor and continue to work to slash what little remains of the U.S. social safety net.

The poor, the needy, the impoverished have been crapped all over by this government for decades. Their growing ranks (and their growing desperation) is a ticking time bomb that will eventually blow up in the face of our corrupt government and the plutocrats that it serves.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

RIP Douglas Engelbart, An Early Visionary Idealistic Computer Genius



In our popular culture today, America glorifies and worships mediocrities like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. But beyond those two obvious examples, our nation has an obsession with celebrities in general. We tend to overlook, marginalize and ignore those who have real, worthy accomplishments.

One obscure, but worthy, giant, computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart, died on July 2, at the age of 88. Although recognized in certain scientific circles, Engelbart was relatively unknown to most Americans. And it's a shame: Engelbart was a true visionary and genius who played a huge role in creating modern computers and the Internet.

Just how pioneering was Engelbart's work? To get an idea of this, watch the video above. The video shows a presentation that Engelbart gave on Dec. 9, 1968 that debuted many important computer innovations for the first time, including a computer mouse, hypertext, and many other breakthroughs.

There's not much exciting content to see early on in the video, but if you jump ahead to the video's 4:48 mark, you can watch Engelbart using a computer mouse, along with a computer. At first glance, it may not seem like that big a deal. But it's absolutely astonishing when you consider that this is all taking place way back in 1968.

Engelbart, in fact, invented the computer mouse. But unfortunately, he never got any royalties for his invention. Engelbart's mouse was wheel-driven (the ball-driven mouse was invented by the German company Telefunken in the 1960s).

Needless to say, without the modern computer mouse, personal computing as we know it today would be virtually inconceivable.

Unfortunately our society tends to relegate visionaries Engelbart to the sidelines while we praise the "accomplishments" of vapid celebrities who get paid vast sums to play golf or star in movies. Mediocrities like Rush Limbaugh get paid hundreds of millions of dollars to spew lies on the public airwaves and poison the nation's political dialogue, while true worthies like Engelbart languish in relative obscurity.