Monday, September 29, 2003

The Power of Myth

OK, folks, a lot going on this week.

First, those of you who helped educate Rep. Hayworth will be pleased to know that not only have about 85% of respondents at last check instructed him that the threat from Saddam Hussein was hyped from the beginning, but that your efforts received press notice in the "Political Insider" column of Sunday's Arizona Republic (scroll down to the third item.)

You also should know Rep. Hayworth's website's privacy policy states that "we do not collect individual information, unless you choose to provide such information." So what the heck, vote again here.

Rep. Hayworth thinks anyone who disagrees with him obviously hates America, which probably will be more grist for this week's column. Geez--getting lectured on decorum from J.D. What's next, Newt Gingrich yelling at me about the importance of marriage, or Fife Symington preaching how important it is for me to pay your debts?

Now for this week's column. This column came out of a program I did at ASU Hillel about Jews in politics, which was reported both in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix (I got to tell my favorite ADL anecdote) and in the East Valley Tribune. One of my fellow panelists gave the refugee resettlement anecdote, which is completely bogus; in addition to the government programs listed in the column, there were and are lots of federal tax dollars flowing into refugee resettlement, and the programs in Phoenix that worked with Russian refusniks were supported by groups like Jewish Family and Children's Services, which in turn get about 2/3rds of their budget from government grants and programs. In fact, JFCS had to get out of the refugee resettlement business because it was simply too expensive for their resources. The public funds weren't sufficient, and private donations certainly didn't even begin to cover the costs.

The same legislator also claimed that she gets upset when she sees charities at the legislature supposedly hiring expensive private lobbyists when they could use--what, exactly? Public defenders? She instead wanted the charities to take the money for lobbying and hire a fundraiser to raise the money needed. Sheesh--first of all, the number of dollars just don't work when private charity is only a quarter of the needed funding anyway. She also made this claim in a year when the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, which is about the most efficient fund-raising organization in the universe, has had to cut allocations significantly to recipient agencies because the donations are way down. I guess being Jewish doesn't mean you aren't also drinking that right-wing Kool-Aid, too.

Finally, of course you should take away from the column scorn over that sort of thinking at the legislature, but you also should take away a resolve to help organizations like Catholic Social Services and Jewish Family and Children's Services raise that quarter of their budgets that depend on contributions. Send your check to JFCS at 4220 N. 20th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85015; to CSS at 1610 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85015. Put on the memo line that you're contributing to the "Sen. Leff Education Fund."

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 28, 2003

Conservatives always claim that we can’t solve problems by throwing money at them, with two exceptions; it’s O.K. to throw money at Iraq and Pinal County. Everybody else? Fix those problems without money.

As fixing problems for free strikes less ideologically-blinkered folks as impractical -- after all, you get what you pay for -- it’s incumbent on conservatives to invent myths of problems solved without government money. (That leaves more billions for Iraq and for building roads, paid for by Maricopa County taxpayers, in Pinal County.)

These myths are devoutly believed, despite not having much truth to them. That’s the power of myth. A Republican state legislator is proud of helping resettle refugees in America, claiming it’s such a good example of how private charity can solve problems without government involvement. There’s just one problem. The legislator’s good works -- worthy as they were -- weren’t done with private charity alone.

Of course, private donors gave lots of money and volunteers provided uncounted hours of assistance, and these good works wouldn’t have happened without their contributions. But charity and volunteers didn’t do it all -- not by a long shot. These refugees all qualified for AHCCCS, so they got health care from government money. They probably got government-assisted job training, food stamps, language instruction, and housing assistance -- just for starters.

This government help is below the surface; volunteers wouldn’t see bags of tax money arriving, but instead see the dedicated assistance of skilled professionals and worthwhile programs at local charities like Catholic Social Services or Jewish Family and Children’s Services. Those aren’t government agencies, but the majority of their funding comes, directly or indirectly, from government grants. For Catholic Social Services, the percentage is 73 percent; for JFCS, it's 72 percent. Ideologues may pretend that there’s no welfare program here, but that isn’t reality.

Similarly, The Tribune and many conservatives are enamored with the work of Richard Wexler, a relentless campaigner against the supposed excesses of the child welfare system. However, Wexler and most child welfare workers don’t disagree about most cases; both sides believe that parents who keep kids in cages shouldn’t be raising kids, but if at all possible, kids should stay with their parents.

The disagreement is mainly theoretical, over the exact placement of the line between taking and leaving kids, and what to do about cases falling right on that line. But the vast majority of cases facing Child Protective Services aren’t so subtle; both sides would treat them the same. But focusing on the fine, theoretical point allows conservatives to ignore their desperate underfunding of CPS and its effect on the vast majority of cases.

How many baseball games have you seen a play where, according to the rule, the tie went to the runner? Not many. In almost all cases, the runner beats the throw, or the throw beats the runner. If you waited for a play that was truly a tie before buying a ticket, you’d never see a game.

Meanwhile, hundreds of kids -- in abusive homes, where even Wexler considers removal justified -- wait for caseworkers, therapy, and permanent placements. But conservatives wallow in the myth of the “tie goes to the runner” and ignore reality and their responsibilities.

If government programs aren’t the answer, and private charity can solve problems without taxpayer money, never mind Iraq and Pinal -- why are conservatives so insistent that taxpayers fund their favorite charities, school vouchers and so-called “faith-based” organizations?

I guess the right-wing version of the “Golden Rule” is “Do unto ourselves while ignoring all others.” After all, morality's nice, but more tax cuts for the richest is what's really important.

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