Madison County Opinion...

SEPTEMBER 8, 2004


Column
By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
September 8, 2004

Frankly Speaking

Poverty rate based on bureaucrats’ lies
There are three types of lies. They have been described as lies, damn lies and statistics. If you want proof that statistics are the most used method of lying, just look at the federal welfare system.
Just a few days ago, the U.S. Bureau of the Census released figures showing that poverty has increased in America. According to their figures, 12.5 percent of all Americans were living in poverty in 2003, up from 12.4 percent in 2002. The Democrats immediately swarmed over this number to declare that President Bush’s economic plan was a failure, and he ought to be replaced.
But the figure they released is about as false as a three-dollar bill. To start, it is already a year out of date. Secondly, it is based on a definition of poverty devised by government bureaucrats that have no basis in reality. Third, it is based on payroll figures that ignore the millions of self employed Americans. Fourth, it ignores the billions of dollars in federal and state money already being given to the welfare class. Fifth, it is a “one size fits all” figure that fails to take into account the difference in living expenses from state to state. Finally, it does not take into account the fact that most people who receive welfare do so only for a few months before finding new employment.
Just how do you decide who is living in poverty? The guidelines are determined by the Federal Office of Management and Budget. It appears to me that as our economy expands and people have more money to spend, the bureaucrats simply raise the poverty line in order to keep their figures high. They issue a single guideline for the entire nation. I guess it never enters their mind that what is a poverty wage in California is a good living wage in Georgia.
Currently, our economy is rebounding quite rapidly. In the last eight months, over a million people have gone back to work. Unemployment has dropped from six percent to 5.4 percent in the period. That figure, along with the total number of employed Americans, does not reflect those who are self employed. It does contain people who are retired and working part time. Both if these factors tend to inflate the figure.
At the same time, the billions of dollars in food stamps, aid to families with children, Medicaid, public housing and other direct payments are ignored. When you add up all the welfare payments, many recipients live better than the workers who are paying the bill.
We need to do two things. First, get the federal government out of the welfare business and return charity civic and religious organizations and where necessary to the state and local governments. I can find nothing in our Constitution that authorizes federal welfare programs. Local agencies are best equipped to determine who needs help and who is sponging off the system.
Secondly, we need to redefine poverty. I do not believe that people who walk around with cell phones need to be receiving welfare benefits. Rather than spend their money on the latest toys, let them buy their own groceries.
Finally, we need to stop paying cash benefits for welfare. If people need food assistance, they ought to be given a weekly food basket containing enough basic foods to assure a good diet.
We just celebrated Labor Day. To me it was a joke. When those of us who work are docked a major part of our earnings to give to the non working members of our society we should mourn labor day, not celebrate it.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is frankgillispie@charter.net. His website can be accessed at http://frankgillispie.tripod.com

Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
September 8, 2004

In the Meantime

Much omitted in all the talk of toughness From the podium, there’s talk of toughness, strength, wisdom, freedom. And we cheer, we jeer, we love and we hate, we speak of faith in the man or our lack of trust in him, the good or bad feeling he gives us.
For all the emotion of this presidential election, all the talk of the war on terrorism, there’s strikingly little discussion of perhaps the most important aspect, strategy.
And I’m not just talking about Iraq.
For instance, what about Pakistan?
It’s worth looking at this nation, because it has a nuclear arsenal, a number of extreme Islamists, and, presumably, it is still harboring Osama bin Laden and his band of murderers.
Remember, when our troops forced the Taliban from power and the terrorists out of Afghanistan — an action most all Republicans and Democrats will agree was the absolute right move by Bush after Sept. 11 — bin Laden and al Qaeda did not somehow escape the confines of earth when they crossed the Pakistan border. So didn’t Pakistan then become the home of bin Laden and his followers? Wouldn’t the next logical action be to follow the murderers across the border in full force and bring them to justice for Sept. 11?
Of course. So why didn’t we follow with full military force into Pakistan? If you think about it, this is where our response to Sept. 11 became really tricky — sensitive, even, if you prefer politically-charged words. And, despite our action in Iraq, the Pakistan situation remains quite complex and very much a problem.
The obvious reason we didn’t take the war to the tribal area of Pakistan in pursuit of bin Laden is that we didn’t want to force an overthrow of Pakistan’s leader, General Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally, who has already had two attempts on his life since grabbing power in a coup in 1999. An overthrow of this leader by radical Islamists could put us in a position of facing fanatics with a nuke, the very thing we want to avoid.
So instead of risking this, we’ve left it to Musharraf to fight the radical Islamists in his country, something that he can’t do with too much fervor if he wants to stay in power.
You may say that all of this is beside the point. The war on terror is clearly focused on Iraq now.
That’s true. Our focus is Iraq.
But bin Laden remains. And if we are attacked again by al Qaeda while bin Laden is in Pakistan, then what? Do we retaliate against them in full, crossing that borderline where we stopped before, into Pakistan, risking a potential overthrow and a showdown with a nuclear-armed radical Islam?
Or do we turn away from our actual attackers, from direct justice, and focus instead on the growing threat of Iran by launching a second preemptive war against a perceived threat?
If we’re attacked again, this is the dilemma we’re in: Do we fight radical Islam directly or not? There are huge risks either way.
Ultimately, just as many were angered by the notion of France and Germany telling us what to do in Iraq, very few seem to realize that our war on terror has been dictated in large part, by our allegiance to a man who took power in a coup in Pakistan. The fact is, he could fall any day. The assassiantion attempts show this. So if Musharraf is overthrown by extremists before any U.S. action in Pakistan? Do we intervene then, given the potential grave consequences of inaction?
The hard fact is that Bush turned attention from the most crucial front in the war on terrorism, al Qaeda — where he initially took such bold action in a truly positive way in Afghanistan — toward Saddam, a madman, yes, but not a religious zealot bent on Islamic world rule through violent means, as al Qaeda is. In this way, he led us down a side road in confronting the evil of our age.
But, whatever happens in Iraq, we’ll have to come back to the initial front, whether it’s in four years, 20 years or 50 years. Whether we admit it or not, the rise of militant Islam is the force we face, the threat of our age. And extremists will accept no détente, as the Soviets did.
So is pure militancy, pure fire against fire, our best response? Well, it’s clearly not so simple. Defeating a desperate, violence-loving force won’t come simply with returned violence, lest you kill everyone who could pose a potential threat, (because how do you really distinguish the good from bad without killing them all) — and, in the process, become what you hate. Of course, inaction in the face of a direct terrorist hit is certainly not an answer either. That’s why appropriate response to global terror is complex and requires a wisdom we hope our leaders will have.
The Bush Administration makes bold claims of not backing down. Meanwhile, they charge that Kerry will flip flop on terror, try to hem and haw on yes or no matters, that he will prove insufficiently forceful, not tough enough. That’s quite hypocritical given that in the actual fight on global terrorism pushed by fanatical Muslims, it’s Bush who has walked a yes and no line. Bush chose preemption against a perceived threat in Iraq, but he’s shown that backing down in Pakistan on bin Laden — who actually attacked us — was for him the more feasible strategy, given the risk involved in full military action. Now we can call the turning away from the most formidable terrorist fight and going in a different direction a lot of things. But is “tough” the right word?
I call it into question not out of some “liberal Bush-hatred,” as all criticism of his policies is seemingly dismissed, but because the Republican Party is constantly touting his toughness, not his policies. It’s as if he’s become the embodiment of the word and this toughness is our assurance of safety. Don’t think about the strategy. No, just have faith in his toughness. But the facts just don’t fit that — not when it comes to actually assessing the fight against the biggest threat we face, al Qaeda and radical Islam. Moving primary focus from bin Laden to Saddam, from proven threat to potential threat — this turnaround alienated many of us who enthusiastically supported his initial efforts for justice against al Qaeda. It was truly disheartening, still is. Because he was absolutely right to begin with. And at their convention, the Republicans clearly tried to connect Bush to the initial unity we all felt after those awful attacks three years ago this Saturday. But that unity fell apart when he took a U-turn from direct justice for 9/11 to Iraq — which had nothing to do with that horrendous day three years ago this Saturday.
Think about it: if somebody kills someone in your family, do you pursue justice against the actual killer, never turning your focus away? Or will getting someone who could potentially kill your family member do?
That’s a very legitimate question. It’s the true heart and soul of the issue, but it’s something that many Democrats seem too scared to ask with real conviction and that many Republicans seem unwilling to contemplate.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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