Tag Archives: Trump Budget

Coal Myths and Legends: North Valmy as Dinosaur in the Coal Mine

The applause line “I dig coal” may play well in certain West Virginia venues, but it’s not playing all that well with Idaho Power:

“Idaho Power says its coal plants still generate capacity during high-demand periods, but baseload from the facilities has been declining—a trend it sees continuing in the region, and nationwide.

“The decline in baseload energy production is primarily viewed as driven by low natural gas prices and the expansion of renewable generating capacity,” the utility writes in its IRP. “Because of the low natural gas prices and expanded renewable generating capacity, wholesale electric market prices over recent years have frequently been too low to merit economic dispatch of coal generating capacity.”

Idaho Power is giving serious consideration to retiring its North Valmy plant in Nevada early; notice the references to natural gas prices and the expansion of renewable generating capacity.  In short, coal isn’t coming back, anywhere.

Why? Probably because capitalism works.  

“Coal has been crushed by the shale boom, which has made natural gas — coal’s biggest competitor — extremely cheap. The price that U.S. power plants have been paying for natural gas plunged 71% between 2008 and 2016, the Columbia report found. Coal prices were down just 8% in that same period.

At the same time, coal faces new competition from the rise of renewable energy, including wind and solar. The falling cost of solar energy combined with federal tax credits have created a boom in solar jobs. The solar industry ended 2016 with 260,000 workers, according to the Solar Foundation.” [MoneyCNN]

Why would a utility, or any other business for that matter, purchase supplies from a higher priced vendor when cheaper supplies are at hand?  If you want an example of how the “market works” this is it.  Utilities are increasingly using natural gas and renewables because those sources are (1) cheaper or (2) going to be cheaper in the long run.

A second point should be made — there are two coal markets: Metallurgical coal is used primarily in steel production; Thermal coal is used for electrical production.  Prices for metallurgical coal, also called Met Coal or Coking Coal, have increased as seaborne coal (from Queensland) tightens, and as supplies from Chinese mines diminish as their mines come under increased scrutiny about safety concerns.  The price of Met Coal is a function of not only American mines, but of Australian and Chinese sources.  The price of Thermal Coal has been declining since 2012 and doesn’t show any signs of reversing that five year trend anytime soon.  This is not a case of “if you mine it they will come,”  even with the decline in Thermal Coal prices, the price of natural gas and renewables are still putting pressure on the market.

The Columbia Study (pdf) explains, once again, how capitalism works.  What are the causal factors in the collapse of the coal mining sector of the economy?

“US electricity demand contracted in the wake of the Great Recession, and has yet to recover due to energy efficiency improvements in buildings, lighting and appliances. A surge in US natural gas production due to the shale revolution has driven down prices and made coal increasingly uncompetitive in US electricity markets. Coal has also faced growing competition from renewable energy, with solar costs falling 85 percent between 2008 and 2016 and wind costs falling 36 percent.”

Thus, bolstering the contention made previously that prices matter, and if lower prices are available for some commodity, then that’s where the “market” will go.  There are other factors: (pdf) A slowdown in Chinese manufacturing demands; deregulations may not have any significant effect on mining if the prices for natural gas and renewables continue to decrease; and, while we might expect a modest recovery to 2013 levels — that’s probably all that can be squeezed from this market.

So, Idaho Power/NVEnergy’s decision to concentrate on production using more renewables and natural gas is likely to be sound economically for long term corporate health — and the old coal-fired North Valmy plant sits like a Jurassic Creature in Pumpernickel Valley.

As for employment prospects, coal mining isn’t a growth industry: (pdf)

A plausible  range of US coal mining employment in these scenarios ranges from 70,000 to 90,000 in 2020, and 64,000 to 94,000 in 2025 and 2030 — lower than anything the US experienced before 2015.

Thus, basing economic policy on a sector which includes only 0.03% of our national economy makes precious little sense.  It makes even less sense to look backwards:

“When it comes to electricity generation in the US, the Department of Energy’s 2017 Energy and Employment Report suggests that the solar industry now employs more people than coal, oil, and gas combined. Oil still employs the largest share when including jobs related to fuels, however.

“Our findings would lead us to believe that the right place to invest dollars are in renewable energy rather than fossil fuels,” Delaney says. “These jobs are widely geographically distributed, they’re high paying, they apply to both manufacturing and professional workers, and there are a lot of them.”

How about job training for those seeking to move from a declining sector to sectors with more hiring prospects?  The Trump administration has lauded the prospects of job re-training and apprenticeship programs, but the money isn’t where the mouths are:

“Trump has proposed cutting the Labor Department’s budget by 21 percent in fiscal 2018.  That includes a 40 percent cut to the Labor Department’s Wagner-Peyser Employment Service, which supports about 14 million job seekers annually and last year helped nearly 6 million people find jobs. The proposed cuts also include a $1.3 billion reduction to programs that operate under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which Congress reauthorized in a bipartisan move three years ago.”

Drilling down to “coal communities,” the impact is patently worse:

“Based on the limited information provided by the blueprint, President Trump’s FY 2018 budget would cut at least $1.13 billion from these programs and offices, including several in their entirety—a total that may increase when the full budget is released in May.2 Through the POWER Initiative, offices and programs targeted by the cuts funded more than $115.8 million in economic development, job training, and other grant projects targeting coal communities in more than 20 states from 2015 through early 2017.”

It is egregiously unseemly to give pep talks about “digging mining,” in coal country while slashing budgets for economic development and job training for the people facing declining employment prospects in the mining sector in those communities.  Indeed, the current administration gives every impression of saying “we love you,” to coal country residents while allowing greater pollution of their cities and towns, and cutting job training opportunities for residents seeking employment in faster growing sectors of the regional economies.

Meanwhile, the North Valmy plant stands in Pumpernickel Valley.

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Filed under ecology, Economy, energy, energy policy, Nevada economy, Nevada energy, Politics

The Trump Budget Steps Toward The End Of The Trail

The Trump Administration assault on America’s own citizens is replicating, in its own way, past assaults on Native Americans.

“Members from tribes in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Idaho and Alaska called on Congress to restore funding to tribes during budget negotiations. The cuts ignore the treaty responsibilities to federally recognized tribes, they said, and put a stranglehold on programs that have been chronically underfunded.” [PBS]

And the administrative response?  The Office of Budget and Management didn’t respond to the e-mail asking for comments.  Wondering why the tribes are worried?

“The proposed budget would slash $64 million in federal Native American funding for education, $21 million for law enforcement and safety, $27 million for natural resources management programs run by tribes plus $23 million from human services, which includes the Indian Child Welfare Act, said Carina Miller, a councilwoman with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, in Oregon.

It would also eliminate funding for tribal work on climate change and cut block grant programs that provide housing assistance for Native Americans, she added.”

Cutting $64 million for funding Native American schools is an illustration of why the old “backlog” attacks are usually phony.  The current funding for school construction and maintenance is already “backlogged” to an alarming extent: (pdf)

Despite some improvement and temporary relief, BIE schools lack adequate funding for construction to address documented needs. At the end of 2015, BIE school buildings had almost $400 million in deferred maintenance, with 55 elementary and secondary schools (30 percent of all BIE schools) in poor condition. The total backlog, including both schools and employee housing, was about $600 million.

So, there’s a backlog of $600 million which will be solved by adding another $64 million cut?   Now, a word about law enforcement cuts:

“Take public safety and justice. Although Trump has fashioned himself as being tough on crime, particularly when it comes to immigration and terrorism, he’s seeking a huge cut of $30 million to programs that help tribes address high rates of crime in their communities.Tribal Justice Support, for example, would lose a whopping $10 million, according to the budget justification. That’s a direct rebuke to tribes in California and Alaska, whose justice systems were hobbled by Congress during the termination era, when the federal government was eager to shed its trust and treaty responsibilities.'”

These cuts are underpinned by a philosophical statement that is reminiscent of an excuse in years past to justify cutting services and programs for Native American citizens.  “Self Determination,” and “Termination.”  Here’s a statement that contains some of these elements:

“President Trump promised the American people he would cut wasteful spending and make the government work for the taxpayer again, and that’s exactly what this budget does,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.  “Working carefully with the President, we identified areas where we could reduce spending and also areas for investment, such as addressing the maintenance backlog in our National Parks and increasing domestic energy production on federal lands.  The budget also allows the Department to return to the traditional principles of multiple-use management to include both responsible natural resource development and conservation of special places.  Being from the West, I’ve seen how years of bloated bureaucracy and D.C.-centric policies hurt our rural communities.  The President’s budget saves taxpayers by focusing program spending, shrinking bureaucracy, and empowering the front lines.”

Points to notice:  (1)  The “statement opens with the presumption that government spending is by default wasteful, and therefore cuts are always justifiable.  Not so fast, when there are backlogs in such basic services as education and law enforcement we’re not talking about bloated budget line items; we’re discussing elements that are already underfunded.  (2) Notice that Native Americans were certainly not a priority in Interior Department discussions about the administrative budget — national park maintenance and “domestic energy policy” were front and center.  Let’s guess the latter being placed in greater proximity to center stage than the former.

(3) There’s a clue to this placement in the phrase “multiple use management”  as in — let energy development take precedence over Native American interests in how tribal lands are utilized.  There’s nothing particularly “traditional” about multiple use management, except perhaps for admirers of the administration’s capacity to gaslight and rewrite history for its own propaganda purposes.

(4) Emphasizing location doesn’t necessarily mean a person has any extraordinary insight or expertise.  It is perfectly possible for a non-Native person to live practically next door to a colony or reservation and have little contact and even less expertise in Native American issues.  So, if the expression “being from the West,” is supposed to indicate such insight and expertise, it’s not quite enough for the resumé.  Another point to notice is (5) That the budget comments refer to rural communities, not necessarily Native American reservations.

(6) Since Native Americans are referenced as part of the whole rural category, we need to focus on the last statement:

 I’ve seen how years of bloated bureaucracy and D.C.-centric policies hurt our rural communities.  The President’s budget saves taxpayers by focusing program spending, shrinking bureaucracy, and empowering the front lines.”

D.C. -centric is code for that old monster under the bed for conservatives, that the federal government is the ‘enemy’ of local or in this case tribal governments. No evidence is offered that tribal governments have been hurt by DC decisions, other than the decisions to under-fund tribal law enforcement and educational programs.

Program spending is code for cutting spending — presumably for the benefit of millionaires and billionaires who are expecting a magnificent batch of tax cuts in exchange for cutting money previously allocated for tribal law enforcement, housing, and education programs.

Shrink bureaucracy is another bit of code for cutting government staffing such that programs cannot be implemented.  This hoary old line is hauled out every time a Republican wants to cut social, safety net, or any other program for minority communities.

However, it’s the “empowering the front lines” suggestion that ought to set off the alarm bells.  This particular element goes back to the bad old days of the Dawes Act.  Under the terms of this horrific piece of legislation passed by Congress in 1887 “allowed” tribes to assign individual parcels of tribal lands into private ownership (an older version of ’empowering the front lines) with devastating results:

“The Dawes Act reduced Native American landholdings from 138 million acres in 1887 to 78 million in 1900 and continued the trend of white settlement on previously Native American-held land. In addition, the law created federally funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native American children into white society. Family and cultural ties were practically destroyed by the now-notorious boarding schools, in which children were punished for speaking their native language or performing native rituals.”

This situation wasn’t rectified until 1934. It was the ultimate in ’empowering the front lines’ and it didn’t end well.  In more modern parlance, the Trump budget makes it quite clear that if tribal government want to improve their schools, or even perform basic maintenance on them, or support their law enforcement efforts they are “empowered” to do so by the federal government — quick translation: You’re On Your Own — the policy appears to harken back to the Republican staple, the Termination movement that prevailed from 1953 to 1968; almost but not quite.  There is no movement to terminate tribal governments, but we need to be aware that a tribal government which cannot deliver important local services because of budget restraints is operating with at least one hand, if not both, tied behind the back.

At the risk of indulging in some speculation at this point, let’s consider the possibility that as funding for tribal housing, law enforcement, health, and educational services are further reduced there is a greater likelihood the tribes will have to sell off tribal assets, or the rights to tribal assets, to sustain their own programs.  Read this as: The greater the cuts to local tribal programs the more likely the tribe is to sell off mineral rights and to allow the development of everything from mines to pipelines on tribal lands.   There doesn’t seem to be much that’s very subtle about this. Combine “empowering front lines” with “multiple use management” and the whole picture isn’t too difficult to imagine.

It’s a rather bleak picture, another step toward the End of The Trail.

 

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Filed under Native Americans, Nevada, Politics

Trump’s BIA Budget Massacre

1.6% of Nevada’s population is Native American, not a major demographic group when measured against the majority white (75%) and Hispanic populations (26.5%), or even the African American population (9.6%). [Census] However, that doesn’t mean this group doesn’t have some significant housing, health, education, and law enforcement needs on behalf of the Washoe, Paiute, Shoshone, and Utes (among others) who live in this State.  Worse still, the proposed Trump Budget stands to make their situation definitely more difficult.

“Overall, Trump’s proposal increases defense spending significantly and cuts deeply most programs for the poor. Trump’s budget slashes federal Indian country appropriations by more than 10 percent. For example, at $2.488 billion, Trump’s request for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Affairs budget alone is a $300 million cut from Obama’s FY 2016 budget, which was the last full year appropriation (we have since operated on continuing resolutions). Trump’s proposal also cuts more than $50 million for the Indian country housing programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and zeroes out $8 million from the BIA budget for housing. For the Indian Health Service, Trump’s budget eliminates roughly $150 million.”  [IndC]

Consider for a moment the effects of a $300 million cut for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Drilling down, let’s look at the situation in Native American Housing, from which the administration seeks to cut some $58 million.  According to a HUD report issued in January 2017, housing needs are particularly acute in tribal areas in three major categories: System deficiencies (plumbing/electrical), physical condition, and overcrowding.

“Physical housing problems have declined enough to be negligible for the United States, on average—incidences typically of 1 to 2 percent—but not for American Indians and Alaska Natives in tribal areas. For example, 2013 American Housing Survey data show the U.S. average share of households with plumbing deficiencies was 1 percent, but this study’s household survey shows the share for AIAN populations in tribal areas was 6 percent; the share with heating deficiencies was 2 percent for the United States but 12 percent for AIANs in tribal areas; the share that was overcrowded was 2 percent for the United States but 16 percent for AIANs in tribal areas (exhibit ES.2). The only problems in which the incidences were nearly the same were electrical deficiencies (about 1 percent for both) and cost burden (36 percent for the United States versus 38 percent in tribal areas).” [HJ pdf] (emphasis added)

In summary, physical housing issues? 1-2% for most of the US population; but 16% for Native Americans.  “Heating deficiencies?” 2% for most of the US population; but 12% for Native Americans.  These numbers don’t appear to indicate a rationale for a $58 million slash in available funding.

Indeed, if we look at efforts of Native Americans to keep the furnace running in the winter is on the administration chopping block:

“The budget would eliminate programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income households pay to heat or cool their homes. In 2016, 150 tribal groups and more than 43,000 Native households received LIHEAP funds.”

There’s nothing like a cold house in the fall and winter to create an environment for disease, but again, Native Americans are on the losing end of the administration budget.

“The chronically underfunded Indian Health Service (IHS) offers care through a network of hospitals, clinics and health stations managed by IHS, tribes or tribal organizations, and urban Indian health programs. If the proposed budget passes, Medicaid, the national and state program that covers low-income individuals, could see its budget cut by $610 billion over the next 10 years. Mark Trahant, a journalist, academic and member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes who has covered NA/AN affairs for 30 years, is concerned.

“In Indian Country, more than half of all Indian kids who go through Indian Health Service have their insurance through Medicaid,” he said. “Thirteen percent of Medicaid is Indian care.” [VOA]

Medicaid is not just an issue in terms of the national health care insurance proposals, but obviously has profound implications for health care services for Native Americans.   The proposed budget is not merely “austere,” but in relation to Native Americans it is downright cruel.

“The cutbacks to tribal programs are cutting into the bone and fail to recognize very real and critically important needs,” Fawn Sharp, the president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, said Tuesday at a tribal conference in Portland, Oregon. “It is so severe that it’s absolutely illogical and unreasonable.”

Logic and reason have only a very tenuous connection to the administration’s budget proposals for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and associated programs which benefit Native Americans.

There’s something particularly egregious about a budget which presumes that programs for those in need, as the case of many Native Americans, should be slashed right into the bone so that tax cuts for the top 2% of income earners in the United States can be implemented. [CNNmoney]

This is the Trickle Down Hoax on steroids.  By some magical manipulation of the tax code in favor of the wealthiest among us, “jobs” are supposed to be created in remote reservation areas; exactly those regions not favored with infrastructure, transportation, education, and resources favorable to investment.   The TDH advocates argue that the economic development problems are the result of tribal land ownership patterns, a lack of natural resource exploitation, and government “interference.”

It’s hard for a white person to understand the relationship of Native Americans to land.  To the average white person land is real estate, it can be bought, sold, transferred, and allocated at will.  It’s just another ‘thing.”  There’s no single definitive Native American perspective about land, but this comment is at least illustrative:

“Us women have been taught that this Mother Earth has taken care of us, so we have to be like her essence. She never abandoned us, she is here, she nurtures us every day, she protects us, she feeds us, she clothes us.” [ICMN]

Tribal lands can be allocated for the use of tribal members, but it’s still tribal land.  It still has “essence;” it is nurturing, protective, and sustaining.  Perhaps as close as a white person can come to understanding this concept is to imagine one is living in a church, or some sanctified property.  The property may be inhabited by specific people for specific reasons, but it is still a communal sanctified place.  Further, while the majority in our society see wealth as a measure of personal worth, this isn’t a value prized among Native Americans who frown on that which is self-serving and avaricious.  There are enterprise activities on tribal lands, but again, these are tied to the benefit perceived to accrue to the tribe, and not individuals.

The glories of the Profit Motive as maintained by the TDH advocates and other “free-marketeers” are as foreign to many Native Americans as the idea that a child should come into the world while the family conducts its ceremonies would be to them.

For all intents and purposes, the administration’s proposed budget flies in the face of basic Native American values.  While purporting to encourage ‘individual initiative’ it guts those social programs that sustain the lives of the individuals who have difficulty amassing “wealth” in the white sense of the term.  While supposing that the budget encourages ‘economic development,’ it slashes funding for communal needs (housing, health services, education, nutrition) which underpin development of any kind.  As for ‘natural resource exploitation:

It’s highly unlikely one of the TDH advocates would fully appreciate the following:

“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.” – Qwatsinas (Hereditary Chief Edward Moody), Nuxalk Nation

Nor would they understand the concept expressed in this quotation, which they might even dismiss with scorn:

“Once I was in Victoria, and I saw a very large house. They told me it was a bank and that the white men place their money there to be taken care of, and that by and by they got it back with interest. We are Indians and we have no such bank; but when we have plenty of money or blankets, we give them away to other chiefs and people, and by and by they return them with interest, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giving is our bank.”  – Chief Maquinna, Nootka

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Filed under Health Care, Native Americans, Politics, privatization, public health, Rural Nevada

The Bully Budget: A Saturday Rant

The proposed budget from the White House is a mean-spirited, minimal, and squalid picture of this administration’s Ideal Government. That, after all, is the function of any budget — the household budget is a plan for the ideal month or the ideal year for expenditures.  So, if this is the administration’s ideal state, it’s pathetic.

At bottom, it’s a massive transfer of wealth from working Americans and small businesses, to the wealthy and multi-national corporations.  It supports the military-industrial complex, but not the workers who build the various machines of war. It supports the fossil fuel industry, but not those who labor in the oil fields, or want to make the family budget stretch to putting more gasoline in the tank. It is a budget which quantified people without adding to the quality of their lives. It is a budget that is all stick and no carrots.

It is a budget which calls for more people to “save” for the exigencies and emergencies in their  lives without granting them the tools needed to secure their own futures. It is a budget which tacitly blames people for circumstances that are beyond their control. It is a budget that assumes the mythology of the fictional Horatio Alger, without bothering to read the book in which our young hero goes from rags to riches by marrying the boss’s daughter.

It is a budget that insults the American public — as if we don’t “need” the documentary films by Ken Burns on PBS, as if we don’t “need” exhibitions of art in our museums, as if we don’t “need” programs like art and music in our schools, as if we don’t appreciate the services of our local libraries. It is a budget that presumes that only the cultured (and rich) who can afford to buy the books, the art, the travel to faraway places, will actually benefit from the accessibility to the arts and humanities.  It is a budget that assumes no quantifiable benefit will accrue to a youngster from a family with limited resources who sits in a library thumbing through a book on dinosaurs, or the planets, or flowers and wildlife.

It is a budget that denigrates the efforts of a mother who takes the kids to the museum on a Saturday, the father who sits with his sons and daughters to watch a PBS documentary on “American Experience” and asks questions of them afterwards to see what they’ve learned.

It is a budget that doesn’t even keep the families safe. It cuts expenditures for promising medical research, for containing the dismal prospects of epidemics, even for the ‘welfare observations’ made by the volunteers from Meals on Wheels who not only deliver food to elderly relatives who want to remain in their homes, but observe and report circumstances that impinge on that person’s safety and health.  What the family wants to know is that an elderly grandparent is Okay today, and tomorrow. There will be a time when independence is no longer an option, but as long as the grandparents, or great-grandparents, can stay in their beloved homes, and the relatives can be assured they are safe; programs for the aging help keep those homes safe and the occupants secure.

It is a budget that doesn’t even keep struggling families safe from food insecurity. A full pantry is to be the responsibility of the family.  Except real life doesn’t quite work like that.  If the family consists of a mother who stays home (the traditionalist Ideal) and a father who has a minimum wage job, filling up the cabinets and refrigerator with food is a daily struggle. Even when both parents are working keeping up with the dietary needs of two children puts the “insecurity” into the food equation.  No one is safe who is unfed. Dietary deficiencies have medical consequences.  The Army found that out during World War II when many draftees had to be rejected for dietary related physical conditions; the result was the school lunch program.

It is a budget that presumes that all police officers and law enforcement agencies operate in a realm reminiscent of Scott Foresman’s Dick and Jane readers. There is no need to fund community policing because every officer walks his beat, knows every family in the neighborhood, and returns silly children to the safety of their living rooms. The founding philosophy of this budget is that parents really don’t have “The Talk” with their POC offspring, ignoring the point that policing services are better and safer when the people in the neighborhood feel secure talking to their law enforcement officers.

It is a budget that threatens the safety of entire cities.  Air and water pollution regulations, decried by ultra-conservatives as destructive of jobs (never specified), are to be relaxed. Smog is really no respecter of neighborhood boundaries. Pollution of ground water resources doesn’t respect city limits or county boundaries.  Chemical spills endanger our very own habitat. Toxic emissions don’t magically evaporate.  There are health implications for all deregulation. There are insurance implications for all deregulation. There are property value implications for all deregulation. As property values decline in neighborhoods susceptible to pollution, so do the revenue prospects of the very cities and counties which rely on property taxes.  Deplete the tax base and we diminish the ability of the community to deal with the results of environmental pollution.

It is a budget by and for bullies.  It is an Ideal Plan for beefing up our military, with all manner of equipment with which we can bully those with whom we share this planet. It is not a budget — an Ideal Plan — for talking to our allies, approaching our foes, and addressing the concerns of those who are unsure of our motivations. It is a budget which allows the selfish and successful to announce firmly that they don’t intend to pitch in a dime more than they must toward satisfying the needs of their fellow citizens. It is an Ideal Plan for a mean-spirited, minimal, and squalid vision of America.

 

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Meals On Wheels: Canary in the GOP Coal Mine

The entire “skinny budget,” which somehow manages to keep lots of fat on the Pentagon budget, offered up by the current administration is a mass of mischaracterizations packed into a myriad of outright lies.  The assault on programs like Meals on Wheels is a handle providing a way to understand the totality of the right wing Individualism of the GOP. It’s there, blatantly set forth without excuse, and as emblematic of the Culture of Selfishness as can be imagined.

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. Psalms 71:9

“Trump’s proposed budget completely eliminates the Community Development Block Grant, which provides $3 billion every year for, according to The Washington Post, “targeted projects related to affordable housing, community development and homelessness programs.” Among those is the Meals on Wheels program, which provides meals—and vital human contact—for older, impoverished Americans, many of whom are largely home-bound. According to MOW, one in six American seniors struggles with hunger, and the organization claims it saves the nation about $34 billion a year in medical expenses by decreasing the rate of falls for seniors. The program gets the vast majority of its funding from non-government sources, but the proposal still seems unnecessarily harsh.” [Esquire]

And the rationale for all this would be what, please?

“After a reporter brought up the Meals on Wheels controversy, Mulvaney at first tried to subtly evade the question. But then, as is the wont of this administration, he fell head over glutes explaining that while Meals on Wheels “sounds great,” the administration couldn’t keep wasting money on programs like it that “don’t work.” As in, feeding the elderly apparently isn’t showing strong enough empirical benefits to merit continued federal spending by this White House, which is now deeply wedded to evidence-based policymaking.” [Slate]

There are a couple of things to unpack herein. First, empirical benefits are hard to compile without first establishing a matrix of goals.  Benefits are precisely why the program “sounds good,” the goal is to feed people, and people are being fed in their own homes. In fact some 2.4 million elderly persons are participating in the program at a total cost of $1.4 billion. 500,000 of these are veterans of our Armed Forces. A study in New York City reports that the average age of a participant was 80, meaning the person was likely born around 1937, and if the person is a veteran he or she likely saw service during the Cold War into the Vietnam Era. How goals are framed makes a difference.

If the goal is to provide 2.4 million elderly people one meal per day with a minimum of 625 calories, then we can say it’s working.  If our goal is to be that no elderly Americans go a day without a sustenance level meal for a relatively inactive person, then, no the program has too many people on waiting lists to say it’s an unqualified success.

“The need is growing rapidly, and federal funding has not kept pace. The network is already serving 23 million fewer meals now than in 2005, and waiting lists are mounting in every state. At a time when increased funding is needed, we fear that the millions of seniors who rely on us every day for a nutritious meal, safety check and visit from a volunteer will be left behind.”[MOWAm]

At this point it needs to be said that Federal funding is combined with charitable and individual donations to keep the program literally on its wheels.  Further, the only logical way to pronounce the services a failure is to absurdly assert that because seniors get hungry the next day the program isn’t meeting its goals. However, it’s crucial to take a look at the second feature of GOP rationalization for pure selfishness.

Ultra-right wing conservatives are fond of explaining that services like Meals on Wheels could be better done by local charitable institutions, ignoring the fact that as mentioned above the Federal funding is not the primary source, and IN FACT is supplementary to local charitable funding sources. Catholic leadership, for example, is wary of the implications of the administration’s budget priorities, and Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada is providing some 2,000 daily meals to those on its list. Reducing funding for this single program by one third would have a profound, and profoundly negative, impact on its services.   There are times when the intersection of governance and religious institutions illustrates the point that while private donations are the core, when the need overruns the capacity then it’s time for a little help from friends around the country.  This Cult of Selfishness only works in the ethereal world of ideological fantasies, it doesn’t deliver a meal, even one of a minimum of 625 calories, to a single individual anywhere.

What makes the skinny budget so alarmingly obnoxious is that curtailing funding for Meals on Wheels is merely illustrative of a budget building process based on what the rich want to pay, rather than on what our society needs to be a truly great nation. It is a budget process to Make American Mean Again.

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