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Published: 7/20/2003

To be American among Americans

BY EILEEN FOLEY

My paycheck has gotten $20 a week fatter, thanks to the Bush tax cut. But frankly, what my country is forfeiting to give me and millions of others relatively piddling sums makes me ill.

Together the small amounts added big-time to the quality of our national life. Who wouldn't readily forgo a movie night out for a chance to again be part of the country's soul, to be American among Americans?

Whose kid needs Matrix when one can underwrite successful enrichment programs like Headstart, which revs up native ability in indigent children and readies them for first-grade competition? When one can be assured that all veterans, not just some of them, get veterans' health benefits?

I'd far rather be a part of the Americorps action that is being flushed away state by state this year. It gave grants to 50,000 people a year in return for two years of community service in projects such as the Special Olympics and tutoring children. Michigan lost 85 percent of its funding.

This cutback doesn't just leave volunteers, who got small stipends, in the lurch. The food and discount clothing stores and fast food restaurants and drugstores where they spent it also go wanting. It creates a rippling diminution of the entire nation's quality of life.

Sure, I'll be feeling really good about the bananas and bonbons this windfall assures me.

But consider that the administration wants to see Social Security undone, and people of limited financial savvy investing mere pittances privately, even as the President's PAC-pals are revealed as thieves, cheats, liars, and con men who preyed not only on an unsuspecting investing public but also on the people who worked for them.

They pledge allegiance to no one but themselves and get deferences. The rest of America salutes the flag and gets beans and a road map to the Third World.

Not convinced? Look at the new federal college scholarship formulas - straight from the Bush Administration, no Congress involvement - that will foist more of the cost onto students, the people with the least money. Pretty cold, huh?

What they did is limit family deductions of state and local taxes - in some cases reducing them by half - from the total income available for college expenses. The higher the total, the less government financial aid, the more you pay - from $165 or less to $1,500 more, depending on where you live.

Consider that the Department of Education calls this back-door slashing of federal money to education without any consultation or discussion as just taking care of business. Whose business is it supposed to be managing, if not the people it's shortchanging?

Then there's the so-called Medicaid/Medicare “reform.” It comes down to cutting reimbursements to doctors and hospitals to such an extent that some physicians won't see patients whose care we as a nation underwrite.

One can hardly wait for the skimpy prescription drug offerings we'll be told are progress.

And why did we fund Medicaid for the indigent and a no-means-test Medicare for the elderly? Because we profit from being a healthy nation. Because, once upon a time, before we were beset by a plague of Republican radicalism, we were all heart and compassion. Where have they gone?

Probably to the same circle of hell as the two-party system.

Democrats pussyfoot as the public good takes licking after licking, unable to ignite even annoyance at the depredations the administration is wreaking on the republic.

And despite the chipping away of public service and public amenities, the laying of ever-increasing spending burdens on the state - think the new and underfunded federal educational reform measures - no one's griping very loud.

We seem to have lost our self-assurance, our vision of ourselves as a vibrant, participatory nation, where pulling together and caring for one another are not only key to security and stability but also the bedrock of “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”



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