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Inside Politics: Givers and Needers

Idahoans tend to see themselves as a hardworking, self-reliant lot. We are frugal, responsible and expect others to be likewise. We like knowing where our money comes from and where it goes. From my experience that is the stone cold truth at a personal level for the vast majority of Idahoans I’ve met.

I’m not sure it’s possible to say the same thing objectively about our state and national governments, our politicians, and especially our state and national economies. Social equity and economic fairness require that we grasp our interdependency as human beings in our community, region, state and nation.

Let’s start with the underlying concept. Society by definition is a group of people that unite to help one another facilitate security and improve their individual and overall lot. Not everyone can do the same things as well as the next, but together we can do everything better than alone. This includes creating and maintaining infrastructure, transportation, utilities, schools, armies, etc. Societies also recognize that individuals will sometimes have difficulties that can be made less catastrophic with community help. Society at large benefits by helping individuals reclaim productivity. Similarly, individuals often help society’s ailing institutions and enterprises by making personal sacrifices to enable or sustain these institutions and enterprises for the overall good of society.

Is the concept perfect? No.

Is the exchange always balanced? No.

Should it always be balanced? No.

In the long run should the exchange between individuals and society be fair and mutually beneficial? Absolutely.

It’s agreeing on how and whether that last criteria is met that generates contention.

“Makers and Takers” is a cynical polarizing political meme that pits people against one another across socio-economic and party lines. It could as easily be “earners and moochers” or “payers and freeloaders.” You get the drift. This meme is both unfortunate and also largely a fantasy — one that opposite ideological camps can easily use to assign hero status to themselves and villain status to opposing camps with degrees of validity.

Progressives see unnecessarily subsidized, hugely successful capitalist enterprises (frequent patrons of conservatives) as takers. Meanwhile progressives view all of America’s blue- and white-collar labor and managers, who actually make small businesses and large enterprise hum on a daily basis, as the makers. Conservatives see the upper echelons of industry and finance as the truest makers but also encourage working folk to see themselves as makers. From the conservative perspective, however, individuals on public assistance are disparaged as takers.

Ironically it’s estimated that federal social welfare programs annually cost around $59 billion, whereas corporate subsidies cost around $92 billion. While this disparity is an eye opener, it is dwarfed by estimates of bank bailouts and low- or no-interest loans from the Federal Reserve to large corporations and banks totaling in the trillions. Additionally, the 1965 ratio of CEO salaries to labor wages was 20 to 1. Today’s inflation adjusted ratio is well over 300 to 1. Furthermore, productivity of American labor has risen steadily over this period. While CEOs have been compensated generously for that rise, labor has not.

How well does the maker vs. taker meme apply to Idaho in the scheme of national and state finances? Idaho, as with nearly all red states, receives far more federal dollars for programs and services in their states than they send to Washington in taxes. Furthermore, considering the foundational values of our Republic — no taxation without representation, and (ostensibly) one person one vote, Idaho as with most red states is both remarkably undertaxed and over-represented at the federal level of government. That assertion is cogently explained in a December New York Times piece by Steven Johnson.

According to a 2016 report by Mises Institute, Idaho receives back $2.08 for every dollar it sends to D.C. They also determined that of the 50 states, Idaho has the 11th highest federal spending as percent of its gross domestic product (24.7 percent). A Tax Foundation study cited by Credit Loan calculated that Idaho’s 2016 per capita return was $1.21 for every federal tax dollar sent to Washington. In another context, according to Idaho’s own analysis, in 2012 federal aid constituted 34.9 percent of state general revenues.

So if Idaho and red states in general get back more dollars than they pay in federal taxes, how does the federal government accomplish this enormous generosity? Two ways. The obvious one is that the federal government shortchanges blue states in the amount they retrieve as programs or services, thereby subsidizing red states. The other mechanism is federal deficit spending. America continues to borrow hundreds of billions annually, in large part to pay for its largess to red states.

Facts and budgets underscore how dysfunctional the makers vs. takers meme actually is. Especially as used by conservatives.

It behooves us all to recognize that at one time or another all individuals, states and enterprises are actually both “Givers and Needers.” Responding to that reality as fairly as possible is what generated the common good in America since 1776. We need to re-embrace that principle if we are to harmoniously survive the 21st century.

Reader Comment: Celebrating school counselors

There are many jobs within schools that often go uncelebrated. Last week we had the opportunity to recognize a group of our staff members who have among the most challenging and necessary jobs within the public education system. Feb. 6-10 has been deemed National School Counseling Week by the American School Counselor Association and as such we want to take a moment to explain and appreciate the incredible work these professionals undertake every day.

School counselors are tasked with engaging and helping student examine their abilities, strengths, interests and talents. They work in a partnership with parents as they encounter the challenges of raising children in today’s world. They focus on positive ways to enhance students’ social/personal, educational and career development and they work with teachers and other educators to provide an educational system where students can realize their potential and set healthy, realistic and optimistic aspirations for themselves. Professional school counselors are certified, experienced educators with a master’s degree in guidance and counseling. The combination of their training and experience makes them a vital part of the total educational program.

Each student under a counselor’s purview has different needs and areas to be addressed. School counselors may help one student overcome a traumatic experience, while they work with another on balancing homework and extra-curricular activities. They may serve as a sounding board for career aspirations, or the person that teaches students to be kind to others. Here in Twin Falls we have the most caring counselors who are constantly working to improve themselves so they can better help our students.

On behalf of the Twin Falls School District 411 students, parents, teachers, staff, administration and school board, we thank these dedicated individuals for going above and beyond for our students. We appreciate the integral part they play in the educational process and recognize that our counselors are a critical key to helping students succeed.

Counselors, thank you for all you do!

Other View: Where the NSC goes from here

This appeared in Wednesday’s Washington Post.

The resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser offers President Donald Trump an opportunity to right what has been a dysfunctional policymaking apparatus. Having previously been dismissed from a post at the Defense Intelligence Agency for erratic management, Flynn failed to prepare Trump for conversations with foreign leaders, inadequately vetted executive orders and staffed key positions with military cronies even before he lied to the media and vice president about the content of his conversations with the Russian ambassador. His self-destruction in a post that demands the steadiest of hands was widely anticipated; the only surprise was that it took just 24 days.

It’s not unusual for an incoming national security adviser to speak with foreign ambassadors, and it’s not entirely clear that what Flynn said to Russian envoy Sergey Kislyak in late December was improper. But Flynn clearly misled The Post, Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials when he said he did not discuss U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak. He did so in the context of as-yet-unresolved questions about Russia’s interference in the presidential election and other possible contacts between the regime of Vladimir Putin and the Trump campaign. The affair underlines the urgency of an impartial investigation into those matters by the Justice Department, Congress or an independent commission and the full disclosure of the results to the public.

The White House’s handling of Flynn’s deception also raises concerns. According to The Post, the acting attorney general told the White House counsel late last month about Flynn’s false statements and warned they could expose him to Russian blackmail. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Trump was informed “immediately” afterward, but the White House did not correct the false public statements about the Flynn-Kislyak call, and Trump told reporters last Friday that he was unaware of the issue. At a minimum, the episode further undermines the credibility of an administration that has repeatedly disseminated untruths.

Trump could begin to undo the damage by appointing a new national security adviser prepared for the job’s most essential work, which is serving as an honest broker in internal debates over questions of war, foreign policy and intelligence. The National Security Council chief should ensure that the unschooled Trump is fully briefed for encounters with foreign leaders and that policy steps — whether a response to a North Korean missile launch or a new strategy for fighting the Islamic State — are fully studied and discussed in an orderly way before a presidential decision is made.

The past two weeks have seen some welcome corrections by Trump to what looked like potentially rash departures from previous U.S. policies. He calmed Asian leaders by accepting the one-China principle and strongly backing the U.S. alliance with Japan, and he retreated from suggestions that the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be swiftly relocated to Jerusalem. His U.N. envoy affirmed that sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Crimea would remain in place.

However, Trump still has some fixes to make — above all in U.S. relations with NATO allies, where signals from Cabinet secretaries and the White House have been conflicting, and in his dangerously appeasing stance toward Putin. A competent national security operation may not correct the president’s mistaken convictions, but it should, at least, provide him with better intelligence and options.

Letter: Community pulls together

Community pulls together

Today I would like the readers to find something positive in the newspaper. It rarely happens anymore in our country filled with unrest and dissension.

My thought for the day is to express my gratitude to the wonderful people that have pulled together to overcome our adverse weather conditions the last few months. I would like to thank the highway department, mail carriers, school bus drivers, snow removal people, canal company employees, tow truck drivers, news media, neighbors helping neighbors, people helping strangers, stores stocking extra ice melt, salt and snow shovels. There are also many more citizens involved. You have all done an amazing job.

Pulling together and sticking together is what continues to make our country great and you have certainly made this winter easier for me.

Kathy Kerley