The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Report

By Jim Hightower, March 4, 2011, News

Out-of-Whack Budget Whackers

Let's play a game called "Washington Budget Whackers Go Wacky!"

Unfortunately, though, it's not a game. Axe-wielding Republicans and Democrats alike are madly whacking at our nation's public programs in a political contest to show which of them is the scroogiest of all. For example, both are going after the very useful program that helps low-income Americans pay the ever-rising cost of heating their homes in the dead of winter. This move will literally cut off the heat to some of the most vulnerable people in our society – but, hey, say Congress critters (whose workplace is always kept toasty at taxpayers' expense), everyone must sacrifice.

Well ... not really everyone. Washington's ferocious axe-wielders are sparing assorted corporate subsidies. Take the Market Access Program. It hands $200 million a year to such huge processors and exporters of agricultural commodities as Sunkist and Welch's so they can advertise their products abroad. Hello – these "free enterprise" giants have plenty of money to do their own ads.

Even wackier, this subsidy is often frittered away on nonsense. Last year the National Cotton Council of America used a big chunk of its $20 million handout from Uncle Sam to promote U.S. cotton sales in India. India? That country produces twice as much cotton as we do and is a major exporter of the stuff – it has no interest in buying ours.

Nonetheless, such outfits are in line for more federal advertising dollars while poor folks are literally to be left in the cold. Why? It's the perverse power of political money at work. The outfits getting ad subsidies give more than $8 million a year in campaign donations and spend about $10 million a year on lobbyists.

To help straighten out this out-of-whack system, contact the U.S. Public Interest Research Group:

Guess Who Wants Gun Control?

Let's take a little trip to Irony, Ariz.

It's not a town but a concept, though the state's political leaders don't seem at all familiar with it. Claiming to represent the will of the people, they've enacted the most freewheeling gun-toting laws in America – no state has fewer restrictions. Which brings us to the irony: A recent poll from Public Policy Polling reveals that far from being a wild bunch of devil-may-care gunslinging ideologues, a majority of Arizonans actually want tougher gun laws. Overall, 55% of the residents favor more stringent controls.

Of course, this is the state where Jared Lee Loughner gunned down Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a parking lot full of people in January. Using a 30-bullet, semi-automatic pistol, the shooter pulled off his massacre in just a few seconds.

Yet the intractable gun lobby's absolutist political apologists see no problem with such mass-slaughtering machines being let loose on the land. The problem, explains Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn (ironically a medical doctor), is that Loughner is "a mentally deranged person [who] should not have had access to a gun."

Wow, that's progress! Let's have a sanity test before you can buy a murderous 30-bullet weapon at an unregulated gun show. In fact, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg has introduced a bill in Congress to require just that. But, wait – where did Coburn go? Neither he nor any of his Republican colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors of this tiny step toward gun sanity, a step that could have saved many of the dead and wounded in that Arizona parking lot.

Now, back to Irony. The poll found that 92% of Arizona's voters want to keep the mentally ill from buying guns – with 93% of Republicans most strongly in favor of this. Good luck to them in getting their politicians to support it.

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