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Your Tax Dollars

Your Tax Dollars

One of the crux differences between the left and the right is how our taxes are spent. The left believes taxes should not only be used for the needs of government – defense, statecraft, infrastructure and so on but also for social programs as well. The right believes that taxes should be as small as possible and pay for the bare minimum to keep the United States strong and prosperous. Social programs should be left to charities.

Often when I get into discussions with my friends on the right about things like Obamacare, food stamps and welfare, eventually they will inevitably say something along the lines of “not with my tax dollars.” All right, then. That leaves the question; what should we spend our tax dollars on?

Of course, there are those who say we should not pay taxes at all but that simply isn’t realistic. It takes money to pay for necessities, such as embassies and ambassadors, for the military and their equipment, and simply for making sure things run properly, or at least relatively properly. So let’s assume for the moment that we all want a military protecting us, diplomats negotiating trade agreements for us, roads to drive on from place to place and air and rail traffic transporting people and goods across the country.

For my part, I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on free healthcare for all. I’d like a European-style health care system that treats everyone regardless of their economic status. I’d love to cut out the insurance middlemen who serve no function at all except to make money for themselves. I’d like to see a healthier population, one who visit doctors instead of Emergency Rooms for basic care. I don’t want to see people dying because they couldn’t afford treatment. There is something so basically, disturbingly wrong with that last that it can’t even be expressed.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on eradicating hunger, particularly among children. No child should have to go to bed hungry. No parent should have to hear their children cry themselves to sleep because they haven’t eaten anything all day. No retiree should have to face a choice between paying for their medication and their food. This is a land of plenty; why shouldn’t everyone benefit from it?

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on educating the young. Our future depends on having our next generations prepared to compete globally. Our children should be learning to think innovatively, to be inspired to learn particularly in science and mathematics. Our children should aspire to create things that will make the world a better place. We need to improve our schools and their facilities. Our teachers shouldn’t have to be paying for school supplies out of their own pockets. They should be compensated for the additional time they put in. They should also be held accountable for their performances as our students should be held accountable for theirs. We need to market education as a means out of poverty, a means to elevate not just individuals but entire communities. We need to involve parents directly in the education process but not just parents; the entire community. Businesses should be made to understand that they’ll only benefit from having a superior education system in their communities as it will turn out superior employees for them further on down the line.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on space exploration. As Robert A. Heinlein once said, the Earth is far too fragile a basket to put all our eggs into, especially when you consider what we’re doing to despoil it. We should be exploring the local solar system and sending probes into the furthest reaches of space as we’re doing but we should be doing more of it. The technologies that have developed from the space program have fueled our economy for the past half a century; imagine what we come up with in the next fifty years.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on rebuilding the infrastructure. I want to see good-paying jobs created to repair bridges and highways as well as constructing new ones. I want to see AMTRAK converted to a high-speed rail system that links the entire continent. And while we’re talking about jobs, I want to put some of my tax dollars in re-training the work force so that they are more computer savvy and able to do the jobs that are in demand. Those who have the abilities and the desire to change their lives should be given those opportunities, even the education to go into much-needed fields like engineering and medicine. I’d also like to see my tax dollars spent on helping students get college loans at reasonable rates that won’t put them into enormous debt before they’ve graduated that will take them decades to repay.

My tax dollars should go to a more sane military spending program. We are spending money on tanks and battleships we don’t need. I’d rather see that tax money go to the Veterans Administration that takes care of our soldiers, sailors and airmen after they’ve defended this country. I want our veterans to have the best medical facilities administrating the best care possible; I want them to have college programs to help them re-start their lives and give them a chance to prosper after their time in the military has ended. I want my tax dollars to go to the actual people putting their lives on the line for our country, not to the makers of helicopters and tanks who have oversold their products to our military and now want to keep their factories running even though their products aren’t needed anymore. The dynamics of the marketplace should apply to them too.

In short, I don’t mind paying for things that benefit people that actually need them. I have an issue with paying taxes that support people who are already rich by making them richer, by giving corporations making record profits tax incentives and loopholes to the point where they’re getting refunds while the deficit continues to be an issue. I want my tax dollars to mean something besides a dollar sign. How about you? How do you want to spend your tax dollars?

Tomorrow

Ever since I was a boy and my father introduced me to science fiction in general and Robert A. Heinlein in particular, I’ve been hooked on the future. Futuristic cityscapes with fantastic architecture, amazing mass transit and flying cars (goddamit, where are the flying cars they promised us?!) never fail to catch my attention. Star Trek and Star Wars became my fascination; the fiction of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Spider Robinson  and Joe Haldeman  became an escape from the doldrums of my high school years.

I dreamt of travelling to worlds both strange and fascinating aboard starships gleaming and beautiful, reflecting the glow of nebulae from their chrome hulls. I imagined what alien races would look like; would they resemble life on earth – reptilian, insectoid or even humanoid? Or would they look like something completely strange to us, shapes and sizes that even Lovecraft couldn’t imagine?

That continued as a young man and in a large extent right up to today. I still carry an affection for even badly made science fiction movies and get excited for films with even a hint of a sci-fi element to them. Even if it’s just a few years in the future, the advent of new technology is exciting. It is this feeling of a brave new world that has moved my support of the space program.

There are plenty of Proxmire sorts who think that NASA is an enormous boondoggle, a waste of money that can be put to better use solving earthly problems (you want to solve earthly problems? eliminate the freaking tax breaks for the rich – that will contribute far more to the bottom line than eliminating NASA ever would). I find that thinking incredibly short-sighted.

For one thing, the space program of the 60s has contributed so many industries to our economy that you could say that it paid for itself many times over. No, I’m not talking Tang and Velcro. I’m talking personal computers. Yup, computers used to fill entire rooms. NASA had to find a way to fit one in a vehicle not quite the size of a jumpy castle for kids parties. This spurred development in semi-conductors which would lead to new kinds of processors which form the heart of our modern PCs.

The cell phone industry wouldn’t be around without the space program. The satellites that orbit the planet which power the GPS devices that are commonly in use now are almost all launched by NASA. Those satellites were developed in part so that NASA could communicate with the astronauts who were on lunar missions.

Medical research has also benefitted from NASA. The artificial heart pump developed by Dr. Michael deBakey was inspired by the design of the space shuttle fuel pump.  Designs of space suits meant to be used in high heat situations are now being used to help burn victims.

There have been other, subtle benefits of the space program as well. Protocols developed by NASA to protect the astronauts from food poisoning on their long extra-terrestrial voyages are now in use by the FDA, leading to a significant drop in salmonella cases since those safety protocols were put in place. Restoration of 19th century paintings damaged in a church fire as well as an Andy Warhol painting vandalized in a Pittsburgh museum that were not restorable by conventional means were saved using technology developed by NASA to test materials for satellites that might otherwise be gradually eroded by high-atmosphere oxygen molecules that erode materials in spacecraft and satellites.

NASA has also found ways to utilize Teflon in space suits which have now been used in roofing for buildings and stadiums all over the United States. There are also parachutes that have been developed for NASA that are now in use in commercial and private small planes that have been credited with saving more than 200 lives.

But put that aside. As Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson commented on the Real Time with Bill Maher program earlier this year, the space program helped create an atmosphere of innovation that pervaded our culture for more than twenty years after the last Apollo mission. It was an atmosphere that encouraged innovation, of different disciplines working together to solve problems that led both directly and indirectly to new products, new industries and a robust economy.

As the space program has been marginalized over the past few decades once the moon landing was achieved, people have seen it as a relic, a government institution that has outlived its usefulness. After all, what has it accomplished since 1969 other than being a colossal waste of money and time? And in these days of economic stress, is there really a need to send up glorified city buses up to the International Space Station which in itself seems nothing more than a destination for Russian billionaires to live out their Buck Rogers fantasies.

The space program is much more than that. It provides innovation and it provides inspiration. Both are in short supply in our culture these days. I can understand the complaints against NASA. Truly, I can. I realize that there are plenty of things that need attention and funding right here on Earth. NASA is in the tomorrow business. The data that the Curiosity rover transmits today may not bear any fruit for months, years, even decades – but the sky crane that dropped it onto the Martian surface may pay dividends not only for future space exploration but here on earth as well.

There will always be problems on earth. Eradicating hunger, homelessness and hatred are going to take more than a budget and a plan and quite frankly, chances are that we aren’t going to ever eliminate the last of those. You can’t legislate smart and you can’t legislate thought. People will be idiots and bigots and there’s not much you can do to change that. Well, there is – you need to make education a good thing. A desirable thing. You have to put money into the school system and in paying the teachers properly. You need to emphasize science as a means of effecting change and technological improvement. You need to give kids dreams and goals; show them that hard work and tolerance for all cultures, creeds and beliefs is preferable to fear, mistrust and hatred. But that doesn’t seem to be in our DNA these days in terms of educational goals.

But what you can change is tomorrow. You can invest in tomorrow by aiming high now. Is there a reason to go to Mars? Hell yes! There are reasons to create habitations in space. There are reasons to send probes to the planets. It’s not just so eggheads can get work; it’s so that our fundamental understanding of how things work becomes more accurate. What does that do for us? Not just satisfying intellectual curiosity – it helps us understand the things that may threaten our species and how to prepare for them, be they asteroids from deep space or bursts of radiation from the sun that might irradiate the planet and wipe out all life on this very fragile rock. It also helps us discover new ways of looking at things – not the least of which is ourselves and our place in the universe. Is that practical? No. But it IS necessary.