Friday, September 23, 2005

Paying for Katrina by attacking knowledge and culture

The website Inside Higher Ed reported briefly today on "a document, released Wednesday by Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives, that lays out potential cuts Congress might make in the federal budget to free up funds to pay for the huge job of rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which is estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars."

The House Republicans gave their plan the military-sounding name "Operation Offset" and described "$929 billion in possible cuts over 10 years". Amazingly, some of their proposals are not only attacks on the essential public support of knowledge production and cultural production which otherwise slip through the cracks of "market failure," but also seem to fly in the face of the whole point of rebuilding the Gulf Coast -- and New Orleans especially -- in a responsible, functional, sustainable manner. Some examples:

$840 million a year, or $8.6 billion over 10 years, in subsidized Stafford Loans for graduate students. The document says that most financially needy graduate students are likely to have had government help as undergraduates, and that they "make an informed decision to invest in their own futures and should bare [sic] the costs of schooling."

$722 million over 10 years for the Leveraging Educational Assistance Program, which provides federal matching funds to state need-based aid programs. LEAP is no longer necessary, the Republican panel argues, because "almost all states operate programs far larger than the federal contributions."

$2 billion over 10 years for the National Science Foundation's Math and Science Program, which the committee argues duplicates Education Department efforts to prepare teachers and develop instructional materials.

So, presented with a stark depiction of structural and racially-linked poverty in New Orleans, the ignorance and apathy toward which help turned a manageable and forseeable disaster into a human tragedy, these lawmakers would like to pull money from graduate, need-based, and mathematics education. Because of course education does not at all help people lift themselves out of poverty, right?

About $3.8 billion over 10 years by ending federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. The panel argues that "the general public benefits very little" from the two agencies, and that they could be "easily be funded by private donations."

So, after lamenting the loss of New Orleans because of its cultural importance to the nation and the globe, we end all federal funding of cultural production, because such production has so little benefit for the general public?

$6.5 billion over 10 years from withdrawing federal aid to the AmeriCorps and other national service programs.

Given the clear service needs in New Orleans -- and opportunities for providing poor youth with job skills and education funding by bringing them into service programs -- this one makes my head swim.

And finally,

$1 billion over 10 years for the Environmental Protection Agency's Science to Achieve Results Program, which provides graduate fellowships and grants for environmental researchers. The program is "duplicative" of other federal research efforts, the panel says.

Yes, we certainly wouldn't want an oversupply of envionmental researchers to tell us about the toxic flooding, loss of wetlands, climate change, and human-environment interactions of urban growth that clearly, absolutely, had nothing to do with the plight of the Gulf Coast under Katrina in the first place.

Alright, apologies for the snide tone of some of these responses, but seriously, how about if we pay for putting the devastated areas and lives of Hurricane Katrina back together by asking American individuals and corporations to pay for it through progressive taxation tied to wealth, seeing as we all as American citizens and firms have a clear economic and social interest in keeping this part of the country productive, vibrant, and safe?

Or maybe we should simply reign in the spending on certain military operations and no-bid defense contracts with "little benefit to the general public". But that's another story.

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