You get what you pay for


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A short article in the April 2023 AARP Bulletin got my attention: “Social Security Admits Service Might Get Worse.” This should come as no shock to anyone paying attention to the juggling act being required of most federal agencies.

The 2023 operational budget for the agency was increased by 6% last year. The Social Security Administration (SSA) had claimed that the budget increase would go toward improving customer service, therefore, their recent warning that customer service will not improve—may even deteriorate in some regions, seems disingenuous.

However, if we look at the real expenses incurred by SSA, it is obvious that improved service is a pipe dream with a mere 6% budget increase. The agency was already reeling, as have we all, from the astonishing jump in inflation from approximately 2% to 7% in 2020, followed by 6.5% in 2021, and 6% in 2022.

As reported in the article, 75% of the increase was needed to meet fixed costs increases, which include payroll, rent, communication, and postage increases. In addition, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the SSA expects to lose 6,000 employees during 2023, to say nothing of the thousands of staff who left during the COVID pandemic. Staffing is the lowest it has been in 25 years. Add an increase in demand for SSA customer service as more baby boomers cry for help from SSA to initiate their retirements.   

Note: I’m talking about the agency’s operational budget. The solvency of the trust fund itself is an entirely different—but just as important—issue.

Experience has taught me (repeatedly) that you get what you pay for. We can’t expect stellar customer service from starved federal agencies. This is true of the Postal Service, of the IRS, the SSA, and a plethora of other government agencies that we rely upon every day. I know people hate paying taxes. But have you ever considered what would happen to your household budget if you had to fix your own potholes; test and filter your own water, air, and soil; pay the employees who maintain public lands and open spaces each time you used them; inspect your own meat and produce; pay for the training and service of air traffic control every time you fly somewhere; inspect the roads and bridges you drive? We starve our agencies at our own peril.

Americans and the Holocaust; What did we know?


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A traveling exhibition curated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC recently made a stop at the Boise State University Albertson Library.

The central question of the exhibit is what did the average American citizen know about what was happening in Germany in the lead up to and during WWII? Communication was far different in the 1930s and 40s than it is today. It may be difficult for people born into a world of think-it/share-it social media to grasp why important warning signs were ignored, why it took so long for our country—idealized for its leadership in freedom and justice for all—took so long to respond to the atrocities that were well underway by the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Had Japan not attacked first, would America have even joined the British and other allied countries in battling the Nazi terror that was sweeping Europe?

The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of refugees allowed to immigrate to the United States. Only a relative handful of Polish and German jews were allowed legal entry to United States.

Even news of Kristallnacht failed to jolt the American majority out of their isolationist stupor. In 1939 a German ocean liner with nearly 1000 Jews seeking exile from sure imprisonment and death at the hands of Nazis was turned away from the United States, Cuba, and Canada. They were returned to Western European countries and eventually many of them perished in the death camps or from starvation.

Political cartoonist “Dr. Suess” tried to rattle the cages of justice and empathy to no avail.

Despite heroic efforts by a handful of activists, most Americans remained firm in their fear of increased competition for precious jobs during a worldwide depression; they closed their hearts to the suffering of other human beings. Some believed the gruesome news was just a socialist plot against America and they raved against taking in refugees.

If we look at public discourse today, Americans are just as divided on the moral path forward. The orange baboon tapped into a growing isolationist sentiment. His focus was on America First—a policy tracing back to before WWI—and advocated for disregarding previous treaty agreements, international agreements, and global organizations like the United Nations. Refugees seeking a better life are the source of bitter dispute along our southern border. As political conditions in various parts of the world ripen into ethnic cleansing and all out war, we will continue to battle the immigration issue in America. Climate change will push more desperate souls to risk everything to find hope in less affected regions of the world. Perhaps America can’t open her arms to every refugee population in need of a new start. But neither can Europe handle the influx of war refugees from the Middle East and Russian borderlands. What is to happen to these people?

“The Democratic Socialist movement of today is nothing more or less than the NAZI movement in Germany in the 1930’s”

The above note was written by an exhibition viewer who came away with a completely different response than I did.

What do we learn from studying the past? What similarities and parallels can we recognize in the world today? Is war ever worth the lives lost? How do we justify the deaths of so many young Americans on foreign soil? How do we justify the horrendous deaths of men, women, and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? We say “never again,” but we see it all happening again. The questions are never fully resolved. Suffering continues.