Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tightening the Belts of 80-year-olds

If you read the papers or check out the blogosphere every day, it's a given that you'll read something so foolish it'll take the place of the most foolish thing you read the day before. There are guaranteed foolish things I naturally shy away from--the blabbings of O'Reilly or Limbaugh or Coulter, for instance.

But sometimes I'm just reading the good, old-fashioned news when I'm grabbed by something so insanely wrong, I have to wonder if the world is going topsy-turvy faster than I can take a breath.

Yesterday was one of those days.

The headline read, "Army Stops Retirement Pay for Alaskans in WWII Force". A grabber if I ever saw one. The AP story in the New York Times started this way:

ANCHORAGE (AP) — The Army has decided to cut off retirement pay for veterans of a militia formed to guard the territory of Alaska from the threat of Japanese attack during World War II.

The change means 26 surviving members of the Alaska Territorial Guard — most in their 80s and long retired — will lose up to $557 in monthly retirement pay, a state veterans officer said this week. The payments end Feb. 1.

Now, I failed every math class I ever took, but over the years I've been able to learn the basics of a calculator. My calculator tells me that $557 a month for 26 veterans comes to $173,784 a year.

So let's say all those old gents are 80 years old, and by some miracle all 26 of them make it to 90. My calculator tells me that, at the end of that 10-year span, the government would have had to shell out a rounded-off $1,740,000.

1.7 million dollars. About the cost of annual swanky country club memberships for 10 CEOs.

But here's the next line in the story: Applications for retirement pay from 37 others have been suspended. Oh, my. So now we have (wait a minute, I'm checking it on my calculator) 63 veterans. Okay! Now we're talking real money. The government would have to lay out a whopping $422,000 a year for those old geezers, and an astronomical $4,220,000 over that anticipated 10-year span.

It could be that we can't afford that. It is a lot of money. So I went looking for ways the government spends $4 million dollars. I admit I didn't search too hard, and didn't find much, because, apparently, $4,000,000 is a drop in the bucket. But I did find where they spent a minimum of 10 times that much, more or less, in one year on Public Relations:

The report, from the House Committee on Government Reform (such tired words), was published in January, 2005 and begins this way:

Recently, questions have been raised about the use of taxpayer dollars to fund public relations campaigns. The Government Accountability Office has found that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services engaged in illegal “covert propaganda” by hiring a public relations firm to produce and disseminate fabricated video news reports. Investigative reporters have disclosed that the Department of Education paid a journalist to promote the No Child Left Behind Act in television and radio appearances and that the Department of Health and Human Services had a contract with a syndicated columnist who promoted the President’s marriage initiative. At the request of Democratic Leader Pelosi, Democratic Whip Hoyer, and Reps. Waxman, Dingell, Obey, Rangel, Miller, Slaughter, Thompson, and DeLauro, this report examines federal spending on public relations contracts. It finds that federal spending for public relations has more than doubled under the Bush Administration. While not all public relations spending is illegal or inappropriate, this rapid rise in public relations contracts at a time of growing budget deficits raises questions about the priorities of the Administration. Specifically, the report finds: • In 2004, the Bush Administration spent over $88 million on contracts with public relations agencies. • The value of federal contracts with public relations agencies has increased significantly over the last four years. In 2000, the last year of the Clinton Administration, the federal government spent $39 million on contracts with major public relations agencies. By 2004, the value of these PR contracts had grown by almost $50 million, an increase of 128%. • An increasing number of PR contracts are being awarded without full and open competition. During the last year of the Clinton Administration, less than 20% of PR contracts were awarded without full and open competition. By 2004, over 40% of PR contracts, worth $37 million in total, were awarded on a noncompetitive basis. • The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services spent over $94 million on contracts with public relations agencies over the last four years, the most of any federal agency. The three public relations agencies that received the most in federal contracts over the last four years are Ketchum Communications ($97 million), Matthews Media Group ($52 million), and Fleishmann Hillard ($41 million).

Wow! A little more than pocket change there. So how about this? What if the government took a new tack and steered the course toward honesty and fair play? Toward shunning scoundrels and praising humble heroes? Toward (never can say this enough) working for the common good? Wouldn't we all become the greatest Public Relations force this country has ever seen? And wouldn't it be priceless and string-free?

It could work. They could start by slapping the hands of anybody who would even think of taking those tiny pensions away from that small band of elders who--let it be said--served our country without taking a penny in return.



  1. Hi, What a great read. Our Nation doesn't take care of our Seniors with the respect due to them and especially for those protecting our country. I heard about this group when I was visiting Alaska and now to hear this, went off the scale for awful. But especially to take this off the table, in their 80s, goes beyond that well known "pale."
    But then one has to ask the question on what is the role of government. I was listening today here in the Republican stronghold of Arizona. Long story, short. Our Governor, Democrat, Janet Napolitano left to be part of the Obama Team and Secretary of Homeland Security and she also left a Budget Impasse with the deficits running into the billions. And the newly sworn in Governor wants to slash spending and where will that impact: Programs for Seniors, Feeding Programs, Health Programs for Children and Education. So the lecture goes thus: Should all the programs be cut so the budget is fiscally conservative and sound or raise taxes, so that these programs can serve the public.
    This same argument one hears at all levels of government these days.
    And we have a new President saying that he wants an inclusive government for all Americans
    and where will be the balance in meeting the needs of every-day Americans trying to rear a family and those Senior Citizens that have contributed a lifetime of paying taxes and investing in the American Dream, only to see it disappear,


  2. Thanks for your excellent comments, Neena. I thought at my age that nothing would shock me anymore, but the story about the Alaska vets was disturbing on so many levels. . .

    Let's hope selfishness and complacency have gone the way of the Bushies, and we find our sense of obligation and decency again.


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