Monday, February 28, 2011

Baking a smaller pie

One of our standard tropes in the field of Conflict Resolution is that we conduct the best mediation if we help the parties in conflict "bake a bigger pie." What we mean by this is that perceptions of a fixed pie usually mean a zero-sum, win-lose struggle for more pie per party rather than honest efforts to brainstorm ways to get each party more of what it needs and wants. If, for example, I can give you something that means very little to me but which is dear to you, and in exchange you give me something that is of little import to you but is highly sought by me, we have baked a bigger pie. We each get more of what we want and give up little of consequence.

Now comes the federal budget wars. Time to bake a smaller pie.

Each year the War Resisters League develops a pie chart to show how the federal discretionary budget is spent. It includes all documentation and explanations of calculations, and shows a far more accurate picture of how our income taxes are spent than the standard budget of all federal income and expenses including social security and other trust funds, since both those funds fall outside the discretionary spending category.

What is so maddening about the mass media national discussions about the budget is that there are boundaries to what is discussable. We can chew on cutting home heating for poor elderly but not a Pentagon budget that is lost and wandering, completely obese and out of control. This conversation, however tightly controlled by government sources and corporate media, has not completely fooled the public. A recent study at the University of Maryland reveals that most average Americans are able to correct the federal deficit better than either the White House or Congress. We are taken for fools, but we are not. Oh, we have our misled Tea Party Animals, but most of us get it.

What is missing is that we have not made this a priority, probably because, in the past, gnashing and wailing over the debt and deficit has resulted in some painful cuts followed by prosperity but no massive changes in most of our lives. The politicians have predicted 27 out of the past two recessions and have cried Budget Wolf! so often that we yawn and hope most of the shrapnel misses most of us again.

However. We are actually seeing what happens with enough failure to stop the really massive hemorrhage, the Pentagon spending. Entire sectors of the American economy have plummeted into oblivion or startling lows with no prospects of return. There is no return on the Pentagon dollar because it tends to serve multinational corporations, not the American people. Back when we were a nation of freebooters whose military was used to globalize injustice for the easy profits for American businesses, America's workers and middle class benefited at the expense of the workers of other countries. Multinational corporations have discovered that they could train other countries' workers to do our jobs and have done so. Those jobs are gone forever; American workers are no longer the best or most productive and that is the basic antipathy by Republicans for any of our unions, public or private employed. It is painfully obvious that multinational corporations will shaft American workers faster than they used to, since the workers, they believe, will remain loyal to the war system no matter what. Just pour them some Fox News SpinJuice to wash down that smaller piece of the budget pie and you can redirect them against each other, as usual.

So we'll see how that all works. Can the misinformed continue to hijack our national discourse or will we slowly see the common sense most of us possess implemented at the top? That will depend on civil society here and what we will endure. The pie is smaller and our shift to sustainable simplicity will get out ahead of it or we will see deeper suffering ahead on a diet of poison pie.

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