Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Madeleine Went Into a Funk the Other Day

On Monday, Madeleine read the breakdown of the Federal tax dollars in an e-mail from an old friend who’d been sent it by a friend of hers during an Internet conversation. She (Madeleine, I mean) hadn’t been looking for trouble. She had some time before needing to start dinner, so she’d sat down at her computer. Of course she’d been aware, in a vague way, that a sizable chunk of each dollar she paid in taxes went to the military, but if she’d ever seen how “they” disposed of each of her tax pennies with such precision, she’d forgotten.

It turned out that the US military took 26.5 cents of every dollar. Military debt got another 5.4 cents, and then there was veterans’assistance which got 3.5 cents, making the total 35.4. Madeleine felt like a chump-a guilty chump. She should have known, for instance, that only 2.5 cents went to energy and the environment, and that a mere 2 cents went to education. State taxes were supposed to handle public education, but, well, they didn’t, did they?

And maybe if more than 1.3 cents were sent along to transportation, people who lived anywhere outside of big cities would be able to get to their jobs and everything else without having to drive, which always struck Madeleine as being an especially idiotic fact of American life. Like that poor family of five she’d seen straggling along the side of the road in the heat. The parents in their thirties, the baby in a stroller, the tenish boy and the sixish girl were skinny, blond, and holding full plastic bags. (There were two bags in the baby’s stroller.) Clearly they didn’t have an operable car, so where were they supposed to work? There wasn't much going on, job-wise, within walking distance of where they were walking. Madeleine hoped they weren’t going to join the homeless, but it wouldn’t surprise her to find that they did.

She’d been a teacher, and had been worried about almost all of her kids, but especially the homeless children. She’d been able to arrange for one boy, who’d been picked on because he smelled bad, to take a shower in the gym every morning. Anthony fared a little better in seventh grade once he could show up in class clean. Housing and community got 7.2 cents of her tax dollar. Hmph, she thought. Did his family know about those 7.2 cents and how to get their share of it? She noticed 3.7 cents went to Food (agricultural subsidies/nutrition help.) “So what” Madeleine thought, if fast food was still the cheapest way to fill up empty stomachs?” She’d just read on the Internet that MacDonald’s hamburgers and fries could last at least six months without even growing mold. They just got harder and a bit shiny. She wanted her 3.7 cents to take care of getting fresh fruit and vegetables to those kids walking along the road the other day.

Health was getting the next biggest chunk: 20.1 cents. That sounded good. But health in America was a mess! Her neighbor was giving up his insurance. Ted had been paying $800 a month, just for hospitalization. He couldn’t do it anymore, and was crossing his fingers that he’d stay out of the hospital until he was eligible for Medicare. Madeline watched or read enough news to understand that reform was on its way, but Ted had to drop his health insurance now. Not in 2014 or whatever. He was the nicest guy, always willing to lend Madeleine a hand with stuff she couldn’t figure out, like her new television remote.

Her tax dollar gave the Government (a separate category on the list) 9.8 cents. Almost a dime out of every dollar. That seemed fair to her, she thought, as she put on a pot of coffee. But government got it wrong lots of times. Like that young woman from Delaware running for Senate. Her vote would count as much as a senator from California. Madeleine did some Googling and found out that the population of Delaware in 2010 was approximately 870,000 people, and that this year’s population of California was about 37,205,591. How could that make sense to anybody?

Madeleine always voted, paid what “they” told her to in taxes, had spent lots of time working “off the clock,” so to speak, because she had often felt that was what was needed. But that didn’t seem to matter much in the scheme of things. She wished to hell she felt like she had a bit more power, more “oomph,” more understanding, of how things were handled. It rankled that 13.6 cents had to go to national debt, military and non, because these expensive, expansive wars hadn’t done much good, had they? Foreign aid got 1.3 cents. Even though Madeleine mostly read poetry and fiction, she’d read enough John LeCarré to know that foreign aid was a mysterious deal indeed.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher were the TV guys she trusted most, but they didn’t get around to everything she wondered about. Sometimes there just wasn’t a punchline, she guessed. Once again, Madeleine sat for a while in a puzzled funk. Then she got dressed and took her dog for a walk. That was something, anyway.

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