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The Buddha and the Budget

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In which I offer you a couple of insights from wise people about what’s going on with the U.S. Congress and the federal budget, and share some ideas about what to do.

Quote #1, from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi


Speak up for the poor both in this country and abroad. The budget cuts made by the House will have devastating impacts on those most in need of help. Help make the U.S. a country of compassion, not of savage selfishness. Urge the Senate to preserve the funding allocations that can help the poor.

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Quote #2, from economist, Nobel Prize recipient, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman:

There are three things you need to know about the current budget debate. First, it’s essentially fraudulent. Second, most people posing as deficit hawks are faking it. Third, while President Obama hasn’t fully avoided the fraudulence, he’s less bad than his opponents — and he deserves much more credit for fiscal responsibility than he’s getting.

…by proposing sharp spending cuts right away, Republicans aren’t just going where the money isn’t, they’re also going when the money isn’t. Slashing spending while the economy is still deeply depressed is a recipe for slower economic growth, which means lower tax receipts — so any deficit reduction from G.O.P. cuts would be at least partly offset by lower revenue.

The whole budget debate, then, is a sham. House Republicans, in particular, are literally stealing food from the mouths of babes — nutritional aid to pregnant women and very young children is one of the items on their cutting block — so they can pose, falsely, as deficit hawks….

The bottom line, then, is that while the budget is all over the news, we’re not having a real debate; it’s all sound, fury, and posturing, telling us a lot about the cynicism of politicians but signifying nothing in terms of actual deficit reduction. And we shouldn’t indulge those politicians by pretending otherwise.

What to Do

“When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”
~Ethiopian Proverb

Be inspired by the massive display of peaceful people power in Wisconsin. Make your voice be heard and be visible.

1) Sign this petition:

http://www.one.org/us/actnow/2011budget/?rc=2011budgetfb

2) Educate yourself and others on what’s really going on

Many Republicans in Congress are using this budget debate to their political benefit, as Krugman notes, and throwing up a smoke screen that obscures what else is going on.

For example, did you know that nearly two-thirds of U.S. corporations don’t pay any income taxes, instead using tax loopholes and offshore tax havens? This while many corporations enjoy record profits and taxpayer-funded bailouts.

If as much effort was made to increase revenue through collecting some of these corporate taxes as is being spent on cutting from those most in need, we’d be closer to a balanced budget.

Another great source of information is the National Priorities Project. Want to find out how your taxes are being spent? Try out this tool where you plug in the amount of taxes you paid and then can see what percentage goes toward things like military, health care, foreign aid, etc. Do these allocations align with your priorities and values?

3) Organize, organize, organize! February 26 Day of Action

The House of Representatives has voted on the budget. Congress is currently on a break; when the U.S. Senate re-convenes on February 28 it will discuss and vote on the budget. From now until then, it’s time to organize.

US Uncut is a new movement (inspired by UK Uncut) that is about taking action against unnecessary and unfair cuts to public services across the US. US Uncut is organizing an International Day of Action on Feb 26.

Check this web page to see if there is an action scheduled for your community. If not, you can sign up to start one and find lots of great resources on this page.

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If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

Quote of the Week: Mushim Ikeda-Nash

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Today’s quote, from Mushim Ikeda-Nash, really more of a short essay, comes with a call to action — and is very appropriate given that today is Labor Day.

Mushim is a dharma teacher, diversity consultant, writer, and editor who lives in Oakland, CA. She is a core teacher at the East Bay Meditation Center (also in Oakland). For many years, Mushim wrote a “Family Practice” column in Turning Wheel that was one of the most beloved parts of the magazine. She has a gift for bringing the dharma into the every day details of our lives, whether that is being a parent or being an engaged citizen.

Mushim wrote this piece in 2006 for Interfaith Worker Justice. It’s titled “American Buddhists and Worker Justice: A Call to Action.”

“Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

In the richest country in the world, more than two million full-time, year round workers live below the poverty line, struggling to pay for necessities such as food, housing, healthcare, transportation, and childcare (U.S. Census Bureau, “Poverty in the United States: 2002”).

The Thich Nhat Hanh quote, above, is a contemporary interpretation of the traditional Buddhist precept, “Do not steal.” It calls upon us to deepen our investigation of what “stealing” is: we may not be robbing banks, or breaking and entering other people’s homes, but are we supporting exploitation of workers through the clothing, shoes, and food we buy? How far are we willing to go out of our usual comfort zones, how deeply are we willing to dig into our pockets, in order to support fair trade goods and worker justice?

How many Buddhist clergy and lay leaders turn up at worker strikes to show their support, in alliance with interfaith efforts? How many teachers giving Dharma talks or Buddhist sermons address the issues of living wage and worker rights? And if we ourselves are Buddhist and are laboring in exploitative workplaces, do we feel we can reach out to Buddhist coalitions for solidarity and support?

Buddhist teachings provide a “big picture view” spanning many generations, acknowledging that systemic greed, hatred, and delusion do not change overnight. When we examine the “ancient twisted karma” of innumerable human choices and actions, we can see that intertwined with the cause of worker justice in the United States is the plight of immigrants and undocumented workers, the “life threatening disease” of racism, and the breakdown of American public education.

We all need the basics: food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Grinding poverty, for those who are working as hard as they can, leads to constant suffering and fear. As American Buddhists, we need to help ourselves and others realize the means to attain Right Livelihood, or non-harmful ways of making a decent living. Everyone, without exception, wants to live with dignity and safety, in happiness and in peace. When we help others, we help ourselves.

So, what can we do? Reflecting on our own actions, we can appreciate choices we’ve made in the past that support worker justice. When my son was seven years old, the Oakland public school teachers went on an extended strike. We never crossed the picket line, but I hadn’t been prepared to do home schooling, and my own work schedule was disrupted completely. I recall arriving at a local science museum one afternoon and finding a group of similarly desperate parents sitting outside, with screaming kids swarming over a large cement dinosaur. Greeting each other with exhausted nods, we sat together in silence. Convenient? No. Necessary? Yes! We supported the Oakland teachers’ union, and we made it through the strike, one day at a time.

Let’s take a vow today to take a step, small or large, for worker justice. Let’s think of one thing we can do, no matter how seemingly small, to help workers in our neighborhood, our schools, our community, earn a living wage and improve their situations. Working together, we can do it!

May all beings be happy.

May they be joyous and live in safety.

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