Our Opinion: Cost of cutting public broadcasting greater than realized

The plight of public radio and television, as they struggle to fend off thoughtless tax-cutters in Washington, might seem trivial compared to the terror of poor and elderly Americans contemplating the gutting of the Affordable Care Act or the Environmental Protection Agency budget.

In terms of dollars and cents, the proposed elimination of about $450 million in annual funding for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service is a trivial amount for the richest nation on earth. But so would be the cost of providing Medicare for every American, cleaning up the environment and forcing polluters to pay a hard price for ravaging our air, our land and our water supplies.

As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders reminds us, the United States today is the wealthiest nation in the history of this planet. We could do this, if the desire were there.

But the USA stopped acting the part of a generous nation some decades ago. We no longer declare wars on poverty; we constantly root around for "efficiencies," which — surprise, surprise — feel exactly like mindless, directionless budget cuts, on top of budget cuts.

We are talking about social programs, of course, almost never about cuts in the military budget.

And we no longer boldly go into space in manned craft, not even to our nearby moon.

We only aim high enough these days to convince ourselves that we are actually going somewhere. Which is a delusion, of course. In fact, we are slip-sliding away.

Only a pure fanatic could believe that our present course of never raising federal taxes to cover our spending is a sane one, even while we continue to borrow and pile up a massive federal debt. It is rational to propose the elimination of wasteful spending, just as it's rational to believe some programs are better run by the private sector — as long as you also accept that the public sector is a hell of a lot better as some things as well.

But there is a mad-hatter cadre in Congress and elsewhere in government that vehemently denies that this sort of tax/spend balance is important, just as they deny climate change.

We would rather not sound alarmist, but those are sure signs historically of a greed-obsessed "mature" civilization in rapid decline.

Those now in charge in Washington aren't proposing cutting health care for those who can't afford it or are a step away from bankruptcy because of the often obscene, profit-driven cost of medical care.

They aren't proposing decimating the EPA because the money it spends to keep track of polluters who dump toxins into our environment is really too high in comparative terms, but because it is cheaper for big business to operate that way; more profitable, in other words.

And they aren't proposing slashing the pittance of annual funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting because it is wasteful to provide programming that isn't driven by the almighty buck to appeal to the lowest brow in the room.

And they certainly are not planning this outrage because there are no dedicated viewers and listeners for public television or NPR in our region; the exact opposite is true.

In truth, Vermonters and other Americans should not give a damn why these raving radicals are doing what they always do when they get the chance. Unfortunately, we, as a nation, somehow did give them the keys to the family SUV. Or more likely they stole them.

But it is past time that these unfunny jokers were grounded, indefinitely.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting helps support about 1,500 stations that carry a wide range of educational, news and arts programming. The corporation dates to the era of President Lyndon Johnson during the 1960s — that same era when this nation was striving to go to the moon and vowing to attack poverty and defeat it.

Close to home, public television and radio funding helps support WAMC Northeast Public Radio, based in upstate New York, and Vermont Public Radio in this state. Public broadcasting stations Vermont PBS television and WHMT Public Media in New York serve viewers in both states as well.

The cost nationally for this type of quality entertainment and news is estimated at about $1.35 per American.

If we give up on culture, give up on the idea of health care for all, and give up on an environment that will sustain human life beyond the spans of the current fat-cat corporate chieftains, then we deserve the crass mini-series of a national history that we get.


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