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A girl named Maria
The Broadcast
   Maria Gonzales, last that I heard, lives in Los Angeles. She is a real person, a young woman in her early twenties, and is not a fictional character. Maria has several children, all by different men, but is unmarried. She is living with a man right now, but he is father to none of them. Maria, and I have never met, and are unlikely ever to meet, yet I know all about her, even to some of the most personal details of her life. I know all of these things, because Maria's life was explored, in great detail, on a NPR radio broadcast. Why she submitted to this, I could not say. She was not paid for this, but was studied, much as wild animals are studied in PBS nature shows. No help was given to her, by NPR, and no detail, no matter how shameful, was neglected. It may be that I am making too big a deal about the possible taint associated with with the revealing of Maria's life. It seems that people today have no shame. This may be related to the fact that we are now discouraged from having any standards, the breaching of which might generate shame, but I digress.
    Maria was the subject of a NPR radio broadcast, sometime in 2001 or 2002, concerned with welfare reform. The story was really quite compelling, made all the more so, by the knowledge that Maria is a real person, with real problems, which will continue on, long after the microphones, interviewers, and our attention, have left her. We are given a bit of her history, are told what welfare has done for her, and how she has lived her life within it's shadows, and boundaries. We are then shown the changes which have occurred within welfare reform, how they have affected her, and what her reaction is to them. We are finally given several possible glimpses into what her future might be. There are some glimmers of hope, but overall it is not a future with much to look forward to.
    The broadcast begins with sixteen year old Maria dropping out of school to have her second child. Her mother can not support her and her two babies. The boy who contributed so eagerly to her pregnancy is not so eager to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood. Maria must go on welfare. Welfare, despite the grumbling of so many taxpayers, is not exactly a gravy train, and Maria must live poorly, in a poor neighborhood. She is not unusual in this, as many of her neighbors are in the same situation. Maria is lonely, and bored, so she seeks companionship. She has boyfriends. Most of them are functionally illiterate, as is Maria herself. Sometimes they steal from her. The boyfriends are generally poor, out of work, and often on drugs, or habitual drinkers. Maria is not shocked by this; it is common where she lives. Most of her current peers, either dropped out of school, or paid so little attention, that they learned next to nothing. They were then unable to find meaningful work, and turned to petty crime, drug dealing, odd jobs, or took to the streets. Maria's situation is little different, from that of the men, except that, as a mother, she is entitled to more generous government benefits.
    At around 20 years of age, Maria becomes pregnant again. The man leaves her; he wants nothing to do with caring for a child, or supporting a wife. Feeling trapped, Maria tries to find a way out, and is given one. Day care is provided for her children, and she is put in a program which will ready her for college. Maria had left school early, and was no star pupil, even while she had been attending. She has much to learn, and the studies are hard. Her math skills are almost non existent, and she is functionally illiterate. This is true illiteracy, and is not due to her hispanic heritage. Maria does not speak Spanish well, and can not read it at all. Her English is little better. She needs to be tutored, in certain areas, and works hard in school. She often spends hours studying at home. Through months of determination, and hard work, Maria is pronounced ready for college.
    College, was the goal worked for, but upon entry, Maria realizes that gaining entrance to college was only the beginning. College is even more difficult than the remedial classes which prepared her for entry. Once again, Maria must be tutored, and once more, she must study for hours, at home, to be able to keep up with the rest of the students. It is not easy, and is not made any easier, by her new boyfriend, who doesn't work, but does eat her food, and sleep in her house. While attending school, Maria is told that her situation will need to be reassessed, because new regulations have taken effect. Her case worker tells her that she is in good health, and that the new welfare regulations require her to be actively seeking employment. She is directed to a Job Service office, and a position is found for her. It is a low paying, menial job, the only kind she is really qualified for, and Maria can refuse it, if she wishes. Refusal will mean a cut in her benefits. Benefits can not be cut off entirely, because she has minor children, but money for school, and for day care can be taken away. There is also always the specter of Child Welfare Services, and foster homes. Maria must work.
    Maria does not like her job, and is finding it difficult to work while still being able to devote enough time to her studies. Her boyfriend offers encouragement, but will not help with the children at night, or with much of anything else. He does not work, except at odd jobs, which never last. Maria continues to do well at school, though it is only with great effort. She is told that funding for her day care may be cut, so she may have to seek other arrangements for her children. Maria's mother still has some children of her own to watch, and has no desire to look after Maria's. Her boyfriend expresses a willingness to have them at home, but he occasionally finds work during the day, and Maria is not certain she trusts him to look after them properly. The story leaves us with Maria trying to decide which compromises she will have to make, in order to continue with her studies. We are also informed that the couple is considering marriage, though the boyfriend is uneducated, illiterate, and unable to find steady employment. Marriage will probably mean another assessment of Maria' s situation, and a possible cut in her benefits. Of course, being caught supporting a man, with the money paid her to support her children with, would endanger her eligibility to receive any benefits at all. Maria has some difficult decisions to make.

The Real Message
    As the glimpse into Maria Gonzales' life ends, we are given over to a commentator, who interviews a social worker. The social worker informs us that Maria's story is typical in almost every detail. Everything from an early pregnancy, and poor education, to a series of deadbeat boyfriends. It's all there. It is interesting to note that Maria had been raised by her mother, who was herself on welfare. This, too, is typical. The only non typical thing about the story is, that Maria actually sought a way out; most don't. The typical welfare "client" will spend a lifetime on welfare, raising children who are more likely than not, to go on welfare themselves.
    Hearing of the disadvantaged circumstances, of Maria Gonzales, and of her eventual attempt to improve her station, was very compelling. Her slow progress, and her continued efforts proved to be admirable. There was then the slow withdrawal of support, and the repeated sympathy, of the various agencies as her benefits were whittled away. Maria would likely be required to work, to make her own arrangements for the care of her children, and still have to make time for her studies. It became very clear, by the end of the broadcast, that Maria was falling back into her old habits, and would very likely not finish school. This would seem to be a story of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. The story is almost enough to turn a good conservative into a liberal. Almost! Pondering these thoughts, it occurred to me that I had been manipulated, and in a not very subtle way. The broadcast seemed to linger on the effects that the reduction in benefits would have on her Maria's future. This was done while glossing over the various mistakes, indulgences, immorality, and laziness, which had featured so prominently in Maria's life, and defined her lifestyle. The blame for her possible descent back to her old life, was placed squarely on the shoulders of the tax payers who desire to keep a bit more of the money that they earn, rather than on Maria herself.
    What the broadcast so easily ignored was the fact that Maria, along with the other people in her situation, have spent years carefully constructing their ruined lives. Maria, and the countless others like her, are not victims of some force beyond their control, nor are they being subjected to some punishment doled out by those who disapprove of their lifestyle, or have tired of bearing the burden of paying for it. The vast majority of the poor, in this country, are living poor lives because they have led poor lives. The fact that there are getting to be such large numbers of the poor, is a pretty good indication that this style of life has been encouraged, and supported. This too, is ignored in the broadcast, because it sends a message, and forces a conclusion at odds with those the broadcast was so carefully crafted to send.
    The message being sent here, is that we have a woman attempting to make a better life for herself. She is being prevented from doing so, by a government unconcerned with the plight of the poor. It is also suggested that this same government is hostile to minorities, and that this hostility is the true reason for the reform of welfare. The ultimate message, is that welfare reform is bad, and is motivated, at least in part, by racism. This would seem to imply that the old system of welfare was good, or at any rate better than that which the welfare reformers would propose to take it's place. This is the message being sent by the broadcast, but it is not the story being told by a close examination of the facts.

Spreading the misery
      None of us are immune to hardship, nor are any of us complete strangers to bad judgment. It seems, though, that some of us are exempt from the consequences of our life styles, while others are expected to bear the brunt of these failures. There are large numbers of people in this country, who lead responsible, moral, decent lives. These people work hard to make a living, and to provide for their families. It is disgraceful that people who make the effort to conduct their lives responsibly, and properly, are now expected to bear the burdens generated by those who will not.
    The various welfare, and aid programs in this country are all socialist in nature. They are socialist in that their purpose is to redistribute wealth taken from those who produce it, and transfer it to those who do not. More important than the transfer, though, is the presumption that such a transfer is rightfully within the scope of the duties of our government. Though many of their supporters claim that these programs "empower" the poor, it seems as if the real empowerment is going to those government agencies which are permitted to take money from productive citizens and use it as a lever to oversee the lives of non productive citizens. In so doing, both types of citizens are diminished, while government employees are well paid and empowered. Socialist nations, whatever liberal college professors and left leaning members of the media claim, are not happy places. In general, it takes dictatorial, even repressive, regimes to keep them in place.
    Many of those who favor the continuance of the current flawed social welfare programs like to characterize the rest of us as heartless selfish types. We are told that we are punishing people by cutting these programs. The truth is almost the complete opposite. There are natural consequences to everything that is done in life. In some cases these are good, and desirable, in others they are unpleasant. Still, these things occur as a result of actions that we take. Social programs, despite the claims of their supporters, and employees, do not remove the consequences of our actions. At best, they transfer them to others; at worst, they encourage, and expand the behaviors which cause them.
    So while Maria is living a marginal, insecure lifestyle, beholding and subject to the orders of her social worker, and to the whims of politicians who decide how these programs are to be financed, she is not alone in her sufferings. Also suffering the consequences for her lifestyle, are large numbers of people who have never indulged in such immoral behavior. They suffer when they have to pay a third or more of their income in taxes, and then pay even more for goods and services provided by companies which are also required to pay high taxes. They suffer when both parents need to work in order to make ends meet, or when the father needs to work overtime. They also suffer the insecurity of having huge numbers of people who have been transformed by government programs into useless, even criminal elements, when they may otherwise have had a chance to do something with their lives. So why should Maria and her children be allowed to suffer, for her mistakes, irresponsibility, and immorality? A better question to ask might be why the working people of this country, the ones who pay the taxes, and do the work, should, along with their children, be made to suffer? This is a question which never seems to come up.
    We are also expected to accept, at face value, the assumption that these programs actually do lessen the hardship of the poor. This is by no means a given. Many of the facts seem to support quite a different conclusion. Winston Churchill said about socialist systems that "though they may not be very good at spreading the wealth, they do an excellent job of spreading the misery." Certainly, it can not be said with any conviction, that the life of Maria is a happy one.

The Poorhouse of Cards
  Maria's life could not have happened 40 years ago, and would have been a disgrace, even, 30 years ago. This is something that is not often mentioned by the social progressives, except as an indication of how narrow minded the nation was supposed to have been, and how much more enlightened we have become. In the fifties, and into the sixties, we had codes of conduct, some of them written into law, which would not have permitted teen age girls, or teen age boys to have sex. Funny though, how in these enlightened days, even with all of our help and education programs, these problems are worse than ever.
    Conditions should make it obvious that the current crop of social welfare programs do nothing to help those they claim to serve. On the contrary, comparing conditions of today, with the conditions that existed several decades ago, before the bulk of today's social programs were implemented back in the sixties, shows that conditions have worsened considerably. yet these programs are still strongly supported by the left. Some likely reasons are:    At one time, I had generally thought of social welfare programs as simply vote generating mechanisms for the democratic party. It seemed to be little more than an elaborate form of legally condoned bribery. While I have not changed my mind about this, it now seems that there is something else at work here. People on social programs are routinely rounded up by "activists" and trundled out to the voting booths. They overwhelmingly vote democratic, primarily because of the huge democratic support for various programs that these people are indentured to. They are often told the horrible consequences that would befall them, were enough Republicans in office to have their programs canceled. One very interesting thing that was brought out after the Gore/Bush election, was that Bush made an effort to get the military vote out, while gore had his staff out registering people in the prisons. It seems that they both knew where to find their supporters.
    As government programs expand, they take in more of what had formerly been our private lives. This is particularly obvious in the case of people who are on the dole. Their powerlessness is well known. Their caseworkers are in possession of nearly every important detail of their personal lives, from how much they spend on food and rent, to who they are dating. These people are, in a real sense, not too far off from the indentured servitude of a couple hundred years ago. It is not so much that you are expected to work for your masters, though they certainly would not object to such a thing, but more a matter of your comings, goings, lifestyle, property, and personal business being under a constant watchful, almost possessive, scrutiny. This is generally defended on one (or both) of two assertions:
    One of the biggest complaints against these programs is that they take tremendous amounts of money away from working people who need it and might even use it to improve their lives, and throw down a huge black hole. It raises prices by taxing companies as well as those who work at companies, thus harming the economy by taking money out of the pockets of those who would spend it, and putting it into government coffers. While all of these unwelcome things are happening, these programs also act as the great enablers of social irresponsibility, carelessness, and laziness. Thus while one segment of the population learns that there is little improvement to be hoped for, no matter how hard they work, another is taught that there is little to worry about no matter how little they do. Both segments are also taught that they are in no way the true masters of their lives or in secure possession of what they own.
    One of the more insidious and fearful consequences of government programs is that they are ever expanding and seem to be worming their way into our lives at every level. We all expect to go on a form of welfare when we retire to go on Social Security, that pyramid scheme designed to garner votes for FDR, and Medicare, another pyramid scheme for which we have the kennedys to thank. Then there are the many programs set up in the schools, everything form lunch and breakfast, through medical care, to afternoon sporting events. Doubtless, in the near future, parents who have to work two jobs each in order to pay their ever increasing taxes, will be able to take advantage of 24 hour day care, with their children sleeping in public school dormitories. Really, as taxes, overhead, and expenses go up, in order to handle the ever increasing number of social programs, more and more people are finding themselves in need. A $30k or $40k income, which should be enough to live very comfortably on, is not enough after taxes. This money is whittled away further by sales tax, and by the unseen taxes paid by industry and passed on to us. Something like half of our incomes goes to the government, and over half of this goes to social engineering programs. I hate to sound unsympathetic, but frankly, it's not worth it.
        Huge welfare entitlement programs create a lifestyle for entire families and neighborhoods, which is becoming a legacy to be passed on from generation to generation. Like gun control, abortion, the revamping of education, and the ever increasing regulation of nearly everything we do, this is a drastic, unpleasant, and burdensome policy, the only function of which is to address problems created by previous liberal policies. This, to me, is the real crux of the matter, and the reason why so many senseless, and destructive policies continue to be implemented, and maintained. Without the huge welfare entitlement programs, many other liberal policies put into place would have to be changed. In particular, we would have to revamp our schools, put something like family values and morals back into our lawbooks, hold people accountable for their lifestyles, and allow them their rewards for living decent lives. We would have to stop worshipping at the frivolous alter of social progress, and decreed fairness, and get back to the serious business of living the best lives we are capable of living. If this were to happen, liberalism, and the democratic party would become part of one of the darker chapters in the history books, to be looked upon as an abject lesson and never repeated.