A Hungry Black Dog Perspective on Cutting Social Security and Other Human Benefits

Sometimes something of little world importance moves me.  Like today when I refueled my truck at the Valero gas station in Porter, Texas.  There, a black hungry mongrel dog appeared at the pump looking for something to eat.  It was a she with drooping teats, and a forlornly-wrinkled brow.  And totally helpless, jerking her head in a desperate search for a helping hand, for food.  It was clear the dog had nobody and nothing.  Hanging on to life was her specialty. Years ago, I had seen this face of despair before on another canine at the gas pumps near Rockdale, TX when my Dad and I were traveling together to a family cemetery in Milam Country, TX to stake out a burial plot for my younger brother who was to die of cancer.  So when we stopped for gas, a young tan pup appeared, droopy ears and clumsy feet, hungry and all, and I could not help but to go inside and buy a can of Vienna Sausages for the poor dog.  He wolfed them down, and my Dad smiled a helpless smile while we paused and lingered on our heavy journey.  Dad knew the pains of a collapsed stomach from riding the rails to find a job during the Great Depression.

But the Valero dog was there today, and I went inside for a paper while the truck filled itself in beautiful automated silence.  I watched for the dog outside to see it she would stay just a minute or two.  In anticipation I bought a couple of bad sandwiches, a meatloaf and a breaded chicken, the kind wrapped up in paper-backed foil and resting in a closed, well-lighted glass case to keep them warm.  I had the dog in mind for the quick purchases, but hungry myself, I ate a bit of the meatloaf one, and it was truly bad.  So when I finished the purchase and the pump had filled me up, I looked outside for the black dog, but it was nowhere to be found.  So I drove east on Texas FM 1314 a short distance, then back to the west to see if I could spot the black dog, but nothing stirred on the roadside in any direction.  My own human business had derailed my connection with the dog and perhaps another meal, a scrap or two, just enough to get her by until the next time.  But this time my mundane human tasks took priority over a little tug at the heart and an empty canine stomach.

I took a chance that I could do my stuff and get back to the hungry dog.  But as is the case many times, a fleeting moment is all we get if we are to perform at our best.  The need of the animal certainly was greater than my obtaining a newspaper.  But I had to first get something edible for a canine; I rationalized to ease my conscience a bit.

How often we tarry to think about such little things, I wondered.  The mind expands and you drift back to the days of your youth and all the help you got from generous hands.  Several faces appeared in your memory, your mom and dad and the kind old German farmer’s wife who made succulent kolaches with fruit and sometimes hand-ground poppy seed centers.  She made them from scratch and kept you at her house when your parents taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the country.  In the country there was always food.  No human or animals ever went hungry for lack of food.

A few Christmases ago I saw a group of middle-aged men in a field in back of the grocery store off Little York Road in North Houston.  They were huddled around a raging fire they had going in a 55-gallon steel barrel.  It was cold.  So I drove to the nearest place open on Christmas Day and bought a couple of tubs of fried chicken and fixings and gave them to the men.  The men were all on their own without means or food for the day.  The smiles and a moist eye or two said it all in the way of gratitude.  I wondered who they were and where they came from to end up around a barrel on such a bright and cold Christmas Day.  Had they no family or children to have them home for Christmas dinner?  And a warm bed, maybe?  A childhood story perhaps, shared and relived with laughter?  Lingering, I was reminded of Hemingway and something he said in another time and place:

“The world breaks everyone ... those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I pondered these sad words about how the world breaks you.  How does it happen?  Does it start out small and then grow to utter chaos?  Or is it due to one big thing, a human tragedy or misunderstanding?  Who were these men and how did they come to this end?  Was it by the same unseen hand that set the black cur dog to wandering about in dangerous people places where cars and trucks sped by?  Was all this a test of some kind to see how much a person or a hungry dog could stand before breaking?  And can this all be neatly forgotten and swept out the door without a second thought?  Were the men responsible for their own hunger, their own unemployed predicament on the human scale of harsh judgment?  Was the black dog guilty, too?  For breathing air and seeking sustenance to be able to continue to be a dog?  Many and varied opinions exist.

George W. Bush asked his Harvard Business School Economics professor Yoshi Tsurumi why the class had to endure watching the movie “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck as part of the curriculum. 

Note: Young George W. Bush calls poor people “lazy.”

All this makes one wonder about George W. Bush and his origins, e.g., how his Harvard and Yale tuition money might possibly have come from the inherited dollars Poppy Bush received from his father, Prescott Bush who made millions in world investments.  Before the United States entered WWII one of Prescott Bush’s companies was involved in the sale of steel to Hitler.  That came to a halt when the United States government found out.  But no assets were seized.  Prescott Bush was a minnow in a sea of financial whales at the time, men who if prosecuted could buy the world and all its courts of justice.  The Rockefeller’s, the Harriman’s, the Rothschild’s, the Thyssen’s, you know the bunch.  Hardly the same class or company of humans huddled around a fire in a metal oil drum to keep warm on Christmas Day in the dark alleys of Houston.  I would guess that no spare place exists in the minds of such lofty elites as the Rothschild’s where the growling stomach of a black hungry dog has any meaning.

So why does the heart tarry or flutter at a hungry dog or a hungry, downtrodden world of humans with little or no means?  Perhaps it is because in our search for Self we see ourselves in that mirror of kindred spirits.  Perhaps it is why we watch the many movie productions of Charles Dickens’ great book, A Christmas Carol.  Maybe that is why we pause again to see ourselves again.

We have been told that the fiscal cliff approaches and that many programs will be affected.  Higher taxes seem certain and cuts to Social Security and Medicare are threatened.  If George W. Bush is right then all us lazy folk who receive benefits from the government, like Social Security or Medicare should come out of retirement to prove our worth

as humans.  See, we don’t have to be poor; we do have a choice even if we lost our last job.  That sound right, George?  Wonder if George receives his Social Security check.  Or his retirement pay as governor, president, and all the add-ons like healthcare, you know the drill.  Heck, he has got to be the Big Dipper of all times when it comes to getting his hard-earned money.  Maybe Professor Yoshi Tsurumi had him all wrong.  Maybe Bush had to struggle and work hard to earn all his wealth, you think?

All these budget and financial surgeons like Paul Ryan who want to cut deeply into people-funded programs like Medicare to pay for trillions of dollars borrowed and spent to fight needless wars probably do not think twice about a hungry dog.  It’s probably all business to the likes of him.  Maybe that’s how he got where he is rather than thinking about how he can cut this or that to keep the economy afloat and solvent.  I would suggest to him and others on the financial team that before we spend another dollar on wars and the military industrial complex we first have a National Ballot with one proposition:  that all Defense dollars and war dollars be paid up front by the taxpayers.  You want to start a war?  First show me the money.  Cold cash.  We can vote on it each time.  Nothing can be borrowed.  In addition the United States government, instead of hiring out private contractors to act as soldiers at 8 times the pay of a man or woman in uniform, must reinstate the Draft.  See how fast we jump into stupid wars then.

The point is that people have needs.  If we are to maintain a graduated income tax as we profess to have, then the beneficiaries need to be the vast number of people who are American taxpayers and citizens.  Each must pay tax based upon their income, no exceptions.  Congressmen and other government workers will no longer get special retirement pay or medical healthcare deals much better than the common citizen.  Before a penny gets cut from Social Security benefits, show some skin in the game and cut your own retirement benefits first, Senator.  Let’s do fair this time.  While we still can.