In Theory: Trump’s proposed budget includes cuts to foreign aid. What does religion have to say about that?

President Trump’s proposed budget includes cuts to foreign aid — a move that threatens to harm the country’s “critical role in fulfilling the moral responsibility of all Americans to help those less fortunate,” write Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., and Sean Callahan, president and chief executive of Catholic Relief Services.

In their opinion piece, “The Christian, conservative case for foreign aid,” they write about the achievements America has made in helping people and nations less fortunate around the globe. One effect of helping those in crises, they say, is that it may lead to stabilizing situations and building diplomatic relations.

“In an increasingly unstable world, this small but vital account is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure,” they write. “Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said, ‘Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.’”

Q. What do you think of Stearns’ and Callahan’s commentary and of President Trump’s proposed cuts to foreign aid?

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International relations today resemble a poorly supervised playground. Of the 195 countries in the world, most are like smaller kids who don’t have lunch money. Some are better off, and a few of them are bullies. One — let’s call him Sam — has more toys and money than everybody else. Rather than mellowing with age, Sam wants to rule by fear and steals the lunches of the weakest while demanding everyone cry “Uncle.”

Worthy nongovernmental organizations like World Vision and Catholic Relief Services are like overwhelmed playground monitors struggling to help amid the chaos. They can distribute snacks and supplies provided by the more generous kids, but without Sam’s cooperation, their efforts fall short. Alas, Sam has decided to buy more slingshots and firecrackers to enrich his cronies, hurting his own family in the process. So suffering spreads, while Sam’s family is also deprived.

But Sam protests, “I give more than the other kids.” While the total amount Sam contributes is larger than the donations of his peers — some $31 billion a year, measured as the percentage of total national income donated — Sam lags behind 19 others who have far fewer funds. While stingy Sam spends more on slingshots, conditions continue to deteriorate and the playground monitors fall further behind.

We shouldn’t romanticize the past. There was never a completely just, fair golden age. I do mourn the demise of a more idealistic civil religion, through which the leading lights in politics pointed toward a brighter future. Today’s degraded discourse, where the most powerful man in the world starts each day spewing hateful lies through Twitter, is depressing indeed.

When John F. Kennedy said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” he did it with the help of speechwriter Ted Sorensen, a lifelong Unitarian. Together Kennedy and Sorensen crafted some of the most inspirational prose in our national canon. Kennedy initiated the Peace Corps, through which the U.S. can exert the soft power of relief and development rather than just imposing its will through force.

Sam, no one likes or trusts a bully. Give, so others can live.

David L. Hostetter, Ph.D. Vice President, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills La Crescenta

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The great medieval philosopher Maimonides places at the top of his several levels of giving, “loaning or entering into a business agreement with those in need,” for it maintains the receiver’s sense of self-worth. While it may not lessen the financial amounts, America needs to rethink its aid programs to be ones of matching funds or if not possible ones where American businesses can partner with native businesses not to have jobs leave America but to have more jobs created for the target population.

Another example is Afghanistan, where American soldiers with farming backgrounds were sent to show Afghan farmers how to grow foods in order to replace the poppy crop which they had been raising and had become the source for terrorist funds. The funds for this could come out of the military budget as well as the drug prevention budget.

The benefit of a multiagency financing of aid to other countries and the “self-worth” concept of financing would free funds for domestic needs. We could then use the same two procedures to help our own population, both financially and spiritually.

Rabbi Mark Sobel Temple Beth Emet Burbank

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The proposed cuts to foreign aid would eliminate almost a third of the State Department budget, which is barely 1% of all federal spending currently.

In contrast, our already robust military spending stands to be increased by 9%. Military and homeland security take up either about 30% or almost 60% of the federal budget, depending on whether or not Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending, which comes from those programs’ trust funds, is counted.

Even if you buy that the Trump administration’s budget plan genuinely represents “America First,” despite its cuts to domestic health, education, nutrition and housing spending, the huge sums flowing away from needy Americans are for the most part paying for our imperial military interventions, not the “widow’s mite” going for humanitarian and development assistance overseas.

Roberta Medford Atheist Montrose

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While I can feel for those in foreign nations whose governments are terrible and whose productivity is meager, I can’t say that we owe it to them to fix their problems. Uncle Sam keeps being referred to as some sort of single entity that has a big wallet with the fatherly responsibility of doling out allowances to all the neighborhood waifs, while his own children remain in dire need. “The moral responsibility of all Americans” is not in helping the less fortunate everywhere in the universe, but helping the less fortunate generally, and we have plenty of those to keep us busy.

Has anyone gone to downtown Los Angeles lately? Skid Row has become Skid Block, and nearby is Skid Under the Bridge, and Skid Park, as well as Skid Any Grassy Median. We have a serious problem, and instead of pointing at the speck in the eye of Timbuktu, we ought to rally our forces and pull the log out of our own right here on this continent. There are only so many resources to go around, and right now, America’s debt is upward of $20 trillion. Can you wrap your head around that? Should we give more of what we don’t have, far away and continue to back-burner what needs to be given nearby? And by “nearby,” I mean we have to understand that our 50 states are like 50 countries in other places. We already have a giant plate of due diligence to them which we’re ignoring for the sake of what we hope we’ll achieve by funding foreign governments that have failed their own. And yet, when we send tax money to help lead the moral brigade, the governments use it to buy weapons, and a year later are burning our flag on YouTube.

I just mentioned Skid Row, but do you know that in Appalachia, whole communities have no running water or electricity? In America? Yes! And our Indian reservations are rife with poverty, and their suicide rate is about double the rest of the population. There are states where water is toxic with lead and contaminants, where kids don’t get good education, where nobody can rise above the poverty level, where you name it, and they don’t have it. It’s disgusting.

We are not one big family. We are a nation of neighbors, of strangers, of people gathered for the big American dream, but we’re shipping it elsewhere for God knows why.

Rev. Bryan A. Griem Tujunga

Copyright © 2017, Burbank Leader

Donald Trump Catholic Relief Services

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