Aces and Eights

"Dead man's hand" by Tage Olsin - Own work

“Dead man’s hand” by Tage Olsin – Own work

Aces and Eights are called the ‘Dead Man’s’ hand for the cards Wild Bill Hickok was rumored to hold as he was shot in the back. I smell a market branding guru since black Aces, Eights and Wild Bill did not appear in the same sentence until the 1920s. The term ‘Dead Man’s’ hand didn’t even show up in the vocabulary as a phrase until the late 1800’s according to folks who research such things. Between 1886 and 1903 the Dead Man held a Full House of jacks with a pair of tens, pairs of jacks and sevens or jacks and eights. It’s relevant to the citizen/taxpayer today and tied to the very beginning of the Cold War.

Life’s like a game of cards. You play the hand that’s dealt while learning the game of citizenship and making choices. In August 2013 the Cato Institute published Michael D. Tanner and Charles Hughes’ White Paper The Work versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013. It’s an eye-opening paper and I heartily recommend that everyone read the entire 52-pages. Tanner and Hughes open the discussion:

In 1995, the Cato Institute published a groundbreaking study, The Work vs. Welfare Trade-Off, which estimated the value of the full package of welfare benefits available to a typical recipient in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It found that not only did the value of such benefits greatly exceed the poverty level but, because welfare benefits are tax-free, their dollar value was greater than the amount of take-home income a worker would receive from an entry-level job.

Since then, many welfare programs have undergone significant change, including the 1996 welfare reform legislation that ended the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program and replaced it with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Accordingly, this paper examines the current welfare system in the same manner as the 1995 paper. Welfare benefits continue to outpace the income that most recipients can expect to earn from an entry-level job, and the balance between welfare and work may actually have grown worse in recent years.

The current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work. Welfare currently pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states, even after accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and in 13 states it pays more than $15 per hour. If Congress and state legislatures are serious about reducing welfare dependence and rewarding work, they should consider strengthening welfare work requirements, removing exemptions, and narrowing the definition of work. Moreover, states should consider ways to shrink the gap between the value of welfare and work by reducing current benefit levels and tightening eligibility requirements.

Why does this analysis matter on a site where the focus is the Cold War and its legacy? Because as taxpayers we all contribute to the decision making process about where ‘our’ money is spent. Many veterans in the United States struggle just to live in dignity or even in a house. Many veterans need medical help and some die waiting for the assistance they need. Welfare and the military are not apples and oranges as the same taxpayers fund both. Both are deeply emotional issues. Welfare is ‘for the children’ and the military is for our protection.

I would argue that welfare perpetuates multiple children by absentee fathers for the sake of increasing benefits. Not one of us wishes to be responsible for starving children, but we the taxpayers are turning welfare mothers into child generators without hope. Over the past year, I had the privilege of spending about seven months in an apartment complex-my first since I was in my early 20s. During the course of the year the complex became certified to accept welfare clients and they came in droves. Loads of children and loads of non-working men hanging onto the lifestyle of the women. Each family had its story and I listened.

Largely embittered and angry because there was never enough of anything. One 50 something woman was a second generation recipient. The system had seen to her training. As a beautician, she cut hair for cash. She had a four year old son, Jaime, with serious medical problems, and a 20 year old son, Michael who was an unmarried father of three, a 22 year old lover who was on the welfare payroll as a certified care giver, and several daughters, each with children and each in the system. The four year old required medical specialists and a fecal transplant. Because they couldn’t legally own the car they drove, the system paid for the cab trips from Tucson to Phoenix for the medical support the child needed. Make no mistake, the child needed the medical treatment and should receive it. All men had to live in the two bedroom apartment in secret and disappear with their stuff when the visiting nurse arrived. Most of the time at least ten people lived in the apartment where cleanliness was essential for the survival of the four year old whose benefits were paying for the place and many engaged in various cash making activities. Michael did take a job during the year but sustained a back injury and was trying to get on disability when I left. That’s one family. I’ve stories of six additional families tucked safely in my journal. These people live terrible lives and fight for more of the same.

By contrast is the Marine who lives alone in a one bedroom apartment in the same complex. I wrote about him in Transend Dance:

Across the courtyard and down the way lives Tony, a Marine who lost his legs in the first Gulf War. Over the past three months, I’ve grown to love and admire his spirit as well as the tenacity and iron will of his physical therapist. Tony drives a souped-up wheel chair that frequently flies past me at Mach 3, swims every day and possesses the upper body strength of a gorilla. He’s earned and vitally needs but has not received the support of the Veteran’s Administration (VA) for years. And he is only one of thousands. Encouraged by the $16. 3 billion VA makeover signed into reality by President Obama in early August 2014, I eagerly inquired as to its effect on Tony as he is awaiting some surgery to alleviate pain in his back. Nothing. He was told he had to wait another year in an endless queue.

Where do you, the taxpayer, want to put your money? welfare or military wages? I am not a supporter of a standing military but given the government’s Foreign Policy ineptness it is a harsh reality. In February 2014, Military.com’s Paycheck Chronicles, Kate Horrell wrote:

The Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA) was created in 2001 in response to reports about service families requiring federal food benefits.  Eligibility for FSSA is based upon the total household income and the total household size.  Eligibility amounts vary depending on your duty station, as there are different rates for the contiguous 48 states, Hawaii, and Alaska/overseas.

Let’s check the Paycheck Chronicles’ Claim that the FSSA compensates military families adequately. According to the Cato Institute’s Tanner and Hughes’ White Paper, Table 3, the pretax equivalent wage for all welfare benefits is $60,590 in Hawaii. For the military stationed in Honolulu, an E-1 with family will earn the equivalent of $35,064 or slightly over half of what a person on welfare receives. I’ve lived in Honolulu and even with a Cost of Living Allowance, I struggled to make ends meet. I cannot imagine surviving on $35,000. Somehow, I doubt the protestations in the Paycheck Chronicles that military families are now adequately compensated.

This isn’t an either/or thing. The four year old Jaimes in the U.S., can still receive medical treatment, but the Tonys need help too. Here are some stats to consider. According to Statistics Brain 110,489,000 people (about 1/3 of the population) receive welfare benefits, let us not forget the parasitic strap-hangers who also live off of the welfare system, and 1,429,036 active duty military personnel. American Veterans By the Numbers reports that there were 19.6 million living in the United States in 2013. Adding active duty and veteran populations yields about 21 million individuals who have earned our respect and deserve the help they need.

I pulled up my chair to this card game called life almost seven decades ago. So far I’ve played every hand dealt, but the gale force winds of change have turned the cards into menacing blades blowing in all directions. The welfare versus military is just one card that must be addressed. There are others. The U.S. National Debt is stuck around the mind-blowing $19 trillion mark. The federal government is fomenting racial, age, and class warfare. The Federal Reserve is flat broke. A purge of non-acquiescing General Officers in all branches of the military was completed earlier this year. An all-out assault of the Bill of Rights is underway and neither the economy nor the job picture is as rosy as Washington, D.C. says it is. Offshore, the European Union is flailing in what closely resembles a death rattle. Extremists are regularly beheading those of other faiths alongside teenagers watching soccer and people who dissent while they blow up or loot antiquities and burn libraries. It seems to me that it is time to change the game, take back our country, and re-order priorities. We sometimes forget that we are the source of power. Aces and Eights don’t have to be our legacy. Personally, I’d rather have a Royal Flush in Hearts or Diamonds.

[Authors Note: If you wish view the development of the welfare versus work state across the timeline of the Cold War, a good source to begin your research is The Social Welfare History Project’s Origins of the State and Federal Public Welfare Programs (1932 – 1935) ]

5 thoughts on “Aces and Eights

  1. Pingback: Aces and Eights - Caravan To Midnight

  2. A wise explanation in describing that the ‘double standard’ is slowly but surely being applied to our society and culture by an uncontrolled big government.

    We the people before our very eyes are in a period of transition in becoming serfs enslaved to a 21st century feudal system.

    • “We the people before our very eyes are in a period of transition in becoming serfs enslaved to a 21st century feudal system.” Great observation, John!

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