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Guest column| Steve White

Apathy will come back to haunt us



Recently, Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite sent an e-mail to constituents parading her unsuccessful efforts in offering an amendment to cut $4-billion in development assistance "because taxpayers' money should not go overseas to help other countries" if veterans benefits are not funded in line with recommendations.

I want to make it clear that I couldn't agree more with the congresswoman that programs to help veterans need more funding. Every night, about 200,000 veterans go to sleep homeless, and that, in 21st century America, is one of our greatest national sins.

But trying to fix the problem by taking money from the poorest of the poor is not the answer. And this is not a first-time offense on her part. The congresswoman has an infamous track record on this budget issue. She voted against the original version of President Bush's AIDS program, which has saved at least 1-million lives, she voted against $50-million in famine relief for the people of Darfur, who are being targeted for genocide, and she was one of only nine — out of 535 — members of Congress to vote against the Aid to Orphans and Vulnerable Children Act in 2005.

We, as constituents of the 5th District, have a responsibility to make it clear this is unacceptable.

More than 100,000 Floridians have already joined ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History, including 2,838 and counting in the 5th District, but clearly this is not enough.

With upcoming votes on the Jubilee Act, which the congresswoman has stated her opposition to based on a debunked economic theory, and the Global Child Survival Act, it is crucial we note the cost of inaction. Every year, 10-million children younger than 5 die from easily treatable diseases (e.g., diarrhea and pneumonia) because they are too poor to be treated. This human toll is catastrophic, rivaled in history only by the great famines, genocides and the world wars.

Yet, if this tragedy is not convincing enough rationale, there is an economic cost of inaction for us as well. Each year, we spend $2-billion screening immigrants for tuberculosis, and nevertheless, more than half of the tuberculosis infections we spend billions of tax dollars treating are imported from abroad. The Menzies report, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005, showed it would be far more cost effective to send money abroad to treat the disease before it reaches our shores. Likewise, it would have been cheaper to treat AIDS in Africa before it spread to the United States and killed an estimated 550,394 Americans.

In general, by similar means, foreign conflicts, public health crises and poverty will inevitably find its way to our shores in this age of globalization. To paraphrase one development economist, "Don't think it's a myth that some poor, landlocked country in the middle of nowhere could become our greatest national security threat. That's Afghanistan. That's what happened on 9/11."

We have a choice: spend hundreds of billions on conflict resolution after-the-fact, and billions on ineffective disease screening against pathogens that know no national borders, or acknowledge the efficacy of many poverty-fighting interventions despite their bargain cost of about 1-percent of the budget and then fund them.

We should let Congress hear which we prefer, and we can start at

Steve White is an undergraduate in economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an intern for the ONE Campaign, a Hernando County native and a graduate of Central High School. E-mail: Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

Apathy will come back to haunt us 03/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 1:35pm]
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