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Every society cares for its vulnerable. To do this humanely is a mark of a civilized people. Those who can't or won't care for their weaker members have fallen into barbarism.

All societies require some form of government. A nation that can't protect its citizens and insure domestic tranquility is a failed state.

How a nation performs these functions varies from culture to culture, but the basics are the same. Women and children require protection. The young must be educated, the sick cared for and the elderly given a degree of dignity.

I think we can all agree so far. The rest is politics.
Because it is politics we argue about ideology and lose sight of where we want to go. We blow off a lot of steam based on little true understanding of the particulars involved. In fact, most of us don't have the foggiest idea what would happen if we were calling the shots and got whatever it is we want.

Readers are going to resent this statement, but think about it. Do we really understand what will happen if we cut spending on environmental safety, entitlements programs, banking regulations, etc? I'm not suggesting that we can't understand. Of course, we can if we spend the time, but most of us don't have the time, or to be truthful, the interest. It's so much easier to get on some political bandwagon.

A couple of years ago I became a court appointed advocate for children, a volunteer position. The longer I work with broken families and displaced children, the more I realize my own limitations. I don't have the answers. I can only do my best, but I do have some understanding of the cost.

When children are neglected or abused, someone must step in. Abuse and neglect comes in all shapes and forms and at all levels of society, but wealthy and middle class families usually have the resources to address the problem. The poor do not, and the state has to take over.

The children are picked up and become the responsibility of the Department of Family and Children Services. This is expensive. The parents, if they can be found, are entitled to a court-appointed lawyer. The state pays for it. The children may need medical and dental care. The state pays for it.

Everyone involved probably needs counseling of one sort or another. The state pays for it, all with taxpayer dollars.

In a time of economic recession, the number of troubled families increases. The state's resources don't. Think about this next time you call for cutting social services, because the cost of not caring for these children will only grow with time.

These kids are often desperate for affection and a sense of belonging. The 10-year-old girl will get pregnant at 15. The 10-year-old boy will join a gang. A new generation of neglect and abuse begins.

Intervention is far cheaper than allowing a hands-off policy to play itself out. Prisons are expensive. Police departments must be funded and monitored, because they too are vulnerable. When law enforcement is overstressed and underpaid, things fall through the cracks.

The wealthy can hire private security. The middle class depends on community resources. The poor have little to work with. I'm told that to talk about this is to incite class warfare. Please tell me why.

One can talk about racism, sexism, ethnicity and various other discriminatory problems, but not the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor. To point out that wealth is steadily moving into the coffers of giant corporations and a few well-positioned individuals is considered anti-American. Why?

I'm told that billionaires and multinational corporations are the source of jobs. If so, show me the figures. I see the rich are getting richer and corporations are getting stronger while good jobs, the kind that can support a family, are getting scarcer.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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