Much to my wife’s dismay, I very much enjoy the 2000 comedy-adventure “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Directed by the Coen brothers, the film chronicles the adventures and misadventures of three escaped convicts masterfully played by George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson.
One of the most endearing characteristics of the film is that it is filled with wonderful old-timey American folk music. The opening scene is set to the 1928 song, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” sung by Harry McClintock. With lyrics like: “In the Big Rock Candy Mountains there’s a land that’s fair and bright; Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night ... I’m a goin to stay where you sleep all day; Where they hung the jerk that invented work in the Big Rock Candy Mountains,” the song is described as a hobo’s idea of paradise.
Of course, the modern interpretation would be that the song is a liberal’s idea of paradise. Never has the U.S. been so close to realizing this “paradise.” Americans’ level of dependency on the federal government is at the highest point in our nation’s history.
According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Dependence on Government, “Today, more people than ever before — 67.3 million Americans, from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries — depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches and other civil society institutions.”
In 1962, the level of dependence was 19; in 1980 (the base year), it was 100; in 2000, it was 179; in 2010 it was 294. John Merline of Investor’s Business Daily reports that the Index surged 23 percent under just two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. This was the largest two-year increase since the presidency of Jimmy Carter.
Also, as I noted in April, the CBO estimates that 1 in 7 Americans received food stamps last year, while also estimating this rate will rise until 2014. In case you weren’t aware, they are no longer called food stamps. In 2008, the Food Stamp Program became the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. As of the late 1990s, the paper stamps were replaced with an Electronic Benefit Transfer card that works like a debit card.
You also may not be aware that, along with the food benefits, EBT cards are also used to provide cash benefits. Cash benefits can be used to pay for almost any item, and can be used to make cash withdrawals from participating ATMs, which of course can be used to pay for anything.
As anyone with an IQ above that of Homer Simpson knows, this leads to rampant abuse. The Boston Herald has reported on several cases of EBT abuse in Massachusetts. Early this year a Massachusetts commission revealed that 85 percent of EBT cash benefit transactions during the month of January were ATM cash withdrawals.
The Herald’s reporting revealed that, “Unscrupulous merchants and welfare abusers have pilfered millions in tax dollars.” The Bay State abuse involves not only cash transactions, but also fraudulent SNAP sales.
This is happening across the country. A recent Minnesota investigation discovered widespread welfare abuse. According to 5 Eyewitness News, “cigarettes, alcohol, lottery tickets — even tattoos — can be bought with your money. We found welfare cash can be used for all sorts of things never intended, from the Twin Cities to the U.S. Virgin Islands. And it’s all legal.”
Eyewitness News also revealed how welfare cash was withdrawn at ATMs inside casinos and bingo halls and then gambled away, and how millions of dollars are being spent on child care that doesn’t exist. As I noted earlier this year, Michigan has million-dollar lottery winners so addicted to their welfare, that even after coming into fortunes, they still refuse to wean themselves from the government’s teats.
Then there’s the nation’s “Welfare Queen,” California. National Review reports that, “The main reason that California is so dependent on welfare is its uniquely lax enforcement of the provisions of the 1996 welfare reforms.”
California is one of only three states that, after adults have exhausted their welfare benefits, allow the minors in the family to continue to receive them. Thus, 75 percent of California’s welfare recipients are 18 years old and younger.
Instead of wanting to curb such dependence, the Obama administration gave us a wonderful visual demonstration of how it plan to create even more welfare queens in the U.S. when it unveiled the poster child of our entitlement society — Julia.
Given all of this, in the spirit of “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” I’ve come up with the theme song for the Obama administration’s re-election campaign: Barack’s Candy Mountains. With lyrics such as:
“In Barack’s Candy Mountains, there’s a land that’s fair and bright; Where the food stamps grow on bushes and you step out every night; Where the tea parties are all empty and the sun shines every day; On the birds and the bees and the marijuana trees; Where the lemonade springs where Common sings; In Barack’s Candy Mountains ...”
I think I’ve nailed it. Perhaps I could get Julia to sing it.
Trevor Thomas is a Gainesville resident and frequent columnist.