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June 30, 2008 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2008-06-30

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Monday, June 30, 2008
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

15

The problem with public funding

Band-Aid aid

Just as my dissatisfaction
with the two presidential
candidates was at its peak,
I read a news
headline last
Thursday that
filled me with a
little hope. Sen.
Barack Obama
has decided to
opt out of the
public funding ROBERT
system for his SOAVE
general elec-
tion campaign,
becoming the first major candidate
in history to do so.
In the public funding system, the
American taxpayers finance presi-
dential campaigns. The program
was first implemented in 1973 when
an innocent-looking check box first
appeared on tax return forms, ask-
ing for just $1 to go to the Presiden-
tial Election Campaign Fund. A
candidate who accepts public fund-
ing must agree to certain spending
limitations and supposedly can-
not rely on massive sums of money
from lobbyists and other outside
sources.
Unfortunately, all those Ameri-
can tax dollars are basically guaran-
teed to go to the generic Democrat
and Republican in each presidential
election. As candidates of "major"
political partiestheyreceive afixed
amount of money - more than $84
million in 2008. Candidates from
"minor" parties can receive fund-
ing, but their eligibility is based
upon their party's percentage of the
vote in the previous election.
Even if these candidates earn the
required 5 percent of the vote, they
still don't receive the cash windfall
that major parties do. Minor candi-

dates receive proportional funding
based upon their vote-getting per-
centage. This makes it very difficult
for third parties to gain traction. In
order to receive enough funds to
compete with the two established
parties, they need to do well in an
election. But to do well in an elec-
tion, they need funds, creating a
relatively hopeless situation for
third parties.
Republicans and Democrats
were no doubt quite aware of
this political Catch-22 when they
passed the Federal Election Cam-
paign Act that started this unfair
money-raising scheme. FECA has
strengthened the major parties'
duopoly on presidential elections
for years. It shouldn't be a surprise
that the only thing the two major
parties can agree on is keeping the
little guys out of government.
So I was glad to hear that Obama
would forgo getting public money
- until I read his reasons. He
decried the current public funding
system as "broken" because he felt
John McCain and his special inter-
est supporters are subverting the
regulations and limits that accom-
pany public funding. He did clarify,
however, that he supports "a robust
system of public financing of elec-
tions."
This clarification should be a
major disappointment for anyone
who thinks that Obama is a champi-
on of the commonman. Public cam-
paign funding is a broken system,
but not because of Obama's weak
argument that McCain is abusing
it. The public funding system has
been "broken" since its inception 35
years ago, when the dominant par-
ties created it in order to perpetuate
the elitist two-party system.

This is why Obama's clarifica-
tion that he fully supports the idea
of public funding speaks volumes
about his true character. He sup-
ports the idea that the American
people should pay to keep Republi-
cans and Democrats in power. The
only reason he is refusing public
funding is he wants to raise more
money than McCain by not accept-
ing any spending limits.
How third
parties lose with
public money.
But McCain is no hero, either. He
hasn't criticized the notion of public
funding - he has greedily accepted
it, in hopes that the American tax-
payers will help him win the elec-
tion for the Republicans.
Obama, McCain and ambitious
politicians like them always pre-
tend to stand up for the common
man and support democracy. But
how can their words be genuine
when they participate in an elec-
tion system that persecutes candi-
dates who do not have an "R" or a
"D" after their name? This hypoc-
risy is inexcusable. Nothing will be
able to change so long as the two-
party systemmaintains its financial
stranglehold over the presidential
election process.
Robert Soave is a summer
associate editorial page editor. He
can be reached at rsoave@umich.edu.

caught an interesting seg-
ment on "60 Minutes" the
other day. It was about
an amazing
food prod-
uct called
Plumpynut,
which is sup-
posedlygoing
to revolu-
tionize the
treatment of TOM
malnutrition MICHNIACKI
in Africa. It
is a peanut-
based paste that's high in protein,
loaded with energy and requires
no special preparation before eat-
ing. It also has a two-year shelf
life when left unopened.
The paste is currently being dis-
tributed by the international aid
organizationDoctorsWithoutBor-
ders throughout Africa. Plumpy-
nut is most often used in the most
severe of malnutrition cases. Itcan
make all the difference for a child
on the brink of death.
"60 Minutes" raved about this
miracle food for the entire length
of the piece. I was happy that
Plumpynut was going to save so
many lives. But my excitement
soon faded when, near the end of
the very optimistic story, I heard
a surprising statistic: In Niger,
where the segment was filmed,
the average woman will give
birth at least eight times in her
lifetime.
That fact, dropped in so casu-
ally at the end of the piece, appar-
ently merited only a few seconds
of coverage, but it said so much
about how we deal with trag-
edy and devastation in Africa.
Plumpynut is an unbelievable
miracle for many individuals. But
isn't it really just a Band-Aid for
the malnutrition wound running
across Africa?
Overpopulation and extreme
poverty are at the heart of the
malnutrition pandemic. Yet, we
do very little to address these
larger problems. Food products
like Plumpynut are definitely
needed - but so are programs
aimed at distributing contracep-
tives and alleviating poverty.
We could save more lives if
we focused our attention on the
greater fundamental challenges
present in Africa. Every Ameri-
can television watcher is inun-
dated with commercials asking
for money to feed those suffering
from starvation. But what about
asking for donations that will
create educational programs and

stable economic infrastructures?
Without a doubt, Africa is
overlooked. We hardly notice
that millions of people are need-
lessly dying each year from dis-
ease, warfare and famine. And
when we do actually think about
helping Africans, we deliver only
superficial assistance. Plumpynut
is just one of many examples of
this.
Another instance of the United
States's superficial and insuffi-
cient response to tragedy in Afri-
ca is the President's Emergency
Plan for AIDS Relief that was cre-
ated by George W. Bush in 2003.
I applaud President Bush and
the United States for attempting
to address the AIDS crisis, but a
different approach to fighting the
disease must be taken.
Dishearteningly, only 20 per-
cent of PEPFAR's budget is spent
on preventing the spread of HIV.
This fact is atrocious. The battle
against AIDS won't be won in a
hospital room in Johannesburg.
It will be won in a sexual educa-
tion classroom in Nairobi and at a
safe needle exchange program in
Lagos.
Depending on a
miracle food is
Plumpynuts.
Those suffering in Africa don't
warrant any less respect just
because they don't live on land
containing millions of gallons of
oil. They deserve much more than
band-aids to treat larger wounds.
Past generations have failed Afri-
ca. Let's show the world that we
are the generation that will final-
ly stand up and make a real differ-
ence on the forgotten continent.
Tom Michniacki can be
reached at tmich@umich.edu.
LETTERS
u Readers are encouraged
O to submit letters to the
editor. Please include the
writer's name,
college and class
standing or other
University affiliation.
Send letters to:
tothedoily@umich.edu.

ELAINE MORTON KNE ALLS
E-MAILMORTON AT EMORT@UMICH.EDU

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Editorial BoardMembers:
Elise Baun, Anindya Bhadra, Harun Buljina, Robert Soave

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