Helping Japan Is an Easy Call in California

The massive earthquake and devastating tsunami in Japan hit home in California, and we  aren't just talking about the damage in the harbor in Santa Cruz

There are deep historical ties that run deep between Japan and California. Japanese began coming to the U.S. more than one hundred years ago, with most first settling in California.

Even today, two of the three Japan Towns in the U.S. are here in California -- one in Los Angeles and the other in San Jose.

The destruction in Japan has caught not only the attention of California, but the U.S. government as well. As has been the case with disasters elsewhere--Indonesia and Haiti are recent reminders--the U.S. government is delivering everything from food to technical assistance. All this will cost money in the form of what we commonly call foreign aid, and that presents its own firestorm.

Foreign aid long has been a controversial topic in American politics. A number of leading Republicans have recently said that we need to drastically limit foreign aid to help reduce our $1.4 trillion deficit. Unfortunately, foreign aid accounts for a drop of that amount.

A recent national survey found that on average, people believe we spend 25 percent of the national budget on foreign aid; that would be about $850 billion. When asked what we should spend on foreign aid, the median reply in the same survey was 10 percent, or $350 billion. In fact, the U.S. spends $35 billion on foreign aid, or about 1 percent of the budget. Not only that, but when compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. spends a smaller percentage of its budget on foreign aid than all of the others.

Why do we make foreign aid available to other nations when we have so many problems at home?

Here the answer is somewhat philosophical and practical. They range from feelings of humanitarianism to promoting political alliances.

All of which takes back to the tragedy in Japan. The Japanese need help desperately and the U.S. is helping along with other nations. In the wake of this disaster and our longstanding alliance with the Japanese, it will be interesting to see whether the calls for reduced foreign aid persist.     

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