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The U.S. government has lost its moorings.

Just when politicians say they will have to raise our taxes to balance the budget, they are proposing to give Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev $20 billion to help keep him in power, $175 million to the National Endowment for the Arts, which has funded pornographic film festivals and $50 million to Nelson Mandela who is aligned with Cuba's Fidel Castro, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and the PLO's Yasser Arafat.There is no greater proof than this that politicians have no sense of the value of the tax dollar.

The same week that politicians were airing these proposals, the New York Times reported that communities all over America are imperiled by the lack of prisons to hold felons and hard-core criminals.

Consequently, reported the Times, "probation, rather than prison, is by far the most prevalent form of punishment. More than two-thirds of the nation's convicted criminals are now under the supervision of probation departments," which also are overwhelmed.

In the past, very few dangerous criminals were ever given probation, but today probationary sentences "are meted out even for brutal offenses like rape and child molestation."

The day before the House Education and Labor Committee voted to clear a $175 million funding bill for the NEA, a front page story revealed that for the past three years the NEA had been using our tax dollars to help fund the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. The organizer of the gay porn affair, Michael Lumpkin, declared that the NEA grant "gives us a certain legitimacy."

"The most important thing about the grant," he said, "is that a federal agency has recognized a gay/lesbian organization. That's helped us get money from other organizations in the government and the private sector."

An adjoining front page story reported that a known pedophile and possible necrophile had struck again, this time killing a 15-year-old youth after first torturing him with an electrical stun gun. The suspect had been paroled after serving 2 1/2 years for killing an 8-year-old. Among the suspect's possessions was a collection of child pornography.

Something's wrong when Congress can find money with which to legitimize sodomy and inspire the lust-murder of children but not to build prisons to protect the innocent.

Something's also wrong when the NEA officials responsible for funding pornography stridently defend such misuses of the taxpayers' money. Why is it heads roll when public officials tell ethnic jokes but not when they fund porn flicks with public money?

We have to ask, too, where the government's mind is when it wants to confer U.S. approval, along with $50 million, on the African National Congress, an organization whose members dispatch opponents by draping gasoline-drenched tires around their necks and igniting them. What is more preposterous than involving the U.S. taxpayer in funding internecine tribal warfare in South Africa?

Only the government could come up with a greater absurdity.

On June 19 the budget director presented a new deficit reduction plan with $20 billion in new tax revenues. The same day the federal government began considering U.S. participation in a $20 billion bailout of the Soviet economy. The reason we have a deficit despite record tax revenues is the government is forever discovering a new bailout opportunity.

A few weeks ago it was $132 billion for S&L depositors and $12 billion for Eastern Europe. Now it is $20 billion for Soviets. What kind of politics is this?

(Paul Craig Roberts is the William E. Simon professor of political economy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington and is a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.)