Dear Edward Roberts:

The other night I heard you interviewed on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" on the subject of technological breakthroughs for the handicapped. It turns out that you have been paralyzed from the neck down since you got polio at the age of 14 and now you want a device that would let you write with the aid of a computer. It costs $20,000.

What was amazing to me, Roberts, is that you mentioned this device almost in passing -- it and mechanized wheelchairs and that sort of thing. The program was not about the lack of money for these devices, but just about the devices themselves and how important they are to the handicapped. The writing device could enrich your life. Too bad you don't have the money for it.

I listened, Roberts, and I got mad. Not at you, mind you, but at us. I could not believe you were so mild-mannered. I would have been angry. I would have wondered about a nation that could spend $4 billion for MX missiles, $6.2 billion for B1 bombers and $4.7 billion for Trident submarines and missiles and could not, under any program, come up with $20,000 to enrich a single life. There's something wrong here, Roberts, something awfully wrong.

Of course, you're not alone. There's no money for a lot of worthwhile things. There's less money for food stamps and welfare and college aid and even drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. There's no money to save some poor farmer's farm and nothing to train unemployed steelworkers and not a cent for Legal Services, mass transit subsidies and the Job Corps. It seems that the wealth of the country is going into the military and debt payment. Since 1981, the administration has spent more than $1 trillion for the Pentagon.

Oh, Roberts, it's morning again in America. Don't you know it? Can you lift your head to see the sun? On the program, you mentioned what a difference the mechanized wheelchair had made to you: "All of a sudden, I could turn and see who had come in the door." Until that moment, I could not imagine such disability and how something as seemingly simple as a mechanized wheelchair could make such a difference. Turn around, Roberts, and see the sun.

You know, Roberts, if you talk this way, people will think you're some sort of bleeding heart. Compassion is out -- like calling women "Ms." It's as if compassion were trendy or something and now the nation -- knock on wood -- has found itself and retured to old, basic values. Denmark would give you your writing device. Maybe some other countries would, too. Not here. We're back to basics here. Want a missile? You can have missile. Want to make a life for yourself? Too bad.

There's something terribly wrong here, Roberts. Every time I pick up the paper, I'm told the economy's booming. Inflation is down and the gross national product is up and the dollar is as high as the proverbial kite. Corporations are reporting record profits, and everyone is having what used to be called a good year. The president says that everything is as good as it could be -- could not, in fact, be better -- and yet we have to tighten our belts. Austerity, austerity. There is much we cannot afford. Your writing device, unfortunately, is one of those things. Tough luck, Roberts.

And to tell you the truth, Roberts, I'm doing pretty well myself. My income goes up and my tax rate goes down, and I could really afford to pay more in taxes, only no one asks for it. I think I'm supposed to save my money so that others can invest it, or I'm supposed to spend it to keep the economy cooking. I'm not sure which, so I'm doing both. What a patriot I am -- I and all the people like me. Through taxes we could keep you in prosthetic devices for the rest of your life -- no sweat. But for some reason, we won't. Blame it on the deficit.

Roberts, this is some sort of cruel joke. The richest nation in the world cannot afford the most meager of social programs. We waste people and lives but gag at the thought of doing the same with a dollar. By lowering taxes and giving the Pentagon what it wants, we've created a false fiscal crisis. There could be money for you, Roberts, but the president's made sure there isn't.

It's a cold morning, this administration's given you, Roberts. You can't even write a letter of protest.