Poverty In America, Part 3

 

Even More On Why the Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity" Is Wrong 

As is explained in the article on "Sheep vs Goats," Jesus of Nazareth said that the modern son of man would say: "I was hungry, but you gave me no food. I was thirsty, but you gave me no drink. I was a stranger, but you did not take me in. I was naked, but you did not clothe me. I was sick, and in prison, but you did not visit me."

Further, Jesus said: "Then they shall ask him, saying, When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not care about you?" (Matthew 25:42-44) And Jesus said the modern son of man shall answer, saying: "As you do unto the least of our brethren, so you do unto me."

That's the truth, and right-wing conservative political claims about economic "realities" are mere deception and misleading rhetoric and propaganda. 

We, the people, can do something about it. However, we cannot fix the system unless and until everyone knows the full extent to which it is broken. We need to know the cause and the full full impact of poverty.

The articles on The American Economy and Ronald Reagan's Real Legacy reveal how and why over the last 30 years increasing numbers of Americans have become worse off financially, while most of the wealth has increasingly been distributed to and hoarded by a relative few, especially the greediest few -- unfairly and inequitably.

Most Americans are suffering in one way or another from the consequences of Reaganism. The disabled or dislocated or dispossessed or downtrodden poor and the working poor suffer especially, because the Reaganites claim everyone should be "self-reliant" and "not depend on government." They ignore or deny that government should "promote the general welfare," as the Founding Fathers stated.

That has enabled government to increasingly shirk its responsibilities, because the right-wing Republican attitude based on “self-reliance” was carefully designed to sound fair and reasonable, but it’s not. In fact, it is deceptively unfair and unreasonable.

For example, even though most Americans have bought the Reaganite Republican  ideology concerning retirement income, we should remember the facts. When Americans work all their lives it is fair to expect fair compensation for it, including a retirement income from their employers based on the number of years worked. And, beyond that, Americans pay insurance premiums in Social Security taxes all their working lives to provide themselves with a Social Security retirement income which may be their sole income if their employers or employer fails to fulfill their moral and ethical (if not legal) responsibility to provide retirement income.

But, the Reaganites got away with it because the commercial television news media has failed in its responsibility to provide good investigative journalism and keep politicians honest (a fact which is slowly being realized).

Why, even now we see a concerted effort by right-wing politicians and profiteering insurance companies to try to make American forget about Social Security retirement income, and instead invest whatever they can on commercial Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or some other profit-making insurance program. They are trying to create the perception that Americans should not count on Social Security, and they are in fact trying to destroy the people's non-profit public retirement insurance program that Roosevelt's New Deal created. 

They are getting away with it too, because most American citizens have failed to educate themselves, and are easlily misled and deceived by corporate propaganda. And without an educated citizenry, true democracy dies, as Thomas Jefferson knew when he started the first public schools.

Another problem is that money drives the campaign and election process. Most Americans do not know that the wealthiest one percent of the population have provided 80 percent of all financial contributions to the campaigns of politicians in both parties, and that was even before a January 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision ("Citizens United") enabled corporations to invest unlimited amounts of money in political attack ads on television to denigrate and defeat Democrats. That’s why the wealthy have been able to fool so many people and wield such complete control over the country.

Of course, money has always ruled, and laws have always enabled the wealthy to use their wealth to gain more wealth. That tradition carried over from Europe, and it flourished in America even though it was, in many cases, unfair. (See Ignored American History.)

Under Reaganism the richest few just kept getting incredibly richer. And the right-wing propaganda that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher touted in the 1980s really swung the door wide open to self-indulgence and greed, and made it politically and socially acceptable for politicians to cater to the wealthiest few, and gain their favor. And some Democrats have been and are as guilty of that as Republicans are.

Politicians realize they have an image problem, though, and so do the rich, especially since the "Occupy Wall Street" movement pointed out what's wrong. So they've really been trying to improve their image.

There is even a trend of Billionaires making private donations to public institutions so they can appear to be improving public services. However, many if not most of these Billionaires do not support efforts to raise public resources for those same institutions. After all, use of public resources requires sufficient revenue.

An example of that is hedge fund managers who make donations to charter schools while at the same time they lobby against higher tax revenue for education. Other examples are Billionaires like the Koch Brothers who make donations to public institutions while financing the anti-tax movement that has caused tax cuts that caused a decrease in the public funding of public institutions. And Microsoft boasts about making donations to schools while opposing tax increases to fund those schools as they should be funded. 

In other words, the super-rich will do anything to avoid paying their fair share of taxes so that government can have sufficient revenue to use the common wealth for the common good.

This is part of a pattern in another right-wing movement designed to “privatize” public institutions so that they are become profit-making private institutions. This movement has been gathering momentum for decades, and it is driven by Billionaires who have a very specific agenda.

It is a Libertarian agenda that is detrimental to Democracy, and that is a real problem. It has produced a conflict between Democracy and a sham “Philanthropy,” because private donations are “given” with conditions about how the money must be allocated. In the case of public schools, such conditions can be about curriculum, text books, testing standards, and even school structure. However, whatever the conditions are, they undermine the democratic process and dictate the public policy of public institutions.

Another problem is that a certain amount "given" by the rich in charitable donations is gotten back in savings on the "write off" itemized deductions from their tax liability, and they receive tax refunds that are increased due to those itemized deductions. So, while the money donated certainly does a lot of good, it means that the wealthy "donors" actually don't "give" the full amount that they donate. They get some of it back.

The charitable donations made by private foundations should also be reconsidered, because there are over 100,000 private foundations with total assets of about a Trillion dollars registered with the IRS, and those foundations donate only about $50 Billion a year. Their wealth does not decrease. It grows, so foundations are a actually a profit making enterprise. They do a lot of good, granted, but just think of what a Trillion dollars could do to help the nation's infrastructure, schools, parks, public works, public services, etc. And also think about how these foundations decide where the money should go, and for what purpose, whereas if the government had that revenue it could use it to promote the general welfare and use the common wealth for the common good.

Things like that reveal that Reaganism has provided "government welfare for the rich," which enables many of them to pay an average of about seven percent of their income in taxes and provides them with subsidies, tax deductions, loopholes and shelters, and tax deductions for charitable contributions and donations. Thus the revenue of the national treasury is far less than it should be and could be, and our collective ability to afford what our nation needs is drastically diminished.

There is an immense amount of money that rightfully should be going into the people's national treasury where it could go where it’s most needed, for education and human services, for investment in people and the infrastructure — money that is instead used at the whim of the wealthy. And while some of it goes to good use, some does not.

That is not how it should work, because we should ensure that the common wealth is used for the common good. That is, we should ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes so our government can do what good government should do -- ensure domestic tranquility; establish justice; keep the peace; promote the general welfare; provide for public safety, health, education and child care; provide for the common defense; build and maintain our infrastructure; and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

As it is, the U.S. Government really does only one of those things adequately, which is to have mighty police and military forces to protect and gain more wealth for the wealthiest few. But, in far too many cases, justice does not prevail, domestic tranquility is not ensured, our infrastructure is not maintained properly, the general welfare is not promoted, many cannot afford health care or higher education or child care, and the blessings of liberty are not enjoyed by all.

In 1948 The United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 25 states: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

Ironically, the U.S. is one of the biggest failures in the world in that regard.

In the last 32 years the wealth of the nation has actually "trickled" UP to the wealthiest few, even though they were already excessively wealthy. Reaganite Republicans enabled or allowed the income of corporate Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to rise steadily, and absurdly.

To show you the rate of increase, back in 1980 the average CEO of a major American corporation was paid 42 times more than an average American worker. By 1990, American CEOs were paid 85 times more than workers. By 1999 (after Congress was controlled by Republicans for just five years), CEOs were paid 476 times more than the average worker. Now, many of them are paid even more, and it now amounts to over 500 times more than the average worker and about a thousand times more than their lowest paid employees, and sometimes much more. And it's only getting worse. In 2005 CEO pay rose 22 percent more, while the average worker's pay rose only3 percent, and that trend has continued.

This is in stark contrast to the situation in other countries. For example, German CEOs make only 13 times what the average manufacturing employee makes. In Japan, CEOs make only 11 times more. Even in England, where class distinctions are sharp, CEOs are paid just 35 times more. It might make sense that the highest paid executives be paid ten times more, but there is no reason whatsoever for American CEOs raking in 500 times more than the average worker and a thousand times more than their lowest paid employees. That is absurdly unfair and unconscionable. There is absolutely no excuse for it.

Speaking of comparing the U.S. to other places, Americans should know that in Western Europe workers don't even have to collectively bargain for a lot of worker benefits. Whether they belong in a union or not, most Western European workers get from four to six weeks of paid vacation per year, free prenatal care, long maternity leaves, longer parental leave, free child care, free health care, and much longer sick leave than in America. Furthermore, such benefits are guaranteed by the government. They are not something that had to be fought for by labor unions. Of course, they pay taxes accordingly, but fairly and willingly. The wealthy willingly pay about 50 percent of their income in taxes, because they understand that their society is far better off because of it, and the people get what they pay for.

That is in stark contrast to the wealthiest few in America, many of whom wind up paying only about seven percent of their annual income in taxes, due to all the tax cuts, tax breaks, shelters, loopholes and subsidies they’ve been given.

It is unfair and absurd to put the country deep in debt while reducing taxes for the wealthy, who keep getting wealthier and wealthier and can certainly afford to pay their fair share in taxes. If one’s income grows over 500 thousand dollars in a year, the percentage of that income owed in taxes should grow proportionately higher. Graduated taxes should be base on ability to pay. But, in America many of the very wealthiest few have been enabled to pay less of a percentage of their income than low income taxpayers do.

Furthermore, inequitable and unfair laws have enabled American businesses and corporations to indulge in price gouging and cut workers benefits, health insurance, and even pensions. America is going way backwards, while more rational countries in the world are going forward because they realize that the better workers are treated, the better off everyone is.

Unfortunately, Reganites and Bushites want government to spend most on military and police. Thus, under Bush the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned us about added 4 Trillion dollars to the national debt because of their self-serving spending. Americans now pay four times more on military activities than we did before Bush gained power, and that is largely because of Bush’s privatization of warfare for the benefit of corporate military contractors.

The health care of Americans depends on profit-making insurance companies who’ve been enabled to decide what health care we receive, and whether we receive it or not. The price of prescription drugs depends on profit-making pharmaceutical companies that overcharge us to such an extent that many people cannot afford medicine that could save their lives. Americans pay more for health care than any other country. American trade policies are determined by multinational mega-corporations that have shipped many of our jobs to other countries where they can exploit cheap labor. We pay three times more for gasoline and home heating oil. And millions of Americans have lost their jobs, their homes, their health care, and their pensions.

Tax revenue has been sharply reduced for the federal and state governments, which ultimately resulted in drastic cuts in funding for human services for people most in need, and it didn't stop there. Also sacrificed were vital public services having to do with health care, public safety, public schools, public infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) and many other badly needed things. Then, the resulting socio-economic decline was used to justify further tax cuts for the wealthy, on the misleading and deceptively false theory (previously called "Reaganomics") that their increased wealth would "trickle down" throughout the whole economy and benefit everyone.

But, in spite of the obvious and painful reality, Republicans are proud of the America they have created. They like to wave the flag and say "The USA is Number One," and "America is the richest country in the world." 

Unfortunately, that is not true, because while they've grown incredibly rich, everyone else is worse off.

 

Better Examples

America has been number one militarily, and is certainly great in many respects. However, it has become a bad example to the world in that it ranks low internationally in many areas, such as education, health care, child care, workers rights, workers benefits, etc., and it has higher rates of crime, child poverty, general poverty, hard drug abuse, hunger and homelessness than most industrialized countries.

Switzerland is more advanced in certain respects, mainly because the executive branch of government is by a council rather than by a chief executive (which eliminates fighting for the throne as well as the abuse of its power).

Another notable good example is Denmark, where organized religion is not a big thing, and yet, in Denmark the vast majority of the people enjoy a very high standard of living and far more freedom in their pursuit of happiness, and the child poverty rate is the lowest in the world.

In Denmark there is universal publicly funded health care, child care, education (including higher education), unemployment insurance and social security insurance to ensure that no one suffers from poverty. In fact, Danes who are unable to work or unable to care for themselves have a basic income guarantee of about three thousand dollars per month. And by the way, health care in Denmark is universal, free of charge, high quality and popular, and the health care system is so cost-effective that only about 11 percent of the GDP in Denmark is spent on health care (whereas the U.S. spends much more on a profit making system).

Granted, the citizens of Denmark pay high tax rates, but Danes use the common wealth for the common good, and in return for paying ample taxes they enjoy a quality of life that most Americans would find hard to believe. And, while nearly half of the Billionaires in the world live in the U.S.A., there are no Billionaires in Denmark, because the Danes are more sensible and fair, and ensure that they share the wealth and use the common wealth for the common good. And it is no coincidence that the income gap between the richest and the poorest is so incredibly huge in America, while it is significantly smaller in Denmark. That is a very good indicator of the political agendas and impact of leadership in both countries.

Canada is also a better example to the world than the U.S. is now, because Canada combines British, French, American and many other influences, and its people have been more successful at respecting all. Canada has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and while its poverty rate spiked in the late 1980s due to the influence of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, it peaked and started to drop sharply in 1996 and has continued to drop, while the child poverty rate in the U.S. has continued to rise and is the highest of any industrialized country.

That's because most of the leadership in America serves the interests of the wealthiest few, and during the last 32 years much of the leadership has claimed to be in the "religious majority" when they are actually the hypocritical minority but have been political influential because they lust for power, are very aggressive, and claim to serve God and Country. They have been disingenuous if not dishonest and deceptive in order to have garnered enough support to win power in local school boards, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the White House.

Those people do not represent the majority of Americans, though, because most Americans are generally very caring and generous, and we want to use the common wealth for the common good. Just look at how generous Americans are in their giving to charitable food drives, toy drives, and relief efforts to victims of natural disasters.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has rarely represented the people in that respect. It has in rare cases when it has become absolutely necessary and politically expedient, but it has usually represented the wealthy few. Consequently the wealth has not been shared and the majority of Americans are certainly not rich.

While the highest incomes of the rich few keep increasing, the median (average) household income keeps falling. In fact, the incomes of the richest 20 percent of the population grew by 30 percent during the last two decades while the incomes of the lowest paid 20 percent of us declined by more than 20 percent in the same time period, and the buying power of the minimum wage declined significantly.

Americans have been led to believe that the American Dream is about making it to the "top of the financial ladder" or grabbing the "brass ring" of fame and fortune. Too many people have become tempted and corrupted and think they can make it to the top even if it's by hook or by crook, because they think the end justifies the means.

But, that's just not true and it's not right. The American Dream has been twisted, distorted, and perverted. It's not about the individual rising above everyone else. The real American Dream is actually about equality and prosperity and happiness for all -- not just a privileged few who think they are entitled to rule.

We should hold this truth to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, and we are equally deserving to be successful in our pursuit of happiness. We should all be able to be fairly rewarded for our labor and enjoy a reasonable and fair level of prosperity. We all deserve that.

But, we have been going backwards, away from that, because right-wing conservative Reaganites and Bushites have blamed the victims of poverty. But, they are not merely wrong. They are ignorant of all the facts that would fly in their face if they didn’t just look the other way.

They ignore that it’s not like it was in the past, when it was not terribly difficult for an unskilled high school graduate with little or no means to get ahead. It used to be that they could get a minimum wage job that would pay enough so that they could afford some skills training or even higher education, if they worked very hard and were willing to do their home work, etc. But now it is terribly difficult, especially for those who are not highly intelligent or highly talented, and it’s been getting harder and harder, especially as the minimum wage has had increasingly less and less buying power. In fact, it stopped being a living wage some time ago.

The Reaganites claim that the working poor simply need to work harder or get a better education to get better jobs to improve their financial situation. However, the fact is that someone has to do the jobs they are now doing! Someone will always be doing those jobs, and they should not be paid less than a living wage, as so many of the working poor are now.

Another fact is that there are Phi Beta Kappa graduates from Princeton who’ve done everything possible to get good jobs and careers but instead find themselves working as cashiers at minimum wage.

Obviously, those facts totally refute the claims of the Reaganites, Neo-Conservatives, and Libertarians.

 

The Best Antidote to Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness

The real truth is that the best antidotes to poverty and hunger are jobs that provide adequate wages to support a family. And everyone who works full time for a living should be paid a living wage.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is one of the worst offenders in terms of workers rights, because workers who do not have a union to defend and protect them are at the mercy of their employers. The "legal" minimum wage is not a living wage (and some other starting incomes aren’t either).

Even worse, there are many employers who are getting away with paying full time employees less than minimum wage, especially on certain farms and ranches.

It must also be said that family farms do not receive a fair and adequate price for their produce, and as it is, giant agri-businesses are making it impossible for family farms to compete and putting them out of business, not only in the U.S. but in Mexico because of NAFTA.

Contrary to what the right-wing politicians claim, the problem is not laziness. As recent academic research studies show, child poverty's ill effects in a host of areas cannot be explained away as mere side effects of single parenthood or teen parenthood, or race, or parents' low IQs, or lack of education. The research disproves those who blame poor children's problems on deep-seated traits inherent in poor families. The truth is that the problems caused by poverty are not the by-product of poor motivation, poor values, limited parenting ability, or other deep-seated character traits that some misguided American conservatives attribute to poor families.

When you know the truth, you can see that the problem is actually that the incomes of the working poor are simply insufficient and too low. No one who works full time for a living should be poor. Any man or woman who works full time should be paid enough to support their family. And to say otherwise is dishonest.

Poverty can, for the most part, be ended by providing a real living wage to those who work for a living, and by ensuring that the common wealth is used for the common good. And, until we finally accomplish that, poverty can in the meantime be alleviated by supplementing the income of those who have insufficient income and cannot afford the basic necessities of life. For it is our moral obligation and duty to care for the poor and the least of our brethren, especially when they are trying as hard as they can but are foiled by a horribly unfair political-economic system that rewards the rich and punishes or fails to protect the working poor.

We should require the wealthy to pay their fair share of income taxes. And we should restore the estate tax, because the Republicans repealed it. Bush and the Republicans deceptively called it the "Death Tax" and falsely claimed it must be repealed to "save family businesses and small farms" and to "save you from paying half of your net worth in taxes when you die, so that your beneficiaries can receive all that you bequeath to them." But those claims are misleading, dishonest and false. It is a deceptive ruse designed to benefit the wealthiest few, and it’s costly to us as it reduces revenues even further for both the federal and state governments.

The fact is that only a small fraction of the estate tax has ever been paid on small family businesses and farms, and most estates could be bequeathed to a surviving spouse free of estate tax. Only about two percent of all Americans have estates that were subject to estate tax when they die, and 98 percent of Americans who die face no estate tax whatsoever! So we must restore the estate tax because it is actually fair and just. It ensures that at least some of the wealth generated by the people of this country is rightfully returned to the people.

Along with regulating their tax liabilities fairly, we can ensure that the most wealthy people do not collect Social Security and Medicare benefits. Such benefits should be provided only to those who actually need them. It should be based on an assets and means test, such as the U.S. Veteran's Administration requires of veterans who apply for health care benefits. Only those who really need Social Security and Medicare benefits should receive them, and that, along with the wealthy paying their fair share of all taxes, would make the whole system solvent and strong.

We can ensure that we have a new non-profit universal health care system, in which all citizens receive health care and prescription drugs without paying out-of-pocket costs. After all, as it is now, Americans pay more overall, and especially out of pocket costs, than any other people on earth for health care, and yet the U.S. ranks only 39th in the over all quality of health care!

The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that lacks universal public health care. This has left millions of Americans seriously at risk because they have no health insurance. And, even though Americans over age 65 have Medicare, it is still lacking in certain significant ways, and seniors find they need supplemental insurance to get adequate coverage for adequate health care and medications.

Besides that, health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs keep rising, doubling sometimes in just a year. The system is so unnecessarily expensive it leaves many people uninsured or under-insured. Due to cost-cutting it has become increasingly understaffed and plagued with accidents made by overworked hospital staff. It has many serious faults and shortcomings, all of which would be remedied by a far less expensive, universal, public non-profit health care system.

The facts of the matter are clear indicators of how corrupt the insurance company culture has become, right along with the cultures of many other industries and government agencies. Those who benefit from the system just don’t get it, because they’ve become deeply infected and corrupted with a sense of self-importance and entitlement.

Granted, the health insurance industry is not completely to blame for skyrocketing costs. The medical health care industry is almost as culpable, charging as much as they can get away with for tests, procedures, hospitalization, etc. But it’s a self-defeating system, inevitably and continually raising health care costs, and the top executives of both the insurance and health care industries are profiting immensely while the rest of us are paying way too much and some of us are facing catastrophic financial disaster.

In spite of the facts, right-wing "conservative" Republicans still want the status quo which is very rewarding to the wealthy few, exorbitantly costly to the majority, and often disastrous and sometimes even lethal for the working poor and others who are victimized by the system. And, even worse, they want to do away with Roosevelt’s New Deal programs like Medicare and Social Security.

When President Obama tried to reform the health care system, he was attacked by those who used deceptive push-button words like "government takeover" and "socialism" to scare Americans. So, he backed down, perpetuating the exploitative, for-profit health care and insurance system. Nothing was done to control costs or stop arbitrary increases in our premiums and copays. Over 14 million Americans are still without health care insurance, and tens of millions of us with health insurance are still struggling to pay for medical costs.

Democrats have backed down in the face of aggressive obstructionists who still claim tax cuts and low taxes for the wealthy are a good thing, despite the fact that America suffers from the consequence of that. 

So. We, the people, must stand up and speak out to stop the absurdity, unfairness, inequity, and corruption.

As you treat the poor and the least of our brethren, so you treat the son of man, and your very Self, for we are One.