Poverty: America's Greatest Shame
(Formerly titled Poverty: America's Hidden Shame)
(This article last revised 12-2-2013)
The idea that "God helps those who help themselves" is deeply ingrained in the American culture, and that's because there is a strong element of truth in it. Granted.
However, wealthy right-wing partisans in America, many if not most of whom claim to be Christians, have always tended to distort that idea to suit their purposes.
That has particularly been the case since 1982, and since then they have persistently claimed it means that you are on your own, that you must be totally self-reliant and not "depend" on government, that the wealthy are entitled and blessed and the poor simply deserve their lot.
That is essentially what the sham right wing "Gospel of Prosperity" claims, even though it actually turned Christianity up-side-down. And what's worse, they act as if government's role is not to promote the general welfare to ensure domestic tranquility, even though the Founding Fathers said it is!
That is why especially during the last 30 years we have increasingly seen politicians ignoring the plight of the working poor, the poor, the disabled and the elderly, preferring to declare people should be self-reliant while at the same time providing the wealthiest few with great entitlement and privilege, pretending that is the patriotic and Christian thing to do.
In that respect the American society has been pushed very far backward and far away from what America's Founders intended. It's even gotten to the point where scientific studies of social class based on annual incomes as well as by education-levels have found that wealthy people ranked their social class according to beliefs such as: 1) that genetics is more important than environment in explaining social class; 2) that social class ranking was meritorious and determined by a just and fair society and world; 3) that therefore a deserving "wealthy aristocracy" would and should naturally govern; and 4) that poor lower-classes tend to claim society is not fair only to blame someone else for their problems.
Ironically, there are some elements of truth to those beliefs, which is why some wealthy people cling to them. However, by and large those beliefs are the heartless epitome of rationalization, and of course wealthy people would want to indulge in it to justify and validate themselves.
Moreover, because many of them have also been led to believe that they are "good Christians," that wealth is a reward from God, and that the poor deserve to be poor because they're "lazy" -- they've got a very convenient comfort zone that they think is righteous and impregnable.
The truth, however, is that while some people are certainly deserving of their wealth, the most democratic Founder, Thomas Jefferson, wanted all the people to have equal opportunity to prosper, succeed and live up to their full potential. He wanted all the people to be educated in a quality public school system and be able to go on to a quality public higher education system that would provide equal opportunity to ALL the people, regardless of their family's financial status. That is the Real American Dream.
The truth is that the nation and world are corrupted by money precisely because we've been under the rule of money --- which can indeed be the root of all evil --- when we should be governed by the common sense of using the common wealth for the common good.
That's why it is so important to understand how and why so many Americans have been duped and fooled, and how and why the "Religious Right" in America was able to turn Christianity upside down by taking isolated sentences from the Bible to "prove" their right-wing political ideology was Christian.
For example, Luke 19:26 states that Jesus of Nazareth said: "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from those that have not, even what they have will be taken away."
The Reaganite "Religious Right" focuses on that (and a similar sentence in Matthew) because they think that justifies their claim that their wealth is a reward from God, and that the poor deserve their lot because they are just lazy and not self-reliant, as Ronald Reagan claimed so often.
However, Reagan and following Reaganites simply ignore everything else Jesus said about the rich and poor, which qualified his teachings. For example, Jesus also said that it is wrong to reap what you did not sow, or profit unjustly because you were tempted by greed and lust for money. Moreover, he said that you should do unto others as you would have others do unto you, and treat all others as you would want to be treated if you were them -- and be fair, just, kind, charitable, and generous.
Ignoring such qualifying teachings, Reaganites misinterpret and misunderstand (or ignore) the context and meaning of Luke 19:26, because in the greater context of Luke 19:26 Jesus was talking partly about the fact that we generally reap what we sow, and he was specifically talking about the rewards of earning an honest and fair profit from an honest investment.
The amazing thing is that Jesus knew many people would claim to love him but would not understand his core, universal teachings. That's why he quoted Isaiah, saying: "For Isaiah said, 'You hear but do not understand; and see but do not perceive.' For these people's heart have grown gross, and their ears are dull, and their eyes do not see." And he said that they should "understand with their heart," rather than with their egocentric self-interest.
Both Isaiah and Jesus actually and literally advocated for those who were financially poor and he criticized the rich. Jesus even rebuked the money lenders and merchants who were profiting unjustly and had turned the temple into a "den of thieves." He hated greedy profiteers, and he even said it would be "easier for a rich man to try to fit through the eye of a needle than to enter heaven."
Moreover, in another sense, what Jesus said about the “haves and have nots” was also a kind of prophecy similar to Isaiah’s, about how the rich would be treating the poor now as we near the end of the age, as the ultimate prophecies are being fulfilled, and how we should treat the poor and the least of our brethren in the future.
Jesus said that during the age he ushered in, and especially now at its end, a corrupt, wealthy, powerful few would corrupt society (as Reaganism and Thatcherism have amply demonstrated). They would not serve God, but Mammon, worshiping wealth and material possession. And they would take more and more so that the majority and the poor would have less and less.
That's why all Americans should learn the truth, not only about what Jesus taught, but about what the Founding Fathers of America thought, especially about the fact that government should "promote the general welfare."
That's important because it's gotten to the point where about half of the people in American have the wrong idea and attitude about the cause and the nature of poverty, and, because of what they've been led to believe by right-wing Reaganite religious and political leaders, they tend to generalize and blame the victims of poverty.
That attitude is, of course, partly the result of a human ego's tendency to judge others as inferior. However, it is mostly the result of carefully crafted political propaganda cloaked as religious truths. And it was not created by accident, or by coincidence. It was created and spread deliberately.
That was because the most influential American political figure of the last half of the 20th Century, Ronald Reagan, led many Americans to believe in the superiority of the rich and the inferiority of the poor (and for historic, factual evidence of that, read Ronald Reagan's Real Legacy and Record). Reagan did that because it's what many wealthy people want to believe to justify themselves. And, it's what they want everyone else to believe.
But, it's not true. In fact, many people throughout history who were poor financially were rich in spirit and were very superior and highly talented and skilled in various endeavors. And while many of them died financially poor, many of them received financial reward but not because they sought it as their goal, but because it was a natural result of their beneficial good works.
Furthermore, the self-centered Reaganite idea and attitude is not only the opposite of the intent of Jesus of Nazareth, but in violation of the intent of the Founders of the United States of America who intended for government to "promote the general welfare."
Of course, there are some people that are lazy and not self-reliant. However, the number of them is small and they are a relative few, and most poor people are certainly not lazy. In fact, usually in about 79 percent of poverty stricken households there is at least one adult working full time. It's just that their wages and incomes are unfair and not sufficient.
The latest UNICEF report on child poverty showed that 23.1 percent of American children live in poverty, giving the United States the second highest rate of child poverty out of 35 developed countries. Only Romania ranked higher in child poverty. And, in 2010, 20.5 million Americans were living on less than half of the federal poverty level (which is based on an outdated and inaccurate formula to calculate data).
Many poor people who suffer in poverty are unable to work because they are elderly or disabled, or unemployed through no fault of their own and can't find a job, and most poor people are in the working poor population who work full time for a living but are not paid a fair living wage.
The main reason? Reaganism and Reaganomics. The records showing American incomes and wealth inequality show a major shift in the trend lines and a widening of the gap between the richest one percent of the population and the rest of us since Ronald Reagan became president in 1982.
The income gap and the share of income going to the wealthiest few began to steadily grow during the Reagan years. It continued during the 1990s when Reaganite Republicans controlled Congress (and President Clinton often went along with them out of political expediency), and it became very high in 2007 just before the Reaganite/Bushite greed and folly caused the economic crises and crash of 2008 and caused the Great Recession the economic crises from which we still suffer.
Amazingly, despite all the facts of the matter, in 2012, Republicans had the gall to claim there a lazy "dependency class" that has been made dependent on government assistance and food stamps. But they conveniently ignore that most of the people they slander and belittle are people like Walmart employees who work full time but are paid so little that they qualify for and use food stamps. While the owners of Walmart are among the wealthiest ten Multi-Billionaires in America, many Walmart employees need food stamps because they are not paid a living wage and cannot afford even the average necessities of life.
Moreover, speaking of "Food Stamps" (officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), even though they are a favorite target for the Reaganite Republicans who want to destroy the program, the fact that it is highly beneficial, not only to the poor, but to the economy!
In September 2013 a Census Bureau report showed that the food stamp program helped keep four million Americans out of poverty in 2012, and related research studies revealed that there are many other widespread benefits to the food stamp program. And yet, in spite of its clear benefits, just two days after that report came out the US House of Representatives approved a $39 Billion cut to the program over the next decade – and according to the Congressional Budget Office, that would result in 3.8 million people being removed from food stamps in 2014.
Such cuts in human services are reminiscent of the Reagan cutbacks to the Food Stamp program and other human services programs in the early 1980s. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported in 1984, two years into Reagan's presidency: "Low-income programs were reduced [by Reagan] more than twice as deeply (in proportionate terms) as social programs not concentrated on the poor. Overall, the low-income programs bore nearly one-third of all cuts made anywhere in the federal government even though they constitute less than one-tenth of the budget. No other part of the federal budget was cut so deeply."
Reagan also put an end to the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which threw 400,000 people into unemployment lines. He cut Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), cutting another 500,000 people off from desperately needed assistance. And Reagan also reduced investment in Housing and Urban Development, which drastically reduced affordable housing and triggered growing increases in poverty, hunger and homelessness that have continued to the present day.
That may shock you. But Reaganite Republicans have been following Ronald Reagan’s lead in such matters ever since his first successful campaign for the presidency when he maliciously deceived Americans by telling a totally fictitious story of a "welfare queen" that was “committing fraud.” But even though it has since been proven to be a fabricated story and deceptive propaganda, it was what right-wing Republicans wanted to hear. It became a huge factor in Reagan’s being elected, and it has been a huge factor in the Republican war against the poor ever since.
That’s why Republicans are against Social Security and Medicare, and against Food Stamps. But the fact is that Reagan was a false accuser and deceiver, but was successful because he was very charming and said "God bless America" after every speech.
The truth, though, is that human services programs have been an overwhelming success despite the fact the a distinct minority of recipients try to defraud the government, because the great majority actually benefit from the helping hand and have been able to escape poverty and become productive citizens because of it.
The fact is that eighty-three percent of food stamps go to households with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. In 2012, the average recipient got $133.41 in food stamps per month, which amounts o $1.48 per meal. Every $5 of food stamps spent generates up to $9 in economic activity. Food stamp spending generates local economic activity, jobs in the farm and retail sectors and beyond. Each $1 billion spent on retail food by SNAP recipients generates $3,300 farm jobs.
The 2009 Recovery Act that increased the Food Stamp funding along with other economic stimuli. That 13.6 percent temporary boost in food stamp dollars helped more than half a million Americans escape food insecurity, and millions more to climb out of poverty—4.7 million in 2011 alone, according the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
Food Stamps benefit children who are especially vulnerable to the lifelong ripple effects of poverty—exposed to hunger, under-nourishment, malnourishment, chronic illnesses and disease. But studies show that when poor families get food stamps, children's nutrition and health improve. That is critical during infancy and early childhood, when brain development and metabolic health get their start. And sufficient nutrition in childhood creates marked health improvements both in childhood, youth, and later years.
In spite of the facts, Reaganite Republicans persist in their misleading, deceptive rhetoric against "spending" on human services, refusing to see it is an investment.
Of course, Reaganism is merely a revival of a mentality that has been prevelant during the passing age due to a distorted Christian doctrine, and it's gotten so bad that now 20 percent of the American population owns 95 percent of the nation's wealth while 80 percent of us are expected to get by on the remaining five percent. And it's getting worse in that regard.
The truth is that Jesus advocated for the poor and criticized the greedy rich. And the truth must be told because the un-Christian attitude and the misleading propaganda (which was sold by the Reaganite "Religious Right" as being "religious and patriotic") has ultimately caused a cruel, heartless attitude toward the poor, the homeless and the hungry. It has even caused some major cities in America to ban people from feeding the homeless.
They need to remember what the Apostle James wrote: "If a brother or sister is naked and hungry, and one of you who are warmed and filled says to them, ‘Depart’ and do not give them those things which the body needs; what does it profit you? Therefore, faith without works is dead, being alone. Yes, a man may say, you have faith, and I have works, but show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:14-18)
Also, it is a universal divine imperative to feed and care for the poor, and it is not merely a Christian idea, and it's not even necessarily a religious idea. In the most enlightened, successful and harmonic ancient tribes and nations of the world, the elderly, the disabled, the orphans and anyone else who needed help and support received it from the community. The people took care of each other. It was the natural, humanitarian thing to do. It was just common sense. And it still is.
Unfortunately, the more populated and “civilized” humanity became, the less humanitarian some people became, especially those who fought for and gained great personal wealth, power, and domain. That is why enlightened, conscientious spiritual teachers have always been sent by God to teach people how they should behave toward one another. In fact, that is why there have been so many great spiritual teachers who have taught the Universal Divine Imperative that we should treat all others as we would want to be treated if we were them.
Now, granted, there are some actual lazy bums, but they are a distinct, small minority, and the majority of the poor are eager to work, if they can, and they do so for meager, insufficient wages when they find jobs. They are also underestimated, wrongly judged, unappreciated, and unfairly denigrated, slandered and criticized by those who are well warmed, well fed, and comfortably housed.
Unfortunately, much of the political and religious leadership of the world’s most powerful empires and nations have simply ignored the Universal Divine Imperative even while masquerading as good, virtuous, and even religious. It has been that way throughout history, and even now the poverty rate in a nation is an indicator of the level of inequity its government's laws allow.
That has been the case in America, just as it has been everywhere else. In fact, honest and objective reports such as The Children's Defense Fund's 2011 Report, which uses government figures and other research studies, show that 15.5 million children in American live in poverty (even according to the low government estimates), and America has consistently had the highest or among the highest child poverty rate of any industrialized nation.
Government leaders and legislators have found ways to justify it, of course. In America, for instance, right-wing partisan leaders claiming to be Christians rationalize that the poor will always be with us, and deservedly so.
In America, that ideology was originated in 1800 by the Hamiltonian Federalists, who tried to sell the idea of “Christian Meritocracy.” That meant that financially successful Christians deserved to rule, while those who were poor simply didn't have enough faith or self-reliance and therefore deserved to be poor. It was a misguided, theocratic ideology that violated both true Christianity and Article 6 and the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.
That is why Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other Founding Fathers who wanted a Democratic Republic squelched it for awhile, but it has been revived by the Reaganites, as it was several other times by right-wing politicians.
One notable time was in the 1920s, when greed and corruption inevitably led to economic collapse in 1929 and the Great Depression. But it was revived again in the 1980s by the Reaganites after Americans had forgotten the lessons of history and ignored why and how the great Jeffersonian President Franklin D. Roosevelt saved the country and enabled the middle class to grow large and great.
The Hamiltonian-Reaganite right-wing ideology has always served a hidden agenda, and it has always infected the nation with a culture of greed and self-interest — a culture where basically “It’s Every Man for Himself” -- a culture that always produced a huge income gap, and growing poverty as the rich get richer.
That culture enables the wealthiest few to get incredibly wealthier at the expense of everyone and everything else. But it is a distortion of the American Dream, about the individual “making good” and gaining great personal fame and fortune. That false dream produces a culture of greed and self-interest because it is based on the idea that people should be totally “self-reliant” and that government should do little and "get off our back" so that banks, businesses and corporations can be left to their own devices.
Many of those who bought and sold that idea and culture believed in it sincerely, because even though it violates the intent of the Founders, and even though it violates the core universal teachings and the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth and other great spiritual teachers, it was cunningly but charmingly sold by Reaganites as being “patriotic and religious.”
Fortunately, growing numbers of Americans are finally realizing that what we suffer from are the consequences of that clever scam — because while it has enabled the wealthiest few to get incredibly richer, it has shrunken the middle class, increased the population of the working poor, and increased crime, poverty, homelessness, and hunger.
Now Americans need to know about the shameful cause of our problems, because the wool has been pulled over the eyes of many who still believe in the lies and falsehoods that were sold as truth. Now the truth must be told because many Americans have been led to believe that the whole problem is the “laziness” of the poor. That claim of Reagan's was repeated recently by Republican presidential candidates, one of whom said, "If you're out of a job, blame yourself," and another who said “Protesters [in the Occupy movement] are just jealous."
That is heartless, shameful, misleading and deceptive rationale and propaganda, concocted to blame the victims and justify the greed and hoarding of the wealthiest few, and that propaganda has been spread in many ways to claim poverty is not a problem, and that our political economic system is perfectly fair.
Another example of shamelessly false right-wing Republican propaganda is the claim that nearly half of American households receive some kind of government benefit or so-called "entitlement." However, that is extremely misleading, as it was intended to be.
According to the National Poverty Center (NPC) Policy Brief #28 of February 2012, several studies show a declining proportion of benefits go to the poor. Most entitlements go to the wealthy, and in fact, the misguided and heartless 1996 “Welfare Reform Act” ended the cash assistance program in the U.S. for poor families with children.
Consequently, millions of American parents that are unemployed have virtually no cash income. They have to depend on food banks, soup lines, and the measly and hard to get food stamp allocation -- if they can qualify. Millions of children have been made into Dickensian "Oliver Twists," saying, "Please, Sir, can I have some more?" because they are hungry.
The NPC expects that as a result of shrinking access to cash assistance and the increasingly poor economic climate, the number of households with children living in extreme poverty will increase as it has since 1996 and particularly since 2008. NPC estimates that about 23 percent of all households with children are living in extreme poverty.
Therefore, since the majority of poverty stricken households do depend on at least one adult working full time, the fact is that the problem is not "laziness," nor do the poor deserve their lot. The basic problem is insufficient, inadequate, unfair wages allowed by a political economic system that is grossly unfair and shamefully inequitable because it enables the wealthiest people to take advantage of and exploit the disadvantaged working poor population.
But, this situation was not created merely during the last 30 years, as most objective economists are saying. Since President Kennedy was assassinated and in spite of Lyndon Johnson's token "War on Poverty," the wealth of the wealthiest one percent of Americans has increased by a factor of 700 percent in terms of total national wealth.
Furthermore, while CEOs of huge corporations were among that one percent who benefited, those who benefited most were the top executives in banks, lending institutions and others in the financial services industry. And the cruel irony is that when their greed, corruption and carelessness inevitably brought their industry to total failure in 2008 and 2009, taxpayers were forced to bail them out.
However, in spite of the losses and suffering they have caused to other people, they did not suffer. They weren't even pressed to be more fair, and they didn't have to compensate those they essentially robbed and defrauded. In fact, they are even wealthier now than ever before.
Even worse, the most needed reforms and regulations have not been put in place to prevent further malfeasance and unfairness, and very crucial regulations on banking and financial institutions that had been put in place in 1933 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term, which were repealed in 1999 by a Republican dominated Congress, were not restored.
Consequently, all the people victimized suffered and growing numbers continue to suffer, while those responsible are still enabled to indulge themselves and exploit us.
The political economic system not only enables and caters to the wealthiest few at the expense of the majority and to the detriment of the working poor and the poor. It enables the greedy and corrupt to bribe legislators and, due to a right-wing Supreme Court decision ("Citizens United"), to influence elections with a flood of slanderous, deceptive attack ads on television. And most of us suffer the consequences.
What Americans Don't Know
Unfortunately, even though the growing numbers of children and families living in poverty and suffering from hunger and homelessness are difficult to ignore for those of us who have a heart and a conscience, most of those who run the U.S. Government still ignore it. And they ignore it because many rich Americans are simply in denial about it or just look the other way because they have been led to believe it is a natural condition brought on by the poor themselves, and therefore inevitable.
That is not true. It is not natural or inevitable --- and Americans should learn that poverty, hunger and homelessness have been getting worse since 1982. For example, it is no coincidence that there were only 13 Billionaires in America in 1981 before Ronald Reagan became president, but by 2004 there were 313, and there are 460 Billionaires now in America. Reaganism has been very, very successful and beneficial to the wealthiest few, and it's been no coincidence.
It is no coincidence that while we the majority keep paying more and more for the continually escalating cost of living, the wealthiest few rake in more and more of our money. And while our glass is half empty and getting emptier, theirs is overflowing.
It is no coincident that ever since 1982 the wealthiest few have gotten increasingly and incredibly richer while the middle class has shrunk, the working poor population has grown, and more and more people are destitute. For contrary to what is claimed by those who try to justify the growing income gap, the middle class and the working poor get poorer because the wealthiest few take so much more than they need.
Consequently, around 40 percent of Americans do not have: enough income to afford a decent modern lifestyle with decent housing; enough to eat; reliable transportation; adequate and affordable health insurance (even with the “Affordable Care” Act); decent clothing; and many other things that would enable them to live relatively comfortable lives.
About 40 percent of Americans are poor according to Western standards of living. They are poorer than their peers with equivalent jobs in Canada, Europe, and Australia. And American workers have to settle for far less benefits and less compensation for their labor.
The wealthiest one percent hold the vast majority of the wealth of the nation while about 40 percent of Americans are financially insecure and at risk of poverty if not in poverty. And by any definition the political economic system in America is not fair, and we should understand why we suffer from economic crises.
The current economic crises were thirty years in the making because they were brought on by the failures of an enabling, corrupt, careless, Laizes Faire government that serves the interests of the wealthiest few and their corporations, banks and financial institutions, at the expense of the majority of the people, and at the expense of the infrastructure and the environment.
Even though it actually serves "Mammon," not God or Country, the Reaganite ideology has been successful because it was sold as a "Gospel of Prosperity," which we will examine in a moment. And lest anyone think President Obama has changed that, they should learn the facts.
According to a Pew Research study published in April 2013 in an article titled A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%, An Uneven Recovery, by Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, the median net worth of the wealthiest seven percent of the population has risen by an estimated 28 percent, while the net worth of 93 percent of Americans dropped by four percent. And, because that Pew Research Center analysis was based on the most recently released Census Bureau data for 2009-2011, it does not reveal that the situation has only gotten worse since then (a fact most Americans are painfully aware of).
That is because President Obama has expediently endorsed Reaganism, because the Reaganites have managed to steadily and persistently maintain and even enhance Reagan's image to the point where even many Democrats believe Ronald Reagan was good for the country and the world.
The proof, however, is in the pudding, as they say. And the proof can be seen if you compare the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the legacy of President Reagan. The ultimate results of Roosevelt made America and its middle class great, while the full results of Reaganism did the opposite. In fact, Reaganism has nearly destroyed the legacy of Roosevelt and pushed America back to conditions reminiscent of the 1920s, which caused the Great Depression.
Therefore, we should examine the Reaganite rationale, because it is indeed false.
How The Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity" Was Concocted
"Them that’s got shall get. Them that’s not shall lose. So the Bible says, but it still is news." – From the song, God Bless the Child
Does the Christian Bible say that? Well, sort of. But it is a misleading concept when taken out of context.
Again, Luke 19:26 states that Jesus of Nazareth said: "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from those that have not, even what they have will be taken away."
The Reaganite "Relious Right" focuses on that, thinking it justifies their claim that their wealth is a reward from God, and that the poor deserve their lot because they are "lazy."
However, they ignore everything else Jesus said about the rich and poor. They ignore the truth about Luke 19:26 which was discussed above. Generally we reap what we sow, for in this world there is a natural karmic law of reciprocity and cause and effect at work, and, when it works naturally, there is usually justice in the world.
However, greedy and corrupt people can alter the natural system, break that natural law and treat their fellow man unfairly, to say the least. And as mentioned earlier, if we look at what Jesus taught in context, we can see that he also said that it is wrong to reap what you did not sow, or profit unjustly because you were tempted by greed and lust for money.
In spite of the facts, many proud, right-wing conservative Americans thump their bible claiming to be Christians. They ignore the truth because the Reaganite's "Gospel of Prosperity" distorts the message of Jesus to suit their own self-serving purposes. And in that respect their political and global ideology is more and more like that of preceding religious military industrial empires of Europe and America during the last sixteen centuries, as they plundered the world reaping what they did not sow, while the working poor suffered.
Amazingly, when a good, conscientious, influential person has brought poverty up as a political issue, advocating for the working poor, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the least of our brethren, right-wing politicians have immediately accused the good person of "trying to start class warfare," and even of being a "socialist" or "communist."
Since 1982, Reaganites, Bushites, Neo-Conservatives and Libertarians have been very successful using such tactics, and they renewed them as soon as Barack Obama won the 2009 election.
They’ve slandered and denigrated good people who have tried to help poor people, just as their counterparts did in the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘50s and '60s. They have accused good people, dismissing and labeling them as "tax and spend liberals" — a deceptive and misleading tactic designed to hide the facts about who created the national debt and who really benefits from their tax cuts, and, even worse, to try to make "liberal" a dirty word.
However, the true meaning of the word "liberal" is: "Favorable to progress or reform; advocating individual freedom of action and expression; advocating representational government as opposed to aristocracies or monarchies; advocating freedom from bigotry and prejudice; open-minded and tolerant; characterized by generosity," etc.
These are true spiritual values that all fair people of conscience aspire to, including true Christians. So, Americans should realize why so many right-wing Republican Neo-Conservatives aggressively and proudly claim to be the "true" Christians, while they slander and sling mud at liberals and progressives who want to invest in the people and in the country.
Typically, Neo-Conservative Reaganite Republicans and Libertarians accused Barack Obama of wanting to "redistribute the wealth by taking money out of your pocket and giving it to someone else."
That kind of rhetoric is misleading, blatantly dishonest and deceptive. And it's hypocritical because for the last 30 years the Reaganites and Bushites have been redistributing the wealth by taking money out of your pocket and giving it to the wealthiest few.
In stark contrast, Obama and the Democrats have at least been advocating a little more fair tax and economic policies that are a little more in the interests of all the people.
Yet, right-wing partisan politicians have claimed that the American political-economic system is fair, and just because the rest of us have gotten poorer it is not because the richest few have been enabled to get even richer. They claim they deserve it and we don't.
None of that is true, because even though there is nothing wrong with being wealthy if you deserve it, and even though there are many people who are deserving of their wealth, too many of the wealthiest few are not really deserving, and no one deserves to be as excessively and absurdly wealthy as some of them are now. After all, who really needs to be a Billionaire? And is their incredible wealth really deserved? Did that money not come from us? And shouldn't the common wealth be used for the common good?
There are very greedy, corrupt people who have taken advantage of a corrupt political-economic system that has enabled corrupt people to indulge their greed, selfishness, and lust for money, at the expense of others. And the huge and increasing income gap, income disparity, and the inequitable distribution of wealth is absolutely not fair or natural, despite what those who profit from it have claimed.
Of course, some astute and more fair minded Billionaires are well aware of how most people feel about them, and they have recently started to make a concerted effort to make a show of being charitable and philanthropic – which is laudable. But consider how and why they became such incredibly wealthy individuals, and consider that all their charitable contributions (whether from their individual accounts or from their foundations) are tax deductible and therefore do not reduce their net holdings.
Also, how and why did they wind up with so much? Did the employees and consumers who caused their business or industry to succeed benefit in any significant, reciprocal way? Why is it that Americans have been led to believe that such individual hoarding of wealth is good, and that sharing the wealth and using the common wealth for the common good is an obsolete idea and not the ideal?
Isn’t there something very wrong with this picture?
More On Why the Impact of Reaganism Is Not Fair or "Natural"
It is not fair or natural that about 95 percent of the total wealth of the nation has been pilfered, hoarded and controlled by the wealthiest 20 percent, and most of that by the wealthiest one percent of the population -- while 80 percent of the people own only 5 percent of the wealth.
It is especially not fair that since 1981, practically all the gains in household income have gone to only to the wealthiest 20 percent of households, while 80 percent of American households have become increasingly worse off. And Democrats have not changed that. In fact, they've wound up perpetuating the status quo.
The richest 10 percent of Americans have annual incomes of $100,000 or more, the richest one percent (which is about three million people) have annual incomes of $368,000 or more, and the very richest of them have incomes between one million and about 800 million dollars per year.
Many Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of large American corporations have been enabled by government to rake in tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
For example, here are the average yearly payouts raked in by the CEOs of the financial companies that were in the news headlines after the financial crisis hit in 2008, based on an average of what they got in 2005, 2006 and 2007:
Lehman Brothers CEO $79.3 Million; Morgan Stanley CEO $18.2 Million; Goldman Sachs CEO $83.5 Million; Bear Stearns CEO $18.4 Million; Merrill Lynch CEO $80.5 Million; Washington Mutual CEO $13.3 Million; AIG CEO $15.4 Million; Fannie Mae CEO $5 Million; Freddie Mac CEO $5.3 Million.
The ten highest CEO incomes in 2008 were as follows:
1) Blackstone Group LP CEO $702.4 Million; 2) Oracle Corporation CEO $556.9 Million; 3) Occidental Petroleum Corporation CEO $222.6 Million; 4) Hess Petroleum Corporation CEO $159.5 Million; 5) Ultra Petroleum Corporation CEO $116.9 Million; 6) Chesapeake Energy Corporation CEO $114.3 Million; 7) XTO Energy Inc. CEO $103.5 Million; 8) EOG Petroleum Resources Inc. CEO $90.4 Million; 9) Nabors Petroleum Industries CEO $79.3 Million; 10) Abercrombie & Fitch CEO $71.7 Million.
And that’s just the top ten CEOs.
Just as the corporate corruption and the forces of greed and self-interest brought about the economic crisis of 1929 and the Great Depression, the current economic crisis is due to their self-indulgence, greed and corruption during the last three decades.
The problem is that politicians and lawmakers ignored the important lessons that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal showed America — that fairly regulating business and the economy, establishing reasonable controls on wages and prices, and creating conditions to strengthen and expand the middle class, was what once made America great.
Instead, the Reaganites took America in the opposite direction, backwards, to how it was in the 1920s, claiming "It’s just good business." And it remains that way, and has even gotten worse.
You see, while there’s been a lot of complaints about the wealthiest 1 percent, the wealthiest 0.01 percent are those with incomes of at least or more than $10 Million per year. And a good number of them are the CEOs of U.S. Military Contractors. Their fortunes boomed during the Vietnam War, and have been extremely profitable during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, the top three U.S. Military Contractor Chief Executive Officer (CEO) incomes in 2010 were: Northrop Grumman CEO - $22.84 Million; Lockheed Martin CEO - $21.89 Million; Boeing CEO - $19.4 Million. Those whopping incomes are similar to the top two financial sector CEO incomes in 2010, which were: JP Morgan Chase CEO - $20.81 Million; and Wells Fargo CEO - $18.97 Million.
Their absurdly high profits and incomes, which were gained at our expense, not only enabled them to make their top executives very wealthy. They enabled them to wield significant corporate influence on Congress.
For example, here are their lobbying (bribing) expenditures for 2010: Lockheed Martin - $12.7 Million; Northrop Grumman - $15.7 Million; Boeing - $17.89 Million; JP Morgan Chase - $7.41 Million; Wells Fargo - $5.43 Million. And that's just to bribe and influence Congress.
Corporate profits have risen since early 2010, and they keep climbing. (American Corporate profits were $1.5 Trillion in 2007. They dropped a bit as a result of the economic crisis in 2008. But, by the fourth quarter of 2009 quarterly profits were $1.42 Trillion, and they rose to $1.64 Trillion in the second quarter of 2010.)
Unfortunately, most of the corporate gains came straight out of the payroll and benefits of average workers. Companies fired or laid off employees, cut salaries and benefits for the majority of employees, even as the top executives have continued to enjoy skyrocketing incomes and bonuses.
Even as business has picked up since 2009, companies have been extremely slow to hire or rehire. Remaining employees are required to do much more with much less, and many of the companies that cut pay, benefits and 401(K) matches have not restored them even after raking in record profits.
While the wealthiest few live so very luxuriously and even palatially, the working poor work not only full time but sometimes have to take two jobs to try to support their families. They cannot afford some of the most basic necessities of life, like sufficient food and housing, medicine, health care, utilities, or transportation.
The disabled and elderly have to live on such meager fixed incomes that they are even less able to afford the most basic necessities of life. There are now almost 17 million Americans out of work and are looking for work but can’t find a job.
Clearly that is not fair, and the unemployed cannot find a job even though there is much work that needs to be done -- because the federal, state and city governments claim they cannot "afford" to put people to work, when it is because they’ve cut taxes so much for corporations and the wealthiest few that governments don’t have enough revenue to do what needs to be done!
After all, two-thirds of American corporations making $2.5 trillion in sales over the last several years paid no federal income taxes. For example, America's largest corporation, General Electric, as well as Exxon Mobil and Bank of America have managed to avoid paying any taxes at all.
Furthermore, the average effective tax rate of the richest 400 households, most of whom are Billionaires, was only 16.6%. And by the way, in the mid 1950s the 400 richest tax payers paid about 51 percent of their income in federal taxes, but by 2007 (just before the economic crises became unavoidable, that percentage was down to about 16 percent. However, that's merely the richest 400. The wealthiest one percent of the population is about three million people, and they were paying, and still pay, as little as 7 percent (less than the working poor pay) and most don’t pay more than 17 percent of their income in taxes.
Meanwhile, as mentioned above, even according to the obsolete and far too low federal government poverty standard, there are usually around 14 to 16 million American children living in poverty, and now the number is 15.5 million, and that number has increased enormously since 2008.
Even before the current economic crisis struck, almost 30 percent of the population (91.6 million people) lived below the actual poverty line (as distinguished from the federal poverty guidelines which are grossly out of date and widely recognized as inaccurate by state government officials).
That figure used to be about 20 percent of the population, which was pointed out in the early 1960s in Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America. The 20 percent figure had remained rather steady, but it spiked following the so-called "Welfare Reform" law established by the Republicans in 1996.
Consequently, government statistics now do not reflect how bad the situation is, because that legislation not only made things worse but also prevented us from being able to accurately know how bad it is. And, between 2000 and 2008, the population living in poverty grew by ten percent and the plight of the poor and working poor is now even worse.
Of course, statistics and numbers go up and down, and they change. But they've consistently reflected unfairness and inequity. And even though government statistics are often skewed for political reasons, they still reveal part of the reality.
The reality is that the actual number of people living in poverty has increased, and the median family income has decreased by tens of thousands, while the wealthiest few have gotten incredibly wealthier. In fact, during Bush’s reign there were further increases and even a suburbanization of poverty.
We can and do have a very good idea of how bad the situation actually is, not only from good (but largely ignored) research, but also by simply looking at how badly needed all the homeless shelters, food banks, soup lines and toy drives are; how many people don’t have health insurance or are under insured, cannot afford higher education, suffer from food insecurity, are cold and hungry, or live hand-to-mouth and are one paycheck or one catastrophic event away from financial disaster, poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
We can also look at how growing numbers of the increasing working poor population have been forced out of their houses and have to live in campers and cheap used motor homes and trailers, because even though they work full time, they cannot afford to keep a decent roof over their heads, enough food on the table, or enough heat to keep warm.
If we ask all the people who help or try to help all the people who need help, we really know how bad the situation is. It is actually very easy to see what’s really going on — unless you just look the other way.
Furthermore, if you also consider all the unfair price gouging by oil companies, health insurance companies, monopolistic food production companies, prescription drug companies, credit card companies, predatory loan companies and banks, and all the excess profit they are raking in from people (most of whom really cannot afford it), then you get a bigger picture of the unfairness and inequity.
Over the last 30 years politicians have enabled predatory lenders and given them free license to put their own excessive profits ahead of customers’ financial security, and ahead of public good. And while Republicans blame the sub-prime mortgage crisis on "irresponsible" home buyer-borrowers for "getting in over their head," we should understand where the blame lies.
The fault lies in the deregulation of the last three decades, an extreme lack of proper government regulation and oversight, and in a false attitude that called for it and permitted it.
That enabled corrupt predatory lenders to get away with making shady deals. In addition to all the other fraud and malfeasance, many banks involved in the mortgage fiasco and foreclosure mania have been forging documents to essentially rob people of their homes. And none of them have been held accountable or brought to justice. (See this December 2011 TV report on "Prosecuting Wall Street".)
(Continued at Poverty: America's Greatest Shame, Part 2, which discusses better banking and explains exactly why the Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity" is wrong.)