The Poor Be Damned!

Tax (Photo credit: 401K)

It hit me that the complaint from Conservatives about taxes is partly a complaint by them that their tax dollars are paying for the poor to live off their hard-earned money.

Duh. For the longest time, I was thinking that the resistance against paying higher taxes was just because they want to hold onto more of their money, as do we all.

But a columnist, Brion McClanahan, wrote in The Daily Caller an article which expressed his, and, I would suppose many others’,  resentment that people on government assistance are living high on the hog off the backs of “hard working tax payers.”

Food stamps, complained McClanahan, are abused; “people use their food stamps for necessary items, then use their money for their smokes, beer and munchies.” ( He writes:

These are fine examples of what many Americans witness on a regular basis. The other day, while my family and I were waiting in a check-out line at Wal-Mart, I noticed that the woman checking out in front of us was texting on her $200 cell phone (which probably costs at least $100 a month in service fees and may have been paid for by the government as well) and holding what my wife says was a $100 designer purse, with a stack of junk food, beer and cigarettes on the belt behind a line of subsistence products like milk, cheese, cereal and meat.

People pay for “necessary” items with their EBT government debit cards and then use cash for their smokes, beer and munchies. Yet, I have to fork over my hard-earned dollars for every item in my cart (and in essence theirs as well, since I pay taxes while they probably get “refunds” every April). Something is wrong here. Why is the average taxpayer both screwed by the system and forced to watch his tax dollars being wasted on people who abuse the system?

He goes on to suggest that people on government assistance ought to lose their right to vote, ought to be limited to shopping in government-run stores that have less than quality merchandise, and not be allowed to shop in major food stores or drug chains. Everything they would have access to would be blatantly tagged as being provided by the “government.”  People on government assistance are “slaves” to the government, and ought to be treated as such.
After I caught my breath, it hit me that what this man wrote is probably the foundation of the cry against new taxes. The belief by many is that only the poor abuse the system and siphon tax dollars away from “honest tax payers.” There is not this kind of resentment for the rich who also take advantage of the system, at the expense, again, of “hard-working Americans.” The double standard is amazing. The difference between what those rich or poor intent of taking advantage of the system is that what the poor do seems to be more readily visible to ordinary Americans, while the abuse of the system done by the rich is more sophisticated and is blanketed by their ability to use their wealth and status to their advantage.
I wonder if Brion McClanahan is aware of the peonage system used by people in this country for years after the Civil War, where African-Americans, and some others from other races who were poor enough, were blatantly exploited by the rich and the wanna-be-rich, who wanted to make money and did so off the backs and labor of people they barely paid. It’s recorded; McClanahan should read Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon. It’s all there, what was done in this country. Should those people who so exploited others  have been vilified? Should they have lost their voting rights?
Ah, no…because they were not “slaves of the government.” They made slaves of others with the consent of the government. Now I get it. Now, I finally get it.
Thanks to McClanahan’s article, I will never hear the complaint against higher taxes the same again. The complaint is rooted in resentment that we in America don’t want to be our brothers’ keepers.’  Higher taxes, for many, merely means that we are paying into a social system that creates “lazy” Americans, and dag nammit, we don’t like that!  We would rather they pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if our government has taken their boots from them.
Now, I get it.
And it makes me sick.
A candid observation….

What If?

The western front of the United States Capitol...
Image via Wikipedia

What would America be like if it were run by a plain, old, middle or lower middle class president, and if the Congress wasn’t filled with millionaires?

There is so much conversation about how we are a plutocracy and not a democracy at all – meaning that the wealthy are doing the controlling and the governing. Government and big business are in bed together, and they are not about to give up or even consider policies which will threaten their class status or their wealth.

That’s understandable. They have no vested interest in the common people; “we the people” are merely puppets used in elections. Ironically, we elect people who do not really have our best interests at heart, not if it threatens the status quo.

It is not surprising, though it is sad, that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is getting larger and larger and that the middle class is almost non-existent. GOP presidential candidate shows absolutely no sensitivity to this reality, saying this week that the complaints against the wealthy is really envy.

Perhaps somewhat. It would be unrealistic to deny that the “have-nots” would rather be “haves.”

But what if the presidency went to a middle class person who was not so far removed from the days of real economic hardship, who remembered personally what it was like to work and still not have a decent, living wage? What if that person had a Congress that was likewise filled with people who could relate to the vast majority of Americans because they were in basically the same boat? What if the members of Congress didn’t have health care, or what if their jobs at Congress paid minimum wage or just above? What sorts of policies for the American people might emerge?

It is telling that in debates, the words “poor” or “poverty” are seldom heard. We hear that conversations criticizing the distance between rich and poor as being “class warfare,” and we hear jabs intimating that people who depend on entitlements or even government employment are burdens to the system of free enterprise.

But the candidates show their disconnect from what is the reality in America, and it goes beyond comprehension why they do not seem to know that a country cannot be its best if the masses are in distress.

And clearly, the masses are in distress.

Someone said to me that if more people would just try harder and get a good education, the playing field would be more level.

I wondered which country she lives in. The cost of a college education is skyrocketing, way out of reach for more and more people, even as jobs that don’t require college educations become fewer and fewer.

Something is wrong with this picture.

So, I just got to thinking …what if the president were just…one of us? I cringe as I see these millions of dollars being spent to get elected. It’s like the money was pulled from a reserved tree or something; this while so many people are suffering. The poverty rate in America is 46 percent…

To make matters worse, the money being thrown around isn’t getting us any closer to knowing who, really, has the best interests of “the rest of us” at heart. No, super PACs are doling out money so that candidates can tear each other to shreds personally.  All these guys are super wealthy, and all they want to do is get into office to create policies that will protest their wealth. So, what’s a few million dollars to get that done?

If there were to be someone who came aboard advocating for the masses, he or she would be quickly dubbed a socialist. People call President Obama a socialist, but his policies have not been all that kind or helpful to the masses. The complaint against him seems to have stemmed from rabid opposition to his Affordable Health Care Act, but other than that, I find it hard to figure out why people are saying that he has been against big business and free enterprise.

At the end of the day, those who “have” fight to protect their interests. That’s all that’s going on now. That’s why I wonder what America would be like if someone less wealthy, with a less wealthy Congress, were in control?

Would we be a more equitable nation, or would those in power aspire to be like their mentors, i.e, the wealthy who are in power now?

A larger question might be, would a less wealthy president and Congress create a more equal America, or do the masses of people, wealthy, middle class or otherwise, even believe that financial and/or social equality  is even a part of the definition of democracy? Was this country ever intended to serve the interests of and protect the masses, or were we, the common people, duped into believing in the ideal of equality by Thomas Jefferson’s words, “all men are created equal?”

A musing …and a candid observation.

The Convenient Use and Disuse of God

Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyp...
Image via Wikipedia

When I visited the Holy Land some years ago, I remember standing on what I guess was a plaza. In back of me was the Wailing Wall, where Jewish men (no women !!) were praying fervently; to my left was the Dome of the Rock, or the Temple Mount,  built atop the earlier place where the Jewish Temple had stood before being destroyed in 70 ACE, and to my right was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

All three sites are awe-inspiring; all mark important holy sites with rich histories for all three major religions. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for example, stands on the site where Golgotha, or Calvary was, the place where Jesus was hung on a cross to die, and that site is also believed to be the place where his tomb was originally. Just the thought of the importance of that site is chilling.

For the Muslims, the Temple Mount is third in terms of being a holy site, after Mecca and Medina, but it sacred to Jews and Christians as well. It was the location of the Temple of Jerusalem, that built by Solomon and the Second Temple which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 ACE.   It is supposedly the place where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac. for Muslims, it is thought to be the place from which the prophet Muhammad journeyed to heaven.

The Wailing Wall is thought to be the western wall of the Second Temple. It is a moving site to see people praying there, sometimes wailing, and sometimes writing prayers and pushing them into holes that are in the wall itself.

The image of that place is something  I cannot get out of  my mind. The “truly religious” pray there, members of the three major faiths of the world. It is almost as if you can feel God himself there.

But in spite of the holiness of that place, the profound sense of the presence of God, there is the reality – and it hits you like a ton of bricks – that in spite of God and all this holiness, there is not peace but war, not a desire to be drawn together and live together, but a desire to use God and religious beliefs to keep apart and flame disagreements using God as the cover and the rationale.

The sense of holiness I felt was doused at that moment by cloud of sadness.

I thought about that site as I watched a program on the history of the Ku Klux Klan. I was mostly fascinated by what I was learning, but found myself deeply saddened as Klan members explained the meaning of the burning of crosses. Jesus was the light of the world, the Klansman said, and we light crosses to remind people that we bring the light of the world to a world of darkness, a world where (the “n” word) and Jews are not wanted.

Then the program showed a cross burning, or cross lighting ceremony, where scriptures were read and where, to my horror, the song “Amazing Grace” was sung as crosses were lit and were allowed to burn.

It hit me that God, or the sacredness of God, is different, and is explained and understood differently, by humans. The God of the KKK is one who allows murder and domestic terrorism in His name; this God condones racial and religious hatred. The God that everyone worships in Jerusalem on the site where all three major religions are represented is a God who allows, sanctions, enmity between religious groups, again in the name of God.

The God I believe in doesn’t condone or approve of any of that.

President Jimmy Carter explained, in an interview by Paul Raushenbush on the Huffington Post that he felt part of the reason he was elected president was to help bring peace to the Middle East. He was and is deeply religious, as was Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Three people of different faiths, President Carter suggests in the interview, had like minds when it came to what God would have wanted. These men seemed all to have been whispered to by God to bring the confusion about who God is and what God wants to an end.

Their efforts were not appreciated.  Anwar Sadat was assassinated, and President Carter was voted out of office;Begin lost support amongst Israelis and after his wife died, became more and more depressed and kind o faded out of the spotlight.  Before that happened, Begin and Sadat signed a peace treaty; they had been brought together by President Carter.  The Camp David Accords were socially historic but religiously monumental. Here were three men who saw God in the same way, their different faiths notwithstanding…but they were not appreciated. Their people thought they were wusses.

I think of the first term of President Barack Obama. I remember him saying he was going to reach across the isles; he was going to try to make Washington a different place. It was going to be place where “change” included Republicans and Democrats actually working together.

Instead, it has been a mess, with the Republicans jamming the president at every turn and the president coming off and being touted as being “weak” and “too accommodating.” It is as though the Gospel precepts are good for church, but are damned if one tries to practice them in real life.

One must not appear to be weak, and how better to appear strong if you take controversial stands on things, like your political beliefs, and use God as justification?

I cannot help but thinking that believing in God is a hard thing to do, if one is genuine. Believing in God and trying to do what a loving God would want does not win people praise or accolades, but instead resigns them to places of despair and loneliness.

I found myself, as I watched the history of the Klan, being angry at God. “Why don’t You just fix us?” I asked, meaning,  why doesn’t God make us differently, wire us differently, so that we are not only capable of bringing real peace to the world, but willing as well.

Of course, God didn’t answer.

God usually doesn’t…

A candid observation.

© 2012 Candid Observations

Democracy Understood

Sometimes, what we want to be true and what actually is true do not intersect.

What we want to believe in, in America, is that we live in a democracy – meaning, to most of us, that there is an ideal to which we adhere: that  “all men are created equal,”  and that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights…” That is, at least, what I grew up understanding “democracy” to be.

But what seems to be more true is that we live in a capitalistic society – in which all people are not created equal, nor should anyone expect that to be the case.

Of course, when the Declaration of Independence was written, as well as the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution, the words “all men” meant white, landowning men. The framers of our precious document never intended for the phrase to be understood as one that included people of all nationalities and/or races, nor did they intend for it to include women. “We the people”  did not include what was then and what would become the vast populace of this country. The boundaries of race, class and gender were set up from the very beginning of the life of this nation.

As time passed, we idealized our founding documents, and we decided that the phrase “all men are created equal” meant that the Founding Fathers had a love for “all people.” On that basis, the downtrodden decided that according to our Constitution, they had the same rights as anybody and everybody else. This was America, where everyone was free, or was at least supposed to be.

The stark contradiction between our idealization of the words of the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, however, was there from the beginning.  Slavery was an American reality, and in spite of a horrible Civil War fought, a war which accounted for more American deaths than any modern war, nobody really wanted them to be “free,” and certainly, nobody believed black slaves to be “equal” to whites. President Abraham Lincoln, though he freed some of the slaves, particularly those who lived in the South who were needed to help fight for the Union, never thought they were equal to whites, nor did he think black people, slave or free, should have the same rights as white people.

Enter capitalism. The right to be “free” was based in capitalistic theory from the beginning, it seems. The wealthy landowners had the power from the beginning, and to them, “freedom” was the ability to make money! That’s why people want to flock to America; our free enterprise system means, theoretically, that “anyone” can make it here. The prevailing thought seems to be that if you are down and out, then it is somehow your own doing.

That just is not true. As I have watched our country in this current economic crisis, and read about how the country fared during the years (and afterward) of the Great Depression, it has become increasingly clear that the capitalistic system is constructed to protect the monied class. “Too big to fail,” though distasteful, seems to be a part of capitalistic ideology. It feels like America’s economy is graded on a curve, much like exams I took in college were graded. In a curve, some will fail. It’s built into the system. What used to be true in America is that there were a fair amount of people “in the middle” who could make it, and the number of the very rich was small, proportionately.

Now, however, that middle section of people is getting smaller and smaller, while the number of very rich and poor to very poor is getting larger.

That is the way a capitalistic system works.

The tension between the “haves” and “have nots” has been a standard reality in America. President Franklin D. Roosevelt fought for the common people during his presidency, and he had a pretty broad swath of support at the beginning; the country was in such dire straits that even big business let him have his way in shaping the New Deal. FDR knew that in order for a capitalistic system to work, its people had to work so that they could make money and spend money.

But after a while, big business grew uneasy as big government, acting on a democratic principle that “all people” should be able to work and make a good living wage, spent money in order to create programs for literally millions of people.

Big business, people who understand capitalism and how it works, are not all that concerned with millions of people making a living wage. I would imagine  they would say “it’s not personal. It’s business.”

If we understand that we live in a capitalistocracy as opposed to an ideally defined democracy, we might not stew as much as we do about the economics of these days. The arguments back in FDR’s days – the need to balance the budget, cut government spending, lower taxes …were the same as they are now. FDR fought against what he believed to be economic policy which adversely affected the masses of American people, but he knew that he was making big business angry.

Perhaps the most telling statement about this country, and what it is, came from President Calvin Coolidge, who said,”The business of America is business.”

That sums it up fairly nicely and succinctly, does it not?

As I understand what America is, the relationship between big business and big government, I seem to pause. I realize that not only I but a vast number of people have been confused about this word “democracy.” We are not supposed to be a nation where everybody can make it, and if they cannot, can be assured that the government will stand in the breach.

I get it now.

A candid observation…