Who Cares for the Poor?

It is very hard to understand why any politician would be opposed to paying people a living wage – meaning, a wage that would allow them to live with dignity as opposed to living as virtual slaves to an unfair economic system.

 

It is clear that capitalism and democracy are not one in the same thing;  apparently, if  Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson had a face-to-face conversation, they would lock horns on principle: capitalism does not pretend to want to, or to be about, providing a level playing field for all people, as democracy purports to be about.

 

But to be against helping people get paid what their work contribution is really worth seems immoral. Actually, allowing poverty, or ignoring it, seems to be immoral too, especially in such a wealthy and religious nation.  It seems like more and more, people are just a beggar’s cup away from abject poverty.

 

The growing gap between rich and poor, the shrinking of the middle class, is not just an American problem. In China, reports Rob Schmitz, “the number of people …who still live on less than two dollars a day is equal to the entire population of the United States.”  (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/street-eternal-happiness/celebrating-chinese-new-year-street-eternal-happiness). Ironically, the very poor sit on a street named “The Street of Eternal Happiness.” The well to do most often walk past the beggars; the sense of disdain is hardly unnoticeable.

 

There is nothing “happy,” though, about being poor. There is nothing “happy” about having to choose between food and medicine, or between diapers or milk for the baby who needs the diaper. Many families cannot afford diapers; hence in some places diaper banks have been created. Many elderly do not have enough to eat. And many adults are working their buns off with hardly anything to show for it except extreme fatigue and deepening depression.

 

There seems to be such an insensitivity to the poor. In China, Kang Xiaoguang, Professor of Regional Economics and Politics, actually said, publicly, “Although there are hundreds of millions of workers and peasants, they don’t count. You can ignore them. You can also rob and exploit them. It’s not a problem. The most important thing is to get the powerful on your side.”

 

While Xiaoguang’s statement is harsh and insensitive, it is hard to believe that he is not saying out loud what many people feel.  When President Obama said, in his 2013 State of the Union Address, that he wanted Congress to approve a hike in the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour, he apparently caught Republicans and some Democrats off-guard.  The president said, “Today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 states have chosen to bump theirs even higher. Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.”

 

Those who are criticizing big government are not impressed with the president’s suggestion, nor are they apt to seriously consider it, and those who stay far enough from the poor to see the misery in which they live are not likely to “encourage” their state and federal lawmakers by threatening to withdraw support for them if they don’t raise the minimum wage.

 

If you do not see poverty, it is easy to minimize it and the suffering it causes.

 

Before the 2008 election, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs said, over and over, that America was losing its middle class.  He seemed not to get a lot of support, and I don’t remember what his solution was to the problem, but the fact is, Dobbs correctly called that there would be a crisis of the middle class, which has come to be.

 

The state and federal jobs which allowed so many people to reach middle class are shrinking, as are the manufacturing jobs. There are jobs available, but many of them require technical training which the vast majority of people do not have.

 

“Find a way to go to school and get some training,” those who are insensitive would say, not understanding that the working poor don’t have a penny to spend and would probably not qualify for a student loan. The working poor often cannot take a day off, or refuse to take a day off, even when they’re sick, because they cannot afford to miss a day’s wages. Their families suffer, as do they, in all areas of life.

 

Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s speech, said, “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.” Addressing and raising the minimum wage would threaten the creation of jobs, those who oppose big government would say, but what kind of jobs? Probably more that are wont to pay workers what their work is worth.

 

It is no secret that wealth often accrues on the backs of the poor, with the poor getting little benefit. But there is something inherently wrong in that. There is something wrong with a system that allows the wealthy to make and hoard more money they can ever use, while those whose labor made them rich can barely make ends meet.

 

Professor Susan Thistlewaite, in her book, Occupy the Bible, encourages a moral and religious response to the issue of poverty. She spends a lot of time addressing the debt students are in who took out loans to go to college. Too many of them are not only struggling financially, but they are struggling emotionally as well. To not be able to find a job, or to get a job which does not pay a living wage, is demeaning. Many former students are committing suicide, she writes.

 

Thistlewaite encourages the religious of our society to read the Bible and interpret it from the perspective of those who struggle with poverty and financial hardship. The struggling don’t have trouble doing that; the wealthy would probably toss it off as Liberal dribble.

 

But there is no “dribble” in the fact that in this nation there is an oligarchy, not a democracy. There are too many people struggling to obtain the bare necessities for themselves and their families. The Republicans have criticized President Obama for the fact that more people receive food stamps than in the previous administration, but without help, how are the poor and working poor supposed to make it?  To require and expect them to work for the increase of profits for the wealthy and then to give them pittance in return …just does not seem right.

 

In fact, it seems that in doing that, the wealthy and powers that be are merely ignoring the poor.

 

The pervasiveness of poverty is not new; the society in which Jesus lived was as imbalanced economically as are the societies of China and Haiti and our own nation. But what is troubling is that it feels like it’s getting easier and easier for the wealthy to act like the poor and working poor don’t exist, that they are whiners and takers, like …they don’t matter.

 

Perhaps if nationally there could be a shift or an outpouring of programs that teach the poor how to compete in our global economy the picture could and would change. The poor don’t want to be poor; many of them are stuck and don’t know how to get out. Some would rather die than take government assistance. They don’t want a hand out. They want a way up and out of their economic misery. Poverty causes people to live in despair and depression; suicide is not all that uncommon for those who have simply given up hope of their lives ever getting better. There is a lot of domestic abuse amongst the poor, and children end up being ignored and neglected, which causes a host of social problems. It doesn’t make sense to ignore and/or ignore the poor. Poverty ends up costing money …but then, those who are investing in private prisons, the so-called Prison Industrial Complex, would not care about that because their wealth is built upon the backs of the hopeless and despairing.

 

Capitalism
Capitalism (Photo credit: Juliano Mattos)

 

You have to have eyes to see that, though, ears to hear it, and a heart to receive it. That, apparently, is what is missing in our great nation.

 

A candid observation …

 

What Does the Bible Say, Really?

There are some things we just don’t think about.

Susan Thistlewaite, Chicago Theological Seminary professor, author and scholar, gives some sobering information in her latest book, Occupy the Bible. She says that we ought to read the Bible from the perspective of the homeless, the hungry, the economically stressed.

It was from their perspective that Jesus formed his ministry, she says …and the Bible says.

In a workshop she gave, she said, “Student debt is approaching one trillion dollars. That’s more than credit card debt and if the trend continues, in a few years, student debt will be higher than the national debt. We need to read the Bible from that perspective.”

Students are stressed out and depressed. They have gone to school and gotten degrees, only to find that they are not able to get work, or enough money to pay their student loans.”Students are stressed out and depressed,” Thistlewaite said. “Some are committing suicide.”

There are a lot of reasons for the economic state of this nation, but greed is a big one, posits Thistlewaite. Greed has led banks and other financial institutions, including those which dole out student loans, to go haywire, thinking not about the people who are getting the loans they are giving out but instead by the profit they will make off people who are really trying to make an honest living.

Jesus was a revolutionary, primarily because he challenged the Roman government. He didn’t get into trouble because he taught people to love; he got in trouble because he challenged the status quo. He got into trouble because he taught people that the kingdom in which they should seek comfort was the heavenly kingdom, where there was fairness and equality amongst people,  not the earthly kingdom, headed by the Romans, which led people into economic despair and support economic inequality.

“Theology begins where pain is,” says Thistlewaite. And clearly, there is pain amongst the people who are working and still cannot make ends meet. That group includes students, but also the so-called “working poor,” who, in spite of working sometimes two and three jobs, are still struggling to keep their heads above water. The economic state of our nation is slowly wiping out the middle class, and, observes Thistlewaite, there can be no democracy without a middle class.

Our economic dilemma is made all the worse as the issue is argued using the Bible as justification for both liberal and conservative positions. Thistlewaite says that “the Right thinks the Bible supports free market capitalism.” The Left, conversely, uses the Bible to support an economy which supports equal distribution of wealth. Parables, like found in the Book of Matthew 25:14-30, where a wealthy landowner gave three different “slaves” (translated from the Greek “doulos”) rewarded the two who multiplied money given to them, and cast out the one who hid the money given to him, invite two different interpretations, one from the Left, one from the Right. Who, in that parable and others, is doing the will of God, asks Thistlewaite.

One Bible. Two desperately different interpretations …and the odd men out are the struggling, working poor.

We don’t want to think about the state of our economy or what God really demands. It is totally inconceivable to me that anyone would think that God supports poverty or the abject and real suffering that is endured by the working poor, just as it is inconceivable to me that a good God would support racism or sexism or militarism. I grew up believing that a good God wanted all people to be taken care of, that God wanted economic and social justice for all people. Is that naive?

Neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the New Testament, naiveté notwithstanding, seem to support misery, with a very few people being very comfortable at the expense of many poor people suffering. People got into big trouble with God in the Bible for not being hospitable, not taking care of widows and the poor. God didn’t change, did He/She?

There are some things we don’t want to think about it, but we need to. Bottom line, there’s too much suffering caused by economic distress, in this, the wealthiest nation in the world.

A candid observation …

Visit Thistlewaite’s website at http://www.occupythebible.org

Mitt Romney, You Meant What You Said

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts,...
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I was always taught that what’s in one’s heart is what comes out of one’s mouth.

Actually, there’s a scripture that says the same: “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” is how the Gospel of Luke puts it (Luke 6:45).  In my house growing up, my mother would remind us of that, and would warn us not to say things for which we would have to apologize. It was her way of saying, I guess, “Love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

In other words, when we say things, it’s what we feel. It might be in the heat of a moment, but it is what we really feel.

So, I don’t buy this stuff GOP candidate Mitt Romney is saying, as he explains his now famous statement, “I am not concerned about the very poor,” that he “misspoke.” Hardly, Mitt.  You said what was and what is in your heart.

As these GOP candidates have campaigned, all of them have said things which reveal what they feel about America’s underclass.  While I cringe at how they go after each other, it bothers me to my heart that these guys seem so disconnected from people in this country who need a government that cares about them.

It is probably naive for me to want candidates to care, but I do. I am not for “big government” as it is being described, but I do want a government that has the good sense to take care of its own. I am reminded of a speech Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave a year before his death as he spoke out against the Viet Nam War: he said that he found it hard to talk to young people about democracy because he couldn’t explain why a country – our country – would spend millions of dollars and sacrifice hundreds of thousands of human lives un a war supposedly to get their people freedom and civil rights  when our own government does not make sure its own citizens have the same.

We are coming out of  The Great Recession, an event which has devastated literally hundreds of thousands of Americans. The once poor are now the “very poor,” and many of the former “middle class” are now poor. These are people who worked hard and who were whammied by the sinking of our economy which presumably happened because of the activities of greedy wealthy people. Though the unemployment rate is slowly dropping, and more and more people are finding work, many, too many, of our nation’s citizens are suffering.

And Mitt Romney, it seems, could care less.

He said that he wasn’t worried about the very poor because they have a safety net, meaning government programs – which help them, but an indicator of how far removed he is from the madding crowd, so to speak, is that much of that safety net is being and has been chipped away, and if he has his way, even more of it will be eliminated. He cannot relate to the fact that way too many Americans need food stamps in order to eat, to feed their children. He has not seen the eyes of the poor and very poor, trying desperately to get out of the wells of despair in which they sit, but he doesn’t want to. He is not concerned about them.

Newt Gingrich has seized upon Romney’s statement and is using it, saying we should be concerned about the poor. Nice try, Newt, but his earlier statements, including the one that’s been a part of his campaign rhetoric, that President Obama is the “food stamp president” shows that he isn’t too concerned about the poor, either, but is more concerned about a government which has issued a record number of food stamps to keep people going during this economic tsunami.

And even President Obama hasn’t shown much verbal concern for the poor; he has been soundly criticized for not mentioning the poor more often and for not coming up with more policies that directly impact and help the poor of this nation, specifically black and brown people.

Needless to say, the U.S. Congress has not shown by its behavior that it is concerned all that much by the poor. The primary objective of House Republicans is to make sure that Barack Obama is a one term president, and the Senate has been rather mealy-mouthed in addressing the ills of this nation as concerns our suffering citizens.

So, what are the poor?  If the poor or the very poor are people with whom the leaders of this country are not concerned, what kind of nation are we, really? Mitt Romney has said that people are “jealous” of people who have money. How callous is that?  He said that  over $300,000 he received for a speaking engagement was not a lot of money. Again, it doesn’t get much more callous or insensitive than that.

Mitt Romney, you didn’t “misspeak.” You spoke what was in your heart.

A candid observation …

President Needs to Provide Light of Hope for Masses

united states currency seal - IMG_7366_web
Image by kevindean via Flickr

When people say they want their country back, what, exactly, are they saying?

I ask because more than one news person has said that tonight’s State of the Union is an opportunity and a mandate for President Obama to offer a vision of the future; without such a vision, they say, people will lapse into yearning for the past.

What past are they yearning for?

One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard was said by author Karen Armstrong, who said that when too much is changing, too quickly, people yearn for the past; it is in those moments that fundamentalism becomes strongest. The lack of things familiar take people all the way out of their comfort zones and feed their fear and anxiety. The only safe thing to do is to yearn for that which they know, even if what they have known was not all that good.

We sit in transition period. The economy is improving, but is still horrendous; people who used to be middle class are now poor or at best, lower middle class. People who were comfortable, economically, are now immensely uncomfortable and have no sense of security when it comes to visualizing or imagining their future or the future of their children.

This economic debacle has been called a recession, but from all that I have read, it so resembles the Great Depression. The arguments about the distance between the very wealthy and the new poor are the same, and I would suppose that much of what a vast number of Americans are feeling now is not all that different from what the people in the 1930s felt.

It took a long time for the aftershocks of the fall of the stock market to stop coming; people were still in dire straits in the late 1930s. Even as late as 1938, money was scarce for most people, and they looked for pleasure in the tiniest things – but they yearned for the “good old days.”

That, apparently, is where Americans are now. Though it is totally unrealistic to expect that President Obama – or any president, for that matter – would be able to undo what took at least eight years to create, people cannot and will not resonate with that reality.  Mitt Romney said that people who do not have money are envious of those who do…and he is probably right. None of us who are flailing and who are treading water want to be where we are.

And so we are in a bad place, we Americans. We want out. We want relief. Though many hate the idea of entitlements, many have survived because of those entitlements. But that’s not what we want. We want jobs. We want there to be not a diminishing middle class but a renewed and growing middle class. We want to be able to stop having to worry about making decisions on whether we will eat or buy extra gas for a week.

All of the politicians, including President Obama, are wealthy. They cannot feel our pain. They can imagine and they can exploit it, but they cannot feel it. They are so far removed from our places of angst, that their campaigns ring hollow and their blatant exploitation of our fears borders on the immoral and unethical.

The news people are right: if the present dilemma of the American people does not get better soon, Americans who ar prone to look back and yearn for a fantastical past will do just that. Those who have never been economically sound or comfortable will continue to yearn, ironically, for a reality they have never known.

The President has an enormous burden upon him. Unlike the politicians who are recklessly using the angst and anxiety of the American people for their own selfish gain, President Obama has to give a glimmer of hope to people who are on the brink of falling into permanent despair.

I, for one, hope he realizes that, and provides the light in darkness for so many who are truly walking in darkness.

A candid observation

Enough

English: Former Speaker of the House at CPAC in .
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This weekend I saw a segment on a news program about the late Lee Atwater, the Republican boy wonder who orchestrated the campaign and subsequent victory for George H.W. Bush in 1988. Atwater was but one of more recent members of the GOP who made racial politics a staple of their strategy. Ronald Reagan,  the GOP beloved, was also helped along by Atwater, and was the candidate who coined the phrase ” welfare queen,” making voters latch onto their belief that black people and their undying love for entitlements, are what’s wrong with America. Along comes Lee Atwater, who helped George H.W. Bush decimate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election by flashing the image of convicted murderer Willie Horton into American homes via television during the campaign, reminding voters that Dukakis was in favor of furloughs for some horrible people…Willie Horton’s face was the reminder that in the minds of white Americans, “horrible people” equaled “black people,” and there was no way one sympathetic to such people should be elected President of the United States.

And now, here we are again, 2012, and racial politics is being played again. Oh, the GOP candidates won’t say things outright; far be it for them to be said to be playing “the race card,” but play that card they do, surreptitiously, repeatedly and continuously, playing right into the same nerves and veins as did Atwater and Reagan.

Newt Gingrich‘s recent comments, saying that black people do not have a work ethic, and saying that the “only the elites despise making money” help him bolster his argument that President Barack Obama is the “food stamp president.” He claims that more Americans under President Obama are receiving or have received food stamps than under any other president in history.

Stop, Mr. Gingrich. Have you forgotten that more Americans are out of work, or have been out of work, during this presidency than in any other time in history?  Unlike the presidency of FDR, where the eruption of war helped address the huge unemployment problem that had been wrought by the Great Depression, this country was steeped in two wars which were not making money for America but were in fact draining its coffers. Jobs that had been available were being outsourced overseas, helping people over there get on their feet and make people like Gingrich and Romney more wealthy while ignoring the people here who had fallen.

Have you not heard, Mr. Gingrich, that one 1 out of every 2 Americans is now classified as “poor,” and that the “new poor” are those who used to be middle class? Have you not visited neighborhoods which hardly “look” poor, but where the “used to be” middle class are now scuffling to make ends meet? Have you not driven past a church in a fairly well to do area where the sign says “free lunch,” catering not to people whom you would say have no work ethic, but to people, white people, thank you, who are working and who need help? Have you not visited food pantries where the food is flying off shelves faster than it can be replaced, because people of all races, whites especially, have no money to feed their families?

Enough.

Racial politics is disingenuous at best, but wrong and manipulative at its worst. Instead of addressing the real problem in America- that of corporate greed – which is responsible for the mess our nation is in. Gingrich and others rely instead on cheap shots and easy prey in order to lure their base, happily ignorant of what’s really going on, into their lairs. Gingrich and Romney and others will resort to “playing the race card” without saying the word “race” outright; they will use phrases like “the food stamp president” as a euphemism for what they are really saying – that black people are the reason America is in a bad way, and we need to get this black person out of the White House because he is pandering to a group that doesn’t appreciate America, the free enterprise system, or democracy. GOP opponents are just suggesting, thank you, that this “most liberal president in the history of America” is making black people more dependent than they already are.

Please.

There are a couple of things I wish Gingrich would address. First of all, I’d like for him to admit that statistics say that more white people than black receive food stamps. I don’t think I have ever heard a white candidate for anything admit this truth. If you’re going to try to be president, it would be nice to see that you have the capacity to “fess up” when you need to.

Secondly, I wish that Gingrich would go into an urban area and meet with some of the people he talks about so blithely and carelessly. Yes, there are people who do not work because they want to receive benefits, but there are more who do not work because they cannot find work. There are those who are living in deep depression because they tried to find work but nobody would hire them. Let Mr. Gingrich address the racism of America that keeps black and brown people disproportionately unemployed…Let him talk to men who have tried and tried and tried some more to get work, only to be turned down. Let him talk to men who are broken because, though they are American, they cannot get hold of “the American dream.”

Thirdly, I wish that Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Romney or whoever gets the nomination show that he has the chutzpah to stand up and speak out against the economic injustice that has plagued black people from the beginning of time. Let Mr. Gingrich, an historian who certainly knows the antics of white people to keep black people unemployed, underemployed, and/or in debt that have gone on since Reconstruction.

Were Mr. Gingrich to show his mastery of history in that way, and show himself to be a genuine human being and not simply a politician,  there might be a change in this country.

He wouldn’t be elected president, but he would get the attention of someone who has never bothered to hear the truth before.

Enough!  The GOP candidates need to stop their destructive campaign tactics. This racial politics is a poison to our country, a country already weakened by the economic disparity which has made the gulf between rich and poor greater than it has ever been.  Surely Mr. Gingrich knows that.

Yes, he knows …but he doesn’t care.

A candid observation …