Tag Archives: Poverty

Our Deficit is Huge — Our Compassion Deficit…

There is a huge deficit in the United States right now, and it isn’t a financial deficit. It is a deficit of compassion.  As a nation, and all the way down to our local communities, we are not being compassionate.

One of the most well-known stories of compassion is the story of the Good Samaritan.  The parable tells us a certain man went from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves.  They stripped him, beat him and left him half dead.  A priest saw him and passed by on the other side.  A Levite saw him and passed to the other side.  But a Samaritan saw him and had compassion on him.

Sometimes compassion isn’t easy.  It is really easy to justify passing by on the other side.  It could be dangerous, or maybe we’re in a hurry, it might be uncomfortable, or gross, or smells!  Regardless of the reason, and we are all guilty of passing by, passing by is never right.  We have been called to help our neighbor — to love our neighbor, and love means acting to meet that need of our neighbor.

We are not meeting those needs, and politics and the politicians we elect are exacerbating the problem.

Politicians, even politicians who claim to be compassionate, or to be followers, are waging a war on compassion.  There is a frame being used by many people that depict those mired in poverty, those who are unemployed, and those who accept social service aid as lazy, unworthy, users and freeloaders.  Or they see someone who came here to benefit from the riches of the greatest nation in the world as a parasite.  The continuous use of this frame makes disdain toward people easy to accept and compassion hard.

Politicians say we are going broke because of these people.  These human beings…

Some of these same politicians dismiss our engagement in two wars when they talk about going broke.  While we are killing human beings…

These politicians and their supporters are using this framing technique to foment a war.  It is a war on government.  It is a war to support one’s own self interest.  And it is a war being waged on a segment of the population that can’t fight back.

And worse yet, the politicians and parties waging this war are waging it like a drone war.  People who are poor, immigrants and people with disabilities don’t have the time, or the power or the ability to fight the rich, the well-connected and the powerful.  They don’t meet their elected officials, or sometimes even have the time or energy to vote.  So politicians can lob bombs at these invisible people without seeing the devastation it causes first hand.

There is no compassion.  And they use finances to justify the lack of compassion.  It is justified because one person over here took advantage of the system, one person took a vacation while unemployed, one person buys candy instead of bread.  But everybody deserves compassion.

And it isn’t just equal compassion that they deserve, they deserve even greater consideration!  I could quote Jesus on this, but I don’t think I need to.

The Richest Americans vs. The American Dream for the Rest of Us

It was about a year ago that Michelle Bachmann said we’re running out of Rich people in America.  I remember the quote, but I don’t remember the context.  It had something to do with President Obama, but I refuse to spend my time looking up why Michelle Bachmann said anything. 

Is it true?  Are we really running out of “rich” people, or is there just less opportunity in this country to get rich.  For the past 30 years, we have been told that the rich make the country successful, “they create jobs!”  So we’ve cut taxes, we’ve allowed tax loopholes to stay, eliminated tariffs, bent over backwards to make concessions to the rich and corporations, and what have we gotten in return? A poverty rate that has only increased since the 1970s.  Shouldn’t there be more rich people by now?  Bill Maher and Michael Moore have thrown out the statistic that the Forbes 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the United States population.  In pure numbers, that means 400 people have more than 155 MILLION Americans. 

Do you think that is sustainable?  I would not be shocked at the possibility of a revolution during my lifetime if we continue to move toward a society of financial extremes in wealth and poverty.  It might not be called a socialist or communist revolution, but it would fit into that category.  It would be a class war.  Historically, revolutions occur when the basic needs of people are not being met, or when basic rights are being trampled by the government.  I’m not sure we don’t have both of those right now in some cases.  

But when a statement like that is made, you can hear right-wing talking heads bring up that the left is trying to foment class-war.  Maybe a little class awareness at least would be a good thing.  The median income in America is $48,000.  Of those 155 million Americans who make less than $48,000, I have a feeling that they have felt the biggest brunt of the negative economic and political decisions that have been made to benefit the richest Americans.  A vast majority of people making under $48,000 didn’t gain because of the mortgage bubble, the energy bubble, the hi-tech bubble or whatever bubble.  No, more often they were hurt by the outcomes of the decisions and policies made to benefit the richest Americans.  How many Minnesotans have lost their jobs or are at risk of losing their house because of the greed of the richest Americans. 

These richest Americans are responsible for many of our problems.  I’m not discounting the fact that many people work because of these Americans, but without them, the services, items or whatever would still be needed and provided by many others making a great living.  Anyway, who thinks most of the richest of the rich didn’t gain their wealth without taking advantage of somebody else?  Even with all the good things Bill Gates has done or intends to do with his fortune, his fortune was built to its prestigious level with collusion and ruthless anticompetitive practices.  And while the richest may not always break laws to get rich like Madoff, Hecker, Lay, Skilling, Petters, or whoever, it is hard to justify paying less than a living wage, either in America or overseas, when the owner, CEO or shareholders earn billions.  In my mind it is criminal that companies like 3M, Exxon, Apple, Massey, Cargill and even the company that supported my family, Ford, take shortcuts to save money risking the health and future of workers, consumers and communities. 

So what do we do?  Give up hope?  Retreat to our television or following Charlie Sheen instead of turning this around before it is too late?  There are those of us that still want the American Dream, an ideal that we are all richer when everyone has the opportunity to be successful.  Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Great words, and isn’t that the American Dream?  Everybody should have the same opportunity to be successful.  But I’m not sure that is the case.  I’m not sure that a government that continues to stress that the freedoms of those 400 richest Americans are more important than the interests of 155 million Americans or more is truly moving us toward the American dream.  I’m not sure a government that eliminates rights and freedoms is even American, in the true sense of what it means to be American. 

Political outcomes during the rest of this decade could be the watershed for our future.  Franklin Roosevelt prevented revolution during a crisis eight decades ago by compromising despite his personally held economic beliefs.  Based on what is going on across the country in Republican politics, I’m concerned that the only way today’s Republicans  would compromise is by giving in to the desires of the richest Americans even if that means deception and violence.  What’s next after that, but full blown revolution? 

“We have this fantasy that our interest and the interest of the super rich are the same. Like somehow the rich will eventually get so full that they’ll explode and the candy will rain down on the rest of us like they are some kind of piñata of benevolence. But here is the thing about a piñata, it doesn’t open on its own, you have to beat it with a stick.”  — Bill Maher

Eisenhower and Reagan Quotes Are Still Pertinent Today

I posted the following two posts on Facebook recently:

“President Eisenhower supported trade unions, Social Security, and progressive taxation. Ike said that opponents of trade unions were “fools.” He called opponents of Social Security “stupid.” And he said that the way to balance the budget was to “tax the rich.””


“Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.” ~Ronald Reagan”

I received a comment that basically implied that a past quote does not make it pertinent in today’s context. I think there is a lot of relevancy in those quotes today.  I think you would have a hard time finding a quote from FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter or Clinton that so contradicts the current Democratic agenda of national healthcare, the rights of worker, the importance of a strong public education system, the need to eliminate poverty or a fair taxation system.  Those are all major tenets today of Democratic policy, as they have been for decades.  And while the Democratic Party has moved to the right during that time, the Republican Party has moved rapidly and unsustainably far to the right recently.  The quotes from the above Republican standard bearers reflect that that move to the right. 

The Party is becoming so dogmatic that icons of the party would probably be excluded today.  Recent attitudes have seen moderate Republican after moderate Republican drummed out of the party.  Arlen Specter, Lincoln Chafee, Lisa Murkowski, the Override Six… Jim Ramstad, a good Congressman, probably would have had GOP opposition in the last couple elections if he had stayed, and Arne Carlson is a pariah. 

I think there will be a return to moderation at some point.  I think Republicans who are more willing to follow Reagan’s ideals rather than using his name as some sort of conservative badge to prove their worthiness, will begin taking back the party. There are Independents today who are true Republicans, but have left the party officially because of Tom Delay, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, John Boehner and even celebrities like Glenn Beck.  These people are not mainstream Republicans like Reagan was who appealed to so many independents.  They are not the future of the Party.  They are temporary attention seeking zealots in the mode of Joe McCarthy. 

They place Reagan on a pedestal, but only seem to remember the things that pertain to today’s agenda.  They ignore the deficit growth, tax increases, his hatred of nuclear weapons and his desire to avoid conflict.  One of the stupidest things I heard around the recent election was a series of interviews with Republican candidates who were asked living or dead who they would like to have dinner with.  A few conservatives said a family member or Jesus, but the majority said Ronald Reagan.  It seemed very contrived to me.  These no compromise, no middle ground Republicans don’t belong in Reagan’s company.  Reagan said if 80% of what he wanted passed, it was a success.  80% is a loss in the mind of so many Republicans in power, Walker, the Fitzgerald brothers, Boehner, Pawlenty…  The only correlation between Reagan and some of these extremists is the little “(R)” after their name.  It certainly isn’t intelligence or an understanding of political success.

Churches Cannot Bear the Brunt of the Government Budget Gap

There are gaping holes opening up in our social safety net as government budgets are being cut.  Right now, there are people working everyday and doing what they are supposed to do, but tomorrow an unexpected event like a layoff, a car accident, or even a major car repair, can force uncertainty in their ability to care for and keep their family safe.

And while politicians discuss where to cut and who deserves or doesn’t deserve what, there are some politicians calling for churches and charities to fill in the gaps they intend to create.  There are even illogical politicians who feel government safety nets should be cut altogether and that churches should replace the government providing these services. 

But churches are not in a position to do that.  True, there are churches stepping up to do it, and there are volunteers eager to help.  Our aunt’s church, Gloria Dei in St. Paul, was one of the churches featured in a recent Dan Olson story on MPR.  Gloria Dei is one of 34 churches and synagogues helping to house homeless people that cannot get into the county shelters that fill up every night.

Many churches, like Gloria Dei are already filling in the gap.  They already do what they can.  The tiny congregation of River of Joy Lutheran Church in the Spring Lake/Prior Lake area feeds 100+ people a homemade community meal once a month in Shakopee, and this month is upping the giving by handing out small gifts to as many of the attendees as they can.

A warm and safe place to sleep, a healthy hot meal and a gift of groceries can have a tremendous impact for a family fighting poverty, but churches cannot bear the brunt of the government budget gap.  The percentage of personal income given to churches has declined to a lower point than the first years of the Great Depression.  There are fewer attending church, and fewer seeing churches as the primary place for giving.  In the not too distant past, most, if not all charitable donations were given to the church, now there are thousands of charities competing for donations.

While churches like Gloria Dei, River of Joy and hundreds of others are working everyday to fill in the gaps, churches have not solved the problem.  The problem isn’t that churches aren’t doing everything they can, because they are.  The problem is that we still have a huge number of people in poverty.  We have a huge number of people who live paycheck to paycheck.  We have a huge number of people who are unemployed.  And it isn’t a matter of choice.  It is the nature of our society. 

In the name of capitalism we say a business can only pay a minimal salary, and at the same time we say an individual working in a job that keeps them below the poverty line doesn’t need to work that job if they don’t want to.  It is misrepresented as individual responsibility, but somebody needs to work that job.  At the same time we say people don’t need to work a job that pays too little, we also say that business needs somebody to be paid too little.  How do we resolve that issue?

We can’t resolve that without changing our way of thinking and living.  Until we begin investing in education, healthcare and infrastructure, and begin discounting the importance of being wealthy by taking advantage of others fortune, there will always be a place for church aid, government aid and individual aid.  When we all join these churches and start living by Jesus’ Golden Rule, we won’t need government aid, but until then we will destroy the fabric of our society if we eliminate it.

Child Poverty on the Rise

According to the Census Bureau, Minnesota dropped seven spots nationally in measurement of child poverty.  It is another indication of our state’s increasing mediocrity related to political decisions.  In 2009, 14% of Minnesota’s children were living in poverty.  In Ramsey County, 27%, more than 1 out of 4 children, are living in poverty.

How do we expect our economic future to be brighter if the next generation is struggling to survive?  Poverty is a generational problem.  The longer we let it go on, the fewer hope there will be for solutions.  We as a community need to intervene.

Children can’t “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”  They are dependent and impressionable.  They are learning behaviors that will likely keep them in poverty for the rest of their lives.

It’s time for the leaders in our state to begin planning for the future instead of getting by from budget to budget.  As leaders, we need people who will plan for the future.  We need people who realize that a little intervention and a few resources now, will be a significant investment in a strong economy in the future.

Cross-posted at stevequist.org 9/29/2010