Archive for March, 2012

The Deficit Problem

The Deficit Problem

Father Larry

This country does in fact have a serious deficit problem. But the reality is that the deficit was caused by two wars – unpaid for. It was caused by the tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country. It was caused by a recession as a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street. And if those are the cause of the deficit, I will be damned if we’re going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor. That’s wrong.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (l-VT),
Senate Budget Committee, 11-18-2011.

What wonderful passionate principled language, and if Senator Sanders is damned it will probably only be temporarily by Corporate American and not for all time – hell, the real hell, hosts no compassionate residents, that’s one reason it is hell. Balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor is, as Sanders declares, “wrong.” It is wrong and devilish and – well, deserving of damnation. Please forgive me for sounding like a preacher. It is a sort of madness that seizes me at times like the spell on the Ancient Mariner which allowed him no peace until he accosted some stranger with his rhyme:

They prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
Made and loveth all.

Lacking Coleridge’s poetic skill I have no rhyme of my own to add, but hopefully this little essay will not be without reason, or just plain old common sense.

More than forty-nine million, or sixteen percent of all Americans live in poverty.  The poverty line for a family of four is $24, 343. Where I live, near San Diego, a two-bedroom apartment rents for at least $1,550 a month. That would leave a family of four, in a two bedroom apartment, with an income of $24,343 only $4,743 for the year, or just under $400 a month, to live in the high style of the welfare queen that never existed other than in Ronald Regan’s cruel imagination.

While certainly not the only factor cuts in Medicaid, especially in the area of mental health services, have intensified the problem. In 2011 the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance surged by 9%. The Heritage Institute, meantime, tells us that the poor are really not that bad off – did you know that most of the poor have refrigerators, microwave ovens, televisions, and cell phones at their disposal? Actually I know someone, I count him as a friend, who falls within the sociological and governmental definitions of “poor.” He says he is not homeless – he just doesn’t have a house. He considers his little camp in an urban canyon as his home. But here’s the thing. He does indeed own a cell phone, and what’s worse he has a microwave oven – he just doesn’t have an electrical outlet in which to plug it.

A new report tells how big business is pouring money into state judicial elections to make sure it gets its own way. In 2007 the West Virginia Supreme Court voted two to three to throw out a $50,000,000 damage award against the owner of a coal company. The owner of the coal company had spent three million dollars to elect the judge who cast the deciding vote. The humorist Will Rogers once quipped: “We have the best politicians money can buy.” He was partially correct. We have the best government the rich can buy for themselves. For the wealthy it all works out rather well, but for those who have a hard time paying for food, shelter, clothing medical care or even renting, much less owning, a member of congress or the judiciary – not so much. And the number of those for whom it is not working out is growing. The latest numbers show that one of every two Americans can now be categorized as poor.

Until I read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed I was perplexed by how often the poor collude with the rich in creating and maintaining their own misery. Freire was born in 1921 in Recife Brazil, a port city noted for its poverty. In teaching literacy Freire discovered that the peasants had internalized the world of their oppressor – the elite’s social construction of reality.  Educational programs, and even adult literacy classes, contribute to the state of consciousness characteristic of the poor, the oppressed and dominated in that it is the words and language of the elite that the poor and the oppressed are taught; that is, they learn to explain the world in terms of the elite.

The working class, and especially the poor in the U.S., like the more severely oppressed peoples of Latin America, internalize the world of the American domination system. The values expressed in our language, the very words we use, justify the status quo – the established distribution of wealth, power and privilege. Indeed, the educational system itself conditions each generation to accept the way things are not only as reality, but also as the only desirable state. Don’t interfere with the established domination system because then you might not attain the American dream. This image of the American dream, of possibly attaining enormous wealth, is itself the model, not for what it means to realize the reality of full and genuine humanity, but the delusion of significance conveyed by money and power. In the end the American dream is the dream of the poor that they might be able to one day join the establishment — it is the hope of the oppressed of becoming the oppressor. Even the word “entitlements” referring to badly needed social programs has taken on negative connotations. It now has the connotation that the poor and the desperate shamelessly feel they have a right to be taken care of by the rest of society rather than assuming responsibility for themselves. In short, it is the use of language in a way that has the effect of further dehumanization.

The accusation that some liberal democrat, because he or she advocates in some minimalist way for the poor, is engaging in class warfare shakes the confidence of the sturdiest advocates for justice, and suggests to the economically oppressed that their legitimate aspirations are monstrous – like communism under the murderous Stalin. I recently had a woman who was decidedly middle class and doing well tell me, “I feel like Obama has a boot on my neck. We need to cut entitlements,” she said. When I pointed out to her that severe cuts have in fact been made she replied, “Well they need to be cut more.” She did not, of course, suggest cuts in the military budget. She had changed the parish church she attends because she was tired of hearing her priest talk so much about social justice. My point is not that she is a bad person, but that her thinking is, predictably, in the bondage of the elite establishment.

Mitt Romney argued in New Hampshire that the number of government regulations have quadrupled during President Obama’s first term in office. I heard people argue over whether that was true; in fact, Romney’s campaign admitted it was false but Romney continued to say it anyways, but I heard no one questioning whether more regulations, if they protected ordinary people from Wall Street predators, might not actually be a good idea. One lie that middle class, working class, and destitute persons in this country believe, or internalize, is that all regulations represent a loss of personal freedom – the beginning of the slide into the abyss of totalitarianism. Words and phrases like “freedom,” “free enterprise,”  “government interference,” and “the American dream,” are all used to justify greed and economic violence. So, the recent settlement with Wall Street, as one might expect, is good for bankers, but not so good for distressed homeowners. That’s what freedom means? Dying on the emergency room floor of a hospital that refuses to treat you because you have no insurance is the way of liberty and democracy!?

Consequently, Romney, who purchased a $13,000,000.00 home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, California in order to tear it down to build something more to his liking, frightens people with his claims that President Obama is leading us into European style socialism; whereas, he is determined that America will remain “free, democratic, and prosperous.” He has to be referring, of course, to countries like England, France and Germany – are they not free, are they not democratic, are they not prosperous? Just compare this with a bumper sticker I saw on an old pickup truck the other day: “I’ll keep my freedom, guns and money. You can have the change.”

A clever play on the word “change.” But it works both ways. “Change” is what Romney and his ilk are willing to spare the most vulnerable in society. “I like to fire people that work for me,” says the superrich Romney with his hidden assets in the Cayman Islands. And, “I’m not concerned about the poor.” Now it is true that both these sentences are out of context. The statement about liking to fire people was within the context that it is good to be able to fire a health care provider that is not offering good care – something Romney can easily do with his two hundred seventy million dollars, that we know of, but that most of us can’t.  And he did say that he wasn’t concerned about the poor because they have a “safety net,” and if it needs some repairs he would do that as president. “If” Mr. Romney? “IF”!? I suspect the same thing will happen to Romney’s “if” that happened to George Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” It’s all PR – pure BS. And while those statements do technically have a larger context, I suspect that they are also rather Freudian. “I’ll keep my money, you keep the ‘change’.” And, sadly, the poor and economically oppressed all say, “Amen!” After all, in their good hearts they are for freedom, for democracy, for prosperity.

The poor value freedom and fear socialism. They have a difficult time escaping the constraints of the self-serving vocabulary of the elite. But do I personally at all care if universal medical care is labeled as “socialism,” or as “dictatorial” if I cannot choose my own doctor? Not one whit! I don’t get much choice regarding my own medical treatment right now, but at least I do receive health care, such as it is, when I need it. And that’s what I want for everyone from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. There are simply too many of us in a complex modern world to behave as if we lived in the nineteenth century. Our hope for progress lies in the poor themselves refusing to live as serfs or to be frightened by the “boogey man” words of the elite.

It is to the advantage of the rich who profit enormously from war to create a mind-set among the poor that makes maiming and killing, and being killed or maimed, seem honorable and righteous. After all, don’t we want everyone to be free – don’t we want everyone to live in a “democracy”? Isn’t that what it means to be a good person? So, all the children, and their innocent parents, we have killed are “collateral damage” meaning, I suppose, that it is okay because we didn’t really mean to exterminate them – they just happened to be standing where our radioactive explosives hit. Our own children killed in shameful wars of aggression, many of them in the armed services in an attempt to escape poverty, are cast as “heroes” who have died so that “we might be free,” rather than as tragic victims of the U.S. military/industrial complex. I think it was Voltaire who said, “As long as people believe in absurdities they will commit atrocities.” And, “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.” Romney and Newt Gingrich also said the other day, echoing the first George Bush right after he blew up an Iranian airliner full of innocent people by “mistake,“ –“I will never apologize for America.” Really? The United States of America is never wrong – never has anything of which, to use a religious term, it needs to “repent?” Those who can make us believe that absurdity have the power to make us commit injustices and atrocities. The tyranny of the elite can only be overcome by recognizing how the domination system’s values are internalized by the poor.

The oppressor consciousness views everything, including people, as objects of commerce — as abstractions. The elite are blind to innate human dignity and fail to see how the poor, not as abstractions, but as real persons, are unfairly cheated and deprived and trafficked in. All domination systems are therefore toxic. They are toxic for both the poor and the elite establishment. All domination systems represent a dehumanizing consciousness for both the oppressor and the oppressed. However, what we must seek is not the replacement of the old domination of the elite with the new domination of the poor and oppressed – to turn the tables so to speak; but rather to work for the genuine humanization of every man, woman and child on this planet. I quote Freire at length:

This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressor as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong for both, Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in defense of the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity,” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source. True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so these hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need to be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work, and working, transform the world. This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the oppressed themselves and from those who are in true solidarity with them.

Our real deficit, then, is a deficit of humanity, of genuine religious values, of the will to work for true generosity, and of the courage to embrace the unknown good in favor of known misery. The good fight we are called to wage is against both physical and economic violence and injustice – against the lovelessness of false generosity.

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