Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bah, humbug!

It is Christmas. Once again we celebrate the birth of Jesus who, born into utter poverty, spent his life exhorting us to take care of the poor, to love our neighbor as much as ourselves, and to treat them as we would like to be treated.

Care of the unfortunate is part of our Christmas ritual. The Marines are collecting toys for children; newspapers carry daily photographs from different churches collecting food for the poor.

We should not allow this annual burst of benevolence to deceive us as to the reality of our practices during the remainder of the year. Pres. Obama signed the recent tax cut law with great fanfare because it is said to restore benefits for many. But this extension of benefits leaves out hundreds of thousands of Americans, unfortunate enough to have had no work for more than two years. They will not be helped by this bill. No one can get more than two years' worth of unemployment insurance even in a depression where almost 10% of workers cannot find a job. No one will help after two years. Instead the long term unemployed hear, once again the story trotted out regularly by conservatives, that we should not help the unemployed because it would make them dependent on government services. Unable to find a job, they are also getting blamed for their misfortune. (No one refused to bail out Goldman Sachs, the Bank of America or General Motors for fear that they would become dependent on public money.)

That’s hardly an example of loving your neighbor like yourself. 
The head of Goldman, Sachs will receive a $9 million Christmas bonus. At the same time, one in five American children lives in poverty. There have been no reports that the people at Goldman Sachs, who will receive many millions of dollars as a Christmas present, will donate their earnings to alleviate the suffering of American children. They do not love their neighbor likes themselves.

This gross inequality and complete contempt for the suffering of the poor is, of course, our fault. We adore money and bow down before its owners. Bill Gates, perhaps the richest man in the world, has recently discovered his expertise in matters of education. He has been going around blaming the teachers. And we respond by saying “Yes Mr. Gates, no Mr. Gates, Sir.” We don’t point out to Bill Gates that he knows nothing about education. He does not know, for instance, that poor children are most likely to be poor learners. We don’t tell Bill Gates to stay out of education, which he knows nothing about, and to use some of his money to alleviate child poverty. We respect money too much to do that.

Last year Exxon Mobil earned $19 billion. It paid no taxes on those $19 billion. Instead it received a tax refund from the IRS for $156 millions. Where are the congressmen and senators who called for an investigation of this complete outrage? Pres. Obama talks about reforming the tax code, but he did not call for immediate repeal of all the tax loopholes that allow Exxon Mobil to get a refund on taxes they never paid.

The unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars reached 14.7 percent in March. There are 107,000 homeless veterans on the streets of America on any given night and over twice that many experience homelessness over the course of a year. The suicide rate of veterans is more than twice that of non-vets. 
Many vets suffer brain damages from explosions. But the government insurance scheme for health care for veterans refuses to pay for rehabilitative therapy which has proven effective in a significant number of cases. It's too expensive!

Congress can't find the money to create jobs for veterans or for efforts to prevent their suicides. It cannot pay for rehabilitation and therapy for gravely injured soldiers. But legislators had no trouble last week seriously cutting the taxes of people making more than $ 250,000. a year. That will cost us $ 690 billion for the next ten years. Whom does Congress and the Administration love better, the vets suffering from their service experiences or the super rich?

We Americans don’t love our poor neighbors the way we love ourselves or the super rich. Instead we blame them for their poverty and bow down respectfully to the likes of Bill Gates. We are good capitalists. We respect of the people most who make more money than anyone else.

We overlook the fact that being good capitalists makes us really bad Christians (or, equally, bad Jews or Muslims.)