Let’s face it: America is very nearly bankrupt morally. We live in a polarized society of haves and have nots, and the gap is growing wider. The elites in Washington launch vanity wars that, for the most part, have to be fought by the have nots and the have littles.
As a society, we’ve turned a blind eye from an administration that tortures people, locks them up for years without even the most perfunctory of legal rights, spies on its citizens and bequeaths the world — through tax cuts and subsidies — to the rich few. This statistic always sticks in my craw: The top 10 percent of Americans have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. That’s staggering, and it’s immoral.
No person who uses religion as a guide in their lives can tolerate such inequities and barbaric behavior. Yet, we do.
A recent USA Today editorial castigated Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for providing cheap fuel for poor Americans through his state-owned Citgo oil company. How could the editorial board of a major newspaper be against that, especially since finding someone in America to offer discount fuel is laughable? Because, USA Today argued, Chavez does it to embarrass the Bush administration. So we can surmise that maintaining face on the corrupt and banal Bush administration is more important than helping people out.
The recently ousted CEO of Home Depot, Robert Nardelli, presided over his company losing sales and stock rates. He left his job with a $200 million severance package. It’s farcical reading defenders of such thievery. I don’t know what Home Depot employees make, but if the company has this much money to throw away on one loser, I’m sure the employees would’ve liked having the money split between them. CEOs now earn more than their employees at a ratio of more than 400 to 1.
The rise of conservatism and its sibling, greed, 30 years ago has now been entrenched in the mainstream. The result has been to make America a secondary nation where power and money are protected by the few who offer bribes to lawmakers. The rest of us get by as best we can, but we no longer live in a country that values its citizens. The lure of the anarchic free market and the competition for a shrinking pie keeps everyone in a hypnotized state of dollar signs.
One of our best journalists, Bill Moyers, recently spoke at a forum sponsored by The Nation on this subject. He reminded everyone of what President Lincoln believed: That government should be not only of and by the people, but for the people. That would be a government of accepting the fundamental morality of serving all its citizens, not just the few who contribute to political campaigns.
In the past generation, Moyers said, “the individual, greed-driven, free-market ideology is at odds with our history and with what most Americans really care about.”
It doesn’t have to continue this way. There are already signs that the newly elected Democratic-controlled Congress will be tackling some of the inequities that make Americans seem like throwaways in their own country.
The House Democrats have passed a law to raise the minimum wage a paltry couple of dollars over the next two years. These representatives make $165,000 a year. The House also wants to end subsidies for the oil industry and make the companies pay what they owe in royalties to the government for taking oil from the land.
Good luck. As Newsweek put it, the House can do all it wants, but without the Senate and White House on board, all bills will be symbolic. We all need to look elsewhere.
In a recent The New Republic article, Jonathan Cohn writes about the Denmark system of social balance, which includes health care for all and generous unemployment benefits. Of course, this takes tax money and free-market economists routinely condemn the European model. These economists claim the model stifles productivity and investment. But that hasn’t happened in Denmark, a country actually putting its citizens first.
Congress needs to pursue such programs to ease the economic burden of free-market free for all. Health care reform, for example, is doomed to failure if insurance companies are in the picture. They are for profit and therefore inefficient and indifferent to those who have to use them. The globalization policy of putting people last has to be reversed.
Finally, harking back to the Depression era, the government needs a new Works Progress Administration to actively put people to work for the betterment of the country. It’s an old idea, but if private corporations continue to lay off and rip off American citizens, setting up a works program is the moral thing to do. The alternative, the rich getting richer at the expense of everyone else, is a recipe for national disaster.
Stephen Dick writes for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind.
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