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"To Americans without a place to live, we apologize for a society that allows almost all of its new wealth to be redistributed to people who are already rich." (Photo:  Scott Fiddelke/flickr/cc)

12 Days of Christmas Apologies

Paul Buchheit

If Christmas magic were real, America's political and business leaders -- the people with power and money -- would speak on behalf of the nation they've debased:

1. To Our Most Neglected Citizens

By the time the Koch brothers wake up on Christmas morning, the wealth the two men will have accumulated throughout the night could get a room for the night for every one of the 633,000 homeless Americans.

To Americans without a place to live, we apologize for a society that allows almost all of its new wealth to be redistributed to people who are already rich.

2. To Our Most Vulnerable Citizens

Eight years ago 2 out of every 100 children were homeless. Now it's over 3 out of 100, a stunning 50% increase.

At the other end of society, elderly people are the most unequal group among us. Even though almost all the new wealth from 1989 to 2007 went to people 55 and older, almost half of retirees report less than $10,000 in savings.

3. To the "Broken Windows" Victims

The rationale is that punishment for trivial offenses will discourage more serious crimes. In New York City in 2012, the most common offense was drinking alcohol in public, and 85 percent of the citations were given to Blacks and Latinos.

Bank executives don't break windows. Their crimes are a billion times worse. Yet not a single banker was prosecuted for contributing to the mortgage collapse.

4. To Our Students, the Newest Products of Business

Numerous studies have shown the importance of pre-school, where social and emotional needs are first nurtured in a peer environment. But pre-school funding has been drastically cut. In its place, business leaders see profits in our children, especially if education can be automated, standardized, and commodified.

5. To Our Soldiers

We celebrate you in TV commercials, at football games, in holiday parades. But we should be saying "sorry" instead of "thank you."

Bill Quigley puts the facts together for us:

----One out of twelve Iraq/Afghanistan veterans with PTSD
----57,000 homeless vets
----Veterans much more likely than the general population to commit suicide
----Unemployment much higher among post-9/11 vets

6. To the Victims of Our "Exceptionalism"

Greed knows no boundaries. Our history of disregard for weaker nations seems never to end. Drone strikes by 'pilots' at computer terminals have killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan alone. The use of torture, once considered inhuman and un-American, is now standard procedure to many of the people in power.

It gets even worse. Thanks in part to the xenophobic emotions stirred up by government and the press, the American public shows widespread support for both drone strikes and torture. How can we ever apologize for that?

7. To Those To Whom Nothing Ever "Trickled Down"

Perhaps the biggest scam in economic history is the contention by Arthur Laffer, gleefully adopted by the super-rich, that lower taxes on the wealthy would stimulate the economy and eventually lift the fortunes of everyone.

But even though the wealth gap in our country is worse than ever before, and despite ongoing present-day evidence that Laffer was wrong, the big winners unapologetically continue their charade.

8. To People Who Believe in Society Over "Winner-Take-All"

One of our country's greatest needs is public infrastructure repair. But the super-rich have little reason to support mass transportation, as long as their pilots and chauffeurs aren't significantly delayed.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that $8 trillion in new infrastructure investment will be needed from 2013 to 2030. This is the same amount by which U.S. wealth has increased each year since 2011, but most of it has gone to America's richest 10%.

9. To the Victims of Free-Market Capitalism

After 35 years it's clear that poorly regulated free-market capitalism doesn't work, except for people who know how to manipulate the system. We've been duped by Ronald Reagan's "Government is the problem," and by the "starve the beast" mentality that followed, which left government underfunded and inept, and drove American citizens into the clutches of the "invisible hand" of the free market. Big business is largely unregulated. It prospers through its partnership with Congressional members, who have fallen out of touch with average Americans.

Charles Koch, one of the major beneficiaries of government subsidies, had the temerity to say: "This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining...the very foundations of our culture."

10. To the People Who REALLY Built the Technology Industry

Economist William Lazonick says it well: "The iPhone didn’t just magically appear out of the Apple campus in Cupertino. Whenever a company produces a technology product, it benefits from an accumulation of knowledge created by huge numbers of people outside the company, many of whom have worked in government-funded projects over the previous decades."

11. To Those Who Have To Defend the Best Government Programs in U.S. History

It has been estimated that the richest 1% increased their wealth by at least $3 trillion last year, far more than the budget for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the entire safety net.

Social Security and Medicare have worked for decades, keeping nearly half of our seniors out of poverty. But these vital programs are continually under fire by many of the same people who grabbed a chunk of that $3 trillion last year.

12. To the Most Generous, and Least Appreciated, Among Us

These are lower-income households, making $50,000 to $75,000 per year, who give 7.6 percent of their income to charity, while those earning $100,000 or more give just 4.2 percent. Yet inordinate attention is paid to big-money philanthropists who get tax breaks for supporting operas, art museums, symphonies, and alma maters. Good causes all, but of little value to Americans worried about food and rent.

And If the Super-Greedy Refuse to Apologize and Make Amends for Their Treatment of Less Fortunate Americans?

Let Visions of Occupy II Dance in Their Heads.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

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