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Chaplain’s Corner – February 2011

from Labor Life February 2011

by Father Patrick Sullivan CSC, Chaplain 

One month ago it was reported [NYT. 1-6-11] that one in six Americans, were struggling due to rising medical, transportation, child-care, food, and other out-of-pocket costs. What an ominous announcement, as some politicians prattle about reducing government programs, especially social security and Medicare, but flee from any suggestions of the rich paying a more equitable share of taxes and funding a more adequate national stimulus package. Almost 19 million make only one-half of the official poverty. How can any family of four live on $11,000 a year. Adding insult to injury, Phil Gramm of Enron and deregulation fame cracked, “We’re the only nation in the world where all of our poor are fat”.

However, more devastating news – not really new and not merely a wisecrack – is the coordinated attack on the labor movement by the city and state executives, as well as the US Chamber of Commerce and right-wing media and consultants. Such an on-slaught will make the battles of the 1930’s over the CIO and the 1950’s over the Taft-Hartley Act pale into harmless maneuvers. Big business was given a free in “free trade policy”, “environmental protection”, “financial oversight”,  etc. Yet, as Mark Brenner said in Labor Notes [1-2011], says “But two years after the Wall Street crashed, they’ve found a more convenient scapegoat, as those actually responsible for our economic mess… [are] still setting the country’s economic agenda”. The mantra is to restore balance, arguing that unions have become too powerful, scheming political campaigns with the large war chests and throwing state budgets off-kilter with their expensive pension plans. The facts, however, are quite different.

First, the Economic Policy found that public workers earn about eleven 11% less than private workers. Although public workers had better benefits on the whole, when health care and retirement were included, public workers were still four (4) percent behind private sector counterparts. Second, It was short-term government spending which kept the economy from cratering in 2008 and staving off a second Great Depression. Without private investment (as banks and corporations sit on cash), public spending is the only engine for job creation. No jobs mean the pains of high unemployment, no recovery for tax collections, and a widening deficit. The place to cut the budget is the military which is two and a half times what it was ten years ago. Health care costs skyrocket because they are driven by for-profit health care and the corrective would be single-payer system such as “Medicare for all”.

Third, overall taxes in the U.S. are the third lowest among industrialized countries. The lowest 20 percent pay almost twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as the top one percent. The poor pay 11 percent, the rich just six percent. Today corporations pay only 10 percent compared to more than a third at the end of World War II. For, taxes on the wealthy were cut over the last 30 years, the liability has been transferred to working people. Fourth, after twenty years of outsourcing, there is no clear-cut evidence that money will be saved. More expensive than in-house services are the costs of contract monitoring and administration of the privatization. The alleged costs-saving comes from lower wages and benefits for workers.

Fifth, rather than bashing so-called overpaid, do-nothing bureaucrats, check out the project on Government Oversight’s database of federal misconduct. The top five defense contractors racked up 150 instances of misconduct since 1995, which totaled $3.57 billion in fraud and waste.

Although too many media and politicians shy away from facts and explanations, Judaic-Christian tradition is very clear. Scriptures from Moses to Jesus and beyond make it quite clear that those who ignore God’s anawin will never enjoy Abraham’s bosom or Jesus’ welcome. What a scary future for leaders in culture and media, business and politics when excuses dissolve and fine points disappear. Then, diluting government regulations, insuring corporate largesse, and tinkering budgets makes Dives cry-out and Lazarus walk in!

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