The Value of Poverty

My greatest problem with Republicans is their total disregard for the environment. For me, that’s the number reason to vote Democrat, even though Democrats don’t have a particularly good track record here, either. If I thought a Republican had a much better record than a Democrat on this issue, I’d vote for him.

It’s obvious, though, that Carter’s greatest issue with Conservatives is their neglect of the poor and emphasis on serving the richest people in our society. Carter seems particularly upset by religious conservatives:

There is an overwhelming religious mandate, often ignored by fundamentalists, to alleviate the plight of those who are in need. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, reports that he and a group of other seminary students searched the Bible to find every verse that referred to wealth and poverty. They were impressed to discover that one out of sixteen verses in the New Testament, one in ten in three of the Gospels, and one in seven in the Gospel of Luke referred to money or to the poor. In the Hebrew Scriptures, only idolatry was mentioned more times than the relationship between rich and poor.

Though I don’t consider myself a Christian, I know that both of my parents, Christians who experienced the Great Depression, always saw helping the poor as one of their Christian duties. In fact, I still donate regularly to The Salvation Army in memory of my mother.

I think Carter is right on when he argues that:

Our entire society is becoming increasingly divided, not necessarily between black, white, or Hispanic, but primarily between the rich and the poor. Many of us don’t even know a poor person. If we have a maid or yardman, we would probably not go to their house and have a cup of coffee in their kitchen or know the names of their teenage sons or, God forbid, invite them to come to our house or to take their children to a baseball game with our kids. Even those of us who accept an all-inclusive Christ as Savior are strongly inclined to live separate lives and avoid forming cohesive personal relations with our neighbors. Rosalynn and I have been equally susceptible to this failing.

Unfortunately, since moving to Tacoma I don’t know hardly anyone except through the virtual world of blogging, but it’s unlikely I’m going to meet many poor people in my neighborhood when my $340,000 house is the cheapest house in the neighborhood.

Of course, we Americans love to assuage their democratic feelings by telling themselves that “we are the most generous people in the world.? Carter suggests otherwise:

Despite all the goodwill and generosity that exist among American citizens, the amount of foreign assistance going from our government to the poor is still embarrassingly small. Predictably, much of the U.S. government’s foreign aid goes to friendly nations and military allies, and Washington restricts many other kinds of assistance with all kinds of political strings. It is distressing to see our great nation defaulting on its obligation to share a respectable portion of our wealth with the most destitute people on earth.

and backs it up with statistics:

Sharing wealth with those that are starving and suffering unnecessarily is a value by which a nation’s moral values are measured, and there is a strange and somewhat disturbing situation in our country. Americans are willing to be generous in helping others and they believe that our government gives as much as 15 percent of our federal budget in foreign aid. But we are, in fact, the stingiest of all industrialized nations. We allot about one thirtieth as much as is commonly believed. Our gross national income (GM) is about $ 11 trillion, of which we share with poor nations only sixteen cents out of each $100 If we add all the donations from American foundations and from other private sources to the government’s funds, the total still amounts to just twenty two cents per $100 of national income.

Isn’t that “chump change.? And this under a “Christian? administration !#!?

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at how little money is spent on helping the world’s poor when we see how Republicans treat the poor in our own country:

Under the tax cuts pushed through Congress since 2000,for every dollar in reductions for a middle class family, the top 1 percent of households will receive $54, and those with $1 million or more in income will benefit by $191 During the first three years, the number of Americans living in poverty increased by 3.5 million, while the income for the four hundred wealthiest Americans jumped by 10 percent just in the year 2002. Another indication of the growing division between rich and poor in recent years is that the salaries of corporate chief executive officers have gone from forty times to four hundred times the average worker’s pay. Even though there was strong growth in corporate profits, wages for the average worker fell in 2004, after adjusting for inflation the first such drop in many years.

When executives get paid multi-million dollar bonuses for cutting expenses by laying off workers rather than for finding ways for them to produce more income for the company, you know something is wrong. In the good-old-days those kinds of leaders would have been fired for a lack of leadership, not rewarded. Hell, in the State of Washington they brag about how they saved thousands of jobs and use their $28 million dollar bonus to run for the U.S. Senate.

Still, the Republicans are consistent, if nothing else:

Despite touting concern for working Americans and private home ownership, key political leaders in Washington have successfully blocked any increase in the minimum wage, which has been held at only $5.15 per hour for eight years and not indexed to accommodate inflation. (In comparison, in U.S. dollars and based on currency values in April 2005, the minimum wage in Australia is $8.66, in France $8.88, in Italy $9.18, in England $9.20, and in Germany $12.74.)

Assuming fifty weeks at forty hours per week, this sets the U.S. minimum annual income at $10,300, below the poverty level, for tens of millions of Americans who have full-time jobs.

Even the rich can ill afford to eat out if they have to pay exorbitant wages to those serving them and working in the kitchen preparing the food. Who knows how expensive motel or hotel rooms might be if the people who changed the sheets and cleaned the rooms got paid huge wages? After all, you can’t outsource those jobs to third-world countries. Or can you?

Our Endangered Environment

Carter contrasts the Bush Administration’s environmental record with his own administration’s record, and even with past Republican administrations. Needless to say, the Bush Administration is shown to be lacking. He points out that Republican attempts to open up the Alaska refuge, which Carter established, would not be necessary if the federal government had not exempted “light trucks? from mileage requirements:

The tragedy of the decision to savage the Alaska refuge is that when oil from the area might reach peak production, fifteen to twenty years from now, it will equal the amount that could be saved by requiring the efficiency of “light trucks” (SUVs) to be the same as that of ordinary cars (20 miles per gallon). To reach the target we set in 1980 would result in far more savings. Perhaps not surprisingly, political pressures from the oil industry and automobile manufacturers have prevailed on this issue, and gas guzzlers have become a major product in our country. This foolish government decision against fuel economy might be a serious long term blow to the American automobile industry in its competition with more efficient vehicles manufactured in Japan and Europe as fuel prices inevitably rise in the future.

As Carter points out, this decision seems especially unwise when we see what the long-term effect has been on American automobile manufacturers.
As I pointed out in a blog entry right before the last presidential election, the current administration has gutted Superfund legislation:

Almost simultaneously with the passage of ANILCA in 1980 came the completion of work on what was known as Superfund legislation. I had long been concerned about the emission of toxic materials by some irresponsible corporations, and working with a bipartisan Congress we established legal requirements that such wastes be reduced drastically and that those responsible be required to finance the cleanup of their poisonous deposits. Also, a small surcharge on polluting chemical companies established a permanent fund to cover future costs. Now, with the advent of a new administration in Washington, industry lobbyists have been able to prevail again, as the “polluters pay” principle was abandoned. American taxpayers were forced to pay about 8o percent of the cleanup costs in 2004 and will bear the total bill in fiscal year 2005. There is little financial incentive for unscrupulous corporations to restrict their dumping of toxic wastes.

And who says it doesn’t pay for businesses to make political contributions? If businesses put up money to support candidates, you can be sure that they plan on making a profit on that money, profit that’s paid for with public dollars. It was a little unnerving to recently read that businesses had started making more donations to Democratic candidates.

Of course, who can forget the Bush administrations rejection of the Kyoto Treaty:

One of the most controversial and universally condemned decisions made in recent years by top American leaders was to reject participation in the laboriously negotiated international agreement to control greenhouse gases, which are causing an increase in the planet’s temperature. It has become widely known that manmade gases, mostly oxides, rise into the stratosphere and create a blanket similar to the plastic or glass bubble that surrounds a greenhouse. The sun’s rays enter, and an increasing amount of heat is retained instead of being dissipated from the earth’s atmosphere.

While the Bush administration argued that Greenhouse dangers were being blown out of proportion by radicals who were relying on junk science, i.e., anyone who didn’t agree with Exxon’s view, the rest of the world certainly seemed convinced by the science.

It was reassuring when a number of religious groups broke rank with the current administration, apparently convinced by recent findings that man was, indeed, in danger of destroying God’s greatest creation:

In April 2005, a definitive report was published in the journal Science by a group of scientists led by James E. Hansen, a NASA climatologist, that should dispel all doubts about forecasts of climate change. After a five year study using more than two thousand monitoring stations around the globe, they determined that temperatures would continue a slow rise even if greenhouse gases are capped immediately, and will “spin out of control” if strong corrective action is not taken. An increase of ten degrees Fahrenheit this century could occur. Based on additional scientific proof of the long range problem, Holland has committed to cut emissions by 80 percent, the United Kingdom by 60 percent, and Germany by 50 percent in the next forty years.

I’d like to think that increasing public opinion would force this administration to reconsider their environmental policies, but somehow I doubt that it will. Those who consider it vital to “stay the course? in face of a war started under false pretenses and that has turned out dramatically differently than they predicted will surely not be deterred by a few scientific studies, no matter how definitive.

America likes to think of itself as a world leader, but I really wonder how many Americans are proud knowing that:

America is by far the world’s leading polluter, and our government’s abandonment of its responsibilities is just an other tragic step in a series of actions that have departed from the historic bipartisan protection of the global environment. Our proper stewardship of God’s world is a personal and political moral commitment.

If God actually left us in charge of his masterpiece, it’s hard to believe that He would be satisfied with how we have ruled it if He were to return today.