Punishing the Poor for Their Sin

Obamacare is not going to magically disappear – even if the Supreme Court rules that three or four errant words in a minor subsection of the law override the clear intent of the hundreds of thousands of other words in the law, the Republicans will find a way that seventeen million Americans who now have health insurance for the first time in their lives get to keep it, as those folks vote – so the 2016 presidential election won’t be about Obamacare. It stays one way or another. And the 2016 presidential election won’t be about ISIS either. Yes, Obama seems to be muddling through the unfolding interlocking crises in the Middle East, escalating by the day, perhaps making it up as he goes along, trying not to do anything stupid, but no one has an alternative. No one wants us to go back in, guns blazing, with a couple of hundred thousand troops – except for William Kristol at the Weekly Standard and John Bolton over on Fox News and a few of the other remaining shamed neoconservatives looking for redemption.

They won’t get their redemption. We’re stuck. Whose side do we go in on in this all-out war between the Sunnis and the Shiites for absolute control of the region, and on which day, and where? This isn’t about us. It never was. Those folks only attacked us here when we took sides there. And anyway, if we jump back in over there, that odd little man with the bad haircut in North Korea might get ideas, and Putin might get ideas, while we’re distracted somewhere between Syria and Yemen. We’d really have to send two hundred thousand troops in the Ukraine and five hundred thousand troops to the DMZ in Korea on the same day we jump back into Iraq or wherever, just to be safe. And then there is China, expansionist China. We do need to keep a few carriers off their coast, so they don’t get any ideas. The world is a dangerous place – everywhere. Any bold move in the Middle East leaves us vulnerable somewhere else.

That’s a problem. Yes, our strategy in the Middle East will come up in the 2016 presidential debates. It’s a tempting political target, but there’s an easy answer to anyone who thinks that what we’re doing now is awful and weak and a betrayal of everything that America stands for. Got a better idea? All the better ideas offered so far are pretty much what Obama is already doing, because what George Bush did is still radioactive. It will always be radioactive. We won’t do that again.

The issue of the Middle East will collapse. The only issue now is the best way to muddle through, while preserving at least a little bit of self-respect, even if that’s hardly possible at this point. Voters get it. We goofed. All we can do is make the best of a bad situation. Offer some suggestions about that and move on.

That means that the 2016 presidential election will be about social and economic issues, one where the self-righteous shame those who should be ashamed of themselves, and the good people vote for the good people. The good Americans – who like to call themselves the Real Americans – do like to tell the rest of us what’s wrong with us. It’s not just Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders excoriating the One Percent, the folks who are screwing over the rest of us. It’s the evangelicals, the social conservatives.

We’ve been put on notice. Abortion is murder, no matter what the circumstances, rape or incest or whatever, and maybe contraception is murder too. God said so. Good people have nothing to do with either, and they have nothing to do with gays. Those are not good people. They should not be allowed to marry each other. They don’t deserve it – and Hollywood is ruining everything too. It’s all those naked people. Good girls are modest, and now there are all these pre-teen girls dressing like tramps, like little whores. And their mother let them! And don’t get them started on sex education, or on what that leads to – premarital sex. Good girls are pure and keep themselves pure. Bad girls don’t. This is a matter of family values. We should listen and mend our ways, and vote accordingly. God expects no less. This ran into a little hiccup with the child-molestation scandal in the politically-connected hyper-evangelical Duggar family – but everyone makes mistakes. The 2016 presidential election may be about sin – by default. Obamacare stays and the Middle East can’t be fixed. This is what’s left.

One of those sins, of course, is poverty. There are Americans who have no sense of personal responsibility, who expect their government to do things for them with the tax money it collects from everyone – money the good people had paid to the government. That money was for other things. These people should get off their lazy fat asses and make something of their sad little lives. They should take responsibility for those basically immoral lives. People should just get jobs. Anyone with an ounce of self-respect can get rich, and those folks in the street are not good people – and those black folks in Ferguson and Baltimore aren’t good people either. Get a job. Maybe the police wouldn’t have to beat the crap out of you or shoot you dead if you weren’t hanging around with nothing to do, with a bad attitude. And no one should get food stamps or anything else. That only makes these moochers-with-attitude even worse people. Life is hard for them? That’s their own fault.

That is to define being poor as a sin. “It is a sin to be poor.” Charles Fillmore said that back in 1936 in a book called Prosperity – and it stuck, and he was a theologian of sorts:

In 1889, Charles left his business to focus entirely on a prayer group that would later be called ‘Silent Unity’. It was named this because of a legal conflict with Mary Baker Eddy over the use of the title Christian Science. That same year he began publication of a new periodical, ‘Modern Thought’, notable among other things as the first publication to accept for publication the writings of the then 27-year-old New Thought pioneer William Walker Atkinson. In 1891, Fillmore’s ‘Unity’ magazine was first published. Dr. H. Emilie Cady published ‘Lessons in Truth’ in the new magazine. This material later was compiled and published in a book by the same name, which served as a seminal work of the Unity Church. Although Charles had no intention of making Unity into a denomination, his students wanted a more organized group. He and his wife were among the first ordained Unity ministers in 1906. Charles and Myrtle Fillmore operated the Unity organization from a campus near downtown Kansas City.

To be fair, Fillmore may have been saying no more than one should make the most of one’s gilts – but that’s not what people heard. The poor should be ashamed of themselves, and look at them – they are. They hate it. In our world of consumer capitalism, to be poor is to be inadequate, as a human being. The goodies you own, and perhaps the goodies you are still paying off in monthly installments, and will actually never pay off before you die, are a sign of goodness, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, as it were.

There has been an evolution from wealth as an offense to faith to wealth as an obstacle to faith to wealth as an outcome of faith:

One line of Protestant thinking views the pursuit of wealth as not only acceptable but as a religious calling or duty. This perspective is generally ascribed to Calvinist and Puritan theologies, which view hard work and frugal lifestyles as spiritual acts in themselves. John Wesley was a strong proponent of wealth creation. However, to avoid wealth becoming an obstacle to faith, Wesley exhorted his audiences to “earn all they can, save all they can and give away all they can.” Included among those who view wealth as an outcome of faith are modern-day preachers and authors who propound prosperity theology, teaching that God promises wealth and abundance to those who will believe in him and follow his laws.

Prosperity theology (also known as the “health and wealth gospel”) is a Christian religious belief whose proponents claim the Bible teaches that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians. Most teachers of prosperity theology maintain that a combination of faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries, will always cause an increase in material wealth for those who practice these actions. …

Prosperity theology first came to prominence in the United States during the Healing Revivals in the 1950s. Some commentators have linked the genesis of prosperity theology with the influence of the New Thought movement. [That would be Fillmore.] It later figured prominently in the Word of Faith movement and 1980s televangelism. In the 1990s and 2000s, it became accepted by many influential leaders in the charismatic movement and has been promoted by Christian missionaries throughout the world. It has been harshly criticized by leaders of mainstream evangelicalism as a non-scriptural doctrine or as an outright heresy.

There is no scripture to support this stuff – scripture all runs that other way – but the idea is seductive. John Kenneth Galbraith said this – “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” There’s a bit of that going on here – but there’s moral philosophy and then there’s moral philosophy made operational, as Simon Maloy points out, now in Kansas:

Way back in 2012, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and supply-side alchemist Art Laffer were positively giddy about the economic miracle they had in store for Kansas. With Laffer’s assistance, Brownback had crafted a tax package that was the living embodiment of conservative economic fantasy – slashed income tax rates across the board, especially deep cuts for top earners, and elimination of taxes on small businesses. It was a “pro-growth” vision that was supposed to send Kansas’ economy into overdrive, make it the envy of all surrounding states, and provide irrefutable proof that tax cuts truly were an economic panacea.

The tax cuts would be “like shooting adrenaline into the heart of growing the economy,” Brownback said at an April 2012 economic conference. “Cutting taxes can have a near immediate and permanent impact,” Laffer wrote in September 2012, “which is why we have advised Oklahoma, Kansas, and other states to cut their income tax rates if they want the most effective immediate and lasting boost to their states’ economies.”

Two years later, in 2014, the promised economic benefits hadn’t arrived – in fact, Kansas was lagging badly in job growth, bleeding money and slashing spending to try to make up for the losses. But Brownback wasn’t deterred. After having promised and failed-to-deliver adrenaline to Kansas’ economic heart, he started preaching patience. “It takes some time,” Brownback told CBN [the Christian Broadcast Network, of course] in October 2014. “Tax policy takes some time for it to work.” Laffer also changed up his story – he’d guaranteed an “immediate and lasting” economic boost, but in January 2015 he urged Kansans to wait. “You have to view this over 10 years,” he told the Kansas City Star. “It will work in Kansas.”

Perhaps one day it will, but for now, the poor are be punished for their sin:

The Brownback/Laffer tax scheme hasn’t goosed the Kansas economy and it doesn’t look like it will any time soon. It has succeeded marvelously, though, in redistributing wealth to the top of the income ladder, while, at the same time, screwing over the people at the bottom. While the rich soaked up the lion’s share of the tax windfall, the poorest Kansas families actually saw their tax burden tick up a little bit.

And when it comes to screwing the poor, Kansas Republicans are proving to be among the more creative and heartlessly depraved groups of legislators in the country. Last month, the Legislature passed a resolution barring welfare recipients from spending their benefits at swimming pools, movie theaters, casinos, tattoo parlors, and strip clubs. It’s a dehumanizing and paternalistic policy that assumes the poor are undeserving of simple diversions like going to see a movie, or are scamming the government to finance their gambling and/or stripper habits.

Brownback and his Republican legislature have also come up with something else, described by Max Ehrenfreund at the Washington Post here:

A dollar bill is a special kind of thing. You can keep it as long as you like. You can pay for things with it. No one will ever charge you a fee. No one will ask any questions about your credit history. And other people won’t try to tell you that they know how to spend that dollar better than you do.

For these reasons, cash is one of the most valuable resources a poor person in the United States can possess. Yet legislators in Kansas, not trusting the poor to use their money wisely, have voted to limit how much cash that welfare beneficiaries can receive, effectively reducing their overall benefits, as well.

The legislature placed a daily cap of $25 on cash withdrawals beginning July 1, which will force beneficiaries to make more frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw money from the debit cards used to pay public assistance benefits.

Since there’s a fee for every withdrawal, the limit means that some families will get substantially less money.

Heather Parton comments:

Imagine making it so that banks can collect extra fees from mothers with small children who are trying to feed them on less than four hundred dollars a month. How cruel do you have to be to think that making them only carry 20 dollars cash will somehow teach them a lesson?

Well, God won’t punish them for the sin of being poor, so the social conservative will. Voters in Kansas cheer them on, and then Parton moves on to Wisconsin:

In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, for instance, they are making long lists of prohibited foods for those who use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs.) The list of other prohibited purchases includes “herbs, spices, or seasonings,” all nuts, red and yellow potatoes, smoothies, spaghetti sauce, “soups, salsas, ketchup,” sauerkraut, pickles, dried beans sold in bulk, and white or albacore tuna.

They were particularly adamant that nobody on the program be allowed to eat shellfish, lobster in particular, which seems odd considering that it’s Wisconsin and the lobster catch there is decidedly small. (In fact, it’s non-existent.) I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that this lobster hysteria stemmed from a Fox News documentary which seems to have been the catalyst for these crackdowns on foodie welfare cheats. Media Matters reported on it back in 2013…

The poor sometimes eat normal food. It’s just not right. Fox had staffers deliver copies of the documentary to members of congress prior to a vote on cutting food stamps. One must nip sin in the bud, but Parton expects this:

The truth, which Fox News and these Republicans are uninteresting in hearing, is that the program has less than a 1 percent fraud rate and nearly half the recipients are among the working poor. Many of the rest are children, elderly and disabled people.

But it’s all about punishing sin:

We’ve known for some time that conservatives consider things like cellphones and air conditioning to be luxury items which poor people don’t deserve. Now they’ve decided that food is a luxury item as well, at least any food they deem them unworthy of eating. In fact, it’s pretty clear that the right simply believes low income people don’t know what it is to suffer and so need to be given some tough love. They don’t understand the meaning of responsibility the way that people who have money for food do. So taking away their money for food and restricting what they are allowed to eat will teach them that.

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s Stalinist plot to encourage children eat their vegetables must be stopped at all costs. And it’s not because they think taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for kids to eat luxury tomatoes and fancy green beans. It’s because big government has no business telling people what they should and should not eat. Why, they think that’s downright un-American. Imagine that.

She’s not a happy camper, but neither is Joan Walsh:

All this is happening against the backdrop of GOP policy failure. We’ve had a 30-plus year experiment in Republican approaches to the problems of poverty and declining economic opportunity – and it’s turned out abysmally. Ronald Reagan convinced a lot of people that “we fought a war on poverty, and poverty won,” so Democrats came together with Republicans and slashed the largest welfare program for families with children, first in the states, then federally. Bill Clinton signed the federal bill into law, thinking he could get the issue of the lazy poor behind him, and then concentrate on the supports low-wage workers might need to climb.

Of course, Clinton never completed that part of his agenda; he got distracted by the GOP witch hunt known as impeachment. Republicans still didn’t want to make friends even after Clinton gave them punitive welfare reform; go figure.

Then George W. Bush became president, and we got a lesson in the way tax cuts create jobs – as in, they don’t. In eight years of the Clinton administration, which raised top tax rates, 23 million jobs were created, compared with 3 million in the eight low-tax Bush years.

She suggests this:

It might be time to try a whole new approach to fighting poverty – raising the minimum wage; strengthening workers’ ability to bargain; investing in infrastructure to shore up our roads, bridges and rail system but also to create jobs; expanding access to college. Instead, red state GOP legislators are pushing ever crueler ways to treat the poor like garbage.

Sam Brownback’s Kansas is becoming an ever more awful dystopia. It’s an absolute laboratory for tax-cutting, welfare-slashing schemes, and it’s circling the drain economically. Scott Walker is an amateur compared to Brownback, but he’s working hard to make sure Wisconsin ties Kansas for the most dysfunctional economy.

But of course this is about punishing the poor:

This is how you tell the Kochs, and scared white people, that the slackers and moochers are being punished. It accomplishes nothing, but it’s good politically. That’s still the core premise of Republican politics, and it will remain so through the 2016 election, at least.

Well, there’s no point in talking about Obamacare and the Middle East. But someone must be punished. It might as well be those who have committed the ultimate unforgivable sin in this culture. They ended up poor. Now they’ll pay for that sin. Voters do seem to like that sort of thing.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Punishing the Poor for Their Sin

  1. Rick says:

    The major problem we have about public aid is one of perception, and it’s a perception we have to work on changing. People who aren’t poor assume all those poor people on public assistance should “just go out and get a job!”

    What we Americans need to learn is that getting a job is not the problem — about three-quarters of recipients either already have jobs or are in families of workers who do — the problem is getting paid enough by your employer so you don’t have to get public assistance.

    We need to refocus the blame away from those on assistance and place it where it belongs — on companies that can pay such low wages because they know the rest of us will make up the difference.

    Read this New York Times editorial from May 1st entitled “Picking Up the Tab for Low Wages”:

    The problem is that as labor standards have eroded, allowing profitable corporations to pay chronically low wages, taxpayers are not only supporting the working poor, as intended, but also providing a huge subsidy for employers by picking up the difference between what workers earn and what they need to meet basic living costs. The low-wage business model has essentially turned public aid into a form of corporate welfare.

    How did we get here?

    Low-wage employers, in particular, pay low wages because they can and the main reason they can is that Congress has failed, over decades, to adequately update the minimum wage and other labor standards, including rules for overtime pay, employee benefits and union organizing. …

    The best corrective is to raise the federal minimum wage.

    But even more than that can be done:

    A handful of states are considering ways to recover public funds from low-wage employers, say, by requiring payment of a fee to the state for each worker who makes less than $15 an hour. In 2016, California will start publishing the names of employers that have more than 100 employees on Medicaid and how much these companies cost the state in public aid.

    I suppose there’s a possibility that attempts to correct this situation will cause some blowback, or unintended consequences, such as companies insisting they can’t stay in business if they pay their workers more, or that they’ll have to lay off workers, but there’s no way around the fact that we shouldn’t be paying our government to reimburse poor people who are only poor because the company they work for doesn’t pay them enough.

    Nobody, not even liberals who at least understand the necessity, is crazy about the idea of paying for welfare and food stamps, and you’d think that if more people were to learn that we can dramatically reduce payments if we just force employers to pay their fair share, liberals and conservatives might actually find themselves on the same side of a problem that, working together, they could solve.

    And yeah, I am listening to myself. I, too, find it hard to believe that we’ll ever get to that point either.

    But who thought more than half the states in America would ever allow gay people to get married?


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