Sunday, February 3, 2013

Are there no prisons?

The Associated Press
I received my paycheck the other day and it turns out that working a part-time minimum wage job is not particularly profitable. I knew it was going to be a painful moment of truth. I was not disappointed. Twenty-two hours at $7.35 ... well, you do the math.

I take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone. Indeed, according to a widely-circulated figure, about half of Americans are either at and very close to the poverty level. Report after report and figure after figure show that while the wealthy have indeed gotten much wealthier over the past three decades, the poor have gotten much poorer. The chart to the right is just one of many showing this trend.

While wages have stagnated, everything else has gone up - rent, utilities, phone bills, the price of milk, a can of pop, a hair cut, health care, gasoline. Up, up and up. Which means that low income folks  have far less money for the basic necessities than they used to have.

There's a reason why the rich and huge corporations keep getting richer. It takes money to hire an army of lawyers and lobbyists to send to Washington to relentlessly campaign for their interests. It takes money to constantly fight attempts to raise the minimum wage and give workers a living wage. It takes money to get all those tax loopholes and sweetheart deals.

It also takes a lot of money to convince poor people that voting for a certain party is in their own best interests, when it clearly is not. This past election saw a flurry of reports on the subject. Why do the poor keep voting for the Republican Party when its policies are so clearly aligned with the wealthy at the expense of the poor?

One reason, perhaps the major reason, is the culture wars over abortion and gay rights. Since the time of Reagan, Republicans have seized on these divisive issues, promising "change" if elected. This has helped fuel a steady supply of Christian and conservative votes. That Roe vs Wade still stands and gay rights are much farther along than ever does not seem to matter. As long as the wealthy can continue to keep the masses up in arms over these issues, and angry enough to turn out reliably at the polls, that's all that seems to matter.

Along with those culture war issues are a slate of more anger-inducing claims and paranoid whatnot: That the Democrats are Socialists. That Obamacare is socialism. That the president is not even a US citizen. That the "government" is going to take away all our guns. On and on with a tide of nonsense that is never factually based which low-information voters suck it up as Gospel truth - and, most importantly, vote accordingly.

We face an onslaught of spurious reports about how Social Security is going bankrupt, how it's an "entitlement" that needs to be curbed or perhaps even ended.  Unions are the problem. Union workers are thugs who need to be taken down a notch.

An entire war against the poor was rolled out last year by Republicans. Newt Gingrich went around calling Obama the "foodstamp president." The poor were demonized. We were told that people on foodstamps are what's wrong with this country. Point out that 26 cents of every federal tax dollar is spent on defense while a mere .52 cents is spent on "welfare" - well, these folks never let facts get in the way of a self-righteous diatribe.

Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan reduced it all down to "makers and takers." Ryan, poster boy for both Ayn Rand (an atheist) and supposedly a devout Catholic, introduced a budget that professors at a Catholic University felt compelled to denounce as "immoral" for its attacks on the poor. Mitt Romney called the Ryan Budget "marvelous."

In the eyes of folks like Paul Ryan, I'm a taker. Since my pay last week was $137, I'm more than eligible for food stamps, which I use to help make ends meet. To Paul Ryan, I am the problem. Not minimum wage. Not the fact that so many jobs being created by the "job creators" are minimum wage, part-time jobs that do not allow a person to pay their bills. Not the fact that the defense budget eats up the vast share of each federal tax dollar. No. The problem is folks like me.

from Time magazine
Folks like me. No house. No savings. No health insurance. No future. I'm the problem. I'm the taker who's draining the poor taxpayer and impeding economic recovery.

I wonder what Paul Ryan suggests I do? Commit suicide? Live on the street? Does he imagine that good-paying jobs are just throwing themselves at folks like me down in the Magnolia State and that we're just too lazy to go out and grab one?

Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, I can hear Ryan's response:

Are there no workhouses? 

Are the prisons full?  

And here's the rub, the final kick of sand in the eyes: Paul Ryan's father died while Ryan was a teenager and his mother collected government checks to help them survive. The government also generously helped Paul Ryan get an education. But now that he's a maker and not a taker, well, all bets are suddenly off.

Again, don't let facts get in the way of a self-righteous diatribe against the poor. Paul Ryan wasn't the problem. The single mother and her hungry kids down the street sucking up foodstamps was the problem.

Me, I'll take my $7.35 and do the best I can. If I'm unable to save for retirement, I hope Ryan understands.


  1. Kudos. Great. You pretty much covered what has been done to the trailer trash/godsquatter vote. Just think how easy it was to terrify them of the "death tax" because "estate tax" made it too clear that only people with over $5 mil needed to worry about it. The "GOP/tea party/right wing robber barons" has performed a PR miracle, starting by leveraging off racism, then off Xian prejudices, on to ignorance, etc. Now they have convinced these poverty-stricken repug voters that they need to protect the rights of the rich bec they, themselves, might win the lottery or hit the jackpot.

  2. Indeed, a huge PR miracle. Gotta admire them, actually. Sex sells, but so does fear and paranoia.

  3. If the prisons are full they will just build more. There is money in that for them as well.