By Ted Braun
It's good for a nation to get a checkup periodically, to ascertain whether its inner organs are working together in harmony and whether there are any cancers or viruses threatening its health.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt conducted such a review during his presidency in the 1930s and '40s and was especially concerned about the cancers of poverty, unemployment, and inequality and the viral impact of greed. In the depths of the Depression he created the Social Security system, unemployment compensation, millions of federal jobs, and raised the income taxes of the corporations and the rich.
Fifty years ago on January 8, 1964, Lyndon Baines Johnson in his State of the Union address reported on a subsequent checkup conducted by his anti-poverty team. In response to the checkup findings he began new health insurance programs for the old and the poor, increased Social Security, established food stamps and nutritional supplements for low-income pregnant women and infants, and started programs such as Head Start and Job Crops to give young people more support.
Now, fifty years later, a checkup of our nation's health reveals huge problems for the poor and unemployed. Current Farm Bill negotiations in Congress are calling for the elimination of some $9 billion in funding for food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade. This would decrease assistance for at least 800,000 households, with cuts of up to $90 per month. The GOP-controlled House had originally called for $40 billions in cuts, and the Democratic-led Senate had called for $4 billion. Their negotiation, expected to conclude this week, arrives two months after U.S. lawmakers allowed a separate stimulus boost to SNAP to expire, cutting a $5 billion in funding that has greatly decreased food assistance for 47 million food stamp recipients, 49 percent of whom are children.
Noam Chomsky in an interview with HuffPost Live commented, "The refusal to provide very minimal living standards to people who are caught in this monstrosity—that's pure savagery. ... Inequality has been a very serious problem for a very long time. Inequality now is at a level not seen at least since the 1920s, maybe further back. These are deep structural problems having to do with, in effect, the neoliberal assault on the population, not just of the United States but of the world, that's taken place in the past generation."
Robert Reich has also commented on this development: "2013 was a banner year for profits. Where did those profits come from? Here's where redistribution comes in. American corporations didn't make most of their money from increased sales (although their foreign sales did increase). They made their big bucks mostly by reducing their costs—especially their biggest single cost: wages." Also, "the tax system is rigged in favor of the owners of wealth, and against people whose income comes from wages. Wealth is taxed at a lower rate than labor."
"America," he said, "has been redistributing upward for some time—after all, 'trickle down' economics turned out to be trickle up."
Lynn Stuart Parramore has written that "New research shows that four out of five U.S. adults will struggle with joblessness, near-poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives." She offers the following suggestions for a new anti-poverty agenda:
1. Make the rich pay their fair share by ending unfair tax breaks.
2. Expand Social Security, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others have demanded.
3. Protect people from going hopelessly into debt through medical expenses. Obamacare has failed to put a tight lid on potential total medical costs. Eventually, we must join the civilized world with single payer healthcare.
4. Increase state-supported education. It's absurd that people have to go into debt just to pay for their education.
5. Strengthen regulation so irresponsible companies do not rob ordinary Americans.
6. Restore the rights of workers, like collective bargaining and protection from wage theft.
7. Understand that austerity policies do not work, and only exacerbate economic woes.
8. Aggressively attack unemployment and remember the lesson learned in the Great Depression: when the private sector can't come up with jobs, the government must fill the breach.
9. Protect the reproductive rights of women.
10. Protect civil rights, such as access to voting, in places where such rights are under attack.
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This column by local writers is dedicated to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world of peace and justice. Opinions expressed in "Lion and Lamb" columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.