March 18th, 2013

Time for a POTUS for the poor — a revolutionary American idea


I’m not Catholic. I’m sickened by child abuse by priests committed secretly under cover of archbishops’ robes for decades. I found the saturation media coverage of the Sistine Chapel chimney mis-prioritized. And I thought the pomp of pope selection process distracted everyone from the scandals boiling in the Vatican. However, the elevation of Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio to Pope Francis I, inspires optimism — even mine.

In November 2000, as Argentina’s economic crisis escalated, then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio spoke for a conference of bishops when he attacked economic neoliberalism. Writing for Dissent, Mark Engler translated the bishops’ statement as describing the true debt of Argentina as “social,” not financial. It blasted the

“growing gap between rich and poor … negative aspects of globalization … the tyranny of the markets … We live in world in which the primacy of economics, without a base of reference in … the common good, impedes the resurgence of many nations … To accustom ourselves to living in a world of exclusion and inequality is a serious moral failure that erodes the dignity of mankind and compromises peace and social harmony.”

When elected Pope, Bergoglio said his inspiration to take the name Francis came not from Francis Xavier (co-founder of the Jesuits) but from St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of the poor. The man of peace … who wanted a poor church.” His time in Argentina was spent in an apartment, not the archbishop’s mansion. Of course, now he lives in a marble palace. [Reminds me of California Gov. Jerry Brown, another Jesuit, who refused to live in the governor's mansion during his first term.] Bergoglio worked with the poor and sent more bishops into the poor regions of Buenos Aires.

A leader of 1.5 billion people is a world leader. Unlike the American media blackout directed against good Latin American socialist leaders who have done good for their people (e.g., the recently re-elected Ecuadorian president, US-educated economist Rafeal Correa who brought his country back from the brink of economic disaster to steady and widely distributed growth by rejecting austerity and the handcuffs of the IMF, World Bank and multinational corporations), the U.S. media eagerly lavished praise on the new pope who dared once attack the economic pillars that support the U.S. financial sector.

I say all this to wonder aloud if we Americans voters could, should or would ever elect a President committed to alleviating the suffering of the poor in the United States — a woman or man from humble roots. The Jesuits are the largest order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church worldwide. The Jesuit mission is to advocate for social justice, to teach and the help the poor. In the U.S. there are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities. That special person need not come from the Jesuits, but …

There certainly is a great unmet need to help the poor in our apparently affluent America. In fact, it was a national disgrace that poverty and the poor were not mentioned by any candidate for president or vice-president in the last unending election cycle. No one called for attention to the poor more than Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. Visit the site Vision for a New America: Future Without Poverty. For their work, the right wing excoriated them and mainstream media ignored them.

Evidence that family poverty is a huge problem comes from the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. Here are the paltry income levels that define poverty in America.

In 1996, President Clinton signed into law “welfare reform,” reducing levels of public assistance for poor Americans. The results of that draconian policy are clear and indisputable according to the NPC 2012 report Extreme Poverty in the United States, 1996 to 2011. Here is the report’s conclusion:

In sum, we estimate that, as of the beginning of 2011, about 1.46 million U.S. households with about 2.8 million children were surviving on $2 or less in income per person per day in a given month. This constitutes almost 20 percent of all non-elderly households with children living in poverty. About 866,000 households appear to live in extreme poverty across a full calendar quarter. The prevalence of extreme poverty rose sharply between 1996 and 2011. This growth has been concentrated among those groups that were most affected by the 1996 welfare reform. Despite the presence of a substantial in-kind safety net, a significant number of households with children continue to slip through the cracks. And it is unclear how households with no cash income—either from work, government programs, assets, friends, family members, or informal sources—are getting by even if they do manage to claim some form of in-kind benefit.

Another policy decision to which national lawmakers agreed was to not extend unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed. According to the National Employment Law Project Feb. 2013 report, states are also cutting the duration of unemployment insurance to as little as 14 weeks. Not only are displaced workers unable to provide for their families while looking for work (an average of 35 weeks), there can be no consumer spending to uphold the national economy by those economically deprived families.

The big lie floated by politicians of both parties is that “deficit reduction” must be an immediate goal. This approach is the “austerity” approach. Cutting government services and raising fees while simultaneously privatizing government resources owned by the people has been the failed European experiment of the past several years.

I say big lie because, in fact, the U.S. deficit has been in steady decline, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (not Fox News or the Heritage Foundation).

Perhaps, truth-telling, or evidence-based policy making is an aspect of achieving social justice we Americans have abandoned. It’s not too late. Austerity starves those already deprived. We must stop killing our own people.

Being poor and hungry reduces us to mere survival. Our poor children cannot learn in school when all they can think about is having their next meal — and there may only be one per day. Imagine living on $2.00 per day in America. Have we no shame? Why deliberately drive others to despair when giving them sustenance is so easy.

Poverty is a solvable moral dilemma. We must find the will to be compassionate. Stop listening to the social darwinists, followers of ayn rand, and the so-called “social conservatives.” There’s nothing conservative about their plans. They are extremists who want to hoard all of the wealth for the few and make all others suffer.

If there can be a “Pope for the Poor,” there can be a “President for the Poor”!

Gary Namie

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 18th, 2013 at 5:15 pm and is filed under Bullying-Related Research, Commentary by G. Namie, Fairness & Social Justice Denied, Social/Mgmt/Epid Sciences. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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  1. kachina2 says:

    I would love to see those who believe that the poor are lazy and “choose” that “lifestyle” (which frequently is associated with homelessness, addictions, and mental health problems) challenged to live within the parameters of the existing social safety net. I often wonder how long it would take before they “just” got a job and pulled themselves out of poverty.

    I suspect it would be only a matter of time before most would find themselves homeless, struggling with addiction, developing mental health problems, or getting involved in criminal activity. People need respect, dignity, and adequate income to cover basic necessities before they can reasonably be expected to have and sustain the desire to secure and maintain employment. Then they will need that employment to provide an adequate income without eroding their dignity or compromising their health in order to sustain healthy families and enjoy healthy communities.

    As long as we are not providing basic necessities for no or low income individuals and families, we are failing to live up to our human potential.

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