Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The war on poverty

It's been quite a while since I posted. I've been doing a new internship. Usually I sit around reading politics all day and something comes up that I want to write about. But actually doing things gets me out of that routine. And I think after I do things I just don't want to expand the mental energy needed to keep up my normal blogging output. That, and I go through dry spells where I just don't think I have anything unique to say, or I tweet about it.

Anyway, now that I've done my obligatory explanation for my extremely slow (some would say non-existent) blogging lately, I wanted to jump back in with some thoughts about the war on poverty. But I don't want to talk about that war on poverty, the one where we try to help people get out of poverty. I want to talk about the one that rich people and Republicans are waging on the poor, the one in which they want to essentially punish the poor for not being one of them.

It's not officially a thing like the good "war of poverty" is (despite my dislike for the violent rhetoric). But just look at some of the things happening to the poor or being proposed that would affect them. Let's start at the federal level. A big part of the economic crisis of late 08 was banks betting and losing on what some of them thought were good mortgages that were really crappy mortgages that other banks had disguised and sold to those banks. Some of those mortgages were given to poor people who didn't know that their interest rates would jump to much higher levels than what they started out as, thus leaving them unable to pay their monthly bill. When that started to happen in mass, the banks that had bought the (basically) fraudulent credit default swaps lost a ton of money and went under. That of course caused a massive recession which obviously hurt the poor a great deal.

More recently, in response to the spending that tried to combat the recession, Republicans and Obama have been going nuts over deficit reduction. Instead of spending more to help the poor, they want to cut their benefits. The Republican plans are bad enough. I'll note the Ryan budget which would cut taxes on the rich while likely raising them on everyone else. But as he has hinted at before, Obama seems to again want to embrace chained CPI as a way to calculate inflation, which essentially would cut Social Security benefits for everyone. That after Obama and Congress didn't extend the payroll tax holiday, which technically just put the employee side of the payroll tax back to normal, but still raised people's taxes by about 2%. So even Obama is proposing policies that would hurt the poor.

I'm probably forgetting a lot more. But for now let's move to the state level. Most states have sales taxes, and have had them for a long time. The problem with flat sales taxes is that they are very regressive. The lower your income, the bigger % of your total income you are going to have to pay in sales taxes. That's different than the way federal income taxes are done, where the lower your income the lower % of your income you have to pay. Those sales taxes obviously fund state budgets, which were hammered by the recession. Since states (unlike the federal gov't) have to balance their budgets (to some extent at least, they can't print money, but I think they can borrow), they have had to cut a lot of programs since they were bringing in less money during the recession. That has surely hurt the poor.

Now I want to get to the proposal that got me thinking of this issue. And not surprisingly it came from my home state of Tennessee. A state senator has proposed a bill that would tie welfare to kids' grades in school. If parents' kids don't make certain grades, this state senator wants to cut the amount of welfare they receive. If that isn't a clear indicator that there are people in this country that are trying to make the poor worse off than they already are I'm not sure what is.

And what is scary is the poor aren't just underrepresented by Republicans. They are also underrepresented by Democrats. They have nowhere to turn. No one is really looking out for them. The people in charge are too busy not prosecuting banks for blatant crimes, finding new ways to cut programs that help the poor so that they can solve made up deficit problems, or just flat out blaming the poor for being unlucky. And many of the people doing these things go around talking about how this nation is so great because it's a "Christian" nation. They complain that liberals like myself are trying to secularize things too much, that we need more Jesus in our schools, homes, and public places. Yet they don't have a fucking clue what Jesus thought about the poor and what we should all do for them. If they did they would lay down their arms in their war on poverty and fight for them as hard as they fight for lower tax rates for the rich and the rights of banks to operate however they see fit.

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