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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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When Charity Is A Mask For Brutal Exploitation

Our society has coined expressions like “philanthropist” and “season of giving” to encourage and hail people’s charitable spirit.

Look on the flip side of those shiny coins of generosity, however, and you’ll find that they’re made of a base substance of societal selfishness. After all, the need for charity only exists because we’re tolerating intentional injustices and widespread inequality created by power elites.

A supremely wealthy society (which so loudly salutes its historic commitment to the deeply moral values of fairness, justice and equal opportunity) ought not be relegating needy families and essential components of the common good to the vicissitudes of a season and the whims of a few rich philanthropists. Yes, corporate and individual donations can help at the margins, but they don’t fix anything. Thus, food banks, health clinics, etc. must constantly scrounge for more charity, while big donors have their “charitable spirit” subsidized with tax breaks that siphon money from our public treasury.

Especially offensive is the common grandiose assertion by fat-cat donors that charity is their way of “giving back” to society. Hello — if they can give so much, it’s probably because they’ve been taking too much! As business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin points out, “All too often, charitable gifts are used … to make up for the failure of companies to pay people a living wage and treat their workers with dignity.”

Sorkin notes that it’s not just the unemployed who rely on food banks but janitors, nannies, Uber drivers, checkout clerks and others who work full time but are so poorly paid they can’t make ends meet. That’s not a sad charity case but a matter of criminal exploitation by wealthy elites — and the charitable thing to do is to outlaw it and require a living wage for all.

We must shift from charity to fundamental structural change. “The aim,” says Sorkin, “should be to create a society where we don’t need places like food banks in the first place. … we should be trying to put the food banks out of business.”

In the absence of structural change, our society relies on charity and government programs to address issues regarding poverty and hunger. While it’s fashionable in many enclaves of the rich to bemoan government programs that use tax dollars to aid the poor, guess who receives by far the fattest benefits from the public treasury. Bingo — if you said the rich!

Consider recent actions by President Donald Trump’s secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue. He’s been dubbed the “Georgia Goober” for his ignorant insults and preposterous policies, and he issued a harsh new regulation in December that’s both. It slaps poor people living in depressed areas with a sneering work requirement in order to be eligible for meager food stamp benefits, which amount to only about $127 a month. Yes, Perdue is literally taking food from poor people, piously claiming it’ll help them become self-sufficient. “(G)overnment dependency has never been the American dream,” preached Purdue, who has personally been dependent on a government check for more than two decades.

Crass hypocrisy, however, is integral to the Donnie & Sonny policy approach. Last year, they pushed out a $28 billion tax bailout for farmers impacted by Trump’s inept tariff tiff with China. Many U.S. farm families have been wrecked by Trump’s failed ag policies, but they’re not the ones who got the Trump government’s helping hand. The bulk of the billions went to the biggest, richest agribusiness interests that neither needed nor deserved a public handout — about 75 percent of the total was taken by the largest 10 percent of farm corporations (including foreign-owned operations). And, unlike a food stamp recipient getting a pittance to buy a little bit of food, some ag-biz outfits pocketed more than $2 million each from us.

But wait. Trump and Perdue have more meanness in store for the poor. They’re pushing another federal regulation that’d cut off food stamps if a low-income family has barely $2,000 in “assets.” Hello — that means a family that has an old used car to get to their poverty-wage jobs would be denied food assistance.

What’s wrong with these shameful public officials who perversely pamper the rich while taking pleasure in punishing the poor? It’s immoral.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

Iran War Would Blow An Enormous New Hole In Trump’s Budget

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

How much would Trump’s unnecessary war with Iran cost us?

Hardly anyone ever asks that about wars, unlike the costs of social programs. So let’s look at how much money our government needs to fight an unnecessary and likely counterproductive war with Iran.

Let’s look into first the likely costs. Then we will see where Trump and the Republicans think they can get the masses of money needed to prosecute another gratuitous Middle East war.

The government’s purse is short of tax dollars these days after the Trump/Radical Republican tax cuts and spending rise. A new House Budget Committee report documents 50 percent growth in the budget deficit since Trump took office.

When today’s newborns are in their 80s they will still be paying the costs of Trump’s folly.

Spending is growing so much faster than tax revenue that Trump & Co. has forced us into trillion-dollar annual deficits far into the future.

Before Ronald Reagan, I remember, Republicans called themselves the party of fiscal responsibility. As they did back in the Reagan years, Republicans today cut taxes on the wealthy and stick the rest of us with the bill, either through stealth tax increases like Trump’s tariffs or by simply putting government operations on the federal credit card for you and your great-great-grandchildren to pay off.

No Tax Cut for You

Wait. You thought you got a tax cut from Trump? Silly you.

You gave Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross and the other cabinet officer billionaires, as well as fake billionaire Trump, fat tax hikes. You may have gotten a small reduction in your income tax bill since 2018, but it is a mess of pottage next to the trillions in added debt Uncle Sam will incur under the borrow-and-spend Radical Republican/Trump tax cut.

In a few years, just the interest on the new debt will exceed what you may have thought was your income tax savings.

Keep in mind that wars incur both immediate costs as well as future obligations. When today’s newborns are in their 80s they will still be paying the costs of Trump’s folly.

This assumes, of course, that we go to war with Iran, and that Trump does so without what our Constitution requires. A declaration of war by Congress, which has the sole power to declare war, is mandatory.

One cost we can’t estimate is how many of your sons and daughters or grandchildren will die for Trump’s vanity. Maybe we should pray that the fiercely pro-life Vice President Mike Pence will speak up about slaughtering our young to serve Trump’s vanity. No, not going to happen. Pence and his crowd only speak up for the unborn. Pence has already made clear he is all-in for Trump’s war.

Candidate Trump said he would get us out of the Middle East. Instead, he has about the same number of troops there now as his predecessor Barack Obama did three years into his first term. Trump just ordered about 3,500 more Marines there.

$1 Million Per Soldier

More than a decade ago the Obama White House began using $1 million per soldier as its rule of thumb measure for Middle East war costs. That’s 15 times the inflation-adjusted annual cost of $67,000 to maintaining a battlefield soldier in World War II.

Costs are higher now not just because of inflation, but also continued advances in expensive weaponry, reliance on contractors and medical care for battlefield wounds.

The new Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier cost more than $13 billion–before counting its armada of support surface ships and submarines. That whole flotilla can be taken out with a single nuclear missile.

Figure the cost of those newly deployed Marines at about $1.5 million each over the next 12 months, a total of $5.2 billion.

That’s enough money to fund the National Endowment for the Arts for the next three decades; or increase aid to public schools by 30 percent; or increase the EPA budget by 60 percent; or more than double federal spending on renewable energy and energy efficiency; or provide Medicaid for 1.4 million poor Americans.

But the real cost of a war with Iran is likely to be way more than $5.2 billion.

Lowballing the Costs

The George W. Bush administration estimated the cost of the Iraq war at no more than $60 billion, while actual costs will be 50 times that much, according to a 2008 study by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and economist Linda Bilmes.

The ultimate cost of America’s Middle East wars will be around $4.6 trillion, Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimated two years ago. That’s before tacking on the costs of a war against Iran.

Just medical care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans approaches $1 trillion, one study estimated from official government data. The study understated the real costs because it excludes caring for veterans who live past age 67 when they can go onto Medicare.

High medical costs are a result of a huge shift in the share of battlefield casualties that are fatal.

Modern medicine keeps alive many soldiers who would have died in World War II or Vietnam, but often with a need for intensive medical care for life. In addition, survivors collect disability income checks, which frankly are much too modest for the pain and lost opportunities that surviving soldiers endured. (Disclosure: My dad was a disabled WWII vet.)

Not Easy

Invading Iraq was a piece of cake compared with taking on Iran, which has a much larger, better trained and better-motivated military. Occupying Iran would make our 17-year occupation of Iraq seem easy because the Iranian people are not eager to oust their leaders, however much we dislike them. Many Iranians still harbor resentment from our imposing a shah on them in 1954. Our FBI helped the shah create his murderous secret police, the Savak, in 1957.

Iraq, by the way, may throw us out because we assassinated top General Qassim Suleimani of the elite Iranian Quds Force.

And to think that not that long ago Iraq and Iran were engaged in a long war that killed millions on both sides. Oh, how America has changed the Middle East—and not to the better from an American perspective.

Expect that if the Trump administration ever speaks of costs that it will lowball the numbers. Expect that the cult-like Republican response will be that whatever Supreme Leader and Chosen One Donald Trump wants is not only good, but beyond questioning.

And where will Team Trump get the money to prosecute a war that Congress surely will not declare? From the Forgotten Man.

Ordinary Americans, who Trump courted and at his inauguration called the Forgotten Man, will pay the price. Sacrifice will be necessary, and you can be sure it won’t be sacrifice by those enjoying the increased federal subsidies for personal jets that Trump and the Republicans voted in as part of their so-called tax cuts.

What to Expect

How will the Forgotten Man and Woman be forced to sacrifice? Here are a few predictable examples:

  • Recipients of food stamps, now called SNAP benefits, will be targeted. New cuts will ensure that children, the disabled and the elderly go hungry so Trump can wage war on Tehran.
  • People who breathe the air and drink the water downwind and downstream from electric power plants, petrochemical plants and other polluting companies as more cuts are made in enforcing environmental laws.
  • Students who will get less aid, resulting in a less well-educated America in the decades ahead. That in turn will mean slower economic growth than the lackluster performance under Trump so far.
  • Soldiers and sailors will have to fight for medical care that the Trump administration will do all it can to argue is not needed. In this, at least, Trump is only worse than the similar antagonism of previous administrations of both parties in keeping promises to the war wounded.
  • Fees will go up, freeing up tax dollars. Team Trump may even revive the Reagan era practice of calling adjustments that raises taxes and shifts costs onto feepayers as “revenue enhancements” rather than tax increases.
  • The unborn will pay too. Because absent a major change in policy, the interest on the national debt, now at $23.2 trillion, will just keep rising. When today’s toddlers are wrinkled and grey they will pay the price for Trump’s folly.

And all this assumes Trump can contain the dogs of war after he unleashes them, and that we won’t end up in World War III.