Hating the Poor for Their Poverty

One of the many reasons that I'm not a Republican is because of their totally irrational attitude toward poverty and the poor. An example that always pops into my mind is one you've probably never heard of. It was a while ago and pretty damned local, so there's no reason why you should know it. In 1998, Republican Nancy Mistele was running for Wisconsin State Senate against Democrat Jon Erpenbach. She slipped up and said something that didn't really fly and I suppose the only reason I always think of it is that it seemed to me that it would've flown pretty much anywhere else.

[Capital Times, September 10, 1998:

Rich people work harder and, therefore, deserve a bigger tax cut, Republican state Senate candidate Nancy Mistele declared today.

''If you put time into it, and you put the effort forth, you can earn a decent living,'' Mistele said during a Capitol press conference.

''And to the extent that government can come in and then... distribute my money to people who choose not to work as hard, and choose not to run a couple of companies, who choose an 8 to 5 (workday) when I do a 7 to 11, I think it's absolutely wrong'' to give them any tax cut advantage, she said.

Of course, it didn't take long for dockworkers and hard-hats, firefighters and police, farmers and ranchers to point out that they had doubts that white-collar Nancy worked harder than they did. I guess it sticks in my head because it doesn't seem to be all that controversial a statement -- at least, not if it were expressed on the national stage. But here, it was immediately recognized as a deeply flawed argument and Nancy lost. The idea that wealthy people work harder than the working poor is ridiculous on its face. Yet, in many other districts, this statement would've been greeted by wild applause -- even from the working poor in the audience. It's Sarah Palin's argument, it's Newt Gingrich's argument, it's George W. Bush's argument; plenty of people out there just love it, as obviously untrue as it is. For them, rich people are automatically good and poor people are automatically bad. It's simple logic; if the wealthy deserve their wealth, then it stands to reason that the poor deserve their poverty. Capitalism creates winners and losers, one can't exist without the other, yet the losers in this crap shoot are to blame for their losses.

O'Keefe and Giles in 'disguise'We see this in the current ACORN scandal. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- an organization representing poor neighborhoods -- is currently under fire for giving advice to what were supposedly bad people. Two young conservatives staged a sting where, posing as a pimp and a prostitute, they got ACORN workers to offer them advice in setting up a bordello. There's no way these two should've enjoyed any success in this sting, since their disguises were so ridiculous as to be offensive. CBS News described them as being "dressed in 'pimp' and 'prostitute' costumes that looked like they had been picked up on the cheap for a Halloween party."

The two, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, neglect to mention how many offices they had to visit to find people so gullible that they'd fall for this minstrel show. CBS notes that "In Philadelphia... ACORN workers called the police." And they don't show any actual crimes. In fact, in at least one jurisdiction, it's O'Keefe and Giles who'd committed a crime by secretly recording people without their consent. Still, there's no defending the fools the two finally found and, as a result, ACORN is a sure bet to lose their federal funding. Their only hope is if Obama vetoes the legislation -- which just isn't going to happen.

Of course, all this begs a question that Salon's Glenn Greenwald is more than happy to ask; what makes ACORN so special?

ACORN has received a grand total of $53 million in federal funds over the last 15 years -- an average of $3.5 million per year. Meanwhile, not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars of public funds have been, in the last year alone, transferred to or otherwise used for the benefit of Wall Street. Billions of dollars in American taxpayer money vanished into thin air, eaten by private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, led by Halliburton subsidiary KBR. All of those corporate interests employ armies of lobbyists and bottomless donor activities that ensure they dominate our legislative and regulatory processes, and to be extra certain, the revolving door between industry and government is more prolific than ever, with key corporate officials constantly ending up occupying the government positions with the most influence over those industries.

Exactly as one would expect, the prime beneficiaries of all of that pillaging continue to grow. The banks that almost brought the world economy to collapse but then received massive public largesse because they were "too big to fail" are now bigger than ever; as
The Washington Post delicately put it: "The crisis may be turning out very well for many of the behemoths that dominate U.S. finance." Everything involving the government turns out well for these "behemoths" because they own and control the U.S. Government. Just this week, The Post detailed how the government and Wall St. are now so intertwined that banking executives are spending vast resources to increase their presence in Washington...

Of course, Washington stopped operating under the assumption that poverty was everyone's problem long ago. The United States, its government, and the vast majority of its people are merely a support system for incredibly wealthy people. So if ACORN takes $3.5 million this year to help poor people -- and misuses a fraction of that money -- they're done. The poor are getting more help than they deserve anyway. But if Wall Street needs billions after blowing their nut on corruption, greed, stupidity, and bonuses rewarding incompetence, then we get out the federal checkbook and ask them how many they need. If Blackwater rapes and murders in Iraq, if KBR electrocutes soldiers and poisons personnel with rotten food, that's forgivable -- because they aren't poor. See, only poor people are a drain on the taxpayer. The wealthy deserve their wealth -- even if the only thing saving them from bankruptcy or prison is taxpayer money. They worked hard for that federal money, harder than you have. They deserve your money more.

If we want to see a scandal involving real pimps and prostitutes, real abuse and crime and fraud, we need to go back to 1998 again and a little place called the Marianas Islands, AKA Saipan. In 1998, then-Rep. Tom DeLay told business owners on the islands, "You are a shining light for what is happening to the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America and leading the world in the free-market system."

Those business owners were running sweatshops. Girls from other countries were lured to the islands with promises of good-paying jobs and found themselves trapped in virtual slavery. They were locked up in barracks at night. If they missed any work, they were fired. You'd think this would mean freedom, but it actually meant even worse bondage:

[Former Marianas worker Carmencita Abad:]

My answer is, Mr. DeLay, I am that person. I am an example of an individual who can prove that the accounts of sweatshop labor and forced prostitution are not just allegations but true accounts of working conditions in the Marianas Islands when Mr. DeLay traveled there and turned a blind eye to our misery.


I used to live in a squalid barracks -- thin roofs, thin walls, concrete floors and people slept in bunk beds with 14 people sharing one restroom -- no hot water, no air conditioning.


Women were fired for being pregnant. And to keep her job, any pregnant woman would either go to an illegal abortionist or try to induce miscarriage by drinking herbal potions or falling down on purpose. Women who are fired from work have no way to support themselves aside from the sex trade. There’s no way to feed yourself aside from that.

But, of course, these people were poor -- meaning they didn't work as hard as the owners DeLay called "shining light for what is happening to the Republican Party." They were lazy and just trying to find an angle to soak the system. The business owners, responsible for near-slavery, mandatory abortions, and a thriving sex trade, were fine hard-working people. The Marianas, being a US commonwealth, was able to put out garments with a "Made in the USA" label, so they were the job- and wealth-creators... The finest people to stride the earth. And Tom DeLay? He resigned in disgrace -- over an issue only marginally connected to the nightmare in Saipan. Now he's a contestant on Dancing With the Stars -- as a star. For all the evil DeLay aided, he was rewarded with celebrity, minor though it may be. We're supposed to judge him not for his part in this massive human rights abuse, but for his tango. None of the abuses in the Marianas would've been possible without DeLay and the government funding he and other Republicans secured for Saipan, but it was a golf outing that finally brought him down.

And, of course, that's because Tom DeLay is the opposite of impoverished. He's got bucks, which means he's a fine man. When someone like Tom gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, it's a "regrettable lapse of judgment." When someone at ACORN misunderstands what their job description, it's like 9/11 all over again.

How can we fix this? We can start by shooting down the ridiculous notion that the wealthy work harder than you do. That'd be a nice place to start.


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