Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shocking: Utah Republicans Discover the Existence of Poverty and Social Inequality

by Nomad

Republican discover poor
According to a Salt Lake City article, Utah Republicans have made an astounding discovery. The poor! Furthermore, the conservatives say, with a few relatively cheap government programs, the cycle of poverty could be stopped in its tracks.

Unfortunately this is the same message that liberal Democrats have been saying for more than 50 years.

An op-ed piece in the Salt Lake City Tribune entitled "Utah Republicans Starting to Take on Poverty" should have a lot of voters scratching their heads in disbelief.

A Conservative  Epiphany on Poverty?
The article regales Utah Republicans for suddenly discovering the poor. Those sharp eyed conservatives never miss a trick, do they? 
The Republican legislators are, according to the article, 
"starting to realize that the poor have always been with us. And that that’s not a good thing. And that the rich and powerful should be doing something about it."
No kidding? Well, I declare.

This remarkable discovery was announced by Republican state Sen. Stuart Reid, who has been representing District 18 since January 1, 2011 .Reid has also detected something called intergenerational poverty.
Poverty, the Republicans have learned, can be passed down like an unfortunate inheritance. Who could have imagined it?

Utah republicans have now reached an "empirically solid conclusion" that
children who are born into poverty enter life with the deck overwhelmingly stacked against them. That low-income households are led, often heroically, by parents who themselves grew up poor, didn't get much education and who struggle daily, if not with health or addiction issues, then with the exhausting race just to keep up.
Thank God, the conservatives are on top of things. Otherwise this incredible news might have gone unnoticed.
But that's not all.
US map of the Poot
The Utah Republicans says that with some smart (and relatively cheap) government efforts like "offering help for parents and children to get basic health care, be screened for developmental delays or other handicaps and stay in school, that cycle can be broken."
You don't say?

Reid can now afford to speak more freely about helping the poor since as the article points out, he has decided to retire from the Utah legislature at the end of the year. He no longer has to worry about soliciting donors from the wealthy class who might not share or appreciate Reid's opinions on the poor.
Nevertheless, Reid's revolutionary ideas seem to have found favor not only with his fellow Republicans but with "the civil servants at the state’s departments of Workforce Services, Human Services and Office of Education."

The consensus opinion among the Republicans is that
"every dime spent on these efforts now will pay the taxpayers back many times over through savings in remedial education, police and prisons, health care and substance abuse."
Why didn't Democrats come up with brilliant ideas like this?

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who has served in the Senate since January 3, 2011, has also led the way in calling for "a new, conservative approach to poverty and inequality."

Lee has expressed an interest in helping those people who have fallen through the cracks. For example, Lee argues about the injustice of "ridiculously long prison sentences for minor crimes, mostly drug related." He also objects to "a tax code that weighs too heavily on people who work but don’t earn very much."
(I dare you to read between the lines on that statement.)
Both of these conservative Republicans, according to the article, should be commended for their "increased understanding that poverty is a trap and, particularly in the case of children, not of the poor’s own making."

The writer of the op-ed piece adds that such politicians now take the position "that selling new and more effective responses to poverty aren't things we do just because of our own bleeding hearts,"- like those evil liberals? "but out of hard-headed understanding that money spent now, and spent wisely, will save a lot of money later."

But it will involve spending taxpayer's hard earned money, is that correct? Hmmm..
The conservative's response? "But it's like an investment, they say, an investment in our fellow American. What loyal compassionate patriot could argue with that? 

Senator Mike Lee Utah
Between Words and Actions
In a rebuttal to the President's State of the Union address in January, Lee observed  
“In America, the test of any political movement is not what that movement is against, but what it is for."
That is perhaps true.  The problem is, Senator Lee has been against nearly every bill he has laid his eyes on. 
Indeed, for each politician there is another more important test to consider. The real test of a politician is not merely what he says, or what he pays lip service to. When the moment of truth comes, does he vote according to his conscience, according to what he says, or does he safely follow the ideological demands of his party? 

With that in mind, we must look a little bit closer at the Senator's voting record in Washington. It suggests something very different than what he has told the local reporter about the new conservative approach to poverty.

Senator Lee has voted against nearly every proposal put forth which would open the doors for low income families.  To put it bluntly, when it comes to looking after the working poor, Lee's record is abysmal

He voted against Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act which would have extended the length of unemployment benefits to cover another three months. With roughly 1.3 million unemployed workers who had already exhausted their unemployment insurance and anther 1.9 million at risk of exhausting their benefits later in that year. 
The long-term unemployed- those who have been unable to find work for more than 27 weeks- make up around 37 percent of all the United States’ jobless. What happening in investing in people? Did he think these people were beyond rescue?

Sen. Mike Lee could have put his words of compassion to practical effect. He chose not to. 
However, in an article in the Deseret News, Lee offered this explanation. Unemployment benefits caused poverty. 
He explained that government policies unintentionally "discourage almost every positive step underprivileged families can take toward social mobility and economic security."
Americans today do not lack the ability to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to flourish. But they absolutely lack the same access to the networks of human opportunity where that knowledge and those skills are acquired.
No new conservative approach can be found in any of those remarks.

One way that low income families can acquire the skills they need to increase social mobility is through education. And yet, in June 2013, Lee voted against the Student Loan Affordability Act which required to student debtors to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years. 

That might at first seem unrelated to helping the poor but, with a student loan debt that has now passed over $1 trillion, an amount that is 300 percent larger than just 10 years earlier, higher education (and the economic advantage it provides) is becoming what it once was a century ago. A "privilege only of America’s wealthy, and out of grasp for the majority of those in the country."

This alleged savior of the poor, Mike Lee voted "nay" on:
His record prior to this time wasn't any better. In 2012, Senator Lee voted against
For a person who talks about investing in Americans, Senator Lee, as a Tea Party politician, has given Scrooge a run for his money. He has demonstrated consistently that he is not very interested in that investing stuff. 

Lee: The Perfect Conservative
Instead of using government to make smart policies, he would prefer to stand in the way of progress. He would rather, true to the Tea Party ethic, blame government for the inequality. He is a loyal member of the very people who have proclaimed it their moral duty to shrink the government to a size small enough to drown it in a bathtub.

As a form of confessional self-indictment, Lee rhetorically asked in the rebuttal:
Where does this new inequality come from? From government — every time it takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests.”
That remark just can't be reconciled with the so-called new conservative approach. It's the old "blame government" that Reagan popularized some 30 years ago. Nothing new to report there. 
(Incidentally, the number of people living in poverty remained in decline right up until 1980s, when Reagan took office, dipped during the mid to late 1990s slightly and has climbed ever since.) 
Poverty Rate graphAs far as conservatives are concerned, Mike Lee is nearly the perfect politician. His wiki-bio points out that Lee received a 100% Conservative voting record for 2011 from the American Conservative Union.  The Heritage Foundation gave him a 99% score, ranking first only with DeMint.
If Lee's voting record- a badge of honor for a conservative- is anything to go by, this new-found approach to poverty and compassion for the poor children  must be a fairly recent change of heart.
Like say, last week.
Amherst College Kennedy SpeechA Half Century Ago
Come with me back to another October day over 50 years ago, 
It is now October 26th, 1963, President Kennedy has travelled to Amherst College to make one of his finest and most poignant speeches in his presidency. It was in memory of one of his favorite poets, Robert Frost, who had died earlier that year.

In the president's opening remarks, he spoke directly to the graduates of this rather elitist school. He spoke to them as one of their own, a man born into privilege and power as a seeming birthright. Private colleges, he pointed out, drew 50 percent of their students from the wealthiest 10 percent of our nation. 
It was natural for the graduates to forget how the other half lived and to take their status for granted. 

This sense of entitlement was, however, a tendency that they must reject. President Kennedy told his audience that, in return for the great opportunity which society gives the graduates of this and related schools, the privileged class of Americans also had a duty to the public interest.
Privilege is here, and with privilege goes responsibility. There is inherited wealth in this country and also inherited poverty.
Unless, said the president, the lucky few- those who have been given, as he called it, "a running start in life"  began learning how to share the bounty not as a right but as an honor and a blessing, then the nation would inevitably falter. 
Unless these people  were willing
to put back into our society, those talents, the broad sympathy, the understanding, the compassion--unless they are willing to put those qualities back into the service of the Great Republic, then obviously the presuppositions upon which our democracy are based are bound to be fallible.
Kennedy closed his remarks with a hope.
I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.
A month later, this progressive Democratic president would be murdered in Dallas.  

President Johnson
The need to address the problem of poverty did not end with one president's death. 
His successor, Lyndon Johnson, on January 8, 1964, declared a war on poverty.

He told the American public that we had "a unique opportunity and obligation--to prove the success of our system; to disprove those cynics and critics at home and abroad who question our purpose and our competence."

It was a job that only the government was big enough to address. But only if politicians put aside their differences and pettiness.
If we fail, if we fritter and fumble away our opportunity in needless, senseless quarrels between Democrats and Republicans, or between the House and the Senate, or between the South and North, or between the Congress and the administration, then history will rightfully judge us harshly.
 The president called for
"better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities to help more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment rolls where other citizens help to carry them."
President Johnson and War on PovertyIt was an escape for the kind of poverty that was, how shall I put it, intergenerational.  If America was really the land of opportunity, then it had to be so not merely for a privileged class. 
That equalizing effect was, as Johnson saw it,  a moral duty for government.

In that State of the Union speech, President Johnson continued:
Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.
It would require a small investment but it was something that America, as the richest nation in the world, could afford. Besides, even on a fiscally-conservative level, it would be a sound and profitable investment.
As Johnson pointed out:
One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.
As Lyndon Johnson once said:
We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.
*   *   *   *
Today, the Salt Lake City Tribune is celebrating the fact that Utah Republicans are preaching compassion to the poor, that they are no longer blaming the poor for their plight. 
However, this sermon is a little late in the day. It comes only a half century after presidents Kennedy and Johnson. 

Today, it is big news when a Republican has decided to re-package age-old liberal ideas and peddle them as some kind of revolutionary conservative approach. (Even then, as we have seen with Mike Lee, when the Tea Party politicians have the chance to actually do something, they do not seem to have to courage to follow their convictions.)  

The writer of this op-ed piece seems completely unaware (or unwilling to admit) that liberal democrats have been forcefully advocating these same ideas for well over 50 years.  
Moreover, unlike the Utah politicians, liberal Democrats have been willing to put their fine words for the poor into real action instead of merely paying them lip service.