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Bend back our moral compass

By Joseph Darter

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[January 11, 2014]  Martin Luther King Jr. once said that "the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict." At this moment, our nation stands at the crossroads of a great moral conflict. This nation must decide how we are going to proceed from this point on. 

Are we going to be a nation that looks out for each other, especially when times are tough, or are we going to be a nation of such selfishness that we only take care of ourselves? If you think this is just overblown hyperbole, just look at the matters that are facing Congress this upcoming year – extending long-term unemployment, immigration reform, the continued rollout of the Affordable Care Act, marriage equality will again be before the Supreme Court, and the most important of all is how Congress will react to the widening canyon of income inequality. In each and every one of these issues, we are struck face to face with a moral dilemma. How we proceed will have great implications for our nation and how we are seen throughout the world.

Why has it become fashionable to look down upon the poor with disdain, claim they are nothing but no-good scammers and proceed to kick them while they are down and then tell the rest of the world that 47 percent of our own population are nothing but worthless takers who shun personal responsibility? We are losing our ability to provide empathy toward our fellow friends, neighbors and citizens. We are all guilty of judging the person at Wal-Mart when they use their Link card to pay for their groceries. We are so quick to assume that these people who have to rely on the government for money in order to buy groceries are somehow living a life worthy of any upper-middle-class family. Somehow we imagine that the money the government gave them was most likely fraudulently scammed. How many times have we thought that this person probably had more than one child strictly for its ability to be an income-generator?  We tend to forget that this child could have been conceived during a period when times were not tough and that they only recently have needed to rely on governmental assistance. It is amazing how much judging we are capable of doing in just a few minutes in the checkout line.

I was fired from a good-paying job in May of 2012 and had to rely on unemployment benefits.  The process was daunting. I was mortified and embarrassed for being fired, and now I was having to swallow my pride and apply for unemployment benefits. After my pride was swallowed, I was so grateful for this program. I am like most Americans, a few paychecks away from drowning, so my unemployment benefits were a lifeboat at a time when I was sure my boat was sinking. I was now the person that people were judging in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. I am sure they saw me get out of my brand-new Chevrolet Camaro (which was bought in better economic times), and I am sure they questioned my need to use a government-issued debit card. The fact that I stood up and refused to back down from an ethical problem that led to my dismal was never known to the people who have stood behind me in line, judging me. They had no idea of the struggle that it took to stay within my bounds and to make my benefits cover my bills. I was not living like a king. I was looking for work every day while going back to college full time and earning high academic honors. It would have been so much easier for me from a stress level and a financial position to never have been fired. Being jobless is not a cakewalk. It is not the high life that people think it is.           

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Why do we give the businessman the benefit of the doubt when they take advantage of a government program that saves their company billions of dollars? Why do we proclaim them to be prudent and shower them with great esteem and reward them with parachutes made of gold? What is the difference between the poor who depend upon the government for groceries or the businessman who depends upon the government for profit? Why is the House of Representatives, the "people's House," demanding that no long-term unemployment benefit bill will be passed unless it is fully funded with money stripped away from the Affordable Care Act — the same act whose sole responsibility is to provide poor people with health insurance? Why not close the tax loopholes that allow a corporation to write off the purchase of a private jet? Certainly they can fly from coast to coast in a 5-year-old jet as well as in a brand-new one? We have gone so far to the side of pandering to stockholders that the stakeholders are now the forgotten class. The very things that made this country great have been pushed aside in the chase for the almighty dollar. Unions, which built the middle class, have been systematically torn apart to the point that companies can run roughshod over their employees with impunity. The robber barons like Rockefeller and Carnegie are alive and well today. The difference is we now put them on pedestals so high that they can fleece hundreds of thousands of homeowners and not spend a single night in jail. Al Capone knew he was in the wrong racket the whole time. We must come to the realization that the rich can take care of themselves and that they do not need to be coddled. We must ask ourselves if this a government of the people, for the people and by the people or is it a government of the rich, for the rich and by the rich?

We must bend our moral compass back to compassion for those left behind and for those who need a hand to help pull themselves back up. We can do better than what we are doing now. We can work together and help our friends, neighbors and citizens. We are the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen, so why must we act like a miser? We can afford to take care of each and every one of us, but if I am wrong and this country is going broke, let it be from feeding the poor and not the rich.


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