What happens when the eight richest men in the world possess wealth equal to the bottom half of the entire world population?
There I was, in a pew at Cormorant Lutheran Church on Sunday morning, when I got the Christian view of acquiring wealth in a Christian country. A quote from the gospel of Matthew makes the point: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
When we RVed through the South for years, we never traveled on Sunday morning so we could watch the televangelists, mostly Southerners, weep, cry, wave their Bibles, and talk about sinning. Actually “Sunday Morning Live” was vastly more entertaining than “Saturday Night Live.”
My all-time favorite is Jimmy Swaggart, swaggering up and down on the stage, shouting up to Heaven, waving his Bible. Occasionally he dropped to his knees with tears streaming down his face, looking toward the heavens, and cried, “I have sinned!” Poor Jimmy did sin. He was finally caught laying hands on too many prostitutes he was trying to save from, well…something.
Pastor Paula White: “Donald Trump was chosen by God to lead this nation.”
Evidently you can find support for anything you want to do in the Bible, whether it is to kill or to make a pile of dough. The idea of the prosperity gospel sprang from the New Thought movement in the 19th Century. Sometimes called the health and wealth gospel, it’s a religious belief supported in the Bible—someplace—that financial blessings and physical well-being are always the will of God, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth.
There are many Southern pastors who “believe” in prosperity gospel, with some of them now personally worth many millions. Joel Osteen is worth $50 million, and his wife recently dropped her church duties to run a new business for the both of them.
Creflo Dollar, magically named by his parents, is a prosperity gospeller who convinced his church board he needed an $85 million jet to conduct church business. Ever listen to millionaire Kenneth Copeland? And let us not forget millionaire Pat Robertson, a man of the cloth who loves cashmere. And I will always remember the Southern big-haired lady minister who was videoed preaching sermons as she rode a pontoon around the shores of a Florida lake.
This leads us to Pastor Paula White, the 51 year-old spiritual leader of Our Great Leader Donald Trump. She actually never graduated from a Bible school but was ordained by somebody anyway. Paula claims The Donald called her in 2011 to pray with him about running for president, and therefore also claims he is a born-again Christian because of her laying on of hands on him at that time. The thrice-married Paula seems to be the perfect spiritual leader for the thrice-married Donald.
The very blonde Paula is currently married to a rock band musician 15 years her junior, and her favorite dress is a scarlet Oscar de la Renta sheath dress along with scarlet patent leather stilettos. She and Donald make a perfect pair. Although Trump still does not go to church, he says ”she’s fantastic.” He has appointed her head of his evangelical advisory council. She claims she convinced him to run for president in 2015 at a meeting of televangelists at Trump Towers.
Just where is Paula leading Donald?
Paula was the first woman ever to give a prayer at an inaugural. James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame says she “personally led him to Christ.” She insists that God chose Trump to lead the United States in this perilous time. However, Southern Baptist leaders are not enamored of Paula. Russell Moore calls her a “charlatan and a Trinity-denying heretic.”
Paula uses her private jet to fly to Washington once a week to guide Trump to somewhere. Her church brings in over $40 million a year. She owns a $3.5 million condo in Trump Tower and lives in a $2.6 million, 8,072 sq. ft. home in Florida.
Pastor Paula has had one major crisis since becoming Our Great Leader’s advisor. She was holding hands with televangelist Benny Hinn on a Rome street in front of a hotel where they stayed when they were caught in a National Enquirer photo. Hinn later admitted it was “inappropriate” for him to be with a married woman—while he was married. Paula says she got a settlement from the paper for running the story. The Enquirer claims they have no record of the settlement.
(Have you ever watched the Benny Hinn telecast? He heals people with various diseases and deformities by laying hands on them while they are standing. When they are “cured,” his aides catch them when they swoon so they don’t hurt themselves. It’s riveting TV!)
Meanwhile, back to the reality of income inequality
Now we know about the “Christian” millionaire ministers who tithe in reverse. They keep 90% of the collection plate for themselves and spend 10% on the poor. Now let’s take a look at the “Christian” billionaires who hide their money with the criminal and legal drug cartels and Russian oligarchs in overseas tax havens.
We know that three white men, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway own more wealth than the bottom 165 million in our population.
But that’s hard to comprehend. Let’s get real. The Federal Reserve reports that 30% of our adults, or 73 million people, are finding it “difficult to make ends meet or are barely getting by.” Just under 25% of all adults said they “could not pay their bills for the current month.” 44% said they could not cover an emergency expense of $400, and 25% reported they had to skip medical treatment during the past year because of the cost. This is the reality of our income inequality.
So this is reality: the ten richest men in America in 2017 are collectively worth $633 billion. The basic budget for the Department of Defense is $574.5 billion. If the ten paid this budget, they would each have only $6 billion left for personal living expenses.
There are other budgets that we have for other national defense expenses, and if we add these in, our military spending is greater than the next nine top countries. We will spend $64.6 billion fighting ISIS, $78.9 for the Veterans Department, $27.1 billion for the State Department, $44.1 billion for Homeland Security, $9.5 billion for cyber defense and FBI, and $13.9 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration.
One F-35 fighter plane costs $178 million. Each pilot’s helmet runs $400,000. One fighter’s cost would pay for 3,358 years of college for our young people. Cheap at the price, right?
Congress should study why a three-bedroom, two bathroom house in Sunnyvale, California which sold for $27,500 in 1963 was recently sold for $2.47 million. It needed some work. This was almost 100 times greater in the span of 54 years. Worker’s wages only went up ten times in the same time period.
Why don’t we learn from other countries and governments?
German technology and engineering have always been admired in this country. Why don’t we learn from them? Germany is a much more egalitarian country than the U.S. As an example, the top fifth of U.S. income earners make eight times as much, on average, as the bottom fifth. In Germany they make only four times as much. The German tax system distributes more from the rich to the poor while it covers more of the cost of basic social services: health insurance, child care, nursing care, even four years of tuition-free college. This enables young Germans to be much more economically mobile than poor and middle class members in the U.S.
In 2016 a poll indicated that 55% of German people trusted their government, compared with only 30% of people in the U.S. Almost 20% of the German workforce works in high paying jobs in manufacturing, compared to only 10% in the U.S.
The federal minimum wage in Germany is $10.25 compared to $7.25 in the U.S. German workers receive up to 14 months of mandated parental leave compared to none in the U.S. In German companies of more than 500 workers the workers select up to half of the board of directors. Germany demonstrates a form of democratic capitalism, not our kind of disaster capitalism.
We have a predatory health care system that allows people in rich ZIP codes to live to an average of 93 and those in poor ZIP codes to live to 61—at a cost of $10,000 per person, double any other industrialized country. We still have 22 million people without insurance.
Why don’t we try socialized medicine like the French have, so that everyone is covered—at half the price? A French citizen can visit any health facility in the country: no provider is “out of network,” he cannot be turned down (no such thing as existing conditions), there are no deductibles, and there is no insurance executive to challenge the claim.
While insurance companies in the U.S. spend 20% of the health bill administering and denying claims, the French system spends virtually nothing on paper or administration. All prices for treatments are fixed by the government. Each person over 15 is issued a “life card” which contains all necessary information about the patient. It is a record of all visits to facilities, treatments, and prescriptions. Children’s records are stored on parent cards. When a physician treats a patient he puts the information on the life card, puts it in a card reader, hits a button—and he is paid within three days.
When doctors make house calls (not rare in France), the house call costs the patient 31 euros -- that’s 37 dollars.
Nurses are assigned to new mothers for a week at their home. You might compare how the average French person is treated at medical facilities with how our millionaires and billionaires are treated after they are presented with those special colored blankets.
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