The Universal Notebook: Welcome to the United Suckers of America

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Bless the Maine People’s Alliance and Maine AFL-CIO for seeking a referendum vote on raising the minimum wage.

If you work for a living and you oppose an increase in the minimum wage, you are being suckered by the rich and the right. That makes you one of the causes of poverty in America.

The saddest part of the slide this country and this state have taken to the right is that so many working-class men and women seem to have swallowed the Big Right Lie. Conservatives have been very effective at using the politics of fear to persuade working-class Americans that the poor and immigrants are to blame for their economic woes.

Not true.

I came of age in the 1960s in an America that was determined to help the less fortunate. These days, Americans seem determined to blame the less fortunate.

All the right-wing alarm bells about the boogeyman of welfare fraud paints the poor as lazy freeloaders. But the poor are not slackers, they are victims of an economic system that does not create enough jobs for everyone, does not pay everyone a living wage, and cannot provide affordable housing, health care, higher education or child care. That’s the problem.

Raising the minimum wage is part of the solution.

The income gap in America increases as those in power grant themselves raises and tax breaks, while cutting social programs. We have more people in need of assistance than ever before, but politicians get elected these days by promising to cut food stamps, General Assistance and unemployment benefits. Anyone who complains about this is called a socialist.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Mr. & Mrs. Mainestream, the redistribution of wealth in this country is entirely upwards. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. If you haven’t figured out that the problem in this country is corporate welfare, not welfare fraud, you’re just another chump being played for a sucker.

We have a free-market system and a tax system rigged for the benefit of the rich. For decades, organized labor battled to win economic equity for workers, but the corporate campaign against unions has been so successful that we now have workers supporting so-called “right-to-work” laws that simply give management more power to exploit them.

People who complain that more products are not “Made in the USA” have only themselves to blame. We, the people, drove manufacturing overseas because we are unwilling to pay the true cost of production, because we didn’t support organized labor when we had the chance, and because we didn’t oppose trade agreements that screwed American workers. These days USA stands for United Suckers of America.

In the same Orwellian Doublespeak as “right to work,” the right pushes “religious freedom” laws that simply grant businesses the freedom to discriminate against customers and exploit workers. Imagine being so confused and misguided that you support your boss’ right to make health care decisions for you.

The “vast right-wing conspiracy” that Hillary Clinton warned about in 1998 was real. Wealthy conservatives funding right-wing think-tanks and PACs, aided and abetted by conservative talk radio, Fox News, and political appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court, have consolidated power in the hands of a moneyed elite who prey on the fears of the kinds of folks who re-elected our tea party governor.

The Supreme Court decision in Citizen United is a prime example of how conservatives have gamed the system to favor the few. At a time when the United States should have been placing meaningful limitations on campaign spending, the Roberts court sold our democracy to the highest bidder, allowing corporations and fat-cats to contribute unlimited amounts of money.

Well, folks, if money really is speech, as the court said it is, then the poor are speechless.

In a speech earlier this month at Colby College, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins blamed social media, partisan talk shows, a primary system that favors extremists and gerrymandered congressional districts for the “hyperpartisanship and incivility in Washington.”

To that list I would add a failure of American political leadership.

Who is going to stand up for the working poor, the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, the sick, the elderly, the workers of Maine? It’s not going to be the GOP, and even the Democratic Party sometimes seems to have abandoned the working class in favor of the disappearing middle class. At the moment, the true champions of the working class are the Maine People’ Alliance and the Maine AFL-CIO.

We just have to hope working-class men and women wake up to how they are being snookered by the bosses before it’s too late to do anything about it.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.