Center for World Indigenous Studies
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The Chicago School

Published: December 20, 2016, Author: JayTaber

In Let Us Now Praise Wealthy Men?: Structural Poverty, Religiously (Re)Considered, Peter Laarman interviews Joerg Rieger, a leading theological thinker in relation to economic justice. As Rieger notes, wealth is about power, and the goal of the culture we have created is to please them and to follow their wishes. This servility and deference to the rich, says Rieger, has now become normalized, shaping the way we think, dream and believe. To counter the power of corporate owners, he observes, churches and unions need to wake up and join the struggle.

While theft of the public treasury is an agenda item 2012 Presidential candidates Obama and Romney both supported, how they proposed achieving that deserves greater attention. Given Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan’s close ties to the ultra-conservative Koch brothers and the Chilean fascist economist Jose Pinera, the Romney version of creating poverty adds another dimension to neo-liberal, free-market greed. Part of that dimension is the religious-based glee of inflicting punishment on the poor.

As Bruce Wilson reports, Romney’s ties to Latin American financiers with links to government-backed death squads might help shed light on the Pinochet style privatization he and Ryan envisioned. As one of the most brutal of South American dictatorships to emerge under U.S.-backed state terrorism in the 1970s, Pinochet and Pinera, his Secretary of Labor and Social Security, invoked the Chicago School plan that plunged half the Chilean population into poverty, and terrorized everyone but the ruling elite.

While Romney and Ryan may see the hand of God in their vision, others see a brutal and feudal society of rape and ruin. Oddly, that doesn’t seem to bother them.

Poverty in Indian Country is not an act of God; it is, rather, the result of U.S. policy. While the Puritan heritage plays a role in the setting of U.S. policy, it is the Unfair Dealing of U.S. agencies that has institutionalized American Indian poverty. With poverty of American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations at 39%, one has to wonder what an impartial God would think of the 2009 settlement of Cobell, in which the U.S. Government reluctantly returned to Indian Country $3.4 billion of the $47 billion in misappropriated royalties from reservation resource extraction.

In seeking absolution for its many sins against Indian Country, the U.S. Government used the gaming industry as a means of ameliorating traditional Indian economies eradicated by Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery. While this allowed some parts of Indian Country to prosper, the casinos — like state lotteries — were mostly a means of replacing some of the revenue lost to inflation and reductions in federal funding. With per capita expenditures by the US on American Indians and Alaska Natives at roughly half of that expended on other Americans, it is not difficult to understand why poverty remains a significant challenge for Indian governments.

While redemption is important to some American Christian denominations, reparations to Indian Country remain off the table. Atonement for past and present sins continues to be constricted by notions of white supremacy and plenary power. As long as Christian fundamentalists conflate criticism of their political privileges with persecution of their religious beliefs, the only resolution of US Federal Taxation Disparities in Indian Country is for Indian governments to preempt externally applied taxes, and to reserve exclusive Indian government authority over reservation resources. Otherwise — as noted in the January 2013 report by the Center for World Indigenous Studies Good Government Research Group — the current level of commitment by the U.S. Government will ensure a significant increase in poverty throughout Indian Country.

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