"Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor... Well, Maybe Not"

12/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At the base of the Statue of Liberty, a plaque reads this line by the poet Emma Lazarus:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

These words were meant to welcome those who fled their homelands for life in the United States of America. But now, what of our own huddled masses, homeless and tempest-tossed?

Unless you've been hiding in a deeper, darker cave than Bin Laden, you know that the economy is down, unemployment is up, and the holidays are just around the corner. Citibank has just announced that it will cut 50,000 more jobs. General Motors' fate is in the hands of the federal government.

While Joe Six Pack and Joe the Plumber and all the other regular Joes are cutting corners and trying to stay afloat, Joe the AIG Exec is working out how to spend the $150 billion it has received from the federal government ($440,000 of which went to a spa vacation, the likes of which Joe Six Pack will never know).

Unlike AIG, some Wall Street firms have decided that heaping on the spoils while Main Street suffers is not in the holiday spirit. Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, whose own bonus in 2007 was nearly $70 million, announced that seven top-earning Goldman execs will go without bonuses for this year. Goldman Sachs, which received $10 billion in the federal bailout, has lost 70 percent of its value this year.

The amount of money Wall Street bankers make in salary is pocket change compared to what a typical Wall Street holiday bonus can be. Those making $200,000 a year can earn upwards of a million in bonus compensation. For executives to take that kind of money in a year where, due to the bailout, taxpayers could likely be footing the bill, is so nauseating that I needed a bottle of Pepto to finish this sentence. How anyone can earn a million "bonus" when everything from Morgan Stanley to McDonald's is losing value is beyond me.

I'd like to see bonus money being given to teachers who keep at-risk children in school through graduation. Imagine what those people could do with even an extra $100,000; let alone a million or two. Wall Street bankers make more money than those who risk their lives in the military, those who go through eight years of med school to become an ER doctor who doesn't sleep for days at a time, or those who perform tedious, thankless research toward curing everything from cancer to Alzheimers.

Just across the river from the Statue of Liberty's promise of welcome, the tired and poor are not even an afterthought. I hope Wall Street execs who take bonuses funded by taxpayer dollars realize that the cool millions they pocket came from the sweat of individuals who can't afford vacations, new cars, or remodeled kitchens. When the rich take from the poor, the poor get poorer; thank God we've elected a President who intends to do away with tax breaks for the wealthiest.

While Congress didn't blink before signing a bill to bail out Wall Street, no one is committing to helping the auto industry, whose workers don't make the pretty penny investment bankers do. The National Associaiton of REALTORS has proposed a four-point plan for helping homeowners, as well; this too awaits consideration by Congress.

If our tired and poor can no longer expect to be cared for here, I suggest changing the poem on the plaque to the following, by Franz Wright:

Crossing briefly this mirrory still Galilean blue water to the heaven

of the affluent, the users-up, unconsciously remote

from knowing themselves

our owners and starvers, occupying

as they always have, to no purpose,

the mansions and the beauty of the earth

for this short while


we all meet and enter at the same door.