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At Christmastime every year I see abundant evidence that individual Americans are among the most generous, caring people on earth.

You see people piling up Toys for Tots to brighten the lives of children who live in or near poverty, or going to hospitals to cheer up the ill.

You watch people give money to soup kitchens or donate food and their time to places that give holiday dinners to those who are down though not hopelessly out.

It is such a beautiful contrast to the political glob we call America that for most of the year can be so cruel to the needy, even children. This faceless America hates welfare programs and barely tolerates government spending to combat hunger.

How can we be so sentimental, so giving as individuals, and so hard-hearted as a political mass? I think it is because people feel good when they give a doll to a little girl or a turkey to a family; a certain sense of joy and righteousness comes from knowing that an appreciative human being was helped. But millions of people resent the "coercion" of being taxed to feed and help others. It is so easy for them to believe their money is being squandered on the unworthy.

I fear that the personal act of delivering a toy to a television station shields many of us from guilt feelings about what we have denied the poor in both goods and opportunities. How many Americans find it troubling that at a time when our economy is thriving, and when they are giving out million-dollar bonuses on Wall Street, charity is needed to prove to many millions of children that there really is a Santa Claus?

The permanency of this situation ought to curb the celebrations of the privileged. Yes, "permanency" is the word. We just got reports that the gap between rich and poor is still widening, with the richest 20 percent of U.S. families taking in 10 to 20 times the income of the poorest 20 percent.

I, as a dedicated, practicing capitalist, know this is a problem endemic to our system in which "them that has gets; them that has not begets." I have traveled the world over and seen that no system -- communism, socialism or whatever -- has prevented stratification into rich and privileged to poor and hopeless classes.

I don't suggest we ought to stop the rich from getting richer. I urge only that we lead the rich to understand that the extent to which they extend the spirit of Christmas by supporting scholarships, internships and other programs that help people to climb out of poverty will determine the security of their wealth and happiness.

Merry Christmas!

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