That's all just terrible, but the most terrible thing about it is that it's not happening because America is out of money. America has gobs of money. The rich are richer than they have ever been, and even in a prolonged economic downturn, big corporations are flush with cash. Of the companies in the 2010 Fortune 500, 139 are American; of those, 117 turned a profit in 2009 despite the dismal economy, and of that 117, 83 turned a profit in excess of $1 billion. (Of that 83, 14 turned a profit of over $10 billion.) The rich in America are so rich that many of them are banding together to donate their money to charity.
That's good, right? Well, yes and no. It's hard to fault anyone for donating to charity, but it's problematic for several reasons. If we were instead to simply tax the wealthy at a higher rate, the money would arguably be more effective: government provides all sorts of services to all sorts of people in need, while charities have a specific and targeted function. If you're not a recipient of the particular charities receiving all that money, it does you no good whatsoever, whereas if the money went to the government, it could help you in a number of ways. Someone who gives $500 million to a cancer charity has done a wonderful thing for people with cancer, no doubt. But someone who pays $500 million in taxes not only helps people with cancer, but people who are out of work and need job training; people who need to send their kids to college; people who need to use the library; people who need the roads to be repaired so they can get to work; people who need the fire that's burning their house down put out. It would probably be crass of me to mention that by donating such massive sums to charity, these benificent rich folks are getting even further tax breaks, allowing them to keep even more of the money they don't give to charity, and thus putting even less money in the public coffers than we already have. Again: it's good for the rich people, and it's good for the direct recipients of their charity, but it's very bad for everyone else. As Robert Reich points out, the primary accomplishment of this charitable largess is to remind us how vast the gap between the rich and the poor has become, and how much we're beginning to resemble the horrifically inequitable country we were during the era of the robber barons.
It's been said before by many people, and much argument has been made over to what degree it's intentional, but the right wing has ginned up so much hysteria over "socialism", and ingrained in ordinary Americans so much revulsion at the very idea of paying taxes, that they are in danger of destroying the country. No nation can thrive without government providing certain essential services; third world countries work that way because they don't have any income to shore up their government coffers, but there is absolutely no excuse other than greed for a country as hugely wealthy as we are to not tax the wealthy and the corporate citizens commensurate to their wealth. California's Proposition 13 is quite literally bankrupting the state; one of the world's wealthiest economies is in danger of total governmental collapse due to the short-sightedness of anti-tax zealots. Things have gotten so dire that our government refused to pass a bill providing health care to 9/11 first responders and emergency workers -- perhaps the most (justly) lionized heroes of the century -- because it would be paid for by an extremely minor tax on the offshore financial holdings of huge corporations. This is, quite simply, fucked.
The idea that any modern economy can survive without a strong government and a solid tax base is nothing more than a fantasy. The repercussions of believing that fantasy are a very basic, and very dismal, reality: you can see them all around you. Something's got to give.