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Rich vs. Poor: Growing gap is 1st Charlemont Forum topic

CHARLEMONT — “Economic Inequality on Trial” is the theme of this year’s Charlemont Forum, with a focus on how the impact of U.S. tax policies and political attitudes about scarcity have led to a widening economic gap that is dividing the country.

The first talk is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m., at the Federated Church of Charlemont.

Barry Shelley, a political economist who is an Oxfam America adviser on global agriculture and climate change, will talk about how the national preoccupation with debt and a sense of scarcity lead to policies that consistently favor the wealthy over the poor.

Before working for anti-hunger group Oxfam, Shelley taught a master’s program in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University. He also lived in El Salvador from 1988 to 1994, and led educational programs there through 2006. In El Salvador, he coordinated a faith-based international organization, working with Salvadoran partners in the areas of human rights, health, education, and economic development, both during and following that country’s civil war.

For Tuesday’s talk, Shelley said he plans to discuss biblical traditions and “pull out the very often ignored or unrecognized threads of a progressive orientation” regarding wealth and property ownership from early Sabbath laws and the Jewish jubilee tradition.

Shelley will be joined by David Specht of Charlemont, a consultant and educator who is currently director of research and organizational services for a nonprofit group called Seeing Things Whole. This group was formed to help guide organizations toward policies “informed by spiritual imagination and moral courage,” according to its website. Specht is also a mediator, consultant and trainer with the Mediation and Training Collaborative in Greenfield.

On Aug. 8 at 7 p.m., Washington, D.C., tax lawyer John Fox will discuss “Winners and Losers: Social Injustice and the U.S. Income Tax Policy.”

Fox, a former professor at Mount Holyoke College, has published articles in The Washington Post and the New York Times on the inequities of our tax laws. Joining him will be Mounty Holyoke history professor Fred McGinness. They will look at current tax laws and suggest reforms that could help the poor in ways they help the rich.

Fox is also the author of “If Americans Really Understood the Income Tax” and “Ten Tax Questions the Candidates Don’t Want You to Ask.”

Both Forum presentations will be held in the Federated Church. Partial financial support comes from the Cultural Councils of Buckland, Charlemont and Shelburne, which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The lectures are free, although donations are also welcome.

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