The Watering Hole; Friday January 17 2014; “Take All Away From Me, But Leave Me Ecstasy”

A long time ago (‘and in a galaxy far far away’?), the American poet Emily Dickinson wrote:

His Cheek is his Biographer –
As long as he can blush
Perdition is Opprobrium –
Past that, he sins in peace –

Not sure just how she managed, but she did — in just three words — describe perfectly the essentially shriveled soul that has in recent years emerged as the defining feature of the Republican Party, an infirmity invariably pressed ever ‘forward’ by the GOP’s crackpot Tea Party fringe. The premise has at its heart a single goal: to mandate whatever is necessary to guarantee that the rich and the powerful have at their disposal the means to become ever more wealthy, ever more powerful, and that in order to make certain the devastation of everyone else is permanent and irreversible, they are prepared to let nothing stand in the way of their obscene goal. In poetic language, the words “Perdition is Opprobrium” (Spiritual Ruin is the consequence of Outrageously Shameful Conduct) perfectly define that which has become our national malaise.

Such a thesis is certainly not new nor fresh; more likely it’s about as old as is the human presence upon the earth. Still, one can only wonder at what price comes social progress? More than eighty years ago, newly-elected president Franklin Roosevelt inherited a devastated economy, one that had fallen into the dregs of a Great Depression that was brought forth mainly by greed, by the quest for wealth, by the craving for social prominence of a relatively minuscule segment of American society. Roosevelt grappled with massive unemployment, homelessness, poverty, starvation — all the things the American Founders dreamed of alleviating once and for all — and by his actions he brought the nation back from the brink of third world status. And in Roosevelt’s shadow the progress toward social equality and justice continued for another several decades, until . . . until from the ‘bowels’ of perdition and opprobrium the witless conservative ‘movement’ finally gained a foothold. Enter Ronald Reagan and the gradual evolution (read: descent) to the dismal poverty which today has come to define us as a nation . . . poverty implicitly extended and expanded by Republican efforts to defund and/or eliminate programs such as Head Start, Food Stamps, long term Unemployment insurance, disability, even Veteran’s benefits — along with each and every other program designed specifically to help people, to maintain social balance, even to educate the next generations.

Poverty is commonly defined as “the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor. Synonyms: privation, neediness, destitution, indigence, pauperism, penury.” But in today’s America, that rather ‘penurious’ definition leaves out a sizeable increment of the poverty-stricken, i.e. those for whom wealth and power mean everything, where the suffering of others is not even worth noting. In fact, the intellectual poverty of the monied and powerful is every bit as disabling to the national well-being as are the mirror-imaged homeless, starving, moneyless, sickly and dying masses.

So, therein lies the reality. Poverty does NOT refer simply to those who have “little or no money, goods, or means of support.” There is, too, that potentially far more dangerous and destructive intellectual poverty that clearly infects the vast majority of the nation’s upper crust, its rich and powerful, together with . . . sadly . . . a major chunk of its governing politic.

Curiously, however, we are (quite obviously) a long way from being the first Americans to ever have seen or experienced such ungracious invective as one today regularly witnesses emanating from the mouths and pens of our elected officials. And as the following will magically demonstrate, I’m far from the first to prefer MY level of ‘defined’ poverty to THEIR level of ‘intellectual’ poverty, aka the poverty of slothful soul. Many thanks once again to Miss Emily Dickinson who penned this little masterpiece of insight and understanding more than 150 years ago. It took her only five lines and 39 words to sum up the entire of today’s intellectual poverty — the poverty of soul that quite literally has come to DEFINE a major national politic AND the poverty-stricken rich and powerful who are served by that very same politic. That. Poverty. Of. Soul.

Take all away from me, but leave me Ecstasy,
And I am richer then than all my Fellow Men –
Ill it becometh me to dwell so wealthily
When at my very Door are those possessing more,
In abject poverty –

One can only wonder just how a reclusive poet in the 1860′s managed to so eloquently describe the “abject poverty” implicit in and defining of such early 21st century luminaries as, say, the Koch Brothers, Dick Cheney, Chris Christie, John Boehner, Rush Limbaugh, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Steve King, Darrell Issa, . . . well, you know, the list is absolutely endless!

Pardon me as I pause to bow in the general direction of the obvious and perceptive genius, the coolest of the cool; the one known to us as Miss. Emily. Dickinson! :cool:

OPEN THREAD

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 6th, 2014: Odds and Ends

First, the weather: Here in southeastern New York, just a few days after two separate storms brought us 6+ inches of snow apiece, all that’s left of the snow are a few small scattered patches. Sub-frigid temps have given way to, well, right now it’s 55 degrees, according to my computer. Despite overnight temps in the mid-to-upper 40s, a band of freezing rain (which I could hear during one of my ‘up’ phases at around 3:00am) passed through during the night. Tonight, we’ll be dropping back to sub-freezing again. We’ve got some pretty strong wind gusts right now – the wind actually opened our front door a few minutes ago! And in the meantime, other parts of the country will be experiencing killer record-low temps and wind chills. Think warm thoughts, folks!

Second, our neighboring Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT): ICYMI from TP a few days ago, Senator Murphy spent a day with a local homeless man, and his account of the day and the Catch-22 in which so many homeless people are caught up in should be plastered across the country. (Senator Murphy is also one of the few senators who spent a week trying to live/eat on $4.50/day.) Every state should have at least one of their two senators be a hands-on, down in the trenches with the 99%, guy like this. I’m glad that he’s only 40, and should have a good long career as a true public servant ahead of him.

Lastly, to perhaps lift the spirits a bit, here’s The Weather Channel’s Top 100 photos of 2013. Enjoy!

This is our daily open thread–how is the weather affecting you? Speak up, about this or anything else on your mind.

The Watering Hole, Monday, December 9th, 2013: Minimum Wage Scrooge

Yes, I still occasionally read parts of Newsmax and Moneynews, just so that you won’t have to. You’re welcome.

The Moneynews email subject that caught my eye this time was “Fast-food Workers Rally for Higher Minimum Wage.” I wanted to see how they would spin this issue. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to be skewed, with the one notable exception.

“Fast-food workers in hundreds of U.S. cities staged a day of rallies on Thursday to demand higher wages, saying the pay was too low to feed a family and forced most to accept public assistance.

The protests escalated a series of actions at several Walmart stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, seeking to draw attention to workers at the lowest end of the wage scale.

The description of fast-food workers, once viewed mainly as teenagers looking for pocket money or a first job, has changed. Today’s fast-food worker is typically over 20, often raising a child, and 68 percent are the primary wage earners in their families, according to a report by the University of Illinois and the University of California, Berkeley.

About 100 workers in Chicago marched along Michigan Avenue with a large costumed Grinch, chanting: “We can’t survive on $7.25.” Protesters want the hourly U.S. minimum wage raised to $15 from $7.25.

In Kansas City, Missouri, Kizzy Sanders, 30, an employee at a local Popeye’s restaurant, joined about 100 protesters picketing fast-food restaurants in freezing temperatures.

“I love my job, I love the people I work with, but the $7.70 I make does not cut it,” said Sanders, a mother of three. “It doesn’t pay my bills, I can’t buy my kids anything for Christmas. I can’t even celebrate Christmas.”

Thursday’s protests were organized by groups such as “Fast Food Forward” and “Low Pay is Not OK” that have the support of labor union giant Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million members including healthcare, janitorial and security workers.”

“Despite the involvement of organized labor, the protests are focused on wages, not unions, for the moment, said John Logan, a labor studies professor at San Francisco State University’s College of Business.

“The immediate goal is to focus national attention on the impact of poverty-level wages on employees and the negative impact of poverty-level wages for the public and the economy,” Logan said.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and public benefit programs show 52 percent of fast-food workers relying on at least one form of public assistance, between 2007 and 2011, according to the report from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois.”

“Because the current minimum wage, on an inflation-adjusted basis, lags behind those of decades past, the purchasing power of minimum-wage earners has diminished.

Increasing the minimum wage, however, would not reduce poverty, said Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute, because employers will compensate by reducing staff and workers’ hours. Instead, they should expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a small-wage supplement for low-income families in the form of a tax refund, he said. A 2012 study published by the Employment Policies Institute found that states that increase the Earned Income Tax Credit by 1 percent saw a 1 percent drop in state poverty rates.
[Emphasis mine.]

“Others disagree. Christian Dorsey, director of external and governmental affairs for the Economic Policy Institute [the progressive organization with which Employment Policies Institute wants us to be confused], said tax credits should not let employers skimp on wages.

“Businesses have a responsibility to pay workers enough to keep them out of poverty,” Dorsey said. “The idea that we would simply not look at wages is passing off the problem to someone else.”

Yes, Employment Policies Institute, one of soulless lobbyist Rick Berman’s stable of “non-profits.”

Charity Navigator is a website which provides “information and ratings on charities”. Here’s an excerpt from their review of Employment Policies Institute:

Charity Navigator has become aware of the following information in connection with this charity:

During our analysis of this charity’s FYE 2011 Form 990, the document revealed that more than half of the Employment Policies Institute Foundation’s functional expenses were paid to its CEO Richard Berman’s for-profit management company, Berman and Company. The document revealed that, out of total expenses of $2.10 million, $1.17 million were paid to Berman and Company for staff[ing] and operat[ing] the day-to-day activities” of the charity.

Sourcewatch, too, provides lots of information regarding the tangled web of EPI and other Berman & Co. ‘non-profits.’ It’s a sweet, and profitable, arrangement for Berman & Co.

A quick glance at some of the ‘studies’, ‘press releases’ and ‘letters to the editor’ touted on Employment Policies Institute’s home page pretty much sums up whose side they’re on in the employer vs worker fight. And while Berman’s EPI should still be nursing their bruises after the recent thrashing given by Chris Hayes to one of Berman’s minions (who was unable to answer the simple question “how many economists do you have on your staff?”), instead, his “think-tanks” continue to crank out ludicrous reasoning for keeping workers from getting ahead.

It all comes back to what Bill Maher said several weeks ago: “Do you want smaller government with less handouts, or do you want a low minimum wage? Because you cannot have both.”

This is our daily open thread–don’t be shy!

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 18th, 2013: Pope-Pourri

Separated At Birth?

Separated At Birth?

On February 11th, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger, aka Emperor Palpatine, announced that he was leaving the sinking ship giving up the leadership of the “Worldwide Catholic Church” (or NAMBLA), effective on February 28th, 2013. A papal conclave will soon be convened by the College of Cardinals to determine the next Pope, possibly by the end of March.

The New Yorker provides a few-holds-barred critique in John Cassidy’s blogpost “The Disastrous Influence of Pope Benedict XVI“, an interesting read which succinctly summarizes the regressive Papal policies of both Pope John Paul II (with then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s aid) and Pope Benedict XVI. I really recommend this article, as it clearly outlines the conflicting forces within the Church, which currently favor the conservative side.

I wholeheartedly agree with E.J. Dionne’s opinion piece from February 15th in the Washington Post, as he discusses why “The Best Choice for Pope?” is “A Nun.” As a veteran of 13 years of Catholic schooling, I can confirm that the nuns were more responsible for educating us in school subjects as well as religious subjects than any of the priests or the Monsignor of our parish. The nuns also set much better examples of Christ-like ideals and actions, as we all now know.

Yesterday, I signed a petition from Catholics United, urging Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the former Archbishop of Los Angeles, not to participate in the upcoming papal conclave.

Former L.A. Archbishop John M. Mahony

Former L.A. Archbishop John M. Mahony

From a Catholics-United Press Release on February 14th:

“WASHINGTON – After the stunning news that Pope Benedict XVI will be stepping down effective Feb. 28, Catholics in Los Angeles are urging Cardinal Roger Mahony to stay home instead of participating in the election to determine the next pope. Mahony was recently stripped of his public duties for his part in a sex abuse cover-up while he led the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Andrea León-Grossman, a Los Angeles member of Catholics United. “In the interests of the children who were raped in his diocese, he needs to keep out of the public eye. He has already been stripped of his ministry. If he’s truly sorry for what has happened, he would show some humility and opt to stay home.”

The Washington Post Editorial Board published a scathing piece on February 13th entitled “The Sins of Cardinal Mahony”; here’s a few excerpts:

“Eleven Americans will be among the 117 cardinals of the Catholic Church heading soon to Rome to select the next pope. One of them, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony…is lucky not to be in prison, for there is no dispute that he orchestrated what amounted to a cover-up of clerical sexual abuse in Los Angeles…the scale of the misdeeds in Los Angeles, the largest archdiocese in the United States, counts as a particular disgrace. And it is Cardinal Mahony, who resigned as archbishop two years ago, who oversaw the whole dirty business. For that he has been publicly censured by his successor.”

In response to his public rebuke, Cardinal Mahony, who has a master’s degree in social work, wrote that nothing in his training had alerted him to the risks involved in the sexual abuse of minors. How about common sense, respect for the law and a basic understanding of human beings?”

And, for the last word on this issue (for today’s thread, anyway), here’s Andy Borowitz.

This is our Open Thread. Your thoughts?

The Watering Hole, Monday, June 11th, 2012: Which Christ is more “Christian”?

I’d like to expand a little on a comment posted yesterday by Briseadh na Faire:

Many of the basic tenents of liberalism are summed up thusly:

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Matthew 25:35-36. But we refuse to give credit to the man who said those things, hence lose the “Christians”.

Give credit where credit is due – own up to following Christ’s teachings, whether or not one proclaims one’s self to be a Christian…

In other words, Liberals, who follow the teachings of Christ, need to take the evangelicals on, on their own ground. It is, after all, who we really are.

After reading this, I could not help but think of the contrast between what the pastor of a local church espouses, and what a particular Catholic organization espouses.

The pastor of the local Patterson, NY, Baptist Church, a Dr. Larry A. Maxwell, is the founder of an organization called Brighter_Future.us. In the “About Us” section on his website, Dr. Maxwell states that, under his ministry, the local Habitat for Humanity for Putnam County was established. Okay, that’s nice. On the other hand,

“Dr. Maxwell is one of the few men ordained to the ministry by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, Pastor of Thomas Rd. Baptist Church, Lynchburg, VA. Dr. Falwell, was the founder of Liberty University and Moral Majority. Dr. Maxwell graduated from Liberty University in 1975 and was active in Moral Majority, one of the organizations that helped Ronald Reagan become President.”….”The Governor of Kentucky bestowed the title of Colonel upon Dr. Maxwell for his outstanding service.”

Check out what Dr. Maxwell lists as “5 Areas of Influence That Shape Our Society” – why, as a pastor, does Dr. Maxwell list “Government” first and “Religion” fourth? Note that, under #3, “Media“, Dr. Maxwell says: “Media has perhaps the greatest influence on all of us. We Need To: Encourage & Endorse media which presents fair & balanced news and avoid those which do not. Hmmm, I wonder whom he’s talking about? What’s also scary is that, while Dr. Maxwell is the head of the “Living History Guild” and is the official Town Historian for Patterson, NY, under #4, “Religion“, he claims that “Religion once provided a moral compass for our society. The overwhelming majority of our Founding Fathers were men of faith committed to Biblical moral principles.” Also note in #5, “Family“, “We Need To: Recognize marriage consists only as a union between a man & woman who make a lifelong commitment to each other before God & man.”

Dr. Maxwell’s list of “Necessary Qualities for Leaders” contains some pretty scary crap, too:

2. Belief & Dependence on the Divine God

Leaders must recognize the fallen state of man and his imperfections and the necessity of help from the Divine God for man to reach his full potential.

3. Love for Our Country

Leaders need a Commitment to the original intent of Our Founding Fathers & the documents they drafted such as; The Mayflower Compact, The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. They must believe the best government is Limited Government, answerable to the people at all levels. Leaders must honor our history as it happened, not rewrite or redefine it.

4. Commitment to Family Values

Good leaders must recognize, embrace and encourage traditional family values.

6. Belief in Free Enterprise & Property Rights

Leaders must understand Free Enterprise & Property Rights are two important foundations. Government must encourage, not interfere with, nor over regulate, free enterprise & property rights.

And if any doubt was left that Dr. Maxwell and his group are dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, the list in the “Contacts and Links” section reads as a veritable who’s who of conservative/right-wing organizations, including The Cato Institute, The Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, etc.

By contrast, take a look at the issues with which Catholics United concerns itself:

- trying to restore funding, denied by the US Catholics Bishops, to an immigrants’ rights group called Campaneros, which doesn’t discriminate against gays.

- speaking out against the U.S. Catholic Bishops and Catholic institutions who continue to fight the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act, despite the exemptions therein.

- Organizing against Paul Ryan’s budget because it does nothing to help the poor.

- Organizing alternative charitable organizations to counter the stripping of funding by U.S. Catholic Bishops.

It certainly seems to me that it is the people at Catholics United who are following the teachings of Christ (which all of us liberals follow in one way or another), rather than the pastor of the Patterson Baptist church. It makes one wonder if there is a different Christ within each human-authored version of the bible.

This is our daily open thread — comment on anything you want!

The Watering Hole, Thursday, April 19th, 2012: Good News/Bad News?

A few days ago I received an excited missive from James Salt at Catholics United. (I still don’t know why I’m on their email list.) The email read, in part:

We’ve got our party hats on at Catholics United HQ. Why?

Our organizing efforts are working. The Catholic bishops are beginning to speak out against Paul Ryan’s devastating budget cuts! Click here to read more.

To say the least, this is fantastic news!

If you are as surprised and as happy as we are, will you take a moment to call Cardinal Dolan’s office in New York City? Call him now at 212-371-1000. Here’s what we recommend you say:

First, thank the bishops for speaking out against Paul Ryan’s budget.

Then ask that they continue to fight on behalf of the poor and less fortunate.

It may have taken almost a month, but it’s great the bishops are finally standing up against the immorality of punishing the poor. Paul Ryan and his far-right cohorts need to understand that when they attack the poor, Catholics cannot–must not–remain silent.

At first I thought, “okay, that’s good news.” Then I read The Hill article to which the email had linked, and the second paragraph gave me pause:

In a letter sent to the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, the bishops say the budget fails to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”

While the fact that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are speaking out against the Ryan budget IS a good thing, the fact that the USCCB has ‘certain “moral criteria”‘ by which it judges, and apparently influences, legislation, is NOT. Just look at the recent brouhaha over contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act, demonstrating the amount of power the USCCB can wield.

On the other hand, though, maybe it really IS more good than bad news. In defending his budget, Ryan reiterated and expanded on the reasoning behind it. From The Hill:

Ryan made the moral case for his budget in an interview last week with the Christian Broadcasting Network. He said government shouldn’t be responsible for lifting its citizens out of poverty — rather, that it’s the obligation of the citizens themselves to be society’s caretakers.

“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private,” Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in the interview. “So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?

“Those principles are very, very important,” Ryan said. “And the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty, out into a life of independence.”

As an ex-Catholic, I have never heard of this “Social Magisterium” idea before. And, after reading up on it a little, I find the idea more than a little disquieting:

“The inviolability of human life in all stages of its development from conception to natural death, and in every condition of health and well-being, is primary because it reflects the life of God who is the source of human rights….The Church never yields to the violations of the right to life which continue to occur.

Society reveals its whole truth as a community of persons….The lay faithful’s apostolic duty in the temporal order is to be understood as service to persons, first expressed in marriage and family life. This duty to society can be fulfilled only with the conviction of the family’s unique and irreplaceable value in social and ecclesial development. As the basic cell of society, the family must receive primary concern in a time when egoism and its derivatives threaten to dry up the springs of life, and when ideologically inspired social systems try to usurp the family’s role in education….A vast cultural, economic, and legislative effort is needed in order to safeguard the family’s role in humanizing persons and society. This duty falls above all on lay people, who must obtain from public authority the respect and support family rights need in fulfilling that role. Saving the family will save society itself.”

According to another source,

“THE MISSION OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL MAGISTERIUM The Church’s mission belongs to the supernatural order…it does not interfere with legitimate temporal options nor support specific political programs…Nevertheless, the Church has a strict right–also a duty–to teach the moral aspects of the secular order, whether this be in politics, economics. or social matters…”

So, Paul Ryan believes that his Catholic faith and this “social magisterium” not only inform, but dictate, his legislative policies.

But the USCCB disagrees with Ryan’s interpretation of Catholic faith.

And Catholics-United.org, while they agree with the USCCB in this instance, has also called the bishops out on their focus on wedge issues at the expense of focusing on (what C-U believes are) the more essential and traditional aspects of Christ’s teachings.

I’m confused: how many versions of the Catholic church ARE there? And how much influence should any version have?

This is our daily open thread — What’s on your mind today?

Sunday Roast: Do we deserve to kill?


Earlier this week, The Rachel Maddow Show played a portion of the above TED Talk by Bryan Stevenson.  The Maddow Blog introduces Mr Stevenson:

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and part of his Big Idea is about kids in prison, and the country that keeps them there until they die (that’s us).  America is the only country in the world with kids serving life in prison without parole (LWOP) sentences for crimes they committed as children.  And that, Stevenson says, changes our identity as a country.  It changes us.

Rachel’s interview so moved me, that I had to hear him speak more fully, hence the above TED Talk, which was provided on Rachel’s blog.  Please watch the whole video, you won’t be sorry.

Part of this country’s identity is that we have the fifth highest rate of incarceration in the world, behind such countries as China and Iran, and the incarceration rate is abnormally high in this country among people of color.  We lock up children as young as 13 years old for life, for things they did before their brains are finished developing.  And please, to anyone reading this who thinks that because my bleeding liberal heart doesn’t believe in locking children up for life, then that means I believe no punishment should be given at all — get a friggin’ grip on reality, okay?

In this country, we are “treated better if we’re rich and guilty, than if we’re poor and innocent.”  He who can hire the best lawyer (or team thereof) has the best chances of getting that “not guilty” verdict, or at least a lighter sentence.  Wealth shapes outcome, that’s true, but it could also be said that social class and the color of one’s skin shapes outcome as well.

But we don’t like to think about those kinds of things in this country.  Hey, if it’s not happening to me or my family, why should I care?  America, love it or leave it!  We’re number one!!  American exceptionalism rules!!

Except when it doesn’t.  As long as there is inequality, suffering, discrimination, poverty, and hate in this country, none of us are free — let alone exceptional.

We are, above all, human.  Our humanity is the only thing we bring into the world, and our humanity (or the shreds thereof) are all we take out of this world.  Our humanity is all we have and all we are, and if we want to find a solution to the terrible social ills afflicting this country and the world, we should start there.

This is our daily open thread — Discuss amongst yourselves.

Is Poverty a Death Sentence?

By Sen. Bernie Sanders

The crisis of poverty in America is one of the great moral and economic issues facing our country. It is very rarely talked about in the mainstream media. It gets even less attention in Congress. Why should people care? Many poor people don’t vote. They certainly don’t make large campaign contributions, and they don’t have powerful lobbyists representing their interests.

Here’s why we all should care.

Continue reading

Watering Hole – Monday, June 20, 2011 – Stealing From the Poor

Where is Robin Hood when you need him?  My most recent Northern Sun catalog has a picture of Robin Hood with those very words printed on the cover.

The Republican’s budget plans will decrease taxes on the rich while increasing the tax burden on the middle class and poor.

If the Republicans have their way, will our nation become the land of the “lords and serfs”?

This is our Open Thread.  Will we allow the Republicans to continue to steal from the middle class and the poor?  Speak Up!

The Watering Hole: June 16 – Education

The first free public school in the State of Wisconsin was opened in Southport (now Kenosha) on June 16, 1845. Michael Frank, a member of the Wisconsin territorial legislature, introduced bills authorizing the establishment of a public school system in Wisconsin in 1843, 1844, and 1845, but could not acquire the support necessary to secure passage. After realizing defeat in 1845, he introduced a bill authorizing the community of Southport to establish a free public school supported by property taxes. It was passed, although it would not become operative until approved by the citizens of Southport in a referendum vote. There was opposition to the law, but the referendum passed in April 1845. The resulting system of free public education became the model for the state public school system.

Education in Wisconsin has taken a blow to chin before it was even a state. That happened in 1848.

This very day, in Detroit Michigan the Ferguson Academy for Young Women is closing down because the appointed manager for the Detroit School system decided that it did not provide any benefit to society. The Catherine Ferguson Academy has steered countless minority women from a life on welfare or in prison to one that is productive. Now, the burden on society will be far worse than it could have been if Catherine Ferguson were allowed to remain open. The sole beneficiaries of this action will be the contract prisons that Conservatives are so eager to open. Society will only suffer.

This is our Open Thread. Please feel free to present your thoughts on any topic that comes to mind.

Sunday Roast: The American Dream, a race to the bottom

New York Times, Bob Herbert

In his last column for the NYT, Bob Herbert hits the nail on the head regarding the American Dream — it ain’t for the ‘small people’ anymore.  We all know it, we all feel it, but Bob Herbert puts it down in words that sear into the soul.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

AP Photo

This is the America I’m leaving to my men:  A lifetime of $9-$10 per hour jobs (if they’re lucky), during which they will never realize any possible dream of a home, family, vacations, or retirement.

Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations.

The youth of this country had no way of knowing that the high school summer job, or the job they held in college for extra cash, was quite likely the best they were going to have.

If we listen to the politicians in this country, we will find out that this country is “broke.”  There just isn’t any more money for job creation, schools, or public sector wages.  Sorry folks, the piggy bank is empty…or is it…?

There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

Did you read that last sentence?  Read it again…“the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007…”

Yes, you read that right.  The top 10% — the people who don’t even need a raise — received ALL of the income growth between 2000 and 2007.  All of it.

I am just…speechless.

To my men, their generation, and beyond, I give you an apology…

I am so very sorry about the condition in which you receive this country.  Even though there is no excuse for it, I must admit that I didn’t see it coming.  I really had no idea that by the time I was reaching my own age of majority, the American Dream was dead, and the looting of the corpse had commenced.  The elites had killed it stone dead, and we had no idea until recently, and now I’m truly afraid we will not be able to turn the tide before we hand over the reins to you.  I know in my heart that if we are able to mend this, even partially, we will do so.  That’s my promise to you.

I’m sorry it couldn’t be more…

Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.

We will do our best.

This is our daily open thread — Discuss amongst yourselves.

The Watering Hole, January 18: Falling through the cracks…

This man is eating dinner. Not bothering to pick through the dumpster and carry home (which he likely does not have) what he finds, he eats out every evening behind a trendy Italian restaurant. Once I saw him lurching along, holding his stomach and groaning. Vary wary, he never spoke, and cast darting glances around as he made his way across town from bin to bin. At some point he realized that I might be the one who was leaving the plate of food tied up in a plastic shopping bag on top of the pile inside, giving me a long look and a grimace.  His only contact with others appeared to be the alcoholics who would wait for him near the grocery store and give him a few dollars to buy a jumbo for them. I don’t know if he is a military veteran or not, but it is highly likely, as there is a VA hospital in town. After an early cold spell around Thanksgiving he disappeared.

People who have fallen through the cracks in our society, brought home with shocking violence as of late, become a burden with potential for greater catastrophe the longer we pretend to ignore them.

This is our Daily Open Thread. Your comments on this topic or any others are welcome.

Watering Hole – November 22, 2010 – Point of View

Yes, it’s Monday, again.  This week is not a particularly happy week for turkeys.

The middle class and the poor can look at life as a glass half full or a glass half empty.  The rich look at life as a glass spilling over into their own private ocean.

Poverty tells many stories.  The truth is all in one’s point of view.

This is our open thread.  What’s your point of view?  Pick a topic and Speak Up!

The High Price of Low Taxes

By now, most of us are aware of the story out of Obion, Tennessee where the firefighters watched as the family home, 3 dogs and a cat burned.

The family had a choice, pay a “subscription fee” of $75.00 per year or do without fire protection. In this sense, taxes for firefighting were made voluntary. Their taxes were lowered. And they, and their pets, paid a dear price for their choice to forego fire protection. One can only imagine the horror had people been in the house while the firefighters stood by, ready to protect…the neighbor’s property should the fire spread to the lands of someone who paid the $75.00!

But let’s take a closer look at that $75.00 voluntary fee for firefighting services. Apparently, the entire county could be covered for a 0.13% increase in their property taxes. That means, for houses valued less than about $57,000, they would be paying less than $75.00 per year, while those whose houses were valued at more than $57,000, would pay more.

So, what’s the median house prices in Obion, Tennessee, you ask?

I’m glad you asked:

As the chart shows, the current median price of homes in Obion is about $10,000 more than the $57,000 break-even point on the “subscription fee.” But this shows that roughly half the homeowners in the county pay too much for fire protection, while those with pricier homes get a break.

The High Price of Low Taxes.

This worked so well, the powers that be want to expand the program. It’s a good deal for the folks with the more expensive homes. For the poor, not so good a deal. Left out of MainStreamMedia stories is how this “subscription service” is made available to renters, if at all. For all we know, they’re at the mercy of their landlords.

But there is one other thing we know: this time, the price was furnishings and pets. This time. Next time, it could well be someone’s children, wife, husband, father or mother.
Perhaps the firefighters could be equiped with violins, so they could at least fiddle while they watch houses burn.

Sunday Roast: Homeless Children in America

Did you know there are over 1.6 homeless children in this country?  I sure as hell didn’t.  To say I’m shocked to the bone is an understatement.

Rich German has an article at Huffington Post that talks about this issue, and these are some of the stats:

  • Over 50% of youth in shelters and on the streets report that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving and did not care.
  • One IN four homeless youth come from the foster care system
  • 33% of heterosexual homeless youth have been sexually abused
  • Less than one in four homeless children will graduate from high school
  • Every day 12 kids die on the streets of America

Parents are throwing away their children — quite literally, throwing them away — and many of those children wind up abused, uneducated, and dead.  These children are part of the future of this country (minus the 12 who die on the streets everyday).

At the One Nation Working Together rally yesterday, a young man said, “If my neighbor is hungry, then I am hungry.  If my neighbor is homeless, then I am homeless.”

Regarding that same rally, Glenn Beck railed against the people and groups involved, saying “All of these groups, and the president of the United States, want nothing short of fundamental transformation of America.”

You’re damn right we do, Glenn Beck.  1.6 MILLION homeless children in this country is a deafening call for a fundamental transformation of this country.  The United States of America is one of the richest countries on the planet, and as long as our neighbors are sick, hungry, and homeless, ALL OF US are sick, hungry, and homeless.

This is our daily open thread.  What’s on your mind?

UN recognizes human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

Photo by Zach Meier

Green Cross

The 3rd Commission of the 64th General Assembly of the United Nations made history today by overwhelmingly adopting the draft resolution proclaiming the Human Right to Safe drinking Water and Sanitation.

I’m such a spoiled American.  Everyday, I turn on the tap and am rewarded with fresh clean water for my drinking, bathing, washing, and sanitation needs.  I have two bathrooms available to me in my home, and anywhere I may venture throughout my day, I can count on finding a restroom.  I don’t even have to think about it!

The resolution that was adopted [July 28] “declares the Right to Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

It also “calls upon States and international organisations to provide Financial resources, capacity building and technology transfer, through international assistance and co-operation, in particular to developing countries, in order to scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.”  (Emphasis mine)

122 states voted in favor of the resolution, with 41 states abstaining — including the United States, Canada, Israel, Japan, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  None voted against the resolution (wouldn’t that raise some interesting red flags?).

Why did the U.S. abstain from voting for or against the resolution? Continue reading

Sunday Roast: Something’s Gotta Give

The rich aren’t just ‘rich’ anymore, they’re super-duper-mondo rich, and the poor are just more and more dirt poor.  The middle class is shrinking everyday, and they sure as hell aren’t joining the super-duper-mondo-rich crowd.

As I was surfing around the interwebs this week (I promised myself I would remember where, but you know that goes), I found a link to this post: 22 Statistics That Prove That The Middle Class Is Being Systematically Wiped Out Of Existence In America.

The whole list of 22 items is depressing enough, so I pulled 7 that might hit close to home for the average American:

#1) According to a poll taken in 2009, 61 percent of Americans “always or usually” live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.

61% is an unbelievable number, but when you take into account that the number of Americans living paycheck to paycheck rose a whopping 12% in one year, that is just staggering.  We may want to put money away in a nest egg for the future, but because our money doesn’t go as far as it used to go, we simply cannot.

#2) The number of Americans with incomes below the official poverty line rose by about 15% between 2000 and 2006, and by 2008 over 30 million U.S. workers were earning less than $10 per hour.

As with the first item, the number of Americans living in poverty has taken a huge leap in recent years.  These are working Americans who nevertheless still remain in poverty.  Excuse me, but Americans work harder than ever these days — where is the money going? Continue reading

Stop feeding the poor — they’ll just breed!

The new Republican ethos, as revealed by South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, calls for putting an end to any governmental program aimed at helping the destitute. Likening poor people to stray animals, Bauer (not related to Jack Bauer of “24″) believes that if you feed the poor, then they, like stray animals, will continue to breed more poor.

Apparently, in Bauer’s world images of famine stricken regions are not allowed. Yes, the destitute breed, with or without sufficient food supplies. Girls past puberty are impregnated, even though malnourished themselves. Without access to birth control or abortions, they give birth to babies that starve to death.

Bauer would like to recreate famine scenarios here in the United States. In his Utopia, if you stop feeding the poor, they will all go out and get a job and feed themselves.

But where will these jobs come from? Last month, nearly a half a million people who had a job became unemployed. According to Bauer, all we need to to improve their lot is to not give them any assistance. I guess nothing will motivate a parent more than watching his or her children slowly starve to death.

Oh for the days of Bush, when, with a single stroke of his pen, “hunger” was eliminated in the United States.

When you see armed robberies of grocery stores, you’ll know Bauer’s plan has been implemented.

Angelina Jolie, the Tailor and the Mafia

I am considering myself as someone who is going through life with open eyes and knows a little about the underbelly of capitalism. But yet, when I heard the words “designer fashion” and names like Valentino or Dolce&Gabbana, well lit studios used to come to my mind where the nimble hands of highly professional and well paid seamstresses turned silk and satin into gorgeous clothes.

Roberto Saviano’s book “Gomorrah – Italy’s other Mafia” put an end to my naiveté.

The production of clothes in a price range that’s far beyond the means of a middle class person is auctioned out to sweat shops in Italy where the salary level is pathetic and where sometimes even child labour is found.  The sweatshop owners get presented with the original fabric and the design and will then state the price and the timeframe for the production of  a given number of clothes. Three to five bidders get the chance to make good on the promise and the fastest and cheapest sells it’s production. The rest of them can market their output in the grey area of semi-fakes. Of course, the fakes, which are still made with the original fabrics are sold with the knowledge and silent consent of the fashion brand. The control of the business is, as expected, in the hands of the Camorra.

The specific tailor, who actually made the white tuxedo-style suit actress Angelina Jolie wore at the Oscar ceremony in 2001, saw the pictures on tv and broke down crying, as Roberto Saviano, who was researching undercover for his book at that time, witnessed.

Whenever I see a gorgeous robe now, I see a dimly lit sweatshop where underpaid, often illegal, immigrants to Italy spend most days of the week to produce luxury for a world oblivious to their existence.

Read the review of Saviano’s book here and if you have the time read the whole book. It’s worth it, if only because the courageous man who wrote that book, now lives in costant fear for his life.

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GOP Blocks Another Attempt to Extend Unemployment Benefits

In the most under-reported story of the week, the Republican’s have, yet again, screwed over the people who have been hardest hit by the recession. This is the second time this month that the GOP has blocked extending unemployment benefits.

Washington Independent’s Mike Lillis wrote:

Last week, Senate Democratic leaders rolled out a proposal to extend unemployment insurance by 14 weeks — with an extra six weeks thrown in for those states where jobless figures have topped 8.5 percent — only to have Republicans block the measure on the chamber floor.

Well, today it happened again.

According to the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Democrats on Tuesday asked for consent to pass the bill, only to be shot down by GOP leaders.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Republicans aren’t objecting to the extension, but to how it’s funded. (The Democrats’ plan would tap an expiring surtax on businesses, while the Republicans want to use unspent money from the stimulus bill.)

The House has already passed its version of the extension. With unemployment numbers creeping up each month, the pressure’s on the Senate to work out a deal quickly.

The saddest thing about this story is not the story itself (which is disgusting enough), but the comments by regular American people who responded to this story and the desperation some of them are feeling. I have posted the following comments as they were written.

My unemployment benefits ran out in August and I am barely holding on. I am watching daily to see if this bill will be passed. I lost my job and went from a salary of comfortable salary to $450.00 a week.my family and I was able to live off of our saving for a while but now we are dependent on UI benefits. My husband was layed off and we are only surviving on his benefits. We are in jeopardy of losing our home. We’ve already lost both cars and have had to cut our expenses substantially. As the weather changed we are afraid to use our heater and we are bundling up for fear of not being able to pay the bill our heating bill.. . I need the GOP to get off their high horses and live a day in my life. I guess if you haven’t been affected by the economy then you don’t get it. I will just continue to pray.

I wish people would stop playing the blame game, and realize it doesn’t matter who we vote in or out!

And…

well i finally got enough money to buy a little groceries for the kids and the rent never thought i would have to do what i did to get it but necessity out ways legality,all because these assholes aren’t in our shoes, so they can take there sweet time because the crime rate will go up!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It would be nice if the GOP would leave their bubble of knee-jerk obstruction to see real American’s who are suffering. Their lives should not be used as political pawns by a party who wants every opportunity to create a Democratic Waterloo.

Thankfully, not all is lost. More comments and commentary below the fold.
Continue reading

END SOCIALISM NOW

The largest part of the Federal Government goes to a massive socialist program: SOCIAL SECURITY!

In this program, wealth is redistributed from young, working Americans to pay their grandparents for NOT WORKING! These are folks who had a lifetime to save for their golden years but didn’t want to make the sacrifice. Now, merely by virtue of living long enough, they get a free ride.

Not only do they draw a paycheck for the rest of their life without having to do one more day’s worth of honest labor, their medical needs are paid for by the taxpayers as well.

We should all live like the Waltons. No, not the family that owns Walmart – the Waltons from the old TV series. They made their living chopping down old-growth trees for their family-owned lumber mill. Grandma and Grandpa lived with the kids until the day they died. They worked until they could work no more. That’s how it should be. The Waltons were the image of the American Utopia: a working class family struggling to make ends meet during the Great Depression.

We should end socialism now and return to the days of the Waltons.