Category Archives: poverty

Those Compassionate Conservatives!

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard of the wretched Gene Marks’ disastrous column, “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.” Far greater minds than mine have already torn it to shreds;’s staff writers already appear to be distancing themselves from the paternalistic “white man’s burden” diatribe. If you want to read it you’ll have to Google it, I won’t add to the article’s hit count (and indeed that appears to Marks’ intent all along, anyway. Nothing generates hits like race-baiting.)

I have a general rule of thumb that if a column is based on the “if” premise, it’s probably not worth reading. Gene Marks wrote about if he were a poor black kid, then went on to list all the awesome things he’d do to make his life better. He’d study really hard and use the free internet at the local library and he’d work his ass off, yada yada. If he were a poor black kid, that’s what Gene Marks would do.

But Gene Marks is not a poor black kid. He’s a balding, middle-aged white guy, a CPA and contributor to Fox News and CNBC who lives in the Philly suburbs. So I have a steaming cup of STFU that has Gene Marks’ name on it. If you were a poor black kid? Right, but you’re not. So you don’t know. So shut the fuck up. Tootles.

Here’s a news flash: I’m not a poor black kid, either. But I know enough about what I don’t know about being a poor black kid never to assume that everyone had the same opportunities as me. I never thought I hit a triple; I always knew I was born on third base. I remember being around seven years old and feeling incredibly amazed and thankful that I wasn’t born a poor black kid in Africa. (I was a weird child. Also, we got National Geographic. Some of those pictures were forever seared on my unconscious.)

So I really don’t get where Gene Marks, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and the rest get their “if only these people would work harder and not steal” crap from. You have to have been drinking some serious American Dream-flavored Kool-Aid to think that hard work and a good education are enough in this world. That’s the bill of goods we’re all sold of course: the fairy tale of the American Dream is as much a part of our psyche as apple pie and baseball. And sure, every now and then someone breaks through to provide a heart-stirring example of what’s possible. It’s not impossible. But lately it’s become really clear to a huge chunk of the populace that the American Dream is growing increasingly out of reach. Such as it ever existed, it’s increasingly unattainable.

This is that awful disconnect that Newt and Gene Marks and the rest don’t get. Those people pooh-poohing Occupy Wall Street until Frank Luntz’s band of merry pollsters told them to cut it out? They don’t get it either. America in 2011 is a hard place. Doors have been closed, ladders have been pulled up. Opportunities that once existed so a poor kid could move up a rung or two on the economic ladder are vanishing. Thirty years of trickle-down economics has only trickled misery and hopelessness down on the masses, while the fat cats at the top gorge on ever bigger shares of the pie.

This is why people are protesting. And this is why chastising poor people for not working hard enough or being lazy is just so offensive. These people who got everything handed to them as part of their birthright don’t need to be lecturing anyone on how to be an American success story. They don’t know. They think our system is so awesome and wonderful but really it’s just been awesome and wonderful for them. Too much depends on the luck of the draw. Just admit it. Horatio Alger wrote fiction for a reason.

What’s so frustrating to me is that it feels like we’ve taken a giant step backwards. Just as we’d gotten to a place where the playing field was getting leveled, a few more doors were cracking open and a few more people were being invited to the table, all of a sudden the powers that be have decided no more. Party’s over, out of time. Back to the end of the line. Suddenly equality is a bad word. Now we’re all about “freedom,” by which we mean, freedom to keep slaving away with nothing to show for it, freedom to be a bigot and an asshole and not get called a racist. Freedom to tell people how they ought to live without having the slightest understanding of how fucking hard it is for a poor black kid to get up and get to school in the mornings.

I mean, I guess this is how empires die. I really don’t get it.


Filed under conservatives, poverty

Today In Cheap Labor

I’m sure all of Georgia’s pesky little labor problems would be solved if only they could bring back slavery:

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal offered a provocative solution Tuesday for farmers who claim workers have been scared away by a crackdown on illegal immigration: Hire people on probation to toil in the fields instead.

The Republican governor offered his remarks after an unscientific survey showed roughly 11,000 job openings in the state’s agricultural economy. He requested the survey after growers warned that a new Georgia law targeting illegal immigrants was scaring away workers needed to harvest labor-intensive crops like peaches and berries that are easily damaged by machines.

Wow! Nobody could have anticipated that demonizing immigrants would have any repercussions in the labor force! [/sarcasm] Thank goodness Convict Nation has a ready supply of strapping young bucks ready to harvest your berries and tomatoes on the cheap!

Because, despite Georgia’s nearly 10% unemployment rate, Georgia’s farmers just can’t find anyone to hire:

Farmers say they can find few U.S. citizens willing to work in hot, dusty fields and criticize a federal guest work program as expensive and cumbersome.

“It’s hard work,” said Sam Watson, the owner Chill C Farms in Moultrie, who wants more workers and is considering hiring probationers. “It’s hot. It’s a lot of bending, can be long hours.”

Oh yeah, sure, that’s it. That’s what keeps U.S. citizens from taking those jobs! The “hot, dusty fields” and all of that bending! This story makes zero mention of the wages migrant laborers are paid, which last I checked is around $5 a day. You find me an American citizen who can make ends meet on $5 a day, please. If you do find them, send ’em on down to Moultrie, Ga.


Watson said he could only hire two-thirds of the 60 workers he would have wanted to harvest squash, cucumbers and zucchini from his 300-acre farm. He blamed the state’s new law targeting illegal immigrants for driving away Hispanic workers. The lack of labor forced him to leave 13 acres of squash to rot in his fields.

“We’ve got to come up with something,” Watson said. “There’s no way we can continue if we don’t have a labor source to pull from.”

I’m sorry, Farmer Watson, but you’re an asshole. We are the wealthiest nation in the world, yet people go hungry every day. Yes, even in rural areas. And you’d rather let your squash rot in the fields? Haven’t you read in Leviticus about allowing the poor to glean from your fields? Or did you just read the part about teh gaii?

I wonder how many farm subsidies Farmer Watson got? Yes, mah tax dollahs! I guess you have to wear a tricorn hat to get away with complaining about this stuff.

I’m sorry, but this whole thing really pisses me off. Where are all the good Christians? Why does the AP write about this issue and overlook the obvious elephant in this story (and no, the elephant is not failed Republican policies, though that’s part of it)?

Look, it’s really simple. Georgia has 10% unemployment. People are pissed off and blame the brown people and pass racist laws. The brown people stay away, and no one is left to take their crappy, low-wage jobs that pay $5 a day. So the governor decides convict labor is the way to go.

Stop me if you’ve seen this movie before.

The obvious solution here is to raise your fucking wages, assholes! But no, we can’t do that, because then a Big Mac wouldn’t cost $3 and change, it would cost a helluva lot more. But we’re paying those costs anyway! We’re paying them in indirect ways, in high unemployment and high incarceration rates and poverty and malnutrition and everything else.

But let’s go on our merry way pretending we can have something for nothing, we can have the good life without paying for it, that our nation wasn’t built on cheap labor and exploiting the poor. Let’s pretend we don’t continue to have an exploitive economy so a few people can live the good life and wave the flag and talk about how great we are.

It’s the American way.


Filed under food supply, poverty, rants, wages

>Religious Leaders Fast In Protest Of Congress’ Immoral Budget

>The irony of American religious leaders protesting a Republican budget with a hunger strike is tremendous. I mean gosh, our national news media keeps telling us that all Christians are conservative, small-government, free-market Republicans! This certainly puts a kink in that CW, does it not?

Earlier this morning, religious leaders and anti-poverty advocates announced that they will begin fasting to protest budget cuts that they argue “balance the budget on the backs of poor people.” Progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis and David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, joined former Democratic congressman Tony Hall in calling on others to join them in the fast and on Congress to restore funding for hunger programs and other anti-poverty initiatives.


Religious organizations from the National Association of Evangelicals to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have criticized proposed federal budgets to means-tested programs as immoral and unjust. And Wallis, Beckmann, and Hall are attracting support for their fast from an array of partners, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Islamic Relief USA, and Meals on Wheels. They haven’t yet decided how long they’ll continue the fast, but Wallis issued an additional challenge to members of Congress who support cuts in anti-poverty programs: be honest. “I want to hear just one of them say out loud that every line item of military spending is more important to the well-being of the country than child nutrition, than child health and vaccinations. They’ve crossed a line, but they want to keep pretending this is all about fiscal responsibility.”

Good for them. You can read Tony Hall’s powerful message “Why I Am Fasting (Again)” here.

I hate to be so cynical but I don’t look for the national news media to carry this story any further than a blog post. Jim Wallis and other social justice Christians have protested, been arrested over the Iraq War, and arrested over the 2006 budget, which raised nary an eyebrow from the national media. Who remembers this:

115 religious leaders were arrested in front of the Cannon House Office Building while kneeling in prayer to protest the immoral budget and tax agenda which slashes spending on the poor to finance tax breaks for the rich. Led by Jim Wallis of Call to Renewal, national faith leaders, clergy and faith-based providers of services to the poor held a press conference.

We never hear about this stuff, but some redneck with 10 followers in Bumfug, Tennessee wants to burn a Koran and it’s all the media can talk about.

Anyway, I’m posting this information for a couple of reasons. 1) Not all Christians are right-wing, intolerant assholes and 2) Budgets are moral documents which tell the world your priorities. Where your treasure is, so is your heart. And if your treasure is devoted to war, and torture, and bombs, instead of feeding poor children and funding schools and the rest, then you’re in deep trouble as a nation. You’re failing your people. And when no one in power stands up and says “enough, this will not stand,” then you no longer have the moral authority to tell anyone else in the world how to behave.

Bob Herbert penned his final column for the New York Times on Saturday, and it brought tears to my eyes. He wrote:

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.

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. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.

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.

Yes that was the “Bush boom,” which was a big, fat bust for most people. This is Republican America, where the haves feel they’re entitled to their looted wealth, and the rest of us are told to stop whining.

It’s enough to make some folks lose their appetite.


Filed under budget, poverty, protests, religion

American Trash

Yeah, I kinda had a feeling the news media’s infatuation with “golden voiced homeless man” Ted Williams wouldn’t end well. Thank God Jon Stewart provides the proper mocking of this truly crass performance by an Indianapolis Fox affiliate (it starts after the James Franco bit, sorry I don’t know how to edit Comedy Central clips):

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Indianapolis Homeless Talent Show
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

What we have here is the inevitable, predictable outcome of an American culture which no longer values people. That is it in a nutshell. That is what ails America.

We do not value people. Not in our policies, not in our attitudes, not in our discourse.

Maybe it’s our increasing isolation from one another. Maybe it’s our wealth which breeds this contempt, our consumer culture which views people as bank accounts and credit scores, not human beings. Maybe its our national narcissism, our national sense of entitlement. Maybe it’s the overall breakdown of American society which has been underway for the past 50 years. Maybe it’s biochemical, a product of the crap in our food and water supply. I honestly don’t know where this disdain for our fellow citizens comes from, but it’s the root of all our troubles as a nation.

I wrote about this last April, when I was reading Natural Capitalism: Creating The Next Industrial Revolution. The part which resonated with me then:

People are often spoken of as being a resource — every large business has a “human resource” department — but apparently they are not a valuable one.


In a world where a billion workers cannot find a decent job or any employment at all, it bears stating the obvious: We cannot by any means — monetarily, governmentally or charitably — create a sense of value and dignity in people’s lives when we are simultaneously creating a society that clearly has no need for them.

Every day, in a hundred ways, we are telling people we have no need for them. From the outsourcing of jobs to the foreclosure crisis to, yes, even the Citizens United case, Americans are being told they don’t matter. We are trash, we will eat trash and we will buy trash and we will live in trash heaps because we don’t deserve any better. That is the message the culture sends every day.

And this pathetic Indianapolis news station trolling the alleys for homeless people with a talent — any talent! Can you sing? Dance? Play the cello? Anything? — is just another example of the general devaluing of humanity. You don’t have a talent? Oh well, back on the streets for you with your sign and tin cup along with the rest of the trash! Simply being a human, a brother or sister, a neighbor, a fellow traveler: that is not enough! You must prove your worth in modern America or we don’t have time for you and we certainly don’t have the money or energy to help you out.

What next, “sing for your healthcare” fairs? Need that heart surgery? Well, are you deserving? Do you have some kind of value to the nation? Can you at least sing? Dance? No? Pfft. Fuhgeddaboudit.

Death panels, indeed. Modern American culture is one giant death panel, shunting off people we’ve decided are superfluous or drains or “mooches” on society because they aren’t sufficiently “productive.” Off into the trash heap of humanity with you, leech!


Along the same lines, please, please PLEASE go over to Gin And Tacos and read Ed’s post today. He hits on the same idea, in a slightly different way. To wit:

[…] Everything “engineers” and scientists can do can and will be done more cheaply there. And we did this to ourselves when we decided that having cheaper consumer goods for the top 10% of income earners was more important than having a middle class making decent money and driving the economy with (non debt-supported) purchasing.

When the upper- and middle classes decided 30 years ago that it would be a good idea to phase out the working class in favor of cheap foreign labor it appears obvious in hindsight that they were opening floodgates that would eventually result in white collar and highly skilled jobs going overseas as well. But something – subconscious racism, American exceptionalism, or perhaps good ol’ fashioned cockiness – convinced everyone in the suburbs and penthouses that this could never happen. Chinamen using computers? An Indian getting an MBA? Be serious! The unwashed masses of the Third World will never be able to do our jobs, said the comfortable elite. They will be useful for helping us break unions, but their skills are and ever shall be limited to menial physical labor.

First they came for the autoworkers, and I did not speak up. Then they came for the steel mills, and I did not speak up. Then they came for the white collars, and there was no one left to speak up for them.

Yes, yes and more yes. We hit on this path a long time ago. The top 10% decided the bottom 90% was trash and packaged their vision of dehumanization and cheap Chinese crap from WalMart and this is the inevitable result.


Filed under homeless, poverty, rants

Dignity For The Trashman

This, from yesterday’s fishwrap, really shows how disconnected people are from how city services are provided:

QUESTION: Becky Becker got a surprise a week ago when she brought up her trash cart. Tucked under the lid was an envelope with a holiday greeting from her trash collector that included his name and address.

Becker wonders if this was a hint to send him a holiday tip. She did not plan to send a check to someone whom she did not know — or even know whether he was really her trash collector.

More important, Becker questions whether to tip someone for doing a tax-supported job.

She wrote to me: “They are paid a salary by me and the other citizens of the city. It’s not so much that I am a Grinch as I am just tired of everyone having their hand out for a tip, especially when they are already receiving a salary.”

Oh my God. Yeah, you are Grinch. Get over yourself. If you don’t want to send a tip, then don’t. Jeebus. And here I thought I was the biggest Grinch in the county.

It’s the whole “These are MY TAX DOLLARS and how dare you not bow down and kiss my feet for every penny I begrudgingly pull out of my ass despite all the bitching and moaning I do at every opportunity.” Listen, Becky Becker (can you even believe that name is for real? I can’t): the reason you got a little Christmas card is because Metro has privatized its trash collection. It’s that whole “private companies can do everything better/cheaper/shinier/prettier” mindset that people like you espouse at every Tea Party rally and Ayn Rand reading group. So yeah, it’s a private company doing your trash collection, and that means you have to take it up with them. You ceded your right to bitch about this stuff when you decided you no longer liked the idea of public employees doing public services. I’ve got a steaming cup of STFU with Becky Becker’s name on it.

Or, as The Tennessean more politely put it:

ANSWER: Some Davidson County residents get trash collection that is paid for through property taxes. Private companies under contract with Metro handle some of those routes.

That is the case at Becker’s residence.

I alerted Metro Public Works to the card that Becker received.

Her trash route is handled by Red River Service Corp. Metro Public Works spokeswoman Gwen Hopkins-Glascock said the manager at Red River would speak to employees about this sort of solicitation.

This is what happens when you contract out city services to private, for-profit companies. They pay their employees like shit, and people who have to do a sucky job like collecting your garbage every week look to other ways to make ends meet. Instead of being grateful that she doesn’t have to haul her stinking garbage to a landfill herself in the August heat (or January ice) she begrudges some guy his Christmas card. If you’re offended by a Christmas card and perceived request for a holiday tip (which you are under zero obligation to acknowledge), then imagine how offended you will be when some private company decides to hire illegal immigrants to save a buck. Hey, could happen.

The Beale household has been getting these Christmas cards every year, by the way. Here it is (Note the guy even said MERRY CHRISTMAS, not the offending “Happy Holidays.” There’s just no pleasing some people):

We also get these from the newspaper delivery guys. If I think of it, and I don’t always do so every year, I pop $10 or $20 in a Christmas card and send it back to them. I figure it’s the least I can do for someone who has a sucky job I would never want to do myself.

I hate to break it you, Becky Becker, but the real reason you got that Christmas card is that it’s really, really hard for working people in this state. We’ve privatized everything to save a buck, we refuse to raise taxes on corporations or rich people here because ZOMFG that would kill our “robust” economy, we deny people the right to organize into unions so they can collectively bargain for fair wages, we scream and bitch and moan about the very idea of raising the minimum wage let alone providing people a living wage, we force people to accept crappy pay for crappy work and so yeah, it’s no surprise they’re gonna have their hands out. It’s not because they’re greedy grabbers, but because they’re trying to pay their bills and send their kids to school and basically attain the American Dream which is increasingly out of reach for working folks because the people who got there ahead of them are pulling the ladders up.

I can’t link to this Financial Times article from August often enough, especially this part:

Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the ­multiple is above 300.

People are working two and three times harder to stay in the same place. A lot of people are falling behind. And I think it’s this inconvenient fact which has the Becky Beckers of the country upset. It’s like they’re offended at being reminded that a lot of people are struggling. They want to stick their head in a hole and sing their happy songs. “America is the greatest country in the world EVAH! Everything is awesome!”

It’s like those folks who get ticked off at the vendors selling copies of The Contributor all over town. You’ve seen them with their yellow placards: it’s the alternative to panhandling. The paper is produced by homeless and formerly homeless folks through the Downtown Presbyterian Church. Vendors sell the papers for $1. The paper is actually quite good, – it’s won several national awards – and Mr. Beale and I always buy one.

Yet people bitch and moan about the vendors selling these papers in front of their businesses and on street corners. I’m like, WTF do you people want? First you put up “Please Help, Don’t Give” signs in your store windows. Then a local church devises a way for people to earn some money — all of that pulling-up-by-the-bootstraps stuff you’re always harping on about — and you begrudge folks that. You like to shout “Get a job!” but when someone actually does get a job, you’re like “Well, not that job!” Jesus.

What you guys really want is for these folks to just go away, am I right? You want them to be invisible. You don’t like to see the wages of our national sin out there on display for all to see. Well sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. You espouse the creed of greed and this is the result.


Filed under Nashville, poverty, privatization, rants

>But What’s His Position On Gold-Fringed Flags?

>New York Gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who has Tea Party support, tells AP his novel ideas about dealing with the poor:

NEW YORK — Republican candidate for governor Carl Paladino said he would transform some New York prisons into dormitories for welfare recipients, where they would work in state-sponsored jobs, get employment training and take lessons in “personal hygiene.”


Asked at the meeting how he would achieve those savings, Paladino laid out several plans that included converting underused state prisons into centers that would house welfare recipients. There, they would do work for the state — “military service, in some cases park service, in other cases public works service,” he said — while prison guards would be retrained to work as counselors.

“Instead of handing out the welfare checks, we’ll teach people how to earn their check. We’ll teach them personal hygiene … the personal things they don’t get when they come from dysfunctional homes,” Paladino said.

Hmm, putting welfare recipients in state prisons, well that’s a novel approach. But come to think of it, Carl, I think we kind of already do that. Certainly our prisons could just as easily be filled with rich real estate developer assholes, but somehow when they’re caught doing something wrong they rarely suffer the consequences. I wonder why that is? Oh well, let’s not worry our pretty little heads about inequities like that, instead let’s have another big gulp of Kool Aid and tell ourselves the reason people are on welfare is because they are dirty, lazy, and don’t know how to work. Not, you know, because there aren’t any fucking jobs out there!

Jeeeezus this Tea Party stupidity is not just offensive it’s criminal. Meanwhile, some facts for Mr. Paladino:

New York, like other states, receives a federal block grant to provide cash and other forms of welfare to very low-income residents. Federal law already requires welfare recipients to do some form of work to receive benefits.

New York’s welfare rolls have grown slightly during the recession, while food stamp eligibility has almost doubled, according to the state.

Well, at least Paladino is trying. At least he’s got an idea, heinous though it may be. The rest of the Republican Party doesn’t even have that.

ADDING … as I stated in comments, outside the prison nonsense and the hygiene instruction and other ignorant BS, what Paladino is suggesting is a classic “Big Government,” Rooseveltian, WPA-style idea. I’m trying to imagine what Tea Partiers and Paladino-types would say if President Obama suggested the government pay people to work. Which is exactly what their beef was with the Recovery Act — that it created government jobs, which somehow are not “real” jobs. There seems to be a bit of a cognitive disconnect here.


Filed under Carl Paladino, poverty, Tea Party

Hating On The Poor

Welcome, Crooks & Liars! And hugs to Mike Finnigan for including me in today’s round-up.


Every time I do a post on taxes someone comes along to complain about the “freeloaders,” “moochers” and irresponsible people who suck up our tax dollars, looking for “someone else to pay their way.” It happens without fail.

Usually these folks are talking about the poor, people who benefit from things like food stamps, the people they see as taking handouts. Which is puzzling to me, because I’m trying to think of who gets a free ride in this country and it’s not usually the poor. Nothing is free. Public housing ain’t free, folks–it’s subsidized, meaning you pay what you can. But no one pays nothing. And if you don’t keep up on your utilities you’re out on the streets faster than you can say “the check is in the mail.”

I’m sure there are some poor folks looking for someone to pay their way, just as there are middle class folks and wealthy folks looking for the same deal. This is why Publisher’s Clearinghouse is in business and I’m still getting phone calls offering me a free vacation at a Las Vegas resort if I’d only listen to a two-hour sales pitch.

But when I think of someone living large off the taxpayer teet it’s not usually the single mom with four kids working two jobs who still can’t make ends meet. Or the senior citizen (usually a veteran) living on a fixed income in one of our senior citizen high-rises in the Edgehill neighborhood. I think of people like Dick Cheney, Riley Bechtel, Erik Prince, and Michael McConnell: folks profiting handsomely off the taxpayer-funded war in Iraq which they dragged us into in the first place.

But maybe that’s just me.

We live in an era where things have been devalued to an extraordinary degree, including people. Recently I picked up the book Natural Capitalism: Creating The Next Industrial Revolution; despite it being about 10 years old, I find it transformational. I urge everyone to pick up a copy.

A few brief items culled from Chapter Three, “Waste Not”:

People are often spoken of as being a resource — every large business has a “human resource” department — but apparently they are not a valuable one.


In a world where a billion workers cannot find a decent job or any employment at all, it bears stating the obvious: We cannot by any means — monetarily, governmentally or charitably — create a sense of value and dignity in people’s lives when we are simultaneously creating a society that clearly has no need for them.

Wow. That just blew my mind. Of course! That, in a nutshell, is the Western capitalist mind-set. Industrialization and globalization have created a world where people have been devalued, are superfluous, and discarded by the privileged class as “moochers” and “freeloaders.” If only they would just go away, right?

But even Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you.” I have to think that this was as much an indictment of human society as stating a simple, eternal truth. Regardless, our challenge for thousands of years has been to find a way to accommodate the poor, the infirm, the elderly–what one of my commenters, in an effort to be inflammatory, calls “human debris.” And the way we’ve gone about it in the past is not working any more (if it ever truly did).

The problem is that the fruits of industrialization and globalization are a devaluation of all people, including you and me; the poor are just the most visible victims.

I wrote about how my own work has been devalued here. But all of us find we are working harder yet earning less. Again I quote from Natural Capitalism:

Just as overproduction can exhaust topsoil, so can overproductivity exhaust a workforce. The assumption that greater productivity would lead to greater leisure and well-being, while true for many decades, may no longer be valid. In the United States those who are employed (and presumably becoming more productive) find they are working one hundred to two hundred hours more per year than people did twenty years ago.


From an economist’s point of view, labor productivity is a Holy Grail, and it is unthinkable that continued pursuit of taking it to ever greater levels might in fact be making the entire economic system less productive. We are working smarter, but carrying a laptop from airport to meeting to a red-eye flight home in an exhausting push for greater performance may now be a problem, not the solution. Between 1979 and 1995, there was no increase in real income for 80 percent of working Americans, yet people are working harder today than at any time since World War II. While income rose 10 percent in the fifteen-year period beginning in 1979, 97 percent of that gain was captured by families in the top 20 percent of income earners. The majority of families, in fact, saw their income decline during that time. They’re working more but getting less … […]

Today, companies are firing people, perfectly capable people, to add one more percentage point of profit to the bottom line. [NOTE: I wrote about Macy’s and Smurfit-Stone last week.] Some of the restructuring is necessary and overdue. But greater gains can come from firing the wasted kilowatt-hours, barrels of oil, and pulp from old-growth forests and hiring more people to do so.

Western economies are wasteful by nature, none more so than the United States. We value the bottom line, the P&L report, the short-term profit, the immediate rise in share price. But we are looking at just a piece of the picture, not the entire painting. Instead of looking at people who need assistance as “human debris,” “moochers,” and “looters” and dismissing them with an admonishment to get a job, we need leaders who are interested in looking at the systemic problems that have created this situation in the first place. Our profit and growth oriented value system has put our entire society out of balance. Nowhere except in economics is constant, unrestrained growth considered a good thing: in medicine, it’s called cancer.

We are losing ground, fast. For an idea of just how much ground we are losing, take a look at the Index of Social Health, which tracks indicators such as infant mortality, teen suicide, crime, food stamp coverage, and income inequality. It makes clear that as a nation we have been on the decline for decades, working more but getting less for our efforts, and creating all sorts of social problems in the process:

In 2007 (the last year for which complete data are available), the Index of Social Health stood at 56 out of a possible 100. The performance in 2007 represented an improvement of one point over 2006, but it marked the seventh consecutive year during which the Index remained in the mid-50s. Overall, between 1970 and 2007, the Index declined from 66 to 56, a drop of 14 percent.

Areas that showed improvement since the 1970s are:

• Infant mortality
• Teenage drug abuse
• High school dropouts
• Unemployment
• Poverty, ages 65 and over
• Homicides
• Alcohol-related traffic fatalities

Indicators which have gotten worse since 1970:

• Child abuse
• Child poverty
• Teenage suicide
• Average weekly wages
• Health insurance coverage
• Out-of-pocket health costs, ages 65 and over
• Food stamp coverage
• Access to affordable housing
• Income inequality

Looking at which indicators have worsened compared to those which have improved, it’s clear that we are all working harder and getting less. Telling people to “get a job” when there are no jobs, or calling someone who works two low-paying jobs and still can’t make ends meet a “moocher” is not helpful or productive because the problem is not with the people, it is with a system which has reached its limit.

We need a complete overhaul of how we do things. We need to create jobs for people which actually pay a decent wage, not expect people to be able to provide for their families working two or three part-time jobs, neither of which provides benefits. We must work to build a society that has a need for people, which values them. Because we’re all headed in that direction, as the indicators reveal.


Filed under economy, poverty

>Godly Economics


Pastor Bob has more to say on the subject here: “Economic Principles: Gleanings from Genesis”

I know a lot of folks don’t think God belongs in any discussion of economics and that’s fine, but we live in a country where snake-oil salesmen (and women) peddle a bastardized version of Christianity in which we all worship Free Market Jesus, and they think this is appropriate public policy.

You know, people like crackpot Gary North (let’s hope he knows more about economics than he does theology). Or Ralph Reed and his “Faith & Freedom Coalition,” which touts free markets right along side limited government, lower taxes, aid to Israel and oh, yeah, helping the poor among its founding principles. Dude, that don’t ad up.

(And why are these groups always coalitions? Coalitions of what? Idiots?)

Indeed as some astute observers have noted, the GOP’s sole idea for pulling us out of the economic abyss they placed us in seems to be prayer for Divine intervention.

Excuse me for calling these phonies out by name, but it just seems to me that so few of these people have actually read the Bible–and I mean the whole thing, not just the parts that conveniently support their politics. So for this I turn to my friend the reverend, aka Pastor Bob, for a look at what a Biblical economic plan really looks like.

Do read the whole post for an education on what the Bible says about how nations should run their economies. And then look at our supposed “Christian nation,” and the policies that right wing Christians have espoused for decades, and see if you don’t notice a wee bit of an inconsistency. I do:

First of all, the entire land belonged to God: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” Pious, empty-sounding religious words? No, an economic principle: All land, and its produce, belong to God. No property is private. It was God who made sure each family had an inheritance on it. In acknowledgement of this, they were called upon to offer tithes. Not only that, they were forbidden to fence off their lands, and were not allowed to go over their fields a second time after harvesting, and the same was true of the grape vines: “you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: for you were aliens in Egypt.”

Wonder what Sarah Palin or Ralph Reed would say to a Washington economic policy which looked like that? They’d cry “wall of separation” so fast your head would spin.

Pastor Bob goes on:

Next came the matter of debt, and here the rule was very simple: All debts were to be forgiven every seven years. Period.

Many years and much watering down later, we now begrudgingly allow some debts to be released, maybe once in a person’s lifetime, with that event a blot on their economic record that lasts at least seven years. And I am willing to bet that a lot of “Bible-believing” Christians are pretty sure that anyone who takes advantage of this provision is a victim of his or her own moral failure, and ought to be ashamed.

Now, along with requiring all creditors to release the obligations of all debtors once every seven years, without exception, the biblical law also expressly prohibited the accumulation of extreme wealth:

“Woe to those who add house to house, and field to field!”

Christian America, are you listening? To implement this, there was a provision that once every fifty years (seven periods of seven) any family who had sold their own homestead to pay off debts would have that property returned to them, free and clear. This was expressly to prevent the accumulation of wealth by some at the cost of the permanent impoverishment of others.

Wow, we sure don’t hear that economic policy espoused by the so-called Christians in the Republican party.

Gee, I wonder why.

As Pastor Bob says, he’s just reading his Bible. Maybe some other folks who claim to espouse Biblical beliefs should do so as well.


Filed under Bible, economy, poverty, religion

>When The Need Exceeds The Means

>I guess they should just beg a charity or something:

Desperation Reigns In Detroit

You may have heard by now of the crush of Detroiters who descended on Cobo Hall this week to apply for homelessness prevention assistance.  50,000 – 60,000 residents have received applications for 3,400 packages of up to $3,000 to cover utility bills and fees associated with keeping one’s home or moving into a new one.

The Detroit Free Press Editorial team beat me to the Katrina metaphors, and even threw in “tsunami” for good measure to describe Detroit’s economic disaster.

It’s not just Detroit. The tsunami that is our economic collapse has created a tremendous demand for assistance all around the country, even here in Nashville.

Here’s a little secret: in Nashville, we’ve been seeing signs of economic hardship for the past five years. Even before the total collapse of September 2008, a whole class of people were left out of the “Bush boom”: people who worked two and even three jobs, single mothers, people without health insurance.

The people our last president described as “uniquely American” with neither shame nor irony.

These were people that the Republicans, when they held the seat of power in Washington, did absolutely nothing to help. It took a Democratic congress in 2006 to pass an increase in the minimum wage bill for the first time in 12 years.

Here in Nashville I am involved with an organization that provides homelessness prevention assistance to the working poor. It’s a faith-based group, started in 2005 when Nashville churches first began seeing a surge of requests for financial help. Let me tell you, the past year has been hard. The number of clients seeking assistance has exploded. Donations from member congregations have held steady, but several of the foundations where non-profits traditionally apply for grant money were affected by the Bernie Madoff scandal and the decline in the stock market.

Fortunately, the government’s economic stimulus has stepped in to make up some of the shortfall. But there isn’t enough to go around. There never is, but this year is worse than ever. Imagine, 60,000 people showing up for only 3,400 assistance packages! That’s a crisis. That’s a freaking disaster. And no one is talking about it.

Our economy has been in a hole long before it was fashionable for folks in the media to talk about it. Anyone who works with the poor in their community knows this. So many of the clients helped by the group I work with are single mothers, and that’s just heartbreaking. Kids thrown out of their home because mom’s hours got cut back at Dell and now she’s behind on the rent don’t tend to do well in school.

These stories can be found in cities all around the country right now. Call any non-profit or downtown area church and you will hear them. And I hope you will do that and I hope you will offer to help with your time or your money because our communities really need it.

And to you people who keep saying, “I don’t want my money going to X, Y, Z,” I have just three words: Yes, I know.

Yes, I know. That is abundantly clear. And because you “don’t want your money going to” X, Y, Z, you haven’t given it. And we have a tsunami of suffering in our communities as a result.

So either step up to the plate and give more on your own, or the government is going to have to do it with taxes, because we’ve reached a breaking point. You can’t have 60,000 people show up for help and only enough funds to help 3,400 of them. That’s not workable and those chicken will come home to roost.

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Filed under Nashville, poverty

>A Holiday Thought

>I don’t know how many of you will sit down to a ginormous feast this Thanksgiving, but it bears remembering those whose budgets are stretched tight this year.

Because, their number is growing:

Americans’ Food Stamp Use Nears All-Time High

Fueled by rising unemployment and food prices, the number of Americans on food stamps is poised to exceed 30 million for the first time this month, surpassing the historic high set in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.


“We soon will have the most food stamps recipients in the history of our country,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a D.C.-based anti-hunger policy organization. “If the economic forecasts come true, we’re likely to see the most hunger that we’ve seen since the 1981 recession and maybe since the 1960s, when these programs were established.”

I firmly believe our government has an important role to play in setting policies and funding programs to help those in need in this country. But we as individuals have an obligation, as well. For years in my family we’ve given donations to charity in lieu of holiday gifts–who really needs another ugly tie or bulky sweater, anyway? Mr. Beale and I also sponsor a family at Manna of Nashville through a program our church offers every year.

Two gift donation resources I love are Heifer International and Seva Foundation. I love the idea of giving a gift like equipment for a new midwife for my sister, who used to work in the medical field. Or perhaps a month of literacy classes for my mother in law, who is a teacher. How about a dairy goat for a child in Africa as a gift for my niece, currently working on her Ag degree?

Many of these projects are in Third World countries, but I’d love to help people at home, too. This year, I think such traditions are going to be more important than ever. It could be life or death.

So, what are you doing to help those in need this holiday? I’d love to hear about it and learn about other resources. Post ’em in comments.

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Filed under poverty