Response to Mr Blair 2

What you – and a lot of other people; you’re not alone – don’t seem to realize is that poverty is not a state of mind. It’s an economic condition that’s often forced on people.

[T]here are a lot of people…who think poverty is the result of stupidity or laziness, people who simply can’t believe that in America talent and intelligence could go unrewarded. Well…they do. Every day.

One of the smartest people I know is a cook at a nursing home. He had two years at a technical college where he learned how to be a tool-and-die maker because he liked to work with his hands. That craft has been taken over by computers, so now he cooks. He’s good at it, proud of what he can do and how people feel when they eat what he makes. He can do wonders with a budget slim as a Chihuahua hair. He makes $9/hr. His family wants to know why he doesn’t do more with his life. In a weak moment (when we’d been drinking), he told me that, and then he told me what he didn’t dare tell them–that he kept the job because he was happy doing it, and that money really wasn’t very important to him as long as his family had a roof over their heads and enough to eat.

He was lying, like a lot of us do, by telling himself that what he could get was all he wanted. I challenged him, and he admitted he’d really like to learn gourmet cooking and work in a legitimate restaurant where he didn’t have to make superior food out of inferior product. I asked him if he’d considered going back to school, get a degree in Culinary Arts. Sheepishly, he told me he’d applied but his income ($9/hr!) was over the guidelines and there was no financial aid available since the Feds had cut their grant programs to the bone.

The most brilliant guy I know is a Hungarian émigré. He was trained as a surgeon in Eastern Europe, has a raft of degrees on the wall of his tiny apartment, and speaks 4 languages, 3 of them reasonably well (English, he tells me, is tough). But the degrees aren’t recognized in America, he’s over 50, and his accent is so thick, his English so rudimentary, that a lot of prospective employers thought he was retarded. He works as a janitor. He makes $7/hr after three years; he started at $5. It was all he could get. His shame is so great that he won’t tell his family where he is or what he’s doing now.

If intelligence and talent were what counted in America, that janitor would be running a huge hospital and Bill Gates–who stole everything MicroSoft is from smarter people–would be sweeping the floors of the wards. But they aren’t.

It’s a rigged game, Mr Blair. Leaf through the categories Poverty and/or The Class War and/or War on the Poor on this blog and you will find dozens of posts written over the last few years documenting the tricks, lies, and outright cruelty practiced on the poor by conservatives, first because they believe poverty is the result of laziness, and second because it’s what their corporate supporters want.

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Welfare and Medicaid Cuts Raise Infant Mortality Rate

Conservatives kill babies.

Not with their own hands, of course. They don’t strangle them in their cribs. They let their anti-life policies do it for them.

For decades but especially for the last 12 years, the very same conservatives who scream that the removal of an unformed scut of cells in a womb is murder have been systematically depriving real life pregnant women who will be carrying to term of luxuries like food and adequate medical care because they’re “too expensive”.

At the Federal level, Medicaid and welfare have been consistently cut every year conservatives have ruled the roost in order to trim taxes to the nub for the rich, hand over $$$billions$$$ in corporate welfare to their masters campaign contributors, and prosecute a war nobody wanted on behalf of neoconservative imperialists too dumb to know enough to come in out of the rain. In primarily liberal Democratic states, some of that safety net has been replaced but in the predominantly-conservative Southern states, it hasn’t and the results are coming in. They’re not pretty, but then nothing much in conservative-run America is these days.

The policies of so-called “pro-life” conservatives are raising infant mortality rates in the South to the such a point that Third World countries have lower rates than parts of the US. Are we proud yet?

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Sheila Holt-Orsted’s Crusade: Cancer, Racism and the Class War

There are times and places when the lines of culture, politics, science, and social conventions come crashing together, when the attitudes we’ve been ignoring and the problems we’ve refused to address converge to create a snapshot reality of where we are and where we’ve been. Call it Ground Zero-Prime.

In Dickson County, Tennessee, Sheila Holt-Orsted is living right smack dab in the middle of Ground Zero-Prime. In her family, and what happened to them, four of the major cultural strains of the past half-century collide: racism, the Class War, denial of environmental neglect, and pandering to corporate greed at the expense of public health and safety.

Sheila had breast cancer. Her father died of prostate and bone cancers. Her sister has had a form of colon cancer. And there’s more.

Three of Holt-Orsted’s cousins have had cancer. Her aunt next door has had cancer. Her aunt across the street has had chemotherapy for a bone disease. Her uncle died of Hodgkin’s disease. Her daughter, 12-year-old Jasmine, has a speech defect.

Why all this in one family? You’re recognizing the pattern, aren’t you? And you’re already suspecting that they lived near a toxic waste site. Well, you’re right – and wrong. It was toxic, alright, but it wasn’t supposed to be. The source of the cancers was a landfill – the County dump.

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Minimum Wage Bill Tied to Iraq Funding (2 Updates)

Nancy Pelosi gets more interesting by the minute. Refusing to sit still for a threatened Republican filibuster of the minimum wage bill because the House cut $$$7Billion in corporate tax breaks out of the Senate version, she has come up with a whole new tactic: she’s tying it to the war appropriations package.

House leaders have added legislation raising the federal minimum wage to an emergency spending bill for the Iraq war. They hope to break a logjam with the Senate over the wage bill, a top Democratic priority that was once seen on Capitol Hill as a relatively easy compromise.

House leaders also hope the addition of the wage provisions will induce House liberals to vote for the $105 billion war package, which authorizes funds for Iraq while setting a timeline for withdrawal that would require combat operations to end by August 2008.

House Democrats unveiled the plan yesterday but did not release a draft of the legislation, saying that details were being worked out. According to Democratic aides, the proposal would increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 over two years and grant $1.3 billion in tax breaks for restaurants and other affected businesses.

Those provisions have already passed the House. The Senate also approved the wage increase, but added $8.3 billion in business tax breaks to placate Republicans in that chamber. House leaders oppose such a large tax package and hope to force a smaller one through the Senate by tying the minimum-wage increase to the Iraq bill.

The Republics, of course, have been furious because she wouldn’t let them turn a bill to raise the minimum wage for ordinary workers into a huge barrel of corporate pork. Continue reading

Grant access to higher education

WHEN CONGRESS passed the Higher Education Act in 1965 , lawmakers were guided by the principle that no qualified student should have to for go college because of the cost. Shamefully, Congress has lost sight of this fundamental point.

Today, 400,000 qualified students a year don’t attend a four-year college because they can’t afford it. Twenty years ago, the maximum Pell Grant — the lifeline to college for low-income and first-generation students — covered more than half the cost of attendance at a typical four-year public college. Now, it only covers 32 percent. Because of the influence of big lenders, the federal student loan programs are now larded with inappropriate subsidies that benefit banks, but do little for students.

The cost of college has more than tripled over the past 20 years, and most families can’t keep up. Congress must work to fix the federal student aid system. Continue reading

The Minimum Wage Compromise

The minimum wage bill is back, and the House Ways and Means Committee has compromised though it hasn’t caved. Continue reading

The Minimum Wage: Not the End of the World as We Know It

Well, they did it. The House passed a bill to hike the minimum wage for the first time in ten years.

The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved the first increase in the federal minimum wage in nearly a decade, boosting the wages of the lowest-paid American workers from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years.The 315 to 116 vote could begin the process of ending Congress’s longest stretch without a minimum-wage increase since the mandatory minimum was created in 1938. In the past decade, inflation has depleted the value of the minimum wage to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

The bill now goes to the Senate, wherein lies the rub, you see. The Senate has its own version pending, and unlike the House bill, theirs tacks on yet more business tax breaks. Continue reading