By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

I am trying not to be angry, but I am.

The Republicans have made a point of saying they want to appeal to all Americans, that they want to enlarge their base and show people that they “care” about those who are not Conservatives.

But today, as people gather in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate that awful Sunday in 1965 when black people were beaten as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they had to in order to reach Montgomery from Selma to demand the right to vote, Republican leadership is not there. Save one, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, there will be no Republicans in leadership there to commemorate, really, the working of democracy.

It is clear that there is not a lot of support for upholding the Voting Rights Act amongst Conservatives. The United States Supreme Court has done much to dismantle much of what the more than 25,000 people marched for on that day in 1965. It seems that Conservatives give much lip service to the concept of democracy, but in practice, they seem not to believe in it at all.

Their absence in Selma today says that they do not care …about a large number of American citizens …who happen to be people of color. It seems that they do not care that, as Americans fought the British for independence – and won  – that they do not care that people of color had to fight the white power structure for dignity and a basic American right …and won …in spite of being brutally beaten.

It was the goal of Alabama state law enforcement to impede black people from crossing that bridge and from demanding their right to vote. It was only after President Lyndon Johnson, at the behest of Civil Rights leaders, ordered protection for the marchers from the federal government …that the people had enough protection to …be Americans and to demand an American right.

The interference of the federal government in cases of racial inequality and injustice was the basis for the battle cry of “states’ rights” back then, a cry which is resurrecting today. Folks resented the federal government “telling them what to do.” It was the right of states, they believed, to treat their “nigras” like they wanted to. When the federal government intervened, they fumed …and are still fuming.

That’s why we are seeing such an erosion of the Voting Rights Act today.

I think of all those people who were beaten that day as they marched peacefully to claim their right to vote …and I weep inside, because it seems like, feels like, much of what they suffered for has been forgotten.

I remember when President George Bush, in his inauguration address, called for “1000 points of light” to help address and fix some of this nation’s problems.

Those lights either do not exist or have been blown out by the winds of racial injustice which have continued to blow in this great land of ours.

It would be great to look up and see that some of our Republican leaders swallowed their emotions and showed up today in Selma. It would be good to see Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner …and others …but they will not show up. House Republicans showed up to support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but have so little respect for African-Americans and people of color that they will not show up today.

I am angry about it; well, maybe “saddened” is the more apt adjective to use. It says volumes about this “land of the free and home of the brave.” It is not yet, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Not yet.

A candid observation ….

Reeva Steenkamp: Another Woman Needlessly Dead

Office on Violence Against Women logo
Office on Violence Against Women logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While everyone is in shock over the murder of Reeva Steenkamp allegedly by “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius, I am more in shock that domestic violence against women is still such a major problem in this world.

It is hard to believe the story that Pistorius offered about what happened at his home on Valentine’s Day, but it is not hard to believe, or to conjecture, that the couple had domestic violence issues before that fateful night.

What many women do not understand is that domestic violence is not just physical; it can be emotional, verbal, or psychological as well.  We women too often take treatment, or endure treatment, that demeans us, thinking that somehow things will get better or, worse, that we are somehow to blame for the violence our mates are heaping upon us.

Lisa Ling did a program about a year ago, with a follow-up last evening, on the OWN network about human trafficking. The whole issue of human trafficking is a subject for another time, but the mindset of the young girls and young women that makes them vulnerable to being used by pimps and johns is not unlike the mindset of women who stay in abusive relationships.

Last night on the program, a young woman who managed to get off the streets and get back into school with plans to go to college was trying to help another young woman, who wanted to get out of the business but was afraid. The young woman who had made it out said to her ( and I am paraphrasing) that when a guy tells you you’re pretty, don’t believe it. You tell yourself that you’re pretty. You believe it yourself. You don’t have to depend on others to define you.

It appears that far too many women, no matter how educated or attractive or capable, have low opinions of themselves and they do in fact depend on their men or partners for their definitions of themselves.  The men or partners can sense the insecurity and, like the predators they are, prey on the weakest part of the women they say they love. Even the act of preying on one’s weaknesses is an act of abuse and bullying.

The result is that far too many women end up being used in the course of being abused. Some men use women as “prize wives,” not respecting them for themselves but instead using them for their professional advancement. Others use women as their security; they do whatever they want but they dare their women to run out on or leave them. There are a host of reasons why men abuse women, and the world is becoming less complacent about it, but the world is doing too little, too late.

The young woman who was gang-raped on a bus in India, and who eventually died, pointed out the arrogance many men feel when it comes to the way they treat women. Whatever made those men feel like they could do that and get away with it? A silent society…

Women are brutalized every day, in front of their children, in public places, anywhere a man or partner feels like he or she wants to do it.  The society has to do more to address the problem, but we, the women, have to address the problems in ourselves that make us stay in abusive relationships.

Being lonely is not an excuse to stay; wanting to maintain a certain lifestyle is also not a reason to stay. It is said that Nicole Simpson, the wife of O.J. Simpson,   had filed charges against her husband for domestic abuse several times, but she, like so many other women, always went back. Was it the lure of fame, of her husband’s fame, that kept her going back?  Tina Turner endured abuse from her husband Ike; Rihanna, it seems, is still enamored with Chris Brown, despite his physical abuse of her.

If Reeva Steenkamp had encounters with Oscar Pistorius that were abusive, verbally, emotionally or otherwise, it is sad that she chose to stay.  A person who abuses another doesn’t love that person; he or she wants to control that person, and is afraid of losing that same person. We, the women, have to make the changes, “do the work,”  as Iyanla Vanzant says, of fixing our spirits and our resolve so that we care too much about ourselves to let any person treat us as objects. The United States Senate passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, with no help from the Republican senators, but its ultimate fate lies in the hands of the GOP

led House of Representatives. (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/02/12/1556601/senate-passes-vawa-again/?mobile=nc) That anyone would think this issue is not worth their time is infuriating. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) thinks the problem is so serious that they are doing important research. (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/datasources.html) It is way past time to take this issue more seriously.

Perhaps those who think there is no need to have the government step into this issue. According to an article that appeared in The Atlantic, some Republicans think that the act represents government overreach and is a feminist attack on family values. (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/why-would-anyone-oppose-the-violence-against-women-act/273103/).

Seriously?

So, abusing women is an accepted value in American families?

That cannot be the case.

Whatever the House decides to do or not to do, we, the women, have got to take this problem by the horns and deal with it as we have never before. Reeva should be alive. So should thousands of other women who died at the hands of abusive mates. Women in prison who decided to defend themselves ought not be there. At the least, there ought to be a national “stand your ground” law that women who fight back can have to protect them.

This has got to stop…now.

A candid observation…

 

Who Cares for the Poor?

It is very hard to understand why any politician would be opposed to paying people a living wage – meaning, a wage that would allow them to live with dignity as opposed to living as virtual slaves to an unfair economic system.

 

It is clear that capitalism and democracy are not one in the same thing;  apparently, if  Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson had a face-to-face conversation, they would lock horns on principle: capitalism does not pretend to want to, or to be about, providing a level playing field for all people, as democracy purports to be about.

 

But to be against helping people get paid what their work contribution is really worth seems immoral. Actually, allowing poverty, or ignoring it, seems to be immoral too, especially in such a wealthy and religious nation.  It seems like more and more, people are just a beggar’s cup away from abject poverty.

 

The growing gap between rich and poor, the shrinking of the middle class, is not just an American problem. In China, reports Rob Schmitz, “the number of people …who still live on less than two dollars a day is equal to the entire population of the United States.”  (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/street-eternal-happiness/celebrating-chinese-new-year-street-eternal-happiness). Ironically, the very poor sit on a street named “The Street of Eternal Happiness.” The well to do most often walk past the beggars; the sense of disdain is hardly unnoticeable.

 

There is nothing “happy,” though, about being poor. There is nothing “happy” about having to choose between food and medicine, or between diapers or milk for the baby who needs the diaper. Many families cannot afford diapers; hence in some places diaper banks have been created. Many elderly do not have enough to eat. And many adults are working their buns off with hardly anything to show for it except extreme fatigue and deepening depression.

 

There seems to be such an insensitivity to the poor. In China, Kang Xiaoguang, Professor of Regional Economics and Politics, actually said, publicly, “Although there are hundreds of millions of workers and peasants, they don’t count. You can ignore them. You can also rob and exploit them. It’s not a problem. The most important thing is to get the powerful on your side.”

 

While Xiaoguang’s statement is harsh and insensitive, it is hard to believe that he is not saying out loud what many people feel.  When President Obama said, in his 2013 State of the Union Address, that he wanted Congress to approve a hike in the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour, he apparently caught Republicans and some Democrats off-guard.  The president said, “Today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 states have chosen to bump theirs even higher. Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.”

 

Those who are criticizing big government are not impressed with the president’s suggestion, nor are they apt to seriously consider it, and those who stay far enough from the poor to see the misery in which they live are not likely to “encourage” their state and federal lawmakers by threatening to withdraw support for them if they don’t raise the minimum wage.

 

If you do not see poverty, it is easy to minimize it and the suffering it causes.

 

Before the 2008 election, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs said, over and over, that America was losing its middle class.  He seemed not to get a lot of support, and I don’t remember what his solution was to the problem, but the fact is, Dobbs correctly called that there would be a crisis of the middle class, which has come to be.

 

The state and federal jobs which allowed so many people to reach middle class are shrinking, as are the manufacturing jobs. There are jobs available, but many of them require technical training which the vast majority of people do not have.

 

“Find a way to go to school and get some training,” those who are insensitive would say, not understanding that the working poor don’t have a penny to spend and would probably not qualify for a student loan. The working poor often cannot take a day off, or refuse to take a day off, even when they’re sick, because they cannot afford to miss a day’s wages. Their families suffer, as do they, in all areas of life.

 

Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s speech, said, “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.” Addressing and raising the minimum wage would threaten the creation of jobs, those who oppose big government would say, but what kind of jobs? Probably more that are wont to pay workers what their work is worth.

 

It is no secret that wealth often accrues on the backs of the poor, with the poor getting little benefit. But there is something inherently wrong in that. There is something wrong with a system that allows the wealthy to make and hoard more money they can ever use, while those whose labor made them rich can barely make ends meet.

 

Professor Susan Thistlewaite, in her book, Occupy the Bible, encourages a moral and religious response to the issue of poverty. She spends a lot of time addressing the debt students are in who took out loans to go to college. Too many of them are not only struggling financially, but they are struggling emotionally as well. To not be able to find a job, or to get a job which does not pay a living wage, is demeaning. Many former students are committing suicide, she writes.

 

Thistlewaite encourages the religious of our society to read the Bible and interpret it from the perspective of those who struggle with poverty and financial hardship. The struggling don’t have trouble doing that; the wealthy would probably toss it off as Liberal dribble.

 

But there is no “dribble” in the fact that in this nation there is an oligarchy, not a democracy. There are too many people struggling to obtain the bare necessities for themselves and their families. The Republicans have criticized President Obama for the fact that more people receive food stamps than in the previous administration, but without help, how are the poor and working poor supposed to make it?  To require and expect them to work for the increase of profits for the wealthy and then to give them pittance in return …just does not seem right.

 

In fact, it seems that in doing that, the wealthy and powers that be are merely ignoring the poor.

 

The pervasiveness of poverty is not new; the society in which Jesus lived was as imbalanced economically as are the societies of China and Haiti and our own nation. But what is troubling is that it feels like it’s getting easier and easier for the wealthy to act like the poor and working poor don’t exist, that they are whiners and takers, like …they don’t matter.

 

Perhaps if nationally there could be a shift or an outpouring of programs that teach the poor how to compete in our global economy the picture could and would change. The poor don’t want to be poor; many of them are stuck and don’t know how to get out. Some would rather die than take government assistance. They don’t want a hand out. They want a way up and out of their economic misery. Poverty causes people to live in despair and depression; suicide is not all that uncommon for those who have simply given up hope of their lives ever getting better. There is a lot of domestic abuse amongst the poor, and children end up being ignored and neglected, which causes a host of social problems. It doesn’t make sense to ignore and/or ignore the poor. Poverty ends up costing money …but then, those who are investing in private prisons, the so-called Prison Industrial Complex, would not care about that because their wealth is built upon the backs of the hopeless and despairing.

 

Capitalism
Capitalism (Photo credit: Juliano Mattos)

 

You have to have eyes to see that, though, ears to hear it, and a heart to receive it. That, apparently, is what is missing in our great nation.

 

A candid observation …

 

Entitlements be Damned

With the fiscal cliff debacle hanging over us, I find myself cringing every time I hear the word “entitlements.”

The argument, or part of the argument, as concerns how we get out of our financial crisis, is that the entitlements, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security – are just too expensive and are not sustainable. The Republicans are willing to budge on their desire not to raise taxes for the “wealthy,” IF there are substantial cuts in entitlement spending.

Those entitlements, however, are what help “the least of these.”  I keep wondering what legislators are thinking. How are the poor, the elderly, and those who have worked all their lives and now need Social Security …supposed to live? Because one is poor, is he or she not worthy of being treated with dignity? And because one has grown old, is he or she not “entitled” to expect some financial assistance from the country in which they lived during the days of their youth, working to contribute to its economy?

If spending for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is cut, what happens to this broad swath of people who simply need help? Everybody needs help – even the wealthy. The difference between the poor, lower middle class, and for much of the middle middle class and the wealthy is that the wealthy have more resources to pull from when they need help.  The poor have so little access to what they need for quality of life and, frankly, the wealthy are not concerned about them as regards their reality.  If and when a poor person needs help, he or she is often forced to get money from predatory lenders, who charge them exorbitant interest rates. The poor really do not have a chance. They get ensconced in a downward spiral that goes faster and faster…And the wealthy are not concerned.  The wealthy look for ways to make more profits – even if it is from or on the backs of the poor – and too often turn a deaf ear toward the cries of those who are suffering.

I read a story about a woman who had worked all her life, in a job where there were no benefits, including health insurance. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/28/gop-obamacare-medicaid_n_2347933.html) She began to feel poorly, but would not go to a doctor because she could not afford it.  She began to look up home remedies, and tried some of what she read, but eventually, not even the home remedies helped. She collapsed on her job and was taken to an emergency room, where it was discovered that the had high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.  The doctor asked her why she had waited so long to get help.

The insensitivity to the plight of the poor and the working poor is phenomenal.

Following this episode, she was able to get Medicaid, and was able to get the medicine she needs to keep her alive, but recently, her Medicaid allotment was reduced because of a state policy that said persons receiving it can only make a certain amount of money; this woman made over that amount, and so her benefits were slashed. Now, she is in the dangerous place of not being able to afford her medicine; the money she makes is just enough for her to pay her rent and utilities.  The article said she is feeling bad again; the fluid is accumulating in her chest again, and her blood pressure is no doubt going up.

Hers is not the only story like this. The elderly, many of them, are not doing much better. It is heartbreaking to think about the elderly who worked all their lives and who now are malnourished because they cannot afford to pay their rent AND buy food. There is something terribly wrong with the way people think – or don’t think – about those who suffer.

And yet, the Conservative hard-liners insist that the aid these people receive are “entitlements” and should be slashed. The very word “entitlement” brings up negative feelings. Anytime anyone says that someone thinks he or she is “entitled” to something, there is a negative undertone that accompanies it. Slash spending, the Conservatives rail, on these dratted entitlements. Former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that 47 percent of Americans think they are “entitled” to help from the government. The attitude is one of distrust  and disdain; the implication is there that the poor and working poor are where they are because of some deficit in their characters.

Ironically, there is a lot of money in poor people; maybe that’s why the wealthy are not so concerned about them. The poor need and want to work, and have been willing, in the past and in the present, to work under horrible conditions for paltry pay. The poor are then penalized for being poor; they pay higher – the highest – interest rates on purchases they make. The wealthy take advantage of them and others who are not so steeped in how America’s financial system works. How else do we explain the antics of mortgage companies, who made millions, maybe billions, off people who were lured into getting mortgages they could not afford?

The attitude seems to be “let them eat cake” while the wealthy go blithely on their way, looking for more and more ways to make more and more money. Meanwhile, many of those same people want the spending on defense to be left alone or perhaps be increased. The stated reason is that we, the United States, need that money to defend ourselves, but the wars we have been engaged in since President Bush got us into them had nothing to do with defending ourselves. The massive spending, causing much of our current indebtedness, was done not to defend America, but to get America in a place where it could dip into and be a part of the huge profits that are available in the oil in the Middle East. By all means, spend money to make more money. It is not good business to spend money on that which loses money – and poor people make the government lose money, they would posit.

The wealthy think they are “entitled” to make more money. That’s what business is, and long ago, President Calvin Coolidge said that the “business of America…is business.”  They poor  and  the elderly are not “entitled” to quality of life, not entitled to help from the country they helped prosper.

That is a really sad commentary on America and its “values.”

A candid observation …

Is Romney Kidding?

Romney
Romney (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

I read an article – and listened to a video tape – that captured GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying some pretty disparaging things about much of this nation.

The article, written by David Corn, said that Romney has disdain for 47 percent of this nation’s population who, he says, believe in big government, have victim mentalities, and have no interest in making a good life for themselves. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/secret-video-romney-private-fundraiser). Romney was speaking to a group of wealthy potential donors. What he needed from them, he said, was “millions of dollars.”

Said Romney: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

He then went on to say that he wasn’t going to worry about that 47 percent, because they voted for President Obama in 2008 and will vote for him again. He also acknowledged that he is having trouble getting Hispanic voters.

But …back to the 47 percent …I had to ask myself as I listened to the video (yes, Romney himself is speaking) if he was kidding. Does he really have that low an opinion of  nearly half of this country’s population?  And is he arrogant enough to believe that he can win the election as he touts such views?

When one donor complained to Romney that he wasn’t attacking the president with enough “intellectual firepower,” the GOP candidate said that the campaign trail was not the place for “high-minded and detail-oriented arguments.”

I was squashed at the arrogance of all that he said. In a related articled which appeared in The Washington Post, author Greg Sargent said that the 47 percent of Americans whom Romney criticized as being government moochers do not, as Romney correctly said, pay income taxes, but they do pay state and local taxes. They would be appalled, if not disgusted, Sargent argues, at being lumped into a giant pool of lazy, opportunistic victims. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/romney-ill-never-convince-obama-voters-to-take-responsibility-for-their-lives/2012/09/17/0c1f0bcc-0104-11e2-b260-32f4a8db9b7e_blog.html).

All of the reports recently which have addressed the issue of how tax cuts for the wealthy impacts an economy say that such cuts do not help the economy and do not spur the creation of  jobs. Yet, Romney continues to push that argument, and in the process, insults a huge number of Americans who might be called the “working poor.”

Romney says he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and in this leaked video, criticizes the other side for implying as much, but he certainly has not spent time amongst the working poor. He has not been in their (our) shoes, and experienced their struggles. Many to most people are not financially literate, and so are at the behest of a capitalistic society which takes advantage of their financial ignorance, but the fact that many people are not good with money does not justify such a snooty and arrogant description of them.

One wonders what this nation will be like, which direction it will go, if Romney wins in November. President Obama’s policies may not be favorable to everyone,  and the president still has not mentioned the worth of poor people in this nation. His focus is on the middle class, which seems not to exist so much anymore; his policies are designed to lift and support them. The poor have not been mentioned much, if at all.

But at least the president seems to know that there is such a thing as the “working poor,” who might be included in that 47 percent of people whom Romney has decided he is going to ignore.

Seriously, Mr. Romney? How arrogant.

A candid observation …