Food Stamps, Welfare and Medicaid … Oh, My

Filed under:economics, freedom, healthcare, politics, poverty, social contract — posted by Sonja on August 17, 2011 @ 8:43 am

Put me in charge . . ..
Put me in charge of food stamps. I’d get rid of Lone Star cards; no cash for Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s, just money for 50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away. If you want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.

Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women Norplant birth control implants or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine and document all tattoos and piercings. If you want to reproduce or use drugs, alcohol, smoke or get tats and piercings, then get a job.

Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in a military barracks? You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair. Your “home” will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and your own place.

In addition, you will either present a check stub from a job each week or you will report to a “government” job. It may be cleaning the roadways of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for you. We will sell your 22 inch rims and low profile tires and your blasting stereo and speakers and put that money toward the “common good.”

Before you write that I’ve violated someone’s rights, realize that all of the above is voluntary. If you want our money, accept our rules. Before you say that this would be “demeaning” and ruin their “self esteem,” consider that it wasn’t that long ago that taking someone else’s money for doing absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered self esteem.

If we are expected to pay for other people’s mistakes we should at least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices. The current system rewards them for continuing to make bad choices.

AND While you are on Gov’t subsistence, you no longer can VOTE! Yes that is correct. For you to vote would be a conflict of interest. You will voluntarily remove yourself from voting while you are receiving a Gov’t welfare check. If you want to vote, then get a job.

Now, if you have the guts – PASS IT ON…

According to an e-mail LightHusband received the above was a letter to the editor in the Waco Herald Tribune in November 2010. It’s rather blunt point is something I bet we’ve all heard and perhaps felt at one time or another in reference to what many see as the profligate waste associated with aid programs for the impoverished in our country. We all think those programs would be really easy to run. So for kicks and giggles I thought I’d respond to this letter myself. Just for fun. Here’s what I would say to this person … paragraph by paragraph. And for arguments sake, I’m going to assume that the author was a man, the writing seems very masculine to me. So I’m going to respond to a man.

Food Stamps – You’re correct, sir. Food assistance should not be allowed to purchase Ding Dongs or Ho Hos or other known unhealthy foods (such as Captain Crunch or other sugary cereal). But I also happen to think that it would be wise to include some healthy fruits and vegetables in your list of approved items for people to purchase. I have never understood why it was acceptable for the WIC (Women with Infants and Children) to have a limited number of items for purchase with their funds, but Food Stamps was a free for all. WIC money is too limited, but Food Stamps are too open. There needs to be a healthy and wise middle ground in which people learn about a healthy diet … and I’m sorry but rice, beans, cheese and milk ain’t it. Steak and frozen pizza probably isn’t it either.

There are a lot of ways to feed a family a healthy diet on a tight budget. This is going to mean educating moms and dads because they did not learn this from their parents. Education costs money, so in the short run this would make the food stamp program more expensive. In the long run (over a period of years) it would become less expensive. But we would have to be prepared to invest our time, effort and money in it to eventually wean people off of it.

Medicaid – Forced birth control, tubal ligations, drug testing etc. I think I understand the reasoning and emotion behind this. However, when the large majority of people receiving Medicaid are people with dark skin it smacks of racism and there is no getting around that. If you are poor, you cannot have children. If you are poor, your options are limited. We have an amendment in the Constitution which addresses this issue – Amendment 14; Article 1 states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. While individual (private) companies can require drug testing for the right to employment and the federal government can require it for security purposes and has done so through the due process of law, there is no reason to require drug testing as a prerequisite for the receipt of public funds. I know that two states are currently attempting to make this law and they are on shaky Constitutional ground. In addition … there are huge costs involved with drug testing. How is this going to be paid for?

Government Housing – I completely understand the desire to tell folks who live in public housing to clean up their act. It is disgraceful the way our country has treated those housing projects. We’ve left them to rot. But have you ever gone to Home Depot and noted the cost of purchasing a basic home repair kit? When you have nothing, it’s pretty expensive. Then you have to learn how to use it. Now I do love LightHusband, but I am here to tell you that of his many talents, home repair is not one of them.  He has 10 thumbs. We hire that out or we do things with friends. But what do you do when you live in an apartment building and you rent? It is common knowledge that a renter relies on the owner or the superintendent of the facility to keep the place in good repair. It is the owner’s responsibility to keep a place looking ship shape and tidy, not the renter’s. Your plan puts the onus in the wrong place. If we want our government housing projects to look like someone cares for them, then perhaps “we, the people” as owners of those public housing projects ought to start caring for them. Perhaps we need to get down off our high horse and take care of our neighbors. Maybe we could teach them some skills and give them some of our excess tools in the process.

As for the plasma televisions and gaming devices, first of all there is no way to inspect for those. Secondly, what do you do if someone receives those sorts of luxury items as a gift? Take it away? That is ludicrous to begin to monitor gifts and decide which are worthy and which are not. We will become a police state if we do that.

Job Corps – Here is something I can give marginal support to. With one large question. How sir, do you propose to care for the minor children that moms may have in their care? I can see a number of solutions to this problem, but you do not seem to have accounted for children or their wellbeing in your scheme. I wonder how you will do that? My other large problem is that what you have outlined looks more like a chain gang than a public works program. While I agree with the notion that having people work in some manner for the public assistance they receive, I also believe that the work they do should train them in some way for eventually getting off public assistance. It should be a road that leads them in a positive direction, rather than a dead end alley of endless work for endless public assistance. This just feeds the cycle that we desire to break.

Voting – Once again, I would like to refer you to the Constitution and Amendment 24 in which it states “1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.” This means that no one can ask or require that voting rights or privileges be restricted for any reason, whether “voluntary” or otherwise.

Last, I’m going to call you out, sir. You are being disingenuous when you make the claim that when you are in charge all of your changes are “voluntary.” That people have the choice to knuckle under to your demands or they can reject public assistance. In other words, it’s your way or the highway (in popular vernacular). When the alternative is starvation, homelessness and perhaps death, especially for one’s children, there’s not really much of a choice, now, is there? And I’d like to ask you, if you were that person, or those people, just how free would you think this country is?

Part 2

Part 3

Shiny Happy …. Women

Filed under:anger, being jesus, faith, freedom, grief, justice, poverty, power, righteous anger, women in church — posted by Sonja on July 7, 2010 @ 7:09 am

The first rumble of something in the wind came late yesterday.  I was tired.  Grumpy even.  The day had been empty and I was supposed to be able to sew all day after a busy weekend.  But I ended up driving all day.  So I sat on the sofa and was mad.  It had been good for everyone else.  Just not me.  There seems to be a theme in that lately and I am slowly but steadily ending up without so much wick to my candle.  So I checked into my googlereader and found that kathy escobar had posted a rather interestingly titled post, “drinking the company koolaid.” Now since she usually writes about more Jesus-y things and her church-y gathering, I wondered what could be up with that!  And read it.

It was a most uncharacteristic rant from her about the state of women in the church.  Not that she thinks that women in the church over all have it made and we should stop going on about it.  Far from that.  It’s just that usually she has other things on her mind.  And she is very good about choosing her battles (windmills) very wisely.  She is no Don Quixote (unlike yours truly).  She referenced a post by Pam Hogeweide (Happy Christian Women … really??) … which is a must read.  But more importantly, she linked to some data that is being published by Jim Henderson, of Off The Map.  It’s a recent Barna Group survey of 603 Christian (self-described) women and what they thought of women and leadership in the church.

What he has published so far seems to be fairly provocative -

1. 84% say that their church’s perspective on women in ministry is almost identical, very similar, or somewhat similar to their own.

2. 83% say that their Senior Pastor is somewhat, highly or completely supportive of women leading in their church

3. 82% say they can tell by their church’s actions that the church values the leadership of women

4. 81% say that their church provides women with the same degree of leadership opportunities as Jesus would.

5. 72% say they possess a lot of spiritual freedom in their life

6. 70% say that the media has little influence on their decision-making

7. 71% say fear is not something they experience ever or often in their life

8. 62% say that ALL leadership roles are open to them in their church.

9. Only 1% say they often struggle with jealousy

10. Among those who feel they are capable of doing more to serve God, and should be doing more, only 4% say that their fear of failure is holding them back from doing more to serve God.

I commented at Jim’s blog (where he published this data).  I’m wondering how this survey was taken.  If it was taken on paper (either virtual or literal) or by phone that would give different results … especially when dealing with a group of women.   I think that this is incredibly revealing of how the church has become a system of brain-washing rather than God’s Kingdom revealed tiny piece by tiny piece. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is not about men or women or leadership.  Or who will be first.  It’s about who will be last.  It’s about finding the lost sheep, the lost penny; giving away your wrap when someone needs a shirt; enabling someone to care for others when at first they can barely care for themselves; it’s about spreading the Love Divine around, not keeping it for yourself.

It made me angry to read these statistics.  It made me angry, not just for the women … but for all the people involved in those churches.  They are losing out.  This is not the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount, or as he walked with his disciples or at any time.  Would even Peter, or John the beloved disciple be able to answer these questions so affirmatively?  How about Mary Magdalene?  Good grief, if even the disciples struggled with jealousy why on earth can only 6 women out 603 acknowledge it?  Perhaps it was the word, often, that threw them off.  Maybe they decided that they could deny that jealousy was something that strolled in and regularly did battle in their hearts.  I know I will stand up and say that I am jealous all the time.  It doesn’t make me mean anymore, but acknowledging it to myself and being able to laugh at it has made it easier.

Then this report made me sad.  The kind of sad that aches in my bones.  Because when I look at it I see poverty.  The church in North America (like the US) may have a lot of money.  It may have a lot of stuff.  We may also have a lot of people for all I know.  But we are starving to death.  Emaciated and dying for lack of food, water and oxygen.  Worse, we are doing it to ourselves.  With a huge smile on our faces.  We are a people with anorexia or bulemia.  When we look in the mirror we see fat and happy, but the reality is we are starving.  Dying.

In the end, we can know a lot of stuff about the Bible.  We can even know a lot of stuff about God and Jesus.  But if we do not have love … love enough to be honest with ourselves and our neighbors and our communities, then we are nothing but a clanging gong.

For The Win!

Filed under:expectantly, faith, mercy, mystery, poverty, women — posted by Sonja on June 28, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

A friend of mine recently posted as her status on FB that just when she thinks she has God all figured out he throws a curveball and they win.  This statement was obviously made as a praise.  Now I’ve known this very kind and gracious lady for nearly as long as LightGirl has been alive.  Her faith is rock solid and she is very wonderful.  But the statement got me thinking.

We have this notion that God is on our side when we win, and we’re being tempted by Satan when we lose.  But what do we do with all of the red words to the contrary … like the first shall be last?  Or he who loses his life shall gain his soul?

What if we have it all backwards?  What if the temptation is in the winning and God is on our side when we lose?  How would that change your faith?

Million Dollar Give-Away

Filed under:NaBlaPoMo, blessing, children, economics, education, poverty, women — posted by Sonja on June 8, 2010 @ 8:54 am

So … my fingers have been itchy and I want to write again.  I find myself daydreaming about blog posts … again.  It must be time to come back and write.

Thanks to the Holly, I found this site where they are posting a blog prompt every day for a month.  I don’t know if I will be that dedicated … maybe I will manage every OTHER day or something like that.  But at the very least I will be writing regularly again.  Here is today’s prompt:

You’ve just been given a million dollars. You are not allowed to keep it or give it to anyone you know personally. What do you do with it and why?

My first response is that I cannot imagine what a million dollars really is.  Really.  Can you?  What IS a million dollars?  What can you buy with a million dollars?  What can you do with a million dollars?  I simply find myself in the place that I cannot understand the reality of having a million dollars all at the same time.

So I’m trying to daydream about some less concrete.  I’m trying to daydream about simply having piles and piles of money that I cannot keep and I cannot give to anyone I know personally.  Here are some of the things I would like to do with it …

–> Start a micro-finance program for inner city women, especially single moms, here in the States.  I love the idea of Kiva and I think it’s doing huge amounts of good in the world, but I’d like to focus my efforts on women and single mothers, so that they can achieve some level of security and perhaps even raise their level of education, so that the cycle of poverty stops with their generation.

–> Along the same lines, use the money to seed loans and work projects so that those who currently live in inner city projects can participate in regentrifying their own neighborhoods.  I love the idea of renewing our inner-city neighborhoods, but not at the expense of those who already live there.

–> Seed money to educate women and girls.  There are scores of studies right now showing that the more a woman is educated, the less likely she is to ______ … fill in the blank with all of the ills of poverty, particularly those relating to addiction and sexual abuse.

–> Renew art programs for young people in need.  We cannot live by industry alone, children need to exercise their imaginations and creative gifts as well as learn to read, write and ‘rithmetic.

Those are all the things I can think of to do with my million dollars.  What would you do?

Choice, Inspiration and Civics Lesson

Filed under:dreams, education, home school, poverty — posted by Sonja on September 8, 2009 @ 10:30 am

I still remember the moment when I first realized that I had a choice about whether or not I could finish high school and get a college degree.

I was about twenty-five years old, living on my own in Washington, DC with bachelors degree in political science and international studies.  I was musing about whether or not to continue on in graduate studies of some sort and it struck me like a lightening bolt … wow.  Education was entirely my choice.  It really was a choice and it was mine to make.  That had never been part of my paradigm before.  Never.  I had always known since I was tiny that I would grow up, finish high school and go to college.  It’s just what people in my family did.  The only question to be answered was, “In what should I get my degree?”

I spent a good deal of time agonizing over that.  I was going to (at various times) study oceanography, be a nurse, be an anthropologist (find the missing link), be an international lawyer, and a variety of other things too numerous to even remember.  When I was in ninth grade my earth science teacher was an amazing fellow who LOVED rocks and was so enthusiastic about them that I still remember most of what I learned in that class.  I still remember how rivers age and what an oxbow is and where glaciers form and what the different kinds of rocks are.  We measured beach erosion by going to the ocean and measuring a beach over the course of 24 hours.  I had amazing teachers and I knew I was in that adventure for the long haul.  So were my brothers.

I can still remember the agonizing phone conversations when my youngest brother was near to graduating from community college.  My parents thought that he might not want to go on to a four year degree and did not want to pressure him into it, but they didn’t want to close that door unnecessarily either.  He, on the other hand, kind of wanted to go and didn’t want to tell them because he didn’t want to add an unnecessary financial burden to their plate.  I had to respect the confidentiality of both parties and yet get them to talk to each other honestly so that they could hear each other because I knew he’d end up where he needed to be.  And he did end up going to a great four year college and got his bachelors degree in Automotive Engineering Technology (designing cars).

My parents understood what I was just beginning to realize.  Education is a choice.  It’s an important choice, but it is a choice.   It’s one that we don’t always appreciate when we’re young.

When I was in elementary and high school the technology did not exist for the President of the US to speak all of the nation’s children at the same time.  The best he might have done would have been a radio address and that just wasn’t done unless it was for emergency purposes back in my time.  The President only addressed adults back then.  Adults talked to adults and (as my grandfather was fond of reminding me) children were seen but not heard.  So I wonder how I would have heard the message that President Obama is going to give the nation’s children in about half an hour.  I think at the time, I would have heard blah blah blah … sort of like all the adults on a Charlie Brown special.  Who wouldn’t stay in school and work hard?  Duh …

Now, though, I’ve lived a little and I know better.  There are a lot of children who live on the crisp edge of the envelope between poverty and riches.  They live teetering between hope and despair.  They live mostly without any good role models of how to do something day in and day out (like get up over and over and over again every morning to go to work).  They don’t have the privilege of living with people who will praise them their good grades or even know when they get them.  Sometimes this is because the parents are working 3 jobs, sometimes it’s because the parents are absent.  Whatever the reason, these children are desperate for a role model who will tell them to keep going.  That it’s cool to stay in school.  And these children are all over.  Yes, most of them are in the projects, but some are in the burbs.  And they all deserve to hear from the Role Model in Chief … regardless of his or her political party, telling them to stick with it.  That they’ll be okay if they just try a little bit harder every day.  This is a good thing.  And I know that the LightKids and I are going to be watching right along with everyone else.

Symptoms vs. Disease

Filed under:being jesus, faith, justice, mercy, poverty, subversive — posted by Sonja on March 26, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

One of our very favorite television shows here in the LightHouse is House.  Well, it’s really LightGirl’s favorite show, and the rest of us are also interested.  So we watch it in re-runs on USA network with some regularity.  Some of the episodes we’ve seen far too often, others not so much.  We watched an interesting episode last night in which the patient turned out to have the Black Plague at the end.  For those of you who do not watch House, the formula is that a patient presents with crazy symptoms and the show is spent with the team spinning through all kinds of wild, and opposing ideas about what s/he has before discovering the true diagnosis at the end.  Usually this is just in time to save their life, but ocassionally the patient dies.   Last night the patient lived.

It was interesting though, because her symptoms were masked in part by some steroids she’d been prescribed for an intense interaction with some poison ivy and by some meds she’d been given there in the hospital.  So the doctors were fooled until they took her off everything, then the charactertistic plague boils began to appear (in the last 3 to 5 minutes of the show and after she’d had a liver transplant).

I was thinking about that patient this morning as I read, yet again, Rich Kirkpatrick’s fine post from Monday about the weaving together of justice and mercy.   Rich does a great job of discussing and questioning what we’re doing when we Christians set out to “do” social justice.  Not that that is a bad thing.  No, not at all!  There really is no one else who has been commissioned to look after those who have nothing in this world, so we must.

It is the **how** we go about doing that, that Rich is talking about and he paints a wonderful picture in his first two sentences:

The cross was the greatest social injustice in history, but no greater act of mercy has been recorded for mankind and the world.

Most of us, when confronted with the injustice of the world want to act.”

In those two sentences I see Jesus on the cross, with all the power of the universe at his fingertips.  He could have wiped out injustice … the same injustice that we face in our communities and around the world … with a zap, but He did something else.  And I have to wonder why?  In fact, all of His actions and parables throughout the gospels show Him doing something other than what we anticipate or expect from people.  Why?

Then that patient with the plague bubbled up in my head.  And I got to thinking more about her and what happened with her.  You see, the meds she was given suppressed some of her symptoms, but not the disease and the disease (plague) was killing her.  Until they found the source of the disease she was still going to die.

I think that’s they way Jesus thinks about justice and mercy all woven together on the cross.  We can engage in acts of justice quite efficiently for very good purposes and we do all the time.  But if we do not have mercy as the weft to justice’s warp, we will never cure the disease; we will only provide a stop gap to some of the symptoms.  The horrible disease will continue to eat away at our communal body until we figure out how to do both together.

Let me give you a couple of examples.  During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many Christians lead drives to abolish the consumption of alcohol.  This eventually lead to the passing of the Volstead Act (as it was commonly known) or Prohibition.  Congress and the country amended the Constitution for the eighteenth time in order to prohibit the public possession and/or drinking of alcoholic beverages.  If you wanted to drink in private that was your own concern.  This was done out of wonderful motives.  We all know what ravages the “demon rum” can wreak on people who drink too much and too often … for both those who consume and those who get in their way.  It’s bad for your health, bad for your brain, dangerous to drive, etc.  But those ten years when we banned public consumption and possession also showed us something important; that simply banning it doesn’t dry up the need.  If we want people to stop drinking (because we know it’s not a great idea), then we have to look at it in a different light.  We have to weave justice together with mercy.

Another example came to my in-box this morning.  LightMom sent me information about Dambisa Moyo, a Harvard-educated economist who has worked at the World Bank and Goldman-Sachs.  She was born and raised in Zambia, but spent part of her childhood in Wisconsin while her father worked on a doctorate in linguistics.  She returned for her own education and then employment.  She’s written a book called “Dead Aid” and I watched her interview on Charlie Rose on the subject.  You can view it below or listen to the shorter, less nuanced version on NPR by using this link.

According to her bio (linked above), “Dambisa argues for more innovative ways for Africa to finance development including trade with China, accessing the capital markets, and microfinance.” If you listen to the interview you will hear her argue strenuously that government-to-government (bilateral) aid has hastened poverty in Africa.  We have known this for more than 30 years.  I remember hearing about it from my African friends when I was in college.  I was most taken by this quote in response to a question by Charlie Rose about whether or not aid should be seen as a failed experiment, “I don’t believe that Africa and Africans are a practical experiment in economics.”  It was one of the few moments when emotion was clearly observed on her face and in her voice.  Think about that for a moment, we have excellent motives … the end of poverty amongst a people we have treated poorly for centuries.  Yet with our very attempts at helping them we are continuing to treat them as less than capable human beings.  LightMom, who sent me the interviews, swears she heard Dambisa point out that when a star humanitarian in US sent thousands upon thousands of mosquito nets to Africa, it helped malaria but it put the local mosquito net manufacturers out of business.

So what do we do?  How do we weave justice and mercy together?  Is it really alright to starve a local mosquito net manufacturer in the name of eradicating malaria?  We go in with excellent motives and great ideas, but our horizons are too narrow and we fail to see what the ripple effects are going to be of our actions, though our actions might be excellent.

What is justice in the face of 70% of the population of a continent living abject poverty?  What is mercy?  These are questions we must begin to ask and answer honestly amongst ourselves as we face a new economic future; one in which it will no longer be possible to continue simply halting the symptoms, we must properly diagnose the disease and treat it.  Or our communal body will die.

The Cost of a Life – Part Two

Filed under:compensation, economics, history, justice, life, politics, poverty, power, social contract — posted by Sonja on December 3, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

When LightHusband and I started dating and for the first part of our married life he was a drummer.  He played the snare drum with the Third US Infantry Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps; the US Army’s Honor Guard for the President.  About six months after our first date, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated for the second time.  This lead to an interesting juxtaposition for the two of us.

LightHusband was scheduled to march in Reagan’s inaugural parade in the lead unit.  I was busily looking for protest to march in.  And I was fairly vocal about it.

Ronald Reagan was a very popular President and his legacy has much to be admired, but we are now beginning to realize the one major flaw in what he left us:  trickle down economics.   I knew then that any idea that people could be willingly parted from their money and it would somehow trickle down to those with none was ludicrous.  Even given the tenets of capitalism, it would never work.  I was determined to protest it.  LightHusband, of course, had his orders which were to march in the parade.

Neither event happened.  The weather prevented all outdoor activities that year as it was unseasonably cold and we all celebrated the night before by drinking into the wee hours at a local watering hole.  I seem to remember that Blue Hawaiians featured prominently in my repertoire that evening.

Ronald Reagan was duly sworn in without public protest or public fanfare of the outdoors variety.  He continued his presidency for four more years without a hitch.  Not that anyone anticipated a hitch, of course.

During his presidency I was vigilant for the evil I was sure that was to come.  I was certain that all sorts of horrible economic woes were about to befall us because of Reagan’s ill-thought-out plans and designs.

But.

Nothing happened.  In fact, we slowly but surely began to dig ourselves out of the rut.  And by the 1990’s our economy was in a boom again.  The Dow didn’t know a ceiling.  Unemployment was low.  Housing starts were high.  All economic indices were that we were good.  It appeared that trickle-down economics did work.  Or at least some version of it.

The trouble is that trickle-down economics rewards greed.  So does capitalism (inherently).  So we find ourselves in 2008 with an economy on the rocks and now we are looking to the government to bail out the very corporations which stumbled and fell in the first place.

It took a long time for ugliness inherent in trickle-down economics to become apparent, but now we are seeing the fruit ripen on the vine.  What is that fruit?

–Customers who trample a temporary employee to death at a Wal-Mart so they can get the best prices for Christmas …

… and then sue the store for inadequate security.

–Executives of the auto industry who fly individual private jets to Washington DC  to ask for money to bail out their companies.  I understand the need for private planes … but did the idea of plane pooling never occur to these men?  No one is that important.

–AIG receiving a multi–billion dollar bailout, then taking its staff on a multi-million dollar retreat.

These are well known and well discussed examples.  But they are examples of greed run amok.  Greed at the top and greed at the bottom.  We are all greedy … every one of us.  We all want what we do not have.  We look over the fence and see green, green grass that must surely taste sweeter than the dusty dry stalks at our feet.  Inherently, we are told, that’s a good thing.  Go for that greener grass … you deserve it.  You’ve earned it.

No one ever thought to ask what expense it came at.

Cost of A Life – Part One

Filed under:bread, compensation, economics, history, ice cream, justice, life, poverty, social contract — posted by Sonja on November 21, 2008 @ 7:13 am

When I was in high school it was a huge big deal to gather friends and go to Burlington for the day.  I lived in a tiny town in central Vermont.  There were about 4 stores in the local larger town, so going to Burlington represented shopping, eating and metropolitan nirvana for us backwoods hayseeds.  Once one or two of us reached driving age, and had parents who would release an automobile into our possession, we were free.

I had my first experience of ordering Chinese food on my own and using chop sticks in Burlington.  We’d wander up and down Church Street together.  Church Street has since been blocked to auto traffic and is an open air mall.  Back then, it was an ordinary street filled with adventure for teenagers in from the back country.  Some distance away from Church Street, a new experience opened up in the later years.  Two funny guys from New York City bought an old gas station and turned it into an ice cream store.  Man.  They made the best ice cream anywhere.  And it should have been … it was made with real ingredients.  Whole milk, whole cream.  Real fruit.  Dark chocolate.  Ice cream to die for.

But … ice cream in a gas station?  Who would buy it, the old-timers in the state ridiculed the idea.  And the lines in the summer were around the block.

Pretty soon, the ice cream was being cartoned and sold in small containers throughout the state.  But one could only get it in Vermont.  There were now also a couple of other scoop shops … I forget where the earlier ones were placed.  But I know that I had my first anniversary dinner in one ten years later.  I had a hot fudge sundae in a waffle cone and LightHusband went next door for a slice of pizza.  We sat outside on a swing to eat.

You know the name of the company; it’s become ubiquitous with ice cream now.  Ben & Jerry’s.  Their pints stock freezers nation-wide.  For all I know, you can get them in Canada too.  The company sold out to Hershey or Nestle or some large conglomerate several years back and the ice cream isn’t nearly as good anymore.  What was once innovative is now just silliness and twaddle.  One might say they jumped the shark.

If you asked me what the most innovative thing about Ben & Jerrys was, the answer might surprise you.  For their ice cream was divine.  They were locovores before it became trendy or even had a name, using only small family dairies for their milk, cream and eggs.  No, the most innovative thing about Ben & Jerrys was this … their executive compensation structure.

I remember reading in Inc. Magazine back in the late 1980’s that they had structured the company in such a way so that neither Ben nor Jerry were compensated greater than 7 times the salary of the lowest paid employee of the company.  Think about that.  No matter how much Ben or Jerry made, it could never be greater than 7 times the salary of the lowest paid person in the company.

This has been on my mind recently as I read about the financial crisis on Wall Street and in Detroit.  I read about the “necessity” of golden parachutes in the tens of millions of dollars and executive compensation packages that look like lottery ticket loot.  There are some companies which have made an attempt to restrain executive compensation.  Whole Foods limits compensation of its executives to lowest employees in the ratio of 19:1 according to this Fast Company article written in Feb. 2007.  It’s the reprint of a letter written from CEO, John Mackay to his leadership team in which he raises the compensation ratio from 14:1 to 19:1 and reduces his salary to $1.00.  Apparently, what is left out of all company press is that Mr. Mackay also has an impressive stock option from Whole Foods.  Of course.  Cynics point to this as evidence of malfeasance.  Make of it what you will.  He’s still only taking $1 in salary and donating the rest to charity.  He’s a rarity in the business world.

I have to wonder though.  In yet another grocery store albeit tiny, independent and Mennonite, I saw this on the wall last spring:  “The cost of something is that amount of life which must be exchanged for it.”  I’ve been meditating on that for months now.  Especially in light of our nation’s current financial woes.

The cost of something is that amount of life which must be exchanged for it.

What will our greed cost us?  What amount of our lives will we be exchanging in order to pay for these few at the top?

When we begin to understand that we, or rather our representatives in Congress, have done that for us, then perhaps we will begin to actually change things.

Blog Action Day – Poverty

Filed under:ain't nuthin can be done, being jesus, children, hope, justice, life, poverty, theodicy — posted by Sonja on October 15, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

Blog Action Day graphic

Here it is … the end of the day.

I thought I had nothing.  Several bloggers I know had made me aware of this event and I’ve been thinking about it, but nothing came to mind.  And … I’ve been busier than a blue bottle fly as my grammy used to say.  So it just wasn’t happenin’ … no big deal.  I could let it pass without participating.  I’ve done that before.

But then I read two things.  This fact over at pinkhairedgirl.net:

“Americans spend 450 Billion dollars a year in Christmas. It is estimated that it would cost 10 billion dollars to SOLVE the clean water shortage around the planet that causes a majority of diseases in the third world.” and Crystal credits Troy Kennedy, who in turn quotes The Advent Conspiracy for the source of that information.

A short time later I read an article in the BBC that today is also World Handwashing Day sponsored by the United Nations.

The UN says it wants to get over the message that this simple routine is one of the most effective ways of preventing killer diseases.

Nearly half the world’s population do not have access to adequate sanitation.

The main concern seems to be cleaning one’s hands after using the bathroom and before food preparation and consumption.  That’s reasonable.  And it’s what we teach our children, for good reason.

It seems like a great idea.  But then I remember these stories from Jimmy Carter’s latest book (these quotes come from pages at the Carter Center website):

Onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, is a disease affecting 18 million people in 37 countries worldwide. River blindness is transmitted by black flies, which deposit the larvae of the Onchocerca volvulus worm into the body. Over the course of a year, these larvae mature within the human host at which point the adult worms mate and the female worms release their embryonic microfilariae. These microfilariae cause debilitating itching and inflammation, and may eventually infiltrate the eye where they cause damage and diminished eyesight.  If left untreated, the infected person can become permanently blind.

The ancient Guinea worm parasite, while not usually fatal to its human hosts, can grow up to three feet long inside the body before emerging slowly through a blister on the flesh. The disease is contracted by drinking water that contains the microscopic Cyclops flea, which eats and carries parasitic Guinea worm larvae. In the host’s stomach, the flea is broken down, leaving the male and female worm larvae free to cruise undetected through the body until they find one another and mate. The male dies, while the impregnated female grows not fat but long before emerging blindly into the African sunshine some nine months to a year later, typically on the lower limbs. The emergence of “the fiery serpent” causes a painful burning sensation, often sending victims to the nearest water source to soak the sore, which begins the cycle anew: when it hits the water, the worm releases thousands of new larvae. 

I read that book a couple of years ago and the mental visages stuck with me.  It seemed as though washing one’s hands in water that might be infested like this would be spitting into the wind.  We think of washing our hands and the picture we get is of running water, clean sinks, drains and a clean town with which to dry our hands when we’re done.  But what if we only have pest infested water, or fetid rain water caught in a rusty barrel sitting around brooding mosquitos to wash our hands in?  Or to drink?

The numbers are huge and staggering.  So big that we cannot comprehend them.  The numbers of people dying, living blind, living poor, living hungry.  The amount of money it would take to change that is huge too.

It would take 2% of a Christmas.

About 1% of a financial crisis.

Would we wipe out poverty?  No.  But at least people would have clean water.  Then maybe they could start taking care of the rest of it themselves.    What if we put something besides small change aside?

But those numbers, those numbers are so damn big.  I can’t get my head around them.  There’s not a collection plate in the world that’s big enough.  Everyone is working on it, talking about it, moaning about it.  But at heart, we’re all still essentially selfish. We don’t want to give up our Christmases and our Wall Streets.

Until that changes, nothing else really will.

I’m Ashamed

Filed under:economics, history, justice, politics, poverty, power, social contract — posted by Sonja on October 1, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

Danziger on So, like many US-ians I’ve been following the market and the hoopla surrounding what is being called the financial crisis and bailout.

The President is calling for a lot of money to be earmarked to spend on companies which made risky bad financial decisions.  Otherwise, so the thinking goes, our market will crash.  Our credit will be bad.  All sorts of horrible things will happen.  There are, apparently, monsters in our national closet just waiting to come out and eat us.

Well, there’s a part of me that’s feeling the crunch on behalf of my in-laws.  That’s for sure.  People who are depending on the stock market right now for their retirement income are bearing the brunt of this.  People who are planning to retire in the next five years or so will also bear the brunt of this.

Here’s the thing though.  Or perhaps it’s several things that I’ve been thinking about.

First is this.  This crisis did not happen overnight.  It has been slowly building over the course of about 30 years.  It began during the Reagan administration and has been the result of successive Republican AND Democratic administrations AND Congresses turning a blind eye to the consequences of their economic policies.  This is a bi-partisan issue.  No party can point the finger at the other and say, “It’s all their fault.”  Because both have done some good and a lot of bad.

For a crisis that’s been coming for so long, how is it that our government got caught with it’s pants down?

As a Christian, I do not look to a government, or a political party, or a president for redemption, perfection or utopia in this world.  However, I am a citizen and so I am a bearer of the social contract that we all hold with our government here in the U.S.  I believe that social contract gives me certain privileges and rights, but it also brings with it certain responsibilities.  It also gives the government and it’s representatives certain rights and responsibilities.  We tend to dicker amongst the left and right about what those rights and responsibilities should be.  And how they should be meted out.  But we don’t dicker about the necessity of having a government.  We all tend to agree about that.

There’s been a lot of noise and heat generated lately about this crisis heralding another Great Depression.  This feels like fear-mongering to me.  And that makes me ashamed of my government and our leadership.  Lord knows, I do not want another Great Depression, nor the panic or Dust Bowl that accompanied it.  It was a terrible time for our country and the world.  People struggled and died.  But people also struggled and overcame.  We forget that part of the story line.  We came together as a nation during the Depression.  We helped each other.  Yes, FDR put into place some things that have frayed around the edges and are coming apart at the seams now, but at the time, they were a safety net.  This allowed people to help themselves and each other.  I think of our National Park System and our national highway system both built in part by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  When people were out of work, Roosevelt created jobs for them.

Our current government though, is not living up to its part of our social contract.  Regardless of which bits and pieces you feel the government should be providing (i.e. whether you’re a liberal or a conservative), our government in its current form is not looking out for the citizens, but is looking out for business entities alone.   By rushing through this enormous financial bailout and forcing the citizenry to bear all the bad risk brought on by greedy decision-making on Wall Street, a Democratic Congress and Republican Administration are reneging on their end of the bargain.  Congress (both House and Senate) should slow down, ask for hearings from professionals in every walk of economic life.  A couple of weeks won’t hurt (as we’re seeing).  There are more options for solving this problem than all or nothing as the politicians would like us to believe.

Some of those options might involve all of us planting gardens and growing our own vegetables (Victory Gardens).  It might involve personal sacrifice on the part of the executives and executive boards of those fat cat companies; as it really should and as I seem to remember from my economics classes.  It might involve real leadership from the top, real ideas, real negotiating, real compromise, real change.  There are other options out there.  And if we’re going to put that much money on the line, we all need the opportunity to step back, take a breath and decide if it really and
truly is necessary. Or, are Adam Smith’s bones chattering in his grave  about now? Because from what little I remember from my economics  classes, this bailout/rescue seems to fly directly in the face of  solid capitalist market theory.


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