Posts Tagged 'Food Stamps'

Children And Society As Fair Game

What is with the anti-children political agenda going on across the country? What do Republicans have against children? Why do they push laws to force women to have children then pass laws to harm those children and not just at the state level but at the national level as well by cutting funds for education, food stamps, health care, and anything else of social value?

To have witnessed a revolting fist-pumping celebration by a New Mexican Republican legislator for his victory over third-graders who aren’t ready to learn to read by third grade was an eye-opener. If someone had told me adults would celebrate such a victory I wouldn’t have  believed it – but I saw it with my own eyes! At the moment, 3rd grade retention is an iconic right-wing red-meat political issue, part of a larger strategy to privatize public education nationally. Public schools in Kansas are closing early because of a $51 million funding short-fall caused by the Governor’s budget cuts and tax breaks for businesses which themselves caused a $1 billion shortfall in state revenues. Children be damned – we won! Yea Us! Remember Hitler’s little dance at the fall of Paris?

Fourth grade school children in New Hampshire recently received a lesson in how vile partisan politics has become. The kids had proposed naming the Red Tailed Hawk as the state bird and then witnessed a Republican lawmaker take the floor and use the proposal to disparage Planned Parenthood.  Here is what the politician said to the body as the children watched: “It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.” The measure was defeated along party lines. The lesson the kids learned wasn’t part of the curriculum but it was an indelible lesson.

In North Carolina lawmakers recently turned down a school girl’s request to designate a state fossil because, as many were creationists fossils were an existential challenge. In Idaho naming the Giant Salamander the state amphibian as requested by school kids was killed by Republicans because they feared it would lead to environmental protections for that animal. This is like believing that having intercourse standing up leads to dancing. Sad but substantial lessons in contemporary political behavior and disregard for education in America today. And more than disregard, I believe fear of educated people is a root cause, people who can think and analyze before they vote, if they are allowed to vote, that is, and there are billionaires and their politicians working on that voting problem as well.

I’ve been thinking lately how fortunate we are that the Child Labor Laws were enacted in 1938 because I doubt they could be today. My mother worked in a Western Massachusetts mill at the age of 12. She had to carry a stool because she was too short to change bobbins without it. Her recollections of 12 hour work days and children regularly being injured were vivid into her late 90s. Remember, there was no workers comp back then and WC is now another target for the new reformers as are unemployment compensation, food stamps, and health care. In recent weeks Republicans in Congress just proposed a budget that would remove 11 million people from food stamps so Congress could provide bigger tax cuts to billionaires. Presently some Republican legislators and one born-rich presidential candidate in particular are going so far as to call for the end of 40 hour work weeks and the minimum wage. It’s starting to look like “back to the past”! Nothing surprises me anymore. What’s next? Perhaps bondage and children sold into servitude at birth? Debtors prisons have already been revived.

                                            child labor

At least for the moment children aren’t working in factories or on farms as child labor they are in school (for as long as that lasts) learning what we as a society believe they need to know to become productive fully-functioning adults. With state legislatures banning the teaching of global warming and trying to replace high achievement college placement courses with bible studies the definition of “fully-functioning” is undergoing profound distortion and re-definition. Texans for Education Reform and Republican leaders in that state’s senate are openly pursuing an ALEC sponsored agenda to privatize public education. Texas cut funding for public education by $5 billion a few years back and has offered no new money since then. School systems are floundering. What is being sought is total destruction of public schools and teachers.

But why? What is the desired outcome? What future are right-wing activists seeking? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot be the objective, they must have something else in mind. Social control perhaps? A nation of sheep? Then again the rank and file of the movement may not have anything in mind except satisfying deeply held resentments and perceptions of being left out. Or, perhaps it’s fear of an increasingly uncertain future.

People are increasingly disinclined open their hearts for the homeless or for impoverished hungry children but they did open their wallets to the tune of nearly a million dollars for a bigoted bakery owner who shut down her business in order to not serve gays. Whatever the cause, sociopathy is fast becoming the new normal and children are the latest targets joining people of color, women, and gays. Next?

    

The American Taliban – Part 3

If you wanted to undermine a representative democracy where would you start? Would you attack the electoral process or perhaps the system of public education? Would it suit your purposes to put a lot of people out of work and then play one faction off on another? Each strategy and each tactic has its effect and purpose; some deliver short term effect while others, being strategic, emphasize long term results. Over the past several weeks there have been fatal attacks on American troops by Taliban assassins dressed as Afghan military or actual members of that military. Besides killing Americans the obvious intent of this is to undermine the relationship between Americans and Afghans. The assaults are tactics to create a situation where no one knows whom they can trust, cooperation and morale are displaced by mistrust and suspicion and chaos ensues. Chaos is the strategic outcome intended by the Taliban.

The same strategies and tactics of sowing mistrust and suspicion are at work in the United States. Hirelings of the American Taliban working under the guise of dozens of Foundations and Institutes funded by wealthy individuals and their organizations feed a willing press with opinion pieces and press releases opposing policies and programs that reflect community and promote social cooperation. Public schools and teachers have been the softest of targets along with public transportation, and public health care. If you control a major television network you can hire unscrupulous correspondents and commentators to slant, and plant stories about the sitting president created whole-cloth for the purpose of calling into question his motives and methods and even his birthplace.

Trust and Truth are the main targets of the American Taliban. They know that very few members of the public have the time or inclination to verify what is being reported. Recently on the Fox right-wing entertainment channel, Judith Miller, a former New York Times reporter, with a straight face, accused the sitting president of serious national security failings. The expectation of this theater being her’s and her sponsor’s belief that the public will not recall Miller’s role in the full-court press to invade Iraq when she published misleading information about Sadam Hussein’s nuclear activities fed to her by Vice-President Cheney who then cited her as his source. You might recall also that Miller was also involved in the scandal outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. After “resigning” her position at the Times, Miller’s apparent reward for her part in the shuck and jive was to land a talking head gig on Fox. Which calls to mind the cold war chestnut that there was no news in Pravda and no truth in Izvestia. With Fox it seems, neither truth nor news can be found there.

Another tactic being employed by the American Taliban to keep potentially non-conservatively inclined voters from casting ballots in the coming presidential election are voter file purges and voter photo ID requirements. The tactic is simple – if you cannot win the hearts and minds of people with your ideas, keep them from voting. In New Mexico clumsy efforts by the Secretary of State to implement a federal mandate have resulted in one State Representative’s wife being challenged and a high profile get-out-the-vote activist as well. It should also be noted that this purging process could have been undertaken a year ago but then last year wasn’t an election year was it? Sowing chaos is the tactic. In Pennsylvania where a  tough voter ID law is being challenged in court the state has admitted the number of fraudulent voting attempts has been virtually non-existent. The same scenario has been repeated everywhere the ID laws are being promoted and challenged. As to voter registration keep in mind there is no requirement in the US Constitution that requires a person to continually re-register once they reach the age of majority nor does it require them to vote. In the US voting is a birth-right not a privilege to be taken away like a lollypop from naughty non-voters. Voting is of course a responsibility which far too many fail to take seriously.

The Republican Party is now in a state of delirium over the choice of Vice-Presidential running mate to Willard Mitt Romney. Why the joy one must ask? Well the VP choice is a chap who made his reputation by vigorously undermining the American social contract. Paul Ryan, the Republican VP designate, has proposed among other things ending Social Security, he has written budget proposals that would, for all practical purposes end Medicare, end Food Stamps, and defund Planned Parenthood which provides basic health care for 1 in 5 American women. Paul Ryan, is not a military veteran (neither is Romney) but he is proposing to severely limit veterans health care to levels not seen since the 1930s. Ryan’s proposed tax plan would tax the wealthy less and the poor more. Ryan’s budget would cut $3.3 trillion from low-income programs, drop Medicare coverage for more than 14 million people along with eliminating 17% of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Posing with animals he has shot and catfish he has caught with his bare hands, this little boy is a right-wing center-fold pinup.

One also has to ask why two boys who chose not to serve in the military also chose to make the announcement of Ryan as the VP choice using a US Navy ship festooned with red, white, and blue bunting sprinkled with stars and stripes as their stage. Much about the two candidates’ lack of character is revealed in the hypocrisy and pandering of their military charade  including their lack of common decency and respect for those who have served or are serving the country. Character does matter folks. “Character matters, we believe,” says James Davison Hunter in “The Death of Character”, “because without it, trust, justice, freedom, community, and stability are probably impossible.” The American Taliban has a political plan and chaos is their objective.

Occupying The Narrative – Part 2

As far back in social history as you care to look the pervasive social conflict has been between haves and have-nots. Kings and vassals, gentry and peasants, nobility and bourgeois, landed and serfs, rich and poor. We have not today early in the 21st century evolved much beyond that kind of social differentiation if at all with the 1% and the 99% gulf. In spite of a wide array of attempts to ensure political accountability and social equality the social contract has been and continues to be relentlessly undermined by greed. Greed for money, power, property, possessions, notoriety/fame, sanctimony – you name it and there are people hungry for it. There being no such thing as “enough” for some people it is, for them, an unremitting obsession. Since we live in a finite world it is a given that there is just so much of everything to go around; it follows then that the more some have the less there is for others to have. As Adam Smith, the 18th century Scot social philosopher, put it, “Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality … Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Obviously in a competitive world with limited resources there must be winners and losers and in this contemporary American society it seems losers worship winners and despise fellow losers. A neat trick of brainwashing in which losers more identify with winners and which, paradoxically, impels them to act against their own best interests. Winners take more and more leaving less and less for the majority and with disregard for the social consequences thereof. Sadly what is taken includes the future of young people. This then is the essence of the 1% / 99% conundrum, #occupywallstreet, and the basis for claims and denials of class warfare.

It used to be the case that the 1% didn’t seem to feel any need to be subtle or discreet but that seems to be changing as public awareness of the disparities increases. Conspicuous consumption seems to be on the wane, and is now increasingly replaced by denial of disparity, and that is all the more disingenuous and dangerous. Politicians who identify with and are themselves members of the 1% have stood before television cameras to bald-face declare there is no such thing as class warfare, as did the current speaker of the US House of Representatives not so long ago. Perhaps these folks sense something dangerous may be afoot. As an aside, one must wonder just who the House of “Representatives” represents; I’m certain it isn’t me or anyone I know. Contemporary American politics is probably the best worst-case example of how money and power are at the root of every civil law and regulation proposed and passed. It’s all about money and power and, increasingly, about religion – Christian religion.

 Is there a Republican war on the separation of church and state? The founders of our American democracy so cherished that freedom they left England in opposition to a state religion.  On March 26th, 2012, on the steps of the US Supreme Court, presidential candidate Rick Santorum declared,  “Rights come from our creator, they are protected by the Constitution of this country. Rights should not and cannot be created by a government because anytime a government creates a right, they can take that right away.” Now there’s a declaration for you and I’ll bet the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are rolling over in their graves. The framers, it is clear, were not deities, they were – guys and they created the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Santorum recently sat through a Louisiana Christian preacher’s sermon during which the preacher shouted out for anyone who wasn’t a Christian to “get out” of the country. We are truly on the outer fringes of sanity and civilization. We could be losing our balance and heading for an Inquisition if someone like Santorum becomes president.

Is there a Republican war on women? In Idaho, State Representative Chuck Winder questioned whether or not women understand that they have been raped. A woman in Texas described how she was required to listen to a physician describe a “gravely ill fetus” before she could abort it. Then we have Georgia State Representative Terry England who, in matters of abortion, compared women to pigs and cows before his legislature. England was speaking in favor of a bill that would require women to carry to term a dead or dying fetus. In Mississippi, Rennie Gibbs has become the first woman to be charged with murder following the stillbirth of her baby. In Arizona lawmakers are moving a bill through their legislature that would allow an employer to fire a woman using birth control as a contraceptive.

 Is there a Republican war on the poor and disadvantaged? Wisconsin Representative, Republican Paul Ryan is proposing a budget that would, in the words of The Huffington Post, ravage “programs for the poor, elderly, disabled, young, veterans, jobless, and students” because he says, programs such as food stamps, health insurance, Pell Grants, and veterans’ hospitals are “demeaning”. Incidentally, Ryan, himself, is not a veteran but he was an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile driver. Among the casualties of Ryan’s proposed reforms and budget cuts would be Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; in addition veterans care would be cut by 13%. Ryan’s claim is that a social safety net, “lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency, which drains them of their very will and incentive to make the most of their lives. It’s demeaning.” When a veteran comes back from Afghanistan without his legs knowing of Ryan’s concern for his dignity will certainly make a difference. Half of the savings Ryan is claiming for his budget come from health insurance programs. Ryan himself, as a US congress person, has health care paid for by the taxpayers that exceeds any other government health program.

What about money and politics? David Koch, one of the two billionaire Koch brothers has stated publicly that he will spend $60 million, a bit more than chump change, to defeat President Obama in the 2012 elections. The Koch brothers also gave generously to the current governor of New Mexico during her election campaign in 2010. Another of their protégés, Scott Walker, current Governor of Wisconsin, is now facing a recall election following his first year in office. Walker recently stated rather disingenuously that he should have “anticipated there would be money and resources brought in from other places” to defeat him. Of course he didn’t mention where his own money comes from. Not to worry, bubby, the Koch boys have your back as their greatest fear, in David’s words, is that, “If unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” Imagine that! One of Walker’s first acts as Governor was to disenfranchise public employee unions, including teachers. The same agenda has taken place in many other states as well.

So now what? We are, I believe, at a defining moment in the history of the United States. In all of my 74 years on the planet I cannot recall anything quite like what is going on now. Even during the most virulent period of the anti-Vietnam war protests there was a sense of one country, one people disagreeing. No, I’m not forgetting outrages like Kent State or the bombing of the Army Math building on the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Madison (I was there, I heard the blast.). We have certainly had our moments as a society, as a country, as a people. Somehow each moment segued into the next with a better situation than what preceded it. Those were times, however, when the media were not so entirely pervasive and when any nut case with an anti-social agenda could not so readily spew venomous hatred over the airwaves or internet as do Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox “News”. Glenn Beck in a recent internet post declared the possibility that the unarmed young man who was shot to death in Florida a few weeks ago was the attacker. Beck supports the claim of self-defense by the self-appointed vigilante who killed the young man. Beck used his web site to slime a dead kid with insinuations that the kid may have smoked marijuana at one time.

What can we do to stem this gruesome sociopathic red tide of hatred and disinformation? The narrative has been, as you can see from the foregoing, largely in the hands of right-wing sociopaths and political opportunists funded by billionaires with an anti-democratic dystopian agenda. With some politicians it seems not a matter of what will they say next but of what won’t they say next. The right-wing agitators are getting most of the media attention right now and it’s time for the voices of humanity, intelligence, and reason to speak up and occupy the narrative. This is a difficult assignment; it is too easy to get angry and vituperative in response to such outrage. Instead it is necessary to become quietly deliberate and persuasive without making people feel talked down to or patronized. It will take patience, and truthfulness. The future is being constrained by greed and when there is nothing attainable to aspire to but joblessness or  low-paying survival wages the future is foreclosed. A Las Cruces newspaper recently ran an opinion piece by a right-wing academic whose opinion was that New Mexico needs lower wages and lower taxes on corporations. This guy preached the gospel according to ALEC at a church in New Mexico and sponsored by the so-called Rio Grande Foundation. Nuff said!

The public must be educated. The public must understand we are all in this together, that the divide-and-conquer tactics being employed to pit social groups against each other is a deliberate, well-financed strategy. The opposition is wealthy, influential, and powerful. Right now they own the space we need to occupy. Occupying the narrative, you will be educators and skilled warriors whose task it will be to help the enemy destroy themselves. Teach about ALEC and its sponsors. Teach about legislators who introduce and pass legislation written for and by international corporations for their own benefit. Teach about the corrosive influence of money and religiosity in politics and the public space. Teach about politicians who will sell themselves for a trip to a vacation resort or even for a cheesy banquet. How cheap are they selling themselves for? Aren’t their constituents supposed to have first dibs on their loyalty? Did we elect ALEC or them? Do constituents have to ply their elected officials with resort trips and cheesy banquets to have public interests represented? These are the lessons you can teach, the questions you can ask. It’s a dialectic, it becomes a narrative joined by all who want an equitable political future – who want a future.

This essay appears in the April edition of Light of New Mexico


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