Wednesday :: Aug 2, 2006

While The Wars Rage

by pessimist

What are you willing to fight for? As important as the conflict in Lebanon is, there are many other issues which directly affect the American people that are being ignored. They need your attention - and your action - as well:

America's poor speak, but who will listen?
Jessica Brown / Guest Columnist
July 31, 2006

Jessica (Jeci) Brown is a working class mother and advocate for peace and social justice living in Ithaca.

As the United States engages in conflicts around the world, there is a hidden but deadly war going on within U.S. borders. The poor of the United States are the ones paying for this war in the form of cruel budget cuts at city, state and federal levels. This unreported war has left millions of poor and working families in the United States without basic economic human rights to food, housing, healthcare, education, and living-wage jobs.
Funding to education, healthcare, housing, social assistance, drug rehabilitation,
and benefits for vets and active duty soldiers have been slashed.
One story we've documented from Ithaca [NY], with the help of students from Cornell's Urban Studies Program involved in our Service Learning in Social Justice Program, involves a grandmother and her three grandchildren.

Isabella is a 68-year-old African-American grandmother working two minimum wage jobs. She lives in public housing with her three grandchildren whom she loves very much. Isabella works hard at her two jobs, earning a meager $18,000/year, because she dreams of giving her grandchildren a better life than what she's lived.

Isabella dreams of sending her grandchildren to college
so they can get good jobs
and not depend on food pantries and soup kitchens
like she has.

Unfortunately, that dream is being converted into a nightmare.

Recently, not long after the Congress bestowed the largesse of a cost of living increase to themselves, they denied a similar courtesy to those who pay their bloated salaries - and demonstrated that hypocrisy is certainly as much a class issue as inequities in the tax laws:

At a time when the gap between rich and poor is greater than even during the Gilded Age ... at a time of unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy during the so-called war on terror ... at a time of vast cuts in our social service infrastructure ... at a time when a federal surplus has been transformed into a soaring deficit .... the Republican leadership refused to allow a straight up or down vote on the minimum wage.
"It's political blackmail to say the only way that minimum wage workers can get a raise
to give tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans,"
said Senator Edward Kennedy.

This assumes that the wealthiest Americans are even paying taxes at all:

Tax Cheats Called Out of Control
August 1, 2006

So many super-rich Americans evade taxes using offshore accounts that law enforcement cannot control the growing misconduct, according to a Senate report that provides the most detailed look ever at high-level tax schemes. Cheating now equals about 7 cents out of each dollar paid by honest taxpayers - as much as $70 billion a year, the report estimated.

“The universe of offshore tax cheating has become so large that no one, not even the United States government, could go after all of it,” said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat whose staff ran the investigation. “I get incensed by people who use tax havens to not pay their taxes while the average guy has to pay his taxes because they are taken out of his pay before he gets it,” he said.

The Republicans must be afraid that this issue could catch fire with the voters, because they let the report through the committee without opposition:

Senator Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee, adopted the minority report on Sunday as the product of the full committee.

One of the casualties of providing Olympian lifestyles to the rich and infamous is providing the opportunity to educate those who would otherwise not afford college - a condition which would benefit the entire society:

Lack of college aid stifles ambition
BY DAVE NEWBART Staff Reporter
July 31, 2006

Needy students at Illinois' public universities are straddling the biggest gap ever between skyrocketing tuition bills and stagnant pools of financial aid. Now more than $200 million short of funds to meet financial need, Illinois public universities must count on students to pay a far larger portion of the tuition bills.
[T]uition has gone up between 70 percent and 115 percent for new students at those schools since 2001-2002.
For students with unmet need, the average gap in aid at each school now ranges from $1,700 to nearly $7,000 per student, according to a Chicago Sun-Times survey of the 11 public, four-year universities in the state. The gap at all of the schools surveyed exceeded the $1,400 average at public universities nationwide, according to Postsecondary Education Opportunity, a newsletter that analyzes higher-education trends.

While many students do receive enough aid to meet their need, experts said the reason for the growing gap for others boils down to two main factors: stagnant federal and state aid and rapidly rising tuition. Federal Pell grants have increased only $50, to $4,050, since 2002. The maximum grant awarded under the Illinois Monetary Award Program went down 10 percent in the last five years, to $4,520.

In the last five years, the amount of unmet need at Illinois universities rose nearly 50 percent.
That has forced some students to take out more loans or work longer hours to pay for school -- on top of loans and work study they already shouldered under federal financial aid formulas. Others have dropped courses or live at home to save money. Still others switch to more affordable two-year community colleges.

According to Catholic Charities, more are living in poverty - but at least THEIR children can go to preschool free!

Child poverty and poverty overall also have grown since 2000, after initially declining in the mid-1990s, she said. According to the Census Bureau's definition, the rate for children in poverty was 23 percent in 1993, 16 percent in 2000, and 18 percent in 2004, the last year for which figures were available.

In 2006 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' poverty guideline for a family unit of three, including two children, was an annual income of $16,600.

That alone makes it damn hard to get to college - but it isn't just the impoverished who are having that problem:

Debt Education: Bad for the Young, Bad for America
By Jeffrey J. Williams
Summer 2006

The traditional idea of education is based on social hope, providing an exemption from work and expense for the younger members of society so that they can explore their interests, develop their talents, and receive useful training, as well as become versed in citizenship—all this in the belief that society will benefit in the future.

[T]he paradigm for university funding is no longer a public entitlement primarily offset by the state but a privatized service: citizens have to pay a substantial portion of their own way. I call this the “post–welfare state university,” because it carries out the policies and ethos of the neoconservative dismantling of the welfare state, from the “Reagan Revolution” through the Clinton “reform” up to the present draining of social services. The principle is that citizens should pay more directly for public services, and public services should be administered less through the state and more through private enterprise. The state encourages participation in the market of higher education by subsidizing interest, like a start-up business loan, but eschews dependence, as it leaves the principal to each citizen. You have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Student loans, for more than half those attending college, are the new paradigm of college funding. Consequently, student debt is, or will soon be, the new paradigm of early to middle adult life. Gone are the days when the state university was as cheap as a laptop and was considered a right, like secondary education. Now higher education is, like most social services, a largely privatized venture, and loans are the chief way that a majority of individuals pay for it.

Over the past decade, there has been an avalanche of criticism of the “corporatization” of the university. Most of it focuses on the impact of corporate protocols on research, the reconfiguration of the relative power of administration and faculty, and the transformation of academic into casual labor, but little of it has addressed student debt. Because more than half the students attending university receive, along with their bachelor’s degree, a sizable loan payment book, we need to deal with student debt.

The average undergraduate student loan debt in 2002 was $18,900. It more than doubled from 1992, when it was $9,200. Added to this is charge card debt, which averaged $3,000 in 2002, boosting the average total debt to about $22,000. One can reasonably expect, given still accelerating costs, that it is over $30,000 now.

The reason that debt has increased so much and so quickly is that tuition and fees have increased, at roughly three times the rate of inflation. Thus the need for loans as a supplement, even if a student is working and parents have saved. This increase has put a disproportionate burden on students and their families—hence loans.

Students used to say, “I’m working my way through college.” Now it would be impossible to do that unless you have superhuman powers. According to one set of statistics, during the 1960s, a student could work fifteen hours a week at minimum wage during the school term and forty in the summer and pay his or her public university education; at an Ivy or similar private school, the figure would have been about twenty hours a week during term.

Now, one would have to work fifty-two hours a week all year long;
at an Ivy League college, you would have to work 136 hours a week all year.

And you wouldn't have time left for school, much less sleep, leaving massive loans as the only option. This makes college the Impossible Dream. As one would-be student said in the Sun-Times article, "My parents said that's too much of a debt to take on at such a young age. It's disappointing. I don't know how they expect me to come up with all this money."

It isn't just higher education which is being claimed as a perquisite available only to the wealthy. The right to engage in sex without a resulting pregnancy is rapidly becoming such as well:

Soon no prescription for morning-after pill?
BY LORI RACKL Health Reporter
August 1, 2006

President Bush's pick to lead the FDA, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, was headed into Senate confirmation hearings. Some senators have vowed to block his nomination until the FDA makes a decision on the morning-after pill once and for all.

"We've been waiting for a final ruling from the FDA for 550 days," said Steve Trombley, president of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area. "In the meantime, that's 2.25 million unintended pregnancies and 1.2 million abortions that could have been prevented.

"It's time for the FDA to start listening to women and families
and stop listening to a small group of extremists
who would outlaw sex if they could."

Family planning services aren't the only medical care that is rapidly becoming the provence of the plutocrats. ALL medical care is:

Standing for Something
by Sen. John Kerry

The learning gained from getting knocked on your ass in defeat is not my favorite way to gain insight and knowledge but it is an event in life that sticks with you. You are forced to confront your shortcomings, you have to figure out what you did wrong, you have to listen and you have to commit yourself to change. In defeat you also learn what really matters to you. And in defeat I was reminded that as lousy as it felt to lose, life's a hell of a lot harder for the working father who wakes up every day without health care for his kids. Life's a lot harder for the mom who is afraid to let her kids go outside to play in case they get hurt and she ends up with a medical bill she can't handle.

[I]t bothers me that two years later this president and his party still have nothing to offer on health care other than a Medicare prescription drug plan that has turned out to be an unfolding disaster for seniors and a massive give-away to the big drug companies. Every single day since Election Day, the health care crisis has grown steadily worse. The President has stuck to his guns--or his empty holster--and done nothing beyond trotting out the conservative hobby-horse of health savings accounts. What an insult to Americans whose wages have shrunk much so they can't save at all. Americans who need more than the empty promise of an account they can never create with money they can't save for health care they can't afford.

[W]hat are you willing to fight for to make health care work for everyone?

How about replacing the current Republican power elites?

National Polling Shows Voters Ready for Change

[T]he stage is indeed set for a Democratic House and Senate victory this Fall. Democrats lead Republicans by a 10-point margin in two different polls: A NBC/WSJ survey has Dems leading 48-38 for Congress and a CBS/NY Times poll has Dems leading 45-35. In [this] CBS/NY Times poll, 33% say their vote will be a vote against Bush and 51% of voters have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party. In the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, 60% disapprove of the GOP-led Congress.

But I wouldn't start cheering just yet. Jon Carroll of The San Francisco Chronicle presents Chris Bowers' view that the Democrats are their own worst enemies, repeatedly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory:

Chris Bowers at a Web site called MyDD ("DD" in this case standing for direct democracy):
The habit of the Democratic Party to kill itself via self-referential meta-talk was on full display at the DLC (Democratic Leadership Conference) meeting yesterday. Tell me if you can find what is wrong with the message coming out of the conference. (Here's a quote) from the San Jose Mercury News: "Sen. (Hillary Clinton) said the council's initiative can 'unite Democrats and elect Democrats.'

More brilliant messaging from the same article: 'Stone said the council's centrist approach has been the only proven success for Democrats in the past 25 years.'

"While this is not a direct quote, it is a widely held sentiment in some Democratic circles. It is also utterly self-defeating, since it strongly gives the impression that the only reason Democrats are moving to the center is because they think it will help them to win elections. Not only does this tacitly admit that Republicans have the right ideas and Democrats must move toward those ideas in order to win, it also is a pretty direct implication that Democrats don't believe in anything, but that they are moving to the center solely for the purpose of winning elections.

If you are going to stand on your principles, then stand on your principles. There is no need to preface that stance by saying that more Democrats need to stand on principles in order to win elections. In fact, such a preface just makes it look like you are standing on your principles in order to win elections, and trying to distance yourself from those other, evil Democrats who don't stand on principles.

Of course political parties are supposed to figure out how to win elections. Of course they want to concoct strategies that attract votes. There is no particular reason for them to do it in public. The Republicans have been trained by Rove and the boys to speak in pieties and deliver talking points, none of which are about what they have to say in order to get elected.
The bizarre Democratic need, found most often within DLC-type conferences, to preface any proposal with a public claim that the coming proposal will help Democrats win elections is a major factor in the national belief that Democrats do not stand for anything.

If you tell the country that your ideas are designed to win elections,
then they won't think you stand for anything except winning elections.

And then, well, you probably won't win many elections, because Americans don't like politicians who only stand for winning elections.

If you want to do something, then just do it. Throwing the 'this will get us elected' qualifier in front of your statements just makes [you Democrats] look like spineless jackasses who are trying to put one over on the electorate. If you want to talk faith, or be a centrist, or be a hawk, or stand on principles, then just go for it. Stop wasting our time and making us all look bad by telling us you are doing it in order to win elections.

Oh oh oh, he is so right.

Meanwhile, the needs of the majority of the American people go unmet:

Today's expected high: 100 degrees
August 1, 2006

The lethal 1995 heat wave showed "you need about two consecutive days of heat'' for a deadly situation to develop, said Terry Mason, Public Health commissioner. "We're at the point now where you have to be very, very diligent'' and check on the elderly, he said.

"Let me be as clear about this as I possibly can,'' he said. "The extreme heat and humidity we are enduring today are a threat to the public health.''

Heat stress contributed to two more deaths, according to the medical examiner's office. Lynn Rhineberger, 63, of the 7700 block of Ogden Avenue in Lyons, and Robert Ward, 51, of the 800 block of South Scovall in Oak Park, were found dead in their homes Sunday morning. Autopsies showed their deaths were caused by cardiovascular disease and heat stress.

What are you willing to fight for to make this nation work for everyone?

How about making the Democrats - the only realistic opportunity for opposing the plutocracy of America that we have right now - do what we need them to do? We don't have time to do anything else.

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