Mother Earth; Story of Stuff or The Seventh Generation



Movie Documentary – The Story of Stuff – Consumption, money, nature, environment

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Mother Nature is replete with resources.  Americans, with infinite ingenuity, wish to reap the rewards the planet offers.  We, in this country, claim the riches the land affords us; we do this well and often.  For us, every moment is an opportunity to give and receive stuff.

In America, what was once thought a “bundle of joy” is not enough.  In March 2007, Jena Slosberg of Bedford, New Hampshire became a new Mom after a seventeen-hour labor.  Her skin was aglow as the young mother held the manna from heaven.  Her husband Paul, stood by her side and smiled.  The proud Papa bestowed not the baby of their dreams, but something a bit more valuable, monetarily.  In the recovery room,  Paul presented his wife with a pair of sparkling diamond earrings.  The two beamed with pride.  

The little one was set aside as the couple contemplated the more substantial treasures.  Just as Jena and Paul, Americans love material possessions, perhaps more than they appreciate people.  In this nation, we do not honor the notion that we must live for the Seventh Generation. The time is now.  In the “present,” Jena spoke of her gemstones with great glee as she reflected upon the future.

“I was on cloud nine,” Ms. Slosberg said.  “It was the perfect present to make a frazzled, sleep-deprived, first-time mommy feel absolutely glamorous.”

She added, “I wonder what 17 hours of labor will get me next time?”

In a more innocent age, new mothers generally considered their babies to be the greatest gift imaginable.  Today, they are likely to want some sort of tangible bonus as well.

In a world of trinkets, trifle, ornamentation, and bling, babies are but a blip on the screen of life.  Too often infants conceived though intimate acts are as possessions, important for what they say about us, and there is much to say.  During the holiday season, people consider the importance of being benevolent and charitable.  We bless the almighty or those mighty in our lives.  We are grateful for our bountiful pleasures.  As a new mother might thank goodness for her healthy child, Americans express gratitude for all those close to them, or so we say.  

However, as we venture out into the malls, journey into brick and mortar stores, or shop in cyberspace we might take a moment to consider what we do and why.  How do our purchases affect us as a whole.  Perchance, the earlier discussion of newborns provides enlightenment; the narrative helps us understand the Story of Stuff.

Some call it the “baby mama gift.”  Others refer to it as the “baby bauble.”  But it’s most popularly known as the “push present.”

That’s “push” as in, “I the mother, having been through the wringer and pushed out this blessed event, hereby claim my reward.”  Or “push” as in, “I’ve delivered something special and now I’m pushing you, my husband/boyfriend, to follow suit.”

Americans are “pushed” to purchase as we do.  Numerous social scientists posit this is the Century of Self.  The line is now blurred between want and need, nourishment and necessary, conservative, and conservation.  Consumption, for its own sake, is promoted in this, the era of Public Relations.   Sadly, specialists in communications often honor commercial concerns, not those of the preservationist.  

Propaganda is bought, and sold, although we do not use such a derogatory identifier for advertisements.  The public is persuaded; shop til you drop.  Nonetheless, in each and every moment Americans are convinced they must live a lavish life if they are to find joy.  Expensive material gifts will bring you happiness and glee.  

In our modern society, people realize they must labor long and arduous hours if they are to pay the price for simple pleasures.  Others, such as Jena believe their labor of love will yield grand chattels.  Apparently, in the last few years, many first-time mothers think as Mommy Slosberg does.

“It’s more and more an expectation of moms these days that they deserve something for bearing the burden for nine months, getting sick, ruining their body,” said Linda Murray, executive editor of BabyCenter.com. “The guilt really gets piled on.”

A recent survey of more than 30,000 respondents by BabyCenter.com found that 38 percent of new mothers received a gift from their mate in connection with their child.  Among pregnant mothers, 55 percent wanted one.  About 40 percent of both groups said the baby was ample reward.

Sandra Miller of Arlington, Mass., is not among the 40 percent.

“Women can and do expect a thoughtful token of appreciation,” she said.  “It’s a way to honor a mother giving her emotions, body and hormones over to a baby for nine months, culminating in an experience which, when done naturally, redefines the meaning of pain.  And when not done naturally, it’s still an act of sacrifice.”

Apparently, today more than half of the new mothers in America think they have suffered.  Therefore, they must be rewarded.  Women believe when they choose to give birth they forfeit their figure.  New moms surrender more than a few seconds of their lives.  These feminine embryo vessels are deprived and chemically depleted.  Daddies owe their spouse or female partner a present or two.  At least one big package is a must, and she does not speak of the bundle named baby.

It seems in America we do not give credence to the notion, commercials cause us to commit to an accepted custom, consumption.  Merchandisers do not make us leap from our chair; nor do they have the power to force us to dash downtown before the boutiques close.  Perchance, empathy encourages us to do as we do. Possibly, the father feels he was free to be, as his woman carried such a burden.  If not guilt-ridden, or worn into submission, a proud Papa believes he owes his beloved a bauble, a bracelet, a token of some sort.

Push presents seem to have taken off within the last decade, particularly in the last couple of years.  In 2005 the Southeast-based jewelry chain Mayors marketed diamond earrings with the tag line, “She delivered your first born; now give her twins.”  Fortunoff, the jewelry and gift chain with a Fifth Avenue flagship, established a push present registry six months ago.

But the push present – unlike the 15-year anniversary ring – is apparently not the invention of the jewelry industry looking for another opportunity to sell goods. No one is quite sure how the trend began; in practice, the baubles are presented before or after the big day, or sometimes right in the delivery room.

“They’ve arisen from the time cavemen brought trinkets to their wives,” said Jim Brusilovsky of Chains-and-charms.com, a Philadelphia-based jewelry chain. “I haven’t seen it coming from the industry.”

Michael Toback, a jewelry supplier in Manhattan’s diamond district, traces the practice to a new posture of assertiveness by women. “You know, ‘Honey, you wanted this child as much as I did. So I want this,'” he said.

A more likely explanation is that men are now simply more aware of and sympathetic to the plight of their pregnant partners, given their increasing tendency to attend childbirth classes and help in the actual delivery.  “I think husbands are more involved with the prenatal process,” said Dr. Philippe Girerd, an obstetrician in Richmond, Va. “Women go through back pain, morning sickness, stress and so on.  We just sit around and take the credit.  I think a lot of 21st century husbands are a little more in touch with that.”

Yes, that is it.  Empathy, sympathy pains prompt men, women, and children to shop.  Ties the season to be jolly, and to do this we must feel for our wife, husband, daughter, or son.  Late in November, we gave thanks; however, then the gift of food was the focus.  Mostly, we rewarded our stomachs.  The turkey was stuffed and so were we.  Now, in the spirit of the holidays, we will stuff our face, our stockings, our homes, and garages.  We will fill our rooms with treasures until we can fill no more.  Then we will expand our horizons.  Each of us will bestow gifts upon those we love.

It is Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, and Ramadan; in truth, any excuse will do.  We need no reason to spend and spread the cheer.  Any day, every day is a celebration when you are an American consumer.

Citizens who reside in the United States are taught to consume.  As children, we were delighted when commercials rang out on the radio or danced across screens.  As toddlers we heard the cheery music, sang the jingles that we still recall today.  We strolled through the supermarkets with Mommy and Daddy.  All was attractive to us and was placed within our reach.  We grabbed for everything.

The brightly colored boxes, the sweet sugary confections, and the vibrant balloons that hung overhead, all called to us.  The stickers, soda cans, snacks . . . what more could a young person want but to buy, buy, and buy.  Mommy please, can I have this?  Daddy, I want that . . . As toddler we expected to be rewarded.  Did mother and father not say, if you are a good girl, the best boy, then I will give you a gift?  In our early years, we were trained, not only to use the toilet, but to buy.  We learned, if we acted as others hoped we would, they would give us gifts galore.  Things were surrogates for love.

Mom was too busy to pay attention to young John or Jane.  However, she had time to spend on shopping for Jill and Joshua.  Dad was overwhelmed with the demands of his job.  His boss brought more burdens.  Father was out, for he needed to provide [for Sam and Sally.]  The man we called Pop was gone.  Still the presents came.  “Daddy when you come home, what will you bring me?'”

As a tot, we learned; we needed stuff.  Stuff was our supplement for affection, adoration, devotion, and demonstrations of kindness.  Our hearts were empty.  There was a huge void to fill.  We did not just want goodies.  Trinkets were and are necessities.  Then and now Americans need, validation and vindication.  If we do not receive a present, certainly the reason must be vengeance.  No one would wish to leave the impression that they are bitter, rancorous, or unreasonable; thus, even if guilt motivates our purchases we will buy.  Young fathers such as Paul Schlosberg may not appreciate the presumption that he must pay his wife for bringing the bundle of joy into the universe.  Nevertheless, he is grateful.  Hence . . .

  • The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.

We are easily influenced, or convinced of what we already believe.

  • We each see more advertisements in one year than a people 50 years ago saw in a lifetime.

We do as directed.  Americans embark on a mission to consume.  During the holidays, even days before, we merely set our sights higher.  Most see this season as an opportunity to increase our standard of living, or at least our credit limit.  Our quest begins on Black Friday.   In the twenty-first century, there is no need to wait ’til dawn.  The race to rejoice in shopping with the religious holy days in mind inspires entrepreneurs to open shop doors before the sun rises.  By breakfast, the stores filled with people.  People scramble from one sale table to another.  Warehouse shelves are stocked, cleared by eager customers, and stocked again.  

Carolers sing as if to cheer the patrons on.  Procure, purchase, pay for your wares.  Do this in one depot then move on to another.  Collectibles, china, figurines, fine jewelry.  Clothing, cameras, computers, and candy.  Ties, tableware, television sets, high definition, and plasma screens.  Shoes are nice.  Do you know her size?  Digital Media Players, that is what he truly desires.  Software, hardware, perchance, an automobile would the perfect gift.  Let us look for sales and hope we are in time for bargains.

In times of strife, in moments of glory, no matter the season or the reason, in America we shop.  There is never enough stuff.  We are never satisfied.  We want a newer, brighter, lighter, convenient, compact, more powerful, more prestigious, more, more, and more.  “Too much is never enough.”  Yet, there is a price to pay.  Americans work longer hours.  We are less happy.  Our health is poor.  Citizens in this country are stressed.  No amount of stuff we have, nothing seems to satiate our need to feel whatever bliss buying brings us.

  • In the U.S. our national happiness peaked sometime in the 1950s.
  • In the U.S., we spend 3-4 times as many hours shopping as our counterparts in Europe do.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”  Americans find him under a Christmas tree or beneath a Hanukah bush.  The divine may shine in the light from the candles.  A mishumaa saba or a menorah might light the way to the almighty.  Possibly, in America stuff is our G-d.

I, for one, love the traditions of the holidays.  Every time-honored festivity warms my heart.  However, much to my surprise, only when my family chose to forego the exchange of ‘goodies’ did I truly learn to appreciate the winter solstice and the time spent with those I truly treasure.  In truth, a much as I protested the change, and I did, every day of my life has been far better since I “sacrificed” the joy of conventional gift giving or more accurately taking from the Earth.

  • In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed.
  • In the United States, we have less than 4% of our original forests left.
  • Forty percent of waterways in the US have become undrinkable.
  • The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources4 and creates 30% of the world’s waste.
  • If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets.

As much as we have in America, it seems what we acquire is never enough.  Marketers and manufactures know this.  Perhaps the awareness grew out of the era of Freud.

Edward L. Bernays, an early leader in the public relations field, and often described as the Father of Public Relations, devised or developed many techniques for influencing public opinion.  During the Industrial Revolution Mr. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, realized that if you persuade people to behave irrationally if you link products to their emotional desires and feelings you can sell any product.  Bernays understood if an advertisement attempts to appeal to the intellect, it will not likely be successful.  People will ultimately conclude they do not need more than they can afford or use.  However, if you allure and entice a person to desire an object, they will justify that what they want is what they truly require.

During the Industrial Revolution production increased, workers were employed.  Money began to flow.  However, the corporate bigwigs had a fear.  What would happen once the market was saturated?  Bernays trusted, if people were trained to believe they need what they  merely want, the streets would never be sparse.  Shops would be full, and there would be customers aplenty.  Economically, the marketplace would work efficiently, if advertisements were presented effectively.  Charm the customer to consume and he will do so eternally.  Edward Bernays appreciated this construct early in his life.

Born on Nov. 22, 1891, Mr. Bernays was one of five children of Ely Bernays and Anna Freud Bernays.  The family moved in 1892 to the United States, and in 1912, Mr. Bernays graduated from Cornell University.  After doing United States Government war propaganda work in World War I, Mr. Bernays realized that, as he put it in the 1991 interview, “if this could be used for war, it can be used for peace.” . . .

Some of Mr. Bernays’s promotion efforts became legendary. To promote Ivory soap and make bathing more popular with children, he set up a national small-sculpture panel that for years oversaw soap-carving competitions.

Several of the societal changes that Mr. Bernays espoused for clients have had long-lasting effects. For instance, he was instrumental in making it acceptable for women to smoke in public, sponsoring, on behalf of the American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike cigarettes, demonstrations in which debutantes gathered on street corners to light up. The cigarettes were even called “torches of freedom.”

On behalf of Lucky Strike, Mr. Bernays also undertook to alter women’s fashions. When surveys showed that women objected to Luckies because the green package with its red bull’s-eye clashed with the colors of their clothes, he swung into action to make green fashionable. There followed a green fashion luncheon, green balls (at which green gowns were worn), and window displays of green suits and dresses. The campaign was a brilliant success, according to sales figures.

He regarded himself as a professional opinion maker who, by following precise principles, could produce desired changes in attitudes.

“Public relations, effectively used, helps validate an underlying principle of our society — competition in the market place of ideas and things,” he wrote in 1971.

. . . One of his early public relations strokes was on behalf of Venida hairnets. When women began to bob their hair after World War I, they discarded hairnets, much to the distress of hairnet manufacturers.

Venida, an industry leader, called in Mr. Bernays, who conducted a public relations campaign for the product. Among other things, he got artists to praise the “Greek coiffure” look that hairnets gave their wearers. And he got a labor expert to urge labor commissioners around the country to insist that women working with or near machines wear hairnets for their own protection. Much favorable publicity ensued.

In this, as in similar campaigns, Mr. Bernays’s approach was oblique. The emphasis was on hairnets, not on Venida. Indeed, Venida was rarely mentioned at all.

While we are all aware of brand loyalty, and accept that a name can sell a product, there must be an emotional connection to ensure a customer will be devoted throughout their lifetime. Manufacturers accepted they must maintain a certain standard of excellence to secure dedication.  However, industrialists also knew, once a consumer believed implicitly in a product, it was difficult to convince them to venture far from the familiar.  Diamonds will be forever.  A De Beers [if not a blood gem] is truly a prize.  Did Paul buy Jena the best?

Industry moguls in America love that humans have a deep desire to satisfy every emotion with stuff.  To appease the inner angst that we might be good enough we must embellish ourselves.  To quell the anxiety we feel when we consider we might go without we must horde.  If we are to honor others, we must give.  

Hence, companies in the United States produce and do so with abandon.  Manufacturers seek ways to make the wares more attractive to consumers.  Years ago, companies realized if they use synthetic material and relied on the miracle of chemistry they could generate more goods at a lower price.  Thus, profits would increase.  Artificial substances were less expensive and more easily accessed.  The costs of the final product must be kept low in order to attract consumers.  

[T]he materials move to “production” and what happens there is we use energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic contaminated products.  There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce today.  Only a handful of these have even been tested for human health impacts and NONE of them have been tested for synergistic health impacts, that means when they interact with all the other chemicals we’re exposed to every day.

So, we don’t know the full impact of these toxics on our health and environment of all these toxic chemicals.  But we do know one thing: Toxics in, Toxics Out.  As long as we keep putting toxics into our production system, we are going to keep getting toxics in the stuff that we bring into our homes, our workplaces, and schools. And, duh, our bodies.  These toxics build up in the food chain and concentrate in our bodies.

Do you know what is the food at the top of the food chain with the highest levels of many toxic contaminants?

Human breast milk.  [Oh no.  Again, we are reminded of the Schlosberg’s.  Is mother’s milk contaminated?  Will the baby be affected, if not by a consumer driven society, but by a basic source of nourishment.]

That means that we have reached a point where the smallest members of our societies-our babies-are getting their highest lifetime dose of toxic chemicals from breastfeeding from their mothers.  Is that not an incredible violation?  Breastfeeding must be the most fundamental human act of nurturing; it should be sacred and safe.  Now breastfeeding is still best and mothers should definitely keep breastfeeding, but we should protect it.  They [government] should protect it.  I thought they were looking out for us.

And of course, the people who bear the biggest brunt of these toxic chemicals are the factory workers many of whom are women of reproductive age.  They’re working with reproductive toxics, carcinogens and more.

Diamond earrings will not reduce the effect lethal chemicals have on the body.  A silk scarf, even on sale will not soothe the lesions from skin cancer.  Even those fortunate females not exposed to deadly poisons in the workplace cannot escape the contaminants placed into the environment.  Emotionally, they may work to escape.  After all, there is always the best American distraction, shopping.  Let us head for the exits quickly after the work day ends.  Let us leave the our worries behind, if we can.

A lot of the toxics leave the factory as products, but even more leave as byproducts, or pollution.  And it’s a lot of pollution.  In the U.S., industry admits to releasing over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals a year and it’s probably way more since that is only what they admit.

So, that’s another limit, because, yuck, who wants to look at and smell 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals

a year?

So, what do they do?  Move the dirty factories overseas.  Pollute someone else’s land [and use their resources!] . . .

  • 75% of global fisheries now are fished at or beyond capacity.
  • 80% of the planet’s original forests are gone.
  • In the Amazon alone, we’re losing 2000 trees a minute. That is seven football fields a minute.

Americans seem to believe what is out of sight, exists no more.  If we cannot smell the stench, there is none.  If we cannot feel the dirt the air, water, and ground must be clean.  However, as inhabitants of this planet, we must recognize that this is not so.  The third astronomical body from the sun, houses us all.  Every tree, plant, reptile, amphibian, mammal, insects has a purpose.  Each entity helps the other sustain life.

We must accept that not only Americans live here on the home we call Earth.  Persons, and all other life forms on every continent need and want a pristine wilderness.  A crystal clear lake is more than beautiful.  A blue sky is not but a term used in poetry.  Trees, flowers, the flora feed us all bug and beast.  Each entity is important and must be honored more than the frivolous fabrics that fill this nation.  [Is the baby a bundle of joy or is the signature blue box from Tiffany’s even better.]

Science tells us, in this huge planetary home contamination cannot be contained.  Every river and sea connects to another.  Air flows.  Landmasses shift; they are filled.  Dust is in the wind.  Nothing in nature is static.  The more stuff we create, the more we need to accommodate.  Americans try to adjust to the reality of consumption.  We build bigger homes to hold all our stuff.  Then we clean these structures.  We want no visible waste.

  • Average U.S. house size has doubled since the 1970s.
  • Each person in the United States makes 4 1/2 pounds of garbage a day.  That is twice what we each made thirty years ago.
  • For every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb.

Americans must stop and consider the force that drives us . . .

Consumption

. . . This is the heart of the system, the engine that drives it. It is so important [to propping up this whole flawed system] that protecting this arrow is a top priority for both these guys.

That is why, after 9/11, when our country was in shock, President Bush could have suggested any number of appropriate things: to grieve, to pray, to hope.  NO.  He said to shop TO SHOP.

We have become a nation of consumers. Our primary identity has become that of consumer, not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers.  The primary way that our value is measured and demonstrated is by how much we contribute to this arrow, how much we consume. And do we!

We shop and shop and shop.  Keep the materials flowing.  And flow they do!

Guess what percentage of total material flow through this system is still in product or use 6 months after their sale in North America.  Fifty percent?  Twenty?   NO.  One percent.   One! In other words, 99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport -99 percent of the stuff we run through this system is trashed within 6 months. Now how can we run a planet with that rate of materials throughput?

Dear reader, you might say as I did.  This could not be true.  I keep what I buy.  I use each item until I can use it no more.  Well, except for the clothes, I purchased and never wore, or the closet hook I never hung or returned.  Then, there were the  sunglasses someone left in my home.  After, two years I took those to Goodwill.  Reluctantly, as I reflect I realize, in years gone by telephones lasted for more than a year.  Hark back to the day when you could buy a new battery for far less than the latest gadget cost.  I must admit much goes to the dump.

It wasn’t always like this. The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.  Ask your grandma. In her day, stewardship, and resourcefulness and thrift were valued. So, how did this happen?

Well, it didn’t just happen. It was designed.

Shortly after the World War 2, these guys were figuring out how to ramp up the [U.S.] economy.  Retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution that has become the norm for the whole system.  He said: “Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption . . . we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

And President Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors Chairman said that “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.” MORE CONSUMER GOODS???  Our [economy’s] ultimate purpose?  Not provide health care, or education, or safe transportation, or sustainability or justice?

Consumer goods?

Researcher, and Author of The Story of Stuff,  Annie Leonard asks, “How did they get us to jump on board this program so enthusiastically?”  She offers one explanation.  However, we know the pattern began long before the post world War II Age of Productivity.  Edward Bernays eloquently persuaded us to consume long before his followers found a way to increase our expenditures.  The strategy was so subtle, the operations so oblique, Americans did not realize they had been hypnotized.  Perchance the glow from the diamonds their mothers received upon their birth obstructed their vision.

Nevertheless, over time industrialists did learn to avail themselves of the opportunities Bernays created.  Manufacturers and marketers encouraged emotional decisions.  They expand a consumer driven environment and increased their profits.  Companies found ways to ensure there would be a greater “need” to buy.

Well, two of their most effective strategies are planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence.  Planned obsolescence is another word for “designed for the dump.”  It means they actually make stuff that is designed to be useless as quickly as possible so we will chuck it and go buy a new one. It’s obvious with stuff like plastic bags and coffee cups, but now it’s even big stuff: mops, DVDs, cameras, barbeques even, everything!

Even computers. Have you noticed that when you buy a computer now, the technology is changing so fast that within a couple years, it’s [your new computer] actually an impediment to communication.  I was curious about this so I opened up a big desktop computer to see what was inside.52 And I found out that the piece that changes each year is just a tiny little piece in the corner. But you can’t just change that one piece, because each new version is a different shape, so you gotta chuck the whole thing and buy a new one.

So, I was reading quotes from industrial design journals from the 1950s when planned obsolescence was really catching on. These designers are so open about it. They actually discuss how fast they can make stuff break and still leaves the consumer with enough faith in the product to go buy anther one.  It was so intentional.

But stuff cannot break fast enough to keep this arrow afloat, so there’s also “perceived obsolescence.”

Now perceived obsolescence convinces us to throw away stuff that is still perfectly useful.

Perception is truly our reality.  What we believe drives us, to the mall, the dump, and back to the mall again.  Most of us are quite comfortable with what we know.  The familiar, we believe is sagacious.  It is tried and true.  Customs are to be revered and celebrated.  People are to be cherished, and we can only show our appreciation through the gifts we give.  However, maybe, we need not bequeath as we do now.  After all, what is now a tradition was once a novelty.  Indeed, the old was new not too long ago, and the newer can become our convention.

Americans might recognize the wrath of Mother Earth.  Each of us may realize she is not happy as her globe warms.  Her children have not honored her.  We have not been good stewards of the environment.  While we gifted ourselves, Americans thrashed and trashed the nature that gave us life.  Perchance, it is time to truly honor others.  Let us give greenerly, not greedily.

You might think this would spoil the fun.  The fervor that is Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or Ramadan would be lost without the glitz and glitter we have come to expect.  Holiday gatherings can be a challenge.  Time with the relatives is not an option you relish.  Tis true . . .

The holidays have always been an emotionally combustible time for families, bringing together a sometimes volatile mix of siblings, crotchety grandparents, and ill-behaved children.  But in recent years, a new figure has joined the celebration, to complicate the proceedings even further: the green evangelist of the family – the impassioned activist bent on eradicating the wasteful materialism of the holidays.

Otherwise known, at least to skeptical traditionalists, as the new Grinch.

This Grinch, however, is not out to spoil Christmas, but merely to use it as a platform to advocate ecological responsibility.  Perhaps emboldened by the “Live Earth” benefit concerts and Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, this is the family member who is the first to point out, over the bountiful Christmas dinner, that the 2.6 billion holiday cards sold each year in the United States could fill a landfill the size of a football field 10 stories high, or that those conventional lights on the Christmas tree contribute up to nine times as much greenhouse-gas emissions as the leaner-burning L.E.D. models; or that some Christmas-tree growers use as many as 40 different pesticides, as well as chemical colorants, on their crops.

The question that an increasing number of families face is whether the proselytizing green member of the clan adds spice to the proceeding, like, say, a cup of whiskey in a bowl of eggnog, or an explosive element, like that same cup of whiskey tossed into the fire on Christmas morning.

IT’S not just the greens who feel this emotional tug at the end of the year: A 2005 survey by the Center for a New American Dream showed that 78 percent of Americans wish the holidays were “less materialistic.” At the same time, the average American spends about $900 on presents each year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Still, to some ears, the call for less excessive consumption during the holidays sounds almost un-American.

“The point of the holidays for many people is the joy people get in giving,” said Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar on environmental issues at the American Enterprise Institute.  Environmentalists who scold their families are simply making “ritualistic gestures that won’t solve the problem,” he said.

Mister Green is correct.  Change will not come if we condescend for a day, an hour or even for a season.  If we are to genuinely give credence to what we say we believe, Americans must look at every choice they make.  We must ask ourselves what we value, a baby, or a bauble.  When we destroy the environment, ravage the land in search of diamonds, demean those that mine for the mineral, are we giving a gift and to whom?  

If we wish to appreciate another, might we bestow upon them that which honors their life, ours, and all lives?  Perchance, this season the best present we could give is consistent conscious awareness and compassionate action.  Let us give the gift that keeps on giving; love thy fellow man, the planet, and you.

We need not forego traditions; nor would it be wise to go without remembrances and relics that are not necessarily “needed.”  If we accept that what we purchase must be good for the Earth, our neighbors, ourselves, and the babies born seven generations from now we will produce and consume with reason.  Perchance, that is the lesson we must learn.  Mature love is an intellectual engagement.  Immature fondness is but an immediate gratification.  Love thy self and those that share this planet with you.

I wish you peace, prosperity; I hope for goodwill to all men.

The Story of Stuff, Sources, and Shopping . . .

Please Enjoy the Century of Self . . .



Century of Self

The Death of Miss Liberty

copyright © 2007 Judith Moriarty

We’ve been programmed to hate.  I can’t remember when I didn’t hear someone spewing abusive words towards another.  My grandma hated Italians, Blacks, and Protestants.  I suppose she would have hated Jews, except none lived in our town.   I remember my excitement at age seven, going to my Grandmas after Sunday School.  I told her that I had good news.  I learned that God was a spirit and that we were all made in the image and likeness of God.  I explained to her, since spirits don’t have any color you can stop hating.  It seemed logical to me.  

I think she kept hating because when my Aunt Betty married (Bob) a Protestant, she made an awful scene and marched out of the church.  Later when my Uncle Bob bought her a house, she stopped hating Protestants.  Besides, my Grandma hating, it was coming home from school, and seeing the terrible scenes during the Civil Rights era that showed me how evil hatred could be.  

I couldn’t believe that people were being knocked over with fire hoses and dogs were being set on them.  I asked my dad why they were doing such awful things.  He said, “People pass hatred on from generation to generation.  They’re acting out what they’ve been taught.  Men aren’t born with prejudice it’s an acquired trait.  A bitter root will spoil a spring and that’s what happened to them.  The bitterness grew until it consumed them.  They don’t know how to stop hating.  They were never taught what loving their neighbor really means.  Their lives are consumed with hate.”

We’ve been programmed to hate from one generation to the next.  Today its Mexicans and Arabs.  We’ve hated American Indians, Germans, the Japanese, Black folk, the Irish, etc.  Anybody who didn’t fit our idea of proper white society.  If we didn’t have a convenient minority to hate, we created bias and prejudice against our neighbors.  This hate is fluid.  It may focus on the poor, the homeless, trailer trash, or intruders, into our communities from other states or countries.  What we hear little about are the Chinese (coolies) immigrants.  The first documentation of the Chinese in the U.S. began in the 1800’s due to the California Gold Rush.  When large groups of unskilled laborers, usually working for very little pay, migrated to the U.S. American attitudes became negative and hostile.  

These Chinese clustered into groups, working hard and living frugally.  Many Southern whites joined the Gold Rush and brought along their hostile racial attitudes.  Miners in the area often used violence to drive the Chinese out of various mines.  While impatient gold-seekers would abandon prospective rivers, the Chinese would remain, painstakingly panning through the dust to find bits of gold.

They did not only mine for gold, but took such jobs as cooks, peddlers, and storekeepers.  In the first decade after the discovery of gold, many had taken jobs nobody else wanted or that were considered too dirty.  However in 1870, hasty exploitation of gold mines and a lack of well-paying jobs for non-Asians spurred sentiment that the ‘rice eaters’ were to blame.  We can thank the Chinese for building the western leg of the Central Pacific Railroad.  

This worker’s average pay was 20.00 per month after food was deducted.  The work was backbreaking and thousands died.  Although nine-tenths of the railroad workers were Chinese, the famous photograph taken, where the golden stake was driven connecting the east and west by railway, no Chinese workers were included!  We are famous for using and discarding people.  But then, we are a disposable society.  We treat people (those we see as inferior) much like litter.

Acts of violence against the Chinese continued for decades, mostly from white urban and agricultural workers.  In 1862, eighty-eighty Chinese were reported murdered.  Though large landowners that hired Chinese, railroads, and other large white – owned businesses, and Chinese workers themselves pushed against a growing anti-Chinese legislation, the forces opposing the Chinese prevailed, issuing laws that excluded or harassed them from industry to industry.

Finally, the Naturalization Act of 1870 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted immigration of Chinese into the U.S.  They were excluded until 1943.  They were the first significant culture to be prohibited to freely immigrate.  With China becoming allies with the US during WWII – attitudes changed.  Perhaps because newcomers took their place to hate The Chinese when they did immigrate were kept for months on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay (like Ellis Island in NYC).

Families could not stay together.  I imagine, like NYC, few in the San Francisco area have visited this place Many that I spoke to in NYC had never visited Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building nor the numerous museums!  I doubt that this sordid part of our history is taught in today’s schools It’s kind of ironic that the despised Chinese of yesterday are those who loan us billions upon billions to support our newest industry – war.  The rail lines where they died – now carry their products across our nation.  The ‘coolies’ of yesteryear are the today’s industrialists, scientists, and builders.

The Industrial Age of yesteryear (unlike today) absorbed multitudes of unskilled labor.  Then there were the war years.  There were no guest visa programs, no welfare, no entitlement programs, or trade agreements; closing down factories, the auto industry, textile mills, and manufacturing.  A man could find work if he needed it.  The lack of a college degree was no hindrance.  Many choose to farm and fed a nation.  It saved the nation during the Great Depression.  

Today large corporate farms and trade agreements have driven tens of thousands off the land.  Cities are rusting, echoing, memories of a past era never to be seen again.  We now import most of our clothing, goods, and food from foreign lands.  We no longer produce anything of merit.  Our biggest industries are war, box stores, prisons, garbage, and gambling Mecca’s.

We are a service economy – which makes nothing!  Rusted mill towns build condos, malls, and hotels (which produce nothing) to attract tourists, and shoppers.  The immigrants of today are working for cheap wages: doing construction, dock work, labor, maids, grounds keepers, etc.  Imported professionals on guest visas, are replacing Americans for lower wages, with no benefits or job security.  

Work today is mostly contractual.  Gone are the small hometowns where foundries and paper mills were located.  A man would pass his job down to his to son.  A family didn’t need both parents working.  We are fast becoming an echoing wasteland of echoing rust and abandoned farms.

None of the candidates rushing to and fro, trying to grab the golden ring, give a hoot about the multitudes left jobless because of their votes.  They are well cared for medically and are secure in knowing that they’ll see yearly (thousands) cost of living increases and lobbying jobs for their families and themselves (Trent Lott) when they decide to ‘cash in’.  That’s what it’s all about.  Let’s have us a no – bid contract.  That’s what today’s vote really means.  The owners of the world have already chosen the next overseer!  There’s no secular savior coming to save the day and turn the clocks back.  Anybody promising this is lying for votes!

Miss Liberty passed away Sept 11, 2001.  Few heard her final gasps amidst the implosion of the towers – the screams – and sounds of blasting sirens.  Her song disappeared in the volcanic ash that rushed through the concrete canyons of NYC.  She welcomed multitudes over the years and watched as they built a nation.  Her lamp lit the way, for the young off to war after war, never to return.  She witnessed the graft, corruption, and materialistic excesses of the moneychangers in the banks and on Wall Street.  Some said she died of a broken heart.  Me, I think she died of melancholy.  She just couldn’t bear the weight of the hatred that had men committing such heinous barbaric acts upon one another.  

It was the hate, lies, fear, apathy, and indifference that overtook a once proud people.  It was the liars in high places that sold out a nation for profit.  It was the multi-national corporations that sold their allegiance to our nation for a bowl of pottage.  It was the pollution of politics that prostituted their oath of office.  That’s what really killed her.  She didn’t want to witness the death of a nation so she left quietly with the ashes.  Her silent song is scattered across the land (except for Washington, D.C.).

JM  

The Myth Of Hard Work

It is my honor to introduce Forgiven.  I believe his thoughtful, reflective treatise speaks volumes.  As I read it, so much of the information resonated within me.  I hope you too will appreciate the missive and the message.

copyright © Forgiven The Disputed Truth

There is a common myth that runs through America, propagated by the wealthy for mass consumption.  This myth has been one of the most dangerous and divisive instruments used against the American working class of all races.  This myth has been a part of Americana from the beginning and continues today unabated for the most part and constantly being reinforced by the media, corporate America, and the talking heads.  The myth is simply this: that if an individual will work hard, follow the rules, and be patient that they can be successful.  The biggest determinate to a person’s rise in this society is hard work and personal responsibility.

On the surface, this myth seems plausible and almost logical.  The harder one works the more successful one will become.  It is simple cause and effect, right?  It is precisely this logic that allows the constant criticism of our poorest citizens as being lazy, irresponsible, and foolish to go unchallenged.  If asked, the majority of Americans of all races will state unequivocally that most people are poor because of a lack of personal responsibility and hard work.  The truth is that in accumulating wealth hard work plays a very small role.  The wealth and income gaps between Americans is not based on the fact that one group worked harder than another.  If that were in fact the case in American history, no group has worked harder than the slaves that built this country, the Chinese that built the railroad, or the Mexicans that continue to do the menial labor that drives our information society.

Today, as Tim Wise writes in “The Mother of All Racial Preferences” white baby boomers are benefiting from the largest transfer of wealth in American history as they inherit their parents’ estates.  Some of that wealth dates back to the years of slavery, when Blacks were forced to work for free while their white owners and the American economy accumulated the benefits of their toil.  Another large category of the transferred wealth is land, much of it stolen by the American government from Native Americans and Mexicans and sold for a pittance to white settlers.  For the average white family, however, some of the largest sources of wealth are the result of racial preferences in government policies that were started in the 20th century.   Focus On Affirmative Action

As I was researching this essay, I began to look back on my own work experiences and it was a fact that I worked the hardest on the jobs that paid me the least.  There is something wrong with a system that pays a person more who is actually doing less and not only are they paid more but there is a great disparity in those earnings.  How can we in good conscious claim that the person working for minimum wage or working two menial jobs is not working hard enough and are therefore responsible for their lack of wealth?  Unfortunately for them and most other poor minorities, wealth is the accumulation of advantages or disadvantages.  If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge the discrepancy of labor to income, except for labor intensive trades.  These low end wage earners work very hard and yet despite their efforts they continue to be poor.

The problem I have is simply this, I want the opportunity to be successful based on the premise that all are equal and therefore have equal access to the tools of success.  The issue is not whether everyone will take the opportunity provided, the issue is that the opportunity be provided to all equally.  Not every white person takes advantage of all of their advantages, but I don’t hear any talk that they as a group are not worthy to have opportunities.  For some reason, if some blacks choose not to take advantage of their opportunities, it is an indictment against all blacks and therefore we do not deserve any opportunities.  The point is this, if not one black takes advantage of an equal education or employment opportunities, so what.  Equality is the key, not what one does with it.  These opportunities should still exist and be equal for all, because that is what is right.

Critics of affirmative action lean heavily on the myth that people make it on their own in the United States based on hard work and individual effort.  They also maintain that government intervention in the wealth creation process is not just unprecedented, but un-American.  Simply put, they ask: Why should the beneficiaries of affirmative action be the recipients of preferential governmental policies when whites acquired their wealth through hard work?  The answer is simple: in reality governmental policy has played an absolutely crucial role in determining the racial character of the haves and the have nots in America.  Focus On Affirmative Action

Since the beginning of America, the government has provided the tools for one group to have advantages at the exclusion of other groups.  The majority of wealth in America is based on the government policies that favored one group over another, for anyone to say that the government should not now show any favoritism is either being blatantly dishonest or ignorant to the history of America.  The majority of personal wealth in America is based on home ownership, if governmental policies provided funds for one group and not all groups equally then that is favoritism.  With the government condoning and encouraging “red-lining” in mortgage loans by the FHA, it allowed whites to receive low interest loans on their mortgages thus providing them with the needed equity to begin the process of wealth accumulation.  This is just one of many government policies that helped to decide who was going to be well-off in America and who wasn’t.

I want to state that I believe that personal responsibility is important.  It is important however not for accumulating wealth, its importance lies in the health of the society.  The health of a society is based on the principle that everyone in that society is personally responsible for their actions, not because it leads to wealth but because it leads to a better society.  Whether you are a low wage worker or the CEO of a Fortune 500, it is incumbent upon all of us to do what is right and to do our best.  Again, the point is not that we base opportunity on a given person’s response to it, but on equal access.  When we reach the stage where everyone has equal opportunity for success, then we can talk about who is taking advantage and who isn’t.  Until that time it is a moot point, because the myth will still just be a myth.

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic – John F. Kennedy

Shades of 1984

copyright © 2007 Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

On October 23, 2007, the United States House of Representatives passed by a vote of 404 to 6 the Violent Radicalism and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, HR 1955.  The bill includes a number of definitions excerpted below.  

Violent Radicalization – The term `violent radicalization’ means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.

Homegrown Terrorism – The term `homegrown terrorism’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Ideologically Based Violence – The term `ideologically based violence’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.

These definitions are broadly worded so the final definition becomes whatever the administration chooses that definition to be.  The bill targets American citizens as a specific group.  To date the mainstream media has been silent as to the intent or purpose of this bill and its implications for every American.  The bill is an extension of past bills brought forth in reaction to the attacks of 9/11.  

Under the vague, open  ended, and broad based definitions of this bill any person offering criticism of the government may find themselves in violation.  One may argue the bill included language that says one must be violent in intent.  But violence is not defined by any measure whatever.  Is the suggestion the President should be impeached a violation?  Is encouraging other people to think the same or to act toward impeachment a violation?  Is a sit-in on the streets of Washington, DC, acceptable or is such peaceful protest to be considered illegal now?  What protest actions may be found acceptable these days?

The bill aims in specific detail at the internet saying

The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.

Once this bill gains final approval and is signed by the President no person using the internet for any purpose may any longer be assured of freedom of speech.  Big Brother will be watching under the legal auspices of HR 1955.

This bill is an addition to the already established domestic programs of the FBI.  In addition there are intelligence agencies already monitoring the connection of foreign and domestic nationals.  Even farther the Justice Department has a wide range of laws and Presidential signing orders which are being broadly applied to domestic affairs.  

This bill was put  forward by Jane Harman, Democrat, CA-36 and passed by a Democratic controlled House.  This bill has not yet passed the Senate.  We must act and act now to insure failure in that august body lest we see more of our dear freedoms erased forever.  If we continue to see bills of this order coming from our supposed liberal base we as a nation are in deep trouble.  I fear for our nation’s future.

Peace to one and all.

Dana Perino, Helen Thomas on Iraq War and the Loss of Innocents



White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino and Helen Thomas on Iraq

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

The lovely and graceful Press Secretary Dana Perino stood before correspondents and the country.  She stated, while at war the United States slaughters no guiltless men, women, or children.  The innocent are not blameless.  They are indeed, the enemy.  Young, old, and middle age alike, all once thought to be above suspicion, are now considered terrorist.  Friends are foe as Americans endeavor to spread good will and democracy.  

There was a time, in days of old, when American citizens lived in a democratic state.  It was a beautiful phase in our history.  Then, we were able to believe the notion, all men are created identical.  Our countrymen embraced the principle every being has a free and equal right to participate in a system of government where the people “choose” their representatives.  In years past, the courts did not appoint or anoint a President.  Remember George W. Bush et. Al. Petitioners versus Albert Gore.  You might be more familiar with the case of stolen elections, circa 2004.  Ah, those were the days.  You dear reader, may recall those ancient times, long before the Bush Era.

Now, we honor the New World Order.  Immersed in this horrific reality, we have learned to accept the unacceptable.  American and allied forces have massacred near one million Iraqi citizens and call this justice.  Yet, the White House declares, “[T]o suggest that we, at the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive.”

If it is ludicrous and odious to propose that Americans murder harmless individuals in the name of freedom and democracy, then, I wish to be outrageous and abhorrent.  I thank you Helen Thomas for being a humanitarian no matter the admonishment.

Q  Does the President want no troops out from Iraq on his watch? I’m talking about all the troops.

Ms. Perino: Well, 5,700 troops will be home by the end of the year, so that is some troops coming home.  The President said that troop levels are going to be made by commanders on the ground, and that we’re going to have to talk about –

Q  Why should it be?  Why can’t the American people have a say?

Ms. Perino: — return on success.  The American people have had a say.  They elected a President who is their Commander-in-Chief and is making decisions based on what his commanders on the ground are telling him.

Q  And you think that was the vote of the American people?

Ms. Perino: They elected a Commander-in-Chief, and the President is bringing home 5,700 troops, based on the recommendations of his commanders on the ground and based on return on success.  Hopefully in the future we can bring home more, but it’s going to depend on what General Petraeus reports and remember he will come back in March.

Q  Why should we depend on him?

Ms. Perino: Because he is the commander on the ground, Helen.  He’s the one who is making sure that the situation is moving –

Q  You mean how many more people we kill?

Ms. Perino: Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements.  This is a — it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, at the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive.

Q  Do you know how many we have since the start of this war?

Ms. Perino: How many — we are going after the enemy, Helen.  To the extent that any innocent Iraqis have been killed, we have expressed regret for it.

Q  Oh, regret.  It doesn’t bring back a life.

Ms. Perino: Helen, we are in a war zone, and our military works extremely hard to make sure that everyone has the opportunity for liberty and freedom and democracy, and that is exactly what they are doing.

I’m going to move on.

Phew!  That was quite a conversation.  Perhaps, this discussion is better defined as a combative retort on the part of one.  Press Secretary Perino, was as this Administration often is, aggressively engaged.  When in battle, I understand the need to “move on,” “move forward,” “surge,” and “stay the course.”  The mission must be accomplished.  This press conference, just as the conflict in Iraq need continue.  Advancement or avoidance is policy when George W. Bush is your Commander-In-Chief; and I trust for Dana Perino, he is President of the United States, the decider, or at least her choice for this position.

Perchance Press Secretary, and the President’s soldier-of-slant, Dana Perino would wish to invoke the military policy of “Do not ask.  Do not tell,” when in the presence of investigative reporter Helen Thomas.  Intellectual inquiry can be intimidating.  More likely, Perino would prefer Thomas be identified as a terrorist.  If looks could kill, the glance Miss Perino shot the innocent and peaceful Helen Thomas would certainly have done the esteemed Journalist in.  Obviously, in Perino’s mind, Helen Thomas is an enemy combatant.  My belief is Helen Thomas is a saintly speaker of truth and justice.  Thomas reminds us of the American way.  Oh, how we need to recall and act on what once was.

The Loss, The  Logic  . . .

Dropout Nation; Communities Can Cure The Silent Student Epidemic

DrpOtNtn

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Eva was young, full of life, eager to learn.  She was enthusiastic.  These traits were attractive to all the youthful men in her High School class.  Many courted the vibrant lass.  Eric won her attention.  Each was looking for love.  Throughout their lives, these adolescents felt less than connected to their respective families.  School was a social forum, a place where it was possible to relate to peers, if not the curriculum.  Perhaps, that is why, at such a tender age Eric and Eva mistakenly thought lust, the chemical energy experienced during their every exchange, was deeper than a mere physical desire.  The two embraced and baby made three.  

At fifteen years-of- age, Eva felt forced to dropout of school.  As a committed Mom, she decided she must attend to her baby.  With the birth of a child, Eric too concluded he had a greater mission than school.  He must devote his life to his offspring.  In a moment of lovemaking, the lives of many changed.  Eva and Eric started a family; that entity became their future.  

The couple is among the seven thousand [7,000] High School students who drop out each day.  Every year the silent epidemic expands.  The number of students that leave the school system is equivalent to the population of Philadelphia.  The large number of dropouts affects our nation’s neighborhoods.  If we are to slow, or stop the cycle, we must drastically change what we do in our schools.  As an individual and as a community, we must show we care.  

Some organizations have already become involved.  Communities In Schools works to help our youth stay in school and prepare for life.  However, one alliance cannot go it alone.  We must share resources.  However, first, we need to recognize the crisis, evaluate what seems endemic.  The tale of Eva and Eric is telling.

Early adult responsibilities. An individual’s nonschool experiences also have been found to impact dropout.  When adolescents are forced to take on adult responsibilities, it decreases their likelihood of staying in school until graduation.  Possible responsibilities range from becoming a teen parent (Cairns, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989; Gleason & Dynarski, 2002; Rumberger, 2001), having to take a job to help out his or her family (Jordan, Lara, & McPartland, 1994), or having to care for siblings (Rosenthal, 1998).  Combining school with working at a job more than 20 hours a week significantly increases the likelihood that a student will leave school before graduating (Barro & Kolstad, 1987; Goldschmidt & Wang, 1999; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986).

Josh was a strapping young man.  He was bright; however, not brilliant.  His parents provided for him as best they could.  Nonetheless, Josh felt overwhelmed.  He often thought his Mom needed him too much.  Dad was emotionally detached.  Physically, the father tried to be there for his son Joshua.  However, he did not know how to be a good parent.  He had never seen one; nor had he experienced the unconditional love of his own mother or father.  

While Josh felt close to his parents, he also desperately wanted to get away from their clutches.  At school, recruiters filled the halls.  These military men and women were friendly.  They strolled about campus with grace and refinement.  For such young folks, these uniformed soldiers were truly quite sophisticated.  The smiles of these servicemen and women gleamed, just as brass buttons on their gear did.  The troops that circulated throughout the school grounds wore patent leather shoes that reflected the sunlight.  Each time Josh saw the glow from the footwear dance in the air, he felt the force of fate touch him.  

Josh looked up to the troops he knew.  They treated him a as brother, a friend.  Josh felt these fellows and gals genuinely cared.

Ultimately, Josh was drawn in, or he was released from the obligations, the resignation, he experienced at home.  The young man saw the military as a way out and a way into a family different from his own.  Josh wanted to belong, to be a part of something, not needed, but wanted.  He joined the Armed forces before he graduated from High School.  

Joshua believed he could not stand one more moment in his parents’ home.  He never really liked school.  He was bored, detached, and looking for something.  The Marines, Army, or Navy would surely provide the expectant adolescent lad with adventure, a sense of belonging, a job, and funds for a college education, if later, he determined that was what he wanted.  Once in the military, Josh was certain his mother and father could no longer decide what was right for him.  Josh is as one of three adolescents that do not graduate from High School.

Family dynamics. Some studies have found a link between family processes and relationships and graduation.  The quality of early caregiving and mother-child relationships was found in one study to be significantly linked to dropout (Jimerson et al., 2000).

Grace was a giving girl.  She was the child of immigrant parents.  Her mother and father worked multiple low-wage jobs for as long as she could remember.  Without adequate language skills, it was difficult for her parents to secure a professional position.  The family, much as they tried, was never truly stable.  They appeared solvent.  However, the cost of this façade was great.  The youthful Grace sacrificed herself daily.  She was mother to her less mature siblings.  She was father as well.  Grace was the family caretaker; yet, no one seemed interested; nor was anyone available to care for Grace.

Grace rose each morning before dawn.  She scrambled around the house, prepared breakfast for the other brood; then, made the beds, and helped her brothers and sisters dress.  Before Grace scooted the children out the door, she forged signatures on school permission slips.  After, the children were off to class, Grace gathered her own books together, threw some snacks into a backpack, and hustled herself off to the bus.  She too attended classes.  Grace was a student.

As Grace aged, she tired.  By the time she reached her sophomore year in High School, she was exhausted.  Grace hoped that soon this cycle would end.  Her sisters and brothers were getting older.  Perchance they would be able to care for themselves, and Grace could dedicate herself to her studies.  However, that was not her parents’ plan.

As Grace entered her junior year her parents proposed, now that she was of age, she could help financially support the family.  

Years of sweat and toil paid off.  Mamma and Papa were able to purchase a small business.  The demands of entrepreneurship were vast.  The store must be manned.  Supplies purchased.  Books must be kept.  Community and customer relations were a priority if the shop was to succeed.  Grace was now expected to watch over the younger siblings, continue with her schooling, care for her personal needs, and take on the responsibilities of a job.  Her family depended on her.  Grace, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually was drained.  Something had to go.  It would be Grace herself.  The teenage girl dropped out of High School.  If she could not have an education, at least she had family.

Background characteristics. A student’s family background and home experience exert a powerful influence over educational outcomes, including dropping out of school.  One of the most consistent family background factors found to impact dropout has been socioeconomic status (SES), whether measured through parental education, income, or occupational level (Alexander et al. 2001; Battin-Pearson et al., 2000; Cairns et al., 1989; Lehr et al., 2004; Rumberger, 2001; Schargel, 2004; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986).  Youth in non-English-speaking homes have been found to be more likely to drop out (Rosenthal, 1998; Rumberger, 2001).

“High school dropouts are 72% more likely to be unemployed than those who graduate.”  Many  of those that leave a formal education behind will never have a job.  Fortunately, Grace will not be among those.  For every four state prison inmates nationwide three failed to earn a high school diploma.  High school dropouts are three times more likely than high school graduates to become poor in the span of a year.  Eddy might find himself in one or all of these categories.  

Eddy is a passionate young man, since birth, he wanted to experience everything.  He had a thirst for knowledge.  Eddy is likable.  He is fun.  This chap is animated and he desired to do it all.  At the age of five Eddy began to imbibe with his Dad.  His father may or may not have been classified as an alcoholic, for he could and did hold his liquor.  Eddy learned to handle his booze as well; he had to.  Time with Daddy was important to the youngster.  To be with his father physically [and emotionally] he needed to do as Papa had done.  

By the age of twelve, Eddy found drugs . . . in Dad’s car.  The father, for all his life, felt the pressure of being a Black man in America.  No matter the job, this dark skinned man, was met with discrimination.  Eddy’s male role model never felt as though others could get past the color of his skin; therefore, he believed he would never be able to succeed as he yearned to do.  The pressure was great.  The desire to escape was greater.  

Eddy admired his Dad.  He did not fully grasp the elder man’s struggles.  Eddy only wished to do as his father did.  Not long after his first “high” Eddy realized he was hooked.  His habit was costly; attendance in school and failing grades were among the debts Eddy incurred.  The teen faltered in school.  He was a slave to his drugs and to his supplier.  

John, a gent from a good family resided in an affluent neighborhood, was of quality stock.  Jonathon’s parents were professionals, respected in the community.  John’s Dad had connections in the corporate world; his mother was a physician.  The two met in law school.  Generations of Jonathon’s family were high achievers.  The progeny of such prominent persons was expected to do no less than the dynasty that preceded them.  

A casual observer would never know that Jonathan was out of control.  He wore elegant clothing, drove a new and sporty car; cash fell from his pockets.  John, just as Eddy did drugs.  Unlike Eddy, this wealthy wheeler-dealer sold medications, legal, illegal, and lethal quantities of narcotics.  His “business” was profitable.  John had no reason to attend school.  He was doing well without an education.  Jonathon never imagined that he might be corporally caged.  Only opiates, pills, uppers, downers, and dope incarcerated John and perhaps Eddy.  Substance abuse and attitudes associated with these activities are common among potential dropouts.

High-risk attitudes, values, and behaviors.

Children and adolescents may also have general attitudes and behaviors that increase the likelihood that they will not graduate.  Early antisocial behavior, such as violence, substance use, or trouble with the law, has been linked in a number of studies to dropping out of school (Battin-Pearson et al., 2000; Ekstrom et al., 1986; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986).

A life of crime is common among High School dropouts.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, In 1997, more than 64 percent of inmates housed in state and federal prisons, as well as in local jails, had not graduated from high school.  Drugs were not the only reason for criminal activity.  Poverty exasperates all situations.  Burglary, robbery, assault, battery, looting, loitering, each is likely when a person is poor, out of sorts and without hope.  If America were to invest in its children’s education, authentically, the juvenile would become an autonomous adult and 1.92 billion dollars would be saved for every 50 thousand children rescued from the streets.

Much as we might marvel at the woes of High Schoolers, we must accept that the problems begin long before our young enter secondary school.  If a young person is left behind, or held back a grade, one time, an estimated 72 percent will inevitably drop out before they complete their High School education.  If held back twice, 100 percent will drop out.

Dropping out of school is related to a variety of factors that can be classified in four areas or domains: individual, family, school, and community factors . . .
  • There is no single risk factor that can be used to accurately predict who is at risk of dropping out.
  • The accuracy of dropout predictions increases when combinations of multiple risk factors are considered.
  • Dropouts are not a homogeneous group.  Many subgroups of students can be identified based on when risk factors emerge, the combinations of risk factors experienced, and how the factors influence them.
  • Students who drop out often cite factors across multiple domains and there are complex interactions among risk factors.
  • Dropping out of school is often the result of a long process of disengagement that may begin before a child enters school.
  • Dropping out is often described as a process, not an event, with factors building and compounding over time.

No matter the person, or the occurrence, nothing happens in an isolation.  The decision to dropout of school does not materialize in a moment.  A student does not exit the educational system on a whim.  As we assess the supposed facts and the figures as they pertain to High School dropouts, we must accept and acknowledge the reason students leave school cannot be simply stated.  The truth is dropout rates are high regardless of socio-economic status.

In today’s data-happy era of accountability, testing and No Child Left Behind, here is the most astonishing statistic in the whole field of education: an increasing number of researchers are saying that nearly 1 out of 3 public high school students won’t graduate, not just in [chose a “pleasantly unremarkable” town] but around the nation.  For Latinos and African Americans, the rate approaches an alarming 50%.  Virtually no community, small or large, rural or urban, has escaped the problem.

There is a small but hardy band of researchers who insist the dropout rates don’t quite approach those levels.  They point to their pet surveys that suggest a rate of only 15% to 20%.  The dispute is difficult to referee, particularly in the wake of decades of lax accounting by states and schools.

But the majority of analysts and lawmakers have come to this consensus: the numbers have remained unchecked at approximately 30% through two decades of intense educational reform, and the magnitude of the problem has been consistently, and often willfully, ignored.

In a nation known to be the world’s superpower, children suffer and have for  scores of years.  Millions endure in families that do not meet their needs.  Then they enter a school system inadequate to prepare them for a life better than the one  their parents had.

That’s starting to change.  During his most recent State of the Union address, President George W. Bush promised more resources to help children stay in school, and Democrats promptly attacked him for lacking a specific plan.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has trained its moneyed eye on the problem, funding “The Silent Epidemic,” a study issued in March that has gained widespread attention both in Washington and in statehouses around the country.

The attention comes against a backdrop of rising peril for dropouts.  If their grandparents’ generation could find a blue-collar niche and prosper, the latest group is immediately relegated to the most punishing sector of the economy, where whatever low-wage jobs haven’t yet moved overseas are increasingly filled by even lower-wage immigrants.  Dropping out of high school today is to your societal health what smoking is to your physical health, an indicator of a host of poor outcomes to follow, from low lifetime earnings to high incarceration rates to a high likelihood that your children will drop out of high school and start the cycle anew.

We may be able to identify the problem for one individual or another.  However, if we are to create change, we must do more than recognize the ills of society or the difficulties within a given home.  In a recent edition of Time Magazine, Journalist Nathan Thornburgh studied the students enrolled in Shelbyville High School, 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis, Indiana, and those that were no longer registered for classes, although they were of age.  Thornburgh writes of a population ready to recognize and resolve a crisis.

Identifying the problem is just the first step. The next moves are being made by towns like Shelbyville, where a loose coalition of community leaders and school administrators have, for the first time, placed dropout prevention at the top of the agenda.  Now they are gamely trying to identify why kids are leaving and looking for ways to reverse the tide.  

At the request of a former principal, a local factory promised to stop tempting dropouts with jobs.  Superintendent David Adams is scouting vacant storefronts for a place to put a new alternative high school.  And Shelbyville’s Republican state representative, Luke Messer, sponsored a bill, signed into law by the Governor two weeks ago, that will give students alternatives to traditional high school while imposing tough penalties on those who try to leave early without getting permission from the school district or a judge.

However, punitive measures might not be the answer.  Many of the children that choose to leave campus have been threatened before.  School bullies can cause a child to flee and seek sanctuary elsewhere.  Yet, for more adolescents the bigger browbeater was at home, and would be part of their lives even after they exited the educational system.  Perchance, for most of the pupils no one would punish them more severely than they did themselves.  The heart of a person that fears they failed feels much pain.  Perhaps, a child that believes they can never be their best brings great sorrow to self.

Thirty-five percent said that “failing in school” was a major factor for dropping out; three out of ten said they could not keep up with schoolwork; and 43 percent said they missed too many days of school and could not catch up.

Forty-five percent said they started high school poorly prepared by their earlier schooling.  Many of these students likely fell behind in elementary and middle school and could not make up the necessary ground.  They reported that additional supports in high school that would have made a difference (such as tutoring or after school help) were not there.

Thirty-two percent were required to repeat a grade before dropping out and twenty-nine percent expressed significant doubts that they could have met their high school’s requirements for graduation even if they had put in the necessary effort.  The most academically challenged students were the most likely to report that their schools were not doing enough to help students when they had trouble learning and to express doubt about whether they would have worked harder if more had been expected of them.

Sadly, a student in distress often acts outs and does not speak of what truly troubles them.  For decades, schools worked to push pupils out if they did not perform as expected.  This trend is accelerated under No Child Left Behind.  The Bush Administrations is happy to fund schools with high achievers.  Educational institutions unable to statistically verify that pupils learn well, or more accurately test well receive less tax dollars.  A school that ranks poorly may be subject to more severe actions.  Thus, schools are encouraged to releases non-performers.  A learning institution benefits if the number of “good” students is high.  

For scholars bored with rote and mechanical methods of instruction, an invitation to exit campus permanently may be welcome.  Early in life, without much guidance to help an adolescent reflect on the future, a jaded student might simply feel relieved at the prospect of a presumed perpetual freedom.

Rachel was among those pupils pushed out.  As are most intelligent individuals, Rachel was chatty.  In class, she was often told to be more considerate of others.  Teachers reminded her that her classmates were there to learn.  The implication was Rachel had no desire to develop her skills and intellectual capacity.  This was not true.  The regal in appearance Rachel yearned for knowledge.  For her, it seemed she acquired more information when she was away from school.  She certainly had more fun.

The rebellious Rachel could be confrontational.  She was a troubled teen from a tumultuous home.  Each day she encountered another trauma.  Her parents placed her life in turmoil.  Mom yelled.  Dad hit.  The other children in her family cried.  There was much chaos in the sanctuary of her domicile.  At school, the girl did not feel cherished or treasured; she was only a bit safer.  Still, even in this setting Rachel was unwanted.

The instructor knew that Rachel skipped class; she roamed the streets.  Friends drove her to all the sites she had yet to see.  Those a little older than Rachel were able to travel further in their automobiles.  Acquaintances took her to worlds where she could discover and explore.  A few of her pals already dropped out.  Others cut class with Rachel.  The teachers and the school Administrators were truly fine with Rachel’s absence.  Her presence was a distraction and disruption.  

Rachel had accumulated so many tardies.  She was gone from class more often more than she appeared.  Her grades, well, there is no accounting for the taste of an “F”.  Over time, Rachel became bored with a life less than focused.  She returned to school and inquired how might she get back on track.

A Vice Principal, the person usually responsible for pupils with behavioral problems asked Rachel if she might not wish to leave the system permanently.  After all, poor Rachel had fallen so far behind.  She obviously was not happy in school.  Perhaps it would be best for her if she just quit.  Had she thought of applying for emancipation from her parents.  Perchance that would relieve the pressure and the young woman could get on with her life.  Rachel was ripe for change.  She failed at being a student and in her mind, through no fault of her own, she botched up family life.  Hence, Rachel dropped out.

Currently, Rachel is older and wiser.  However, she still fears she cannot succeed.  She did acquire a GED [General Educational Development] certificate.  Therefore, she was able to secure a decent, though not great job.  She married, has a wonderful husband and exceptional children.  Yet, she remains unfulfilled.  Rachel would like to enter college.  She wants to set an example for her offspring.  However, her history haunts her.  This intelligent woman, without much of a formal education, fears she cannot succeed in a University.  Rachel feels foolish enough.  The grown woman has no desire to look idiotic in front of youthful scholars.  To  appear as a dunce in the company of professors is not what she craves.  Rachel stays where she is and where she was.  She has little hope.

A once rebellious woman is now resigned.  Rachel is content; yet, she wonders what would her life have like if only someone stopped and paid attention to her, as a person.  Rachel’s circumstance is not unusual.  

Researchers call students like [Rachel] “pushouts,” not dropouts.  Shelbyville High’s new principal, Tom Zobel, says he’s familiar with the mind-set.  “Ten years ago,” he says, “if we had a problem student, the plan was, ‘O.K., let’s figure out how to get rid of this kid.’  Now we have to get them help.”

These words echo in the minds of educators aware of the need for Federal funds.  No Child Left Behind leaves little leeway.  In the present, as in the past some state . . .

[Ca]n educators really be faulted for the calculation, however cold, that certain kids are an unwise investment of their limited energies and resources?  That question quickly leads to the much thornier issues of class and clout that shape the dropout crisis.

The national statistics on the topic are blunt: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, kids from the lowest income quarter are more than six times as likely to drop out of high school as kids from the highest.  And in Shelbyville, nearly every dropout I met voiced a similar complaint: teachers and principals treat the “rich kids” better.  “The rich kids always knew how to be good kids,” says Sarah in a more nuanced version of the same refrain.  “So I guess it’s natural the schools wanted to work with them more than with the rest of us.”  The poor kids, though, are exactly the ones who need the extra investment.

Granted, the underprivileged among us are more likely to dropout or be pushed out and aside.  Characteristically those of little means are treated cruelly by a system that rather not know they exist.  Nonetheless, they do and in creasing numbers. The volume of dropouts and pushouts increases in the inner city and in the suburbs.  Our children are troubled; yet, we consider them as trouble.

No one notices the distress a teen feels.  Few listen to their pleas.  Rarely are the impoverished authentically counted.  Perhaps that is why Americans did not realize the extent of this catastrophe.  Now, we might recognize the disaster.  We have become a Dropout Nation.

Schools nationwide never imagined the calamity was as widespread as it is.  While throughout the country the populace clamors for accountability and the White House sets standards, the criterion used to establish dropout rates differs from District to District and even from school to school.  Frequently, formulas used to calculate who completed all their coursework and when are manipulated to ensure that schools will secure funds.  At times, the numbers are juggled solely to appease the citizenry.

For years, Shelbyville [as was true in other schools] had been comforted by its self-reported–and wildly inaccurate–graduation rate of up to 98%.  The school district arrived at that number by using a commonly accepted statistical feint, counting any dropout who promises to take the GED test later on as a graduating student.

The GED trick is only one of many deployed by state and local governments around the country to disguise the real dropout rates.  Houston, for example, had its notorious “leaver codes”–dozens of excuses, such as pregnancy and military service, that were often applied to students who were later reclassified as dropouts by outside auditors.

The Federal Government has been similarly deceptive, producing rosy graduation-rate estimates–usually between 85% and 90%–by relying only on a couple of questions buried deep within the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.  The survey asks whether respondents have a diploma or GED.  Critics say the census count severely underreports dropout numbers, in part because it doesn’t include transients or prisoners, populations with a high proportion of dropouts.

It is evident that not all is as it appears.  In 2001, Jay Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, published a study titled High School Graduation Rates in the United States.  His research examined the stratum of arithmetical adroitness associated with commencement statistics.  As Greene pondered the raw education data, he began to appreciate that he could not answer the question often asked.  What percentage of students receives a high school diploma?  The response is, it depends.  After closer scrutiny, even Greene admitted he needed to revise his report.  

The report’s main findings are the following:
  • The national graduation rate for the class of 1998 was 71%.  For white students the rate was 78%, while it was 56% for African-American students and 54% for Latino students.
  • Georgia had the lowest overall graduation rate in the nation with 54% of students graduating, followed by Nevada, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
  • Iowa had the highest overall graduation rate with 93%, followed by North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska.
  • Wisconsin had the lowest graduation rate among African-American students with 40%, followed by Minnesota, Georgia, and Tennessee.  Georgia had the lowest graduation rate among Latino students with 32%, followed by Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  Less than 50% of African-American students graduated in seven states and less than 50% of Latino students graduated in eight states for which data were available.
  • The highest rate of graduation among African-American students was 71% in West Virginia, followed by Massachusetts, Arkansas, and New Jersey.  The highest rate of graduation among Latino students was 82% in Montana, followed by Louisiana, Maryland, and Hawaii.
  • Cleveland City had the lowest graduation rate among African-American students with 29%, followed by Milwaukee, Memphis, and Gwinett County, Georgia.  Cleveland City also had the lowest graduation rate among Latino students, followed by Georgia’s Dekalb, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties.  Less than 50% of African-American students graduated in fifteen of forty-five districts for which there was sufficient data, and less than 50% of Latino students graduated in twenty-one of thirty-six districts for which there was sufficient data.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) finds a national high school completion rate of 86% for the class of 1998.  The discrepancy between the NCES’ finding and this report’s finding of a 71% rate is largely caused by NCES’ counting of General Educational Development (GED) graduates and others with alternative credentials as high school graduates, and by its reliance on a methodology that is likely to undercount dropouts.

Overwhelmed by the predicament, you dear reader might ask what are we to do.  I believe we must cultivate relationships.  I have long advocated that human interaction is the greatest instructor; empathy is the best educator.  If we wish to encourage our offspring, we must engage them authentically.  If they are to believe in themselves, they must trust to their core that we believe in them.

One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety- nine who have only interest.

 ~ John Stuart Mill [Philosopher]


In March 2006, a report sponsored by the Civic Enterprises in Association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, experts examined what they call, The Silent Epidemic, Perspectives of High School Dropouts. Researchers John M. Bridgeland, John J. DiIulio, Jr., and Karen Burke Morison realized what dropouts and pushouts have long known.  If a child is to be motivated, if they are to truly learn, and become autonomous critical thinkers they need attention and assistance.  A caring mentor makes all the difference.

A survey of former students revealed the children understood what would have helped them to stay in school.  Indeed, those that floundered were intelligent enough to communicate what they needed then.  Now, with thanks to this more honest examination they had an opportunity to share.  If society and schools are to save the youth of America, we must . . .

  • Improve instruction, and access to supports, for struggling students: Four out of five (81 percent) wanted better teachers and three fourths wanted smaller classes with more  individualized instruction.  More than half (55 percent) felt that more needed to be done to help students who had problems learning, and 70 percent believed more tutoring, summer school and extra time with teachers would have improved their chances of graduating.
  • Build a school climate that fosters academics:

    Seven in ten favored increasing supervision in school and more than three in five (62 percent) felt more classroom discipline was necessary.  More than half (57 percent) felt their schools did not do enough to help students feel safe from violence.  Seven in ten (71 percent) said their schools did not do enough to make school interesting.
  • Ensure that students have a strong relationship with at least one adult in the school: While two-thirds (65 percent) said there was a staff member or teacher who cared about their success, only 56 percent said they could go to a staff person for school problems and just two-fifths (41 percent) had someone in school to talk to about personal problems.  More than three out of five (62 percent) said their school needed to do more to help students with problems outside of class.  Seven in ten favored more parental involvement.
  • Improve the communication between parents and schools: Seventy-one percent of young people surveyed felt that one of the keys to keeping students in school was to have better communication between the parents and the school, and increasing parental involvement in their child’s education.  Less than half said their school contacted their parents or themselves when they were absent (47 percent) or when they dropped out (48 percent).

In truth, we must all care for the children.  Elders must be intimately involved in the lives of our progeny.  If schools continue to be a source of statistics and a corral for our children, we serve no one, young or old.  Indeed, we hurt ourselves if we harm our offspring or hinder their growth.  

Sarah knows of pain.  She was a happy child, a brilliant girl.  For all her life, Sarah defined “scholar.”  In her sophomore year in High School, her teachers noticed a change.  Although Sarah attended classes regularly and was still friendly, this talkative teen seemed extremely disinterested.  Sarah was distracted; yet, no one at school knew why.  

In her junior year, a new instructor entered the lovely young lady’s life.  This educator, Miss Adams sat with the students as they worked.  She developed a relationship with each pupil.  The teacher personalized lessons.  Miss Adams understood.  Students [people] are authentically engaged when they relate to the subject, when information is personally relevant.  This instructor also trusted that adolescents truly yearn to learn.

Sarah felt safe when with Miss Adams.  One day as the two sat at a table, Sarah reveled that her father committed suicide the year before.  He shot himself in the head, in front of this tender teen.  “The police do not clean up after such an incident; the family does,” Sarah said.  Miss Adams listened intently as Sarah shared her story.  Later, the educator was able to enlighten other teachers and counselors.  Everyone was touched.  They never knew.  

Belatedly, the school community reached out to the sorrowful Sarah.  Slowly, this young teen worked through her worries, with a little help from those that cared.  That was everyone.  The sadness is, in a school [or society] where statistics rule, much is lost, mostly the students, our young people, the next generation.  Teens dropout, or are pushed out.  We all suffer when we do not attend to more than roll sheets and rank.

Next time you walk past the school in your neighborhood, please listen for more than the noise.  See more than your tax dollars going to waste.  Invest in the littlest individuals more fully.  Embrace education, it is more than facts, figures, formulas, or failed students or teachers.

References, Resources, Sources for Student Support . . .

Home Is Where You Put Your Stuff – A Christmas Story

copyright © 2007 Judith Moriarty

[Commentary followed by A Personal Reflection of Christmas Past]

“In Manhattan the income gap between the rich and poor is greater than in Guatemala, and within the U.S. is surpassed only by a group of 70 households near a former leper colony in Hawaii.”

~  Gap Between Rich and Poor in New York City Grows Wider, By Sam Roberts.  The New York Times. December 25, 1994

What is a home?  It is easier to understand homelessness by taking a minute to define a home.  A home is a space of our own that is considered to belong to us.  We may not have a whole house, a whole apartment, or even a whole room, but we have our own space.  It is secure: we know where we are going to sleep tonight; we know that ‘home’ is going to be there when we get there.  It is safe.  Although no safety is perfect, we have a way to lock our home, to control who comes in when we are there and when we aren’t.  We can leave our belongings at home and have a reasonable expectation of finding them safe when we get back.  We are sheltered from rain and cold.  We have a means to warm ourselves.  We have a bed.  We have a way to store and prepare food.  We have cold and hot running water, a toilet, and a shower or bathtub to wash ourselves.  We can come and go at our own choice.  Home is where you put your stuff.

While the media portrays (deliberately) the homeless as ‘losers, drunks, addicts, the mentally ill, and parasitic segment of society – too lazy to work’; this is a rather shallow simplistic view!  It lumps everyone suffering a crisis into the same stereotype.  True, many are homeless due to drinking, drugs, mental illness, and poor work ethics.  But then, many are drunks and dope addicts, who aren’t homeless.

At one time people were identified as the ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ poor.  A family down on their luck, due to a death in the family or crisis of unemployment etc were seen as ‘worthy’ of intervention.  The able bodied, who found themselves homeless, were seen as bums – or lazy ner’ do wells.  FDR’s New Deal – and WWII saw many government housing projects built.  These were seen as a stopgap measure, until people could recoup their losses/ and for veterans returning from war.  They were mostly occupied by whites.  These folks went on to gainful employment, and in many instances became homeowners.  The project, during the 60’s onwards, became dumping grounds for the poor (mostly minorities).  Repairs and maintenance were disregarded.  These ‘hives’ became despairing hovels filled with crime.

Today many of these projects are being torn down or left vacant.  Vouchers for housing have been cut, with many of the working poor left with no place to secure affordable housing.  Even in the best of times, a person (family) could be on a waiting list for years before there was an opening.  The crisis in America (all communities) today is affordable housing.  New York City sees an approximate 10,000 families suffering homelessness (not counting single people) each night.  Meantime the un-homeless, contrive different programs, consisting of rules -regulations – and policies, which even a legal student couldn’t decipher.  Everyone is agreed that society needs (besides its bankers – brokers – professionals – etc) laborers, clerks, mechanics, janitors, window washers, nursing/hospital personnel, teachers, etc.  With rent in many urban areas (even rural America) running upwards of $750.00 to $1000.00 a month (not including utilities) its not hard to see why those making $15,000 to $25,000 a year can easily find themselves homeless.

Once upon a time in small town America; steel mills, paper mills, textile plants, manufacturing plants, the auto industry, sheet metal shops, tool and die shops, farming etc; had people, while not living opulent lives, able to afford the necessities of life.  Rents – fuel – medical care – prescriptions – schooling – taxes – cars and homes were affordable.  People weren’t made to choose between food or buying exorbitant prescriptions.  But then the pharmaceutical, insurance companies and HMOs weren’t writing the legislation!  One could afford a visit to the ER or doctor’s office.  A Department of Education didn’t exist; throwing down mandates from Foggy Bottom (Washington) demanding increasingly draconian policies, regulations, testing, and social engineering  (putting the costs on beleaguered tax payers).  It takes money to create obedient, illiterate,  passive, groupthink drones,  for a future in a Wigget factory or the military.

This ‘mudslinging’, identified as ‘debates’,  has shown how far removed those running for office are from the people.  NOTHING of any merit (either party) has been accomplished.  It’s a game for clowns and opportunists, with  each (except for a few) trying to grab the  golden ring,  on the gaudy,  maniacal,  carousel,   that represents today’s  politics.  Only in  America, do we see  the few  with their  multi-millions,  and  backers of  special interests,   able to  secure  media  attention.  If the truth be told, the owners of the world have already chosen the next puppet.  All this campaigning is mere theater.  Note how the few, with any credible message,  have been quickly marginalized.  Government is now corporate owned and corporate controlled – with the herd encouraged to vote (feminists) for the first woman, or the war crowd,   with their law and order mentality,  for a Giuliani (911 brought him fame and fortune).  Our energy policy ( plotted behind closed doors by oil men) sees oil that was at $28.00 per barrel in 2000 now close to $100.  The golden ring means many things to many people.  Especially good fortune!

The majority of those running for office are well heeled  and have long ago lost  connection with work-a-day citizens (or the poor).  The Clinton’s arrival in Foggy Bottom now sees them as multi-millionaires.  President Bush,  who failed in every family backed business,  is now sitting on easy street.  In a land of 300 million,  we’re supposed to believe, that per chance Ms. Clinton wins, (she will – it’s in the bag) we’ll have us 28 years with a Bush or Clinton in office!  What’s wrong with this picture?  

Many of those in Congress/the Senate;  including the various candidates,  have secured lobbying jobs for their offspring (family members).  Trent Lott is jumping ship.  It’s reported that he’s now going to ‘cash in’ (work for a lobbying firm for big bucks).  That’s what its really about ——–self-interested – grasping greed.  The only thing this gang of hustlers managed to accomplish,  is voting themselves yearly cost of living raises, and tax payer subsidized health care.

President Bush/Vice President Cheney (Washington politicians) aren’t worried over the cost of hospital care.  No  drone in some cubicle reports to their physicians,  that such and such a procedure isn’t covered.  They are not demanded to have cash in hand when seeing a dentist.  Never be poor and have a toothache!  You’ll die before receiving aid.  Any medical crisis or ache or pain sees Washington politicians (bankers – Federal Reserve officials, lobbyists, corporate robber barons etc, being   afforded the best of medical care.  President Bush advises (having a physician on hand at all times)  that Joe citizen and his family go to the ER.  True!

Try being poor or homeless and getting  medical help in Super Power nation, U.S.A.  Try being a senior citizen, or a struggling family,  trying to secure special medications, chemotherapy, or hospital care.  Strom Thurmond once spent a month in a hospital resting up!  Today the poor will die on an ER floor (Los Angeles) of a perforated bowel,  while staff walks around them!  Today the poor are made to sit from morning to evening in a free clinic for help (most of these are being closed).  Mostly though, people just die.  They die in freezing, rat-infested tenements, in abandoned homes, in their cars, and under bridges.  They die in rural America,  in homes without heat.  They die in shelters and on city streets (dumped there by hospitals.) .  They die in decaying, unheated tenements owned by slum landlords.

These Washington hucksters aren’t worried over their pensions (also seeing yearly cost of living raises) or heating their homes.  Besides their lucrative salaries,  they receive all kinds of perks – from medical to housing allowances, fees for their offices, and exotic vacations,  which they call ‘fact finding missions’.  They don’t care because they don’t have to.  How many ‘debates’ do you see being held in an empty steel mill – paper mill – abandoned downtown Detroit, the empty Maytag factory, a shelter, or soup kitchen?  They voted these trade deals,  which have emptied America of livable wage jobs.  That’s why they stay away from the real America!  They are serving their corporate sugar daddies  by  ignoring the slave labor  that is being imported (thanks to NAFTA’s failure) to America.  These candidates  voted for the bankruptcy laws that are now  impoverishing  Middle Americans in a crisis.  Corporations are safe to in declaring bankruptcy and that’s all that counts.  They voted (Hillary told Silicon Valley she’ll bring in more) for hundreds of thousands of guest workers (professionals) to replace American workers.

And people wonder why homelessness is increasing at such a drastic level?  Today in America,  from Seattle – Oregon – to New Orleans,  people are now being housed in tent cities!  Detroit is filled with thousands of vacant buildings (hotels) and people are living in tents!  Why aren’t these newest housing projects of the 21st century being shown on the news as we spend 2 billion a week on war (estimated cost 1.6 trillion+).  With winter blasts upon us,  try to imagine yourself in that abandoned car – a tent – or living under a bridge.  Try to imagine yourself watching (New England) the crowds from the city zooming by,  on their way to exotic ski lodges – spending hundreds of dollars a day;  to ski down a mountain – drinking,  and gouging themselves on exotic meals.  Workers at these various resorts are imported guest workers.

It’s hard to imagine living in a land of such wealth under such deprivation.  It’s absurd.  Maybe that’s why people avoid looking at the  homeless?  When I’m  looking at you, (laying in a doorway) I begin to see me?  Who are the homeless?  Today, many folks are only a few paychecks away from joining the ‘unworthy poor’ (new label when you lose out in the race).  Millions of homes are in foreclosure; due to the greed of bankers – mortgage companies and politicians,  too busy feathering their own nests to deal with the crisis.

Who are the homeless?  They are the foster children  whom its assumed reach instant adulthood at age 18.  It’s the numerous abused and battered wives, (children)  who’ve escaped a house of mayhem and possible  murder.  With institutions closed down over the past few decades, its the mentally-ill.  Regional crisis centers were supposed to open,  but it never happened.  People haven’ t stopped becoming mentally ill – its just that now,  we jail them or they end up on the street (those without family).

We spent the money meant for the mentally ill/housing etc;  on raises for Washington – billions for war  – exotic vacations – golf courses – space stations – crumbling levees – studies of the sex lives of beetles  – bridges to nowhere – a museum for Woodstock – and mercenary forces ($1,200 a day) etc.  There just wasn’t any left over for everyday people!  Who are the homeless?  It’s Virginia a senior citizen I found on a park bench,  who lost her home due to the catastrophic illness of her husband (he died).  When she went for help, she was offered a bus ticket out of town (greyhound therapy).

Who are the homeless?  It’s the homeless veterans ( approximately 192,000) of all wars.  It’s James (Korea) who I found under a bridge (his nephew had stolen his SS checks).  It’s Billy the young man I found in a city park in a johnny-coat soaked with urine.  Billy with clubfeet, spina bifida, and a colostomy,  had been dumped on the street by a hospital.  Who are the homeless?  It’s Martha crippled with arthritis, Danny a foster boy, Henry and Joe, WWII veterans, Mr. Elliott, beaten to death in his wheelchair (WWII naval photographer) by an illegal immigrant dishwasher, looking for crack money.  The stories go on and on.  No the homeless are not all ner’ do wells on welfare having a half dozen kids!  There are numerous lazy, drunken, drug addicts of wealth.  You don’t hear the label ‘worthy or unworthy rich’.  President Regan, from the warmth of the White House said that the homeless preferred the great outdoors.

Depending on the luck of the draw in life;  the rich or well-connected citizen,  is protected from the harsher elements of being set outside the city gate.  Wealth and a proper  family  name (or profession) exempts them from being  labeled (except as eccentric).  If you’re a starlet – gladiator sports star – relative of a politician – or Al Gore’s son etc; you don’t end up in jail .  You end up in a $48,000 seaside rehab center  to escape the ‘stress’ of a  life.  Forget all the advantages these folks  were offered.  The stress of being coddled, pampered, and excused,  from any and all responsibilities,  takes its toll – so we are told?  Drunk or no drunk, heck  instead of ending up in a shelter  you could find yourself in the White House.  It’s all in how the life’s  cards are dealt !  Most of the rich and famous you see on the nightly news, involved in  numerous drug or drunken events,   would be laying in the gutter today  if not for money!

Homeless for Christmas


It was a cold – sleety night  in a large corporate Ct. city.  Gentrification had torn down neighborhoods (affordable housing); to make way for glass towers and a huge windowless mall,  consisting  of upscale boutiques and specialty stores.  The homeless were not permitted to roam its various floors seeking warmth during the days.  

I had written a play,  “Homeless for Christmas” which I put on in the pocket park entryway.  The manger scene consisted of Anna (Mary) a Native American Indian ( homeless due to sexual abuse) – Carlton ( Joseph) from Jamaica, and  Matthew (Baby Jesus) my three-month-old nephew.  Alicia (littlest angel) stood behind them in her white gown with tinsel halo.  Mary was attired in an old lace curtain and Joseph in an Indian blanket.  The three Wise Men,  could be seen approaching from the far end of the park,  with their shopping carts,  bearing gifts for homeless Jesus.  They were three homeless veterans.  As the crowd of homeless folks sang.  ‘ Away in a Manager’ the three veteran Wise Men presented the Holy family with gifts of canned food, a blanket, and a bouquet of poinsettias .

A few shoppers stopped for a moment  but then rushed on to buy those last minute gifts in the climate controlled  mall.  When the play ended,  we passed out (the vets and myself) toys to the numerous homeless kids and those  from the tenements.  Disney had donated $10,000 worth to me.  This was their way of saying they were sorry.  A month before  they had come out with a homeless doll called, ‘ Steve the Tramp’.  Steve carried a large board (with plastic nails).  On the package it said, “You’ll smell him before you see him.”  I organized a protest at the mall  (called all the media).  I made a huge poster depicting Mickey Mouse with huge bulging blood shot eyes  holding a spiked board.  My sign read, “Mickey Rat – You’ll Smell Him Before You See Him.”  Disney  took the doll off the market immediately and had a truck deliver tons of toys!  Protests do work ( at times).  I have to say they (Disney) have to be commended for their prompt action.

After our gala play and Disney toys  event, the kids  returned to the decaying tenements (far from the mall) .  The remainder of my homeless  crowd returned to the dingy shelter.  There’s nothing sadder during the year than to spend Christmas at a shelter.  There’s something about the hustle and bustle, holiday crowds, festive lights and Christmas caroling;  that makes the humiliation, the hopelessness, the alienation,  all the more painful.  I could relate,  as I remembered when my dad (factory closed) relocated us from the mountains of Pennsylvania to Connecticut.  He had secured a job in a Catholic hospital as their boiler room engineer.  We arrived in Ct with nothing but our meager suitcases of second- hand clothes.  I hated Ct from the first moment I saw it.  I promised myself when grown that  I’d leave.  I did.

We had to stay in a single-room occupancy hotel until my dad could save enough to get us an apartment.  That took some months.  I remember that Christmas.  I  pushed  aside the cheap plastic curtains on the one window  and watched the shoppers laden down with gifts.  I had decorated the plastic tulip plant on our dresser with some tinsel,  from the manger scene at  a nearby church.  It’s a surreal kind of feeling being on the outside watching others go about life’s routines – joys.  You feel like your  watching a movie – unable to join the happy actors on stage.

A shelter is a place where nobody owns anything and no spot is special.  It is dreary and joyless.  The noise is deafening and the stench from unwashed humanity unbearable at times.  If despair had an odor,  it could be found in a shelter.  Christmas (small town America) was once a time of neighbors on downtown streets.  In the luminous glow of Christmas lights, children played catching snowflakes on their tongues.  There was a hushed silence, as neighbors gathered around the Nativity in the park and  sang ‘Silent Night’.  Today the parks are empty.  Many Nativity scenes in the climate of political correctness (ACLU with nothing better to do) are gone.  All religious language is now banished.  Christmas is now the   Holiday  Season;  with  grotesque elves  –  cartoon  balloon parades  –  and  safe secular songs.  It’s  now  secular holiday  with  the focus on retail sales.  The biggest issue now,  is how to choose amongst all the toxic toys imported from China!

Perhaps it’s the deprivation, the poverty, the degradation or just plain awfulness,  of a small family huddled in the darkness of a stable,   that is abhorrent to some in today’s materialistic world?  There was no room in the Inn, but there was room in the stable.  The Inn is the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly/moneyed, the rallying  place of the popular.  The stable is a place of outcasts, the ignored, the forgotten, the almost impossible things.  Divinity is always were we least expect to find it.

I remember a past Christmas at the shelter.  The faces; white, black, and  some gray ; from weariness or illness.  They were  etched in stoic longing and loneliness.  The remnants of the donated food (office parties) lay untouched on plastic trays.  The muted sounds of “Joy to the World,”  echoed forth from a blurred black and white TV.  Some covered their ears, some wept, some hummed along, eyes closed.  Perhaps they were remembering a time long ago when they belonged and were loved?

Teresa, her bruised face swelling from a beating on the street, lay in a crumpled heap on the bench.  As I put a blanket on her thin shaking body, I wondered that she hadn’t been killed as yet?  (Note – Teresa was murdered five months later for her canning money – near the city’s yacht club).  Henry, an elderly Black gentleman, brandishing his cane through the crowded community room,  looked like an escaped scarecrow on the lam.  In a whirlwind of decaying leaves, falling off his outlandish attire,  he demanded better service or the Mayor would hear about it.  Martha, eyes rolling back in her head, clutched her Christmas package of socks and gloves in her crippled hands, all the while singing her own song that had no beginning and no end.  Margaret (middle aged) her dirty blond hair pulled back in a severe bun – thumped her Bible damning everyone to hell for their sinful, slothful ways.  Having no dentures, she’d worked diligently one night cutting strips from a two-liter Pepsi bottle.  With a razor blade,  she cut the appropriate notches,  so that it had the appearance of teeth.  She painted them with white- out, then affixed the flexible strips to her upper and lower gums with denture adhesive.  As long as she didn’t eat, she was fine.

Richard, pacing back and forth, became more and more agitated with each dire warning from Margaret.  He finally turned, and in  his affected French accent,  pronounced that the finer hotels he was accustomed to staying at,  would never allow such rabble in their establishment.  Richard had existed on a family trust fund for years.  It  ran out and he was left stranded on the streets.  

Daniel, a small fastidious man, like a nervous ferret, hovered in the shadows of the outer hallway.  Daniel felt that as long as he kept his distance, he wouldn’t be identified as being a part of the unwashed and unwanted.  Frank with his thick coke glasses  was once a prosperous businessman.  He suffered a mental breakdown and now imagined himself a secret agent for the CIA.  Every morning at 4:00am, he would leave messages near the transformer at the train station.  In turn, he told me, he’d get directions for his next job  from the obituaries in the New York Times.

In a world of liposuction, health clubs, marathons, gated communities, designer clothes, decorators, tented wine parties etc, those seen as flawed  are relegated to the outer darkness.  In a throwaway society, life’s rejects (seconds) are tossed – much like litter.  We’re a disposable society.  The intimacy of small town America is gone.  We now exist in isolated cocoons: of poverty – wealth – war – prisons – raging protests, and daily messages of fear.  I suspect,  that  should the nation suffer a crisis ,  that only the homeless will survive.  It’ll be just another day for them.

Christmas ends:  All was silent in the shelter as the midnight service drew to a close.  A last burst of song washed over the heaps of broken humanity from the Washington  Cathedral choir ———“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep; God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!  The wrong shall fail.  The right prevail.  With PEACE on Earth, good will to men!”

JM

  • Gap Between Rich and Poor in New York City Grows Wider, By Sam Roberts.  The New York Times. December 25, 1994
  • Campaign Killers; Conglomerates, Candidates, Correspondents

    copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    On December 1, 2007 the American public and Democratic candidates had a rare opportunity to truly listen to the common folks.  Presidential hopefuls were able to see and experience the pain that people of lesser means feel each and every day.  The Campaign for Community Values hosted a forum.  This organization opened the floor to each and every candidate for more than a moment.  

    Common citizens shared sorrowful stories.  Real people informed the conversation.  Americans were reminded that no one of us can pull ourselves up by bootstraps we are unable to afford.  Tale after tale revealed a mentor, a member of the family, an association founded on the principle of community assistance helped many individuals to succeed.  Triumphant individuals from dire circumstances appeared on stage with the Presidential hopefuls and shared real life sagas.  The audience heard of nightmares and dreams that came true.  After the narratives, Presidential aspirants were asked what they might do once in office so that no one would experience what these persons had.  

    There were no flashy videos, no comedy, and the moderator did not force herself into the fray. Democratic candidates stood face-to-face with the those who experienced crisis in their personal lives.  Frequently, the prestigious politician, and the, all too often, invisible immigrant, poor person, child, and elderly citizen held hands.  Tears flowed and sincerity followed.  

    The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement debate was unlike what the general public often sees.  The assembly was not aired on one of the mainstream media outlets.  Only C-SPAN covered this campaign milestone.  Perchance, that made the difference.

    Today, Conglomerates, Candidates, and Correspondents kill campaigns.  The public is helpless to change what occurs and has been for oh, so very long.  Common folks flounder in a sea of information and believe they have the real scoop.  However, deep inside the people know, they have little if any access to authentic information.  Ordinary people cannot make their voice heard.  In recent decades the media is the message.  Political contenders control the communication, as do the companies that fund the discussions.  The race to the Oval Office, or any political cubicle, is bought and paid for.  The people purchase only the wares offered to them, and not much is made available.

    A National Study of Confidence in Leadership, a Harvard University report reveals what most of us know, for we, the American people are the subject of this survey. More Than 60% of the American people Do Not Trust Campaign Coverage.  I inquire, why should citizens have faith in the reports.  Even the Presidential “Debates” are rigged in favor of a candidate or a corporation. Sponsors of such forums are the same companies that contribute to a particular Presidential hopeful.

    Consider some of the conglomerates that characteristically subsidize the media programs. You may also wish to assess the assets that the candidates receive from these same sponsors, regardless of their political affiliation.  Then contemplate the carefully choreographed debate question and answer format.  Search for authenticity.  

    If you find it, please tell me where.  Bill Moyers, of Public Broadcasting Services would also like to know if you discover a genuine give and take amongst the candidates.  The founder of a nonpartisan organization Open Debates, and Author, George Farah might counter the notion that the debates are truly spontaneous or real.  Yes, there was a time when Presidential hopefuls spoke at length, in depth and detail.  They exchanged opinions, and carefully reflected on the issues aloud.  However, that was eons ago.

    When Carter squared off with Reagan, sixty percent of American TV households were watching. But over the past quarter century, there’s been a big change. During Gore versus Bush four years ago, less than thirty percent of TV households tuned in . . .

    Farah: The American people want to hear and see popular candidates discuss the important issues in an unscripted manner. That’s what’s at stake. Whether or not we’re gonna have the right to witness an important conversation.

    Moyers: And why aren’t we getting that kind of discussion between the candidates now?

    Farah: Because the Commission on Presidential Debates secretly submits to the Republican and the Democratic candidates and allows these candidates to sanitize the debate format, excludes popular voices, avoid discussing critical issues.

    . . . The Commission on Presidential Debates, although it claims to be a nonpartisan organization, was created by the Republican and Democratic parties for the Republican and Democratic parties. By design, it was established to submit and conceal the wishes and demands of the Democratic/Republican nominees.

    Moyers: The result, he says, is an event tightly controlled by the candidates, a glorified press conference with rules rigged to serve the candidates, not the public. . . .

    . . . Do you think the people watching knew that the rules had been written by the two parties?

    Farah: Oh, of course not. They had no idea. They thought the Commission on Presidential Debates, whose name sounds like a government commission, it sounds like a lovely agency that was commissioned or chartered by Congress. They thought this: organizations had decided that these rules best served the public interest. They had no idea that behind closed doors leading negotiators hand-picked by the candidates were determining that the candidates could not even ask themselves questions.

    Moyers: The Commission is in fact a private corporation, founded by the then chairmen of the Republican and Democratic national parties. They’re still running the show.

    Farah: Every four years, the Commission on Presidential Debate publishes candidate selection criteria and proposes debate formats in order to comply with federal election law.

    But questions concerning debate format and debate schedule are ultimately resolved behind closed doors between negotiators for the Republican and Democratic nominees.

    Moyers: That wasn’t the case in the beginning. The first televised presidential debates, between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, were sponsored by the networks.

    Now even the networks have questionable mores.  News departments are more concerned with profits than information.  Reporters do not investigate. There is no rhyme or reason for examination.  You may recall, Broadcaster Sam Donaldson wrote of the change in his book, “Hold On Mister President.”  Under Ronald Reagan, all was staged.  Journalists were kept safely at bay and the White House dictated the news of the day.  Perhaps, the Reagan White House predicted what George H. W. Bush did not.  Real people, reporters, rural, and urban dwellers might pose a question that belies the “illusion of truth.”

    Dear reader, you may recall in days of old, televised town hall meetings were broadcast nationally.  During one of these assemblies the former President Bush was flustered when asked if he might relate to the plight of the average American citizen.


    Audience Question: How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives? And if it hasn’t, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in what’s ailing them?

    Bush: I think the national debt affects everybody.

    Audience Question: You personally.

    Bush: Obviously it has a lot to do with interest rates.

    Simpson: She’s saying, “you personally.”

    Audience Question: You, on a personal basis, how has it affected you?

    Simpson: Has it affected you personally?

    Farah: The President was very flustered with the question. He didn’t know how to handle it. What do you mean affect me?

    Audience Question: What I’m saying is…

    Bush: I’m not sure I get… Help me with the question and I’ll try to answer it.

    Farah: Well, this revealed much to the public that he had a very difficult time relating to everyday working people and how they are affected possibly by the budget deficit. And it’s precisely because of that that the candidates decided afterwards for the next two election cycles and in this election cycle to manipulate and sanitize the town hall format.

    Moyers: The candidates got their way.

    Lehrer: The audience participants are bound by the following rule. They shall not ask follow-up questions or otherwise participate in the extended discussion. And the questioner’s microphone will be turned off after he or she completes asking the question.

    Moyers: What’s more, town hall questions would have to be submitted in advance.

    Farah: They had every member in the town hall audience write their questions on index cards and give them to Jim Lehrer.

    He would point to the individual and have him ask the question. The consequence, of course, was no matter how good a person Jim Lehrer is, he’s still asking all the questions.

    The audience members are just there as props. He’s still picking the ones to be asked. So it shows the sanitization of the town hall format, showed the evolution of how the candidates are increasingly controlling whatever they can control to avoid mistakes.

    Controlling all aspects of the campaign is of utmost importance to the candidates.  Long before a Presidential aspirant is the Party nominee, with the help of the media and powerful sponsors they ensure their win.  This explains why money matters.  Candidates are not electable if they propose policies that are doable and coveted.  An effective campaign has the green necessary to sell the person that will profit those that already have economic power.

    In 1996, members of the press remarked, political conventions were made for television theatrics.  The drama was gone.  Every aspect of the assembly was pre-planned and arranged with precision.  Powerful Party players picked the delegates.  For the candidates, the conference was a coronation.  There was no real deliberation.  Political conventions were just as the campaigns, calculated.

    Weeks ago, we witnessed what was billed as a Democratic Debate.  The forum in New Hampshire was one of many profitable programs that allow the public to hear the Presidential hopefuls speak.  Scripted questions are presented and supposedly spontaneous responses are offered. However, in this recent debate, just as all that preceded it, there was no real discussion.  Interaction was frowned upon and ended by a host almost as quickly as it started.  Hype, hard sell, the handlers, and the handled filled the air with folly.  Few of the Presidential aspirants were afforded an opportunity to speak.  Nor do most seem to want to engage in meaningful discussion or debate.

    Oh, the chosen ones, so anointed by the media, or the persuaded masses, were granted time.  These front-runners often had more time to answer a question than the approved and allotted minutes the “rules” provided for a response.  However, the little guy, the unelectable one, who articulates what the general public feels and experiences had only five minutes and thirty-seven seconds, in a two-hour broadcast to share his vision for America.  Might we wonder why . . .

    Americans give their lowest marks to leaders in the press. Americans are particularly dissatisfied with press coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign.”

    When asked if election coverage was politically biased, 40% believed it was too liberal; 21% too conservative; and 30% found it neutral. Nine percent of those responding were not sure.

    Key among the findings:

    • 64% of those polled do not trust press coverage of the presidential campaign.
    • 88% believe that campaign coverage focuses on trivial issues.
    • 84% believe that media coverage has too much influence on American voting choices.
    • 92% say it is important that the news media provide information on candidates’ specific policy plans, but 61% say the media does not provide enough coverage of policy plans.??
    • 89% say it is important to hear about candidates’ personal values and ethics, but 43% say there is not enough coverage of personal values and ethics.

    Instead, those surveyed claimed they were getting “exactly the type of campaign coverage that they want the least,” the report found. ??Seventy percent of those polled said coverage of negative ads was not important and 65% said the media provided too much coverage of them; 67% say that coverage of “gotcha” moments – candidates’ embarrassing incidents and mistakes – was not important and 68% say there was too much coverage of those moments.

    Even when the possible Presidential nominees are not engaged in trickery or deception, during election season the media is.  On a Cable News Network program, titled Campaign Killers, host Campbell Brown, wife to former Advisor to the George W. Bush Presidential Envoy in Iraq, Dan Senor spoke of the insurgency.  The reference did not address those we commonly think of as terrorists.  The lovely Miss Brown purposely indicted MoveOn.org, a Progressive organization.

    During the November 28 CNN special Campaign Killers: Why Do Negative Ads Work?, CNN anchor Campbell Brown said: “General David Petraeus made his reputation taking on insurgents in Iraq. But when he came to Capitol Hill in September, he was confronted by American insurgents, a liberal anti-war group called MoveOn.org.”

    Brown also asserted that a MoveOn.org advertisement headlined “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” “became a huge news story because it questioned the loyalty of a wartime commander, implying he was a traitor.” In asserting that the content of the advertisement generated news coverage, Brown did not point out the claim by many commentators that the ad “became a huge news story” because Republicans preferred to talk about it rather than Petraeus’ testimony before Congress about the situation in Iraq.

    In 2007, it is difficult to discern the media from the message.  Lobbyists linger in the halls of every debate.  Special interest groups and individuals with a well-known agenda marry those that report to the masses.  No wonder the American people lack confidence in campaign coverage; accounts are obviously skewed.  

    As the broadcast of Campaign Killers continues, viewers realize Campbell Brown consistently makes mention of what she perceives as the wily practices of the ‘money machine’ MoveOn.org.  Hence, we might acknowledge, perceptions of the infamous Liberal bias are not valid.  This supposed slant is not evident in the press today.  Nor has it been for quite some time.  At least, we may note Miss Brown does not lean towards the Left.  

    The transcript of for this documentary might reveal Brown is not in favor of grassroots Progressive actions.  We cannot know with certainty.  One can only presume.  However, if we note the number of times this Journalist links MoveOn.org to money, we can assume there is reason to postulate.  Might Brown’s personal perspective influence her reports.

    It seems, in 2007 journalism is as the political process, a muddle.  In the twentieth first century the old adage is truer than it was.  “Politics makes for strange bedfellows.”  Correspondents sleep with those they report on and we, the people are without an objective blanket.  Campaigns are but a high stakes rigged game.  Once more, in 2008, the public will cast a ballot for the elite’s handpicked electable winner, not for the one best able to address the issues, domestic and foreign.  

    In this election season,  as candidates speak of change, we must accept there will be none.  As long as we buy what the Conglomerates, Candidates, and Correspondents sell, only the face in the White House will differ.  The status quo will live on in the Oval Office and the lives of the American people.

    References, Resources, Campaigns, Contributors, and Correspondents . . .

  • Campaign for Community Values
  • Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
  • Open Debates.
  • Hillary Clinton; Top Contributors.  OpenSecrets.org
  • Barack Obama; Top Contributors.  OpenSecrets.org
  • John Edwards; Top Contributors.  OpenSecrets.org
  • Dennis Kucinich; Top Contributors.  OpenSecrets.org
  • Cris Dodd; Top Contributors.  OpenSecrets.org
  • Bill Richardson; Top Contributors.  OpenSecrets.org
  • Banking On Becoming President.  OpenSecrets.org.
  • Some media members hope for a new game at this year’s conventions, By Ian Christopher McCaleb.  Cable News Network.
  • Washington Talk: The Presidency; Shouting Questions At Reagan, By Steven V. Roberts.  The New York Times. October 21, 1987
  • Study: More Than 60% Don’t Trust Campaign Coverage Editor and Publisher. November 30, 2007
  • CPD: National Debate Sponsors.
  • Transcript. Rigging the Debates. NOW with Bill Moyers.  Public Broadcasting Services.
  • Hold On Mr. President. By Sam Donaldson.
  • Ronald Reagan, TV Auteur, By Joe Hagan.  The New York Observer. June 13, 2004
  • CNN’s Brown called MoveOn.org “American insurgents”. Media Matters.
  • Dan Senor, Former Advisor to the U.S. Presidential Envoy in Iraq.  White House.
  • Campbell Brown
  • Campaign Killers: Why Do Negative Ads Work? Cable News Network.
  • “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?”  MoveOn.org
  • The Mental Health of Three Men; New Hampshire – Vermont

    copyright © 2007 Judith Moriarty

    December 1 -2007

    Dear Editor:

    The police in NH are to be commended for their professional approach to a hostage situation at Democratic headquarters in Rochester.  Unlike other recent events in the area this man did not end up dead. Yesterday’s six hour standoff should be required viewing for all police departments (especially in Vermont).

    Not making the major news was the death of young Robert Woodward on Dec 2-2001. Woody (a gentle man) for whatever reasons had a mental breakdown (was in fear of his life?) and sought sanctuary in a church in Brattleboro, Vermont. Woody was no threat to anyone. Within 60 seconds of police entering this church, this man seeking help, instead was shot seven times (including in the back) handcuffed, and laid on the sanctuary floor without medical aid! He died!  Crisis intervention? Apparently the Vermont police weren’t aware of this training?

    On June 24, 2006, in Corinth, Vermont, Joseph Fortunati, camping in the woods, was shot within 12 minutes of blackfaced Swat police arriving on the scene. Joseph’s family had sought aid simply because the EPA was disturbed that he was camping out in isolated woods (a threat to no-one). Joseph was bi-polar and a schizophrenic. Any professional, dealing with the mentally ill, should know, that the last thing you’d do, is to approach such a person with blackened faces – armed and in camouflage!  Did they call mental health personnel in the area whom Joseph dealt with? NO.  Crisis Intervention Training was not utilized. Joseph died.

    Mr. Eisenberg’s problems seem to be the result of his alcoholism?  His drinking day in and day out certainly exacerbated any mental problems he claims to have? This does not negate the fact that mental health programs are nonexistent for the most part in our country (unless wealthy). We imprison the mentally ill in today’s society. Ask NH Supreme Court Justice Broderick whose mentally ill son violently attacked him in 2002. Judge Broderick says, “There are more people in jails and prisons afflicted with mental health illness than in mental hospitals.

    Judith Moriarty

    New Hampshire