The War on the Poor

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Sometimes I read something that is just so crystal clear that it slices through the misinformation and pre-conceived notions that too often are being disseminated as truth. This is how I just felt when I read a column by Charles M. Blow in The New York Times. In a way, it is a fitting sequel to my post yesterday about the Good People Fund, explaining in part the rationale for the economic and social devastation that has crushed significant segments of the American population. I am pasting in below the first part of the column with the hope that it will be more widely read.

The Appalling Stance of Rand Paul

Charles M. Blow

I don’t put much past politicians. I stay prepared for the worst. But occasionally someone says something so insensitive that it catches me flat-footed.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said Sunday on Fox News: “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers.”

This statement strikes at the heart — were a heart to exist — of the divide between conservatives and liberals about whether the social safety net provides temporary help for those who hit hard times or functions as a kind of glue to keep them stuck there.

Whereas I am sure that some people will abuse any form of help, I’m by no means convinced that this is the exclusive domain of the poor and put-upon. Businesses and the wealthy regularly take advantage of subsidies and tax loopholes without blinking an eye. But somehow, when some poor people, or those who unexpectedly fall on hard times, take advantage of benefits for which they are eligible it’s an indictment of the morality and character of the poor as a whole.

The poor are easy to pick on. They are the great boogeymen and women, dragging us down, costing us money, gobbling up resources. That seems to be the conservative sentiment.

We have gone from a war on poverty in this country to a war on the poor, in which poor people are routinely demonized and scapegoated and attacked, and conservatives have led the charge.

They paint the poor as takers, work averse, in need of motivation and incentive.

Well, that is simply not my experience with poverty. I have been poor, and both my parents worked. I grew up among poor people….

Click here to read the rest of this column.

The Good People Fund

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I have served on the Board of Directors of the Good People Fund (www.goodpeoplefund.org) for the past 4 years because it is one of the best – and unique – ways to support people who need a helping hand. Occasionally on this blog I have highlighted opportunities for readers to sign petitions or to help particular charitable projects in need of funding. Given that now is when many folks think about year-end donations, I thought I would share a letter I recently sent to some friends about the fund. I hope you will read it and download the annual report – or send away for the printed version. It tells the stories of the 60 amazing Good People whom the fund supports in their mission of making our world a better place.

Here’s the letter:

“Last month I received word of this story from the Good People Fund:

“The request came from an attorney who works as a public defender. We have interacted with her several times and are always stunned by the needs she comes across and how relatively small sums of money can have such a profound impact. This situation was no different. A single father raising three young children on his own, one of whom has a serious mental illness, is evicted from his apartment and forced to bring his young family to a homeless shelter. In the rush to relocate he is forced to place some of the family’s belongings in a storage facility since the shelter limits personal items. Under normal circumstances, public assistance will pay for the storage costs but in this case the bureaucracy failed when the caseworker who handled the claim never filed for payment. With a notice from the storage company that all of his personal items were to be auctioned off in a few days, it seemed as if there was no solution — until we were called and asked if we could help. Within two hours we had all of the documentation we needed and called the storage company to pay the outstanding balance.”

As a board member of the Good People Fund I have heard many such stories: families about to be evicted onto the street, families with no food in the pantry, or an unaffordable car repair threatening the ability to drive to the job that supports a family – all situations quickly and anonymously “fixed” by the fund.

This is in addition to the 60 extraordinary Good People in Israel and America highlighted in the new annual report (can be downloaded in the right column here). There you will read how these individuals bring their passion and energy to fixing the world in their own special way – starting small non-profits, often with innovative strategies that collectively help many thousands of people who are hungry, isolated, and with no where else to turn.

I have met with many of these good people. I walk away from those meetings humbled and in awe, not just from the help they provide to the folks they serve but also from their personal sacrifice.  Many give up jobs and money for their missions, and they devote their lives to it.

The past five years have been tough times for those in need. In Israel, the social safety net is a pale shadow of what it once was. In the USA, budget cuts and sequestration is decimating the social service sector, leaving those most in need helpless in ways that are hard to imagine. Meanwhile, our Good People are there, working quietly under the radar to fill the gaps. Because their overhead is so low, funds go directly to serve those most in need, maximizing the effect of every dollar.

You can make a general donation that will be allocated by the fund to where the need is greatest or you can make designated donations to support just those Good People who are of most interest to you. I hope you can read their stories in the annual report and join me in supporting their work.

Best wishes,

Allen”

Please forward this on to those who might be interested. Thanks!

Seattle

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The last time I wrote a column on this blog I was living in Stillwater, Oklahoma after leaving Tel Aviv just a short time before. Well, things seem to change rapidly in my nomadic life and I am writing this from my small apartment in Seattle where I have temporarily moved to help our son in his growing woodworking business. Check out his amazing staircases and furniture that he can ship and install anywhere in the USA: www.nkwoodworking.com. (Sorry for the shameless plug!)

Moving on to non-commercial topics, in honor of Thanksgiving, which in part commemorates the founding of English America, I am enclosing a link to a fascinating article I read a few weeks ago by Daniel Hannan in The Wall Street Journal titled “The World of English Freedoms.” His column traces the historical and cultural differences between the worldwide family of nations and those select few in the “Anglosphere,” the English speaking world. The column will no doubt delight those who consider themselves politically Conservative, although there are some observations that will give pause to those on the religious right. But even more important, for those on the left it will provide insight into the worldview of the American libertarian right – and might even generate some empathy and even agreement with some of their perspectives.  Here is an excerpt that will give you a glimpse of Hannan’s thesis.

What made the Anglosphere different? Foreign visitors through the centuries remarked on a number of peculiar characteristics: the profusion of nonstate organizations, clubs, charities and foundations; the cheerful materialism of the population; the strong county institutions, including locally chosen law officers and judges; the easy coexistence of different denominations (religious toleration wasn’t unique to the Anglosphere, but religious equality—that is, freedom for every sect to proselytize—was almost unknown in the rest of the world). They were struck by the weakness, in both law and custom, of the extended family, and by the converse emphasis on individualism. They wondered at the stubborn elevation of private property over raison d’état, of personal freedom over collective need.

Many of them, including Tocqueville and Montesquieu, connected the liberty that English-speakers took for granted to geography. Outside North America, most of the Anglosphere is an extended archipelago: Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, the more democratic Caribbean states. North America, although not literally isolated, was geopolitically more remote than any of them, “kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean,” as Jefferson put it in his 1801 inaugural address, “from the exterminating havoc [of Europe].”

Isolation meant that there was no need for a standing army in peacetime, which in turn meant that the government had no mechanism for internal repression. When rulers wanted something, usually revenue, they had to ask nicely, by summoning people’s representatives in an assembly. It is no coincidence that the world’s oldest parliaments—England, Iceland, the Faroes, the Isle of Man—are on islands.

Above all, liberty was tied up with something that foreign observers could only marvel at: the miracle of the common law. Laws weren’t written down in the abstract and then applied to particular disputes; they built up, like a coral reef, case by case. They came not from the state but from the people. The common law wasn’t a tool of government but an ally of liberty: It placed itself across the path of the Stuarts and George III; it ruled that the bonds of slavery disappeared the moment a man set foot on English soil.

Click here to read the rest.

To conclude this post and to come full circle back to Thanksgiving in Seattle, I recently took a walk near my apartment on the top of a hill in West Seattle with a spectacular view of the downtown skyscrapers across Puget Sound. At the spot with the best vantage point I passed a giant totem pole and a plaque with a speech delivered by Chief Sealth, the chief of the Duwamish Indians in the mid-1800’s who had lived nearby. (The city was named after him by the white men who mispronounced his name as Chief “Seattle.”) The chief befriended the first white settlers who arrived to stay on the shores of Puget Sound in 1851. Although that amity did not help his people in the long run, Chief Sealth was a skilled orator and below is the text from the plaque with his most famous speech. Although the authenticity of this text is doubted by scholars, the thoughts do resemble views he expressed in other talks. We might want to contemplate these words during this time of holidays and thanksgiving.

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin.

Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.

All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

We may be brothers after all.

We shall see.

One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover – our God is the same God,

You may think now that you own him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white.

This earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator…

Where is the thicket? Gone

Where is the eagle? Gone.

The end of living and the beginning of survival.

Chief Sealth, 1854

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