A True Story About The War On Poverty

In the middle of a needless controversy over whether Republicans will agree to extend long-term unemployment benefits, The New York Times and USA Today and other outlets have published numerous pieces about what Lyndon Johnson, fifty years ago, called the “War on Poverty.”

Naturally, conservatives, who tend to prefer real wars over metaphorical ones, believe Johnson’s war has been a failure. I saw an outrageous segment just this morning on Fox during which the host—the fair and balanced host—essentially attacked nearly every anti-poverty program in existence while the guest, Fox-infected Democrat Bob Beckel, agreed with her way too often.

All of my adult life, including when I was a Rush Limbaugh Republican, I have heard how liberals’ attempts to make life a little better for the impoverished, to help lift them out of their poverty, have been a colossal failure. That narrative, that “the war on poverty is a failure” narrative, has been a constant thorn in my side, for reasons that will become clear. Lyndon Johnson and Tom Fletcher in Martin County, KentuckyBut there was something in the demagogic and irritatingly opportunistic video released this past weekend by Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (“After 50 years isn’t it time to declare big government’s war on poverty a failure?”) that compelled me to speak out, in my own little way, against what can only be called a cynical and mean-spirited attempt to gain political points with a Tea Party constituency that apparently knows no shame.

Thus, I will tell you a story about at least one victory in the long war on poverty. It’s a true story. I know it’s a true story because I was there.

Sometime in February of 1975, I found out my girlfriend was pregnant. I was 16 at the time; she was barely 16. When I say 16, yes, I mean 16 years old. We were juniors in high school in a small town in southeast Kansas. If you remember what you were like as a junior in high school, then you know how ridiculous it is to imagine that two high school juniors should bring a child into the world, much less take care of it. My brother-in-law at the time suggested the possibility of an abortion. But abortion was the furthest thing from our young minds. We saw the whole thing as simply the natural result of our admittedly adolescent love for each other, even if that love was destined to deteriorate, before ending in divorce some fifteen years later.

Needless to say, our respective families weren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of two teenagers from two lower-working-class homes trying to raise a child on their own. And neither of the families were in a position to help all that much, although they did what they could. Along with her two sisters, my girlfriend lived with her divorced mom, who worked as a secretary at a factory that made bib overalls. My dad, born in 1909, was on Social Security. My mom had undergone extensive back surgery by then and was unable to work full time, and she was much too young to receive Social Security benefits herself. My youngest sister was still living at home, since she was all of 10 years old.

Such was the stage on which a very adult drama played out for this new teenager-dominated family.

On that stage, part of that drama, was the federal government. I remind you that this was 1975, just before the age of Republican “government is the problem” demagoguery and stinginess. It was before Democrat Bill Clinton validated much of that demagoguery and stinginess by signing in 1996 a welfare reform bill that was dreamed up by radical “Contract with America” With ‘unbelievably bad’ food stamps proposal, U.S. Senate further criminalizes poorRepublicans led by Newt Gingrich.  For a time our new family—we were married in March of that year—received a small monthly check, as well as food stamps, the kind that came in the form of currency-looking coupons. The kind that everyone in line behind you at the grocery store knew to be government-issue. The kind that made you more than a little embarrassed to pull out and hand to the cashier, which is why my then-wife was the one who had to use them, since I didn’t have the social courage to do so.

In October of 1975 a little girl was born. And, partly thanks to the generosity of the American people, as expressed through legislation that both political parties at one time supported, she grew up healthy. And loved. She grew up to be an educator, an educator with a Master’s degree, and she teaches literature to high school kids, kids about the same age as her parents were when she was conceived. She’s a remarkable person. And she has a remarkable kid of her own. My granddaughter.

Less than a year after my daughter was born, her teenage mom went to work at a nursing home, making somewhere around $2.30 an hour, where her small frame was required to lift in and out of bed heavy senior citizens who couldn’t get in and out of bed by themselves. She hurt herself doing so, and although I can’t be sure, I believe the toll that work took on her afflicts her in some way to this day.

I continued school and worked during the summer for the local municipality, then later the county, courtesy of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a 1973 anti-poverty program that was signed into law, believe it or not, by a Republican president, after being co-sponsored by both a Democratic and a Republican senator. That bill passed the Senate 88-5. It passed the House 369-31. Imagine that kind of overwhelming bipartisan agreement today on an anti-poverty bill. And imagine a Republican president saying, as President Nixon said, that “it is one of the finest pieces of legislation to come to my desk this year.”

In any case, the teenage mother in this story, who had the relative courage to stand in line with those stigmatizing food coupons in hand in order to buy food for her daughter and cowardly teenage husband, eventually earned a Master’s degree herself. The cowardly husband eventually spent 30 years in the Postal Service and, now retired, blogs as a labor of love.

And somewhere, somewhere in this great and generous country, there are politicians like Marco Rubio who are cynically conspiring to make the realization of a decent life a lot harder, perhaps impossible, for not just careless teenagers who find themselves in the situation I described above, but for others who find themselves in situations that require the community, as expressed through our we-the-people government, to extend a collective hand to those who need it.

People will continue arguing, of course, about the larger success or failure of the War on Poverty. Economist Jared Bernstein made what seems to me to be an unassailable case for its success, but that won’t stop the debate. Yet apart from economists defending its merits, or apart from right-wing pundits pronouncing the whole thing a failure, I can testify that for one small family in one small town in Kansas, that metaphorical war helped a couple of teenage parents and their daughter through some difficult times and helped make them productive and tax-paying citizens. Leaving aside the mere humanity of it, that government investment made in a couple of high school juniors in 1975 actually paid off financially.

And I suspect similar and even more dramatic testimony could be given by many more Americans, many more than Tea Party Republicans and conservatives would care to contemplate.

______________________________________

[Johnson Photo: Walter Bennett, Time]
[Food coupons: NCReedplayer/flickr]

23 Comments

  1. Outside of the technical merits for arguments for the success of the war on poverty, I’ll admit that my thinking on such programs is that we’re a better people if err on the side of providing for the needy even at the cost of a few cheats living the easy life. My inclination is to think cases like the infamous surfer using food stamps to goof off and buy expensive food are rare, and less important and less numerous than mothers feeding their children.

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  2. Troy

     /  January 7, 2014

    Bravo my brotha! I know this had to be difficult for you to share . As your brother I remember those times you and Cindy went through. It was a very difficult time for you two indeed. But you both made the best of a bad citation and preserved and lived to rise above it . Both becoming very productive citizens and raising a very wonderful daughter who intern has rasied a very wonderful and beautiful little girl . I’m very proud of you all. Your story is one of thousands who thanks to those lousy government programs wouldn’t have had such a great outcome. The current GOP folks just don’t get it. They have no compassion, common sense and are just so greedy. Shame on them. I’m glad you told this story. Read it Republicans and get a heart! Luv ya Bro

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  3. genegarman

     /  January 8, 2014

    Troy, thank you! The Golden Rule is not a Republican Party political plank. As I have often asserted, it is a party dominated by the Chamber of Commerce and the Religion Right, the same coalition which existed in the time of Jesus, between priests and money changers in the Jerusalem temple. Jesus went about healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and, for promoting and practicing what he preached, was nailed to a cross between thieves! Two thousand years later, in contrast to the Republican Chamber of Commerce Religion Right Party, the Democratic Party promotes and supports social security, medicare, public education, etc., etc., etc. Anyway, after retiring from the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier (a union job), I took part time employment, at separate times, in plants owned by two of the wealthiest millionaires in my city. Both owners are Republicans who, typically, pay poverty level minimum wages to multitudes of lower level employees, including me. Therefore, to the point, when I vote, I would have no problem asking myself, “For which party would Jesus vote?” Perhaps we need to create a bumper sticker?

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  January 8, 2014

    OK, here we go, anecdote for anecdote.

    I graduated from college in 1965 and was commissioned as an Ensign, USN, My monthly salary right out of the gate was about $250 per month. My first job was attending Rickover’s nuclear power school. As a minimum I was REQUIRED to work, in class rooms at school for 12 hours per day, six days a week. I also was expected to study at home, with my new bride and soon, too soon, a baby boy. That equates to something in the range of $1 per hour for the first year of my job in the Navy. No food stamps, no benefits whatsoever other than free medical care used for the prenatal care and birth of our first child.

    Fast forward 23 years from that initial year of employment. My top salary was about $80K a year, including all the submarine related bonuses, etc and yep, free medical care. In 1988 that was a “nice” but certainly not rich salary and benefit package. I also found out in my job search after the Navy that my salary was considerably more, a whole lot more than the salaries in the Navy. But I agree my “retirement package” in such new civilian work was not much at all, a relatively small contribution for my company to a IRA (matching my own contribution up to a limit). I also received “free” medical care (at company expense) as a civilian while employed. (Now PLEASE no lame comments on my plush retirement pay immediately after leaving the Navy. I can rebut that but don’t want to waste my time or yours doing so).

    Today, incidentially, low ranking enlisted personnel in the military are all elibible for food stamps and they collect them for sure and use them. Talk about McDonald’s subsidizing employees at government expense. DOD does the same think with military salaries at other government expense. But of course in the military no one remains in the military mired at such low income levels. It is an up or out type environent and career “seamen” don’t exist, in the military.

    But Duane’s story is a story of success as well. He and his wife did not remain mired in poverty. They worked their way out of such conditions, over time and did so on their own volition, hard work and determination. We all see that same determination in Duane as we know him through this blog. I admire it for sure and give him credit for real guts, bad judgement but still guts, for sure.

    Empathy should never be the basis for good policy using taxpayer dollars. Achieving creditable goals should be that critieria, the effectiveness of government programs. Spending huge amounts of money, increasing such expenditures “automatically” and doing little to get people OUT of poverty is the big knock against entitlement programs. You know as well as I do that Dunan’s story of moving up and beyond poverty is somewhat unusual. Just look “north” and see what I mean.

    Take a young man or woman, make them graduate from high school FIRST, pay them poverty level wages initially but provide a clear path for them (IF, IF, IF, they work hard) to move beyond such wages and I am all for such “helping others”, for a while.

    One statistic we never hear, at least I don’t, is how many people qualify for poverty benefits and remain in receipt of such benefits “forever”? Anyone care to guess what that statistic might show us? I am suspicious that the percentage is rather large. As well how about those that were above poverty level wages but “screwed up” by poor performance, they failed to work hard and succeed, and then went down to poverty level wages through no fault of their employers. I wonder what that percentage would be if we really measured such?

    IF entitlements were short term relief for despicable conditions then I support such programs. But when they become “always there” for even those that remain in such conditions based on their own poor choices, then I reject such unsustainable programs. Simple as that and as such I am accused of lack of empathy.

    Anson

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  5. ansonburlingame

     /  January 8, 2014

    Anticipating another tack by progressives I make the following current observation as well, the argument over keeping long term unemployment in place. My position is right out of the conservative play book, I SUPPORT DOING SO, keeping such benefits in place.

    BUT, BUT, BUT, pay for them right out of the gate, don’t borrow more money to cough up the extra $600 million (or so) to keep paying those benefits. I might as well tie such benefits to participation in retraining programs so receipents can improve their job skills to eventally become employed. But PAY FOR IT, period, by raising taxes or cutting somewhere else as Congress so decides!!

    Now is that a lack of empathy?

    Anson

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    • Your position is not “right out of the conservative playbook,” if you mean the conservative playbook in the hands of Tea Party conservatives today. These people don’t believe all that much in doing things like providing unemployment benefits or EBT cards to people in need. Some of them don’t believe in doing things like that at all.

      Republican leadership is hiding behind the “just pay for it” stratagem. Mitch McConnell suggested as part of that scheme to delay the ObamaCare individual mandate for a year. That shows he isn’t serious. And John Boehner says he isn’t even going to take up the matter in the House.

      Finally, unlike other conservatives, you suggest “raising taxes” as a means to pay for the extension. I’m afraid, Anson, you are an outlier in the conservative movement these days. Nobody, and by nobody I mean nobody, in the Republican Party or conservative movement would utter those words. You must face the fact that you no longer have a party or a movement you can comfortably call home.

      Duane

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      • King Beauregard

         /  January 8, 2014

        Also, Anson is usually the first to reject tax increases when they’re proposed by Democrats; evidently it’s easier to support them when they’re being proposed by nobody at all. (At such point as they are actually proposed, you can bet that Anson will retreat into the details — it’s not the “right” taxes being raised, these specific tax increases will be harmful to the economy, etc.)

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  6. ansonburlingame

     /  January 9, 2014

    And thus Duane, as I have stated repeatedly I am an Independent conservative, but I put the emphasis on the last word. I claim no Party support on my part and address issues one at a time.

    As for snide comments from King, forget it! Federal taxes are supposed to fund the federal government which in turn is responsible to ALL Americans, not just slices, as I have said repeatedly. As such federal taxes should be levied on ALL Americans to pay for those programs. When we spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.6 Trillion and year and only collect somewhere south of $3.0 Trillion a year then something is wrong, period. Thus the tough decisions to EITHER raise taxes or reduce spending, tough, decisions politicians routinely refuse to make, from either party.

    The day when BOTH parties agree that the goal must be a balanced budget, with some reasonable exceptions for dire emergencies, then we might make so fiscal progress. This ongoing argument of EITHER cut or tax, more, is ridiculous. But such is democracy in action in our modern world, at least until ………

    Incidently, going back to the continue unemployment benefits debate, try letting voter decide to EITHER keep paying the benefits AND raising federal income taxes on EVERYONE by about 1%, OR keep taxes across the board at the same level and not continuing benefits. Then watch how voters would decide that issue!

    Given such a choice right now, King, I would vote not to sustain benefits. Why? Because deep within that $3.6 Trillion in spending for FY 2014 I honestly believe another “Solyndra” is embedded in that awesome figure. Now do your jobs all politicians, go find it and cut it out of the budget. As well I could care less if the “lurking Solyndra” is in the DOD or the entitlement budgets.

    Anson

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    • King Beauregard

       /  January 9, 2014

      “snide”

      I’ll remember that when you do inevitably retreat into one of your excuses for dismissing tax increases out of hand. In fact you’re already playing with that, when you say this:

      “federal income taxes on EVERYONE by about 1%”

      The only tax increases you’re willing to consider are those where the same numerical percentage hits everyone, which ends up meaning the most hardship to the poor. You could take 1% of Bill Gates’s or Roger Ailes’s income away from them and they’d literally never miss it, but 1% from someone living on the margins can make a hell of a lot of difference. That’s why Democrats favor progressive taxation. You know who else did? Adam Smith:

      “The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

      See that? That’s from “The Wealth of Nations”. Mister Invisible Hand himself understood this, while modern conservatives cannot. You’re a good 200 years behind the times; that’s why I don’t even pretend to take your economics seriously.

      Here is the most sincere compliment I can give you: you are nowhere near dumb enough to believe the things you believe.

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    • Sedate Me

       /  January 17, 2014

      I am an Independent conservative, but I put the emphasis on the last word. I claim no Party support on my part and address issues one at a time.

      Careful there, Anson! It seems you have to play for Team Red or Team Blue around here. Keep up that non-partisan thinking and you’ll be accused of sitting on the sidelines and throwing rocks at both sides like I do. I’m sure neither of us have much desire to be put on the same “team”.

      So, in order to feign that I’m on Team Blue, I’ve got to smack you with a snide “Would there even be a DOD budget, if you cut out all the Solyndras in it?”

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      • No, you don’t have to play for any team, my friend. If sitting in the stands and throwing rocks at the players on both of sides of the field entertains or comforts you, have at it. I know some people who do the same thing. In fact, I’d say a goodly number of folks do at least a version of what you do, although I admit you do it better than most.

        The problem for me is that I think such both-sides-are-equally-guilty rock-throwing is also a form of throwing in the towel, an admission that all is essentially hopeless. And I will also admit that you do “hopeless” better than most people, too. You are quite good at it.

        So, keep up the good work, if you think it is good.

        Duane

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        • Sedate Me

           /  January 22, 2014

          My “hopeless” is better and more believable than your “hopeful” is, you patronizing bastard, you.

          Unfortunately, my rock throwing brings me little joy and no comfort whatsoever. But that’s not why I do it. However, I admit the ability to use real rocks instead of the metaphorical kind actually would bring me a lot of joy. (Yup, I’m in a database now!)

          At the risk of preempting a tirade I’m still writing from -er- over a month ago that I still plan on posting (there’s your 1st clue), I throw rocks at everyone who deserves it, which is damn near everyone. In my opinion, only a small percentage of our society is truly worthy of consuming oxygen, or what passes for oxygen these days. Are my standards too high? Maybe, but that’s better than giving a trophy to everyone and calling them “precious snowflakes”.

          I do NOT, however, subscribe to the notion that “both sides are equally guilty”. First, the “two sides” dynamic is a phony one, even within the bullshit 2 party system that America is cursed with. (Christ, even piddling little Canuckistan has more than 2 parties! In the 90’s, we had 5 parties with MPs.) These “Teams” are really just collections of individuals out for themselves. Screw their fans! They’d pawn their grannies’ teeth for more personal power. Second, I’m judgmental enough to be on The Supreme Court and -like them- I play favourites. The further right you are on the political spectrum, the odds of you getting a rock hurled at you increase and vice-versa.

          Unlike America, my rock throwing actually is a meritocracy. I dish them out, both in number and voracity, according to merit. Like NSA spying, NOBODY is immune. I don’t care what flag they carry, or don’t carry. But unlike NSA spying, you actually have to DO something to merit the abuse.

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          • Patronizing bastard? I know you meant that in the nicest possible sense. And I know that in defending your position here that you are not the least bit condescending, right?

            In any case, your way may be “better and more believable” than mine that’s for sure. I can speak only for myself. In the end maybe embracing a profound cynicism toward the world is the most rational frame of mind. But it isn’t satisfying to me, and apparently isn’t satisfying to you either.

            As for your claim that the “‘two sides’ dynamic is a phony one,” I can only say that given our political system, all the factions within each major political party are brought together before the election—by people contributing to or volunteering and voting for one or the other parties—and not after the election, as often happens when a governing majority is assembled in a parliamentary system. The point is that for all intents and purposes, there are two and only two parties, these days with two very different philosophical views, that are in the game of American politics.

            I don’t share your view that all politicians are “out for themselves.” If that had been true in the past, our country would never have matured and become relatively stable. And since that obviously wasn’t true in the past, there is reason to believe that these days there are many, many pols who are trying to do the right thing for the good of all. Some of them are even on the side I don’t root for.

            Perhaps your “meritocracy”-based rock chucking is only designed for the extremists among us, which suits me just fine. I’m not a huge fan of extremists myself. The problem is how we define who is and who isn’t an extremist. Your views on national security, particularly the NSA’s metadata program, which you call “spying,” seem extreme to me. Your fears seem to be out of proportion to the facts.

            And I guess that’s why we are throwing rocks at each other, although my rocks don’t have names painted on them. At least not yet!

            Duane

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            • Sedate Me

               /  January 29, 2014

              Me…extreme???🙂 As one insignificant American once said “Extremism in the defence of libertyme making a rhetorical point is no vice!”

              But my definition of extremist is perfectly in line with everyone else’s. That is to say, “Everyone who is notably to the left and/or right of me is extreme. Therefore, their opinions are to be discounted, ridiculed, ignored, or perhaps even merit punishment.” The only variance is in the opinional distance required to hand out the label “extreme”. I’m getting the sense your distance is pretty short because you argue with me like I was to the right of Ted Cruz. You’re the guy who claims he plays for Team Blue. Stop throwing rocks at lefties like me and start throwing them at Team Red. No wonder Team Blue always manages to lose, even after they win.

              God (deceased) knows what it would take for you to apply the term “spying” to anything. Here’s my definition of spying. Anytime anybody (especially a paid spook) takes anything from anybody (especially me) without even asking, I consider it spying…or is that my definition of rape? Can’t remember. But I really resent being told to “stop resisting and you’ll probably enjoy it.”, especially when they constantly remind me of how lucky I am to be with a great nation like them. Your nipples may perk up at the thought of Big Brother “watching you for your own good because I love you” but my nipples don’t. I see it as bunny-boiling level stalking.

              But seriously, how can anybody NOT consider EVERYTHING operatives of spy agencies do in the course of their workday as spying? Is phone data collection their version of playing Solitaire at work? If so, they should stop wasting public money and get back to spying! Not to consider this a form of “spying” is as daft as thinking that punting isn’t part of football. It may not be as glamorous, or high impact, as what the QBs do on the field, but it’s football nonetheless.

              And condescending? Moi? Pas possible!

              If that had been true in the past, our country would never have matured and become relatively stable.

              Mature & stable??? Have you turned on your TV or read a few YouIdiotTube comments lately? Mature indeed! And stable? Half of your citizens have more mind altering meds in their medicine cabinet than are at the average rave. And every time I watch the Detroit news, I think “Man, I wish my country was that stable!”

              Condescending kidding aside, you’re kinda making my point. As Bush2 said, “I think we can agree. The past is over.” Harking back to America’s very impressive run (primarily the 20th Century) has become the equivalent of some fat, broke, drunk sitting on his couch and getting all nostalgic about his glorious high school days as captain of the football team. The progress achieved in America’s past is rapidly unwinding. (Voting rights & worker’s rights quickly come to mind) The nation is being lobotomized, divided & conquered. It’s time for some smelling salts before it all disappears.

              Your fears seem to be out of proportion to the facts.

              1) From what you’ve written (and also from what I’ve not properly expressed), you don’t seem to have a good grasp on my “fears” (or maybe even the facts). My fears are not so much about the privacy violation of this particular utterly useless, unconstitutional and ridiculously expensive “meta-data” program itself. It’s the overarching mentality behind the Surveillance State. This phone tracking program is merely the tip of the intentionally submerged iceberg. Their most “innocent” spy program is all we’ve really been allowed to see & debate and long after the fact. But even that privilege was completely contrary to plan. To the Powers That Be, citizens just don’t deserve to be informed. That secretive, condescending, attitude is not what you want from outfits “protecting” a supposed democracy from -uh- guys who don’t use phones.

              Because, as Dr King said, “The ends ARE the means” where do these means -the secretive, paranoid, self-authorized, strong-arming of rights- ultimately end up? Somewhere between a nation unrecognizable to those who thought America was any better than East Germany and the nation described in George Orwell’s 1984. My short bet is on the former. My long money is on the latter. I have NO money on even a tiny comeback for privacy rights, or for that matter, any other rights that don’t involve guns.

              This program is just a symptom of a far bigger illness, the redistricting of power for the benefit of privileged, secretive, elites who have a Christie-like contempt for ordinary civilians. “I do it because I can…and you can’t stop me.”

              Today we’re awash in: Dark Money, dark secrets, Black Ops,. Psy-Ops, secret prisons, secrets bank accounts. Everything remotely important to the important people is kept as far from the citizenry as possible. They live in the Safe Rooms of their Gated Community mansions while we live naked under police spotlights.

              In an attempt to keep this thread slightly relevant to the topic, what we’re witnessing is here is the transformation of America from a place that declared a War On Poverty to a place that has declared War On The Poors. Both domestically & internationally, America can be characterized as a rich & powerful entity that attacks the poor & those weaker than itself. Really hard to swallow, but it’s been getting truer for decades now.

              2) Facts? What facts? The facts presented by the alleged perpetrators who have a long, proven, track record of lying, deceiving, murdering and keeping secrets for a living? Yeah, there’s a trustworthy source! I suspect the truth is that we don’t even have 0.5% of the facts. Hell, I doubt Obama has more than 5%.

              It’s my opinion that this program (and the vast majority of what takes place in the name of “Homeland Security”) is completely out of proportion to the facts. Remember, the supposed standard of the justice system is that The State has the burden of proof, and beyond a reasonable doubt at that. Why don’t we merit better protections of our rights than common criminals get? Without such legal standards, The State could just go about executing anybody it felt like. (See: drones)

              Why is your burden of proof backwards? Just where are the facts that merit, not the US Surveillance State itself, not even the ability to play 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon with phone data, but the very act of secretly collecting & storing everyone’s phone records? Where’s the factual basis for the “need” to bypass basic criminal justice standards of “probable cause” and “warrant before search”? (and no, FISA Warrants to access what you’ve already taken don’t count) Where is the evidence that the spying will achieve anything more than before, or for that matter, anything at all? Nothing more than the theoretical possibility of non-specific, phone independent, danger is ever really presented.

              A bunch of hopped up camel jockeys burning flags in Uzbecky-becky-stan doesn’t rise to the level of even asking me if I own a phone, never mind tracking what I do with it. Terrorists would have to kill at least 10% as many Americans in a decade that get killed by patriotic, gun wielding, Americans each & every year for this phone tracking to even be worth considering. The theoretical threat posed by some Muslims angry with America supposedly “merits” every dollar spent and every right violated. But just where the hell is the urge to “violate” the rights of gun owners when 30,000 Americans a year actually die from gun violence? Nowhere! Why? Because one effort protects the Empire, while the other effort would protect ordinary citizens.

              I’m sorry, but making an argument in favour of sticking with the standards & practices of centuries of law (and lawmaking) that has expanded human rights is just not that extreme to me. I consider the secret expansion of Big Brother that goes against that tradition and contracts human rights to be extreme, especially with the total lack of evidence to support the expansion. This is why I bristle at anyone defending Big Brother creep to the point where they appear to be professing their unquestioning love of Him.

              there is reason to believe that these days there are many, many pols who are trying to do the right thing for the good of all.

              Jesus Christ, I pissed my pants laughing at that one! Maybe I was wrong about my bitter cynicism not providing me with the occasional shot of mirth.

              From the dawn of politics, “you dance with the one that brung ya.” Nobody gains office by doing good for everyone. Considering how fractured the scene is these days, I’m not even sure that’s possible anymore.

              Sure, some of these guys start out with good intentions (and a precious few keep them). But even most of them have serious ego problems. “Only I can do it right. So, I got to do whatever it takes to gain the power to do it”. The road to Hell.

              The political culture is so toxic, so rigged in favour of the moneyed classes and so impossible to do anything anymore, doing good is measured in millimetres. (See: Obamacare) If I had a dollar for each time I’ve heard Clinton say “I can get more good done now than when I was President”, I’d have enough money to win office.

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              • Since by now it is likely only you and me listening to each other here, I will go further into the weeds with you.

                First, I will confess that despite some of the rocks you have tossed my way, I am becoming quite a fan of your polemics, if not all your conclusions. I’m weird that way, I guess, but I do admire someone who is willing to write with such gusto and can write with such dexterity, making some serious (and potentially valid) points alongside the hyperbole. Thus, I pay you the respect of a lengthy response.

                Second, I haven’t (yet) called you an extremist. I only said your views on the subject at hand seem extreme to me. I admit that on the narrow issue of the NSA’s collecting of phone call data I am in the minority and your view is in the majority, at least as far as I can tell. By definition that doesn’t make you an extremist. But you go much further than the metadata program and essentially indict the entire government—no, pretty much the entire society: “I throw rocks at everyone who deserves it, which is damn near everyone.” I, for one, find that an extreme position. And I don’t think it is a stretch to say so.

                Third, perhaps, again since it is likely just you and me here, it is in order to try to explain to you how I hear you when you talk. Recently right-wing Obama-hater Pam Geller published an article on Obama-hating Dinesh D’Souza’s recent run-in with our almost-impossible-to-violate election laws. Naturally, Geller concludes that Obama is a fascist using his powers to persecute his political enemies. Typical right-wing nuttiness. But please give me a couple of minutes and read the following comment (I am a huge fan of the comment sections of sites, if you couldn’t tell) someone made on that piece:

                richardcancemi  DB1954 •

                I agree with your description of the Socialist Democrats. BUT, you have to realize that controlling the House Of Representatives gives the Republicans immense power that they have failed to utilize. Over the years they have contributed to the wasting away of America, too.

                There are a few good Republicans now but the “established” members turn on them like cannibals. Boehner has moaned and groaned then always caved . Most are too afraid of the main stream media and won’t make waves. I, and many others, believe that there is a lot of blackmailing that is going on ( look at how Justice Roberts did an about face).

                Progressives are Marxist thugs and dirty street fighters, whereas the Republicans have refused to fight them on the same terms. That’s why they lose just about every battle. They succumb to the bullying tactics of the Left.
                I, too, am sad to see the USA dissolving before my eyes. The rule of Law is no more. Every Institution is infested with Leftist vermin.

                The Republicans have failed the American people and have become an arm of the Democratic Party with the “go along to get along” attitude. Never once has the Left come across the aisle . The idea of bipartisanship to the Left is to give them everything they want while they give nothing in return.

                There are very few in the Parties who give a damn about this Country. They are to sociopathic to care about anything except trying to keep their cushy Seats, Republicans have no unity, They have no plan. They have no one to capture the attention of the people. Boehner is a loser. Instead of embracing the people in the Tea Party, they attack them. They do the same to the idea of Conservatism. It seems, for the most part, that like the Socialists masquerading as Democrats. the Republicans do their own masquerading too.

                Very few in Washington put America and its people first. When I vote, I have two choices and I vote the lesser of two evils. […]

                Now, what I conclude when I read that is here is someone who has yielded to a crippling cynicism, a there-are-only-a-few-of-us-who-understand-what-is-going-on-and-the-rest-of-you-are-suckers philosophical view, which then leads to a strange analysis of events. And although you express yourself light-years beyond the above writer, to me your two views intersect at a crucial point: “There are very few in the Parties who give a damn about this Country,” the writer said. You said,  “These “Teams” are really just collections of individuals out for themselves. Screw their fans! They’d pawn their grannies’ teeth for more personal power.” In terms of what I consider to be a healthy analytical approach, I don’t see much difference between those two starting points. I guess what I am saying here is that because you start with such a cynical approach, you arrive at what I consider often unsupportable conclusions.

                Having said that, I want to address something you said that I think rings true to a lot of people all around the world today:

                My fears are not so much about the privacy violation of this particular utterly useless, unconstitutional and ridiculously expensive “meta-data” program itself. It’s the overarching mentality behind the Surveillance State. This phone tracking program is merely the tip of the intentionally submerged iceberg. Their most “innocent” spy program is all we’ve really been allowed to see & debate and long after the fact.

                Leaving aside the effectiveness, constitutionality, and cost of the metadata program, I want to talk about that “overarching mentality behind the Surveillance State.” You said that metadata collection “is merely the tip of the intentionally submerged iceberg,” and suggest there are more nefarious programs we don’t know anything about. Okay. I would be with you if there were hard evidence to suggest such a thing. But as far as I can see, there isn’t. Oh, sure, there are other programs we don’t know about, but it is just a guess what those programs might entail, in terms of domestic spying. You don’t know and I don’t know.

                I would suggest to you that if there were more disturbing Surveillance State arrows in Edward Snowden’s quiver, he would have long ago shot them. So far, I haven’t learned much that I didn’t already expect, given the passage of the Patriot Act and a ramp-up and consolidation of intelligence gathering. And since Snowden, who has made it his business to expose the worst of what is going on, apparently had access to almost two million classified documents, a reasonable person—attempting a prejudice-free analysis–might conclude that in all those documents there isn’t much evidence that something worse than phone bill collection is going on domestically or else we would know about it by now. Perhaps time will prove me wrong and you right, but as for now I find it strange that the so-called whistleblower hasn’t yet revealed the kind of information that would prove you right, if the information is out there.

                Finally, I want to comment on something else you said:

                The theoretical threat posed by some Muslims angry with America supposedly “merits” every dollar spent and every right violated. But just where the hell is the urge to “violate” the rights of gun owners when 30,000 Americans a year actually die from gun violence? Nowhere! Why? Because one effort protects the Empire, while the other effort would protect ordinary citizens.

                I don’t agree that “every dollar spent and ever right violated” is justified, in terms of tracking and killing terrorists. But that’s a longer story. What I want to note is how off-key is your conclusion about why there is no substantial action to curb gun rights. You said it has to do with protecting “the Empire,” as opposed to protecting “ordinary citizens.” I wish it were as simple as that. The scary truth is that it is those “ordinary citizens” themselves, mostly Republican ordinary citizens, who stand in the way of sensible gun- and ammo-owning restrictions. Polls show that two-thirds or more of Republicans think gun laws should either be made less strict or remain the way they are. And more than half the country—of all political persuasions—thinks that the NRA’s influence on gun laws is either “too little” or the “right amount.” And that is why nothing is done about gun violence in America, not because of some effort to protect the Empire. If people demanded action, if they got all hot and bothered about it like some have regarding the NSA, something would be done.

                Duane

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                • Gene Garman, M.Div.

                   /  February 1, 2014

                  Anson, Duane, etc.:

                  If I may address what seems to me to be the essence of the above discussion, there is teaching on record which may shed light on at least one point: how we Americans are to deal with issues. For example, those who founded our nation decided upon a constitutional republic and, like it or not, over two hundreds years have passed. Differences still exist, but the nation has survived with, basically, a two party system which has tolerated generally impotent third party efforts. Today’s “Teaparty” and “Progressive” factions will probably fade into insignificance, as have others. Decisions are still made by the majority of one or the other party, i.e., Republican or Democratic. It is a distinction of significant substance which, regardless, governs our nation’s actions by majority vote for our publicly elected officials, connected to one or the other party.

                  The issue of significance, therefore, is about issues with which we agree and do not agree. In this discussion we seem to be concerned about the welfare of citizens and which party we should support politically: the Republican Chamber of Commerce Religion Right Party or the Democratic Organized Labor Separation Between Religion and Government Party.

                  Why am I a Democrat? Organized labor unions have provided me, in keeping with the Golden Rule, by negotiated written contract, fair living wages, benefits, and retirement income. At age 78, I am now retired from two union jobs.

                  In simple conclusion, the Republican Party is basically greedy, arrogant, and not in harmony with the above life description. Just telling it as I see it politically: it is the economy, and what I see in opposition to political fairness in life is Republican money changers and priests, both of which want the money I earned: Greed, God, and (now) Guns!

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  7. Duane, I am in awe of your honesty and candor. Yours is a powerful story and it makes your point beautifully. Stories abound of good people relying on government assistance when their backs are to the wall, yours among them. I know of no good way to eliminate abuse, but too many conservatives want to eliminate the system entirely. That’s facile, as King B so well describes. As for courage, whatever the past, you’ve now got it in spades, my friend. I’m proud to know you.

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    • Thanks, Jim. As you know, I’m glad our paths crossed–what was it?–three or four years ago or so now? Be well, my friend.

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  8. Duane, I could tell a story very similar to yours, just one about a very young family whose major breadwinner was in the Navy as an enlisted man. At one point in time a family of three was living (if you can call it that) in San Francisco on $55 every two weeks and $95 BAQ. This was in 1966-1967, and it was not easy.

    Did I work my way out of that hole? Yes, with the help of the Navy and the NESEP program, but there were moments when I wasn’t sure we would survive, let alone flourish. I, too, eventually worked for Rickover in the nuclear power program as an officer.

    That brings me to our friend Anson and empathy. I made some poor decisions early in life, and that predisposed me to regard others who make bad decisions (including my own children) with understanding and an attitude of assistance instead of censure. I extended this attitude to those who worked for me in the Navy, and those who work for me now. I worked at a DOE facility in Colorado when Anson was working there, too. I doubt that he knows me, but I knew him. And, I know that he made some very poor judgements about some things, in my opinion, while he was there. I imagine he would agree.

    But the point is that, at some level, he was forgiven, and given another chance at many levels. Most of us have experienced that, being imperfect human beings. Empathy is just using those experiences to see your way clear to help other human beings suffering from poor judgement, either theirs or that of others.

    We ALL need a helping hand to make it through life. Let’s figure out how to do it, not debate whether we should or not. Enlightened and functional government plays a huge role in that, so let’s figure out how to achieve that kind of government, not just argue about retaining our own power.

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    • You said, “We ALL need a helping hand to make it through life. Let’s figure out how to do it, not debate whether we should or not.” Couldn’t agree more. The problem is that these days there are lots of people among us who question the idea that we all need help in some way or another to make it. I never thought I would live long enough to see Americans actually fighting over whether that simple truth, that none of us make it through life on our own, is actually a simple truth. Yet we are essentially fighting over that idea. It is called into question by large numbers of people, people we now know as Tea Party Republicans.

      Amazing.

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  9. ansonburlingame

     /  January 12, 2014

    Nargarjuan,

    Interesting that a “stranger” to this blog has a background very similar to my own. You were obviously enlisted in 66-67, living in a high cost area. Your salary as stated was about $300 per month it seems, slightly more than my $250 per month (about) in 1965 while living in Bainbridge, MD (with a wife and one child as well)

    You OBVIOUSLY used the benefits within the Navy and your own hard work (few in here know what the NESEP program was, but I sure do. My XO was a NESEP, a superb naval officer).

    Now Rocky Flats and my “bad judgment”. No one, absolutely no one, could “get it right” every step of the way at that crazy place. I don’t know when you arrived there or what you did, but as you might know, I set foot on that ground on Jan 1, 1990 and we were expected to restart production of “bombs” in one month!!

    At the same time we were expected to bring modern nuclear practices to that defunct facility. Later, after about a year of trying to restart Rocky Flats, the mission was changed to cleanup, as you probably know. Now just go tear down 50 year old buildings with a mix of dangerous materials that one had to struggle to begin to understand. And don’t you dare “hurt anyone” while doing so. Oh, and while you tear it down, we (the federal government and every environmentalist in America) will argue about where to put all the “trash”!! I also point out that all 3000 acres had to be “cleaned up” so kids could eat the dirt, safely!!!

    But so what. My personal performance at Rocky Flats, or in the Navy, or whatever failures I caused which I will never deny either, is beside the point. But empathy, the later subject in this string is very pertinent, particularly at Rocky Flats. You (and I) were newcomers to that facility.

    BUT, there were hundreds if not thousands that were 2nd, 3rd, even 4th generation workers there and they made super salaries and had generally super life styles because of those life time salaries and benefits. But in about 1991 remember, our job became one to eliminate that entire facility. Some 4000 jobs were going to simply vanish into thin air and my job (with many others) was to motivate a work force to literally work themselves out of such jobs.

    Think there might have been some really pissed off people in that place. You bet there were. Add on the implementation of entirely new ways to “work”, modern nuclear practices, and you had a real caldron on your hands, for years.

    You had a general public that just wanted Rocky Flats to “go away”, almost instantly, a government that wanted it shutdown and “retired” faster, better, cheaper, and a work force that did not want to lose their jobs!!

    Welcome to Rocky Flats, from 1990 (the year of federal prosecution of a former company and many current employees) and the “way it was” for about the next 15 years, only about 4 of which I worked therein. If I had been entirely “empathetic” (and made it stick) in the decisions I made, well we would still be tearing down Rocky Flats today, instead of “mission accomplished” in about 2005, with the whole facility “gone” and a “green field” left in place.

    Anson

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    • King Beauregard

       /  January 12, 2014

      Oh such compassion and understanding you are due, Anson, because you were in a job that put you in impossible bind! And how completely UNFAIR it would be to place your “failures” on your shoulders rather than take note of the structural problems that put you in no-win situations!

      Meanwhile, you’re the guy who is fine with the minimum wage not being a living wage, on the grounds that it should be a temporary stepping stone to higher-paying jobs. Never mind that there is a shortage of better-paying jobs, it’s the minimum-wage worker’s fault for not rising above. Or never mind that those better jobs might require reliable transportation, if they really wanted to succeed they’d simply solve the problem, therefore they must deserve their minimum-wage status. When other people find themselves in no-win situations, it’s THEIR fault.

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  10. ansonburlingame

     /  January 13, 2014

    King,

    I volunteered to work at RF. Within two weeks of arriving I KNEW it was a mess. But I stayed and continued to do my best in the face of many adversities. My ultimate performance there has nothing to do with debates over minimum wage. But the manner in which I did my job was brought up. Many felt that I was far too “hard nosed” in the demands that I placed on myself and many others.

    I looked around RF for a short period of time and saw egregious errors, fundamental errors in how to handle very dangerous materials and processes. In seeing such mistakes, I asked myself (and others) how would such work practices have been performed in both a Navy and commericial nuclear facility, “Rickover’s way and the NRC’s way of doing business”. The differences were STARK, between RF and “modern nuclear facilities”.

    I thus began to recommend, and others above me approved, changing the way work was performed, across the board at RF. Based on that effort wholesale efforts at other DOE nuclear facilities were brought to bear as well as the entire national “system” of producing nuclear weapons was brought to final shutdown and closure.

    Now go try to achieve such a goal “empathetically”. I at least was empathetic (concerned) enough to implement work practices to be sure no one got a “snoot full of plutonium” or a major fire in a very dangerous nuclear facility, and that list goes on in great detail!

    Anson

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