Weekend Update 01-28-2012

 I’m 100% with Fr. Orthoduck on this one. I’ve read the history of company towns in the US. I pay attention to what happens in other countries. I do the math and see where the various proposed policies lead. The only thing I can’t figure out is if the coalition of Tea Party, southern (primarily) evangelicals, neo-conservatives (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and other groups forming the modern GOP are blind to their hypocrisy or happily embrace it.

If you aren’t familiar with the folk song, Sixteen Tons, here’s Johnny Cash singing it.

 

And this is Tennessee Ernie Ford singing it.

 

It makes you wonder if we’ll have to slide all the way back to company towns ourselves before Americans remember that corporate America isn’t the friend of working Americans. It never has been and is even less so today.

My younger son lives off-campus (just) and cooks his own food now, but Baylor’s gluten free options and attentive staff in the dining halls was certainly important during his freshman year.

Learning to Sin. Fr. Stephen’s post expresses something I’ve always had a hard time putting into words that those who have been raised within an American evangelical context can understand. There’s nothing particularly natural or intuitive about a true Christian understanding of sin or ourselves as sinners. Moreover, when it’s presented simply as the violation of some arbitrary list of rules or regulations, the underlying reality is, at best, clouded. It’s only as you understand sin as your participation in death and the destruction of the world that its nature begins to become clear.

Sorry for your loss; here’s the bill. Sarah Burke’s death was a tragedy, compounded for her family by an exorbitant bill. It must have been doubly shocking to them, since that sort of thing can’t happen in Canada or any other industrialized nation except the US. This sort of thing happens every day to people in our country. The main problem with the ACA is it doesn’t do nearly enough. But it’s a start, at least. This story further illustrates how much we desperately need health care reform. Even if you have a job and insurance, you aren’t safe. Not really.

The ridiculous thing about electric power deregulation in Texas? We did it after the disaster in California. It’s an example where ideology (and probably some hefty under the table “incentives”) trumps reason and basic common sense. So, what have we gotten for it? Ratepayers have had to shell out an average extra $3,000 over the past decade. (Duh. The profits have to come from somewhere.) And we’re now on the verge of achieving third world status when it comes to blackouts and power reliability. Our grid has the lowest reserve margin in the nation. (No regulators to speak of to make power generators maintain an acceptable margin. Moreover, reserve margin by definition is power capacity you aren’t selling most of the time. And finally, blackouts and the threat of blackouts make power more profitable. Again, duh.) It makes me wonder just how bad it has to get in our state for people to wake up and see what’s being done to them — often with their consent or even encouragement. It boggles my mind.

This is a useful chart comparing the federal tax returns of Obama, Romney, and Gingrich. I also found it interesting to note that, as a percentage of income, Obama gave the most in charitable donations with Romney just a little behind. Gingrich, the new darling of southern evangelicals, gave just 2.6%. Normally, I think what a person does or doesn’t give should be their own business. But in addition to the serial adultery, lying, and ethics violations, that’s another factor that should, in any race where faith actually mattered as anything more than a veneer, make evangelicals look askance at him. Instead they’re embracing him. Of course, they’re actually white southerners first and evangelicals second. Things really do tend to fall out that way still in the south.

A gluten free brownie won the 100th episode of Cupcake Wars! And here’s a brownie recipe from the bakeshop that won.

Those iPhones, iPads, and other techie gadgets we love here in the US? Yeah, they come with a significant human price tag. “And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

Star Wars Uncut was an effort in which people took 15 second increments of the original Star Wars movie and redid it in any style or manner they wanted. The best of each 15 second piece was then voted on by everyone. However, up until now you had to watch it 15 seconds at a time. Now, Star Wars Uncut: The Director’s Cut ties all the segments seamlessly together and adds the score. It’s pretty amazing, though probably less so to those who aren’t fans of the original movie.

 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps, is the latest federal program to come under attack by the GOP. It’s basically just the latest effort by the GOP to incite class warfare between various groups of non-wealthy Americans. Why do they keep coming up with these? I think it’s pretty simple. They want to direct attention from the way they are looting America to anything else and tactics like this seem to work. The reality? SNAP is working very well and doing exactly what you would expect in a severe and prolonged recession.

Although this is normally my update page with short blurbs about things I’ve found interesting, I’m going to break that rule for a bit of my own personal story. Growing up, there were periods when we were reasonably well-to-do and periods when we were not. I became a teen parent during a period when my parents had very little and my first wife’s parents weren’t in much better shape. We were poor, desperately poor, as young teen parents during the largest previous recession (measured as always since the Great Depression) in the early eighties. It’s these programs, in part, that keep severe recessions from turning into something with the social effects of the Great Depression (as captured in The Grapes of Wrath). That’s one of the reasons that even before I was a Christian, I never could buy the complete hard-line libertarian perspective. Civil liberties? Sure. But the essential social darwinism when you press individual liberty and responsibility toward their extremes? Not so much. (Of course, as a Christian I’ve come to glimpse the ways we so share a common nature that it can be hard sometimes to perceive where the lines of cause and effect and responsibility begin and end. We’re much less an individual in the libertarian sense than we often think. But that’s another discussion.)

We lived near the bottom and despite working every scattered job we could find and some help from our families (even though they didn’t have very much), programs like Food Stamps and WIC and Medicaid were all that kept us from the absolute bottom. Even so, there were times when food was pretty short, indeed. There were times we lived without electricity and even brief periods we lived without running water. (A phone was an impossible luxury. I don’t remember ever having one during that period.) I would sometimes drive (an old 1965 Chevy with eternally bald tires and running on a hope and a prayer) to where I could find some sort of work, living out of my car. I even remember standing in line to get free government surplus american cheese.

Things never got as bad (as far as poverty goes) during my second marriage, but we still needed WIC with my older son and sometimes infant care (immunizations and such) at the free clinic. My military training, GED, and age (passing 18 makes a huge difference when job-hunting) as well as the end of the recession meant I was one rung higher on the scale of the working poor. (And since my second wife had … difficulties … keeping a job even with her college degree, a lot of that depended on me and a plenty of overtime.) WIC makes a huge difference in families with pregnant or breast-feeding mothers and very young children. Never underestimate its impact. Study after study have shown it’s an incredibly effective program.

By the time I met my wife of twenty-one years, I was a little more secure as an entry level federal civil servant, but not by much. And my older son’s hospitalization from abuse some months before we married and the subsequent medical and legal bills (from the seemingly never-ending custody case in which, unlike my 2nd wife, I couldn’t seem to find any free or reduced price legal help) demonstrated how close to the edge we still were. Free or reduced school lunches for my older son (once he started kindergarten) and later WIC when my wife became pregnant with my younger son helped keep us afloat. Even so, a phone was still a sometime luxury. And when we first moved from a city apartment to a suburban duplex before my younger son was born, my wife was largely isolated with no phone and no car for a period of time when we had only one functioning vehicle. (For most of my life, I’ve depended on hand-me-down cars or trucks from family members which we got either for free or very cheaply. The relatively late model Ford Taurus I bought at Carmax four years when the last of those reached the end of its life was my first car purchased from a dealer with a loan. I was forty-two years old. It was also the latest model car I had ever driven. At the time I bought it, it was only two years old.) That period was extremely hard for her, especially since she had never lived even that close to poverty before, but we got through those days.

My wife also couldn’t work during those early years of our marriage. One of us had to get my older son to various doctor appointments and deal with all the lawyers on an ongoing basis. (I had to conserve leave for the times I had to be somewhere.) Later she did work full and part time during some of the rough stretches. And she’s done that as needed over the course of our marriage. But as a rule, she prefers to focus on the kids. But unlike much of what I read and hear, we both recognize that’s a luxury. Yes, at the professional end of the spectrum, men and women speak of careers. But for most of us? Work is about survival.

There is one thing I know in my bones. Unless you are in the very top reaches of the wealthy in this country, none of us are more than a step away from needing the social safety net, even as inadequate as it is in our country. If you don’t believe that could ever be true for you, then you’re living in delusion. One bad turn of luck is all it takes. It could be a death, a serious illness, a divorce, or simply bad luck during a severe economic downturn. None of us live as far from the edge as we would like to believe. Don’t be fooled. And don’t buy into the Republican efforts to incite class warfare between the middle class and the poor.

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