Posts tagged ‘Great Depression’

The Best of the Web

"Works Progress Administration Project 19...

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I thought it was time to brag on some other writers and visionaries for a change. There are a lot of other great blogs out there that are doing creative things, making progressive statements, advocating for women, and featuring more important stories than Jesse James’ tragic breakup from Kat von D. I really thought that would last forever. I’m just devastated!

First off, there’s a great cartoon site that I found through WordPress, mostly because she was kind enough to click the “Like” button on one of my posts. The Adventures of Gyno-Star: Fighting the Forces of Evil & Male Chauvinism is a cartoon gem that gets updated twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays. The artist is supremely talented. Her superhero has a sidekick named Little Sappho, and together they fight nemeses like Stay at Home Mommy and Vlad Deferens. Clever fun, and the illustrations are fantastic!

At Rebuild the Dream you can sign a contract for a return to the American dream. Van Jones heads this campaign with the support of many other progressive organizations, most notably The idea is pretty simple. Start investing in America again. Update our infrastructure and invest in the future, create jobs to do this and hire Americans to fill the jobs.

What does that sound like? Why, if it weren’t for the green energy component, I think it sounds an awful lot like the Works Progress Administration. The WPA? You don’t say. The brainchild of FDR, a plan to bring us out of the Great Depression, improve our great nation, and feed our families, the WPA is still present in concrete and signs in small and large communities throughout the United States. How do we pay for this? By taxing the rich.

This brings me to another great website. Sometimes people, myself included, like to cast the rich in the role of villain in the deterioration of the American dream and the American economy. But that’s not entirely fair. There are some millionaires out there who are lobbying that their taxes need to be raised.

You can find those millionaires and billionaires on a great website called, Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength. These people are true patriots, and their message reminds me that with great wealth comes great privilege and with great privilege, great responsibility. These people incredibly, selflessly get that. They make me proud to be an American.

Speaking of being proud to be an American, some people make me proud to be a Christian as well. John Shore, whose blog I’ve championed before, had a great article about a woman named Kathy Baldock and how she came to form a non-profit called Canyonwalker Connections. Kathy had t-shirts made, and she attends gay functions like Pride parades and wears her t-shirt, offering an apology to any LGBT who’s been traumatized by the bigotry of churches who reject homosexuals.

Here’s a great video I found:

The video is a commentary on how household cleaning products are always marketed to women, using women almost exclusively to sell the products to women almost exclusively. The only exceptions I can think of to this are Orange Glo and Oxy Clean. Mr. Clean doesn’t count since he’s a fictional character who never actually cleans anything anyway. The Tidy-Bowl Man is a tugboat operator; he doesn’t clean anything.

What is marketed almost exclusively to men? Beer. How is it marketed to men? Using scantily clad beautiful women to imply that if only you drink enough beer women will want to have sex with you. Maybe if only the women drink enough beer they will forget that they have to do all of the cleaning and will want to have sex with you. Or, and here’s a novel concept: maybe if a man did his share of the chores around the house a woman might be inclined to have sex more often. Beer is optional.

I found this website by happy accident. Hugo Schwyzer is a Christian and a gender studies professor. He’s written many, many enlightening blog posts about issues relating to feminism and Christianity, including weighing in on the recent controversy over actor Doug Hutchison’s marriage to a 16-year-old child and’s pimping out of college girls. He writes about his views on porn and even cites Andrea Dworkin. He’s sharp, and he’s a pleasure to read.

Hugo Schwyzer also blogs on The Good Men Project. The Good Men Project bills itself as “a cerebral, new media alternative” to glossy men’s magazines. In other words, it’s the anti-Maxim. There are great articles on gender issues and relationship advice, and something for everyone. This website renews my good faith in men.

The Women’s Media Center is a non-profit that seeks to make women more visible and women’s voices more audible in all forms of contemporary media. Their website features a Sexism Watch. They sponsor conventions and leadership panels and encourage women to produce films and documentaries that tell women’s stories. They are fighting to see women represented more in the news and on political commentary shows. Check it out.

August 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

Inside Job

Great Depression: man dressed in worn coat lyi...

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Inside Job starts off with a cautionary tale about Iceland. Iceland’s economy was, for a time, almost entirely based on finance. Economists from America (who were paid by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce) penned scholarly articles on the health and stability of Iceland’s economy. Turns out it was a house of cards.

The movie is a documentary film by director Charles Ferguson, narrated by Matt Damon. It explains and tracks the events of the global recession that ushered in the Obama administration. It explains the roots of the problem, tracking all the way back to the Great Depression and the Glass-Steagall Act and its appeal during the Reagan administration and the savings and loan scandals of the ‘80s. It explains it in pretty plain language in a way that ordinary Americans like you and me can understand.

The Glass-Steagall Act was a piece of legislation passed in 1933 in response to the Great Depression. It established the FDIC and made it illegal for conventional banks to offer speculative investments. It also basically banned insurance agencies and investment services firms from merging with traditional banks.

That all changed, beginning in the 1980s, and the Republicans, and later, Bill Clinton, helped to pass laws that removed the regulation and controls that the Glass-Steagall Act had put into place for the protection of ordinary Americans. Not only were the laws changed to accommodated a laissez faire attitude, the laws that remained in place were blatantly disregarded and unenforced. Under the influence of Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand‘s former lover and protege, free market was good, regulation bad.

The movie explains how the housing bubble, CDOs and derivatives worked together to cause a global catastrophre. Everyone gets in on the blame: Wall Street traders, mortgage lenders, insurance companies, politicians, lobbyists, ratings agencies and insurance companies. The individual greed of these people works in a kind of synergy to provide a perfect storm of collective immorality.

Everyone is out for his own piece of the pie. Everyone thinks he’s entitled to receive something for nothing. One thing in the movie that’s especially shocking is when the increase in the average Wall Street employee’s salary over the last forty years or so is tracked on a line graph. If you weren’t angry about the bailout before you saw this movie you certainly will be afterward.

Why and how did these people escape prosecution? An entire nation has been defrauded of billions of dollars, and not one single person has been jailed for it. Instead, they got bonuses or millions of dollars in severance pay and a McMansion in the Hamptons. It’s a travesty. And if you are an American, and you don’t stand up and let your outrage be heard, well, you should just be ashamed of yourself.

You owe it to yourself to see this movie. If I can read Too Big to Fail and watch Inside Job and understand complex finance geek speak, then you can, too. Do it. And remember next time you vote for a President what was done or not in order to right this situation. You can bet that I will.

April 29, 2011 at 12:49 am Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Grandpa

Country star Dolly Parton sings on stage durin...

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I remember December 23 as my grandfather’s birthday. We celebrated it when he was alive, and after he died I watched my grandmother get sad on that date every year for almost twenty years.

My grandpa was different. I know that he grew up without much of anything and that it was a hard life. He felt that love was best expressed materially. He felt that way because his father was an alcoholic gravedigger who died an early death. His mother was a drug addict and a prostitute. She also went toes up after having many children with multiple men. My grandpa and his sister were then passed among their parents’ siblings. Not one of those aunts and uncles wanted him. His fondest Christmas memory was of an uncle by marriage who gave him a used pocketknife as a present.

So, my brother and I got the best of everything in terms of toys. And every Christmas the house was filled with not only my grandmother’s homemade cakes and cookies and candy but also the nuts and oranges and tangerines that my grandfather insisted we have.

Grandpa was a funny man. He had no sense of smell, which helped with his job in the packing plant. He wore flannel shirts and overalls and chewed Skoal and sometimes smoked a pipe. He often smelled a lot like pipe tobacco. For as long as I can remember he was retired.

Given his precarious background there was some question as to the year when he was born. He always claimed the younger of the two dates. When the bastards at the packing plant tried to fire him after a lifetime of service one year before he would have qualified for his old school defined benefit pension plan, he got some paperwork together to prove that he was a year older. Then he retired with the pension that he had earned.

My grandpa used to delight in teasing us, especially if he got the name of a kid of the opposite sex that he thought we might have a crush on. My brother got an earful about a little girl named Candy that, as far as I know, didn’t mean that much to him. We used to slap him on the thighs until it had to have stung, and he would just laugh and laugh until tears would come to his eyes.

He also used to recite these improvised limericks. They were really very funny nonsense rhymes that just went on and on for what could have been hours. We found them very entertaining as children, and I think this was a special talent. I would love to have a recording of one of those sessions now.

He loved country music, and his favorites were George Jones and Marty Robbins. He loved to watch the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw and professional wrestling. What I know about Hee Haw and professional wrestling comes entirely from my grandfather. We didn’t watch that shit at our house, but when we went to my grandparents’ it was all we watched except for college basketball.

I remember once as a young woman telling my grandmother that I had decided that I would never marry someone who had been divorced. I was always opinionated like that. Most of these opinions were actually my father’s and not my own. Well, you would have thought I’d told her that the earth was flat.

It turned out that my grandfather had been married once before. That was all she said on the subject. My mother knew more about it but declined to go into detail. When I was a young adult my mom did eventually give us more details. When she grew up she heard that my grandfather had been duped into marriage by a woman who told him she was carrying his child. Later the baby, a girl, was proven not to be his, and the woman had been cheating on my grandfather. He got a divorce.

When my grandpa died, and my grandma had to go to the Social Security Office to file her claim my parents went with her. Turns out the baby was actually a boy, and even though the man never made any claim and he supposedly wasn’t my grandfather’s child, he had to be listed with the Social Security Administration. I find this dubious at best.

My mom tracked down the court records for her father’s divorce and eventually she tracked down her possible half brother. His mother remarried, and he took on his stepfather’s last name. He lives in California, and he’s a plumber. But my mom chickened out over contacting him.

The court records say that my grandfather was a wife beater, and his first wife left him because she feared for her life. I never saw my grandpa lift a hand to my grandmother…because it never happened. The house where they raised their family was a tiny one. Trust me when I say that if my grandfather had so much as sneezed at my grandma my mom would have known about it.

After the divorce Grandpa became a hobo. It was during the Depression. Grandpa hopped trains with a knapsack and everything. He ate out of tin cans heated with bonfires at railway stations. In short, he was no different from the homeless panhandlers that I pass by everyday on my way to work while they hold signs, begging for money. He bummed around like that for several years before he eventually got the job at the packing plant and married my grandma.

She was sixteen, and she was itching to get out of her mother’s house and have a home of her own. She was a very large woman, and in spite of the fact that she was pretty I don’t think the men were beating down her door. When my grandfather proposed her parents disapproved of the match, but they didn’t try to stop her. I think they were aware of the divorce and maybe the rumors of domestic violence and no doubt the years of bumming around and found him an unsuitable candidate for marriage. But they were successfully married for over forty years.

Life is a curious thing.

December 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm 1 comment

Poverty in America


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“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”  – Charles Darwin

“The poor you will always have with you.” – Jesus

In America right now we are in the midst of what some are referring to as The Great Recession. We are paying the price for those years of excess lived between the last recession at the dawn of the new millennium and the first rumblings of troubles in the mortgage industry in 2007.

We tricked ourselves into thinking everything was great with profits manufactured by creative accountants in the home lending business, and later by creative accountants employed by Wall Street to hide losses from speculation made, largely, in the sub-prime mortgage industry. Now we have to pay the piper.

But guess who’s paying the piper. It’s not the same men who made the decisions that caused this mess. Those guys all got bonuses based on false profits and golden parachutes. Why? Well, because we have to pay our best talent. We don’t want to run them off, of course. So, the piper gets paid mostly by the middle class. Or, rather, by the people who used to be the middle class. The middle class in America is dwindling in numbers.

The unemployment rate is at a national average of 10%. Some areas of the United States have an unemployment rate of 15%. It’s still better than the 20% national average during The Great Depression, but we can no longer fool ourselves with the fable that we are a prosperous nation.

The percentage of people who are living at or below the poverty level in the United States now is 14.6%. There are now more poor people living in America than there have been since 1959, when the government first started keeping track of these numbers. To make that real for you, one in seven Americans today lives in poverty. What is the definition of poverty in America today? If you are a single person who made less than $11,000 last year, then the government says you are living in poverty. If you are a family of four, and you are living on less than $22,000, then the government considers you poor.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how I would survive on $11,000 a year. After my rent got paid, I would have just a little over $4,000 a year to live on. Would that even pay for food, let alone utilities? Even if I forego such luxuries as a telephone or internet access or cable or a vehicle, would $4,000 be enough to buy food after the electricity and water bill was paid each month? And without “luxuries” like a phone and internet, then how would I look for work?

There’s a misconception in America that if you don’t work in the United States or if you are poor in our country, then it must be because you are lazy. You choose to be poor. After all, this is the land of opportunity where anyone can be anything he wants to be. If you’re not working, then it must be because you don’t want to do so.

I’m not too good to work at something “beneath me,” in order to bring home the bacon, and I think most Americans feel the same way. We will take whatever work we are offered, no matter how overqualified we are, no matter the fact that it doesn’t pay a living wage or provide benefits. It’s preferable to welfare or unemployment. If the only job left in America was flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, then I wouldn’t turn up my nose at it just because I have a college education.

There are people who take advantage of “the system” in any country, bad apples, if you will. The vast majority of people, though, would prefer to be given an honest wage for honest work. As human beings we have an intrinsic psychological motivation to be useful and to feel needed. Work helps us to fulfill that need.

I am concerned that our great nation is on a fast track to no longer being great. What do I think the problem is? How do I think it can be fixed? The problem is that in America there is a growing disparity between the haves and the have nots, and the gap is widening at an alarming rate. The biggest sign of a healthy society is two things: a healthy, growing or at least sustaining middle class, and the treatment of a society’s “weakest links,” if you will. What do I mean by the weakest links? I mean the youngest and the oldest, the widowed, orphaned and the poor.

We have a big problem with a deficit in America, and the bigger the deficit the harder it will be for us to recover, and yet everyone says that we have to spend money to make money. So, we spend money we don’t have in order to provide a stimulus to the economy. Instead of eventually paying for that debt by taking it out of the pockets of the middle class, how about taxing the rich at a rate that’s consistent with the percentage that’s paid by the middle class? We are taxing the middle class into the poor house.

Now some of you may say, but the rich are already taxed at higher rates. That’s why we have something in America called a graduated income tax. The tax rates ARE higher for the rich. In theory. The truth of how it’s actually applied is that those very wealthy people who made the decisions that got us into this mess and then were never penalized for it get to take advantage of special tax laws and loopholes that lower their tax liability. So, while they are technically “paying” a higher percentage rate, their actual taxes compared to their actual income are nowhere near this designated percentage once their creative accountants get done with their tax returns. And it’s all perfectly legal.

We need to quit paying our executives at the exorbitant rates we’ve been paying them and pay the people who do the day-to-day work a decent living salary. We need to quit giving tax cuts to the people who can most afford to pay their taxes. We need to hold CEOs accountable for their actions. They should get paid based on their ability to produce real profits, not fictional annual reports. And we should quit rewarding these people with big bonus packages for putting thousands of people out of work.

The argument for golden parachutes and such is that executives of companies have to have a safety net so that they will not be afraid to take risks in order to make their companies profitable. I say that risk is risk. Why shield the executives from the personal repercussions of risk? It’s rewarding them for bad behavior. If they personally felt a hit to their pocketbooks as the result of their own decisions, then maybe they’d be more motivated to make wise decisions. The best way to keep executives honest is to make them accountable for their own actions, just the same as the assembly line worker at the plant is accountable for being on time and meeting his quotas for daily production. It’s the same concept, folks.

We live in a democracy. Why does all this corruption exist in a country founded on principles of freedom? I think it’s a combination of several reasons. For one thing, the poor don’t vote in large numbers. Our society, unfortunately, teaches them the cultural lesson that their opinions don’t matter. They become the victims of learned helplessness, and consequently they fail to exercise their right to vote. This self-fulfilling negative prophecy is probably proven true when they turn out to the polls and their interests are not protected because they are in the minority of the voters.

The middle class people who do vote, along with the wealthy, in good numbers, can get their agendas passed. You might wonder why more of the middle class don’t side with the poor, realizing how close they are to becoming one of them. Well, there are two reasons why they don’t. The first is fear. They are afraid that voting to penalize the very people who sign their paychecks will adversely affect them, and then they will become one of the poor. There is good reason to feel that way. As it stands right now, the Board of Directors of an unprofitable company is much more likely to lay off the rank and file employees than to approve a pay cut for its executives.

The other reason is hope. Those middle class voters hope that somehow, someday, with hard work, ambition, and initiative they can become one of those wealthy people. And when they do become one of those enormously rich folk, then they don’t want to have to share the fruits of their blood, sweat, and tears with the government or to be forced to share it with those who are less fortunate than they are. And so the cycle goes on.

September 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm Leave a comment

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