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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Following the (Dirty) Money
(Or Racist Senate Minority Leader)

At the same time that Republicans have gone back to Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), and are getting ready for the possible presidential candidacy of Keating Five guy John McCain (R-AZ), you may look to them to begin the criticizing spin of the Democratic majority in the House for the upcoming promotion of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) to the second spot behind Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Here's the scenario: Rep. Murtha was one of the congressmen targeted by the FBI in the ABSCAM scandal, where agents disguised themselves as wealthy Arabs and offered bribes for favors. You know, like Jack Abramoff succeeded in doing to the Republicans these past few years. Murtha refused a bribe of $50,000 stating "I'm not interested" but adding a curious caveat, "At this point".

Now remember that Murtha turned down the ILLEGAL bribe, later telling Hardball's (or is that "No Balls") Chris Matthews "I told them I wanted investment in my district. They put $50,000 on the table and I said, 'I'm not interested.'"

Perhaps Murtha should have reported the bribe to the FBI or House leaders right after the offer was presented to him. Maybe he was sincere that he wanted that money spent in his Pennsylvania congressional district. Maybe he felt that taking a bribe was just wrong but what afraid of ticking off the fake Arabs with the cash. My bet is that we'll never know anything but the stark truth that MURTHA DIDN'T TAKE THE MONEY, and was the only ABSCAM politician not to be indicted.

Just a few years later, however, McCain, then a new GOP senator and current front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 was one of the Keating Five.

Allow me to refresh your memories: In the 1980's under the Reagan and Bush (41) administrations, Savings and Loan Institutions were allowed to put their investors' hard-earned dollars into commercial properties instead of only residential properties. Whereas the upside - a greater return on their investments - was greater, the downside - losing their shirts, so to speak - was also greater. As it will inevitably happen, the small guy got hurt while those who took their money and risked it on, shat some term, schemes, got richer. The S & L scandal cost approximately $150 billion with the direct cost to the US taxpayer being about $125 billion. (That's about one year in Iraqi war dollars.)

The Keating Five refers to the five US senators implicated in attempting to help Charles Keating, the California S & L (Savings and Loan) giant get away with covering up his involvement in ripping off the good people who invested in his S & L, not to mention the US taxpayer. The five senators were Alan Cranston (D-CA), Donald Riegle (D-MI), Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ), John Glenn (D-OH) and John McCain (R-AZ).

Although McCain, along with Glenn, were considered the lesser of the five in culpability terms, he nevertheless took the LEGAL BRIBE presented by Keating with the desired result of having Keating's charges disappear.

Lott, on the other hand, was elected by the new REPUBLICAN MINORITY (I love the way that sounds) as their leader in the Senate. Remember it was Lott who told the world that if segregationist, Strom Thurman had been elected president in 1948 over Harry S. Truman, our nation would be in much better shape than we are now.

"When Strom Thurman ran for president, we voted for him! We're proud of it! And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all of these problems over all of these years either."
-Lott to Thurman, celebrating Thurman's 100th birthday

"If we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today."
-Lott, 1980

This was said to, and about the guy who had this to say about almost 20 percent of our nation's population:

"What I want to tell you...Ladies and Gentlemen...That there's not enough troops in the Army...to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches."
-Strom Thurman, 1948

The vote, I must add, was in favor of Lott by just a single GOP vote. I was, of course, cast in private.

Lott, the former and present Senate minority leader, was congratulated by President Bush after his new election. Of course, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last year, Bush's thoughts went out to Lott, so we know he had to make calls on the Senator's behalf.

"We've got a lot of rebuilding to do... The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."
-President Bush

The GOP has had in its leadership, and in influential positions over the past few years such people as Bob Ney (REPUBLICAN-OH, guilty of influence peddling, and more), Randy "Duke" Cunningham (REPUBLICAN-CA, serving eight-and-a-third years in federal prison for selling his influence - he even had a "menu") and Tom DeLay (REPUBLICAN-TX, under indictment - his seat went to DEMOCRAT Nick Lampson). Their choices have been poor, to say the least.

However, we can look forward to the likes of Fox News, who have been looking for the next missing white girl to exploit so they don't have to talk about politics and the 2006 elections, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk to begin their swift-boating of another American hero who, and I will keep reminding you all, did NOT take the money.

We can look forward to unsubstantiated people who knew through a friend, who heard a rumor, from this guy, who saw the report that Murtha is bad. If Murtha gets the number two spot behind Pelosi, it will be a mis-information deluge.

Look, also, for Lott and McCain to get a "bye" by even the most "liberal" of the main stream media. Even the likes of the Big Three (CBS, NBC, ABC), CNN and MSNBC won't be throwing a bad word toward McCain, who I might remind you all DID take the money.

This brings out the questions: Does McCain, a member of the Keating Five deserve a presidential nomination more than Trent Lott deserves to be put back in charge of his GOP Senate minority? And does McCain deserve his party's nomination for the presidency while the Right spins against John Murtha - the guy who didn't take the money?

(By the way, Rep. Steny Hoyer (DEMOCRAT-MD) gets to keep his number 2 position even though New assumed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (DEMOCRAT-CA) was pulling for Murtha.)

Let the GOP Hypocrisy begin.

-Noah Greenberg

The Health Care Mess

The whole health care mess is miserable for both middle-class folks and for small businesses. It's impossible for a businessperson, even with the best of intentions, to offer jobs to the kind of people that might not only be more deserving and needing of jobs but also to the very people that might be best qualified to do these jobs. And it is also bad for self-employed people too. I read a most horrifying thing recently that really made my head spin.

According to the financial categories that the government uses, families that make over $75,000 a year are above middle-class (I assume they mean that these families are "upper class"). Well, given all the medical bills that my husband and I run up and the literally thousands of dollars we are spending--and OUR conditions are not nearly as bad as some that other people have!--we DON'T feel "upper class" even though we made slightly more than that last year. We have trouble even feeling MIDDLE-CLASS and the medical bills are the reason why.

Single-payer health care is an idea whose time has come. Next year, in the new congress, H.R. 676, the single-payer health care plan legislation written by John Conyers, Jr., will be reintroduced. Over the past years, many of us have gotten our representatives and senators to sign on. Hillary and Chuck are not on board yet and there are others that need to be brought on board too. The only way to do this is to PRESSURE them. Bombard them with letters, faxes, e-mails, and calls (if you use the phone) telling them to sign on.

This new congress is going to step very, very cautiously and incrementally because the members are afraid of what will happen in 2008. We progressives are going to have to lean hard on them to get even the smallest things done for at least the next two years. Let's not make H.R. 676 one of the things that they are afraid to tackle.

-Billie M. Spaight

Penalties for Voter Fraud

"CONCORD, N.H. - A former telemarketer has agreed to plead guilty in a Republican phone-jamming plot against New Hampshire Democrats four years ago.
"Shaun Hansen faces two federal counts of conspiracy to commit interstate telephone harassment in a deal with prosecutors. No sentencing date was posted.
"In 2002, Hansen owned Mylo Enterprises, an Idaho telemarketing company prosecutors say received $2,500 to place hundreds of hang-up telephone calls to Democratic get-out-the-vote phone banks and a ride-to-the-polls line run by Manchester's firefighters union.
"Three former Republican officials were convicted in the phone-jamming plot. Former state Republican Committee Executive Director Chuck McGee served seven months in federal prison after admitting to devising the scheme."
-The Associated Press

REAL jail time that would put the offender away for more time than a speeding ticket; REAL fines that would put a company out of business and force its owners to pay retribution, not only to the government in fines, but to the candidate who was wronged are just a couple of the punishments that ought to be doled out for attempting to illegally influence an election. Whet these guys did was nothing more than wire fraud which resulted from their own greed and someone else's desire to change the fabric of our nation.

Until there are REAL penalties for illegally attempting to stop voters from voting there will be those who change votes, tie up phone lines and intimidate voters to take away their Constitutional rights.

I can't help but think that those who perpetrate crimes, and they are crimes, such as these would have been put in the stockades of early colonial America had they done so in Colonial times.

It's time to bring back branding irons and stockades. We have to be able o spot these bastards!

-Forwarded by jenny Hanniver and commented by Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

In a few days it will be Thanksgiving and a majority of Americans will be sitting down to extravagant meals with family and friends. Many tables will have a cornucopia as the centerpiece–the horn of plenty, symbolizing how much we have in this nation of abundance. Not everyone has quite so much, however. In America, one in five adults and two in five children lives at or below the poverty level. And many people, including millions of children, go hungry every day. According to the major food distribution networks in the country, including Second Harvest and Philabundance, 13 million U.S. households are “food insecure,” which means that there is not access to enough food to meet basic needs.

In other words, the cupboard is often bare. Approximately 40 million people live in these 13 million households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 40 percent of whom are children.

As we are loosening our belts and pulling at our waistbands on Thanksgiving, we should know that hunger in America continues to be a problem for a significant portion of our population. According to data released last week, in the past four years hunger has more than doubled in low-income areas in urban centers, including cities which are among the nation’s poorest, like Philadelphia and Detroit. The Boston Globe reported on November 15th that Boston has seen a similar increase between 2002 and 2005 in that city, which is *not* among the nation’s poorest. The problem is so bad in Massachusetts, the Globe reported, that state lawmakers convened a session just to discuss the issue and what could be done.

Nationwide the stats are similar–rural areas have always suffered from extremes of poverty and concomitant hunger issues. But now urban areas have followed the dismal pattern. In addition, a surprising number of suburban households suffer from hunger. Nearly a third of food insecure households are now in the suburbs; due to unemployment and layoffs, many suburban dwellers have had diminished incomes in recent years, adding to their food insecurity. And unlike in rural and urban areas, the presumption remains that suburban dwellers are wealthy and don’t need assistance programs, particularly not for food.

What’s the reason for all this hunger in a nation as rich in resources as America? Poverty and the high cost of living are cited by advocacy groups as the most significant causes of hunger. More than 38 percent of families leaving welfare and going to work report not having enough money for food at the end of the month. Economic downturns have cost the poor and working poor the most, but have also impinged on the middle class: Food is expensive.

But aren’t most Americans overweight? How can people other than celebrities with anorexia be hungry? Walk down a street in any city in America and most of the people are at least a little chubby if not outright fat. How can people be fat *and* hungry?

And isn’t the U.S. the world’s wealthiest nation? Why can’t we feed our own people?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cites hunger as a significant problem for many children and adults. The elderly are at huge risk from hunger, as are children under 12.
HHS also cites hunger as significant risk factor for obesity and diabetes, which are most severe in low-income neighborhoods. The poorer a person is, the more likely he or she is to be obese.

Why? Because it is less expensive to buy four cheeseburgers at McDonald’s than one salad. Healthy foods–fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, whole grains–are all far more expensive than processed foods, which can also be bought cheaply at dollar stores and budget outlets. Real fruit juices are more expensive than drinks made with colored water and high fructose corn syrup (the latter being the biggest culprit in the over-production of insulin, yet high fructose corn syrup is a staple in low-cost processed foods). Soft white breads like Wonderbread are far less expensive than whole grain breads. Cookies are cheaper than fruit. Put it all together and you have a recipe for a fat nation that is still starving.

According to advocacy groups like Second Harvest and Project Bread, hunger and households that are “food insecure” have risen to 18 percent from eight percent in just the past three years.

Because parents–many of them single mothers with children–have to make decisions about how to spend the family income. Housing costs have risen far faster than standards of living for more than two-thirds of all Americans. The minimum wage has been kept frozen at $5.15 an hour by the Republican Congress (still in place until January) which has voted down a raise 13 times in ten years while lowering tax rates for the wealthy. Few cities have “living wage” rates for low-income workers. Thus, families are increasingly under the financial gun: housing, health care, food. Who can afford it all? Many families have to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table, or paying to heat the home and having dinner every night. Many families economize by buying starchy processed foods that keep them and their children feeling full, but which are nutritionally empty and lead to the twin dangers of obesity and diabetes.

In addition to the suffering of the adults living with hunger, there are all the children–more than 20 million of them going to bed hungry.

Nutrition is vital to body and brain growth. A hungry, poorly fed child will have stunted physical and mental growth. Study after study has shown that children who don’t eat breakfast simply don’t learn because you can’t think on an empty stomach any more than you can run a car without gas. Children who don’t eat breakfast are more prone to behavior problems in the classroom and more prone to emotional outbursts. (Feel cranky when you are hungry? So does a child.) Malnutrition over a protracted period causes irreversible brain damage.

Many children only have breakfast–and lunch–if the meals are offered at their schools for free.

Hunger presents real dangers to children and the elderly, the people least able to cope physically without regular meals. Food keeps our body fueled; children need fuel for energy and growth as well as survival. In the elderly, numerous small meals are essential because of the illnesses that often accompany old age. The medications most elderly people take are supposed to be taken with food, otherwise serious complications can occur, like fainting (which can lead to broken bones), bleeding ulcers and heart problems.

Babies in households that are food insecure are at the greatest risk. If they are not nursing–as a majority of babies in low income homes are not–they have no regular food source. Mothers, particularly young and inexperienced mothers, often give their babies bottles of water to quell their hunger pangs. But in babies, too much water can be deadly, leading to brain and kidney damage and death.

The irony of hunger in America is that unlike many countries, like the poorest ones in Africa, Asia and Latin America, there is plenty of food here. So much so that according to Farmers and Hunters for Feeding the Hungry (FHFH), we throw away 96,000,000,000 pounds of food each year.

According to Philabundance and Greater Philadelphia Cares, in the city proper (not including the suburban areas where another third of the hungry live), 400,000 Greater Philadelphians live in poverty, and risk chronic hunger. One-third of Philadelphia’s senior citizens are poor. A quarter of Philadelphia’s children are poor. Nearly 150,000 income-eligible Philadelphians are *not* receiving Food Stamps. There are 500 volunteer-run food cupboards in the city.

What is required to change the status of hunger in America? According to advocacy groups, a combination of efforts by federal, state and local governments and agencies, as well as volunteer efforts from the private sector.

Various campaigns to end hunger have been established over the years, but none has been fully supported by governmental approval. The collaboration of businesses, healthcare providers, government agencies and schools is essential to end the growing rate of hunger in America.

Newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has made raising the minimum wage one of her priorities. Working to end hunger in America needs to be another goal of the new Democrat-led Congress as it never was for the Republican-led Congress or the Bush Administration. The Congress must make it a priority to provide free and nutritional breakfasts and lunches for school children in areas where hunger is an issue. The Congress must also make it easier for families and the elderly to get food stamps to augment their food resources. If children require free breakfasts, then their families need to be eligible for food stamps; there’s just not enough food in their homes.

Individual Americans can also help end hunger. Last year, a school teacher in Alabama started a program in her elementary school to send children she knew lived in food insecure households home with backpacks full of food for the weekend. She began the program through her church. Her program alone feed hundreds of children each week.

Contributions to various food banks–of food, of money–as well as volunteering at these various food banks and food advocacy centers is imperative. Greater Philadelphia Cares, for example, suggests volunteering at soup kitchens, senior homes and shelters. They also suggest sponsoring a food drive which GPC will distribute to needy families.

There is no excuse for hunger in America. This Thanksgiving–and beyond–think about what it would be like to walk into your kitchen and find no food for you, your children, your family. We can each do something for those who face this reality every day. Feed a family. Change the world.

GPC: 215-564-4544
In Philadelphia, you can also help eligible families receive food stamps: contact Phila. Higher Ed. Network for Neighborhood Devel (PHENND): 215-573-2379.
Philabundance accepts food donations from businesses and individuals and is currently involved in holiday food drives. 215-339-0900.
The National Hunger Clearinghouse hotline number: 1-866-3-HUNGRY

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-Noah Greenberg