Tag Archives: Poverty

What Mitt….Doesn’t Get

Look! It's a Poor Person.

44 Million. No, it’s not Mitt Romney’s earnings this past year.  It’s the number of Americans living below the poverty line.  According to the 2012 Federal Guidelines, a family of four earning $23,050 a year is considered “poor.”  When considering the poor, however, it doesn’t seem to register for Mitt Romney.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor.”  Those were the words of the man who seeks to be the Republican nominee for President.  He couched his gaffe saying they (the poor) have a social safety net. That was the insult to the injury.

There was a time when the Republican Party — the party I joined as a first-time voter at 18 years of age — was the party of opportunity.  Today though, based upon Romney’s comments, dignity apparently cannot be afforded those 44 million Americans.  Dignity is even further stripped by suggesting the poor simply be reliant upon government.  This isn’t the Republican Party I joined.   

If Romney wants to shed his image as a rich guy out-of-touch with the average American, he should take a page from one of the more forward thinkers of the modern day Republican Party.  I’m speaking of the late Jack Kemp.  The former Congressman, HUD Secretary, and Vice Presidential candidate was a strong proponent of an “Ownership Society.” He believed the way out of poverty was a rising tide created by supply-side economics whereby business would reinvest in capital — both durable goods and human capital.  And as HUD Secretary, home ownership was key to breaking the cycle of multi-generational poverty. 

Jack Kemp pushed the GOP to not concede the inner-cities and the poor.  Sadly, Mitt — in his own words — isn’t “very concerned”  about them.  To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen, “You’re no Jack Kemp, Governor Romney.”

Mitt has shown a chameleon-like ability to be on multiple sides of such polarizing issues as abortion and gay rights.  His latest gaffe, however, will be a difficult one to overcome.  It’s an inevibility the Obama campaign will exploit this issue to show Romney out of touch.  If Mitt wants to be President, he needs to reconsider those 44 million Americans….”The Poor.”

For a look back at my tribute to the late Jack Kemp, please visit:  https://livedifferently.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/jack-kemp-rip/

JDC

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Where God Left His Shoes: Poverty Is For Everyone

 Where God Left His Shoes- John Leguizamo

The apartment was ramshackle.  A tight kitchen accentuated by dirty dishes left in the sink. Non-perishables in the cupboard…perishing.  This depressing environment is only further accentuated by a broken light fixture. 

Equally discouraged and relieved, Frank Diaz spins the broken light fixture and says, “Well, it’s not exactly where God left his shoes…But it’ll work.”

That line becomes the title of a Salvatore Stabile’s indie-film Where God Left His Shoes.  It’s a film mixed with despair and hope.  It’s a film that also stings with an unspoken, ignored reality in our nation.

Frank Diaz, portrayed by John Leguizamo, is happy standing in this substandard apartment because it is much better than the homeless shelter where he and his family have been staying for the last two months.  In that same scene, he pulls his stepson to the kitchen window and excitedly points out Yankee Stadium and verbalizes his wishes for what the two of them will be doing on Opening Day.

Diaz is hopeful, but in a non-saccharin way.  He’s rooted in realism; he just wants what is best for his family.

His circumstance came about with the loss of work.  Like so many hanging by an economic thread, Frank Diaz’s family has been living paycheck-to-paycheck. It has now been a couple months without those paychecks.  The eviction notice arrives and they have two hours to gather their belongings.

After time in the shelter, Frank gets good news:  He and his family have cleared the waiting list and are now eligible for this apartment.  Frank’s relief and measured enthusiasm abruptly departs when it’s determined his work as an “off-the-books” day laborer don’t qualify him as being gainfully employed or having regular income — a requirement of all tenants.

This sets off a sequence of events that provide a glimpse into what it is like to live a life of poverty — a life perpetually on the edge.  I do not wish to give away important details of the story; however, Frank’s obstacles to getting his family out of their situation are palpable.  They are powerful examples that hard-work and determination are not a guaranteed escape from poverty.

Today in America, over 37 million people live at or below the poverty level.  It is estimated that by the end of 2010 the number will rise to 50 million.  This is not a collection of so-called “lazy people” lacking motivation.  As much as we don’t like to think this happens in our prosperous nation, those living in poverty are examples of the serious injustices in our economic and social structures.  Sadly, these injustices make casualties out of people like Frank Diaz and his family….As well as families and individuals in our own communities.

To better understand the impact of poverty — even upon the most-determined people — I highly recommend picking up a copy of Where God Left His Shoes.  Fret not that the film is one of despair.  As I mentioned, this is also a story of hope and there are shining examples of redemption that champion the human spirit in this film.

 For more information, you can also visit the Official Website 

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Lessons Learned From Monsters

Monsters, Inc © Disney Pixar

One of my daughters’ favorite movies is the Pixar modern-day classic Monsters, Inc. Admittedly, it’s one of my favorites as well.

In the movie, a “Monster” society generates its power by scaring children and capturing their screams as a source of energy.  Our main characters-Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal)-make this notion of acquiring screams entertaining.  It certainly gives reason to laugh at our own childhood fears of the Boogeyman lurking in our closets. 

But as the story unfolds, we see the desperate measures taken by Monsters, Inc. CEO, Mr. Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn) to acquire more energy (screams) which has become more difficult to obtain as children have been desensitized to the “scary things.”  It concludes when the jokester Mike Wazowski discovers that far more energy is generated by capturing the laughter of children-and there’s no limit to the amount that can be collected.

 So what is to be learned? 

Let me take a step back before answering that question and state the following:  We take ourselves, and our issues, far too seriously and far too often; we become so self-absorbed in our own opinions and agendas that we fail to see the larger issues that surround us.

This, of course, is only exacerbated by our sense of being on the “right side” of things.  Our language and behavior becomes less civil.  We resort to factionalism and fear.  We try to scare not just our opponents, but those either ambivalent or undecided. 

And, I have to ask myself, “Is this approach limiting our ability to capture energy and sustain our society?”  And since Sulley and Mike Wazowski are merely fictional characters, how do we harness positive energy today?

Over the last 15 years, America has been a particularly polarized nation.  We’ve seen it divided into Red and Blue states.  But, polarization and factionalism is not something exclusive to American politics.  It’s global.  It’s seen between East and West.  It’s among the “haves” and the “have-nots.”  It’s inter-religious….And, it’s intra-religious.

As Americans, we are in challenging times and it appears it will be that way for a bit longer. It has been said that as the size of the pie grows smaller, so do the table manners. With our economy lagging, it’s easy to be worried.  But, do we let our own fears and interests blind us or make us insensitive to others?  Or worse, do we turn that fear against each other?

The Congress has been grappling with a stimulus package and a federal budget that, as proposed, has a $3.5 trillion deficit.  Yes, that was trillion with a “T.”  Debate likely will be divided sharply among party lines.  Additionally, this summer President Obama will nominate a new member of the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice, David Souter.  My estimation is the polarizing forces will be out in full strength.

I pray that our processes are marked by reasoned dialogue and not divisiveness and fear.  It is far too idealistic to think that everybody will have a good Mike Wazowski-induced laugh about the many issues facing our nation at the present time.  After all, we ARE faced with a lot of serious issues.  But, that doesn’t mean we have to take our ball and go home if we don’t like it.

A debate about health care reform will take place.  There are some very strong sides on this subject and we’ve seen the language can be inflammatory.  Whether you believe in a Canadian-style Universal System or an unbridled free-market approach, it does not change the fact that at the end of the day 45 million Americans have no health insurance at all.

As it presently stands, 37 million Americans live in poverty — 9 million are children.  Estimates say that by the end of 2010, 50 million Americans will live at or below the poverty line.  How can the most prosperous nation in the world allow this to happen?  Are we too busy or do we just not care?

While proposed solutions to these problems will differ between the Left and the Right, there must be a common moral imperative to resolve these problems and address societal injustice. 

For that to happen….

We must ask ourselves, “Can I put aside my personal agenda for the common good?” 

We must ask ourselves, “Will I be an instrument of mercy, or an instrument of fear?”

We must ask ourselves, “Will I be life-giving, or life-taking.”

And when we go to bed at night, would we rather be laughing or screaming?

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