My Brothers Keeper
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The Moral Differences: Progressive versus Conservative

Jun 06, 2013 -- 12:22pm

The Moral Differences:  Progressive versus Conservative



            Twelve years ago, we moved into our new house, a home built for us in a stand of woods. At the same time, another couple was building a new home nearby. A third couple built a house on the other end of the woods a few years later. A fourth couple built a house up the road from us.

            Today, it occurred to me to visit them. I thought I would walk to the door of the house where for a year a McCain-Palin sign had graced the lawn. I would say, “Hi, we noticed the tornado in Oklahoma, and we have tornadoes here in Central Illinois. I figured it might be a good idea to set up a connection—even a phone number—in case a tornado hits.”

That was how I was going to introduce myself.

I had an agenda, though, that underlay that remark.

Most traditional religions had said to love your neighbor. These four houses don’t communicate at all, living within five hundred yards of each other. I mean, we ARE physical neighbors. If I call myself a Christian, I ought to love them.

            And then a light dawned. With a flash of insight, I realized that ethics did not mean for us to obey that rule. And with that insight, I saw the difference between Progressive Liberals and Conservatives. Obedience misses the point. The point is to recognize here and now that our neighbor is a fellow human being. 

Not because some ancient moral leaders have said so. It is not a matter of conforming to a tradition at all, but something deeper and more humane. The Conservative practices merely an external conformity and a denial of his or her own conscience. External forces—in essence, a reactionary response—too often move the Conservative, to his or her moral decisions. 

The Progressive, on the other hand, appreciates first of all the here and now--and makes a moral decisions from within. Choices arise from his or her heart’s decision—habit, attitude and conscience—to help another person. A Progressive responds to people, not to an ideology—to feelings for a person not to obedience to a system.

            The Progressive, liberal person perceives the human race as “our” family—we who live as “my,” or “our,” neighbor. Sheer proximity. Sheer being human. Our sharing of one sky and one earth.

            A progressive and liberal individual, free of the chains of inflexible principles, feels free to obey the world within, free to do whatever it takes. The self-styled Conservative has locked his mind and heart into obeying a set of binding rules from which he is both reluctant to depart and which directs him to “conserve” the rule prior to any kindness, healing, service or—spending our lives in loving.

            In other words, my motive for visiting our neighbors was upside down and backwards. I was doing the wrong thing, and for the wrong reason.

If I went just to meet, to know, to share—the visit is authentic, valid, enriching. That is the mind of the Progressive.

If, on the other hand, I went to just obey a commandment, the neighbor becomes a tool, a “thing” to be used for my purposes. And that is, sadly, too often the mind of the Conservative—to follow the rule, to make use of people as things to follow the dictates of firmly held beliefs, of conserved ideology—of what is essentially a self-centered philosophy of life.

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Quite a statistic?

Jun 05, 2013 -- 11:55am

Quite a statistic?
Our national economy grows about $1.70 for every dollar invested in food stamps
By Kenan Heise
Author of The Book of the Poor (Marion Street Press, 2012)


Estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70—which means by the way, that much money laid out to help families in need actually comes back to he government in the form of higher revenue.

  Paul Krugman, The New York Times, May 31


His source was an August 2, 2011 report by Raz Godelnik on The Moody Analytics titled:“The Surprising Economic Value of Food Stamps.”

The economic value of food stamps is an indicator of how much economic activity is actually generated by food stamps. In other words, it shows us how many dollars are injected into the economy for every dollar spent by the federal government on food stamps.

When Moody’s Analytics assessed different forms of stimulus, it found that food stamps were the most effective, increasing economic activity by $1.73 for every dollar spent. Unemployment insurance came in second, at $1.62 and most tax cuts yielded a dollar or less. The reason for this high effectiveness is, as Jim Weill of Food Research and Action Centre explained (to)ethe Economist the fact that food stamps recipients are so poor that they tend to spend them immediately.

When money gets spent on food it goes on to pay for grocery clerk salaries and grocery story rent- the landlord and the grocery clerk then have money to spend for their own needs. The most effective forms of economic stimulus are those that encourage spending and food stamps are near the top of the heap for encouraging spending.

These facts—these realities—nail to the wall of the nation’s shame the senselessness and fallacy of the Republican/Romney/Tea Party/We-Don’t-Care cabal against sharing America’s abundance with those in need of food on their tables and milk in their babies’ bottle.

That food stamp dollar spirals upward in the economy because it is also a significant investment in the nation’s health, education and welfare.

A July 14, 2011 Economist article elaborated on the issue of individual need:

It is also hard to argue that food-stamp recipients are undeserving. About half of them are children, and another 8% are elderly. Only 14% of food-stamp households have incomes above the poverty line; 41% have incomes of half that level or less, and 18% have no income at all. The average participating family has only $101 in savings or valuables. Less than a tenth of recipients also receive cash payments from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programme (TANF), the reformed version of welfare; roughly a third get at least some income from wages.

In the decades before the more recent expansion of food stamps, I interviewed hundreds of Americans who experienced genuine hunger. Their stories were painful to hear. Now, we know that it benefits not only them and their families to help feed them but also our economy.

Here is some of that testimony:

When I get my check, I buy enough canned goods to last me a month. We don’t eat much meat. I don’t worry. I just pray to the Lord to find me the way.THE HEAD OF FAMILY, 1965

You try to save—everybody does that—but an emergency always comes up. Then it means food off your table and clothes off their backs. THE MOTHER OF A FAMILY ON WELFARE, 1965

Mainly, we fill ’em up on potatoes or rice or spaghetti or corn bread. You don’t feeds ’em potatoes or corn bread at the same meal like some people I know. And the rich people has salads and vegetables at the same meals. That ain’t necessary for nobody.A MOTHER RESPONDING TO THE QUESTION, “WHO DO YOU CUT DOWN FIRST WHEN THE MONEY STOPPED COMING IN?”

I spent the lump sum (from Social Security to cover her husband’s death) to pay off my debts. I did not declare and  was thrown off relief as a result. For three years, I was sick in bed, but they wouldn’t put me on relief. Finally, they put me on disability and my kids on welfare. But we had hard times for those years. My kids went three weeks on bread and water. I borrowed money from people, but I wasn’t able to repay it. A WOMAN PUNISHED FOR “CHEATING” ON WELFARE.

People don’t comprehend. My child was hungry. I took him to the A & P, and I took a can opener and a spoon along. I fed him right there in the store. They called the police. They took my child from me and sent me to the 11th and State. You want to know what they did with me? They paroled me to Alcoholics Anonymous because they thought I was drunk.A MOTHER IN COOK COUNTY JAIL IN 1982 AFTER THE REAGAN WELFARE CUTS

The following is from interviews I had with residents of Uptown neighborhood in 1982:

Michael: I’ll tell you how bad it gets. I been down to where the only thing I had to eat was an ice cube.

Wanda:You can cut down on food, specially the last week of the month. You go in a lot of houses and you don’t find any food whatever in the house. I know a man eats popcorn the last week of the month.

Carl:I am an ulcer patient. I know what popcorn can do to you.

Wanda:Rice will fill you up. So will spaghetti. Anything with starch. For meat, you used to be able to serve kidneys and neck bones.

Carl:You know what neck bones cost in this neighborhood. Eighty cents a pound. I went into a store last week to buy chicken backs because I wanted some chicken and rice. They used to give away chicken backs. Now, they sold me these chicken backs for 59 cents a pound.

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For the Republican Party, stupid is as stupid does

Jun 04, 2013 -- 11:48am

 For the Republican Party, stupid is as stupid does



The Republican Party is facing a number of problems recently highlighted by the now famous statement by Bobby Jindal, Republican Gov. of Louisiana, who urged Republicans to "stop being the party of stupid." Was he right? For a political party, stupid is what undermines your chance to win elections. A lot of what Republicans stand for and are doing appears to be that kind of stupid.


Gov. Jindal was probably referring to a series of really stupid statements by Republican candidates. These would include candidate Romney's accusation that 47% of the electorate are moochers or the sexist remarks of several congressional candidates almost condoning rape. If the Republican Party believes this is the totality of their stupid, there is no hope for them. But Gov. Jindal is warning them.


Political prospects for the Republicans are dismal. History and demography are arrayed against them. Historically, Republicans lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. In the most recent election, they also lost the popular vote for both the House and the Senate. They retained control of the House only because of severe gerrymandering in House congressional districts. Demographically, the number of white, middle-class males, who have been the bulwark of the party, is in absolute decline. The number of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and women who, along with youth of America, make up the Democrat's base, are increasing as a portion of the electorate.


Republican political strategies to combat this decline have been at best marginal and often perverse. It is stupid, as well as insane, to continue to do the same thing and expect different results. Yet, the insurgent, right wing of the Republican party keeps going back to the same playbook. Their hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners, and never compromise on anything ever have brought political gridlock and electoral losses.


The conservative Republican agenda or platform is roughly individualism, small government, low corporate taxes, a strong national defense and a balanced budget. Actually, that platform like most political platforms responds to a coalition of very different constituencies. Individualism responds to the libertarian wing of the party. Small government serves the interest of the social conservatives. Low corporate taxes and deregulation buy the support of big business. The goals of a strong national defense and a balanced budget bring on board the military-industrial complex, the neoconservative warriors and the deficit hawks.


These interest groups are now declining in numbers and importance and the programs that respond to their needs do not correspond to the growing needs of the new coalition being put together by Barack Obama and the Democrats.


Individualism is seen by the excluded as a pat on the back when you succeed but not a helping hand when you need it. Small government is considered a call for cuts in spending on education, health and the social safety net. Low corporate taxes means high personal taxes. A balanced budget is just another excuse to cut Social Security and Medicare. National security is seen as yet another corporate profit center.


Republican strategists recognize that in the last election Pres. Obama and Democratic candidates won the popular vote because the Obama coalition won among women, the 19 to 30-year-olds, people of color and other minorities. Reince Priebus, RNC Chair, and other Republicans appear to agree that they lost the election because they fell behind in the technical aspects of how to run a campaign. The Republicans believe they have the right message, they just didn't deliver it well.


It is hard to believe that they really believe that. But the Republicans have a deep faith in the moral and political correctness of their values and an unhealthy propensity for self-deception. Karl Rove was sure, even late on election night, that Romney would win.


The self-deception is deeper than election Day polls. Republican Newt Gingrich believes that "Obama's a hard-core left-winger" and Curly Haugland, RNC member, said this is a "socialist administration." The RNC believes they can attract blacks with a "strategic relationship." Former RNC chair Ross Duncan wants to have a "dialogue with those people." "Those people" are way past accepting that attitude.


The most serious flaw in the Republican strategy is its continued dependence on anti-democracy tactics. The widespread determination to suppress the vote of minorities through barriers to registration, identification requirements, and limiting of places, times and machines for voting have been and will continue to be counter productive. Such discriminatory tactics drive minorities to the polls. Redistricting and gerrymandering have also been widely used to deny effective democracy to minorities. The most recent effort to use proportional electoral college voting is blatantly anti-democracy.


Tactics that the Republicans are discussing and using smack of desperation and hypocrisy. The attempt to manipulate the vote is a dead-end, last-stand strategy. This response to the needs of minorities does not afford them the respect they have a right to.

It looks like the Republicans are going to continue as the party of stupid. Well, Gov. Jindal can say, I told you so.

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The Forgotten “Coloreds” A poem and life observation

May 30, 2013 -- 12:33pm


The Forgotten “Coloreds”


A poem and life observation


by Kenan Heise




the symbols.

the acts,

the conditions,

the limitations,

and the facts of life

that I witnessed


in the North


just two to three generations two ago.

Included on the list:

the “colored” balconies

of movie theaters,

the hospital wards for Negroes

in the ones that admitted them;

the “members only” restrictions of swimming pools,

with membership costing a quarter for whites

but not available

to anyone else;

the restrictive covenants

covering subdivisions and whole neighborhoods;

the separate and unequal schools;

the Negro sections of cemeteries,

--the  few which did accept all;

the words “white only”

in employment ads,

the powerful

union hiring hall exclusion practices;

the golf course,

amusement park,

campground and public beach

no admittance policies;

the redlining by insurance companies;

the “need not apply” regulations

for taxicab,



retail store,


office worker

and executive jobs and positions;

The “We don’t serve coloreds”

at restaurants,


and hotels;

the “I’m sorry, but it is not up to me.”

all the time over the telephone;

the “We think

you’d be happier

with your own.”

at prayer meetings,


and churches;

the “Sorry,

but you don’t qualify.” answer

from banks or savings and loans;

the “You were speeding, boy.”

of the traffic cop;

the injustice

of the justice system;

the distance

of the social worker

and the disdain

of the socially-prominent volunteer;

the brick through the window

when you tried

to move out of the “Black Belt;”

the righteousness,

the patronizing,

the racist jokes,

and the sexual innuendos

of so many

so often;

the indignity of seeing one’s children

ignored by teachers

and picked on by other students;

the frustration,

the hurt

and even the acceptance

of it all.



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The IRS Is the Victim

May 28, 2013 -- 1:15pm

 The IRS Is the Victim




The IRS is not involved in "the worst Washington scandal since Watergate." This is a ginned up, politically motivated exploitation of what happens when you underfund the government.


The tax code, generally, exempts charitable (501(c)(3)) and social welfare (501(c)(4)) groups from taxation. Organizations prefer to use 501(c)(4) because they then become social welfare organizations which "may engage in limited political campaign intervention" that does not constitute its primary activity. In addition, donors names remain secret.


The IRS makes the determination under 501(c)(4) as to whether or not the political campaign intervention activity of an organization qualifies as "limited" and is not its "primary activity."


Last week, an audit by the Inspector General of the Treasury Department accused the IRS of using inappropriate criteria when determining eligibility for tax exempt status. Approximately 1/3 of the applications that received special review had Tea Party, Patriot or 9/12 in their names. The audit makes other charges but the "inappropriate criteria" accusation is the one that has been seized by the mainstream media and political conservatives to condemn the IRS as guilty of political bias.


The IRS has the unenviable job of implementing a horrendously complicated tax code with limited resources while operating in an anti-tax political climate. The popular press now refers to the IRS as the "most hated" of government agencies. The IRS has become a target of opportunity. This popular narrative may give comfort and reassurance to the tax haters but the Inspector General's audit is explicit to the contrary. The problem is the "ineffective management" which allowed the criteria to be developed and stay in place.


This is a management problem, not a political problem. The IRS found itself facing a huge increase in work load and a decreased budget. The number of applications for 501(c)(4) status increased from 1800 in 2009 to 3400 in 2012. The IRS budget was cut this year by $300 million and is now $1.5 billion below the president's request. Personnel have been cut by 200.


Over time, the rules for tax exemption became confused and broadened, especially after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. But falling behind in your work is a difficulty, not a crime. Only a direct quote from the Inspector General's audit can spell out the unforgivable crime: "Treasury Regulations state that I.R.C. Par. 501(c)(4) organizations should have social welfare as their “primary activity", however, the regulations do not define how to measure whether social welfare is an organization's "primary activity."


That bureaucratic understatement says that the civil servants in IRS Exempt Organizations Division had no criteria on which to make a decision. Nor did they have guidance from their political superiors. The IRS commissioner at the time, Doug Shulman, was a Bush holdover and the person who then replaced him, Steven Miller, was only acting. Neither had the clout to protect much less control the agency.


The bureaucrats tried to find some way to work through the mountain of cases. As Steven Miller, the acting Commissioner, testified "people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection" … "made foolish mistakes." In attempting to prioritize the work and trusting their own lack of bias, they came up with shortcuts that did not take into consideration "the public perception" in a highly charged political situation.


The Exempt Organizations Division tried several times to bring the problem to the attention of the agency. It was the head of the division, Lois Lerner, who planted a question in an open forum so she could bring the situation into the public light. She was in way over her pay grade; the problem was and is political. You cannot make rules about lobbying, campaigning and electioneering, especially when it involves money, without recognizing that is the essence of politics. You cannot decide what is political and how much politics to allow unless you are a politician. Bureaucrats don't respond to political perceptions, that's what Congress is supposed to do.


Congress allowed this sort of festering sore because it believes in accountability and responsibility – for everyone except itself. Now that we have the congressional attention, however misplaced, we, the American people, should force Congress to apply the law or make a new one.


The IRS is accused, and justly so, of singling out the Tea Party for special scrutiny. The Tea Party and 9/12 groups are proudly political organizations. The crime is that the IRS did not single out the large blatantly political groups who knew they were breaking the rules. The small homegrown groups just want, and should receive, the same treatment as the big guys are getting. In other contexts, these people are too big to jail and too big to fail. In this context they are too rich to be regulated. The American Future Fund (Koch brothers) reported 23 million in spending, 77% of which was political. MoveOn.Org plays in the same league. Harassment should be reserved for these big guys.


The IRS is being accused of the very kind of prejudice that it is now suffering. The IRS is an effective, efficient government bureaucracy that serves us well. It is the IRS's own Inspector General who carried out the audit. The original sin is the delay in the confirmation of senior administration officials.

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A Christian Nation?

May 21, 2013 -- 3:16pm

A Christian Nation?

 by Joris Heise

          Many conservatives would like to understand us as a “Christian nation.” These conservatives claim that our “founding fathers” used Christian principles to establish our government as Christian. Now, these conservatives are telling the rest of us that we need to recover our Christian core.




I object. The heart of our national community beats not with religion, but with “independence,” an attitude based on natural mutual respect and individual dignity. Certainly, religion is part of our blood. Like the democratic Greeks and Rome’s republican principles, however, we have benefited from noble Judeo-Christian principles.

But it does not mean we are a Christian nation.

Unlike past Christian nations, the United States has created with our Constitution a system of government and polity which, while avoiding religious conformity, respects the diversity of our people. We the people see each other as individuals living together in a community, a res publica, a shared environment and culture.

Our diversity depends not on Christianity—and specifically not on any set of Christian rules, principles or dogmas. Our diversity arises from many sources—our various origins, our ability to learn from mistakes, and a hard-earned reluctance to control one another, though Conservatives buck this trend.

          ...but what difference would it make if we were a Christian nation? And why do conservatives find it so important?

The answer lies in the current ideology of Conservatism—they want perfection. They picture a “perfect America” as a nation where everybody is all alike—conforming to one ethical and religious standard. They cannot handle the disparate tensions that, in the view of liberals, are exactly the energy we need to improve our country.

          Conservatives believe theoretically in equality “under God.” In practice, however, these folks often emphasize inequality.  

On the one hand—they approve you if you are rich, white, and English-speaking—you are worthy of being American. On the other hand—they disdain the “unworthy”—people who poor, who are colored, who speak foreign tongues—i.e., the “rest of them.” Religion, for these Conservatives, would eliminate much of this diversity, and would emphasize instead an enforced harmony and conformity.

In other words, the practical consequences of such a claim would be horrendous!

We are not a Christian nation. We have never been—in any sense of the word—a Christian nation. We don’t want to become one, either!  And we won’t.

          Why? Why does the Constitution—and its spirit—shy away from a “Christian nation”? Reflection and history reveal the dangers of any one religion—or its efforts at “thought control”—as the basis of a political government. Fascism of the Nazi variety imposes thought control that is exactly the imposition of a religion. Communism of the Soviet variety imposes the same kind of control.

We are a growing, living idea of imperfect people shaping a world better than the one in which we matured into adulthood. A “Christian nation” goes backwards. It is not that Christianity is good or bad; as our heritage it is both. But we are a young nation, looking forward with the blood of Greece, and Jesus, Rome and rebellion, rationalism and science flowing in our veins, and ever so slowly continuously creating a liberal outlook, a re-invention of our past into a liberating and fruitful future.  

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