July 26, 2005

The American Dream Rediscovered

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I grew up in a poor rural area.  Coal mines dominated the landscape and the houses carried a gray tint from tri-axles spewing coal dust throughout the day.  The mines left in the era of Reaganomics and so did the jobs.  My dad was a foreman at a mine when it closed in 1985 making $33,000, he made $5000 the next year selling tires. He now runs a logging equipment company and if he's lucky he MIGHT be back up to $33K after 20 years.  

I went to a small school, graduated 63 people, of which over half went to college.  Parents knew that you HAD to get your kids into college and you HAD to get them out of town.  Not one parent in my town had a college education, not one.  The American Dream is for every child to have a better life than their parents - it's that simple.  In my town that meant getting out and getting educated.  

Many of my friends didn't take the opportunity.  When I go home I see them.  I see them going into bars at lunchtime, I see them driving 30 miles to the nearest Wal-Mart to make $9 an hour, I see them out in the snow patching up broken-down cars.  They are lost and they know it.  No future.  The 1000 mile stare.  


In an urban area they probably would have turned to drugs and gangs, but in the country they turned to McDonald's and cheap beer.  They don't think they are going to end up in jail, but I don't think they plan for a future either.  When you have no future, to what do you turn?  

In our American Society there is always a quest to get ahead, a quest to be more, be better.  There is no satisfaction with today, there is only longing for the better tomorrow.  In part, it is this drive that has made the U.S. so competitive and so successful over the years.  But, the result of this societal drive is that those who feel they have reached their limits are driven to distract themselves from reality.  Lottery tickets, alcohol, drugs, crime - all ways to ignore the future.

My wife was in the Peace Corps in Morocco, where she lived in a throwback town high in the Atlas Mountains.  These people had NO future in the American sense, and yet they were happy.  Why?  Because their thoughts were on the day, on the crops, what needed to be done today to survive through the harsh winter?  There was a real sense of community because they shared everything, their fields, their orchards, their animals, their chores, their love, their sadness, their religion.  Don't scoff at the religion you non-believers!  Ask yourself this, what would America be like if EVERY citizen took five 15-minute breaks throughout the day to silently pray or meditate on the world at large?  Your first thoughts of the day and your last would be of peace and hope - not a bad idea, huh?  They were happy because they were focused on LIFE, real life right there in front of them.  With no future but survival they were content.  Content equals happy.  

Economists today think that we are on the right track - that we are heading in the right direction.  They don't understand the pessimism, because they have never reached the point of having no future.  Wages are growing at their slowest rate in a generation and minimum wage is well below a living wage, so now more people are falling into poverty.  Health care costs are out of control and as such, more people can't take care of their basic health needs.  Jobs are moving overseas or being cut to improve Wall Street expectations, which means more citizens can't rent a movie for their kids, go to the local amusement park this summer, or buy decent back-to-school clothes.  Have you been the kid in the pleather sneakers from Payless?  Who did you take it out on, your friends or your parents?  There is no future for America's workers, and because of this there is no hope in America.

The American Dream is dead and gone.  No longer do citizens dream of a brighter future for their children, instead visions of the Lottery, American Idol, and Survivor fame float through our children's heads.  And, we let it.  Why not, what did the American Dream get us?  Poverty, hunger, strife.  The Republican Party has done a good job convincing people that if you have not achieved the American Dream then you are weak and lazy, morally bankrupt.  Moreover, they have redefined the American Dream for adults, so that it is not about your children, it is about your possessions.  In their Dream everyone can have a new set of fancy-looking steak knives from Wal-Mart and a new lawn mower every few years from Lowe's, everyone can have 300 television channels, and everyone can lease a new car.  In exchange, all they ask is that you give them the American Dream.  Turn over your future and the future of your children in exchange for these magic beans - and pay no mind to the man behind the curtain - even if they are just cheap plastic knock-offs made in Sri Lanka.  You there, textile worker in North Carolina, have another cheap NASCAR shirt made in China, never mind the loss of your job, Wal-Mart has a sale on real, imitation, leather suitcases for when your house is foreclosed.

The role of the Democratic Party that is too avoided or overlooked is to win back the American Dream.  Taking back the ideal that each generation can be better off than the one before.  Isn't that what we are up against?  Do we not face a party that is in search of Aristocracy, a party that wants a wealthy ruling class and an impoverished working class?  Will new members be welcome to the Aristocracy?  Not likely.  You will be smashed out of existence by Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble's, and Starbucks.  The Democratic Party must fight for the American Dream, that is our framing, that is our message, no half-measures.  

Look no further for your message Democrats, whether DNC, DLC, NDN, or NPA, this is what America expects from you.  The lack of any real effort to make our lives better on a day-to-day basis is why no one trusts or cares about government anymore.  If you want to make America better, then do it.  Stop talking about it, stop framing it, do something about it.  Something real.  Reach out to your fellow citizens with real change, reach out to them with a new American Dream that this next generation will have a better life than ANY previous generation.

  • We fight for a living wage for all Americans that work a 40-hour week.  

  • We fight for access to health care for all Americans.  

  • We fight for freedom of small businesses to flourish under the heat of competition.  

  • We fight for the future, we fight for hope, and we fight for the American Dream.

July 25, 2005

Hayes in Hot Seat

This article does a good job of pointing out why Robin Hayes is in the electoral hot seat. I have other articles here and here that also show why we should be gunning for Hayes. The CAFTA vote will do nothing to endear him to his District voters either.

Hayes' seat a battleground again
Both parties already pouring cash, attention into 8th District race
Observer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - A re-election bid by GOP Rep. Robin Hayes of Concord is again shaping up as one of the 20 or so House races both parties will be watching -- and trying to shape -- as they fight for control of the House in 2006.

The signs aren't hard to find:

Hayes is getting money from corporate PACs...Hayes is on both parties' lists mostly because he's a Republican representing a district with many more registered Democrats (195,452) than Republicans (118,069). Unaffiliated voters in the 8th District total 71,963...On top of the discontent with Bush, Democrats hope to use Hayes' recent votes and comments -- including his assertion on CNN that Saddam Hussein had a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- to cast him as an out-of-the-mainstream Republican.

...Hoping to scare away any formidable Democratic opposition, national Republicans and their allies have already begun funneling money to Hayes' campaign. He is among 18 House Republicans receiving contributions from the so-called "Million Dollar Club" -- a dozen business PACs representing Wal-Mart, R.J. Reynolds, UPS, Pfizer and others.

...Those at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, meanwhile, have sent a barrage of news releases saying Hayes' votes and comments place him far to the right of even fellow Republicans.

One highlights his June vote against a measure to block the United States from transferring prisoners to foreign governments that may torture them. The amendment to an appropriations bill passed 415-8.

"A lot of these (Hayes) votes we've questioned are not Democratic or Republican issues," says Bill Burton, a DCCC spokesman. "Take the torture vote. More than 99 percent of the members disagreed with Hayes on that. ... It just shows that he's out of the mainstream."

Hayes says he's "obviously against torture," but considered the amendment -- from Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. -- a "very poor political effort to embarrass" U.S. troops.

Why did so many other Republicans -- 215 -- vote for it?

"It was the easy way to go," says Hayes. "Stay out of controversy."

Deadbeat Parents

Johnston presses for payment
Sheriff's deputies rounded up two dozen parents who have not paid child support
I was just reading this story in the News & Observer about Johnston County Sheriff's rounding up deadbeat parents. As is so common in today's media, the story gives equal weight to both sides of the issue and fails to reach any conclusions.

Armed with arrest warrants for 185 moms and dads who have skipped out on child support payments, deputies knocked on doors before folks began stirring for the day. By 2:30 a.m., deputies hauled 24, including six women, to the county jail to settle their tabs.

"It's amazing how they can't come up with the money until they get behind bars," said Sheriff Steve Bizzell, who called for Sunday's roundup after the delinquent accounts started piling up at the county child support enforcement office.

OK, so I agree with this. That is why we call them Deadbeat Dads, and from the looks of it, Deadbeat Moms. But, then comes this story aimed at tugging at your heartstrings.
Carolyn Best, wiping sleep from her eyes, shuffled to a holding cell and stretched out on a belly swollen with ovarian tumors. Best, of 827 Ward St. in Smithfield, owed $548 to the grandmother of her 14-year-old, who had custody of the child for a while in 2004. Currently out of work to care for another sick child, Best couldn't figure out how she would settle up.

"Every time I go to court, I tell them I can't pay for it, but they just keep demanding it," said Best, a 34-year-old mother of five.

She'd pay this time with her freedom. Failure to comply with court orders to pay child support will keep her in jail for 30 days. She hoped a friend would look after her toddler until she got out.

Well, it worked. I feel sorry for this woman and it makes me wonder about the jaded nature of the night's work and our system. But, you know what. I'm not going to wuss out like that. What these Sheriff's did was a good thing. If you have a child, you have a moral and legal obligation to take care of that child. Ms. Best is an exception to the rule, perhaps given her healthcare issues she should be let off the hook. But, then who takes care of her other child? A grandmother? How is she to pay. She is "hoping" that a friend will look after her toddler? I'm certainly hoping that child services keeps tabs - what exactly does she think will happen to her toddler if her friend doesn't help?

If it takes getting thrown in jail or threatened with that action to get parents to pay, then so be it. Are there exceptions to the rule, of course. Ms. Best is one such exception, she should not be in jail given her condition. But, that does not detract from the overall good that comes from waking up Deadbeat Parents to the fact that they must pay for the children they brought into this world.

July 21, 2005

Easley Moves Ahead on Education

Governor Mike Easley (NC) sent $75 Million to the state's schools today without legislature approval - Good For Him! The legislature has been caught up in a fight between Democrats and Democrats. The sticking point appears to be taxes, Democrats want tax breaks for the rich and corporations with savings through Medicaid cuts, while Democrats want no Medicaid cuts nor tax cuts for the rich. It appears everyone wants tax cuts for corporations. Go figure.

The Republicans? They don't care, we're killing ourselves, why should they bother.

The state is under a court order to make schools better for the poor and not just for the wealthiest North Carolinians. The Easley money goes to:

* $22.5 million to continue a fund for disadvantaged students in 16 of the state's poorest districts. Easley initiated funding for that purpose last year, after the legislature adjourned without acting on it.

* A $16.6 million increase in money the state distributes to about 70 "low wealth" school districts, where local resources for schools fall below the state average. Last year, those districts got $109 million, and Easley has proposed that the allocation be raised in the 2006-07 fiscal year by $42 million.

* $16.6 million to expand More at Four, increasing enrollment capacity for 4-year-olds by 3,200. Last year, the program received about $49 million and reached about 13,600 children.

* Nearly $6 million on high school reform projects, including 15 small-scale "Learn and Earn" schools that will be cooperative ventures with community colleges. There will also be 11 other smaller high schools oriented toward particular economic-development themes, such as health science.

* $11 million for an initiative to open 100 school-based child and family support teams through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

July 19, 2005

Political Parties

This is a great feature in the Raleigh News & Observer.


Lawmakers supportive of the Conservation Council of North Carolina were treated to crab cakes, sushi, cheese ravioli and beer and wine at a reception Wednesday night in the Raleigh home of council president Nina Szlosberg.

The reception listed Speaker Pro Tempore Richard Morgan, Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, House Majority Leader Joe Hackney and Rep. Jim Harrell, a Surry County Democrat who leads the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, as special guests.

During the day, the N.C. Dairy Producers Association provided ice cream to lawmakers and their staffs as part of the annual milk chugging contest.

It's interesting. Normally the column covers gifts from major corporations and business interest groups, yet today the focus is on the Conservation Council. Look for an update on this page of what the Conservation Council is, what bills it supports, and the vote tallies.

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