“Poverty Is A State of Mind”, Dr. Ben Carson

 

Let’s consider President Donald Trump’s budget.  Dr. Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development ( H.U.D.), has to allocate billions of dollars to  cover his enormous and complex responsibilities.  Millions of women, men and children in the inner cities across the country are dependent on his judgment for the years ahead.  How he views poverty is crucial to their lives, housing, and food they must have every day.

When he declared in mid May, 2017 that “poverty is a state of mind”,  it created a furor as political and social authorities reacted on  editorial pages and  cable television.  Adam Schiff, (Democratic Representative, CA) asked. “How would you diagnose Hunger?  Homelessness?  Addiction?  As hallucinations?”  Dr. Carson  grew up poor in Detroit and became a famous neurosurgeon.  After his comments in a radio interview hit the airwaves, he sent an email to the  HUD staff, saying “ I had to will myself to see  the opportunities that existed on the horizon.”  He added that his mother “willed me to find a way out.” Carson has also said, “ public housing shouldn’t be too comfortable lest it induce long term dependency.”  Researchers like Professor Eldar Shafir, a behavioral scientist at Princeton who studies poverty, say Carson has confused the causes and effects of poverty.

President Trump released his $4.1 trillion budget on Tuesday, May 22, 2017. Headline: New York Times, May 23: “Budget Plan Cuts Deeply Into Anti-Poverty Efforts” The title: “A New Foundation for American Greatness.”  The president’s annual budget usually faces challenges when it hits Capitol Hill and Congress raises serious questions.  For example, Mark Meadows, a conservation Republican in the House said he “ could not stomach the idea” of  taking  away food assistance for older Americans. “Meals on Wheels”  even for some of us who are considered fiscal hawks, may be a bridge too far.”

The budget calls for a ten percent increase in military spending and deep cuts in programs for women, men and children living in poverty such as food stamps and school breakfasts and lunches.  Over the next decade,  $800 billion  will be slashed from Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor, $192 billion from nutritional assistance and $272 billion from welfare programs. The budget would also cut disability programs by $72 billion that millions of Americans rely upon. Totally eliminated are student loan programs for the poor that subsidize college educations and those who enter jobs in government or non-profit. In contrast, there will be the millions of dollars in tax reductions for the wealthiest members of our country, the .01 percent at the top. They may also benefit from reduction or elimination of the estate tax.  The budget calls for $2.6 billion for border security including $1.8 billion to begin work on the wall with Mexico.

There is a $193 billion cut over ten years to SNAP,  Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program which provides food stamps for households with low incomes.  It became a controversial subject when Ronald Reagan complained that “Welfare queens were driving up in pink cadillacs to collect food stamps! ” The facts are that each month food stamps help feed 43 million poor and  low-income Americans, most in families with children and working parents.  Other recipients are disabled or elderly living alone.  Benefits average only $1.40 per meal per person.  Food stamps also support the farm economy and supply cash that is quickly spent boosting the economy.

Budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested a “work requirement for able bodied adults” to receive food stamps.  That already exists!  Adults who don’t have dependents or a disability must work at least 80 hours each month or participate in a work force program. In the fiscal year 2015, two thirds of SNAP participants were children, seniors and adults with a disability. About 37 percent of adults were employed and 27 percent were looking for work.

A corollary to the need for food stamps is the prevalence of low wage jobs in our society.  In 2016, six of the 20 largest occupations – mainly in retail, restaurants and home care – had median wages near poverty level for a family of three.  Eight of the ten jobs that are expected to add the most positions in the next ten years pay poorly.  A New York Times lead editorial on the subject concluded, “ Congress and the White House can rectify , not by cutting spending, but by raising the minimum wage, updating the overtime pay rules, and instituting paid sick leave – for starters.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………..Joyce S. Anderson

 

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Summertime: Selling Books at the Craft Shows in Ocean City

 

Every summer, on Fridays and Saturdays from late June to early September, there are free Craft Shows on the Ocean City, New Jersey Music Pier.  The setting is ideal, reaching from the boardwalk toward the ocean with a high covered roof and an open side that catches the cool breezes.  My husband. and I have been taking part for ten summers with our published books as our craft.  We enjoy meeting hundreds of locals and tourists each summer in an informal setting and introducing them to our books. We call it our “third career”.

Bob and  I are the only authors joining a terrific group of women and men who create their original crafts.  Some pursue their work year round, traveling to shows up and down the East Coast.  There are painters, sewers, wood workers, candle makers, bakers, jewelers,  children’s clothing designers, knitters of afghans and sweaters, soap makers and plant growers with colored-glass filled wooden pots.  Crafters are often accompanied by their spouses or children who assist in setting up the complex displays on their tables. That task can take at least an hour or more with different stands and racks to hold tiny hand painted objects or hanging garments.

There is a caveat printed on the agreement forms that “All work by the exhibitors must be original.. Not accepted are sports memorabilia/cards, cosmetics, imported mass produced or manufactured T-shirts & sweatshirts , sneakers, food or other items that directly compete with the Boardwalk Merchants” Different groups sponsor the Craft Shows, including Ocean City Class Council, Raiders and Cheerleaders, and Ocean City Exchange Club.  There is an entry charge for the first three groups of $50. for each space and table . Electricity $5. We only need one space and table . We always request the last table closest to the ocean to be able to walk in front and talk with prospective buyers about the books.

We are the fastest set-up and breakdown at the end of the Show.  It takes us about twenty minutes to set up when we arrive about 8:15 a.m. and five minutes to wrap up at 3:00 p.m. We tape large posters of some book covers down the front of the table on the beige cloth to attract interest.   Then we arrange our books. Bob has his six mystery novels and I have my two non-fiction books and three novels.  We have our names on “Book Signings” placards and our price list. We usually bring five copies of each book, and ten copies of “Courage in High Heels” which is our best seller.  If it’s a good day, we sell a few books before 9 o’clock.

Over the years, there’s camaraderie that develops among the regulars and that is a plus to the experience.  As we set up each time, we compare notes and wish each other well. If there’s a problem, we help each other straighten it out.  We never have figured out if Friday is a better selling/buying day than Saturday.  People who rent a house or an apartment for a week  start and end on Saturday.  One would expect they would have more $$ for books on the first Saturday, but it doesn’t always turn out that way.  There are also other patterns.  The early morning strollers usually are walkers or bike riders. They rarely have money with them. No shoulder- bags for women is a sure sign.  Tougher to know with men who have $$ in their pockets. It’s still a guessing game.  One year, a woman on a bicycle stopped and gave us a check for every book on the table!  She collected books signed by the authors. We’ll never forget her.

Bob and I have different selling techniques.  He’s the expert since his first book was “Professional Selling” , Prentice Hall, published in four editions since the l970’s.  It was written for community colleges and the trade. Still in use at Harvard and The University of Wisconsin. The key chapter, the ABC’s of Selling- “Always Be Closing.  I’ve learned to vary approaches with different women and men who stop.  Many walkers don’t stop at all, but those who do are potential buyers.  I ask women, “Do you prefer true stories or novels?”  If they say true, I hand them a copy of “Courage in High Heels” and ask them to read the back cover. They learn that the book contains “ the true life stories of 8 women –not  famous women — who have overcome multiple obstacles in life with amazing resilience and spirit.”  I show them the Then and Now pictures and highlight certain women. If they are older women, I explain why I wrote the book, “To honor older women in our society who don’t get enough respect.”  They always nod in agreement.

If they prefer fiction, I introduce them to my three novels. Two are current stories of family life and “functional families” in contrast to the many dysfunctional families in print today. I start by saying “That’s why I wrote “Flaw in the Tapestry”  I was sick of those books!  And when I completed it, I wanted to know what happened next. (pause) So I wrote “If Winter Comes.”  And I push that book next to the first. We give a price break on two, three or more books. Selling a double or a triple is a thrill. A self described “ reader” may buy one of mine and one of Bob’s.  He has a great signing line, “Life is a mystery…”  When he sells more than one, he signs, “Life is still a mystery!” We each have return readers who come back each year for other books. Betty, an older woman who owns all our books, sends us a holiday card and note each December. We look forward to seeing her each summer walking down the pier. We exchange warm hugs.

Last week brought a special moment for me.  My latest book is “The Critical Eye”, Xlibris 2010.  It is a collection of some of my Op Eds and articles that have been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and other national and regional newspapers and magazines. They are as relevant today as when they appeared. When a man stops at the table or is the husband of a woman looking at my books, I give him a copy to look at.  I point out Section II: Communication, Technology, Science  and Section III: Religion, Race, Gender, Prejudice.  When an older man stopped last week, I opened the book to Section IV: Very Personal Essays and turned to “From Slonim to America; A Dream Fulfilled” and said, “That is my father’s story.  He was a little immigrant boy who came to America and grew up to become a surgeon”.  He looked at me from underneath the cap he was wearing and said very  slowly and distinctly, “I was a little immigrant boy from Lebanon who came to America and grew up to become a surgeon.”  I don’t know why I showed him that essay, but I will never forget the moment.  Yes, he bought “The Critical Eye”.   Later, Bob walked out on the boardwalk and saw him sitting on a bench …engrossed in reading the book.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………… Schedule this summer:  June 23, Friday;  July 7, Friday  July 22, Saturday  July 28, Friday

August 5, 12, & 28, Saturdays;  September 1, Saturday

Hope to see you there.

Joyce & Bob

 

 

 

 

 

Jared Kushner: Icarus Flying Too Close To The Sun

 

Prologue: The Greek legend of Daedalus and his son Icarus combines history with mythology.  Daedalus was the architect who worked for King Minos on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. The ruins of the Minoan Palace at Knossos that he created include the Labyrinth, a deadly maze built for the King to imprison his enemies.  The mythical monster, Minotaur, lived deep within the Labyrinth and killed all captured prisoners. King Minos became furious with Daedalus when he learned that the architect had advised Princess Ariadne to give Theseus the thread that allowed him to escape from the Labyrinth after he killed the Minotaur.  King Minos had Daedalus and his son Icarus thrown deep into the Labyrinth after his betrayal.

Daedalus, who had created the maze, knew a way to emerge, but he also realized the shores of Crete were heavily guarded.  They could neither run toward the sea nor sail to freedom.  They had to fly into the air!  He created gigantic wings from the branches of the osier tree connected with wax. Then, he taught Icarus how to fly, but warned him to keep away from the sun which would melt the wax , destroying the wings.  Daedalus and Icarus  did escape from the Labyrinth and flew into the sky, free. As they flew, young Icarus became excited with the thrill of flying and started flying higher and higher to salute the sun.  Daedalus was unable to restrain him and soon Icarus saw his great wings melting.  He fell into the sea and drowned.  The Icarian Sea where he fell, was named after him and nearby is an island called Icaria.  The mix of history and myth lives in the ruins at Knossos and the waters surrounding Crete.

Jared Kushner.   Married to Ivanka Trump,  President Trump’s daughter, Kushner and his wife have offices in the West Wing of the White House.  He is a Special Adviser and she is an Assistant to the president.   They both have walk-in privileges to the Oval Office.  They are recognized as having unique relationships with Donald Trump as close trusted family members.  They accompanied him on his first overseas trip which Kushner planned and organized.  He has been given an extraordinary portfolio including the Israeli/Palestinian stalemate and reorganizing the federal government.  Yet, Kushner has no experience in diplomacy, government or political activities. His former work years were as the owner and manager of the vast family real estate empire in New York and New Jersey

It is known that Kushner is not interested in becoming involved in the legislation  planned for the Trump agenda.  He does not make himself available for interviews with the press.   In early June, he was featured on the cover of TIME magazine, with an in-depth article about his meetings with Russian diplomats and bankers during the transition and since the inauguration.  He is tall, handsome, privileged and appears supremely confident as he emerges with his briefcase to enter the SUV waiting to whisk him to his next meeting in The White House. He does not answer questions reporters call out to him.  He appears aloof as he keeps walking during those encounters.

Kushner and Ivanka have been absent at certain crucial times in the White House, as when President Trump told the audience in the Rose Garden — and the entire world –that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement signed by 195 nations.  Kushner, Ivanka and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had tried to convince Donald Trump to honor our commitment as the country that led the entire global endeavor under Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.  They lost the argument to Stephen Bannon, chief strategist, who has urged the president to withdraw ever since the campaign. Kushner and Bannon have been constantly at odds on policy, causing Trump to tell them to settle their differences.

After the Russian involvement in the 2016 election became a growing scandal and Robert Mueller, former Director of The F.B.I., was appointed as counsel to head an Investigation, Jared Kushner became a “person of interest” to the F.B.I.  This was related to the fact that he had not listed his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on his security clearance form nor the meeting with the Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov, with close ties to the Kremlin.  It was reported in The Washington Post that when Jared Kushner met with Kislyak, known as their “master spy”,  they discussed  setting up a back channel  with the Russians using Russian facilities.  Trump had publicly admired President Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign, calling him a” strong leader”while President Obama was a “weak leader.”   After our seventeen intelligence agencies agreed Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee during the campaign, Trump was not convinced this was accurate.  He tweeted that “China or a 400 pound person sitting on a bed anywhere” could have hacked the DNC.  It was clear he wanted to have a reset with Russia once he became president.  He did not agree with our l7 intelligence agencies that Russia led by Putin was our major foe in the world.

Kushner reportedly pushed the president to fire James Comey as F.B.I. director and  Trump’s history shows that he looks for people to blame when an action backfires.  It has been reported that he has focused on Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the main culprit because he did not alert the president in advance that he was going to recuse himself from the F.B. I. investigation into Russian involvement in our 2016 election.  Trump is furious and blames him for the appointment of Mueller as a special counsel.  Trump is mercurial as the world knows from his early morning tweets and attacks on federal judges and the “enemy press”.  Whether he would ever turn on his son –in-law publicly is very doubtful.  Ivanka is the closest of his  children and his family is always central to his security and identity.

When James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday,  June 8, Donald Trump may actually tweet in ‘real time’ during his testimony.  It will probably be the most watched political TV since the Watergate Hearings.  In the weeks ahead, Jared Kushner will continue to play a key role in the White House.  He certainly is part of Donald Trump’s inner circle  —- metaphorically, flying close to the sun.  We will find out in the weeks and months ahead if his fate will differ from that of Icarus.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson

 

 

 

 

Scott Pruitt. Rex Tillerson. Rogues Gallery II

Prologue: Before Scott Pruitt became Secretary of The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) he had served as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. As a leading advocate against the E.P.A. agenda, he had sued the agency over 14 times. The agency’s charter under The Clean Air Act was to regulate chemicals into the air  “which may reasonably endanger public health or welfare.” In late 2006, Massachusetts with eleven other states had sued the E.P.A. for failing to establish guidelines on emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorcarbons.  The states asked why the E.P. A. ,which had refused to consider greenhouse gases, thought they could ignore the law. Their suit reached the Supreme Court, and a landmark 5-4 decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens, agreed with the states.  As a result of the ruling, the E.P.A. began the process of looking at the science documenting the risks of greenhouse gases, and recognized those emissions contributed to a public-safety crisis not just across the nation but the planet.  The E.P.A.’s  resulting “endangerment” finding was issued in 2009 and formed the basis for new standards on auto emissions in Detroit and for Obama’s Clean Power Plan issued in 2015.

Scott Pruitt. After Pruitt was appointed to lead the agency, he spoke on March 9, 2017 on CNBC  about carbon dioxide and the environment, saying, “No, I would not agree it is a contributor to the global warming that we see.”   He was on record, with other climate change deniers, of disagreeing with the consensus of over 95 percent of the world’s scientists. Based on years of research, they believe and assert that human activity releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is a major cause of harmful climate change and global warming.

Donald Trump who had often said during his presidential campaign, “Climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese!”  knew Pruitt’s position on the subject and his record as Attorney General suing the E.P.A.  Trump had met with Al Gore at Trump Tower before the Inauguration as did his daughter Ivanka, shortly before appointing Pruitt.  However, Steve Bannon,  Trump’s chief strategist, was the head of Breitbart News when it published, “Climate Change: The Greatest Ever Conspiracy Against The Taxpayer.”  Bannon was also urging Trump to withdraw the United States from the 2016 Paris Agreement that committed 195 nations to take action against carbon dioxide pollution.  The Paris Agreement was hailed as a major diplomatic achievement led by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry over months to lower greenhouse gases around the globe.  At present, Trump has postponed any action on the Paris Agreement.

Pruitt’s record at E.P.A.   On March 29, newspapers and TV cables showed President Trump surrounded by coal owners and miners as he handed Scott Pruitt, one of the pens he used to sign his executive order that nullified President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.  The miners were jubilant when Trump said, “C’mon fellas.  You know what this is? You know what this says?. You’re going back to work.”   The order was the first step in a long and complex legal process to close hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new plants and replace them with vast new wind and solar farms.  Scott Pruitt’s job was to lead the agency in this complete reversal. However, the facts were that the coal industry was in an irreversible decline because of cheaper natural gas and the tripling in capacity since 2008 of cleaner energy sources of wind and solar.  The New York Times editorial on March, 29 headlines, “President Trump Risks The Planet.”

Update: coal-fired power plants. Over 250 coal plants, about half the total number in the U.S.,  have announced they will close or switch to cleaner fuels. A week before Trump signed his executive order, Moody’s Investor Service released a report concluding that wind power could displace up to two thirds of coal-fired power production in 15 Midwestern states.  The average cost of wind power has dropped to $20 per megawatt compared with more than $30 per megawatt for electricity from many coal plants in the region.

Businesses & Cities cutting pollution. Through March, many of the 81 major corporations were signed pledges to cut pollution and improve their energy efficiency.  Wal-Mart and Apple that had signed a pledge in 2015 renewed their commitment.  More than 130 American cities have joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.They are expanding mass transit,  increasing the energy efficiency of their buildings, installing electrical vehicle charging stations, creating bike share programs and planting trees.  In April, the environmental ministers of Mexico and Canada went to San Franciso to sign a global pact drafted largely by California to lower planet warming greenhouse pollution.  A group of state lawyers is preparing to fight any attempt by the federal government to weaken Calilfornia’s automobile pollution standards. Scott Pruitt has spoken out against California’s push to expand their environmental policies to the rest of the country.  He said, “That’s a  political agenda, hiding behind federalism. Is it federalism trying to impose your policy on other states? It seems to me that Mr. Brown ( CA governor) is being the aggressor here.”

“Pruitt’s E.P.A. is Boon to Oil and Gas” .  May 21 headline New York Times. Devon Energy controls a huge gas field in Fremont County, Wyoming. In February, 2017, it was  negotiating a six figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals like benzene, a known carcinogen.   About five days after Scott Pruitt was sworn in as E.P.A. Secretary in February, everything changed for Devon Energy.  In a letter, dated February 22,  Devon wrote, “ it was reevaluating its settlement posture”. It no longer was going ahead with its extensive emissions control system and was willing to pay $25,000 penalty to end the three year old federal investigation.

Scott Pruitt, with a history of closeness to Devon Energy, was reflecting Donald Trump’s  push back on regulatory rules on business to “create jobs and “allow Americans to share in the riches.” Devon became the first known admitted polluter under the Trump administration being released from a proposed environmental settlement.  By May 21, The New York Times reported, “In just the last three months, with Mr.  Pruitt in charge, the E.P.A.  postponed a long planned rule requiring companies like Devon to retrofit drilling equipment to prevent leaks of methane gas, a major contributor to climate change

Scott Pruitt explained his priorities at the E.P.A. when he said, “I believe that we as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro- energy and jobs and pro- environment. We don’t have to choose between the two.”

Rex Tillerson.  Secretary of State is considered the most important position in the president’s cabinet.  When Rex Tillerson was chosen, he brought his formidable reputation as head of Exxon Mobile, the largest company in the world. It was a given that he knew about management and many assumed he would bring strength to Donald Trump’s administration.  He had established Exxon Mobile across the globe and had ties with leaders of many countries, including Russia where President Putin had presented him with the Medal of Freedom.  There is an area the size of Wyoming in Russia for future oil development by Exxon Mobile.

One of Rex Tillerson’s first actions was to cancel the daily press briefings held by all Secretaries of State for decades. He was also unavailable or reluctant to answer questions from members of the White House press corps after state functions.  Cable TV photographers began to cover his rebuffs to veteran reporters like  NBC’s Andrea Mitchell  when they were ushered out of the room after he spoke at an event. When Tillerson departed for South East Asia on his first overseas trip, he took only one reporter with him on the plane. This was another break with long established policy to keep the public informed of his meetings and speeches abroad.

At home, he had held a brief informal introductory meeting with State Department members shortly after being appointed.  He met them at the state department in Foggy Bottom, shaking hands with a small group who had gathered there.  He spoke very briefly and promised to explore ways to make the department more efficient. On April 28, it was reported that nearly 200 state department posts that require Senate confirmation remained empty.  R.C. Hammond, Tillerson’s spokesman,  said in an interview that the secretary intended to begin a listening tour of the building  to hear what the diplomats and civil servants had to say.  Then he would turn to restructuring the department’s operations within Trump’s proposal to cut the agency budget by 31 percent that could eliminate 2,300 jobs worldwide. Only when that had begun, would he start to name his leadership team. Morale in the department was low and many senior veterans were choosing to retire after long years of service.

On Wednesday, May 3, Rex Tillerson gave his first address to the department in a large packed auditorium with standing room at the back.  He gave  his vision of his role as Secretary of State: The United States had been far too accommodating to allies and emerging nations. “Things had gotten out of balance.”  He said that righting those imbalances wlll be the mission of the State Department  as it fulfills President Trump’s promise to put “America first.”   He added, “We were promoting relations.  We were promoting economic activity. We were promoting trade with these emerging economies, and we just kind of lost track of how we were doing. And, as a result, things got a little out of balance.”

Tillerson paced around the stage and  discussed a series of specific challenges facing the United States:  North Korea, China, Russia. He offered few specifics, urging the members to help him streamline the department to deal better with the present rather than as it was during the Cold War. At the close of his address, there was strong applause.  Hammond reported that Tillerson  perceived his job as “touching base with our allies and partners around the world”, including in Europe, Japan, South Korea and Mexico – and hosting a meeting in the U.S. of foreign ministers fighting the Islamic State. He would work with the Trump administration on crucial issues of the day, including the NATO alliance, the Iran Nuclear Deal,  and The Paris Climate Agreement.   Rex Tillerson has never met with his predecessor John Kerry who was instrumental for years in developing those alliances. One would hope he would choose to do that in the months ahead.

……………………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson