Category Archives: Politics
The Left, the Right, and Inbetween
We did it! On May 9, the earth registered a CO2 level of 400 parts per million. I don’t know if we get a free sandwich or a toaster for that, but it is quite an accomplishment.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography estimates that the last time the concentration was at least 400 ppm occurred 5 to 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene Epoch., one of my all time favorite of all the epochs, by the way. We’re talking wooly mammoths, temperatures around 5-7 degrees warmer than today, and sea levels a good 25 meters higher than today.
I think most people today think that since you can’t see the air pollution anymore, the atmosphere is clean. Not with carbon.
Which is why it is all the more deplorable that Republicans blocked the nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the EPA. They didn’t just block a vote, they blocked her nomination from leaving committee to get a vote. Their objection is not about the qualifications of Ms. McCarthy. In his first term, Obama aggressively used EPA authority to try to cut pollution, although the White House ultimately killed a rule that would have regulated ozone levels because it would have cost too much.Republicans have argued that various EPA rules have hurt jobs, and the coal industry in particular. McCarthy was in charge of developing many of those regulations in her previous job at the EPA. where she served as assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation. She sailed through the Senate nomination process for that role. Ironically, she was also the top environmental enforcer for Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts. Small world, huh?
The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.
Four hundred parts per million. But no worries, the top Republican in the House says it’s comical. Keep burning that coal. Keep drilling for that oil.
I know that the lion’s share of Republican’s reluctance to care a whit about the environment is due to money. They say it’s for jobs, but come on, it’s really about profits. Polluters pollute because they make money doing so. To cut back would cost them money.
But I fear that there is also reason to blame the Religious Right. They hold to a very literal view of the Bible, including of the book of Revelation. This is the Left Behind theology. These Christians think that the end of the world is coming (most likely in their lifetime). They think it’s all going to happen exactly as Revelation (and the Left Behind series of fiction books) says it will. No metaphors, there. Real lakes of fire and people vaporizing off to heaven.
Recently, Mark Driscoll, a young uber-masculine pastor (from Seattle, of all places) made an off-handed remark at a conference that blew up on Twitter:
I know who made the environment. He’s coming back and he’s going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.
Then, as he is wont to do, he sort of tied it in to his fascination with masculinity:
If you drive a mini-van, you’re a mini-van.
Huh? And there, ladies and gentlemen, is why Christians don’t see the environment as an issue, even though the first task that God gave man, according to the Bible, was to “tend the garden.” You see, God’s coming back to burn up sinners and the sinful world they inhabit. So why worry about carbon or litter or coral reefs or our drinking water. It’s all moot. We live on in a disposable world that is meant to be thrown out.
In my view, this goes against that verse made famous at many a sporting event — John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Christians tend to focus on the end of that verse, but not on the beginning. That God loves the world. He’s not mad at it. He doesn’t hate the world.
And check this out. There are several Greek words that can be translated as “world.” One refers to all the people. Another refers to the systems and institutions that make up “the world.” But the Greek word used here is kosmos, meaning the earth, the stars, the moon — the entire universe. God loves it all, including the natural laws that hold it together. He loves the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. All of it. And I should think that He would prefer that we love it, too.
I am fairly certain on one point: He doesn’t want us burning the thing to a crisp just a make an extra buck, thinking that God will beam us out of here at the last moment.
I believe in God, but I guess I don’t read Revelation as a literal news account. But I do like what it says at the end of Revelation is about God coming down, not us going up…
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God….He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Not exactly the destruction predicted. As long as we don’t burn the place down ourselves with our 400 ppm of carbon.
But what do I know? To many on the Right, I’m just a “Godless commie lib.” You’ll have to go to John Boehner for the real wisdom of the universe.
Sorry for the lack of posts, but my life is in limbo and, really, it is all I can think about these days. But I can’t talk about it. My life is about to drastically change (for the good!) but I’m waiting for things to happen that will bring it to fruition.
I know. That tells you precious little. But the next two days (Tuesday & Wednesday) are big days. Dates will be set. Schedules will be put in motion. And hopefully, I will soon get a date for when the next chapter of my life will begin.
So what’s been happening lately?
I’m very stoked that the depleted Chicago Bulls beat the Heat tonight. The Bulls are lucky to be able to field a team. Luol Deng, arguably their best active player, is so sick he was tested for meningitis. Their center is limping around on planter fasciitis. Other players are so sick they are heaving on the bench. And Derrick Rose, who can dunk in practice, still sits on the sideline in a suit because he doesn’t want to risk his $200 million Adidas contract. Hey, if they were paying me that much, I probably wouldn’t risk it either. But let’s just say it. Michael Jordan would have been out there. ’nuff said.
And last week, an over-the-hill, mediocre professional basketball player came out of the closet and the world suddenly learned his name. Something that never happened from his basketball career. Still, he is the only active player in one of the mens major team sports to “come out.” And really, it’s about time. Rumors of gay players in all major sports have abounded for years. It’s about time one had the courage to go public.
Yet through it all, the media has ignored the fact that Jason Collins is also a very strong Christian. The fact is, if you believe in God, then you have to deal with the fact that God made him gay, and God continues to make gay men and lesbian women as we speak. Despite not being able to procreate (other than through surrogates), they continue to exist.
Jason Collins was inspired by a passage in a daily prayer manual that his grandmother had given him. A few days before he decided to make his announcement, this was the entry…
The clarion call of freedom sounds within my soul, trumpeting the truth that the love of God liberates me from unhappiness, hurt, or fear. I bid farewell to any emptiness from the past, and open myself to realizing my heart’s deepest longing and aspiration.
Meanwhile, a Wisconsin church cancelled an event that was to feature former Green Bay Packer defensive back Leroy Butler. Why the cancellation? He had Tweeted: “Congrats to Jason Collins.” That was enough to cancel his $8,500 speaking gig. He was told that if he removed the Tweet, apologized, and asked God for forgiveness, he could still speak at the event. Butler took a pass.
There is so much wrong with that last paragraph, I can’t even begin to process it.
First of all, as a former elder at an urban church that feeds the homeless and is struggling to figure out how to pay for showers in the basement so that people living on the streets can clean up and get a meal, I am flabbergasted that a “former ” football player would charge a church $8,500 to speak one time, and that they would pay it. My head is spinning on that one. I’m just saying that you’d be amazed at what we could do with $8,500. And we wouldn’t blow it on paying some ex-football player to give one sermon. I’m sure that Leroy Butler can bring it. But $8.500 for one speaking gig? In a church? Are you kidding me?
Next, I am shocked that they canceled his event because of one Tweet: “Congrats to Jason Collins.” One needs to apologize and ask forgiveness for that? Look, I know that you can cherry-pick a handful of verses out of the Bible to defend that position (while ignoring a plethora of more challenging and disturbing passages), but really… a church full of sinners should hardly be throwing rocks in their glass house. Butler is not gay. I’m have no idea where he stands on the issue. He merely congratulated a friend/acquaintance/colleague on making a decision. And for that, he needs to submit to a public shaming?
It’s things like this that make me believe that we are not in a post-Christian culture, we are in a post-church culture. But I am forming more on that for future post
Congrats to Jason Collins. I hope he takes his 1.1 points per game and 1.6 rebounds per game and finds a job next year at 35 years of age. But if he doesn’t, he’ll likely find plenty of Leroy Butler-like speaking engagements to live on for a very long time. Jason Collins will do just fine.
But what of the church in America? At a time when 6.3 of 10 young adults support gay marriage in this country, churches are facing more uncertain future than a journeyman NBA big man. Things were much more uncomplicated when gays stayed in the closets and women remained in the kitchen. But times are changing. And it will be interesting to see how the church (Catholic and protestant) will respond.
Shaker Aamer is a leader. He doesn’t lead by the strength of ideas, but by the charisma of his personality, his engaging smile, and his passionate eyes. People just naturally follow Shaker.
Born in Saudi Arabia in 1968, Shaker headed to America at age 17 to live with family friends. The next few years were spent traveling throughout Europe, the Middle East, and finally London. There he met and fell in love with Londoner Zin Siddique, whom he married in 1997. Also that year, their first child Johina was born, followed by Michael in 1999, and Saif the following year. Shaker worked as an interpreter for a London law firm that worked on immigration cases. He was granted permanent residency. In June of 2001, Shaker and a friend, Moazzam Begg, moved their families to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he worked for an Islamic charity by establishing a girls’ school, teaching English to the children of Arabic-speaking expats, and overseeing a number of well-digging projects. Little did Shaker know that he was about to become the “poster child” for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That September, of course, was 9/11. Sensing the encroaching danger, Shaker arranged for the safety of his three children and then-pregnant wife. The school at which he worked was flattened in the first days of the U.S.-led bombing campaign that followed. Soon after that, Shaker was kidnapped by Afghan bounty hunters. At the time, U.S. coalition forces were offering as much as $5,000 to locals who would turn in suspected “terrorists.” As far as the locals were concerned, “you had me at $5,000!” A thriving economy soon developed around hostage taking and trading. Moving up the chain, Shaker was sold to other bounty hunters twice before being sold to Northern Alliance soldiers, who then turned him over (sold him) to U.S. forces. Throughout this ordeal, Shaker feared that eventually he would be executed when he could no longer be sold. So, his heart leaped when he heard the sound of American voices. He thought he was saved. But for Shaker, the nightmare was just beginning.
In prison at Kandahar airport, Shaker was shocked at the abusive treatment of detainees and almost immediately organized a hunger strike. In December 2001, he was transferred to Bagram Air Force base, where he was starved, kept awake for nine days straight, and chained in positions that made the slightest movement unbearable. He became emaciated. Delirious and desperate to cease his torture, Aamer says he confessed to whatever the Americans wanted. Yes, he was assessed to be a key member of the UK-based al-Qaida network. Yes, he had multiple associations to senior al-Qaida members. Yes, that included Osama bin Laden. Just make it stop. He was also present when American and British intelligence officers tortured a fellow prisoner until he “confessed” that Saddam Hussein was actively training al-Qaida members.
On February 14 (Happy Valentine’s Day!), 2002, Shaker arrived at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That same day, his son, Faris, was born. In August 2002, Shaker wrote a heavily censored letter, that included drawings to entertain his children. In the letter, he wrote “I just became 41… but physically I’m 50. I got arthritis, kidney problems, hearing problems, eye problems, my hair has fallen out, my heart is aching.”
The regime in Guantanamo became tougher as the prisoners’ treatment was made entirely dependent on their perceived cooperation with the interrogators, and a torture program was introduced via defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But Shaker continued to stand up for his fellow prisoners, to liaise between them and the authorities, and to translate documents for them, and he was regarded as a significant presence within the prison.
On March 9, 2005, in another letter to his wife, he wrote a heartfelt plea to his wife: “You are the soul of my life. You are the best of my heart. You are the light of my eyes. You are the oxygen in my lungs, you are the sun on my back, the sweetest taste of my mouth, you are everything, you are everything I need to live, to love, to be….Do you know how much you are important for my life? If you break, I will break; if you become weak, I will become weak; if you go, I will go. You are my soul twin. I need you to be strong.”
That summer, as a widespread hunger strike broke out at the prison, Shaker helped to bring it under control, and, with a handful of other prisoners, was part of a Prisoners’ Council involved in negotiations to secure better rights for prisoners. The authorities soon soured on the Council, disbanded it, and threw Shaker into solitary confinement, where he remained for at least a year and a half. During that period, in June 2006, he claimed he was beaten for hours and asphyxiated during an interrogation on the same day that three other Guantanamo inmates died. The official story regarding these three men was that they committed suicide. They were found with rags stuffed down their throats and a mask over their mouths to keep them from spitting out the rags. Their hands and feet were bound. Still, according to U.S. officials, these three men were able to tie a noose to the top of the cell, climb on a chair, put their heads in the noose (with hands still bound!), and commit suicide. This is still the official story, even though a number of soldiers who were present on the night in question cast doubt on the official account in an article published in Harper’s Magazine in January 2010.
All throughout his captivity, Shaker has disavowed the details of his “confession” as giving his captors what they wanted to hear so they would stop torturing him. No evidence has ever been produced against him. In 2007, the Bush administration cleared Shaker for full release. Although many in England have campaigned for his return, it is believed that the British authorities don’t want him because he witnessed British officers torturing prisoners in Afghanistan. The sole country to which he has been cleared for release is Saudi Arabia. According to Shaker’s lawyer, Stafford Smith, “The sole reason for the US to send Shaker to Saudi Arabia is to have him silenced, most likely by sentencing him to a long imprisonment after a sham trial.”
Why might powerful interests desire the silencing of Shaker Aamer? Smith points out that his case has an incendiary element: he is allegedly able to describe in detail how a UK intelligence agent was present when a US interrogator repeatedly smashed his head against a wall shortly before he was sent to Guantanamo. Described as articulate and highly intelligent, Shaker’s allegations of British complicity in his torture and detention would undoubtedly reopen the debate over British complicity in the darker side of America’s “war on terror.” Shaker has already announced he is suing MI5 and MI6 for defamation.
On August 9, 2008, however, Shaker was still unbowed and unbroken. In another letter to his wife, he wrote, “My sweetheart, yes I lost a lot of weight, yes I have a lot of sickness, yes I got short sight, yes my bones are aching, yes I got white hair, yes I got old but I love to tell you my heart is still young, my mind still strong, stronger than ever.”
Amidst fervent public protest, Shaker was again cleared for release by the Obama administration in 2011, and even England seemed to be wanting him back, when four British MPs — Jeremy Corbyn, John Leech, Caroline Lucas, and Michael Meacher — wrote an open letter to Congress seeking Shaker’s return to the U.K. And yet, Shaker still sits in Guantanamo prison, along with 85 other prisoners who have been similarly “cleared for release.”
It is the child who has never met his father who is understood to have struggled most. Faris, 11, is reported to play obsessively with the presents bought years ago by his father in the search for a connection. “He loves playing with the toys that Shaker bought for my other children. They are very special for him,” said Shaker’s wife Zin.
This week, Shaker Aamer is entering the 80th day of his hunger strike against his treatment. His lawyer says that his voice is weak and he has lost 40 pounds in the past few weeks. Yet, according to Smith, Shaker is still mentally strong. “The other day they told him to close the hole in the cell door that they push food through. But Shaker, despite being on hunger strike, refuses to shut the hole. So they push his food through and it stays there all day where he can smell it.”
The situation is such that Aamer is starting to suspect the regime at Guantánamo Bay is trying to kill him through medical neglect. Simultaneously, the strain on his family is starting to mount. Johina Aamer, a high school student who last saw her dad when she was four, asks the public to imagine what it must be like: “Imagine being locked up for more than 10 years of your life and possibly more years to come while everyone sits there and does nothing about it.”
America, all of this is being done in our name. This action is creating future terrorists around the world who have nothing but hate for the country that kidnapped, tortured, and held their loved one for more than a decade without charge. How would you feel toward the country who did this to your son, brother, father, or friend? As comedian Sam Kinison used to say, “I know what turns Mr. Hand into Mr. Fist!”
This is as much a black mark on our nation as a million black soles in chains, the trail of tears, and Japanese internment camps. But this self-inflected wound is still open and festering.
There are those who insist that our Constitution is only meant for U.S. citizens. No one else is ascribed its rights. But wasn’t America supposed to be a beacon of light into the world for freedom and democracy? Weren’t we the ones who were supposed to stand for something other than shadowy justice and concentration camps? And if you call yourself a Christian, isn’t there a higher law than the Constitution that describes how we are to treat our enemies and care for the stranger? (See the Good Samaritan.)
Shaker Aamer will likely die soon, but his name should live on in American history along with Hiroshima, Selma, Watergate, and Iran/Contra, as something we can never allow to happen again. Shaker’s name should stick in our throats until it makes us gag, much like the rags that were shoved down his throat.
Click on picture below to sign the international petition (for non-UK signees) asking for his release. I’m sure that someone will get right on that.
Tonight, I am one of millions of Americans who cannot believe how tone deaf Republicans are to the American voter. I have no doubt that many of them will pay dearly for their cowardice in future elections. I have no doubt that good will prevail in the end, and gun bills will eventually pass. Society will evolve from out of the dark ages. But this week’s vote is an opportunity to let the anger and disappointment seep in deep, and to let the Grand Ole Party free-fall further and further from political relevance in the minds of huge swaths of future voters.
90 percent of this nation understands the need for universal criminal background checks on all gun purchases.
80 percent of Republican voters agree.
More than 70 percent of NRA members agree.
The majority of the U.S. Senate (54 votes) agrees.
But in the face of that kind of support, the Republican party has said, “Let’s try a different direction.” Indeed, 90 percent of Republican Senators went against the desires of 90 percent of the American public. You’ll see them hoist the 2nd Amendment and their deeply-held belief that the right to have guns… lots of guns… automatic weapons of warfare… extended clips that hold 30-100 bullets… this right supersedes all other rights in this country. Like the rights of 30,000 people each year (men, women, and children) to pursue happiness by living.
Of course, a background check law doesn’t take away a single gun from a single gun owner in this country. It doesn’t prevent a single law-biding American from purchasing a gun or guns. All it would do is work to prevent some convicted felons and some mentally ill persons from purchasing guns at gun shows. And this was a compromise bill, written with NRA oversight, with a huge loophole that exempted face-to-face sales. Any gun show clerk could have told a buyer to meet in the parking lot for a face-to-face, background-free sale. That alone, made this law rather toothless. But it would have been SOMETHING. Now, to those in Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, and Chicago, and to grieving families across the county, the Republican party has declared that nothing will be done. Not one damn thing. They have essentially said, “We’d rather protect the 2nd Amendment rights of felons and the mentally ill to purchase guns without restriction or reservation.”
Of course, this all comes down to politics, xenophobia, and vocabulary.
In the immediate aftermath of Boston, when Obama first spoke, the media held its collective breath waiting to see if the President would use the “t-word.” Terror. Terrorist. Terrorism. Is he going to call it what it is? And what difference would that make? Would it change a thing about the investigation? Would it change a thing about our response? No. But this country stops everything when it comes to terror. On Wednesday afternoon, CNN and Fox News falsely reported that law enforcement officials had a “brown-skinned man” in custody. The Boston Globe and the AP followed their lead. Besides being inaccurate and wildly reckless reporting, I ask you, what was the news value of mentioning the “dark skin”? Such a reference could mean an Arab or a black man, a Latino or an Italian-American, a Native American or a Polynesian. Or just someone with a dark tan. It meant nothing. But they included it because it was a wink and a nod toward the xenophobic who wait with the fervent anticipation of pinning the attack on Muslims. Forget the fact that Sandy Hook and Tucson and Aurora and Oklahoma City were all the products of white men. Last I checked, white men are not being racially profiled. No, but we can’t wait to get our claws into the “brown-skinned” ones.
If you haven’t read the New Yorker’s reporting on the Arab bombing victim who was tackled by the crowd, had his life turned upside-down by the FBI, and is still being hounded by Fox News, it is required reading.
But if the bombing culprit(s) turns out to be an American, then the whole thing gets lumped into the crime bucket. It’s just a crime. There’s nothing that can be done.
This country stops everything for the sake of a terrorist attack that killed 3 people. But when 30,000 people are killed each year by guns, we shrug our shoulders. That’s just crime. “What are you gonna do?” It’s the price tag for our right to bear arms. You can’t stop that. Why make gun laws if criminals are just going to break them? There’s nothing you can do.
85 people were killed by guns yesterday. 85 more are being killed today. Men, women, and children. 85 more will be killed tomorrow. Ho-hum. Nothing you can do. You can’t restrict guns because the Founding Fathers wanted this. We have to give them what they wanted.
And as an aside… aren’t the Republicans the Pro-Life party? Where are the marches? Where are the signs with dead children on them? Why aren’t they marching on Washington to curb gun violence? You know, because… life. We’re for it.
You hear people say, “Guns don’t kill people, People kill people.” Last week, four people were killed by toddlers who had access to guns. I guess toddlers kill people, too. Not guns though, No, siree. The guns are the innocents here. In fact, if those first graders had guns, Newtown would have been freaking Disneyland! Guns, guns, guns. The more the better. Guns for everyone. No judgment. No background checks. No registrations. No tracking of sales. Not with Republicans armed with a filibuster.
There are many Republicans (and 4 Democrats) who will have to answer for their votes come election time. This will not go away. The GOP has now lost 5 of the last 6 national popular elections in this country. And now, their self-inflicted wounding continues. They can’t help themselves. They are imploding like Lindsay Lohan with drink coupons at Mardi Gras.
They can spin this however they like, but when you go against 90 percent of the American public, you will pay a price. Each of those senators (the 4 Dems, too) will have this plastered to their records. Their opponents (in both primaries and the general) will flood the airwaves with reminders that they are beholden to the NRA and not to the people. Bloomberg will funnel money to opponents. Gabby Giffords will funnel money to opponents. The families of Newtown and Tucson and Aurora and Virginia Tech will campaign against them.
I’m done with this. I’m done, just like they are.
It would make a great plot for a science fiction movie. Some utilitarian jack-booted government operates a remote island prison where people are locked up without charge and left there to rot. When they begin to starve themselves because they have no other power than that over the mechanisms of their own bodies, the prison officials simply stick feeding tubes down their noses when they become too weak to protest, thus keeping them alive for not other reason than to continue to inhabit the sun-baked island hell. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Cast Leonardo DiCaprio and Donald Sutherland and you’ve got a creepy hit on your hands.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a Hollywood concoction or an Orwellian novel. It’s real And it’s not some banana republic dictator; it’s the good ol’ U. S. of A.–home of the free and the brave. Only some people aren’t so free, and other people aren’t nearly so brave.
A part of me wishes that Guantanamo was more of a thing in the lives and consciences of Americans. Instead, it’s this dumpster out back that is out of sight and out of mind. Since January of 2002, 779 prisoners have been detained there. Since then, 600 have been released without charges after being detained for years. Fifteen children under the age of 18 have been detained there, which is against international law, in case you were wondering. So call a cop. Nine men have died in custody, six by suicide. Seven… let me repeat that, SEVEN have been convicted of a crime after a trial or plea bargain. A 2006 study by the Seton Hall Law School “established that over 80% of the prisoners were captured not by Americans on the battlefield but by Pakistanis and Afghans, often in exchange for bounty payments.” The US offered $5,000 per prisoner and distributed leaflets widely in the region.
Today, 166 men remain, held for years without charge or trial. Eighty-six of them have been declared harmless and marked for release, only nobody in the U.S. government wants to release them. Only six of the 166 currently face any formal charges. But I suspect that some can’t be tried because they were tortured so severely that their charges would likely be overturned.
Let’s be frank. This is a concentration camp. The difference between that and a prison is that concentration camps are where you hold people just because of who they are… their race or religion. It’s not an official prison system inside of any sort of justice department. There are no rights. You are not holding these people to punish or rehabilitate them. You merely want them gone. These people are not considered to be human beings, even though most of them never committed a crime or plotted in any way against the U.S. Oh, I imagine they are pretty ticked now. I mean if you were wrongly incarcerated for 11 years without trial or charge and did not come out of it a terrorist against those who locked you up, I’d really have to wonder about you.
Two months ago, some men stopped eating at Guantanamo. The U.S. government claims that there are around forty protestors. Lawyers for the men claim that a majority of the detainees are involved. Eleven are near death and are being force fed through their noses. As I stated at the top, these are the last desperate acts of men who have no options and no hope. Bodily functions are the only things they have control over. It is their only weapon and recourse.
Candidate Obama forcefully promised that closing Guantanamo would be his first act as President. And, on his first day in office, he did sign an executive order closing the detention facility “no later than one year” from that date. That did not happen. A year later, he ordered that a prison in Illinois be readied to receive detainees from Guantanamo. That did not happen. A year after that, he signed another order, to establish a review process for detainees. That did not happen. This past February, the office of the State Department’s special envoy for closing Guantanamo shut down, perhaps signaling the administration’s white flag of surrender over the issue.
Yesterday, in New York, there was a court appearance for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. He’s no run-of-the-mill terrorist. He married into the family business and became Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law. But yesterday, Margaret Thatcher died. The stock market was up. There was a suicide bomb in Syria. Newtown parents boarded Air Force One to lobby Congress on gun control. The Mets won. Abu Ghaith’s court appearance barely made a dent in the news. Not so long ago, we were told that terrorists couldn’t be tried on American soil. It was far too dangerous for the people of New York. And yet, yesterday it happened and hardly anybody noticed. It was no big deal.
Why can’t we try Gitmo detainees in Federal court again?
Hey, if a human rights arguments fall on deaf ears, how about a fiscal argument? We are wasting $150 million a year on the Guantanamo facility. We could house the prisoners in U.S. super-max prisons for 1/30th the cost. Government spending… bad! Cutting spending… good! Remember the sequester?
Apparently we have no common sense… and obviously, no shame, either.
First, a shout out to mayoral candidate Josh Wander for braving the comment waters of yesterday’s post. I await similar visits from all the candidates in hopes of getting the Carpetbaggery bounce in the polls. The chances of me voting Republican in the fall are about the same as the chances of Pirate baseball in the fall, but from what I’ve read, Josh seems like he would be a great guy to grab a beer and debate with. Or perhaps a nosh?
And speaking of debates, today, I was saddened to learn of the passing of a legend. Roger Ebert helped me to fall in love with movies. And not just movies, but smart and well made movies. He helped me to appreciate really good writing. And perhaps above all, he helped me to appreciate the value of spirited and respectful debate.
Part of the reason Roger was so good is that he was based in Chicago. That meant that he wasn’t entangled with the people he wrote about. He didn’t go to lunch with them. He didn’t have to fear running into them at a trendy restaurant. He lived in “fly-over country” and spoke his mind. And speaking of that, he had a wonderful mind. But his influence was craved by Hollywood, as he was syndicated into more than 200 newspapers across the country. In 1975, he was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. In 2008, Forbes magazine called Ebert “the most powerful pundit in America.”
When I was growing up on the mean streets of suburban Chicago, however, he was just a guy with a column in the newspaper. Ebert’s reviews generally came out on Thursday in the Chicago Sun Times. Siskel’s reviews came out on the same day in the Chicago Tribune. Being good Republicans, we only received the Tribune. I don’t think it was until I was in high school that I discovered the Democratic newspaper in town, and Ebert’s reviews. By that time, Ebert and Siskel had branched out into television. Their TV show, Sneak Previews, began in 1975 on Chicago Public Television. Later, it was Siskel & Ebert At the Movies on WGN. But I remember the fascination of watching two intelligent people passionately debate the movies. There was nothing else like it on television. It was great to see them spar about some hack film, and some great ones. Ebert was brilliant, but he also had an appreciation for low-brow entertainment done well. Siskel was a bit more of the prude. After all, in 1970, Ebert had co-written Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with soft-core film maker Russ Meyer.
I didn’t read Ebert to decide whether or not to see a movie. I read him to get his take. It was like talking to a film loving buddy after a movie to see what he thought. I often disagreed with his conclusions, but I always enjoyed the ways in which he stated his case. Here is his take on The Green Mile, a movie that I thought was just “meh.” His writing, however, almost makes you want to see the film again:
“The average moviegoer with $8 and a seat in an Abilene multiplex is likely to find himself or herself subtly more complex, humane, and liberal after seeing that film than before. It is reductive and stereotyped to a media cineaste, but perhaps the best and most evolved movie that many of its viewers will see all year … The Green Mile is an important and worthy fact of popular culture—not sophisticated, not as hard-edged or accurate or courageous as it could be, but more a part of the solution than a part of the problem. Here is an obviously unprovable guess: For 50 percent of the people who see it, it will be the best movie they see all year, even from your point of view.”
That’s not a movie review; that’s prose. Here is his take on Platoon:
“It was Francois Truffaut who said that it’s not possible to make an anti-war movie, because all war movies, with their energy and sense of adventure, end up making combat look like fun. If Truffaut had lived to see Platoon, the best film of 1986, he might have wanted to modify his opinion. Here is a movie that regards combat from ground level, from the infantryman’s point of view, and it does not make war look like fun.”
You really felt that Roger approached all movies with a desire to like them — all of them. There was also a child-like sense of wonder very close to the surface of his writing. It comes out in this review of Beauty and the Beast:
“Beauty and the Beast slipped around all my roadblocks and penetrated directly into my strongest childhood memories, in which animation looked more real than live-action features. Watching the movie, I found myself caught up in a direct and joyous way. I wasn’t reviewing an ‘animated film.’ I was being told a story, I was hearing terrific music, and I was having fun. The film is as good as any Disney animated feature ever made—as magical as Pinocchio, Snow White, The Little Mermaid. And it’s a reminder that animation is the ideal medium for fantasy, because all of its fears and dreams can be made literal.”
I love this review of Hoop Dreams:
“A film like Hoop Dreams is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and makes us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself. Hoop Dreams is, on one level, a documentary about two black kids named William Gates and Arthur Agee, from Chicago’s inner city, who are gifted basketball players and dream of someday starring in the NBA. On another level, it is about much larger subjects: about ambition, competition, race, and class in our society. About our value structures. And about the daily lives of people like the Agee and Gates families, who are unusually invisible to the mass media, but have a determination and resiliency that is a cause for hope.”
But Ebert was often at his best when he was disappointed by a movie. He knew how to bring out the knives. Here is his impression of Last Rites:
“Was there no one connected with this project who read the screenplay, considered the story, evaluated the proposed film and vomited?”
And Baby Geniuses:
“This is an old idea, beautifully expressed by Wordsworth, who said, ‘Heaven lies about us in our infancy.’ If I could quote the whole poem instead of completing this review, believe me, we’d all be happier. But I press on.”
And some other movie I’ve never heard of:
“There is a movie called Fargo playing right now. It is a masterpiece. Go see it. If you, under any circumstances, see Little Indian, Big City, I will never let you read one of my reviews again.”
And then there was a movie called North:
“I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”
As you can see, his pans were even more fun than his praises. But one of his all-time best pans was of a Rob Schneider movie. Rob took it personally that Ebert wasn’t the kind of critic to kiss the butts of Hollywood.
“Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo makes a living cleaning fish tanks and occasionally prostituting himself. How much he charges I’m not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie. “Deuce Bigalow” is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes.”
It wasn’t like Roger had an axe to grind; I think he was genuinely disappointed and insulted by bad movies. It was a waste of talent and of his time.
Ebert was the rare breed who never gave up his embrace of the print media while still venturing out into other forms, first television, then Internet, and finally, when cancer had ravaged his voice, to Twitter. He may have not been the first interracial marriage I became aware of, but it was certainly a prominent one.
The oldest story in Chicago is that Siskel and Ebert were not good friends. Nothing could be further from the truth. They were like an old married couple who you think hate each other, but in truth, are deeply in love. On the tenth anniversary of Siskel’s death, Ebert wrote:
“I don’t want to rehearse the old stories about how we had a love/hate relationship, and how we dealt with television, and how we were both so scared the first time we went on Johnny Carson that, backstage, we couldn’t think of the name of a single movie, although that story is absolutely true. Those stories have been told. I want to write about our friendship….We were linked in a bond beyond all disputing. ‘You may be an asshole,’ Gene would say, ‘but you’re my asshole.’ If we were fighting–get out of the room. But if we were teamed up against a common target, we were fatal.”
Through their disagreements, Siskel and Ebert maintained the very model of spirited and passionate yet respectful debate. Here, they disagree on Die Hard.
Again, I don’t agree with Ebert’s take on the movie, but I also cannot deny his point.
Ebert was still posting reviews as recently as two weeks ago. He blogged two days before his death. Today, I realized that I have no replacement for Roger’s voice and his mind. It will lead a sad void for a while, until I can find someone as independent, intelligent, and thoughtful.
I can only close with Roger’s final printed words: “I’ll see you at the movies.”
I’ve recently become cognizant of the fact that we are about 6 weeks away from the May 21 Pittsburgh mayoral primary (let’s face it, this is the election), and I have no idea what any of the candidates stand for, and therefore, I have no idea who I’m supporting. All I know is that every day, another candidate seems to be heading for the hills.
Most famously, it was current mayor Lukey “Snoop Lion” Ravenstahl who bowed out with the Feds knocking on doors throughout his administration. Then, it was State Senator Jim Ferlo who read the unfavorable tea leaves. Next, City Council President Darlene Harris stuck her toe in the water and thought better of it. Last week, city comptroller Michael Lamb backed out, calling the race “blurry and difficult.”
Like a late-season episode of Survivor or American Idol, that leaves us with four. And speaking of “blurry and difficult,” mayoral candidate and current school bus monitor (Really? School bus monitor?) A. J. Richardson is AWOL at two speeches this morning due to the fact that he is currently in the Allegheny County Jail after being found unresponsive and smelling of alcohol behind the wheel of his minivan on West End Circle at 3 o’clock this morning. If that’s not a cry for help (as in “Help! I don’t want to be mayor! I just monitor school buses, for cryin’ out loud!”), I don’t know what is. Come on, how else does a candidate for mayor end up drunk and asleep behind the wheel at 3 a.m.? That does not happen! And even without the DUI, I’m just not sure the yinzer voting block is ready for a mayor with face tattoos. I’m just sayin’.
And then there were three. (But really, just two.)
First is State Representative Jake Wheatley, who is barely registering in the three polls that have been conducted (4 percent).
Jack Wagner is right out of central casting if you were filming a movie that needed a mayor in it. He is the former State Auditor General, and he also served in the state senate and the Pittsburgh City Council. He ran for mayor in back in 1993 and was trounced (72-28) by Tom Murphy. Although he trails in the latest poll, he has picked up the endorsements of most of the labor unions, including the police and fire fighters. He also was endorsed by Michael Lamb when he dropped out of the race. Wagner strikes me as Mr. Fiscal Discipline. If Wagner wins, it will be because Pittsburghers are tired of the spoiled child in office and desperately want Dad to take over and get our financial house in order with a bit of austerity.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto strikes me as the visionary in the race. He wants to invest in the improvement of the city’s infrastructure and in a better public transit system. He wants to improve the efficiency of the city through better technology in order to save money.
Some guy named Josh Wander will run in November as a Republican. And I think that’s just adorable.
That’s it. That is the sum total of my knowledge on the race for mayor, and I’m not even sure if that is entirely accurate. In the latest polling (March 14-18), Peduto led the race with 30 percent to Wagner’s 21 percent. What’s unclear is whether Lamb’s 21 percent support will all go to Wagner along with Lamb’s endorsement. I imagine a good percentage will, which probably makes Wagner the new frontrunner. But then there are the 28 percent who, like me, are still undecided.
Thus, Pittsburgh, we “undecideds” — the proud 28 percent — have some homework to do in the next 6 weeks. Spring has arrived and it is time to start paying attention. Ultimately, we will decide this thing. And with Lukey-Luke out of the race, all bets (and patronage support) are off. A part of me strongly believes that either Peduto or Wagner would be a vast improvement over the administration we’ve been subjected to for the past seven years. But I’d still like make an educated selection on May 21. Something more than “Boy, I sure do like the artwork on those Peduto yard signs!”
So sue me, I do.
Last November, the journal Science released a study saying that global warming will increase in the coming years on the higher end of all projections, by a catastrophic 8 degrees by the end of the century. By comparison, the earth has warmed by 1.4 degrees since 1900, but 2/3 of that rise has occurred since 1980. Warmer temperature would bring greater impacts on society, they say, in terms of a rise in sea level, heat waves, droughts and other threats.
It’s so easy to look back at slave owners in the 1800s and wonder how they could have been so morally blind and corrupt. But at least they weren’t doing things that threaten our lives today. What will our ancestors think of us for continually doubling down on carbon-based energy, even as we are well aware that the polar ice caps are melting and the earth is warming to dangerous levels. I ask you, which is the more selfish and morally corrupt generation? “But you don’t understand. The world was different then. We needed wanted lower gas prices for our SUVs!”
The Keystone XL pipeline is a huge investment of money and resources to move diluted bitumen — an acidic crude oil — from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast. The processing of tar sands oil creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does. And we’re ready to invest in it, long term. This past week, a tar sands pipeline broke beneath an Arkansas subdivision. We’d better get used to sights like this. This is the future of oil rich America.
And the problem is, tar sands oil is extremely hard and expensive to clean. It doesn’t float on water like crude oil. It sinks to bottom and must be dredged. This is what happened when tar sands oil spilled in the Kalamazoo River in 2010, still the most expensive clean up in American history. Thirty-seven miles of the Kalamazoo River were closed for two years. And oil can still be found there because some clean up teams were ordered to bury the oil instead of removing it. Here is a news report the day it happened. Little did they know what they were in for…
Oil spills like this used to be restricted to places like Gulf of Mexico or Alaska, where oil platforms and tankers existed. Now, we had better get used to spills on land across America, especially if we are going to build huge lengths or pipeline across the land. This is the future of oil spills. They will be in our backyards.
On the Right, you’ll still find people who love to throw Solyndra around as an indictment on the Obama administration, even though the government’s investment in the company began during the Bush years. But the losses in Energy Department loans for alternative technology have been miniscule. According to Bloomberg News, “the default rate on the $16.1 billion Energy Department loan portfolio is less than 3.6 percent.” That’s only one-fourth of the 12 percent the government expected to lose. And that includes the money given to Solyndra, who had a touted new technology featuring round solar panels made of a material that became obsolete when silicon prices plummeted, leading solar panel manufacturers in a different direction. Solyndra was Betamax, a superior technology that lost out to the inferior VHS format.
According to CNNMoney, the U.S. will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2020, and will be energy independent by 2030. But don’t expect that to lead to lower gas prices. Canada is energy independent. They can’t possibly burn all the oil they produce. But their gas prices are around $4 (U.S.) a gallon. Pretty much the same as here. Why? Because that is the global price of gas. Oil companies sell oil to all countries for the same price. They don’t discount for countries that drill for more oil. No, consumers won’t save money by U.S. energy independence. But imagine how much more money the oil companies will make!
The more oil we drill and pump through pipes, the more oil we will spill.The more oil we drill, the more carbon we will dump into the atmosphere. But what do we care? We won’t be alive at the end of the century, so screw them!
If we had an ounce of courage, imagination, and moral conscience, this country would stop investing more and more money into pipelines and carbon dumping processes like tar sands oil and natural gas fracking and begin to heavily invest in the kind of high risk/high reward research that can’t get private equity. We will lose money doing so, but eventually, we will find new ways to safely fuel our world. With an 8-degree temperature rise in our future, finding alternative, non-carbon-based energy should be the next space program. But it’s going to take fortitude and risky innovation and patience.
But I’m just a bleeding heart liberal. What do I know? The GOP — the party of climate change denial and “Drill, Baby, Drill” — is the party of wisdom and maturity. That’s why they just installed a climate change denier as chairman of the House Science Subcommittee.
Some day, you’ll be telling your grandchildren how sorry we are. (But actually, we’re really not.)
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but wasn’t sure how to write it in a way that didn’t make me look like a penny-pinching tightwad. Anyway, here we go.
I pride myself in being a good tipper. At restaurants, unless the server is completely rude, unresponsive, or incompetent, I never tip less than 20 percent. I waited tables and tended bars during the decade of the 1980s. I know how hard it is to live off of the fluctuating income that comes from working in a service industry. I also know that the minimum wage for a tipped employee is half to one-third the minimum wage of a non-tipped employee, and that it hasn’t been raised in years.
In 1991, a loaf of bread was 70 cents, the average U.S. salary was $29,000, the minimum wage for a non-tipped employee was $4.25, and the minimum wage for a tipped employee was $2.13 an hour. Today, 22 years later, a loaf of bread is $2.89, the average U.S. salary is $40,000, the minimum wage for a non-tipped employee is $7.25, but the minimum wage for a tipped employee is still $2.13. (This is the Federal minimum. Some states mandate a somewhat higher rate.) Maybe this is why food service workers have 3 times the poverty rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce.
Personally, I don’t get tipping. It seems like a way of pressuring me to pay part of the wages of someone else’s employees. And it seems haphazard. I have to tip the guy who gets me my drip coffee each morning but not the person who gives me popcorn and candy at the movie theater. I have to tip the bartender who pours me a draft beer but not the poor sap at the dry cleaners who gets me my shirts while breathing in all those chemicals and suffering in the 100+ degree heat. I tip the cab driver who barely acknowledges my presence but not the bus driver who knowingly nods my way as I board. I tip the maids who clean my room at the hotel but not the person at the front desk who checked me in. I tip the wait staff, who then must share their tips with the bussers, but not the cooking staff.
Plus, I see dollars in the tip jar at the Caribou Coffee I frequent. I assume the workers put dollars in there to make change, but it still makes me feel guilty for dropping in a couple of quarters. But that’s 20 percent! Am I supposed to tip a dollar for my $2.34 drip coffee? That’s almost 50 percent. Even if you are getting a fancy-shmancy espresso drink that is in the four-dollar-range, that’s 25 percent. I only give 20 percent to the waiter who busts ass for an hour while serving the needs of a table of four who are eating a complete meal. Oh-oh, I’m roaming into cheap-ass bastard territory. Reign it in.
Tipping used to be an incentive for premium service, but it has become an expected surcharge onto services rendered so that the worker doesn’t starve. This just seems wrong. Other countries have tipping, but most don’t expect nearly as much — generally around 10 percent. They give their workers the dignity of a decent salary, with tips being the frosting on the cake.
I say that it’s this weird tip system that makes some customers look down their noses at service workers. It’s like a Dickensian novel in which a lord or lady flips a farthing to a lowly serf, expecting their grateful subservience in return. I find it undignified.
I’d much rather see restaurant prices rise and tipping eliminated so that these workers could be paid a living wage that doesn’t fluctuate from week to week due to slow business or lack of customer generosity. I know this probably wouldn’t work because the restaurant business is rough and they would be afraid of losing customers if they raised their prices by 20 percent. So, the workers suffer. They must get by on meager salaries, fluctuating tips (is it their fault if business is slow?), and no paid sick leave, meaning that, to survive, they must go to work when they are sick so that their germ-filled hands can bring you your fettuccine Alfredo. That, I guess, is where karma comes in.
“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”
– Proverbs 28:27
Of all the insults that the Right likes to throw at Obama, it seems as though their favorite is calling him “The Food Stamp President.” They don’t really go for “The Unemployment President.” And you don’t hear “The Welfare President.” No, I believe it started with Newt Gingrich and has been repeated by them all, but “The Food Stamp President” represents about the worst slur they can muster, other than the incredibly racist ones.
And indeed, the number of Americans on food stamps has sharply risen during Obama’s watch. It would really be a stretch, however, for anyone to point to a particular policy that made it so. Most level-headed folks would realize that the country was hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs per month when Obama was inaugurated. The dramatic increase in SNAP participation and costs is a result of the recession, not categorical eligibility. Our nation has seen the highest unemployment rates in nearly 30 years. As the number of unemployed people increased by 94% from 2007 to 2011, SNAP mirrored that growth with a 70% increase in participation over the same period, responding quickly and effectively to growing need in the recession.
Foreclosures due to the housing crisis were kicking people out of their homes (and their kitchens) at a record pace. And then of course, there was the video I posted last week on the rise in income inequality in this country. (Did you do your homework and watch it? If not, go here.) It showed how more and more income is being gobbled up by the richest 1 percent of this nation, leaving the lower 60 percent getting poorer and poorer. That’s less and less money each month for rent, medicine, and food. Thus, more people on food stamps.
But I’m not here to quibble about why folks need assistance. I’m here to shine a light of truth onto the SNAP (food stamp) program, which not only feeds the neediest among us, but does so with an incredible amount of efficiency for a government program, and without hardly any graft or corruption.
The Least of These
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” –Matthew 25:40
15 percent of the U.S. population is on food stamps. Not 47 percent; 15 percent. The 15 percent poorest Americans. 47 million of them.
Half the recipients are children.
76 percent of food stamp households have a child, a disabled person, or the elderly.
83 percent of SNAP households are below the poverty line of $19,000 per year for a household of three. 61 percent of SNAP households make less than $14,000 per year.
46% of client households served reported having to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food.
The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744, and a net monthly income of $338.
A hand up, not a hand out
The average length of time a new participant stays on the program is 8 to 10 months. This is not a lifetime of entitlement.
Integrity and efficiency
SNAP error rates declined by 61 percent from 1999 to 2010, from 9.86 percent to a record low of 3.81 percent.
Federal administrative expenditures for SNAP equal less than 4.5% of overall federal SNAP costs. About 94% of that is the federal share of state administrative costs for operating the program. SNAP caseloads have risen by more than 75% since FY2007 due to historic unemployment, but federal spending on state administrative costs has only risen by 17% over the same period. I’d like to see the private sector achieve that level of efficiency.
The modest $48 million annual investment in SNAP performance bonuses has helped improve states’ performance, maximizing the federal investment in SNAP and ensuring that benefits are distributed in the correct amount and reach those who need them. The bonuses have incentivized states to improve performance, share best practices, and work to improve SNAP in way that was rare prior to 2002.
Nobody wants to stay on SNAP
SNAP benefits don’t last most participants the whole month. 90% of SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week of the month, and 58% of food bank clients currently receiving SNAP benefits turn to food banks for assistance at least 6 months out of the year. The last week of the month is always the busiest at food banks.
The average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $133.85, or less than $1.50 per person, per meal. Living like kings, aren’t we?
One in seven American households struggles to put enough food on the table. Unemployment is stuck above 9 percent nationally, and the need for food assistance will remain high for some time. In the meantime, families are being hit with soaring food inflation. Grocery prices increased 6 percent in the last 12 months, more than twice the average annual rate.
Food stamps don’t go to illegal immigrants
Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for SNAP. Additionally, there is already a strict waiting period for documented immigrants. Documented adult immigrants (those with a greencard) are subject to a five-year waiting period before they are eligible for SNAP.
Noncitizens make up a very small portion of SNAP participants – only 4% of participants are noncitizens (documented immigrants or refugees).
SNAP already has strict time-limits for unemployed workers. Able bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) may only receive 3 months of SNAP benefits during any 3 year period, unless they are working in a qualifying job training program.
The SNAP benefit formula is structured to provide a strong work incentive – for every additional dollar a SNAP participant earns, their benefits decline by only about 24 to 36 cents, not a full dollar, so participants have a strong incentive to find work, work longer hours, or seek better-paying employment.
But what about that woman my cousin saw?
And then there is always the story about the woman who used food stamps to buy Twinkies and Snicker bars. Lots of people claim to have a “friend” who saw this woman. Are there some who try to game the system? Sure. Just as there are millionaires trying to game the system. But I find it strange that we are angry about a woman buying a Twinkie with food stamps while turning a blind eye to Exxon’s $2.4 billion in tax subsidies. Hey, what are you gonna do?
Get government out of it
It is abundantly clear that the food stamp program is not only efficient, effective, and free of corruption, but that it also meets that basic faith requirement, be you Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Christian… that we will take care of the least of those amongst us. Some will say that government should stay out of it and leave it to the institutions of faith. Okay, every house of faith would need to raise $150,000 dollars every year to pay for the food stamp program. I figure that means less for the smaller churches and more for the larger ones. The average church in the U.S. has 90 people, so you do the math. And that’s just for food stamps. That doesn’t cover welfare, unemployment benefits, child and disabled adult care, or health care. For that, houses of faith will have to dig deeper. Yeah, or they can expand their parking lots.
To call Barack Obama the Food Stamp President is actually quite a compliment. It is a badge of honor he should wear proudly. It’s saying that he feeds the poorest of his constituents with a program that is effective, efficient, and moral. Yes, the government built that.