Sunday, August 27, 2006

PBS Documentary Looks at Working Poor

With Labor Day rapidly approaching, a POV documentary "Waging a Living" is very timely. It will be shown of PBS stations (including KPTS Channel 8 in Wichita) this Tuesday August 29 at 9 PM Central time, 10 pm Eastern, etc. Here are the first several paragraphs on the show from the PBS website.

If you work hard, you get ahead. That's the American Dream in a nutshell — no matter what your race, color, creed or economic starting point, hard work will improve your life and increase your children's opportunities. Yet, this widely held dream is out of reach for an increasing number of working Americans.

Roger Weisberg's alarming and heart-wrenching new documentary, "Waging a Living," puts a human face on the growing economic squeeze that is forcing millions of workers into the ranks of the poor. Shot in the Northeast and California, the film profiles four very different Americans who work full-time but still can't make ends meet. Despite their hard work and determination, these four find themselves, as one of them observes, "hustling backwards."

One in four American workers — more than 30 million people — are stuck in jobs that pay less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. (i) Housing costs, to name just one of several essential living expenses, have tripled since 1979, while real wages for male low-wage workers are actually less than they were 30 years ago. But the new face of the working poor is overwhelmingly that of a woman struggling to support her children. Only 37 percent of single mothers receive child support, and that support averages just $1,331 per year. Nearly a quarter of the country's children now live below the poverty line.

What do these numbers mean in human terms? What is it really like to work full-time and remain poor? "Waging a Living" provides a sobering answer. Filmed over three years, the documentary offers intimate profiles of four working Americans — Jean Reynolds, Jerry Longoria, Barbara Brooks, and Mary Venittelli — as they struggle to lift their families out of poverty.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Jerry Hahn Brotherhood in the New York Times

A real blast from the past. I would have missed this if I hadn't been in Philadelphia for the American Postal Workers Union convention. I picked up the New York Times on Saturday and there was a nice, long column on the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood.

Verlyn Klinkenborg writes:

The other day a song popped into my head, just a few up-tempo instrumental phrases — guitar, bass, drums and a Hammond B3 organ. I knew instantly what it was, though I hadn’t heard it in at least 20 years. It was a passing moment from “Martha’s Madman,” the first song on the first side of an LP called “The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood.” I bought the record when it was released in 1970. I was a freshman at Berkeley.

It would have been easy to see the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood performing that year, though I never did. Its lone record was a sunny mixture of straight-up jazz with a blues spine, a music that wants the latter-day word “fusion,” though that word does so little good. Above all, it was a reminder of the eclecticism of the time. Audiences that would soon diverge found themselves packed in a hall together all night long, like one October weekend at Fillmore West when the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood shared the bill with Van Morrison and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

There will probably never be a movie based on the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, no commercial incentive to remaster and rerelease this album. The story of the band is a good one but all too familiar — the inevitable clash between the artistic and business sides of the recording industry. The band fell apart disputing the honesty of its manager.

What’s left is an orphaned vinyl LP. The inner sleeve, a space for record company promotion, says, “If It’s in Recorded Form, You Know It’ll Be Available on Records.” Well, I wish it were available on CD.

I talked to Jerry Hahn the other day. He teaches jazz guitar in Wichita, his hometown. He’ll be 66 in September, with grandkids. He sounds good. “You should have heard us,” he said

Indeed! I heard the JHB live several times circa 1970. The album is very good, but live they were something else.

Klinkenborg concludes with this plea

...someone needs to find those master tapes, breathe some air into them, and do this minor masterpiece (and all the outtakes) justice at last
It would be also be nice if someone rescued the slightly earlier LP by Mike Finnegan and the Serfs. Finnegan was the Hammand B-3 player and vocalist for the JHB. Finnegan and a couple of his mates from the band are heard on the jam songs on Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

At the APWU convention

I'm in Philadelphia this week for the national convention of the American Postal Workers Union.
Consequently, posting may be a little light this week. This is in distinction to those weeks when posting is a little light and I'm not in Philadelphia or some other place doing something union or political.

Manager--convicted of homicide-- sentenced to teach safety class

Via the AFL-CIO NOW blog

Jordan at Confined Space has the story: Brent H. Weidman, former head of the Far West Water and Sewer Co., was convicted of two counts of negligent homicide in the 2001 deaths of two workers who were suffocated by toxic sewage gases while working on an underground sewer tank in Mesa Del Sol, Ariz. In addition to probation and a $250-a-month fine, poor Weidman got sentenced to 840 hours of teaching safety classes for the Arizona Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Yuma.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Aerial Bombing of Beirut

Mark Grimsley has an interesting post on the History News Network bringing to our attention two interactive graphics of Beirut before July 12 and after July 31 which show the extent of the bombing. Be sure to look at the area maps to put the extent of the bombing in perspective.

MSNBC has an interactive graphic showing a satellite photo of a portion of Beirut as it appeared on July 12 and another satellite photo showing the same area on July 31. You can toggle back and forth between the two. Only four targets are captioned -- a highway overpass, Hezbollah offices, the municipal building and Al Manar television -- but if you examine the photos in their entirety, it's plain that a substantial number of other buildings were also targeted or at least struck. The graphic is a litmus test of sorts for one's appraisal of the IAF strikes. Do you see evidence of a discriminate, proportional air campaign; or something more extensive?

UPDATE, August 12, 2:02 PM - The New York Times ran a similar graphic last week. It labels the bombed zone, "Main area of Hezbollah offices (before attacks, this area was fenced off and surrounded by guards)," which to my mind removes the litmus test. So to that extent, never mind. But both graphics are worth a look. Interestingly, the NYT's "before" image is in color, the "after" image in black and white.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

AFL-CIO and Day Laborer Group Announce Partnership

From the AFL-CIO Now Blog

The AFL-CIO and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) have reached a historic partnership agreement that will pave the way for AFL-CIO central labor councils and state federations and NDLON’s day laborer worker centers to work together on issues ranging from workplace rights to immigration reform to health and safety and other job-related concerns.

Two important figures on the American left , Dorothy Healey and John Cort, passed this week. Both were in their 90s. I had the pleasure of knowing both.

Marc Cooper has some words about Dorothy Healey

Legendary Communist and, later, legendary ex-Communist Dorothy Healey died last Sunday at age 91. At barely five feet tall, with piercing blue-gray eyes, a razor sharp-intellect, often a pipe or a panatela in her hand, Dorothy was a power-house orator, a relentless organizer, and fireball of political energy and optimism.

She was also a friend of mine.

The most notorious figure in the Southern California Communist Party, she had already made her mark as an agitator while in her teens. Steinbeck fashioned one of his farm labor organizer charatcters of his In Dubious Battle directly from Dorothy's real-life persona.

I first met her in the mid 1960's as an upcoming radical teenager. I sat transfixed in her South Central L.A. apartment and though she was 35 years older than I, we batted around for hours at a time what the meanings of socialism, communism and revolution were. She was still in the Party back then. Most of my New Left friends and I looked upon the CP'ers as dinosaur Stalinoids. But not Dorothy. Among the surviving Old Guard from the 1930's. she was the only one who showed us yunngin's any real respect. She knew she had something to offer us from her decades of battle, but also knew we had something to offer her.

No one, at least no one I knew, could conduct any ideological debate with half the gravitas and wit that Dorothy could conjure. She knew her stuff and was always ready to patiently prove it. She never recruited me or any of my close friends into the Party. We were way too rebellious and way too enamored of freedom to get sucked into that stuff. But we, nevertheless. considered Dorothy to be our Den Mother -- we were all proud to be known around L.A. as one of "Dorothy's Kids."

She was already having her doubts about the Party when the Soviets crushed the Czech students and intellectuals in the Summer of 1968. She started backing out of her life-long commitment to it and within a few years was totally out. Her principles led her then to directly challenge the Stalinist and authoritarian structures of the CP and of what was then called "actually existing socialism." Instead, Dorothy committed the rest of her life to working for a humane, just and democratic socialism which placed the notion of individual liberty above the interests of a Goliath state.

The Boston Globe had an obituary for religious socialist John Cort

Standing before a group of eager workers in Boston, John Cort hoped to send a powerful message that would rally the first state-sponsored service corps in the nation. It was the summer of 1965, and he had just been appointed the organization's executive director, so he wanted to find the words that would adequately convey his wishes for the new state program.

``The poor, the defeated, and the discouraged in the state are counting on you," he excitedly told the first batch of recruits. ``You are in a war against powers of darkness, against prejudice, disease, discouragement and despair. These are deadly enemies."

Over the years, Mr. Cort became a central figure in a variety of social movements, and his work to combat poverty, in particular, made him well known among academics, politicians, and community organizers.

He was also a familiar face in Boston media circles as a former business agent for the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston, and an editor of a number of publications, including Commonweal, a Catholic journal.

He retired in the mid-1970s and turned his attentions to a book project, meticulously researching what would become ``Christian Socialism: An Informal History," published in 1988. In more recent years, he poured the ups and downs of his own journeys into ``Dreadful Conversions: The Making of a Catholic Socialist," published in 2003.

Mr. Cort was amiable in nature, had a fondness for singing sea shanties, and always had a quip at the ready, family and former colleagues said.

``Even though he was a little more formal, kind of a tall, straight, ramrod kind of guy, he was right there with the joking and the joshing," said Fuchs, now a professor emeritus at Brandeis.

``The thing about John is we could disagree so agreeably," Fuchs said. ``It was just wonderful to have somebody with such strong convictions and a good sense of humor at the same time."

``He was deeply religious and deeply committed to his belief that society and government have an obligation to ensure the welfare and well-being of everyone, and that's what he devoted his life to."

Monday, August 07, 2006

Leading Kansas Conservative Pastor Resigns Suddenly

Christina Woods reported in Monday's Wichita Eagle on the surprising and sudden resignation of conservative pastor Terry Fox.

The Rev. Terry Fox, who helped lead the successful push last year for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, resigned Sunday as senior pastor of Wichita's Immanuel Baptist Church.
"I see a need for Christians to get involved in issues," Fox said during his resignation speech, which happened toward the end of the 10:30 a.m. service.
Fox, whose resignation took effect immediately, said he and church leaders agreed he should resign after 10 years as senior pastor. Neither Fox nor church officials would say what led Fox to resign.
This was a very sudden decision as reading between the lines of the Eagle story hints.
Deacons of the church met at length Sunday afternoon to discuss, among other issues, a possible interim replacement for Fox, who said he imagines a pastoral search committee will be created.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this but it looks to me very much like a crisis decision. Is Fox's resignation the result of a scandal? The other possibility which occurs to me is that there was an unresolvable clash of wills between Fox and the church lay leadership.

Fox is more than just a Wichita figure. He is a real national power among Southern Baptists. He was part of the trustees of a major Southern Baptist institution, the North American Mission Board which imposed "executive controls" over NAMB President Bob Record earlier this year. He made the nominating speech for one of the candidates for first VP of the SBC.

Alas, Kansas won't be free of Fox.
Fox said he plans to stay in Wichita and continue co-hosting a nationally syndicated radio show with Wright. The show, which airs from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday evenings on KNSS, is expanding its format.
Earlier this year, when a Paul Mireki was forced to resign as chair of Kansas University's Religion Department after sending emails disparaging fundamentalists, Fox's congregation reportedly cheered on hearing the news. I imagine there are lots of folks in Kansas cheering Fox's departure--and not just atheists, agnostics, and free thinkers.

UPDATE August 9
A follow-up article in today's Eagle has Fox saying that some members were complaining about his travelling for out-of-state political causes. Up to 35 weeks a year according to the Rev. Fox.

Columnist Mark McCormick asks whether there is more to it.
That brings us back to the community's need for an explanation.

To have the details of this separation come out in dribs and drabs certainly won't help the church move beyond the pain of the split. And because Fox is a public figure and influential newsmaker, not talking about what happened will only lead to more speculation. And speculation can be far more damaging than the truth.

Fox appearing so talkative, and the church seeming so reticent, reflects how far apart the two sides have grown.

No matter who is saying what, the rest of us aren't getting the whole story.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Victory for science and kids

Half of the Kansas Board of Education is up for election this year. The primary results yesterday gave a strong rejection of the far right creationists who have a 6-4vote majority. Four of the five seats up for election this year are held by conservatives.

  • Moderate incumbent Janet Waugh (D) turned back a stealth challenge from an African-American. She faces no general election challenger.
  • In Western Kansas, Connie Morris (R) was called evolution a "fairy tale" and made many an anti-immigrant pitch was defeated by moderate Sue Cauble. Cauble will face Democrat Tim Cruz in the general election.
  • In the 9th District, moderate GOP Jana Shaver defeated Brad Paltz, the son-in-law the current creationist incumbent.
  • In the 7th District creationist Ken Willard defeated moderate Donna Viola. He'll have a Democratic opponent in November. He'll face former Rep. Jack Wempe in November.
  • In Johnson county, incumbent John Bacon narrowly defeated science teacher Harry McDonald. There was a third candidate in the primary, also pro-science as I undertand. Bacon received a little less than fifty percent. McDonald will be supporting Democrat Don Weiss in the general election.

After the primary, this is net gain of two for the moderates. Both of these gains took place in the more rural districts. There is a good chance for the Democratic candidates to win in both the 7th District (Hutchinson) and the 3rd. If so that would mean a 8-2 science and common sense majority.

Josh Rosenau has a summary

The Board is back in moderate hands no matter what. The night is, on balance, a victory. It'd be nice to further marginalize the extremists by winning the remaining races in November, but we've got a majority that will implement the science standards recommended by the scientists, educators and parents of the science standards committee. The Board can focus on bigger issues. They can dig into ways to address the special challenges of rural districts, and to find solutions to the problems faced by the students in poorer urban districts. Real challenges, not fake controversy. Helping kids, not fighting culture wars.

That's what tonight was about, and the kids won. This wasn't Dover rejecting a few municipal officials. It's a whole state turning against the divisiveness of the IDolators. Congratulations, Kansas!

GOP Minimum Wage Maneuver Slimier Than Eagle Says

Randy Schofield has an interesting comment on the Wichita Eagle WE blog:

House Republican leaders played a cheap political trick over the weekend when they tacked a proposed minimum wage increase, from $5.15 to $7.25, onto a bill of inheritance and other tax breaks for the rich.

The gambit allows moderate Republicans up for election to point out that they voted for a minimum-wage hike — denying Democrats a potent economic issue. Meanwhile, the bill has no chance of passing in the Senate.

An estimated 15 million American workers would benefit from the boost in the minimum wage, which, because of inflation, is at its lowest level of buying power since 1955, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Meanwhile, in the last decade, lawmakers have approved cost-of-living wage hikes for themselves of about $35,000.

Working Americans aren’t getting a fair shake.
A good comment, and Schofield even provides a link to an Economic Policy Institute report.

What's my complaint then? Dean Baker states it well
[To] raise the minimum wage to $7.15 an hour in 2007, from 5.15 an hour at present, it would be helpful to tell readers that this is equal to approximately $5.32 in 1997 dollars, the year the last minimum wage hike took full effect. This means that minimum wage workers would get about a 3.0 percent increase in real wages from 1997 to 2007, if this bill was approved.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Could Sebelius Win GOP Primary?

Rasmussen's poll released just before Tuesday's primaries shows Democratic Gov Sebelius in very good shape. She has a 17 point lead in a hypothetical match-up with GOP front-runner State Senator Jim Barnett. She had an even larger lead over former House Speaker Robin Jennison. Rasmussen didn't ask about Christian conservative Ken Canfield who is also mounting a serious campaign.

Here are the truly amazing results which prompt our title. Sebelius is viewed favorably by 58% of Republicans, far ahead of Barnett who is viewed faborably by 42 percent and Jennison by 38 percent. In the hypothetical November match-up Sebelius garners thirty percent support from Republican voters. So, if Kansas allowed cross-filing, in a four-way race with Barnett, Jennison, and Canfield, Democratic Governor Kathleen might well win the Republican primary.

The Rasmussen poll

In our latest poll of the gubernatorial race here, conducted two weeks before the August 1 primaries, Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius maintains a comfortable lead over top candidates for the GOP nomination. The poll shows her with leads of 52% to 31% over former state House Speaker Robin Jennison, 51% to 34% over State Senator Jim Barnett.

..... In addition to attracting 87% support from Democrats in each match-up, the governor also wins more than 30% of Republicans, 50% or more of unaffiliated voters, two thirds of moderates.

Sebelius is viewed favorably by 70% of all voters, including 58% of Republicans. Her job approval numbers are also high—even 49% of conservatives at least "somewhat" approve.

Jennison is viewed favorably by 36%, Barnett by 42%. A third of voters don't know either GOP candidate well enough to offer an opinion.