I think the number of children living in poverty in the U.S. is about the same as in Britain. In the richest countries of the world, including the U.S. and Britain, it is immoral to have so many children living below the poverty line. In fact, I believe the child poverty stats indicate that rich countries like us are morally bankrupt! As the artist who created a nifty and instructive poster said, Zero children should be living in poverty. “We need change.”

Indeed. We as a society (and as an electorate) have both the means and the power to reduce child poverty nearly to zero. But do 51 percent of us want to really do that? Do 51 percent of us even care?

I’m afraid to say the answer.

(You can see the poster by clicking on the Abba1blog post below.)

— John Hayden


This started of as a little sketch of a table and chairs in a coffee shop, which evolved in to a mini poverty poster!

I have been reading so much lately about the hidden and unspoken inequality and hardship that goes on in Britain that no one speaks about, and most probably don’t even know about, for example these insane poverty statistics.I think when your’e eating a cinnamon swirl with a soy latte you realise how lucky you actually are? and that a cinnamon swirl probably isn’t a life necessity (no its definitely not). So all of us in that coffee shop that day who were spending too much money on cake, are lucky people to even be able to have that as a opportunity to us, and i completely recognize that.

The fact that 1 in 4 kids live in poverty I think is really really sad, as like…

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A Homeless Guy, A Billionaire, And A Dumpster. Be Happy.

blue dumpster

So a rich guy and a homeless guy walk into a bar . . .

Sorry, let me start over. So a rich guy and a homeless guy walk into a dumpster . . .

One more time. A rich guy and a homeless guy walk into The Washington Post . . .

America is officially a “Tale of Two Cities,” as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says.

The grand canyon between extreme wealth and abject poverty has grown so wide and deep that we have lost all perspective. We have become indifferent and uncaring.

It’s common for the rich, especially, to believe that poor people choose to be poor. The rich imagine the poor are HAPPY.

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J.K. Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy,” Book Review, Take 1

“The Casual Vacancy”  is instantly notorious because it’s J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It comes with a prominent black “X” on the cover, fair warning that between these covers you’ll find a subject that’s TABOO in America.

The subject is class warfare and classism. Ms. Rowling’s story takes place in England, and you have to remember that the British and Europeans are not as squeamish about class issues as we Americans. Until recently, we’ve been in full denial.

(If you’d like to read my preview of Casual Vacancy before you start the review, see J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy — Prices Slashed.)

Ms. Rowling takes the micro approach to class warfare, focusing on the lives, relationships, and foibles of the individual men, women and children of one small town in England. The macro alternative would be a “God’s-eye view,” examining society from a distance. Rowling understands that you need to get up close and personal to understand classism and class warfare.

In the first 100 pages of Casual Vacancy, Rowling introduces an average of one new character every two pages.

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America, Out Of Balance

We are fixated on the question: Is America headed in the right direction or the wrong direction? A sizable majority answers, the wrong direction.  But if you ask the wrong question, you get an irrelevant answer.

I think the question is not one of “direction,” but “balance.” What would be the “right direction” anyway?  East or west?

America has come unhinged, out of balance. Everything is distorted, like in a hall of mirrors. American wealth, American politics, American society, all badly out of balance.

Inflation adjusted percentage increase in mean after-tax household income in the United States between 1979 and 2005. Wikimedia Commons.

Wages are too low.  CEO salaries are too high. Too much wealth goes to profits. Average Americans are “underwater,” while corporations hoard wealth.

We have too many poor people at the bottom; hardly anyone remaining in the middle.  And a relatively small cohort of the wealthy — and the associates and lackeys of the wealthy (who are nearly rich or merely affluent) — at the top.

All the money and the power is at the top, very little money and power at the bottom.

The financial sector is bloated, the industrial base is rusted and hollowed-out.

Demand is too low, and supply is too high. The supply-demand equation is a worldwide phenomenon. The whole world generally has an excess supply of nearly everything, including production capacity. Most telling, we have a worldwide surplus of labor.

Too much greed; too little love. Too much corruption and incompetence in all our institutions. A deficit of honesty and diligence.

Too many putting their faith in luck; giving up on work. Too much speculating, not enough investing.

The winners have more money than they can use; the losers are broke. We have a complete failure of compassion and justice. The winners are tired of hearing about the losers. They just want the losers to shut up. Sit down and shut up. Or better yet, lay down and die.

I wonder what would happen if all the Americans who don’t have the sense to lay down and die suddenly found their voice and their anger. Probably isn’t going to happen, because society is muddled by a surfeit of misinformation, lies, and myths.

Too much blather, not enough factual information.

Speaking of blather, it’s time for me to stop writing. It is easy enough to list the problems. I wish I could suggest some surefire solutions, but I don’t have any.

To sum up: I don’t  think America needs to change direction; rather, I believe we need to restore balance.

— John Hayden

London Is Burning

This just in from a blog in London:

Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society is ripping itself apart.

If you want to know the latest in the American-European Political-Debt Crisis of 2011, I recommend you read blogs like Penny Red.

If you want a preview of what’s coming to an American city near you, California is no longer the barometer. Look at what’s going on in London, or Dublin, or Greece, Italy, Portugal, and the entire European Union. Europe is now in worse shape than America, but maybe not for long.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s report in Penny Red:

Tonight in London, social order and the rule of law have broken down entirely. The city has been brought to a standstill; it is not safe to go out onto the streets, and where I am in Holloway, the violence is coming closer. As I write, the looting and arson attacks have spread to at least fifty different areas across the UK, including dozens in London, and communities are now turning on each other, with the Guardian reporting on rival gangs forming battle lines. It has become clear to the disenfranchised young people of Britain, who feel that they have no stake in society and nothing to lose, that they can do what they like tonight, and the police are utterly unable to stop them. That is what riots are all about.

And more from Penny Red:

 This morning, as the smoke begins to clear, those of us who can sleep will wake up to a country in chaos. We will wake up to fear, and to racism, and to condemnation on left and right, none of which will stop this happening again, as the prospect of a second stock market clash teeters terrifyingly at the bottom of the news reports. Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in. Follow the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter. And take care of one another.

I also recommend Baroque in Hackney, who can provide other pertinent links in Britain.

And today, in Wisconsin, the people are voting. I wonder if what they decide, one way or another, will be able to slow down, one iota, the spread of the chaos in the Western World.

I have to go to work now.

— John Hayden

Black Beans And Bread

The stomach is more powerful than the brain.

Hungry people are desperate people. The leader who can give the people black beans and bread, that leader RULES. It’s something to keep in mind as you watch the political-economic turmoil in Egypt, and other troubled lands.

My high school “Problems of Democracy” teacher, Mr. Thomas, repeated the words “black beans and bread” often, as he explained the iron grip of oppressive regimes, particularly Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe in the 1960s.

When people are starving, a dictator promises black beans and bread, said Mr. Thomas. If the dictator delivers black beans and bread to hungry people, that dictator rules.

Food inflation is often emphasized, when pundits list the grievances of the Egyptian people. Oppression, poverty, food shortages. There you have a recipe for revolution.

An arrogant answer like “Let them eat cake,” is a ticket to the guillotine. In the 21st Century, an arrogant answer of austerity, unemployment, and inflation might result in a one-way ticket out of the country.

Then there’s the short-sighted folly of using agricultural land to grow fuel, instead of food. I can hardly wait until some arrogant politician says, “Let them eat ethanol.”

I’ve heard that food shortages and inflation will likely worsen. Water shortages will soon be even more dangerous than food shortages. The food and water wars are only beginning.

— John Hayden

Suck Up To The Rich, But Kick The Poor When They’re Down

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother," a...

Image via Wikipedia

It has been said: “Nothing succeeds like success.”

And:  “Nobody loves you when you’re down and out.”

That about sums up the unforgiving political climate in this raw election year.

One statehouse candidate in my corner of America says she wants to make our state “Millionaire-friendly.” Wait a minute. Today’s big news is the fast foreclosure scandal, and this candidate is worried that millionaires don’t have enough friends?

I don’t know whether to laugh . . . or cry.

Meanwhile, several candidates here are keen to make seasonal workers ineligible for unemployment compensation, in the midst of the worst depression since . . . The Depression.

Around here, we have plentiful work in summer, nothing in winter. Unemployment compensation for seasonal workers has been part of the business and economic equation — the social contract, if you will — for decades. Not anymore.

In this new, winner-take-all system, some local leaders ridicule the unemployed. The poor are “gaming the system,” they say.

Supermarket clerks laugh at folks who have to pay with food stamps. Folks lucky enough to be working scapegoat the unemployed. Don’t touch their food stamps; they might be contagious.

Cozy up to the rich.  Give the poor a kick in the teeth.

Politicians know how to choose their friends. But do voters know how to choose their politicians? Is this a great country, or what?

— John Hayden

Voluntary Simplicity — Really?

A friend says she is a member of the involuntary simplicity movement.  That sounds about right.

Many people, perhaps, have chosen voluntary simplicity. The Desert Fathers come to mind.

In my lifetime, the hippies. And some idealistic people who lived in communes. For a time.

Adventurers, frontiersmen, explorers, the American Indian?  Scholars, artists and writers (but only if they are in a position to work without distraction).

Some who devote their lives to service: doctors, nurses, teachers, clergy. Mother Theresa. St. Francis of Assisi.

Monks and nuns. Lighthouse keepers.

Farmers. But I think farming is simple mostly in the minds of people who have never farmed.

The homeless? Homelessness is the opposite of simplicity. It is an everyday struggle for survival.

The wealthy? Ah. The wealthy may be in a position to choose voluntary simplicity, if they wish.

The workaholic, perhaps.

I am still thinking.

Thinking About Simplicity — Save Money On My Top Ten Nonessentials

Being downwardly mobile, I’ve got to keep pruning the low-hanging fruit, the non-essentials. In the last post, I cut the telephone land line and the monthly phone bill.  I’ve also whittled away at a long list of other non-essentials as I gradually scaled back my lifestyle from “affluent” to “working poor.” Here’s my top ten list (plus one):

  1. House (Apartment) Cleaning Service. Probably the most expensive of the non-essentials, and the first to go. For years, a cleaning service came every two weeks to do the necessary little chores I was too lazy to do. (Can you believe I paid for a cleaning service, even when I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment?)
  2. Vacations. I’ve never been bitten by the travel bug. Still, I used to get away for one weekend every season of the year, when I was affluent. And I usually took a real one-week vacation in the summer or fall. Now I haven’t had a real vacation in years. I acknowledge that forgoing vacations, year after year, is a sacrifice. But if I did vacation, I’d do it on the credit card, digging myself deeper into debt. Not a good idea.
  3. Cable TV. When I lived alone, I made do with rabbit ears. Cable, even basic cable, was a luxury I could easily live without.
  4. Home Internet Service. Same as Cable TV, above. Most of us weren’t even aware of the Internet a decade ago. Now we act like it’s a necessity. It’s not. I dropped it along with the cable TV, and used the free public Internet access at the library. However, when I share housing with another person, I usually split the cost of cable and internet. It seems like the neighborly thing to do.
  5. Newspapers. This was a tough one. All my life, I’ve read at least one daily newspaper. At the height of affluence, I subscribed to my local  paper seven days a week, plus the out-of-town New York Times. The bill for The Times was $1 a day, and well worth it. But The Times was obviously low-hanging fruit. It had to go. Later, I cancelled the local paper as well. The monthly saving was small but necessary. (I never thought the day would come that I couldn’t afford a daily newspaper.) I still buy ONE Sunday newspaper at the newsstand, when I’m feeling flush. Otherwise, I get my news from TV, or I go to the library and read the newspapers to my heart’s content, for free.
  6. Ice Cream. I switched from the premium Hagen Daz to an everyday brand. Since the doctor advised a low-fat diet, I cut way back on even the less-expensive brand, more to save my health than to save money.
  7. Pizza Delivery. I resisted this extravagance for a long time. (I might be too lazy to clean my own apartment, but I was willing to fetch my own carry-out pizza.) As the years went by, I surrendered to our cultural addiction to ease and convenience. Pizza delivery is handy when you have friends over and don’t cook. But my days of entertaining lavishly with delux pizzas (no anchovies or black olives, please) are over. I still enjoy pizza whenever I can, but I don’t have it delivered.
  8. Eating out. As a lifelong bachelor, I prided myself on preparing my own breakfast of cereal and a banana at home. But for lunch and dinner, I habitually patronized one neighborhood restaurant or another. I was a generous tipper, too, if I do say so myself. That lifestyle is a only a pleasant memory. Now, I look for price cuts at the supermarket, and eat almost every meal at home.
  9. Buying Books. One of my few extravagances was buying and reading new books, mostly paperback, but often enough, expensive hardbacks. When I read, I like to highlight important passages, and you can’t do that unless you own the book. It’s a luxury I can no longer afford. The public library lets me check out books for free, but frowns on highlighting.
  10. Church and Charitable Donations. Now frugality is getting serious. In the affluent days, I sent checks several times a year to favorite charities (soup kitchens, disaster relief, and the like). There came a day when it seemed that I needed the money as much as the charities did. Next, I reduced my weekly church contribution  to an embarrassingly small sum. Lately, I’ve been skipping church contributions entirely, and feeling guilty. I’m determined to return to my habit of small donations to church soon, but not this week.
  11. Bottled water. This is my most recent economy. For years, I carried a bottle of spring water with me everywhere. I still buy bottled water by the gallon for use at home. Our well water is OK for showers and laundry, but not for drinking or cooking. But thanks to a handy, 27-ounce stainless-steel canteen, I no longer buy those outrageously expensive small bottles of water. See, I fill the canteen free, with tap water at work, or from the gallon jugs at home. I still carry water everywhere, but I’m saving money, and with no sacrifice.

There you have it: A list of non-essentials I can live without, and save money. Please add your own suggestions for saving money on low-hanging fruit under “comments.”

Much more to come on adjusting my lifestyle from affluent to working poor. Simply cutting the low-hanging fruit was not nearly sufficient to balance my budget. Soon, we’re going to take a hard look at the essentials.