The Modern Day U.S. Slave


While most Americans spent this past weekend focused on memorials of the tragedy of 9/11, the gringa found herself getting educated at a prison protest Saturday on the anniversary of the Attica Uprising 45 years ago.  I’ll give you a rundown of a bit of history and then share some details of today’s U.S. prisons that shocked the gringa when she came to a fuller understanding.

Attica Maximum Security Correctional Facility, New York, September 9, 1975

  • 1,281 prisoners take over D yard, an exercise field.
  • 39 prison employees & guards are held hostage.
  • 13 state police & prison officers launch a raid.
  • During the raid 10 hostages & 29 prisoners are killed, 89 seriously injured

Why did this happen? Frustration over deplorable living conditions:

  • Overcrowding
  • Censorship of mail
  • 1 weekly shower
  • 1 single roll of toilet paper for an entire month (the gringa goes through a single roll PER DAY)

Personal perspective of the prisoners began to change in the radicalized climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s. They began to see themselves as political prisoners rather than just convicted criminals. After all, isn’t our nation’s law enforcement, judicial and prison systems highly politicized? Aren’t convicted criminals often used as political pawns? Of course they are. And Attica’s inmates decided it was time to participate in the political system the only way a disenfranchised citizen can, through radical, attention getting protest.

Once the more than 2,000 inmates mobilized, a riot quickly ensued that included beating guards, acquiring weapons of any sort, and torching the chapel. One guard was thrown out a second-story window after a beating and died from his injuries days later. As state police struggled to regain control of the prison, D yard became the final scene of the showdown with a hostage situation that lasted four long days.

The prisoners requested U.S. Representative Herman Badillo to lead negotiations and offered their list of demands:

  • Improved living conditions.
  • Religious freedom.
  • No more censorship of personal mail.
  • More phone privileges.
  • Amnesty for prisoners in D Yard.
  • Safe passage to a non-imperialist country for any who desired to go.

Although negotiations were on-going and none of the hostages were being harmed, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller mobilized hundreds of state troopers and the National Guard which all soon descended upon the prison. Civilian observers who were present were dismayed by the Governor’s overt show of force and asked for him to personally appear as a sign of good faith. Rockefeller refused. Instead he gave the order for an act of force that resulted in a massive and tragic loss of life. The gringa thinks this was totally unnecessary and quite typical of the cowboy mentality that seems to take hold of the wrong kind of people who come into positions of power over other people.

Many would argue that strong leadership means being forceful and making a powerful display of strength and authority when challenged. The gringa disagrees. When in a role of managing the care of fellow human beings, even if they are convicted criminals, a strong leader must be a wise and humble benefactor. Human beings are complicated creatures with complex needs. Rockefeller was wrong to do what he did. Going in with guns blazing is absolutely the wrong approach to solve any crisis where human lives are at stake.

Rather than continue negotiations Rockefeller demanded the inmates’ surrender. They responded to his challenge by holding knives to the throats of their hostages. In short order 3,000 rounds of bullets tore through clouds of tear gas and killed not only inmates, but one fourth of the hostages. Emergency medical responders testified that some of the prisoners were shot and killed as they lie on the ground after surrendering or being wounded.

In light of this disastrous plan implemented by New York’s governor, Rockefeller tried to deflect blame with false stories fed to the press that the inmates had slit the throats of the hostages and even castrated one. Rockefeller was either extremely ignorant or extremely arrogant if he thought autopsy reports would not expose his lies. There was an eventual Congressional investigation into this cover-up and frame job of the inmates as brutal executioners.

The final aftermath of the Attica riot has reserved its place in history as the worst prison riot the United States has ever seen:

  • 43 people killed.
  • Weeks of reprisals against prisoners with torturous treatment involving nightsticks, broken glass and other measures.
  • Substandard medical treatment if it was administered at all.
  • $2.8 billion class-action lawsuit filed by 1,281 prisoners against Attica & state officials.
  • $8 million awarded to prisoners in 2000 & divided among 500 inmates.
  • By accepting death benefit checks or paychecks, prison officers & their survivors unknowingly forfeited their right to sue the state for its debacle of a rescue plan.

Today’s Prisons

The gringa can’t speak on behalf of prisons in every state, but will share two distinct and troubling characteristics of prisons in her home state of Texas:

  • Prisoners are expected to work for zero pay & can expect retribution if they refuse, often being placed in solitary confinement.
  • Prisoners must pay a $100 co-pay in order to receive medical treatment.

The gringa is struck by many shocking conclusions upon becoming aware of these facts:

  • A for-profit prison system benefitting from productivity from enslaved Americans creates a society where there are incentives in place for the justice system to generate as many arrests and convictions as possible.
  • The common thread among prisoners is financial status. Whereas the slaves of America’s past were defined by race, today’s slaves are defined by lacking the funds to launch an aggressive legal defense, which still results in minorities being over-represented in U.S. prison populations.
  • By targeting the poor as easy to imprison & profit from, a capitalist society is further growing the impoverished slave class by fracturing families and extracting breadwinners. The fractured family is further burdened by creating a single parent who needs to provide for herself, her children and her imprisoned loved one who, because enslaved and performing prison labor without pay, cannot provide for his commissary needs. The loved one on the outside must also pay for their imprisoned loved one’s toothpaste, socks, toilet paper, medical care, etc.
  • The ugly laws of the 1920s, designed by America’s elite class to rid public streets of the unsightliness of undesirables by criminalizing behaviors typical to impoverished people, have simply been reinstated through various other laws that target the poor American.

The gringa has no solutions. I have only just now had my eyes opened to the complexity of this disturbing issue. Like a good, little patriot I have been conditioned by my society to believe it is acceptable that prisoners should have, at the very least, an uncomfortable time of it. I have also been conditioned to believe that complaints by prisoners are always a con job, they are simply not to be trusted. However, by conditioning Americans to ignore the plight of prisoners, capitalists have been empowered to pursue policies that have targeted the weakest among us in order to create a slave class they can profit from.

The gringa heard the story of one mother who was visiting her 19 year-old son on the one day weekly he is able to see his loved ones. I listened in horror as she told me a tale that could have happened to my own son. A tale of a teenager arranging to purchase some expensive sneakers he had seen online. However, when he met the individuals to exchange his money for the shoes, they took his money and basically ran. It was a scam. Incensed, he tracked down the individuals and gave them a beat down to get the shoes he had paid for. He was charged not just with assault, but also with robbery. Being high end sneakers, the sale price constituted a felony. This young man was facing 8-25 years of hard time and having to place his trust in a court appointed attorney. Unlike many others like her son, this mother was very fortunate to work out a deal with a youth program yet he will still serve 6 months in prison that will certainly be a harrowing experience that will change him forever. Because he beat up a con artist and took back his shoes.

Might an affluent teenager with a hotshot lawyer have gotten off with a fine and probation or perhaps even an aquittal? It’s highly likely. However,  a low-income, minority teen is advised by a court appointed attorney to work out a plea deal, securing, at the very least, 6 months of free labor for a capitalist prison system model to profit from. And the young and strong are who the for-profit systems want for slave labor. Even a minimal sentence is a good thing for prison profiteers. It increases the chances that a 6 month slave will return for a longer stint of labor in the future. The system is ensuring that as much of the poverty rabble as possible is kept off of America’s streets and enslaved for the profit of corporations. This is outrageous.

What is the interest of a court appointed attorney who takes on a case for free? His interest is to get the case over with as soon as possible so he can get back to jobs that pay. This is not justice. Consider just a few very telling statistics and see if the gringa is right when she says that the United States should be very ashamed:

  • U.S. population of nearly 320 million.
  • In 2014 more than 2 million Americans were in prison & nearly 5 million were on probation or parole.
  • 1 in 5 prisoners are convicted of a drug related offense.
  • The underprivileged are disproportionately imprisoned, marked by the following factors: income status, race, & level of education.

The gringa does not believe any of this is an accident. Re-designing prisons as modern day plantations is purposeful. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed. This had an incredible economic impact for bad or good depending on where a person stood. For minorities it was an economic boon, finally having their right to equal job opportunity and equal pay protected. For businesses that had enjoyed the freedom to pay as little as they pleased to minorities, they suffered. Imbittered, it did not take long for American businesses to devise a work around.

Within 7 years President Nixon announced the U.S. War on Drugs. Within another 7 years America’s prison systems were privatized to deal with exploding prison populations as a result of the War on Drugs. A war that has been effectively proven to disproportionately incarcerate poor, non-violent, drug offenders that are more of a threat to themselves than society, and most are capable of complete rehabilitation. American business preserved their slave class despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act. And it continues today.

Although the average citizen is conditioned to point the finger at inmates for their less than humane living conditions, what of the creators and enforcers who have the power and resources to implement change that would be decidedly better? What about other first world countries who are successful with humane, rehabilitative prison systems that are minimally populated and experience extremely low rates of returning inmates?

The gringa believes this is all by design as well. By creating and enforcing conditions that dehumanize even a non-violent drug offender who originally was no real threat to the public at large, for-profit prisons can damage a human so badly that person is incapable of living successfully and independently as a free man or woman. They ensure their slave workforce by intentionally designing living conditions that psychologically ruin a human being’s ability to ever have healthy emotional and working relationships. In the gringa’s opinion, this places every prison official in the category of guilt of crimes against humanity. And it seems that the United Nations agrees with the gringa, making it very clear that the United States is not living up to UN standards of humane treatment of incarcerated peoples.

I urge my dear readers who are as alarmed and as concerned as the gringa to use whatever is your gift or talent to help bring about awareness and change. The U.S. model of how criminals are dealt with is barbaric. No other civilized, first world nation operates in such a way. Human beings that are poor, or of the wrong ethnicity, are considered disposable in the United States. You only get one chance and if you make a mistake and end up in the prison system, there is no rehabilitation, only living conditions that reduce human beings to their basest instincts for survival. U.S. imprisonment is modern day slavery that creates a social stigma that prevents any success once free, only recidivism just to survive, where a person is then guaranteed a return to the plantation.

The gringa has provided below some video and photos from the rally.

Chants of the protestors:

Judy Kotun who told me the story of her 19 year-old son:

Samsung
Samsung

 

Sources:

www.history.com

www.prisonpolicy.org

Incarceration on Wikipedia

www.bloomberg.com

stanford.edu

www.un.org

Image Credit: tse1.mm.bing.net

 

 

 

Who Are The Real Entitlement Whinebags?


The gringa has been distracted with concerns about current war migrations and the possibility of future climate change migrants that I haven’t even noticed that my own countrymen are migrating as well. It seems to have been going on rather significantly for about three years now. A little over 4,000 did so in 2015. When I look back to the year 2006 the gringa discovers only 300 people bailed on the country. Why are so many more Americans renouncing their citizenship now?

Apparently, it all comes down to taxes. Now, the gringa hasn’t been on a political crusade and ranted and raged for a cause in some time so, perhaps now is the time. Especially since it’s an election cycle and the you-know-what is getting thick. So, be prepared for a clarifying earful about subjects such as “entitlement whinebags” and “propaganda hounds” aka, the GOP, aka, “compassionate” conservatives, aka, the Republican party. And get comfy because, clocking in at over 3,000 words, you, dear reader, are in for a long read of a long rant.

So, back to the original question… what kind of Americans are giving up their American citizenship and why… Many Americans expatriate to live in other countries. Many of these are Americans who are still working and earning. It is not just retired folk who expatriate. However, even though they live in another country, in the past, they retained their American citizenship because of all the benefits and security the nationality afforded them. Now, it’s just one big tax hassle to be an American in another country. So, they renounce their citizenship. Rather than work to change what’s wrong with their country, they take their ball and go home. Boo hoo.

You see, it doesn’t matter where an American lives. They still have to pay their income tax so that money can be used by the nation to maintain the country’s infrastructure, protect its citizens, and care for its less fortunate at home as well as vulnerable populations around the world. Apparently, these turncoats don’t want to contribute to the well-being of the nation, they only want to reap the benefits. I think that’s the description of an “entitlement whinebag”, someone who expects that they deserve something for nothing.

I mean, the gringa pays her taxes. The caveman pays his taxes. We don’t complain. For our contribution we enjoy lots of good stuff.

I can drive across the highway to the grocery store without the freeway bridge collapsing and killing me because the highway funds keep that bridge in good operating condition.

I can sleep peacefully in my bed at night, without a loaded pistol within reach, because taxes pay for an adequate police presence of law enforcement in my neighborhood.

I enjoy the luxury and safety of clean water running right out of my tap at a dirt cheap price (and so should the people of Michigan).

I don’t have to worry about airplanes falling out of the sky and squishing me flat because my country can afford to have proper safety management controls where air travel is concerned.

And the gringa can go on and on but I’m sure the dear reader has sufficiently gotten my point.

So, what about these renouncers. Who are they? Who are the most likely people to move to another country for work or retirement? Um, they are the people who can afford to. They are not the poor, working class, or even the middle class, American. They are the very people who live a life of comfort and luxury and point their fingers at the indigent and poor and berate them for having an “entitlement” attitude because they are asking their nation to provide such things as living wage protection, affordable healthcare, and affordable housing. Hmmm.

So, the privileged of the country want to enjoy more bang for their abundant bucks by living in another country where their dollar stretches farther. Bully for them but the poor, working folk are stuck back here in the States still eating beans. And, since the corporatists and wealthy are not pitching in their fair share to the household budget, the middle and working classes are the only ones supporting the household.

That is why our economy is suffering. That is why there is not enough money in the budget to do what should be done. If the corporatists and wealthy actually paid their legitimate taxes rather than hide their money in offshore accounts and enjoy the tax loopholes they are rewarded with for big dollar campaign contributions, there would be much more money in America’s household fund. We could easily afford to adequately fund our schools, care for our veterans, provide affordable healthcare for everyone, etc., etc., etc.

But the corporatists and wealthy continue to rob their country of what it is due. And, they use their “propaganda hounds” to convince others that expecting them to pay their fair share of taxes is something very evil called “socialism”. Um, that’s a lie. It’s actually called “obeying a taxation law that is fair, just and undiscriminatory”. You earn, you pay your fair share of taxes, EVERYONE, no matter how much you earn, even if you are a corporation. Period. That is not socialism. That is taxation is a capitalist democracy.

These privileged people are fully aware that they will still be taxed by their homeland even if they live outside its borders. But, they make the decision to do it anyway. Then they complain about the consequences when tax payment time rolls around. They bewail their condition of being double taxed, by the land of their birth as well as their new host country. The gringa doesn’t want to hear their crybabiness. They knew it going into it and made their bed. Now they need to lie in it and suck it up like big kids. Nobody made them move to another country.

So, for all the big money “entitlement whinebags” in and outside of my country, this rant is for you:

With regard to a nation as great as the United States providing healthcare for all of its citizens, let me ‘splain something to the selfish critics who have “got theirs” and don’t care about the working class people who have, for years, been employed by companies that did not offer health insurance and did not make enough money to afford their own health insurance but made too much money to receive Medicaid:

For the first time in over forty years, thanks to Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the gringa has coverage for my pre-existing condition that usually lands me in the emergency room 2-3 times a year. This epileptic also doesn’t qualify for disability because I WORK. Which means I had a revolving door of uninsured healthcare debt averaging about $10-20 grand every year except for now. Because of convulsions and recovery periods, my work cycle was usually work about three months, recover for a month, so I RARELY even made $10,000 annually. I was often out of a job after a health crisis. How in the heck could I possibly afford my medical bills?

In 2015 my medical bills were less than $2000. Thank you Obama and kiss my patootie those who have never walked a mile in those shoes yet want to deny those who have and offer no alternative. That is the GOP’s solution – no solution, simply ignore the need of Americans like me.

So, the real “entitlement whinebags” are those people who are simply too stingy to let a tax dollar be spent for a neighbor in need. “Entitlement whinebags” who resist any effort of the government to create a public benefit attempt to use “propaganda hounds” to protect their dollars by telling lies in an effort to convince everyone else that the benefits are only for undeserving people who don’t want to work and want something for free. That is a big fat lie.

The greed of the wealthy and corporatists, and their arrogant belief that the working poor are undeserving of any public benefit, are the biggest “entitlement whinebags” the United States supports. They live a life of indulgence that has divorced them from empathy and compassion.

Their selfishness leads them also to an argument of erroneous ignorance. All those past years of outrageously high medical bills, the gringa, being conscientious and responsible, always desired to be able to pay them. When you have people who are unable to pay for the medical services they receive, the doctors and clinics and hospitals have to absorb that loss. They do it by spreading the money owed them around, which basically means the cost of services go up. So, one way or another, the bill is paid whether it comes out of a tax funded benefit or an individual’s pocket paying for something at an inflated price to cover a loss. And, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but at least it’s a step in the right direction which is something that the Republican party has never done or even offered to do.

Many corporatists and wealthy Americans commit another error of ignorance. They believe that all the poor receive free healthcare. And, I might add, they resent that fact. They actually resent that they have to pay taxes that provide any benefit for the poor. They would rather keep their money and let every single poor American never have medical access. But, I digress, their error in believing that all the poor receives free healthcare is proof of how divorced from reality they are. Most of the poor in the U.S. are the working poor. The working poor make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

If they would take the time to educate themselves, rather than believe the “propaganda hounds”, they would learn that during the Clinton Administration the threshold for qualifying for government benefits was lowered. That created a situation where many poor people who were receiving public benefits were thrust off the dole and into the working arena.

You see, there was a big business boom during the Clinton years and he was scratching the backs of the corporatists who helped him get into office by creating a huge pool of low paid workers available. The ranks of the working poor swelled with an on-slought of unskilled, untrained labor which meant wages stayed low. Most of these were single mothers and the elderly.

We now have people that are pushing eighty-years-old in America working low wage jobs, barely able to feed themselves because corporatists and the wealthy do not believe a nation has any obligation to care for those unable to care for themselves. That is not “compassionate” Conservatism. Whether Conservatives want to admit it or not there are certain people who simply should not and cannot work and they are the Americans the other Americans should be caring for. That would be our old folks and medically disabled (however, I will share a dirty little secret – most Republicans do not believe that anyone is really medically disabled. They believe that every chronically ill person should be doing some sort of job and accepting their lot in life even if that means they can barely afford to feed themselves. Better they live a miserable quality of life than receive a taxpayer provided benefit).

As for single mom’s, don’t even get me started. Not only are they needing to feed, clothe, house and provide medical care for their children, if they work they also have to pay for childcare. How in the world can a mom do it on a forty-hour work week even if she makes $10 hourly much less the average $8 hourly that many actually work at? Huh? Please, answer me that?

Where are they going to find the money and time to manage the needs of their household and get a college education in order to better their conditions? Is it possible? Sure, anything is possible. Is it likely? We all know that many of the mom’s are absolutely exhausted simply by caring for their children. A full-time job on top of that often takes what little bit they’ve got left to give. So, the reality is that most of these moms devote themselves to their children, placing all their hopes and dreams in their future, determined that their children will become college educated and they lay their own dreams aside.

Does that thinking really work for single moms? Take a look at the statistics. It doesn’t. The high school drop out rate in the United States is shameful. The majority of these children are being raised by single parents. The college enrollment rate for children of single parent households is equally shameful. Every single mental health professional tells the truth. Children of single parent households are simply not getting the attention they need. It’s not necessarily the divorce factor that is the problem. The problem is that when only one parent is bearing the burden of financial and time responsibility, they simply can’t provide enough of either.

If we want to preserve the greatness of our country’s future, it begins with securing a future for all of our nation’s children. Giving them the best opportunity to receive the nurture and attention they need to thrive and meet their potential. Children of single parent households need a country who recognizes that need and is willing to invest in assisting that household so that parent is not robbed of critical time with their child because they have to work a 50-60 hour workweek just to put food on the table.

And, you know what, if we would spend more money on our kids here at home rather than spending money to prepare them to go overseas with weapons, our country might just become a better nation. If this political party that is so resistant to caring for its own citizens in need would consider their hypocrisy of calling themselves “pro-life” when, in actuality, they are really only “pro-birth” because they don’t actually give a hoot about that “life” until it becomes old enough to join the military. Then, once that “life” has been exploited by the war for profit greed hounds of the Republican party and comes home damaged and in need of care and unable to work and care for itself, the party that exploited them is no longer so “pro” about their “life”. It makes me sick. But, I digress. Back to Clinton and his changing of the poverty qualification dynamics.

So, after Clinton’s revamping of welfare, many working class people became underemployed, thus underpaid, unable to even get a full 40 hour work week at times because the working class job market was swarmed with more people looking for jobs than jobs were to be had. Bad news for the working class, good news for the pro-Clinton companies who were getting paid back for their support with an opportunity to exploit the working class for their labor at dirt cheap wages.

And, because there were more working class people than their were jobs, the fierce competition created a desperation where anyone was just glad to have a job no matter how crummy the pay, few the hours and absolute lack of benefits. And, because the poverty line had been lowered, people who would once receive medical, housing and food benefits, now received nothing, despite the fact their earnings had not increased and may have very well decreased. And, poof, like magic, with the stroke of a pen, overnight, the poverty class in America seemed to almost disappear. It was only an illusion. In fact, the quality of life of these people was worse than it was before.

It didn’t matter what numbers a government official scratched on an official document, claiming that’s the minimum income to qualify as poverty class and entitled to a benefit. The reality was that the actual poverty level of real life stayed the same. So, more and more Americans showed up and work and toiled 40, 50, even 60 hours a week but still lived with a poverty income and absolutely no help from the government who had betrayed them and lied about their wage and living conditions. And many working class people couldn’t even find a 40 hour work week job. They settled for whatever they could find. Sometimes that meant two or three part-time jobs. And this problem has never even been admitted openly much less addressed and solved.

There have been a few years when I was unable to work at all. The caveman was the sole supporter of our family. He is a truck driver. Our income tax returns for those years was, well, I won’t say the number but most of you probably know that a truck driver does not make much money. For a family of four, he made too much to qualify for any benefit the government had to offer to “the poor”. We had to pay for housing, food, utilities, keep cars on the road, and, because the company he worked for did not provide health insurance, we also had to pay every single dime of medical expenses we incurred. And the epileptic gringa is expensive.

Now, a corporatist or wealthy person would be arrogant enough to feel entitled to criticize and say, “Why didn’t the caveman get another job with a different company that offered insurance?” Well, actually, he did get laid off once and got a job with a company with full benefits. But, my pre-existing condition wasn’t covered. So, alas, it really did us absolutely no good.

So, “entitlement whinebag” corporatists and wealthy who want to enjoy all of your wealth and not contribute to the upkeep of this great nation and be a good steward with your overabundance by helping those less fortunate, here’s some food for thought for your hateful, selfish, arrogant minds:

I am the working poor. And we are legion. Let me introduce you to us. We’re the people who press your suit and shirts at the dry cleaners. We are the ones who scrub the floor of the salon where you get your nails done. We wipe snotty noses in daycare centers and nursing homes. We pick the veggies and truck them to your supermarkets. We’re the folks who trim your lawn and give your dog a haircut. We change the trash bin liners in the hospital where you were born and dig the grave where you will be buried.

We live in barrio apartments surrounded by other working poor families who are all doing their best to feed their families. There are usually two parents here, working together to raise their children and find a way to take unpaid leave from work to see their programs and games while still managing to pay the bills.

We usually have only one very old car that is paid for. We can barely afford the liability insurance. Forget about a warranty and full coverage. If the alternator goes out or there is a minor accident, the repair cost comes out of our pocket. It may be way too much that a working class Joe can afford. Looking under the hood, a working class Joe scratches his head wondering how he is going to pay for the parts to get the car back on the road because he has to be at work at 6am in the morning.

Fortunately for working class Joe, his neighbors know exactly what’s up. We’ve all been there. Soon, all working class Joe’s neighbors have pooled some money together, driven him to the auto parts store, and several are working by his side with flashlights well after midnight until the car is finally fixed.

You see, “entitlement whinebag corporatists and wealthy”, the poor working class enjoy something you don’t understand. We enjoy freedom. We are not slaves to the latest fashion trends. We have learned to live without them because we cannot afford them. We have learned to live without the manis and pedis. We have learned to live without the brand name can of green beans. We have learned to live without the vacations at the resorts. We have learned to live without the mall and high-end supermarket. We have learned to live without beef or chicken or any kind of real meat on our dinner tables every night. That is how we are able to pull out the last twenty bucks from our pockets and give it to our neighbor in need without complaining and resign ourselves to beans and rice for a week.

You see, the working poor understand and accept that we are our brother’s keeper. We don’t feel entitled to that last $20 even though we earned it. We see our neighbor’s need and understand it and can meet it so we do, even if it means personal sacrifice.

The working poor have a humble dignity the “entitlement whinebag corporatist and wealthy” will never understand. We do not have an “entitlement” attitude. We only ask that our opportunity to send our kids to college not be ruined by a broken arm, appendectomy or serious bout with the flu (or recurrent episodes of seizures).

And if the “entitlement whinebag corporatists and wealthy” want to continue to turn their backs on this nation so they can keep all their wealth rather than contribute their fair share to the nation’s needs, easing their consciences with the delusion that the poor are not worthy of help, the gringa’s okay with that. Because, we don’t need them. We’ll do just fine without them. In fact, we’re better off without that kind of attitude. So, please do say “Bye, bye” to America and let the true, hardworking patriots have their damn country back, because we can fix it.

 

 

 

 

Immigration and Welfare: What’s a Civilized Nation To Do?


The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act

August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law a welfare reform plan that not only changed things for the nation’s citizens, but also for the nation’s immigrants. Title IV of the bill contained the details on the provisions that affected “aliens”.

Title IV opens with the explanation that the basic principle of United States immigration law is self-sufficiency. With that in mind, it declares that aliens living in the U.S are to depend on their own capabilities, sponsors and private organizations to provide the resources for the needs of their families rather than depend on public resources. Despite these premises, the Act acknowledges the fact that aliens have been receiving public benefits at increasing rates. The legislation explains that this is due to inadequate eligibility standards that do not prevent aliens from enrollment in the public benefits system. One of the purposes of this legislation was to reform eligibility rules so that aliens comply with national immigration policy.

For their first five years in America “aliens” are prohibited from receiving any federal benefit. Exceptions to this are immigrants who: need emergency medical care; need short-term disaster relief; qualify for school lunch programs; qualify for Head Start programs; who need immunizations or treatment of a communicable disease; are granted asylum and refugee status; are permanent residents who have worked 40 qualifying quarters contributing to Social Security; are military veterans discharged honorably or are active duty military. Aliens who were receiving federal housing assistance up to the date the new law was enacted are exempt and can maintain their housing benefit.

So, what about immigrants who were currently receiving benefits and now were in a “disqualified” class? Is the government going to suddenly turn off the spigot and immigrant families scramble to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate a sudden loss of income support? Legislators laid out a plan for a transition period for these people. They would have a year to determine what benefit denial they qualified for and prepare for what this would mean for their home budget. Many of these programs required recipients to reapply for benefits on a yearly basis. At such time, disqualified “aliens” would simply be denied their benefit based on the parameters of this welfare reform bill.

Just what were the primary welfare programs this bill was concerned with? They were food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security temporary assistance for the needy (SSI). The exempt programs, such as school lunch programs, were considered benefits that were “means” based. In order to qualify, not only was the immigrant’s income to be considered, but also the income of the immigrant’s sponsor. This was also required for an immigrant who attempted to qualify for State funded, rather than federally funded, benefits. If it was found that an immigrant had received a Federal or State benefit they would have actually been disqualified from receiving because of a sponsor’s financial means, the Federal and State government can now demand reimbursement from the sponsor.

The overall goal of this welfare reform was to move recipients from a welfare lifestyle to a working lifestyle over a five year period and permanently keep them self-sufficient. It also sought to remove from recipient status those who were on the dole and shouldn’t be, one such category being the immigrant. Was this goal achieved? Was this goal good for America? In 1994 the U.S. welfare system logged 14.4 million caseloads. Five years later, these caseloads had dropped to 5.3 million. The gringa thinks it’s safe to say, “Mission accomplished! Way to go President Bill Clinton! Umm, maybe.”

Why maybe? You see, many of these families were not actually completely self-sufficient. They simply moved from government generated income to the status of low-income. Single mothers especially were affected by this, becoming even poorer than when they were receiving benefits. As these families lost their Medicaid benefit by entering the workforce, they were often faced with employers who did not offer affordable health benefits. A worker supporting three people would not qualify for Medicaid if they earned more than $11,920 (for a family of three) annually. Now, the gringa would like to know who in their right minds thinks a family can afford health insurance and medical bills for three people if they make less than, say, about $70,000? Washington D.C. was way off base deciding this number was the qualifying poverty line.

Families that were accustomed to a housing benefit that kept their rent very low, were suddenly faced with paying full market rate for the roof over their head. That could mean, for a family that was earning $11,920.01, a penny above the qualifying poverty line, their rent could go from $200 to $700. You tell the gringa if you honestly think these poor, working class people could afford such a thing? Many could not. Remember, they also still had to pay their electricity bill. Sheesh. What was Congress thinking? The problem was not in the legislation itself. The problem was with what Congress thought the economic threshold of “poverty” should be. This presented the nation with a demographic that still was in dire need of public assistance.

So, although welfare was definitely reformed and got a lot of people off the government dole, a whole other problem was created. More families and disabled people simply became impoverished. Many of these people worked but did not earn a living wage. So, for the many anti-immigrant xenophobes out there who thought it was the immigrants who poured across the border and stole American jobs, the gringa will tell you to look at the numbers. From 1996 until 2001 it was not the immigrants filling these low paying positions. It was former welfare recipients, about 9 million to be exact.

So, if you want to measure success by the caseload numbers, yeah, Clinton achieved his goal. However, if you want to measure success by comparing quality of life before and after, it’s a different story altogether. Consider that most of these transitioned welfare recipients could not work full-time or year round, especially single moms. Many earned minimum wage or just a bit more. Either way, it was not enough to provide a decent standard of living for their families. Once you consider achieving a decent standard of living to be the measure for success, you can see the Clinton administration failed miserably. Although welfare enrollment declined, the numbers of the poverty class increased dramatically.

Consider that the poverty line as established by the government was $11,920 for a family of three. Consider the working single mom that may be making about $8 per hour and working only when her kids are in school because she can’t afford child care. Working eight hours daily, five days weekly, ten months annually (two months off for her kids school summer break), with no days off, she then brings home, on average, $12,000 annually. So, she makes too much to be considered in “poverty” in order to qualify for government benefits, but, you tell me, does she make anywhere near the $30,000 needed to afford the basic necessities for an adult and two children in 1996?

Out of 126 New York City “welfare to work” cases, the average person was earning $7.50 hourly and 58% were supporting their families with their work income. The gringa asks, “How in the hell did they manage?” Nationwide studies reported that most welfare recipients that entered the workplace earned well below poverty level. This was actually good news because they would qualify for means- based Federal and State benefit programs. However, there were plenty more that earned over the poverty level but nowhere near the $30,000 threshold that was the bare minimum for a small family’s basic necessities. Thus, this legislation created a large poverty class in America.

When you check the specific budget cuts, it is easy to see that most of the people affected were immigrants, elderly, disabled and single mothers. These are the nation’s most vulnerable classes of people. What this legislation meant is that poor people who were dependent on government programs to feed and house them and provide medical care actually became poorer, and possibly un-housed, underfed and without health care (unless they showed up at a hospital emergency room; which is exactly what happened, starting a new trend of packed ER’s, but that is fodder for another gringa story).

Social workers who are the ground zero, in the trenches workers and see the direct effect of these programs, criticized this reform. They claimed that by replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, even if a family met all eligibility requirements, there was no assurance that children or parents would receive assistance. This was because oversight of the block grants was performed by individual states. States had their own requirements for eligibility. This meant that some states could deny aid to families with teenage parents or to families where both parents were present in the home, even if they met every Federal qualifier and regardless of their income level, if they had any income at all. Also, once the grant money ran out, states would place applicants on a waiting list for the next Federal funding period.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had its own criticisms of the reform. They considered that within the welfare system was institutional racism and discrimination. They felt the legislation did not take into consideration the gender gap in wages. Rather than help women on welfare gain meaningful employment, the nation simply cracked down on eligibility requirements.  The government focus was on “work first” without doing anything to level the workforce playing field.

Many welfare recipients whose job and below poverty line wages qualified them for benefits would tolerate discriminatory practices in the workplace out of fear of dismissal and loss of benefits if they filed a complaint. Many immigrants were discriminated against with regard to case management and receiving benefits they qualified for because of language barriers.

To remedy these discriminatory practices, the USCCR recommended that Federal funds should be allocated for enforcement of civil rights among recipients, investigations of allegations of violations and to train caseworkers in how to better adhere to civil rights statutes. They further recommended better data collection on the people registering to qualify for benefits as well as the recipients and that all welfare agencies be subjected to audits with regard to civil rights grievances and compliance. The gringa understands this need but can’t help but think, “Dear God. It cost money to save money simply because some people can’t treat other people right.”

Specifically where immigrants were concerned, the USCCR was concerned with the law prohibiting immigrants from receiving any aid until they had been in the country for at least five years. The living conditions of many of these poor families continued to just get worse. Although, among some groups of people, the immigrant was a favorite target to accuse of entering the country just to live off the backs of taxpayers, this was actually a myth. Prior to 1996, statistics show that immigrant families were greatly outnumbered by citizen families in receiving benefits. This is because most immigrants come to the United States looking for jobs and opportunity, not handouts. As for immigrants that did qualify for aid, many would not accept it for fear of retribution.

The USCCR’s final recommendation regarding immigrants and the 1996 welfare reform was to immediately restore full benefits to immigrants regardless of when they entered the country and regardless of the financial resources of their sponsors. They further recommended that undocumented immigrants, for humanitarian reasons, should at least have access to health care, education and food stamps. To protect their civil rights, it was recommended that language assistance be provided for them throughout every step of the public assistance process.

Although these families may still struggle to feed, house and clothe their families, all is not doom and gloom. As mothers moved into the workforce, many children left in-home care and entered organized formal care. Studies resulted in surprising findings. Many of these children benefited from these environments with increased cognitive development, learning gains, and school readiness. These studies further suggested that the adolescents of these families were more likely to become employed later on when compared to adolescents in welfare dependent homes.

Now that the nuts and bolts of the legislation as well as its aftermath has been covered, the gringa asks, “Who REALLY benefited from this legislation?” The answer? Well, number one, the politician who was pandering to: a. voters with money and influence; and, b. corporations who contributed lots of money to campaigns. How so? Well, think about it. When the labor market is flooded with people looking for jobs, guess what, wages stay low! And that’s EXACTLY what happened, So, this piece of “social” reform was really a cheap labor package for the benefit of big corporations. Remember the economy boom during the Clinton years? Yeah, well, those growing businesses needed workers, and they wanted them as cheap as they could get ’em.

The reality is, if the government wants people to be self-sufficient, they must simply accept the fact that now, as in 1996, wages are too low for many families to escape poverty whether they work forty hours a week or even 60 hours a week. The gringa believes so much more could have been accomplished by simply raising minimum wage standards across the board to a living income level. Anyone who works forty hours weekly should make enough money to keep a roof over their head, feed and clothe themselves and afford healthcare.

For critics who argue that minimum wage jobs are simply entry level jobs for people to use temporarily and then move on to a better paying career level job, the gringa has got news for you. Welcome to the “New America” where 61% of young Americans have a college education, 44% of those college educated people are stuck in low income level jobs earning less than $25,000 annually and half of those have student debt of around $30,000 a year. Raising the minimum wage to a living standard level will not make these people rich, it will make them self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency was, after all, the true goal of this legislation. So, critics, the gringa says, “Quit pointing the finger and start lifting a hand to help these hard working Americans become self-sufficient. Join the cause to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.”

Sources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2015/05/11/the-5-4-unemployment-rate-means-nothing-for-millennials/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/millennials_report.pdf

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-104hr3734enr/pdf/BILLS-104hr3734enr.pdf

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act_of_1996.aspx

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/1996_Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act

http://www.epi.org/publication/webfeatures_viewpoints_tanf_testimony/

https://www.socialworkers.org/advocacy/welfare/legislation/summary.pdf

http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/prwora/welfare.htm

https://www.facebook.com/Fightfor15?fref=photo

Photo credit: www.slideshare.net

1917: The Year I Would Have Been Banned From The U.S.


Chapter 29 of the Second Session of the Sixty-Fourth Congress of the United States of America, February 5, 1917, passed “An Act To regulate the immigration of aliens to, and the residence of aliens in, the United States” (also called the “Asian Barred Zone” if you want to do some research yourself). If I had been alive and not a U.S. citizen at the time this legislation took effect, I would have been among the immigrant hopefuls who would have been banned from entry. I would have been a “defective” person on the “prohibited” list, an “undesirable”.  That’s what this piece of law was all about. The United States was expanding its category of people to discriminate against. Rather than list all the legal rigmarole that are the basic nuts and bolts of the wherefores and heretofores, the gringa will get to the heart of the matter. I will focus on the sections that express the minds and wills of the white majority of the United States in 1917.

Section one defines the term “alien” as any person not a native-born or naturalized citizen of the U.S., but specifically excludes the Native Americans of North America and the Native Islanders of U.S. territories. At this time the Philippine Islands and Hawaii were U.S. territories. Once the term alien was defined, the U.S. could then make it clear who was, and who was not, invited to the party. The following were to be banned from entry into the United States:

  • Idiots (good thing all those legislators got here before 1917)
  • Imbeciles
  • Feeble-minded
  • Epileptics (that would be me)
  • Insane persons
  • Anyone who had a single attack of insanity at any point in their life (that rules out pretty much everyone I know here in the barrio where shit gets real from time to time)
  • Persons with a “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” (At first I thought that must mean psychopaths, until I looked up the definition of those words according to that time period. “Constitutional” means a condition you are born with. “Psychopathic” means regarding the realm of the mind or emotions. “Inferiority” means sub-standard in function, adaptability and self-progress. So, persons who were born with a mind, or set of emotions, that was below average were prohibited.)
  • Alcoholics
  • Paupers
  • Professional beggars
  • Vagrants
  • Persons sick with a contagious disease
  • Persons with a mental or physical defect that would affect the ability to earn a living
  • Convicted felons of moral crimes
  • Polygamists (again, the Mormons)
  • Anarchists
  • Prostitutes
  • Contract laborers
  • Persons likely to become a public charge
  • Persons who had their passage paid for by another party
  • Stowaways
  • Unaccompanied minors
  • Asians not originating from a U.S. territory
  • Prior deported persons
  • Illiterates, unless returning residents or immigrating to escape religious persecution

The classifications of some of these people, such as, idiots, imbeciles, beggars, epileptics, feeble-minded, physically defective, etc., became the basis for a following trend in American municipalities to pass what were commonly called “ugly laws”. Not only did the white majority in America want a “white” America, they also wanted a “pretty to look at” America. It remains ironic that these same classes of people who were prohibited from entering the country would often pass by the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, an icon of hope, bearing a plaque which read:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

What a big, fat, American lie. And America’s been lying to everyone since the day the Puritans first set foot on the shores of Plymouth. The immigrants here in my barrio, however, are nobody’s fools. What I find incredibly interesting is that most of my immigrant neighbors are better educated on the true history of America than most native born Americans. Where they got a stiff dose of startling truth in mandatory world studies of their country of origin’s education systems, we native Americans get brainwashed with the propaganda machine our country created to make us good little American boys and girls, isolated from the rest of the world, and puffed up with a sense of superiority. Being a gringa in the barrio is a humbling experience. Especially when I realize that many of my immigrant neighbors were not on my country’s reject list like I, myself, would have been.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/39%20stat%20874.pdf

http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2850&context=jclc

https://books.google.com/books?id=pXW69O5po3AC&pg=PA165&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Photo credit:  en.wikisource.org

Proud Laborers of the Barrio


From time to time I hear politicians, as well as certain people in the media, stirring the “class warfare” pot. They all remind us we better stock up on our provisions.  Gather up your pitchforks and torches.  And, for God’s sake, don’t forget to pile up all the junk you can find to safely barricade your “domain”.  Class warfare? Seriously? I don’t know about you, but this gringa and all her neighbors in the barrio do not have time for such nonsense.  We’ve got mouths to feed and the only way to do it is to work, work, work.  If the gringa is not pounding away at the keyboard working (or playing Spider Solitaire), scrubbing a toilet, laundering yet another load of stinky socks and unmentionables,  then she’s having adventures with the Latin man of her dreams or basking in the glory of the presence of the kids and grandkids. And, as far as I can tell, all the people in the barrio are doing the same. So, why all the paranoia and fear-mongering from the politicians and media?

Recently the gringa and her caveman escaped the barrio for “uptown” (which means we went a few blocks west).  We had lunch at a local restaurant. The lady in the booth behind us was talking on her phone to a family member. She was giving this person directions to the neighborhood pool from her home. Overhearing her directions (yes, I am a notorious eavesdropper), I was able to determine that I was familiar with the neighborhood she lived in.  It is an exclusive, gated housing development.  All the homes back up to a golf course. Many of these million dollar plus properties are of the most modern designs incorporating the latest technology. Sometimes they are marketed as “smart homes”.  I easily drew the conclusion that this was probably a wealthy woman.  As she explained the details of purchasing a seasonal pool pass for the neighborhood pools she concluded by expressing her dismay that because these were “public” pools even people that did not reside in her “village” could get these passes, they just had to pay more.  It seemed disturbing to her to find herself sunning next to a table where one of these poor families had set up camp so she explained if she had to go she preferred to go early and on a weekday.

My husband and I have taken our kids and grandchildren to these pools numerous times over the years.  What I would like to know is how can a rich person know another person is poor when you are all basically wearing underwear that passes as outerwear simply because the fabric is lined? Does the working class gringa and her familia have a glowing, poor person aura?  Do we exude a distinct barrio fragrance? Do the wealthy have a poor person detector implanted discreetly in their body? Perhaps it is my banged up, duct taped ice chest that has seen many seasons of use at the pool, the beach and the campground that gives me away. Maybe it’s the twenty dollar haircuts we all sport from Great Clips. She might be able to detect the presence of an eight-dollar-a-bottle Clairol redhead (before I went blonde). However, most likely it is the Wal-Mart brand drinks and snacks that always litter the table. Yes, that’s probably it. I shop generic. Ya know, the “more bang for your buck” method of shopping? Perhaps we are seen pulling through the parking lot in our old, beat up mini-van with the one broken door that has the lock duct-taped down so no one makes the mistake of unlocking and opening it because we’ll never get it closed again if they do! But, don’t hate the van, it was paid for! I do know, however, that our manners are not the dead give-away. We may be working class and can’t afford Gucci, but, by golly, being polite and considerate is a freebie to all!

Please, have no fear, rich folk, if you find yourself side by side with the poor folk. We are all out for the same thing, just a little fun in the sun.  Heck, just think about it. That beautiful park you are enjoying is manicured regularly by some working class Joes. Speaking of manicure, your lovely toes and fingers are sporting a mani/pedi compliments of some working class gal (or guy). That bottle of sparkling water you’re enjoying with your organic what-not tidbit was trucked to your favorite store by a person just like my husband. Chances are many of the things that make your life easier and more pleasureable are made possible by the working class. And it is highly likely many of these working class laborers are immigrants who are here to build a better life, not take yours.

As you pass another taco truck or landscape crew salute the courage of these men who, like my husband, left behind all that they knew to enter a foreign country, often all alone, not even knowing the language. And yet, they are making it on their own. As you pick up your clothes at the dry cleaner or enjoy an immaculately clean home thanks to a wonderful house cleaning service, take a moment to admire these women.  These are women who have often survived a life of extreme disadvantage and possibly risked a dangerous journey to immigrate. The hope for a better life was worth the risk to them. Rather than consider working class immigrants suspiciously, consider them heroes. One day their children and grandchildren will owe all of the opportunity and privilege they enjoy to these brave men and women. Our country is enriched by people like this. They are landscapers, cooks, crop harvesters, nannies, seamstresses, truckers, handymen, busboys, hair stylists, etc. They are not just immigrants, they are immigrants who have come to embody all that is American. They are America.

So, please, all you wealthy folk out there who are concerned that us working class folk are biding our time until just the right moment to shriek, “BURN THE WITCH!” and come after your Bentleys and Birkenstocks, it just ain’t so.  There is no need for you to clean out your local Wholefoods Market of Perrier and organic bon- bons.  There’s no reason to have KBR on your home security networks’ speed-dial.  You see, first of all, we working class folk simply don’t have the time to engage in revolt. I stated some of the whys and wherefores of that in the opening paragraph.  But, we also don’t have the extra moolah to fund such an effort. I mean, have you seen how much a pitchfork costs these days? Extras like that are simply not in a barrio budget.  The familia of the barrio spends all of their money on their family and a better life. They will not waste a nickel on something that is going to just cause trouble for another. Most barrio families came here to leave that kind of trouble behind. The simple truth of the matter is, working class people are just not the type of people to bang on your door, poke their hand out and demand a piece of your pie.  Working class people are proud.  Working class people are humble.  Working class people are independent.  We do not want what is yours.  We are satisfied with what is ours.

The barrio is a beautiful place.  The gringa doesn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. You can keep your golf course real estate and your mansion that talks to you. I am happy with my patio garden and an apartment I can clean from top to bottom in about forty-eight minutes flat leaving the rest of the day for my own pleasure. When we moved here the Caveman and I joked we were gonna “slum it” until all the kids were finished with college.  You see, wealthy people don’t sweat tuition. The truly poor get financial aid. Working class people pay every single dime.  We don’t make enough for us not to sweat it and we make too much for the government to think our kids need help. But, we don’t complain. We are proud that our oldest has finished, two are still at it, and the youngest, showing much promise, will soon be on his way.  So, even though it may have started as a temporary move to the barrio, now I want to stay for life. We may not have much but we always have enough, and, of love and laughter and good times, we have plenty. So, what in the world is there to fight for? All of our dreams that really matter have already come true.