Personal Responsibility

One of the more common conservative insults hurled at liberals is that people like me don't believe in personal responsibility.  Now, there's no direct evidence to support this claim -- nobody that I've ever heard of has ever said "I oppose personal responsibility" or any such nonsense.  So their conclusion that this is what we believe comes from indirect "evidence," primarily the evidence (or at least the argument) comes from liberal support for welfare programs for the poor.  The argument usually goes something like this: "Welfare programs discourage personal responsibility and since liberals support those programs, then they oppose personal responsibility." This is an incredibly flawed argument for many reasons:

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Ten Years After Welfare Reform, Nine Without a Minimum Wage Hike

An American worker who works at the current federal minimum wage - $5.15/ hour - for forty hours a week for fifty-two weeks, without interruption, would make $10,712.

The 2006 federal poverty line for the continental United States for a two-person family is $13,200 a year.

That means a family of one child and one parent who works full-time at the federal minimum wage is living at least $2,500 below the poverty line.

The reality faced by the working poor in America is somewhat different.  People struggle to find consistent full-time work.  People take multiple jobs adding up to well over forty hours without receiving the benefits of full-time work from any of them.  People get sick.

A decade ago, conservatives in Congress - with a good many ostensible liberals in tow - inflicted a harsh revision of the American social contract, tearing away the safety net from those who utilized its support for more than three or five years of their lives - even if they were using that time to gain the skills for a better shot at living-wage work.  

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the Right has no solution to poverty (shocking!)

Interesting story in the Washington Post Thursday about Bush and that brief moment he declared a war on poverty. Interviewing the insiders on why Bush and the conservative run congress haven't done more to fight poverty an "expert" says:

"I think it has been very difficult for them to move those kinds of things in Congress, so they haven't tried very hard," said Douglas J. Besharov, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "The truth is that all analysts, even liberal analysts, looked in the cupboard for ideas to push after Katrina, and the cupboard was bare. I don't think it was an accident that we haven't gotten a big set of proposals."

Wow. So finally conservatives admit that they are out of ideas to on how to fight poverty. Heck if the esteemed American Enterprise Institute, the sort of place where Dick Cheney was once a fellow is out of ideas than it's clearly time to just give up the fight, right? cough. gag.

The Washington Post reporter writing the article in question, "Bush's Poverty Talk is Now All But Silent" actually lists some great ideas that progressives have proposed to fight poverty. Proven solutions like raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and expanding access to higher education are all listed in the article and progressives in congress have even introduced bills proposing those solutions. Somehow these bills never seem to  make it to the floor, or they are voted down.

Given all the ideas out there the only conclusion I can draw is that Besharovdoesn't want to know what works when it comes to fighting poverty, and neither does Bush. Ok, so no-one's jaw is hitting the carpet on this but I think it is very telling that a man billed as a public policy expert doesn't seem to be aware of all the proven solutions to poverty that have been proposed-- both before and after Katrina. Maybe he doesn't read the blogs. But regardless, I know you've all read about poverty solutions here and elsewhere, so maybe its time we send Besharov some fresh ideas. (post your ideas here and I can pull a follow up together)

For ideas, Besharov could start by listening to DMI Fellow Maureen Lane. She thinks that people on welfare should be able to get more education so they can qualify for better paying jobs and you know, move out of poverty. And by golly the stats support her thesis. But when the Bush administration released new rules on who will qualify for welfare they made it even harder for people on welfare to access education.

If the Right really believed in self-empowerment they would support creating access to education for people on welfare. They would support access to higher education period- instead of making college less affordable for everyone.

So how did the Right's stab at fixing poverty go back when they were paying attention (around 1996)?
As the Post article points out welfare rolls dropped by 60% but did those people move out of poverty and into stability? Well, a 2003 Urban Institute study of people who had left welfare between 1997 and 2002 revealed that less than half had found jobs, a quarter had returned to a welfare program, and nearly one in seven had no source of income at all. Of those who worked, a third had only part-time jobs and two out of three had no health insurance.

That is not a success.

Meanwhile, in other tragic/comic news in advance of Bush's speach at the NAACP Tony Snow said that instead of discussing poverty Bush will "focus on opportunities available to everyone." And then what did Bush proceed to talk about? The Estate Tax! Something that 0.27% of Americans pay. Um getting out of paying the dynasty tax isn't an opportunity available to me because there's just no way in heck I'd ever qualify to pay that tax in the first place. Someone is out of touch.

Well, its been a very informative day for me. Maybe those people funding the American Enterprise Institute to solve the problems of the day will consider giving DMI money instead now that Besharov's well of wisdom has dried up.  A girl can dream dear readers. Dream for a day when funders and leaders care what works and what doesn't.
(hat tip to Think Progress for the NAACP speech coverage)

(and this is crossposted at the DMIblog )

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Weekly Pulse: Florida Governor Wants to Drug Test All State Employees

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott plans to force public workers and welfare recipients to undergo random drug testing every three weeks. Why? Because he doesn't like either group, Cenk Uygur argues on the Young Turks. "It's an attempt to stigmatize, demonize, and punish those people," Uygur says:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fhSYsb2Gtg[/youtube]

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains why Scott's plan is almost certainly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled that public employees cannot be forced to take drug tests unless public safety is at stake. The government can impose random drug testing for bus drivers, but not clerks at the DMV. Scott wants to spend millions of dollars testing all state employees. The only beneficiary of Scott's plan will be the drug-testing industry.

From vitamins to purity balls

Martha Kempner of RH Reality Check profiles Leslee Unruh, the eccentric vitamin saleswoman-turned-crisis pregnancy center maven and abstinence crusader who is spearheading the drive for increasingly draconian abortion restrictions in South Dakota.

Unruh founded a crisis pregnancy center in 1997. Gradually, she became convinced that cajoling unhappily pregnant women to give birth was backwards. What she needed to do was save women from sex in the first place:

As Amanda Robb explains in her 2008 expose on Unruh published in MORE Magazine: “after working with hundreds of women who got pregnant unintentionally, she says she began to realize that this kind of counseling put the cart before the horse in women’s lives. To truly empower women, she became convinced, you have to ‘save them from sexual activity.’”

Unruh's Abstinence Clearinghouse is famous for sponsoring "purity balls" at which fathers promise to guard their daughters' sexual purity until marriage.

My uterus is a closed shop

Last weekend the Wisconsin AFL-CIO held a rally with Planned Parenthood in Madison, Wisconsin, Mike Elk reports for Working In These Times. Elk writes:

The labor movement, at its core, is about class struggle - the working class overcoming the power of the owning class in order to take control over their own lives. For women, class struggle historically has centered on overcoming the oppression of men who want to have control over their lives.

It makes sense that organized labor and the reproductive rights movement are being drawn closer together. Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker has declared war on unions and reproductive health care. Walker's notorious anti-collective bargaining bill also declared war on the state's highly successful, money-saving family planning program.

The Walker administration declared the union-busting bill to be law last Friday, in defiance of a court ruling, Matthew Rothschild reports in The Progressive. A court had ruled that the legality of the bill was in question because it seems to have been passed in defiance of the state's strong open meetings laws.

De-funding family planning

Some Minnesota Republicans are taking a page from Scott Walker's playbook, Andy Birkey reports in the Minnesota Independent. A group of Republican state senators are working to de-fund the state's family planning programs by cutting off state funding and refusing federal dollars to fund these initiatives. An estimated 40,000 people receive reproductive health care each year through programs that the GOP is trying to eliminate. Their position is surely not motivated by concerns about the deficit. Joint state-federal family planning programs have been shown to save money for the state and the federal government.

HIV/AIDS at 30

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. At Colorlines.com, LaShieka Purvis Hunter profiles a distinguished community leader in the struggle against HIV, Rev. Edwin Sanders of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Sanders and his congregation have been engaged in the struggle for 26 years, ever since one of the founding members of this predominantly black church died of the virus.

Saunders says that, as far as he knows, his is the only African American congregation operating an HIV/AIDS primary care clinic:

"There are other congregations with primary care clinics that do other things, but ours is exclusively focused on HIV/AIDS,” he explains. “We were really fortunate to get a planning grant from the URSA Institute about 10 years ago, and have a fully operating clinic four years after that. Now we are able to serve a population in our community that represents those who are truly disenfranchised.”

The URSA Institute is a non-profit social interest consulting firm which supports HIV/AIDS-related research and prevention programs.

Dig for victory

Spring is here. Ellen LaConte of AlterNet explains why gardening is good for your health and your pocketbook. Produce prices are rising, thanks to increasing oil prices, dwindling soil reserves, monoculture, and other factors. LaConte predicts that gardening and small-scale collective farming will become an increasingly important source of fresh fruits and vegetables for average Americans in the years to come.

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