Category Archives: Poverty

Open Letter to Donald Trump…

Dear Mr. Trump,

Before I begin, let me provide a little context. I’m not a fan. Frankly, you lost me right after you got off the escalator in June of 2015. You really lost me when you referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers.  Your actions since that time only serve to highlight your announcement speech on that June day as the high-point of your campaign.

You use music before and after your rallies to incite and inspire your crowds, which I will say are sometimes impressive in number. I have always found it curious that at the end of your rallies you play the Stone’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want. For a guy whose great claim to fame is branding, this is a curious way to brand your campaign. If I may, a small suggestion for the sake of properly and accurately branding your campaign; at the end of your rallies, why not play ACDC’s Highway to Hell?

Also, for the sake of disclosure, I wrote an open letter to Hillary asking her to have a press conference in order to, once and for all, answer the allegations made by you and others regarding her email servers and the family’s Foundation. Today, she has announced that, beginning Monday, she is going to make herself more available to the press and that she intended to hold a press conference soon.

I take no credit for this change of heart. Frankly, she didn’t read the letter – hell, I doubt if anyone did. All I claim is that I plugged into the zeitgeist associated with this issue, nothing more. Unlike you, my ego doesn’t need to take faux credit for a result that I had no part in achieving.

This reason I’m writing you is because, like Hillary, you might – through some cruel twist of fate, the cosmic practical joke as it were – become the next President of the United States. So like Hillary if she wins, if you win you will become my President. As a citizen, I have the right to communicate with my President, sharing suggestions or criticisms with the person who leads our nation in this changing and somewhat perilous time.

So let me begin by saying that you are without doubt, by far, the worst candidate for president in my lifetime.  Since tomorrow is my 68th birthday, that’s a considerable time frame. It isn’t that you haven’t studied real issues that impact real people, it’s that you trade in on your ignorance to gain the applause of those fearful folks who hear bluster and mistake it for leadership.

You get away with this approach, when nobody else could, because you’re a seemingly “successful businessman” worth “billions” of dollars. The former is subject to discussion and the latter is unproven. I won’t focus on the “successful businessman” part but I will state that you absolutely need to release your tax returns. We both know that the invocation of the audit as a reason not to release these returns is a dodge, pure and simple. But to be fair, I’ll concede that you don’t want to release the returns currently under review – those who hound you for the release don’t know why the IRS is auditing you, so you may have a very good reason not to disclose the initial filing.

But, that is no reason not to release the years of returns not under review. Failing to disclose those returns makes it look like you’re hiding something, either that you’ve made money in partnership with unsavory characters, of haven’t paid any tax in years, or – and this goes to branding – you’re not (gasp!) a billionaire. If you do not release these forms you will become the first nominee of a major political party, in modern political history, not to do so. You accuse Clinton of running from media scrutiny, so why not lead? Isn’t that what Presidents do? Or is hiding from public scrutiny is what passes for “unconventional” in the Trump campaign?

And while you’re at it, how about releasing real medical records? That letter, written in five minutes (to be fair, he did think about it all day) by your Gastroenterologist stated that since all your tests came out “positive” you would be the healthiest President in American history.  That letter is an insult to the body politic, exhibiting the cosmic disdain you have for the  process in which you have voluntarily engaged. And one question: why have you seen a Gastroenterologist each year for 35 years if there’s nothing wrong? Explain that and maybe I’d even consider voting for you.

Aside from your shameless self-promoting, your bully tactics when people can’t respond in kind, your slanderous representations and demonization of others’ characters, intellects and physical attributes, what bothers me most is your nearly total lack of anything akin to knowledge of public policy issues, even your signature issue of immigration reform. One contrasting example: when Rick Perry in 2012 couldn’t remember one of his signature positions, he at least had the decency and dignity to smirk and say “oops!”  When you don’t know something, you make stuff up and then double down when challenged. This is more surprising coming from someone who professes to have a “good brain.”

Let’s look at two issues from this week: your immigration gambit and your meeting Saturday in Detroit. Regarding the former, I think it’s safe to state that over the past ten days, you’ve been all over the park on this issue. Are you softening then hardening? Or are you doing the reverse hard to soft maneuver? You have been tumbling and twisting like an Olympic gymnast who can’t stick the landing.

Behind on points in this competition, you decide to go big or go home. Thus your trip to Mexico City to meet with Mexico’s President Peña Nieto to discuss problems common to both our countries, especially immigration. Don, this was your moment, the stuff dreams are made of. In the way that only fate can arrange, man and moment have met to stand tall and represent your supporters and your country as a whole. You, Donald J. Trump, blessed with implacable conviction and unshakable resolve had the opportunity to stand tall and strong.

And then you shrunk and got soft right before our eyes. How do I know that? Easy, I saw the statements given by both of you. The statements themselves were largely unremarkable; what was remarkable was your response to a question as you were getting ready to leave regarding any discussion of the “Wall.”  Your response was that you discussed the Wall, but not who was going to pay for it. WHAT?

So let’s review – you discussed the Wall with Mr. Neito but not who would pay for it. Then, almost immediately after you leave Nieto tweets (God I hate this) that he broached the issue at the beginning of you meeting and declared that Mexico would not pay for it. Then, a few hours later, safely back in Arizona, you stated that not only would the Wall be built, but that even though they don’t know it, Mexico would pay for it, 100 percent. Raucous applause ensued.

Now here’s my problem. If your version is to be believed, then you didn’t bring up paying for the Wall. Not exactly a profile in courage is it? But then, it’s on to the speech where you get all bold and boisterous. Then in an interview the next day you say that you wouldn’t have brought up the payment in the previous night’s speech if Neito hadn’t tweeted about the payment.

This is junior high school on steroids. I can almost accept ambiguity, I can even accept people changing their minds when new information is entered into the mix; what I can’t accept is someone who is gutless, especially when they present themselves as you do as a strong resolute “leader.”  You, sir, are gutless.

As for the afore mentioned speech, aside from taking credit within your 10 point policy for policy already on the books, you have dissembled on the number of deportees. On the kinder and gentler side, the side that courts white suburban women, you talk about your efforts to be humane and to look at those who are left after the first round of deportations, and decide what to do with them. On the tough Arizona white guy side of you, you talk about immediately, on your first hour as President, getting rid of gang members, criminals, and people taking public benefits like food stamps. You also raised the specter of doing something with those “illegals” who work in low wage jobs, taking those jobs away from American citizens.

I’m not a big math guy, but using your math, if you deport everyone you say you will, there won’t be a lot of people left to be humane towards. Put another way, if your math is right, then there are 11 million illegal aliens in the United States. Assume now that there are 4.4 million households that comprise your total. Assume your stat of 62% of these households receive some form of public benefits, then members of 2.728 million households will be deported, leaving 1.672 million households. Assume these households comprise 5.183,000 people left. Now from that number, subtract 2 million gang members and that comes to 3,183,000 left and we haven’t even adjusted for the “criminals” and low wage laborers in our midst. In other words, there aren’t a whole lot of folks left for you to be humane toward.

Your “policy” is a joke. The blame for this placed on President Obama is not for him alone – in order to do what you ask, Congress has to appropriate the funds, something you may one day find out. How Clinton gets blamed is beyond me as ICE is connected with Homeland Security, not the Department of State.

Saturday you will wade into the waters of inner-city race relations. Another staged event, complete with pre-screened questions and scripted responses. That’s a lot of lines to memorize, are you sure you’re up to it? Evidently, the media is excluded from this meeting thus limiting scrutiny. Once again, substance and seriousness takes a back seat to the performance art of your campaign.

I want to think you’re better than this. I know America is better than this and deserves more than you’ve given over the past nearly 15 months. You owe it to people to do better, to be better. But I think you’re in way over your head. I dare you to prove me wrong.

Respectfully,

Geoff Schoos

102 Days….

Tonight the democrats conclude their convention. After two weeks of sometimes carefully orchestrated events, other times not so carefully orchestrated events, it all comes to an end.

Beginning Friday, July 29, there are 102 days until the election. We have already seen numerous twists and turns in this year’s election process. On the republican side, we saw the most unlikely candidate, a “businessman,” devour sixteen other candidates, many of whom had previously been successful and experienced politicians. On the democratic side, an “independent socialist” nearly wrested the nomination from the odds on favorite. Both the businessman and the socialist tapped into the broad unease of many voters.

But now it’s done. The businessman won the republican nomination, the socialist lost in the democratic primaries. On to the election…

On the republican side we have Donald J. Trump; leading the charge for the democrats is Hillary Clinton. With respect to Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, Trump/Clinton is the main event; Johnson/Stein are at best the under-card, the warm up as it were. So I’d like to take a minute to recap where we are.

Clinton is a flawed candidate. She is guarded and calculating in public, lest she again become a target of baseless accusations from those who hate her, or who hate her husband and take it out on Ms. Clinton. Over the years she’s been accused of everything from fraud to murder. Her opponents become increasingly and relentlessly more shrill in their hate with each passing week. But she keeps coming, no doubt in pursuit of what she sees (and rightly so) as her historic mission, and in some measure fulfill her desire to serve. She’s served most of her adult life, often in anonymity and sometimes publicly, to try to make life a little more gentle for those with the least among us.

Is Clinton calculating? Sure. Does she have an out-sized ego? Absolutely. All politicians are. Even President Obama. You have to be that way in order to even think about running for the presidency. Running for office, any office anywhere, in 2016 is tough business. It’s expensive, exhausting, and a daily struggle to fend off opponents and gain supporters. It is the ultimate personal exposure – all a candidate’s warts and flaws exposed for all to see and jeer. Because in modern America, we love to jeer.

So here’s my message to those who sit back in the cheap seats and jeer and ridicule those in the arena – put your names on a ballot; hold yourselves open to the often brutal inspection of your personal, family, and business histories; formulate and communicate coherent positions on often complicated and nuanced public issues; and be prepared for the election to become your life at your families’ expense.

And be negatively portrayed as a person unrecognizable to family and friends. Be prepared to be the target of the scurrilous lies about your character. I don’t care how thick your skin is, these things hurt, as too often the cut runs deep.

As the saying goes, it’s easier to destroy than it is to build. This is as true in politics, both the electoral and governing politics, as it is in anything else. Those who stand in the arena pay to cost for that destruction. So give these folks a little credit – it takes guts to open yourself up for brutal personal inspection by the public.  My hat is off to three out of the four candidates with any shot at making the presidential debate stage. I’ll deal with the fourth guy another time.

First, a message to the Bernie or Bust brigade, and to all the other Sanders’ supporters. Congratulations – you won. You pulled your candidate, a virtually unknown senator, and almost knocked off a colossus of the Democratic party. You got  most of your policy proposals incorporated into the party’s platform. Due to your efforts, the character and culture of the party will change going forward, unless….

… you sit on your hands and pout until November 9, the day after the election. As Sarah Silverman  said at the convention, “you’re being ridiculous.”  I say this as a friend but let me give you some of my bona fides:

In 1964, I participated in a debate with my best high school friend about who would make the better president, Lyndon Johnson or Barry Goldwater. I took Johnson’s side. In 1968, I worked on Bobby’s campaign and after the events in Los Angeles, McCarthy’s campaign. Over the years I worked on campaigns and supported McGovern, Pell, Udall, Mondale, just to name a few, along with several candidates on the state and local levels.

In 1980 I ran for the democratic nomination for Congress from my congressional district. Central to my “platform” was public financing of campaigns, for it was evident then that increasing amounts of large sums of money, cleverly targeted, could irreversibly damage policy outcomes and as a result, the country. I also advocated for the expansion of Medicare benefits to include prescription medicines because it was evident in 1980 how difficult paying for life sustaining medicines was to those on modest fixed incomes.

In 2006, I ran for the state senate in large measure because of the tax structure implemented that year favoring high income earners at the expense of middle and low-income Rhode Islanders.

In 2008 I formed a legal services organization dedicated to serving poor and near poor Rhode Island individuals, families and seniors. In 2016 we had to shut down for lack of funding.

I go through this brief resume merely to point out that I’m well aware of losing, or coming short of your goal. Losing is painful, it sucks, and it stays with you for a long time. And there are some other things I’ve learned over the years, chief among them is that change is hard, if not impossible.

At its essence, change is really about a power shift from those who have it to those who don’t. As Saul Alinsky once said in an interview, “power is never given, it must be taken.” Those with the power will never relinquish their power – you must be willing to change the power paradigm in order to effect the change you advocate.

That struggle in a democracy is a daily struggle. You can anticipate, if not expect, major push back from those who seek to defend the status quo. At this juncture you have several choices: one is to continue to adopt an “all or nothing” strategy, which almost ensures that you will lose; you can go home and sulk; or, you can strategize by building support and finding common ground with others in order to move your agenda forward.

This last choice is the one that works. It’s tough, largely unsatisfying to those who seek the all or nothing outcome. Even when you come away with something, anything, there will be those who will second guess the outcome and argue that you should have gotten more. You may even be accused of “selling out” and get booed like Warren and Sanders were by their own supporters and friends.

Welcome to the arena where the first truths are that while your goals may and should be comprehensive, implementation of those goals is always incremental; and where in a democracy the struggle always continues, no matter the outcome of the previous struggle. Change is hard – you really gotta want it. For 240 years, the story of America is a story of progress. I’m not going to sugar coat our history and tell you that the virtual genocide of native Americans was progress, or that the internment of American citizens solely based on their heritage and ethnicity was noble. They were neither progressive nor noble and remain a stain on our history.

But we cannot ignore that due to the ceaseless efforts of reformers along with the expense of blood and treasure, millions of people were freed from bondage; one-half of our population were finally permitted to vote; and recently the law recognized that we are free to marry whomever we love, irrespective of gender or orientation. Until recently we had the most vibrant middle-class, which was the envy of the world. And throughout our history, America has been the beacon of hope and the melting pot for millions who come from elsewhere to make this country, our imperfect country, their homes.

Yes, America is a flawed country. We have many things to do and much to accomplish. Individually and collectively, we are all flawed and can all do better. That’s why Hillary Clinton is the perfect candidate for these times. Like us, she is flawed. And like us, she seeks to do better, and seeks to make this country a better place to live for all of us. If elected, she won’t get to where she and all of us might want to get to, but she’ll move us forward, closer to our goal. I do not base this conclusion on her past public record, but rather on her prior history before the bright lights of scrutiny and fame were directed toward her.

So the question to the Bernie of Bust brigade is simple: what do you do? Do you continue to engage in the fight, not only up to November 8 but thereafter? Or do you continue on well after election day? Do you take the easy way and jeer at those in the arena or do you climb in and engage in the struggle?

Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote has been bandied about several times over the week and is worth repeating here:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So it comes down to this, are we to be the critic, the cold and timid soul who points out failings of others, who “neither know[s] victory nor defeat”? Or are you, we, to be the strong man, the doer of deeds, who while daring greatly sometimes falls short of the goal? For as true as it was in 1910 when Roosevelt in delivered his speech “Citizenship in a Republic,” participation in this election season is a worthy cause. 

For all of her faults, Hillary Clinton at least gets that there are millions of people ignored, marginalized and forgotten. She has at least acknowledged that income inequality not only exists but is a social evil. And she has more than an appreciation for the complexities and nuances of the world and is unlikely to recklessly engage in armed conflicts. The reality of her career is more important than the comic caricature that becomes the object of her opponents.

And what’s at stake here? Who is her chief opponent? I’ll have more to say in a future post, but at this point suffice it to say that he is the embodiment of existential evil. I promise all of you who will either sit out this election or participate in campaigns of fringe candidates that you will not want to live in a country with Donald J. Trump as your President, along with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell leading the legislative branch.

This isn’t a partisan piece. This is a simple explanation of our civic duty to preserve at minimum a semblance of the societal and cultural values that have moved many of us to engage in the work of improving our communities. This is a close race, with the outcome in doubt. So the final question is, do you want to sit on the sidelines, or do you want to get in the game? I hope you join all of us who care about the outcome in this election and get in the game.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”

Most of us remember when President Obama  a couple of years ago spoke about the “fierce urgency of now.”  However, these words were originally spoken by Martin Luther King in an anti-war speech in 1967:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…”

Although he spoke in opposition to the war in Vietnam, his plea was much broader and his message timeless. Indeed, if he was alive today he would say the same thing about the plight of millions of Americans living in poverty and devoid of hope. Three years earlier, President Lyndon Johnson, in his 1964 State of the Union address said:

Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope — some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

As I wrote in a previous post, fifty years later we’re still losing the War on Poverty that was declared in Johnson’s speech.  In Rhode Island, we have all but unconditionally surrendered.

Johnson and King had it right; millions live on the “outskirts of hope” and there is a “fierce urgency of now” to do something about it. So why haven’t we?

A couple of days ago I was speaking to a younger colleague (I’m the resident geezer) who asked with happened during the ’70s that turned our culture and society away from helping those in need? What happened to the value of compassion for others, he asked?

My flip answer was that Nixon won in ’68. While that, as far as it goes (which isn’t far), is true, that isn’t the whole story. I would assert (and I’ve gotten a lot of push back on this) that too many of the “revolutionaries” of the ’60s became the “Beemer” drivers of the ’70s, the stockbrokers and bankers of the ’80s, the hedge fund managers of the ’90s-early 2000s, and the fat cats of today.

That’s stark, I know, but I think that there’s some truth to my assertion. Many of those who protested the war and social conditions in the ’60s were middle-class white kids in school. Like all social movements, the movement for change was led by those with the time to do it, in this case students. History tells us that the Progressive Movement of the turn of the 20th century was disproportionately led by middle-class, educated women. Why? Because they had the education, means and the time to do so. The same with the ’60s “radicals.”

But what happened? How could Woodstock Nation buy into Reagan’s Morning in America, where we all lived on tree lined, pristine streets?  In 1992, Thomas (who once worked for the Providence Journal) and Mary Edsall tried to explain this massive shift in values and outlook in a fabulous book, Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics. In it, the Edsalls are able to link the innate but very real racism that existed (and still exists) in America, with the fear that if all had equal or civil rights it would lead to a diminution of pride and place in society of largely middle-class whites, and finally both race and rights are linked with the genetic fear that taxes would be used by big government to redistribute money from the haves to the have-nots.

Jerry Rubin (who ended up as a stockbroker – sell out), Bill Ayers, and Dr. Spock meet Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist. Chances are that you are very familiar with at least two out of the last three and may have only a passing familiarity, if that, with the first three. The possible exception might be Ayers who became a punching bag/straw man for Sarah Palin in 2008.

Over the past fifty years, we have morphed from a (barely) altruistic society to a self-centered individualist culture. Our national motto ought to be changed from “In God We Trust,” to “I got mine, screw you.”  Do you think that’s harsh? Then you don’t live in the world that I and my colleagues live in. We work with those who are the poorest of the poor, along with those who are slipping from the (former) middle-class through the non-extant “safety net,” in free fall to the bottom.

If you’re reading this, you already know that RICLAPP provides legal services to those most in need.  Like our clients whose very lives live at “the fierce urgency of now” in order to survive, we rely on the fierce urgency of funding to keep going. We don’t make money from poor people, which is why we need constantly to raise funds to continue to operate.

Don’t be frightened, I’m not asking for dollars – now. But if a society funds what it values, the functional equivalent of putting money where our collective mouths are, then society doesn’t give a rip about poor people, or at least not enough to provide direct services that will make the lives of families more stable and secure.

There are a lot of dollars available for “systemic” change. You know, the white-paper report on (fill in issue here) that in a decade will make live a little less miserable that it currently is for thousands of our fellow Rhode Islanders. Or impact litigation to improve housing stock in our state. Both activities are laudable, but neither is going to prevent an eviction that will force a tenant to sleep under an overpass; nor are they efficacious to restore lost benefits so that a disabled person can eat and receive health benefits.

The white papers and impact litigation are important, but a lawyer working with a client is vital to ensure that the promise of justice and fairness are meted to each individual, not in years but often in weeks.

In short, we need both. But funding for agencies like RICLAPP is in short supply.  Foundations rarely, if ever, provide financial support for direct legal services. There are any number of reasons why this is so, but I won’t get bogged down listing my personal top five. Suffice it to say that the lack of funding for these services reflects the attitudes of donors in society.

The government is not much better. The Fiscal Year 2015 Legal Service Corporation budget amounts to $350 million dollars to fund public interest legal services for the whole country. That’s the same dollar amount by which President Obama proposed to reduce the Community Service Block Grant program in Fiscal Year 2012.

So much for the fierce urgency of now.

It is time we embrace some simple truths: poverty is a community problem that requires community action to eradicate or ameliorate it; the vindication of rights of an individual is a vindication of rights for all of us; that we’re going to spend less to vindicate the rights of the under-served and lift them out of abject poverty than we are currently spending to keep these people down; and that each of us is a member of a community, one in which we largely share the same goals and aspirations for ourselves and our kids, and in which each of us is entitled to an equal measure of respect and human dignity.

The first paragraph of Dr. King’s 1967 speech ended with these words:  “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” To my colleague Dave, I would say that this is a time when “silence is betrayal.” As King admonished us, “Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

Those of us who are able have an affirmative duty to speak truth to power. I have a vantage point and a forum to speak these truths and while my vision is limited, I must speak.

I will no longer betray my cause of my, and my colleagues’, good works by silence. I will speak.

The New American Community Survey is in and …

… it isn’t good.  This is a good news/bad news Census report. The good news is that the rate of poverty didn’t get any worse; the bad news is that it didn’t get any better.

There’s a nice outline of the Survey’s results, published by the Economic Progress Institute here:

http://www.economicprogressri.org/FactsStats/PovertyinRhodeIsland2010/tabid/270/Default.aspx?utm_source=Poverty+day+2014&utm_campaign=Mother%27s+Day+2014+Progress+Notes&utm_medium=email

The data shows that the burden of poverty fall more heavily on some than on others. That shouldn’t surprise anyone but what should bother us is how unequal the distribution of the burden is. These results reflect a continuing systemic exclusion of some but not others in the job market.

What should concern all of us is the continued decline of the median income in Rhode Island from pre-recession levels. If anyone is wondering why, if the are employed, they are struggling to make ends meet, Our incomes are stagnant while the cost of living continues to rise. For a family of four (2 adults and 2 older kids) it costs $50,000/year to make ends meet (and that’s based on what could be argued is a low “housing” number provided by HUD). The income required to meet even this minimal standard of living is just under $25.00/hour.

While the data shows that some are affected more by the declining economy, we need keep in mind that it does adversely affect most of us one way or another.

In this political season, where candidates will knock on doors and invade our homes via radio and TV, all telling us that they’re going to “fix” the Rhode Island economy, it is useful to know just what the Rhode Island economy looks like and why too many of us are feeling the economic squeeze, if not truly drowning in a sea of lost opportunities.