Thursday, December 5, 2013

Buying For the Good of America

On Black Friday, watching the Today Show in our hotel room, we viewed people wrestling each other to the ground for the chance to get a bargain. My husband and I, smug in our lack of participation in this frenzy, watched the images in disbelief. But are these alpha shoppers the real Patriots?

According to Robert Reich’s documentary, Inequality for All, consumer spending is 70% of the American economy, the backbone of our wealth as a nation. The middle class is shrinking, threatening the wealth of the USA. His thesis is that without a large middle class that can afford to buy goods and services, our whole economy is threatened. In very succinct, understandable explanations, using cartoons, graphs, and interviews with average people, Reich illustrates how dangerous a situation our economy is in. In 2007, the 1% (those earning at least $380,000 per year) had the highest percentage of American wealth since 1928. Nevertheless, the Republican Party wants to cut $40 billion from the SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) budget threatening many working poor with malnutrition or even starvation. While some unstoppable forces such as globalization and technology have spurred the rise of the ultra-rich, our social policies have also played a huge part. Since Robert Reich explains this all much more articulately than I can, I urge everyone to see this documentary. For those who have avoided it for fear that a documentary about economics would put them to sleep, let me say that I was pleasantly surprised how entertaining it was.

I watched Inequality for All at the Lake Street Church in Evanston, Illinois. After it was over, people were asked to sign up to participate in a group to work towards some of the goals Robert Reich articulated. For those readers living in or near Evanston, there will be a follow up meeting on Saturday, December 7th at 2:00 at the Lake Street Church at 607 Lake Street, Evanston to discuss where we go from here. Everyone is welcome. Maybe they can start a movement.

In the meantime, I should go out and shop. If only I wanted to buy something and didn’t hate shopping as much as I did. In the name of restoring America’s wealth, I wish all of you a happy and healthy shopping season. Don’t fight anyone over the bargains though. I’m sure there’s plenty for everyone. Happy Holidays! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Back At the Walnut Room

I’m on the El on my way to my semi-annual micro-vacation at the Walnut Room. Why is the train going so slowly today? At each stop, I glance at my watch hoping that I’ll be on time. Finally, the train arrives at Lake Street. I elbow my way out of the train and go through the Pedway and up to the seventh floor of Macy’s (formerly Marshal Fields) anticipating a relaxing lunch with my friend from the western exurbs.

Fortunately, it’s early enough in the holiday season that we can be seated without a reservation or having to wait on long lines. Coming here is always a vacation. We can sit in the paneled room overlooking the Chicago Loop as we talk of all things important and trivial, personal and professional without being rushed out.

Although it’s before Thanksgiving, the Christmas tree is decorated and all the other seasonal decorations are on display. As we bite into our salads, the fairy godmother stops at our table. “Do you beautiful ladies want to make a wish?”

“Yes, I do,” says my friend. Closing her eyes, she wishes for things unknown.

Next it’s my turn. There’s only one wish per customer. What will I wish for? My family is healthy and I don’t need any more material things. Do I wish for world peace? The success of the Affordable Health Care website? Peace in the Middle East? There are so many things to wish for in our imperfect world that it’s difficult to make a choice. The pressure is on. The fairy godmother has a lot of other tables to visit. I settle for economic justice and prosperity for the 99% and wish the Fairy Godmother a Merry Christmas.

Our squash soup and salads eaten, we talk about how the year has treated us. While the salads are good, they aren’t outstanding. Nevertheless, the ambiance is delicious, proving once again the
importance of eating in a warm, conducive atmosphere. Good conversation always adds to the flavor of the meal. We wish each other a Happy Thanksgiving and continue on our day.

While I’m at it, I want to share a favorite quick recipes for salads. It takes a few minutes to prepare, leaving time left over to perfect the world.  Remember - ambience is half the battle.

                                                     Easy One-Week Salad
Lettuce
Cucumbers cut into pieces
Green peppers cut into pieces
Tomatoes cut into small wedges
Any other salad vegetables you like
Cut enough salad vegetables to last a week. Put aside in a plastic container in the refrigerator.

To individualize the salads, here are two of my favorites:
Greek Salad

Take enough salad vegetables for one meal. Add Kalamata olives and feta cheese. Cut in some pieces of Bermuda onion. A couple of anchovies (optional) chopped up add flavor. For dressing, add olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano

Black Bean and Cheese Salad

Take enough basic salad for one dinner. Add cilantro leaves, green olives, black beans drained of most of the liquid, and cheddar cheese diced into small pieces. For dressing, add lime juice and olive oil.

Good with wine, good bread, and whatever else you’re serving. Bon appetit!

 



 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Some Great Holiday Gift Suggestions

Just in time! I’m so glad. The Chicago Tribune’s Sunday November 10th edition has a special section on watches, the perfect gift. “The price is right,” it says. Did you know that for a mere $442,000, you can get a Breguet Classique Double Tourbillion? If you don’t think it’s to your gift receiver’s liking, the Girard-Perregaux Three Bridge Tourbillon is only $211,500. It’s a consolation prize I’m sure. The one of a kind Patek Philippe sells for $3,985,067.
For a real bargain, the Ball Watch Trainmaster Doctor’s Chronograph in platinum is only $399,500. Seiko has a limited edition for only $3,400.
You’re all set. With all these choices, you can buy watches for everyone on your gift list. You’re shopping stress is obliterated. With all the websites, you can buy them on-line and save yourself a trip to the store.
With the money you’ve saved from all these bargains, you may want to make some donations to the homeless and those on the brink of homelessness. After all, most of the organizations aiding the homeless are tax exempt and you can get a deduction on your taxes if you donate to them. There are many organizations that are short of funds, but the good news is that the incomes of the 2% are back where they should be. In fact, the disparity between the top 10% and everyone else is at its highest since the 1920’s.
Let’s celebrate! Yesterday I tried another recipe for Cornish hens. It was very festive. The preparation time was only about 10 minutes and it serves four.
                                                Orange Sherry Cornish Hen
2 Cornish hens
½ onion cut into wedges
4 tsps orange marmalade
¼ cup sherry
1 Tbs minced garlic
Rosemary, ground ginger, paprika
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Clean the hens and place them in a baking dish breast side up. Place an onion wedge in the cavity of each hen.
Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a cup. Pour half the mixture over the hens. Pour half of the remaining mixture into the cavity of the hens.
Place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. After that, pour the rest of the mixture over the hens and bake for another 15 minutes.
Now serve. Good with brown rice mixed with sautéed mushrooms and onions and a green vegetable. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Will This Shutdown Stay Unbroken?

I certainly hope not. My memories of working for the New York City Department of Social Services in the 1970’s may provide some clues.

As an investigator in Spanish Harlem, I’d knock on recipients’ doors. “I’m from the New York City Department of Social Services, Bureau of Public Assistance.” (‘Welfare Dept’, we were told, had negative connotations).

“Say what?”

“I’m from the New York City Department of Social Services, Bureau of Public Assistance.”

“Say what?”

“I’m from the Welfare Department.”

“Oh. Why didn’t you say so?”

I’d hear the deadbolt lock open. Then the metal police bar would be removed. Next came the other two locks. Lastly a door would crack open and a brown or black face would warily poke her head out and welcome me in.

Months later, I was transferred to Queens where I worked in a neighborhood that was predominantly white of various ethnic origins. I’d knock on the door with the same introduction. Someone on the other side of the door would eventually stage whisper, “Go around the back. I don’t want my neighbors to know I’m on Welfare.”

Little did it matter that many of her neighbors were also receiving help since they were too ashamed too talk to each other to know that. As I’d be warily let into the home, the person would often say, “We’re not like the others. We’re getting this help because we really need it.”

Who was I to judge? As Bob Dylan so eloquently sang, They’re only pawns in the game. Ten years year later, Reagan exploited that indoctrination with talk of welfare queens and images of underclass people- usually black-in various squalid situations. Those images are haunting us still. The fact that 83% of SNAP [formerly known as Food Stamps] recipients are full-time low-wage workers or that the majority of people receiving TANF [formerly known as Welfare] are white often doesn't enter the public consciousness.

In our still racially divided society, I suspect that the Tea Party exploits these haunting images as they rail against government money being spent for health care or basic necessities to aid low-income people in our country. Their hope is that if people perceive of the majority receiving aid as the Other, they won’t have empathy enough to support the programs.

Hopefully, this strategy is not going to work this time. Too many white people have been uninsured due to pre-existing conditions and/or not having jobs that provide health insurance and/or not being able to afford the premiums of private policies. This time the majority isn’t going to buy it. That’s why Pres. Obama was re-elected and why the Affordable Health Care Act aka Obamacare is here to stay. Get used to it, Tea Party. They'll probably accuse me of playing the race card as they do whenever people try to deal with the knotty subjects of race and class.

Stay healthy everybody until our government comes to its senses. I’m counting on the good sense of the centrist majority to prevail.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shut the Government Down? They Don't Know Beans (Another Recipe)

They’ve done it - descended to such a low level of selfishness that they have shut the government down rather than allow the Affordable Health Care Act ( aka Obamacare) to proceed. The Tea Party representatives are telling us that this is a dangerous law. Regardless of what they think of the law, it’s been the law since 2009 and was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012.

During several of our travels, we have met Canadians and talked with them about their health care system. Canadians from British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario have told us that they are very satisfied with their health care, thank you very much. While the specter of Canadian health care and health care rationing was dangled before us Americans, these Canadians assured us that they received all the care they needed. Mary and Edgar (not their real names) were both over 80 years old and had just had hip and knee replacement surgeries respectively. When I asked Mary if they had any trouble getting the surgery, she said, “No, we just showed them our cards and walked right into the hospital.”

My husband and I lived in Israel in the early 1970’s. Forty years ago, Israel was still a new country striving to establish itself. Nevertheless, they managed to have a national health care system that provided basic care to all of its citizens. Those who were more affluent could purchase private insurance if they wanted to do so. Everyone else was able to access the basics. Sometimes it involved waiting to see a specialist but that’s certainly preferable to having a large portion of the population uninsured.

It’s impossible for me to understand why some people are so adamant insisting that the government not provide basic food and health care to their neighbors in need. If a selfish refusal to pay higher taxes isn’t the motive, I’d like to know what it is. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times reported that the upper 1% of our population has the largest percentage of wealth – 23% - since the 1920’s. It certainly sounds like selfishness to me.

In the meantime, many of our neighbors have become food insecure and unable to access health care. Many don’t have a bean. Since beans are an inexpensive form of protein, I’ll provide my recipe for 5-Minute Bean Salad. It takes about five minutes to make and serves four to eight people depending on whether it’s a main dish or a side salad.

                                                              Five-Minute Bean Salad

One 14.5 oz can of black beans drained
One 14.5 oz can of garbanzo beans drained
2 tomatoes chopped
½ green pepper chopped
green olives
cilantro leaves
feta cheese (optional)

olive oil, lemon juice, oregano for the dressing

Put the first seven ingredients in a bowl and mix them up.

Sprinkle the dressing ingredients over the top.
Refrigerate until cold.

Serve

It’s good with pita and hummus.

 

 

 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fifty Years After Birmingham Sunday, Where Are We?

A day after the 50th anniversary of Birmingham Sunday, an article in the September 16th issue of the New York Times caught my eye. A white middle class family (consisting of a mom, a dad, and the requisite two children) living in a gated community in South Africa spent a month in a shantytown to better understand the mentality of those living in it. (See the article  in the NewYorkTimes/ September16,2013/ “Trading Privilege for Privation, Family Hits a Nation’s Nerve”).

The article paints a stark contrast between the few haves and many have-nots in South Africa. The family was able to learn much about what the people in the shantytown have to deal with and they forged some interesting relationships. Whenever people can understand each other across ethnic and class lines, it's a positive development.

It reminded me of two books written in the United States. One was Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, a memoir from the early 1960’s about his experience becoming black temporarily with the use of dyes and other such help so that he could know how it felt to be a member of a discriminated against minority group. The other was Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. In this book, Ms. Ehrenreich goes undercover as a minimum wage worker to see what it’s like to manage on $7 per hour jobs. Can we ever know what it feels like to be a member of the other group? Do the differences go beyond skin color to the point that we can’t comprehend? To Barbara Ehrenreich’s credit, she understood that because she could always return to her bank account, car, and other class privileges, she couldn’t know. Therefore, she only investigated the practical problems of securing housing and other resources on a very limited income.

As difficult and tragic as the problems were that gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement, many issues were resolved thanks to the bravery of the people who challenged the then status quo. As arduous as that was to achieve, sometimes it feels as though we only fixed the easy problems. As Dr. King said at the end of his life, it costs the government nothing to integrate a lunch counter. He went on to challenge us to do a lot more to eradicate poverty. Soon after he challenged the economics of class and race, he was assassinated. While it has never been proven in a court of law, I will always believe that his assassination was neither a coincidence nor the work of one madman working on his own.

Now we are left with the intractable problems. The unemployment rate of blacks is three times that of whites. Their rate of people living in poverty is higher as well. How do we eradicate the class differences that have become so solidified in the past 20 years? For example, a person’s income of origin is more a predictor of ability to complete a four-year college degree than any other factor. Is it more important to work on understanding one another or on changing the conditions causing our class lines to solidify? It feels to me that the issue of class is still the pink elephant in the room in any discussion of race. Where do we go from here?       

 

 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why Invade Syria? Some Of Us Want to Know

Like many of you, I am quite upset about the USA’s impending invasion of Syria. Hoping that it will be stopped before it starts, I am sending the following letter to President Obama: 

Dear President Obama;

All right, so you made a mistake. Everyone does sometimes. Using the use of chemical weapons as a red line to get Assad to stop killing his own people was not a good idea. You thought that being threatened by the United States of America would be sufficient to make him stop killing Syrian civilians. This was a major tactical error on your part. Anyone who has already ordered the killing of as many people as he has will care little about the USA killing a few more. You were on the right track before when you hesitated to get us embroiled in another war in the Middle East. No good guys could be identified and as far as I know, they still haven't. We didn’t stop the genocide in Rwanda or Biafra. There are numerous oppressive governments around the world in which we don’t intervene. Why Syria? I can’t believe that you really think that any good could come from such an attack other than your saving face for having made the crossing the red line statement.

As much as your red line statement was a mistake, I have to congratulate you for asking Congress to authorize an attack. It’s a great way to save face without getting anyone killed. I hope and pray that behind the scenes, you’re begging all those Senators and Congressmen to “just say NO.” As an Illinois resident in the Ninth Congressional District, I have e-mailed Senators Durbin and Kirk and Congresswoman Schakowsky beseeching them to deny you this authorization. If Assad is toppled, we aren’t even sure that a decent government will emerge. Once again, you were right before. This is clearly a time to let bad enough alone and I am hoping against hope that Congress pulls you back from this brink.

If by some chance, however, Congress finally gets its act together and does something you purportedly want and votes yes, it will be a tragedy for the Middle East. Nevertheless, in that worst-case scenario, there is a lesson to be learned. Congress responds well to reverse psychology. This strategy can be employed during the year to pass something positive. Raising the debt ceiling and getting a farm bill that includes a decent amount of appropriations for Food Stamps comes immediately to mind.

In closing, Mr. President, I have always been one of your staunchest supporters and I’m still rooting
for you. I’ve supported you ever since as a state senator, you announced that you opposed the USA invading Iraq. I cheered when you welcomed the troops home after you brought our involvement in that disaster to an end.  I am really disappointed that you are doing a 180 -degree turn by planning this invasion of Syria now. I trust that you will find a way to cancel your plans.

Good luck in your efforts to keep America safe and make the world a better, more peaceful place.

Sincerely,
Lisa Sachs

PS. If you really feel the need to have this invasion, shouldn’t there be an element of surprise? At this point, all Assad has to do to find out what you have in mind is to read the New York Times.