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    • Groups and Coalitions: Politics Chapter V
      Previous: Identity (Introduction and Table of Contents) Politically active groups form because of ideology and identity: they have beliefs about how the world should be; those beliefs are emotional and create both identification with other people who have the beliefs and shared desire to change the world or keep the world in line with how the ideologies pres […]
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Saturday: Keep on the Sunny Side

“When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.”  -The Bhagavad Gita recited by Phillip Glass, Lincoln Center, November 2011.

Hi guys, it looks like a beautiful day in the NYC area.  I’m headed up to Manhattan shortly to cover the day’s activities in Zuccotti park, where an interfaith group will be celebrating Occupy Wall Street.  There are also musical events in the city.  You can find them at 50th and Broadway, last time I looked (but Occupiers move in mysterious ways so you never know where they will pop up next).

*************************

Yesterday, my daughter told me that in order to buy lunch at the cafeteria now, a student has to show an ID.  She says this is a new procedure.  Before, students just needed to provide their student ID number if they couldn’t find the actual picture ID card.  The cafeteria lady punches the number into the machine and checks the picture on the screen against the kid with the pile of french fries.  (This is high school, BTW).  I couldn’t figure out why the picture ID was absolutely necessary now and then it hit me that it might have something to do with reduced or free lunches.  Could it be that some students were providing their cards or numbers to other students so that they could get lunch if they had forgotten their money?  The kid says that the lunch ladies never used to check the pic with the kid but now they are required to.  Veddy interesting, no?

Then, I found this.  This is a recent article about some asshole state congressperson in NJ who wants to have a clear accounting of WHO exactly is getting a free lunch because, by golly, there might be people (ie *children*) ripping off tax payers for the cost of a free lunch.  Can we get him on Atrios’ “worst person of the day” list?  Here’s some of the grusome details:

Speaking before a group of Tea Party supporters on Nov. 3, Doherty, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, insisted that 37 percent of all school lunch recipients are ineligible, according to The Star-Ledger.

After fielding criticism that his numbers exaggerated the potential fraud, Doherty recently said he stands behind his math. “The amount of fraud in the free and reduced school lunch program is massive and the cost to the taxpayers is enormous,” the senator stated, according to a statement on his website. “It runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

In New Jersey, in order to receive a free lunch, a family of four needs to have an annual income of less than $29,055. Families of two are eligible if their income falls below $19,123, according to documents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the national program. The thresholds are not as restrictive for reduced lunch plans: $41,348 and less for families of four, $27,214 and less for two-person families.

The New Jersey Auditor reported earlier this year that approximately 428,000 students in the state are enrolled in the lunch program. Of those student applications, 3 percent are verified by officials, as is mandated by the federal government. Those applications deemed “error prone” are the first to be verified. From this test pool, approximately 37 percent were deemed ineligible.

Despite the seemingly high error rate, New Jersey is actually in line with the rest of the nation. Across the United States, approximately 40 percent of verified applicants are found ineligible.

“Income and household composition reporting inaccuracies lead to significant eligibility error rates in the department’s National School Lunch Program, which would impact funding for other state programs,” the auditor noted.

….

“Federal regulation mandates local education agencies verify 3 percent of the applications approved,” Fisher wrote the auditor in a letter dated June 23. “The audit report acknowledges this regulation is being met. Federal regulation requires remaining applications be accepted at face value.”

Doherty claims that “face value” is not enough.

“Under New Jersey’s system for funding schools, enrolling a student in the free and reduced price lunch program triggers an ‘At Risk’ designation for the student, which results in about an additional $5,000 of state school aid under New Jersey’s school funding formula,” the senator reported. “It’s a lot of money that could be used to reduce property taxes statewide.”

Ok, let me jump in here for a second.  Mr. Doherty, a Republican, seems to think that there are scads and scads of kids in places like Camden and Newark who are ripping off the state because every time a kid applies for the lunch program, the district that kid is in is eligible for $5000 in state aid.  And Mr. Doherty is appealing to his Fox News loving constituents with Acquired Stupidity Syndrome who think they are being ripped off by little welfare princes in Jersey City.  Some of those kids might have parents who work but in NJ still can’t get enough to eat because this is a very high cost of living state but let’s penalize them anyway for their parents fudging the numbers on the reduced cost lunch program form.  This kind of mean spirited self-righteousness and indignation from the Fox crowd just sickens me.  Pile on people at the bottom of the economic ladder.  They’re nothing, right?

Now for the confessional part.  I am not on the school lunch program but if I don’t find a job soon, next year my income will allow me to qualify for it.  I have every expectation that this will not happen but it could.  I keep telling people that the research industry in this area is in Great Depression mode but no one will believe me.  As long as I live in this house, I will have to pay astronomical property taxes.  And I have paid about $20,000 in taxes just on my severance bennies, which ended recently.  These Tea Party people have a lot of nerve accusing people like me of being deadbeats.  We didn’t ask to be unemployed.  But unemployment is no excuse for not paying the tax man.  My total tax bill for 2011 would be scary to a Tea Party person. Plus, I will have to pay COBRA soon.  You don’t want to know how much that is.  It’s ugly.

Now, if I, a regular suburbanite in a middle to upper middle class suburb where the median income is $106,000/year (that’s not plush in NJ where mortgages eat up 40% of income), am in this kind of predicament, I know damn well there are thousands of other families in my town that are in the same place.  And next year, THEY might very well be applying to the reduced lunch program.  I don’t know how many people saved as carefully as I did.  I have a bit of money to live on along with unemployment so money’s tight but the panic level is being kept in check.  But when I think of how many people I have seen in the past running around my town in their Lexus SUVs, carting their kids to soccer practice and ballet lessons on Saturday, I have to wonder how long they have before they’re in real trouble.  From my survey of the parking lot at the local mall, it looks like it won’t be very long.  The Sunday after Thanksgiving, it looked half empty and traffic inside the mall was indistinguishable from a Thursday afternoon in July.

So, Mr. Doherty, bring it on.  In the next couple of months, I expect to see the number of kids applying for the school lunch program to jump right here in good old middle class suburbia.  And with every applicant, there’s $5000 more to our district.  Cha-Ching!  That should offset property tax hikes for a couple of years, for which I shall be profoundly grateful.

Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Doherty.  You might just find the ugly truth.

Monday: Oh, Brother!

A couple of years ago, when my brother and his family were at the peak of their mystical, charismatic, magical, super awe inspiring evangelical experience where they attended church every moment they weren’t working or sleeping, I had to meet him at his church one afternoon to bring him something or pick something up or something like that.  That weekend, his church was doing some kind of membership drive, like an open house.  They had set up a huge tent on their parking lot and had a portable stage and risers and a baptismal font and two big screens for a multimedia production.  Oh, yeah, it was that kind of church.

My brother plays the bass.  He’s played it since he was Brook’s age.  So, he found a place for him in the church gospel rock band while his wife, the former cabaret dancer with the extension that first caught my brother’s eye, sang back-up vocals.  I came to the performance a little late.  The band wasn’t playing yet.  Instead, there were some of those swelling hymns playing over the PA system while children of about 9 or 10 walked up to the baptismal font to be baptised by full immersion.  Then the band started jamming and the solo singer with a beautiful voice sang some uplifting Christian rock song while baptism images flashed on the screens.  It was overkill.  And incredibly effective.  It was hard for even the rational christian such as myself to not be moved.  Even Brook, the committed atheist from the age of nine, looked at me and said, “How do I pray?”  I had to get us out of there quickly.

Because no matter how seductive they were, they still think that homosexuality is a sin, premarital sex is a disgrace to women, Charles Darwin was possessed and there is nothing better in the whole wide world than getting in other people’s business and telling them how to live.

That’s how we have to look at Obama.  The election was exhilerating and stirring.  But he’s still a corrupt politician and we must still be on our guard for the people who were sucked into his cult of personality through training camps that differ little from the big tent evangelism, with appeals to emotion and well rehearsed mind-f^&king,

Then there are the people who are starting to realize what we tried to tell them all along.  Obama is not nor never has been a progressive.  He’s a political opportunist who made a deal with the status quo.  But he still has his own evangelical movement, though this group looks much bigger than its actual numbers.  The next two months are going to be one big revival.  It’s going to look bright and promising but there is  a dark and troubled side to it.  But let’s stay together and remember to duck outside the tent periodically for some mind cleansing fresh air.

Stay vigilant.