the Rational Radical  

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The Daily Diatribe
August 16-31, 2001

August 31, 2001   9:45 p.m. --  It's an elementary principle of psychology that we criticize in others that which we most don't want to recognize in ourselves.

This seems to apply perfectly to Republicans.

Lately they've been saying that the Democrats "have no new ideas," or better yet, that the Democrats "haven't had a good idea in 60 years."

Aren't the Republicans talking about themselves?  When was the last time they had a good idea?

Virtually all the pieces of legislation in the past 60 years that have made our society more just and humane have been Democratic initiatives, and opposed by most Republicans.

Just to mention some of the highlights, the Democrats were behind the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, Medicare in 1965, the Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 -- not to mention being in the forefront to update and adequately fund and enforce these Acts every one of the last 60 years right up through the year 2001.

It could well be argued that the only ideas Republicans ever have is to oppose all programs that move us away from Darwinian survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle (and to sometimes offer in their stead ersatz solutions which those supposedly being helped invariably oppose).

Republicans don't have useful ideas;  they only offer mean-spirited vehicles to exercise the fundamental lack of compassion afflicting that political party.

August 30, 2001
   9:35 p.m.
--  Two recent press reports illustrate the corporate media's willful blindness concerning a critical, life-and-death issue, and the resulting ignorance of the public concerning same.

One article, about Mexico's attempt to play a bigger role on the world stage, notes that a large percentage of the Mexican population is ill-nourished.  The second story, telling of a drought creating a food crisis in Central America, reports that even when there's no drought, 6,000 children die each year in El Salvador from hunger.     

Just think for a second.  Don't we get our fruits, vegetables and coffee from countries like Mexico and El Salvador?  Why are these countries exporting food, when they have starving people within their borders?  Why is the best farmland in those countries used to grow food and other items for export, while the farmers who grow food for themselves and their countrymen to eat, have access to only the most marginalized land?

It's all part of the global food system.

Enough food is grown in the world to provide over 3500 calories per day to every man, woman and child.  That's more than enough to make everyone obese.  So how could there be so much hunger in the world?  How could so many people wind up starving to death?  The answer is social injustice.

Small-scale farmers and their families are a majority in many Third World countries. These farmers and others go hungry because the fertile lands on which the farmers used to grow affordable food for themselves and their countrymen have been stolen to grow export crops, usually in conjunction with multinational agribusiness corporations. The bulk of world hunger, which kills 12 million children every year, is caused not by droughts, overpopulation or scarcity of food, but by this type of injustice.

The United States is a key player in this global food system.  First, our huge, comparatively wealthy population creates enormous demand for these export crops, fueling the spread of export agriculture around the world.

Second, the United States has always provided crucial support -- political, economic and military -- to the undemocratic (or pseudo-democratic) governments which rule in the interest of those who steal the land, and brutally crush any protests against that theft.

So, in effect, we steal food from the Third World poor by using our economic might to cause the best farmland in these countries to be used to grow food for us, not for the inhabitants of those countries.  

And we insure their continued starvation by our long-time support of the governments in those countries which -- with our full knowledge -- torture and commit other horrific human rights abuses against those who try to change the situation.

The corporate media virtually never discuss the issue of world hunger in this fashion.

[For a more detailed examination of this issue, see 12 Myths About Hunger and the other resources provided by the organization Food First.]

August 29, 2001
   9:35 p.m.
--  As a result of continued U.S. interference in the Nicaraguan presidential election process, Sandinista (FSLN) party candidate Daniel Ortega has been overtaken in the polls by Liberal Constitutionalist party candidate Enrique Bolaños.  Bolaños stands at 38.6%, Ortega 35.8%, and Conservative Party candidate Alberto Saborío 4.5%, according to an August 24 article in the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.

U.S. interference in the Nicaraguan electoral process has taken three forms:

  • direct pressure on the Conservative Party so that its popular candidate quit the race;
  • public warnings against a Sandinista victory; and
  • the allocation of relatively huge amounts of money to "assist" in the election.

Direct pressure on the Conservative party: The Conservative party used to have a far more popular candidate, Noel Vidaurre, who was taking a good share of the electorate in the polls.  There was talk in Nicaragua that without Vidaurre in the race, Bolaños would have a much better chance of defeating Ortega, since Vidaurre's supporters would be expected to switch to Bolaños proportionally more than to Ortega.

The Conservatives are in an alliance with a number of other parties.  Vidaurre was strongly in favor of opening up the Conservative slate for lower offices to candidates from the other groups in the alliance.  After the head of the Conservative Party, Mario Rappacciolo, decided against this course of action, Vidaurre and his running mate quit the race on July 17.

The Conservative party's replacement candidate is, as expected, garnering a much lesser share of the vote than Vidaurre, and also as expected, Bolaños picked up more of the defectors than Ortega.

The U.S. played a critical role in Rappacciolo's decision and Vidaurre's subsequently quitting the race, according to a July 18 article in the Nicaraguan newspaper El Neuvo Diario:

  • Rappacciolo extended a visit to Miami just so he could meet with several members of the U.S. Congress. The Representatives are said to have  pressured him to close up space within the Conservative party so that Vidaurre would resign and the party could then throw its support to the Liberal candidate, Enrique Bolaños.
  • A delegation of Republican Congressmen, headed by Cass Ballanger (R-NC), visited Managua in July and let it be known that the Conservative party support should go to Bolaños to ensure an Ortega defeat.
  • The week of Vidaurre's resignation, Rappacciolo met several times with U.S. State Department officials in Managua.
  • The morning of Vidaurre's resignation, Rappacciolo had breakfast with the U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua, Oliver Garza.
  • As La Prensa summarized it, under a headline referring to "North American Pressure and Interference to Line Up All Groups Against the FSLN":

A breakfast yesterday with U.S. Ambassador Oliver Garza, and several meetings with officials of that country’s State Department the previous week, seem to have been too much pressure for Conservative Party President Mario Rappacciolo who decided to put an end to what they were calling the "universal ticket."

Public warnings against a Sandinista victory:  According to the British newspaper the Guardian, a high-ranking U.S. State Department official and former ambassador to Nicaragua, Lino Gutierrez,

made it clear in a barely coded address to the American chamber of commerce in Managua that the US would not look kindly on the Sandinistas' re-emergence.

Observers say the message was that those opposed to the Sandinistas should bury their differences or suffer the economic consequences.

That same message was later couched in diplomatic language by a State Department spokesman In Washington on July 24, who said

we will continue to have serious concerns about the Sandinistas, absent clear commitments from candidate Ortega that he is now prepared to embrace democratic policies.

And again, according to the Maryknoll organization, U.S. Ambassador Garza has publicly warned in Nicaragua that, should the FSLN win without changing its policies, the U.S. would not change its hard-line policy toward the Sandinistas.

Most disturbingly, Garza made the statement while standing with a group of recently arrived U.S. troops.  A photo of himself and the troops was widely circulated in the Nicaraguan national news media.

This symbolism -- most likely deliberate --  is quite powerful in Nicaragua, where people have raw memories of the 1980's contra terrorist war the U.S. organized, financed and directed against Nicaragua the last time the Sandinistas were in power.  Indeed, "many people have expressed the fear that if the Sandinistas are returned to office, a renewal of the 1980s war with the U.S. would be likely."

(In another ominous sign, a delegation of former contra leaders went to Washington in April to seek help in preventing a Sandinista electoral victory.)

Allocation of relatively huge amounts of money to assist in the election: As discussed in more detail in a previous column, the U.S. has allocated $5.6 million for  "monitoring" and other "help" in the upcoming Nicaraguan presidential elections.  (That number may be changing somewhat, according to an official I spoke to at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which will administer the funds. The final number will likely be at least the figure reported on the Agency's website.)

Proportional to the relative populations of Nicaragua (4.4 million) and the United States (280 million), the $5.6 million is the equivalent of a foreign country spending over $356 million to "assist" in a U.S. presidential election. 

Such an action would cause an enormous uproar here, and never be tolerated.  Remember the trouble caused by the much smaller Chinese contributions in the 1996 presidential election.

Indeed, how would the U.S. react were government officials of an infinitely more powerful nation to pressure the Republican or Democrat parties to change their candidate slate?  Or if such foreign officials warned the U.S. people of dire consequences were the election to go in a way not desired by that foreign power?

The U.S. behavior in connection with the Nicaraguan presidential election is obscene, treating that nation as if it's a colony, or a wholly owned subsidiary.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the U.S. press has reported virtually nothing about this.

[Here's a link to a group opposing U.S. intervention in Nicaragua.  The group urges people to call their Representatives and Senators to demand an immediate end to all U.S. interference in the Nicaraguan electoral process, and for people to also call the press to demand that they cover this story.]

August 28, 2001
   9:45 p.m.
--  During the 1980's, human rights groups reported again and again that Guatemalan and Salvadoran soldiers who were U.S. trained, equipped and financed were committing horrible atrocities.  The mainstream press, among them The New York Times, mostly ignored these reports.

Indeed, when a rare story in that newspaper by Raymond Bonner about a massacre in El Mozote, El Salvador drew angry denials from the White House and other criticism, The New York Times recalled Bonner from the field.  Bonner shortly thereafter left the paper.

During the latter part of the 1990's, forensic evidence proved that there was, indeed, a terrible massacre at El Mozote.  The existence of widespread human rights abuses as reported by the human rights groups is now generally accepted, and Bonner is back reporting for The New York Times.

A recent editorial in The New York Times, discussing the nomination of John Negroponte to be the U.S. representative at the United Nations, states that

The Senate must also establish whether Mr. Negroponte was aware of and made any effort to prevent the death squad activities of a Honduran Army battalion trained and financed by the United States.

I'm glad The New York Times is editorializing this way now.  It just galls me that the newspaper is not required to add a phrase along the following italicized lines:

The Senate must also establish whether Mr. Negroponte was aware of and made any effort to prevent the death squad activities of a Honduran Army battalion trained and financed by the United States, which death squad activities, this newspaper must admit, were made possible by our continuing refusal to report these atrocities at the time they were happening.

I can dream, can't I?

August 27, 2001
   9:45 p.m.
--  The press has just reported yet another condemned inmate being cleared by DNA evidence.  Charles Fain spent nearly 18 years on death row for the rape and murder of a 9 year old girl.  DNA tests now show that hairs found on the girl's body were not Fain's.

Thank goodness for the long time periods customary between sentencing and execution, or else Fain would have been long gone.

The current prosecutor in that jurisdiction, as well as the girl's family, accept the fact that Fain is innocent.

Amazingly, the original prosecutor still feels Fain is guilty, based on an FBI shoeprint expert who said shoeprints at the scene matched Fain's.  The FBI also conducted the now-discredited test indicating the hairs were Fain's.   Perhaps one should conclude that having been proven wrong once, the FBI's experts in this case are not reliable?

The original prosecutor also bases his continued belief in Fain's guilt on the testimony of two jailhouse informers.  We all know how reliable their testimony is.

In any event, I think the Holy Grail of anti-death penalty work is to find a person incontrovertibly innocent who was executed.   There have been at least 96 instances since 1973 of wrongfully convicted people set free before the states had a chance to kill them.  Since these are just the cases we know about where a defendant was wrongfully convicted, surely there must have been other such cases where -- because of a lack of outside intervention to prove innocence -- the defendants were wrongfully executed as well.

Death penalty opponents are often asked why such a case has not been found.   The explanation is that with their limited resources, death penalty opponents can't even properly handle the cases of those still living, let alone delve into the cases of those already executed.

Some wealthy, anti-death penalty benefactor should, therefore, make an express grant for the purpose of investigating the most promising cases where it might be proven that an innocent person was wrongly executed.

Support for the death penalty has been slowly eroding the past few years, based in part on all the cases where DNA evidence proved innocent those about to be executed.  If an instance of actual wrongful execution could be documented, the death penalty would take a much more significant dive in public support, perhaps enough to get rid of it altogether.

August 26, 2001
   8:50 p.m.
--  The New York Times devoted one paragraph the other day to a report that "welfare changes have led to rising hunger and homelessness among the city's poorest residents."  This one paragraph item was buried on page 17.

Let's see what was on page one that day: China facing an AIDS epidemic; the Condit interview; Bush announcing the U.S. will quit the ABM pact.  So far, pretty important, newsworthy stuff.

To continue with the page one stories: an analysis of the budget surplus-Social Security conundrum; rising law school admissions; public records online cause privacy concerns; and food shortages cause bears to enter towns looking for food.

Well, I'm no news editor, but I'd certainly rank the welfare report above at least the last three items on page 1.  Not to mention a whole lot of the other stories in the newspaper between pages 2 and 17.

But then again, I, like many others, think stories detailing how government policies are hurting our most vulnerable citizens are quite important, and the New York Times editors -- at least as evidenced in this instance -- apparently don't.

[To see this report, from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, go here and then click on "New Report."]

August 25, 2001   9:10 p.m. --  Do you ever get frustrated and depressed when you watch a cable news channel?

The far right has Fox News, the mushy-middle to right-of-center has CNN, and everyone else even mildly progressive has nothing.  (The conservatives rant on about "liberal" CNN, but that's only compared to Genghis Khan.)  If you're really progressive, the outlook is even more bleak.

How can progressives hope to win the hearts and minds of the country, when all the country hears is the other side?

Last spring there were reports that Barbra Streisand was floating the idea of Hollywood liberals buying a cable-TV network for a Democratic-oriented news channel.  If that meant "Democratic" as in Democratic-Leadership-Council Rockefeller-Republican "Democratic," then excuse me for not getting too excited.

Even if the idea was for a much more progressive cable station, it could probably never happen in that manner.  Movie stars are notoriously averse to financing films with their own money, and would likely not want to pony up for something like a cable channel.  I could be wrong.

In any event, Streisand was widely mocked for her suggestion, and seems to have dropped the idea.

But imagine that, instead of four rich white guys pontificating about how the average American is doing, a news channel would actually have a regular forum where different union officials and rank-and-file workers discuss what is happening in their industry.  How about a roundtable with different civil and human rights activists discussing the issues that affect their constituencies?

Debates wouldn't have a far right ideologue squaring off against a slightly left-of-center moderate, but would pair the right-winger against someone equally far to the left.

There would be fewer reports on tornados, more coverage of the latest corporate outrages committed against workers and consumers.

There would be less obsession with the daily Wall Street averages -- instead, there would be a daily report about the growing income and wealth inequality in America.

If all a person ever watches is the corporate media news outlets, he or she might, perhaps, have a hard time envisioning what I am talking about.  But if you receive mailings from activist groups, or call up hotlines, or visit alternative news websites (for example, those in links), then you are aware of the vast wealth of critically important stories that presently aren't reported regularly, if at all, but could be.

Such a progressive cable news channel would have a good chance of success, because the expanded types of hosts, guests and subjects would feed into the audience's attraction to seeing themselves and their lives reflected on the screen.  And debates between two genuinely different points of view would illuminate issues in an exciting, visceral way rarely seen in the current news channel gabfests.

A progressive cable news channel sounds nice, doesn't it?

But how to achieve this, there's the rub.

August 24, 2001   10:10 p.m. --  One of the best measures of the obscene and ever-growing income inequality in this country is this: in 1980 the typical CEO of a large corporation earned 40 times what a factory worker did.  By 1998, that ratio had ballooned to 419 (yes, four hundred nineteen) times.  (In Great Britain, by contrast, the ratio is still 35 times, and in Japan 20 times).

Interestingly, professional sports -- or at least major league baseball -- has also experienced such a greatly widened income gap.

In this past Sunday's New York Times, an anthropology professor was comparing minor league baseball during his brief career some 30 years ago to now.  One of the differences is that the current average major league baseball salary of $2 million is more than 100 times greater than the 1967 average of $19,000.  But most minor league players, after adjustments for inflation, make less than what the professor and his minor league teammates made 30 years ago.

And analogous to the way entry level service industry jobs don't today pay a living wage (as Barbra Ehrenreich has recently documented), in minor league baseball:

Except for the few who receive large signing bonuses, rookies earn so little ($900 per month) that some depend on their parents' credit cards to get by.

So even in this professional sport, it seems, those at the top aggrandize unto themselves such a huge share of the available resources that there's not enough left for a living wage for those at the bottom.

August 23, 2001  10:05 p.m. --  After suffering a defeat last year in their valiant attempt to stop a little boy from being reunited with his loving father, the hard-line element of the Cuban-American community has finally scored a major victory.

According to The New York Times,

Months after announcing to considerable fanfare that the Latin Grammy Awards would move to Miami from Los Angeles, event organizers have pulled the show from South Florida over fears that Cuban-American protesters would disrupt the event.

Why would some Cuban-Americans object to the Latin Grammy Awards being held in Miami?

Critics of having the show here argued that the ceremony could provide a platform for pro-Castro Cuban artists.

But according to the Miami Herald:

Several Cuban musicians are nominated this year, but none were scheduled to perform and it was unclear whether any would be attending the ceremony.

Even if a "pro-Castro" singer or band leader did attend, and did get an award and did say something favorable about Castro, this fanatical element of the Cuban-American community is so insecure that they need to prevent that?

And so much for free speech.

But we already know how much this hard-line element of the Cuban-American community cared about such things when they were the big shots in dictator Batista's Cuba, and, after they came to the U.S., how much they have concerned themselves about such Constitutional niceties here.

[see Cuban-American "Democracy" article]

August 22, 2001  9:35 p.m. --  Yesterday, graced its home page with the wisdom of the eminent African-American leader the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, who demanded that Jesse Jackson drop his Reverend title.

Today, the American public should again be grateful to, this time for making room not only for the insights of another well-known "civil rights leader" in the African-American community, Kevin Martin, but also for the further words of Rev. Peterson, who called for all Americans to boycott the NAACP.

Who?!  Huh?!  Precisely.

I understand that tomorrow, Rev. Peterson and Mr. Martin will be holding a joint press conference to announce the formation of a committee to build a memorial honoring that great champion of African-American civil rights, Sen. Jesse Helms, who will be retiring from the Senate after his current term.

August 21, 2001  8:15 p.m. -- The headline on wacky-right reads "Black Leader to Jesse Jackson: You're No Reverend." The article goes on to quote someone called the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson:

Now is the time to stand on moral principle and demand that Jackson drop the title 'Reverend,' and [to] speak out against this immoral man.

To the question, "Have they no shame?" the answer as to and Rev. Peterson is, clearly, "They have no shame.", which has a large and fast-growing conservative audience, is here shown in a pathetic attempt to elevate one bigmouth with a phantom following (called Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny) into a legitimate African-American leader. Rev. Peterson doesn't have the authority to call for a pizza delivery on behalf of anyone, let alone to call for Jesse Jackson to drop the title "Reverend."

As discussed earlier, and Fox News are both attempting to discredit the established African-American leadership and substitute individuals of their own choosing.  Who's buying this con game is anyone's guess.

[more on others who need to shut up about Jesse Jackson]

August 20, 2001   9:10 p.m.  --  As many of us are aware, the people who pick our fruits and vegetables are among the most exploited, poorly paid workers in this country.  Anyone who still receives literature from the United Farm Workers union understands that the plight of many of these workers -- who do some of the most unpleasant, back-breaking work imaginable -- has not improved significantly since the Cesar Chavez-led grape boycott way back when.

What most people don't realize is how easy it would be to remedy the situation, at least as far as wages.

Did you know that according to a study by a researcher at the University of California at Davis

...if a 35 percent farm worker wage increase were fully passed through to consumers, and if there were no productivity improvements in response to the farm worker wage increase, the farm worker wages and benefits embodied in a $1 head of lettuce would rise from about 7 to 9 cents, and the retail price from $1 to $1.02.

Two cents for each head of lettuce seems an awfully small price for American consumers to pay to insure that those who pick this vegetable are paid enough to themselves be able to feed and otherwise take care of their families.

What about other crops?

For all fresh fruits and vegetables, the average American would spend about $34 a year more if farm worker wages rose 35 percent, and $67 more if they rose 70 percent.

Gee, who among us can't afford ten or even twenty cents a day!

All the more reason why paying such pitiful wages to these hard-working people is an outrage!

August 19, 2001   8:00 p.m.  --  One of the central goals of the Republocrat party is to increase the share of the nation's income and wealth held by the rich, at the expense of the middle class and poor.  And that goal is being achieved.

The government's own data show that the increasing inequality of income that everyone noticed in the 80's under Reagan/Bush Sr. continued during the Clinton years.  Indeed, it may even have accelerated then.  Democrat or Republican, it doesn't matter.  They both govern in the interests of those at the very top rung of wealth and income.

Look at this chart...

...and this text excerpt:

[T]he share of the national income after taxes that the top one percent of the population received nearly doubled between 1979 and 1997. The CBO data indicate that by 1997, the 2.6 million Americans with the highest incomes — the top one percent — had as much after-tax income as close to 100 million Americans with the lowest incomes. Similarly, the 20 percent of Americans with the highest incomes received as much as the other 80 percent of the population. [chart and excerpt from]

Such findings are always criticized by right-wing pundits, who seek to deny what is apparent to anyone with eyes, ears and an increasingly empty wallet compared to the rich.  A detailed analysis, however, shows that these findings of a continuing increase in income inequality are valid.

The stealing of our nation by the wealthiest few should be the number one economic story every night on the news.  Yet how often have you heard about this ever?!

Such lack of coverage is not surprising, of course, given who owns the mass media.

August 18, 2001   11:25 p.m.  --  What could be more infuriating than hearing bigmouths who never risked anything for anybody continually criticizing the peccadillos of people who risked everything for others?

The bigmouths I refer to are those like Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and others of their ilk who continually criticize Jesse Jackson for alleged financial irregularities and/or for having an affair.  Sure Jackson can be criticized if he acted improperly.  But perspective and a sense of proportionality are key.

Hannity, O'Reilly et al elevate the wrongdoing to the sum total of the man, and then ask questions about whether Jackson is through as a leader, blah blah blah.

People with half a brain and an ounce of decency take into account that Jackson has for decades devoted himself to speaking out for the voiceless.  Do the conservative pundits not realize that Jackson risked his life over and over again doing civil rights work in the Deep South with Martin Luther King, Jr.?  It could have been Jackson who was shot on that balcony, not Dr. King.  It could have been Jackson, not Medgar Evers, who was shot to death.

Such courage and long-term dedication mean a whole lot to unbiased, not-blinded-by-ideology people.

And what have Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly ever done for anybody?  I don't know every detail of their lives, but I'd wager they've never risked their lives fighting for social justice.  I'd wager they've never risked even getting beaten by a hostile police force, or bitten by dogs, or water hosed, fighting on behalf of others.

Oh sure, they may claim they're speaking for "the average American," for "the little guy," for "working Americans."  Well, even if they were, talk is cheap, and speaking from the comfort of an air-conditioned TV set for a huge salary doesn't go very far in granting criticism rights against others who do far more. 

But of course, they don't really speak on behalf of those they claim to.  Quite the contrary, the policies they espouse and the guests they have (and exclude) show that in reality Hannity, O'Reilly et al are just shills for big bucks corporate America, befitting the status these hosts enjoy as part of the top 1% of income earners in the country.

I wish they'd shut up and realize their criticisms merely emphasize how small they really are.  Jackson has more courage and integrity in his pinky than Hannity, O'Reilly et al have in their entire being.

Hannity, go risk your life on behalf of others.

O'Reilly, go put it all on the line.

Until then, you and the other bloviating fraud conservatives should SHUT UP about Jesse Jackson!

[Phony African-American "Leader" Should Also Shut Up About Jesse Jackson]

August 17, 2001
   9:55 p.m.  -- 
One of the most repeated mantras of conservative Christians on the talk show circuit -- and of talk show hosts like Sean Hannity -- is "No sex before marriage."  A related admonition frequently voiced by these moralists is "No cohabitation before marriage."

This theology defies all common sense.  It would require that people bind themselves to a lifetime commitment to have sex with only one person, and to live their entire life as man and woman with only that person, without ever having had sex with that person or having lived with that person.  In what other area of human endeavor would anyone make such a lifetime, irrevocable commitment with so little basis to believe it will work?

Perhaps the moralists don't even know that sexual preferences and compatibilities differ from person to person.  If your lifetime sole sex partner and you have vastly different sexual needs, desires and capabilities, such a match will create only a lifetime of sexual unhappiness.

Likewise with sharing living quarters with someone.  Common sense would dictate that there at least be a trial period of living together before the lifetime commitment is made.

The moralists often respond that a pre-marriage living together situation is not the same thing as living together as man and wife once the commitment is made.  That's true, but it's certainly a better approximation of it than nothing at all.

Would you sign an irrevocable lifetime contract to work for a company, or with a specific co-worker, without ever having worked for such a company, or with that co-worker?   Absurd.

Equally absurd is marrying someone without even knowing if you are sexually compatible, and if there is some basis for believing you can happily live together.

I'm not talking here so much about promiscuity (which for some may be a good thing in any case) but rather about two people in love who feel they may want to get married, and who may already even be engaged.

And all this is not to say that there aren't people who do want to wait until they are married to have sex or live together.  Fine for them.

But don't make that an iron-clad "moral" rule that everyone is supposed to follow.

For those who do want to test the waters before plunging in forever, such a course of action certainly makes sense and should be supported.

August 16, 2001   9:25 p.m.  --  Our economic system used to be set up so that if people worked full-time jobs, they would earn enough to support themselves.  No more.

Author Barbara Ehrenreich proved that in her new book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.  As she described her findings in a recent article:

I spent a total of three months, in three different cities, attempting to support myself on the wages I could earn as an entry-level worker - as a waitress, a hotel housekeeper, a maid with a housecleaning service, a nursing-home aide and a Wal-Mart floor clerk. I could not make ends meet, not with one job anyway. I averaged $7 an hour, an amount that fell tragically short of my bare-bones expenses - gas, food and, above all, rent. 

If someone is trying to support a family, forget about it.  Even with both parents working.  Even with both parents working more than one job -- which by itself wrecks havoc with the family and one's own personal health.

While Ehrenreich is a saint for doing this research, it's amazing to me that it was even necessary.  No college-level calculus is necessary to figure out that $7/hour doesn't cut it.  It's the deliberately thick-skulled, closed-eye nature of too many Americans that necessitates research like Ehrenreich's.

How have we allowed an economic structure to be created that violates a most basic tenet of the social compact? Again Ehrenreich:

Almost everyone - 94 percent of Americans, according to a 2000 poll conducted by Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based employment research firm - agrees that "people who work full-time should be able to earn enough to keep their families out of poverty." When that proposition no longer holds true, then the social contract, at least as I always understood it, is no longer in force. And it is hard to imagine a more serious abrogation of "America's core moral values" than that.

Revolution, anyone?


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