Justin Krebs's blog

Busting the Myth of the Welfare Queen

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

When I was a small child, my father, who often votes for Republicans, was explaining to me the difference between Democrats and Republicans. "Republicans want you to keep the money you worked for, and Democrats will take it from you and give it to people who never worked a day in their lives and make you live on the side of the road in a cardboard box. Mommy votes for Democrats — why don't you ask her why she wants you to live in a cardboard box?"

Thankfully I developed a slightly more nuanced view of the American political system. For those who still believe my father, Myth of the Welfare Queen, by David Zucchino, the story of two welfare mothers who are doing anything but living the high life, comes to the rescue by providing a detailed look at the lives of welfare mothers during the Clinton administration.The book follows Odessa Williams and Cheri Honkala, two welfare mothers in North Philadelphia who know that welfare reform might snatch the benefits they depend on at any moment. Odessa's children are all adults, but she is saddled taking care of a plethora of grandchildren, many of whom have serious health problems. Cheri runs an organization that seeks to bring attention to the plight of Philadephia's poor and works tirelessly but sometimes inefficiently to gain attention for her cause. We find out later in the book that she and her son are able to eat because of her late-night gigs as a topless dancer — that is the only way she can think of to support herself while being a full-time activist.

Odessa is the heroine of the book — we follow her as she visits her son in prison, sells people rides in her car, goes fishing to stretch her food budget, and picks through trash bags in order to cloth her many grandchildren. Odessa's children aren't always on the ball — one son is imprisoned, one daughter is a prostitute whose children live with Odessa, and one of her granddaughters keeps on having children while refusing to further her education or find a job. Not everyone in North Philadeplia is eligible for sainthood — but Odessa is doing everything she can to straighten out the lives of her family members while Cheri works to make people aware of the plight of urban poor people.

The story takes place in the Clinton years under the shadow of impending welfare reform—the women know that they system they rely on is going to end, and they cannot quite imagine their worlds without it. They are anything but lazy, but Odessa, who is ill, cannot possibly work and care for all of her grandchildren and children simultaneously, and Cheri knows how important welfare is to the many families involved with her advocacy group. The Myth of the Welfare Queen does an excellent job of creating empathy for the extremely hard working women who require welfare to allow them to support themselves and their families in an economy that won't give them many feasible alternatives besides starving in a cardboard box.

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth: Outcrafting the Opposition

Bill O'Reilly claims he has beaten back the dark forces that declared war on Christmas. Despite his best efforts, he may be surprised to find what a pack of proven progressives are saying about "his" holiday.

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Witness the gathering of Crafting Liberally that took place last Sunday in New York. Far from the heathen celebration you might imagine among self-identified liberals getting in touch with their handiwork, these quilters, jewelers and assorted other crafters were looking forward to Christmas. Lisa, teaching the art of folding an origami crane, even suggested using her creations as tree ornaments.

Is it any surprise that liberals enjoy the Christmas season? Giving, sharing...changing course (Scrooge), finding one's heart (the Grinch) -- lessons Bush and Cheney would benefit from.

And after all, what neocon ever gave a damn for a Middle Eastern boy born to a poor unwed mother?

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Liberals should never run from Christmas just because O'Reilly wants to claim it. This season is too full of strong symbols to cede to the other side.

But we don't need to out-argue him...we just need to out-craft him.

On this last night of Channukah, and in the full swing of the seasonal spirit, Happy Holidays.

Eating Liberally Food For Thought

The O'Brien Retort: Day of the Dead, & the Naked

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(kat: Iowa farminist & sustainable ag advocate Denise O'Brien, founder of the Women, Food & Agriculture Network, recently attended a meeting in Mexico City with Central American women farmers. Upon arriving, her contingent encountered a group of Mexican protesters who'd lost their land to a corrupt politican. Denise provided us with the following account--and photo:)

We came together in Mexico City on the day before All Souls Day, Halloween in the United States. Arriving from El Salvador, Iowa, Honduras, Georgia, Grenada, New York, Wisconsin and Mexico. Farmers, rural and urban women, activists and organizers all gathering to discuss and analyze what impact globalization has had on our communities, on our lives. Travel for some was long and difficult - having to come from remote areas and having experienced being robbed of all money and material goods. Coming with a sense of urgency to discover how our lives connected and how we could attempt to overcome the challenges in our communities.

Chilo, a wonderful anthropologist and activist, oriented us to the culture of the Day of the Dead. She explained how Christianity and Indigenous beliefs intersected to create an honoring of those who have come before us. The traditional mood for this holiday is bright with emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the dead. This is because they think of The Day of the Dead as the continuation of life. They believe that death is not the end, but the beginning of a new stage in life. These people are usually Christians of Native American descent whose ancestors introduced indigenous ideas of life after death. Many questions were asked and some found it difficult to understand how this pagan event could have anything to do with Christian beliefs.

As we explored Mexico City during the festivities our senses were tantalized with many sights, sounds and smells. A cadence of drums came from one end of the Zocalo. Our curiosity took us to observe the members of a group of protesters called the 400 Peoples. They were asking for economic aid from visitors to the Zocalo --México's largest municipal square-- during Dia de Muertos festivities between the 31st and 3rd of November.

These nearly naked men were there in protest of political irregularities by Dante Delgado --photo that covers their private parts-- of Veracruz. They complained that this Senator in the Mexican Parliament had robbed them of everything they had when he was the Governor of the State of Veracruz. Naked women stood on the street corners handing out literature and taking contributions to support their protest. We talked with these women to find out how they could be so courageous to stand naked on the street to let the public know about this corrupt man. They told us that they had no other choice, that this man had taken their land and they had nothing to lose. Those of us from the United States let them know that we were in solidarity with them and told them how brave they were to stage such a protest. This would never have been allowed in our country.

As we returned to the Casa de los Amigos, a Quaker Center and our home for the coming days, we began to debrief and to prepare ourselves for the coming days together.

You may ask what this has to do with food. That will follow in upcoming reports for the retort.

Reading Liberally Page Turner: What Book To Give Your Conservative Uncle This Holiday Season

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Well, O'Reilly is getting even more ballistic than usual, so y'know what that means - the holiday season is upon us. With the first night of Hanukkah this evening, with Christmas and Kwanzaa only a few weeks away, some of our minds turn to gift-giving. Namely, what to give to that conservative uncle/aunt/friend who constantly e-mails you conservative spam and  turns every family get-together into a political referendum. Figuring that knowledge is power, we asked some of our favorite activists what book to give our favorite conservative this winter. Happy Holidays!

David Dayen, The Right's Field and Calitics: My conservative uncle would get one book for the holidays - The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. After all, if they want to live in a country with an ascendant conservative movement they're going to have to find another planet...

Steve Perez, United Federation of Teachers:  I'll recommend Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. Three reasons: first, it's fiction, and I prefer that to a polemic. Second, it's a good book, funny and smart. Third, there's a lot of progressive science fiction being written, and IMO it doesn't get the attention it deserves.

Elana Levin, Drum Major Institute: That Howard Zinn history book could be a good one to convert him. For your apolitical teenage cousin, though, they should get Jessica Valenti's book, Full Frontal Feminism.

James Adomian, Resident Open Left Bush impersonator and comic: What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, by Thomas Frank. Judging by its cover, it looks like it could very well be a volume dedicated to gloating over the triumphs of Nixon and Reagan - one of those hateful books advertised in the back of National Review. But start reading it, and you see what a dupe you've been for voting on the culture war all these years, when all along it was the sons-of-bitches in the big corporations and the big banks whom you've been boosting at the expense of your own economic welfare! Throw that yule log on the fire, Uncle Wingnut!

Josh Bolotsky, Living Liberally: If your conservative relative is anything like mine, they're not getting their politics from the books they read - it's from the talk-radio they listen to. So the solution is not to get them a physical book. The solution is an audiobook, to first do triage on the problem and stop them from listening to the thing influencing them in the first place. My suggestion? The most recent Stories From Lake Wobegon collection by Garrison Keillor, Never Better. Filled with midwestern values and tales of small-town life that any social conservative would embrace, and punctuated every so often with gentle paeans to progressive politics (a shout-out to Title IX here, an ode to gay rights there). Showing the relative that being a solid traditional American citizen and holding progressive politics aren't in conflict is the first step.



Jay Hazen, Reading Liberally: Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America's Returning Troops, by Ilona Meagher. Often the human costs of war are obscured at the time of conflict and well beyond, and it is happening again. My conservative uncle is a big fan of chain emails with pictures of flashy billion-dollar fighter jets twisting into formation for a tight little bomb pattern. This book is a reminder that for all the rhetoric of movement conservatism, responsible government makes more of a difference than an extra three F-22 Raptors in the lives of our military families.

Lee Camp, Laughing Liberally comic: Give them a fairy tale because they're already cut off from reality. It will make them feel at home.

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying: The Predatory Lending Association

by Justin Krebs

Usually, Laughing Liberally posts feature original content from our network of comedians and writers.  But recently a topic crossed our radar so funny that it deserved special attention:  Predatory Lending.

Specifically, the Predatory Lending Association -- a website promoting resources:

...dedicated to extracting maximum profit from the working poor by increasing payday loan fees and debt traps. The working poor are an exciting, fast growing demographic that includes: military personnel, minorities, and most of the middle class.

The clean and friendly site, complete with Google map tools and little sidebar calculators looks so earnest that it takes a minute to realize who they are representing...or, rather, satirizing.  For example, their slick-looking map application actually features a "poor finder"...a presumably essential resource for any predator.

This site is a great example of the role of humor in political discourse.  It's actually informative:  their "Industry Threats" page talks more about real efforts to curb predatory lending practices that I generally hear about.  And it's entertaining -- I want to keep reading to see what I'll find beyond their "Military Loan Crisis" link, and just how far these guys will go with their discussion of the "Myth vs. Reality" of their industry.

It's a site that will leave people informed and outraged...and will make them laugh along the way...which as Stewart and Colbert keep proving is a great way to get your message across.

Being a Republican's Just No Damn Fun

GOP hopefuls attack each other
for opposing waterboarding, supporting gays,
& letting immigrant children attend school.

Bush's Australian ally gets booted out of office
& his Pakistani pal gives up his military post,
leaving W with as few friends globally
as he has right here at home.

Trent Lott resigns to become a lobbyist
...because it's better than being a GOP Senator.

And Bush had to welcome Gore to the White House.

Being a Republican's just no damn fun.

Well, living in fear, hating Hollywood
& having no gay or black friends
...it just doesn't sound very fun.

...which makes it a very fun time
to share your views & a little booze
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Laugh To Keep From Crying: Lee Camp on Children's Healthcare



History has a way of repeating itself, and that serves comedians well. After Bush vetoed the expansion of children's healthcare, Lee Camp recorded this video. We thought it would quickly go out of fashion, but here Bush is, getting ready to veto SCHIP once again...thus allow Lee -- and us -- to recycle this great short shot of political whiskey.

Lee Camp: Letter to Blackwater

The more we sip of Blackwater, the more we realize what a murky, muddy, mucky mess they've made. Once you look into it, you may not want to drink the Blackwater, but how about a liberal shot of political whiskey with Lee Camp of Laughing Liberally.

Jamie's Gay Rant

Jamie Kilstein's Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey:Gay People

Hack Comedy - Political Comedy

Jamie Kilstein attempts to do stand-up at clubs all over the nation.

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