Thursday, March 17, 2016

Wars Create Poverty and Social Injustice

My face book wall has been filled with rhetoric about the social conditions among the poor in our country followed by political answers of what appears to me to be more of the same. I moved back to my old neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky in July of 2014 because I began to hear of the movement to organize real grass roots solutions to the problems that have been ongoing in my neighborhood during the time I lived there (1955-1970). That time included the last "revolution" that was going to go to War on Poverty and create lasting programs for the people living there to improve our standard of living. My immediate family connections to Portland ended when my father died in 1972 and McDonald's purchased my mom's shotgun house. Most of my family except for my one brother's family resettled into other neighborhoods in Louisville but I did keep in touch with my niece and nephew and their families who still lived there.

The result of the massive spending programs designed to end poverty? Portland is worse now that it was when I lived there. Obviously, these massive spending programs have failed my neighborhood. Why did I move back? Because I saw something wonderful happening in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Louisville - a movement of non-profits, many connected to the churches that have a stake in the quality of life of the people living there - not some agenda to promote a particular religion. In fact, there is an Arabic Center in the neighborhood. Another group that is part of this revitalization is the people in Louisville who recognize the historical significance of this neighborhood and want to build a tourist economy around this or to encourage the salvaging of one of the unique types of architecture that is threatened with extinction - the shotgun house. Being back in my old neighborhood and being part of this grass roots efforts is exciting and fills me with enthusiasm about something that is already making a difference in Portland far greater than any program being touted by politicians running for election to office this year. The newest program is one that is just taking hold along Portland Ave., the major thoroughfare into  the neighborhood that was the first federally constructed National Road. The following is a newspaper article I have written describing New Roots.

New Roots Setting up Business in Portland

It is so exciting to see what is happening along Portland Avenue. First, there was the Tim Faulkner Art Gallery and then McQuioxte’s Books and Coffee House in the front of the building at 15th and Portland. Just recently, Louisville Grows has submitted some plans to take over the vacancy left by the shut down of Portland Recycling which had been a neighbor of the Art Gallery. Last fall, Portland’s first sit-down restaurant The Table opened to an astounding public response. Now, another non-profit dedicated to innovative programs to address food injustice has set up its offices in the space adjacent to The Table.
            Karen Moskowitz, co-founder and Executive Director of New Roots and its initiative Fresh Stop Markets explained the mission (which she believes is more than a single organization’s mission but a movement) of New Roots as follows:
            “We believe fresh food is a basic human right. New Roots works with fresh food, insecure communities to create sustainable systems for accessing farm fresh food we all need to be healthy and happy.” She went on to say, “In a nutshell we are uniting communities to end food injustice.”
            According to Moskowitz, the administrative offices at 18th and Portland will be used to run the non-profit. This includes:
  • Developing resources to fund the creation of the Fresh Stop Markets.
  • Recruit and share knowledge with leaders and other volunteers who share our passion and are also struggling with limited resources and food insecurity.
  • Speak in the community and all over the country on the causes of food injustice and provide innovative solutions *(new solutions, not just retrying what has already been done) like the Fresh Stop Markets. * author’s note
Just what is a Fresh Stop Market? A Fresh Stop Market is a pop up farm fresh food market set up at local churches, community centers and housing authorities in fresh food insecure neighborhoods. The philosophy is cooperative economics. Members who buy shares pool their money by paying for their food in advance. The markets are organized by this community of consumers who decide what farmers to buy from, what they want the farmers to grow for the community and negotiate wholesale prices. In effect, the members of the community design the market and its contents.
            The cost of the shares is determined by a person’s ability to pay and SNAP and WIC cards are accepted. Prices range from $6-25. If you want to be a part of this or find out more you may contact New Roots at (502) 509-6770 or email at
            The closest Fresh Stop Market to Portland will most likely be the one opening in June near 15th and Jefferson Sts. across from Central High School. In addition to the purchase of food products the market will also have cooking demonstrations of how to use the variety of foods available. If you are a professional chef or just a cooking enthusiast, you may sign up to cook at the Fresh Stop this season. Sign ups will be held from 6-9 p.m. on April 17th at 21C Museum Hotel at 700 W. Main. 

This is a model that I believe will work because it was initiated by the people it will serve. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Reading Program for First and Second Graders at Five West End Schools

            In the 1990’s, Hillary Clinton who was then the nation’s First Lady wrote a best

selling novel entitled “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.”  The premise of the book was

that humans live in social groups where there is division of labor in order to provide the

highest quality of life for all members of that group, especially the children.

In non-industrialized societies that group is usually members of the same tribe or 

 clan who live in villages made up of extended family units.  Each village has developed methods to make and
enforce laws for individual safety and social justice and address overall sanitation and public health, and 

educational and recreational needs of the children of the village. These methods are the pillars of support 

that Ms. Clinton referred to as the “village.”
            With the decaying infrastructure of the cities during the latter half of the 20th Century and the decline of the extended family into single parent families, 21st Century inner city youth have lost the support of these networks so vital to their successful transition from child, to adolescent to young adult. Every neighborhood in the 50’s and early 60’s had an older relative living with the family or in the neighborhood whose wisdom and mentoring was important not only to Mom and Dad but the children as well.
Each neighborhood had a public library and well-maintained parks and playgrounds for Little League Baseball, family outings and church sponsored soft ball leagues. The leaders of the church were also important in teaching ethical and moral behavior to the youth regardless of religious affiliation. There were visiting school nurses and social workers who came to the schools to monitor the overall physical and emotional health of the children at neighborhood schools that were within walking distance of the home. Policemen walked a “beat” and knew all the business owners as well as the youth in the neighborhood.
There were school guards and safety patrols as well as Parent Teacher Associations and the neighborhood fire station. As these institutions have declined in Portland as well as inner cities across the nation, our neighborhoods have become breeding grounds for absentee landlords, homelessness and drug activity.  In addition, children no longer attend neighborhood schools. They are bused all over the county in the name of a “better education” because their neighborhood isn’t good enough. Portland's schools have now been burdened with addressing all the youth needs previously divided among the above mentioned support systems. The drop out rate is reaching an all time high and even those who graduate often do not have the minimum levels of reading, math, critical thinking and conflict resolution skills to be self-sufficient, responsible adults.
Matt Smizer, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the non-profit Metro Louisville Foundation has seen the connection between lack of reading skills as a “pipeline to prison.” In a recent conversation with him, Mr. Smizer cited a study that revealed 85 percent of the prison population in the United States has a reading level below the third grade. That translates into a statistic that says that an adolescent with a reading level that low has a much higher risk of some involvement with the criminal justice system by age 18 than those with reading levels that reach or exceed the norms of performance. With these statistics in mind, Mr. Smizer set about creating a “model program to share” that has partnered with five Jefferson County Public elementary schools (JCPS) and 5 different church groups in five sites in the West End of Louisville.
The program that operates two times a week on Mondays and Wednesdays January through April from 3:45 to 5:00 pulls a maximum of 20 first and second grade students from each of the following schools:  J.B. Atkinson, Portland Elementary, Maupin Elementary, Roosevelt-Perry and Layne Elementary. The students meet at an off school site in a church nearby. Each site is administered by a site director and operated by two certified JCPS elementary school teachers who have no more than 10 students each, meaning a maximum of 100 students across the board. The schools identify the students recommended for the program and then the site directors contact parents whose active participation is required by way of a written contract. All duties are fully explained in a parent handbook received at the start of the program.
Each teacher has a mentor who works in the classroom on discipline and social skills so the teacher can focus entirely on what she/he does best – teach. The mentor develops a relationship with the students and observes behavior during instructional time. If a student is non-engaged or distracted, the mentor quietly gravitates toward the student to encourage participation or, if necessary, remove the student from the classroom setting for some counseling. The mentors are usually volunteers from the community and lead by quiet example and counseling. Although JCPS officials select the students for the program from the individual schools, participation is open to any first or second grade students living in one of the five participating school districts. Some students who live in the district may be bused out of the district during their first and second grade years. If you think you want your child enrolled in the program, you may call Matt Smizer at 502-552-8261 or 502-235-9859. The Foundation also has a contact page on their website
Mr. Smizer is hopeful that this model will be successful and he wants to “give it away” to any community organization wanting to implement it in their neighborhoods. Prediction for success? The pilot that served 17 students from Maupin Elementary at the Baptist Fellowship Church last year showed an increase of five and one-half reading levels for the participating students. Coming together and working with all the community organizations and leaders serving youth in inner city neighborhoods is indeed the answer to what we all want - revitalization and transformation. It starts with the youth because they are the future and it does take a village.  

Friday, March 4, 2016

Government 101

As a public educator in the field of government, social studies and American history I am compelled to write a short explanation of how our government works in relation to the current hysteria in this country over the election of the President. What concerns me most is that the government of this country has moved drastically away from a federal system where the duties of the government are shared between the local, state and federal government, to one run by a massive, uncontrollable bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. that does not serve the people but special interest groups dominated by the military industrial complex, corporate control and political party machines. Now, that concentration of power has led to an election process that focuses not on the issues or what the people want but what two polarized parties want and look to the election of one person to represent their party and carry with him/her to Washington enough support in the Congress and Supreme Court to carry out the desires of the party – not to respect the system of division of power and checks and balances. That is why I think it necessary to write this blog knowing full well that in our society that no longer reads or is interested in learning to protect their freedoms that most of my network will scroll right past this in favor of reading some ridiculous cartoon of persons they don’t like and prey on fear, ignorance and greed to get the masses to follow them and surrender their votes to support the dictates of the fuehrer who will make this country great again.

I am amazed that the people in this country do not understand how the operation of the government was set up in the Constitution in order to prevent this very thing from happening. What I see today is no different that a public that wants an absolute monarch who rules by “divine right” and controls Congress and the judicial system. That is what the Founding Fathers sought freedom from when they wrote the Constitution and why the federal government was set up in such a way to prevent this from happening. I have my own opinions as to how we have reached this point and that is why I wrote “The Peacemaker” but I am only interested in educating about division of power right now.

The federal government works through three different departments with each having declared powers that run one aspect of the government but overlapping powers that serve to check or restrain the powers of another branch to keep one branch from becoming too powerful.

All federal laws are made by the legislative branch – in this case Congress which is a bicameral (two house legislature). The Senate has 100 members with each state having 2 senators regardless of population. The House of Representatives has some 435 members with the number per state determined by population. Senators serve six year terms and their terms are staggered with one-third of the number up for re-election during the federal elections. The representatives serve two year terms and they are up for re-election every year. The only power you have when you vote is your vote for your particular Senator and representative. Supporting the votes for senators and representatives in other states only supports a particular party. In addition, corporate funding of elections has made it impossible for these representatives to really support you because the representatives sell their votes to these funders of their election campaigns.  
Congress controls the purse strings or the budget. Nothing can be done by the President unless Congress provides the money. The Senate has to approve all treaties made by the President and also approve all appointments made to the Supreme Court and Cabinet Departments. All appropriations bills (proposals to spend money) have to originate in the House of Representatives. The President has the power to veto any law passed by Congress. If that happens, the only way to get the law passed is to get a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress to agree on it. That is very difficult to do now because Congress is almost deadlocked in terms of the number of Democrats and Republicans in Congress who no longer vote according to reason but according to party line.

The Executive Department puts all the laws passed by Congress into effect. This is like the way a business operates with the President as the Chief Executive Officer. He has a Cabinet that assists him that is appointed by him – not elected. For instance, when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act the Department of Human Resources was in charge of putting that law into place. The Executive Department is also in charge of foreign policy and diplomatic relations. The State Department assists the President in this regard. The President is commander-in-chief of all the armed forces. In overseeing the military the President has a group of advisors with a representative from each branch of the military called the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Executive Department only carries out the laws passed by Congress in regard to National Security. The President is not supposed to declare war. The last war in this country that was declared by an Act of Congress which is the way this is supposed to work was World War II. All other actions have been by Executive Order. The abuse of this right by all Presidents since Lyndon Johnson has led us into a dark cycle of endless war. George Bush’s Presidential career came to an end over his manipulating Congress to approve the resolution against the wishes of the United Nations to go to war with Iraq. That is why the Democrats won the election in 2008 that put Obama into office. Obama’s election was not some mandate to push through some questionable legislation through Congress that had nothing to do with correcting the disastrous effects of that war in the Middle East. Today, there are many people in the spotlight who came to the forefront as a result of that. The interesting thing is that three of them are Obama, Clinton and Sanders. All three of these people were a part of the Congress that gave approval to release the funds to George Bush to invade Iraq. Without their approval of funds the invasion could not have occurred. I find it interesting that Sanders calls himself a pacifist when his voting record in Congress does not really support that statement. Here is only one example taken from an article that specified Sanders’ voting record on this topic. “In 2001, Sanders did not support the vote in Congress to oppose the war in Afghanistan. Congresswoman Barbara Lee stood alone! This vote was followed by his support for appropriations to support both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2003 he supported the resolution that gave support to George W. Bush in both Iraq and in the larger war against terrorism, although Sanders has been a critic of the Iraq War.”

The Judicial Branch of the government enforces federal laws. Those are laws made in regard to federal lands and the laws concerning Native Americans who reside on reservations. Probably the most important power of Judicial Branch is the power to