Saturday, March 19, 2011


I needed a lift this week and I got one, but first why I need the lift. Beyond the heart wrenching stories out of Japan, the tension of possible nuclear disaster and ongoing turmoil in the Mideast, three articles in Wednesday's Minneapolis Star Tribune gave me more upset than a serious case of stomach flu. The first was a story on the increase in child poverty in Minnesota; it has grown 14% since 2009. The second article that caught my eye was a report from Bloomberg news that the number of U.S. millionaires grew by 600,000 in 2010. The third was a report on the initial results of the angel investor tax credit program started last summer in Minnesota. Wealthy investors who put money into to start ups got $7 million in tax credits but only 47 jobs were created as a result. Yup $7 million in tax credits for the creation of 47 jobs.  For anyone who is counting, that’s a tax credit of $148,396.17 per job created.  It is also nearly 4 times the median U.S. family income in 2010.

The contrast of these stories highlights which citizens are really "sharing the pain" of the great recession, puts the lie to the GOP line that tax cuts create jobs, and blunts their criticism of Democratic policies for not creating enough jobs. Growing 600,000 millionaires in one year, while the unemployment rate declined by the slightest fraction, and more children fell into extreme poverty is clear evidence that we need to enact public policies that indeed spread the wealth, not policies that let people (read the wealthy) keep more of what they earn in their pockets as the GOP is fond of saying.  Obviously the wealthy are doing just that—keeping it in their pockets or taking it out only when they can reap immoral profit. All this on top of the continuing war on women in the Congress and in our state legislature, the vote to defund PBS and NPR and, and, and…it was enough to make a body weary and this woman’s heart heavy.

The lift came in an unlikely place and from a simple exchange. I did my "big" monthly Costco shop Friday so my cart was quite full and the lines long.  Immediately behind me was an older couple with just a few items and behind them a gentleman with just three items.  I gestured for both the couple and the gentleman to go ahead of me.  The couple said thank you, the gentleman said, "Are you sure?"  I said yes and proceeded to say that with the state of the world I had committed myself to do at least one random act of kindness each day. He said he was shopping for a church pot luck, and that we would all be better off if more people showed kindness. "Yes," I said, "we would and I just think of it as 'paying it forward' and being a small part of making a better tomorrow." 

Now, Costco is collecting contributions to send to Japan, with 100% of every contribution going to the Red Cross relief effort in Japan. The gentleman looked at the flyer, asked the clerk if he could contribute if he was putting his purchase on a card, the clerk said yes, he said he wanted to give $10, turned back to me and said, "Well I paid it forward."  I don't know the gentleman's name, where he worships, or who he votes for, but I do give thanks to the spirits for putting him behind me in the line at Costco, for nudging me to speak about kindness and for the gift of seeing it paid forward right then and there. My belief that kindness does beget kindness was reaffirmed, and I was reminded that amidst all the angst, a simple act can bare unexpected fruit. Now if we can just get the 600,000 new millionaires, the millions of already millionaires, the billionaires and the mean-spirited GOP to buy into some random acts of kindness.

Monday, March 14, 2011


First a prayer for those who have perished in Japan-

You are journeying across the dividing water that
Lies between this world and the next, carried away
by ferryman on your way.
Look ahead of you, do not look behind.
Look ahead of you, where your destiny lies.
Do you see them? They are there, ahead of you on the other shore.
Slowly, they become visible to you; the shining ones
Appear out of the concealing mists.
Clearly they appear to you, though hidden from our eyes.
Go to them, they welcome you.
Go to them, not stopping for farewells.
Holy Ones in the world beyond,
Open wide your arms to receive these who are journeying to you,
Make them a home, bring them to rest.
Farewell, those who have loved you wish you a good journey.
Celtic prayer for the recently passed

For all those who remain I hope the care, prayers and aid of people around the world will help carry you through this, bring you some small comfort, and smooth the path forward just a bit.

The discipline, stoicism and caring for one another  of the Japanese people has been as remarked upon as has the devastation, and the ongoing emergency at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Although I have restricted the amount of news I watch on this, I have been struck over and over by the reports that limited provisions (food and water) in the hardest hit areas are being rationed to the very young, the very old and the disabled first.

It has struck me because here in the United States where our crisis is like a gnat by comparison to what is faced by Japan, the GOP, where they have majorities in state legislatures, hold governorships and in the US Congress have targeted the provisions for the young, old, the disabled, and the poor for deep cuts while giving heaping rations to the rich.  Just look at what the top earning groups got in return for a bit more than crumbs for 90% of us in the tax cut extension. There is an excellent interactive graphic at that illustrates who got what out of the tax cut extensions.

Bill Cosby once said; “Hurt people, hurt people.” I truly wonder who, or what hurt the members of today’s GOP so much that they are so willing to hurt so many while rewarding the few, who by the way did not create many jobs in the 8 previous years they had these tax breaks. What will it take for us to really care for one another including everyone any of us think of as “those people” and to see that concentrating near all the wealth and resources in a few hands could lead us to a place where only the few survive? For that matter what will it take for the GOP to focus on legislation that creates, not eliminates jobs?

Regarding the issue of nuclear power, there is so much yet to be known, but I will point out that two nuclear power plants in California sit ever so close to the San Andreas fault and the sea, and that it was the tsunami, not the earthquake that did the damage at Fukushima. There were concerns that the tsunami would hit our West Coast and fortunately the impact was minimal. I am however reminded of a t-shirt worn by opponents of the now demolished Trojan power plant in Oregon—Every Woman Knows A Trojan Is Only As Good As The Man Behind It. I sincerely hope there are very good men, and women, behind Diablo Canyon and San Onofre Unit 2 nuclear power plants in California. What I do know is that crashing wind generators and solar panels or leaking bio-fuel from algae will make messes but there is zero risk of radioactive release. What will it take for us to get behind the President’s call to take the $45 billion in subsidies to oil companies that are currently raking in BIG profits and target this to development of renewable energy resources and strategies over the next 10 years? The oil companies can have fair shot at developing alternative sources, they just can’t charge as much for the wind and the sun.

For now, and in honor of the example being set for us by the Japanese, let’s conserve on all the forms of energy we use each day, give what we can to the recovery effort in Japan, reach out to our own citizens in need, and commit just one act of random kindness a day for the rest of this year.