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Sunday, 17 April 2016


Verklemmpt - A Yiddish word meaning overcome with emotion or choked up. 

It’s a new and weird feeling to support the party in power after having lived in Alberta all my life.  And so I found myself paying $100 a ticket to attend a fundraiser in Falher, Alberta.  Falher is just south of Peace River and very close to Donnelly if that helps.  We were late.  I’d had to ask directions from a couple of guys in “The Source” who were only too happy to help.  We’d driven into town on the wrong road.  If we’d come in past the giant bumble bee we would have driven right past the Knights of Columbus Hall.  The interior is a big open space with a stage on one end, kitchen at the other and glaring florescent lighting.  I spotted Rachel's body guards before I spotted her.  I got the same surreal sensation I get spotting any celebrity.  It’s like, “Hey I know you,” and I’m about say hi and then with a jolt I realize, "you don't know me from Adam. " That must have been the look I gave an older gentleman on Saltspring Island as I was walking up the narrow staircase that led to the bar.  He said “hello” and out of politeness, I said "Hi," in return.  "That was Valdy,” says a friend. 
Ms. Notley is very petite and wears high heels to compensate.  The smile you see her wearing even when being confronted was ever present.  She was friendly mingling with anyone who cared to talk but I didn’t approach; couldn’t think of anything to say.  
“Dinner” was meat in a bun.  Long, rectangular tables lined in rows resembled a cafeteria fashion.   We sat at a table toward the back where a couple of guys were enjoying a complementary bottle of water.  Someone had failed to apply for a liquor license so I decided on the complementary coffee. 
One of the gentlemen who enjoyed his food and the other his cigarettes easily fit the Mutt and Jeff, Laurel and Hardy stereotype.  Being the north, it didn’t take long to connect our two degrees of separation.  The larger gentleman had four boys and I’d taught at least three.  Nice kids then, probably decent men now.  That’s often how a teacher gets his bearings on a stranger.  “Oh, you’re the father or mother of so and so.”  He told us he’d once been a fisherman on Slave Lake but those thieving provincial biologist had ended the commercial fishery.  They're worse than the mafia he tells us. Compensation for his fishing license had been promised by the provincial Conservatives and now, that the NDP was in power, he was looking to them to fulfill that obligation.  Unlike me, he had reason to talk to Rachel and he’d take that opportunity after the speeches and before she left. 
Ms. Notley, the feature performer of the evening, began her talk by extolling the virtues of the MLAs who'd spoken ahead of her; Debbie Jabbour who'd been elected by her peers, deputy-speaker of the house, Danielle Larivee, Municipal Affairs, and Ms. McCuaig-Boyd, Minister of Energy.  She told us that the businessmen in Calgary had been verklemmpt when they’d heard of Ms. McCuaig-Boyd’s appointment.  Not only was she from the north, but she wasn't a business person.  Describing the Calgary businessman as verklemmpt, I found hilarious however the audience did not.  I looked around my table and then the hall for anyone else who might have found the comment at least bit amusing.  Nothing. 
The word "verklemmpt" was the main feature of an old SNL sketch called “Coffee Talk,” starring Mike Myers, Madonna and Rosanne Barr.  Linda, Mike Myer’s character was the host of “talk.” Liz Rosenberg played by Madonna was her friend.  They were both New York Jews with a proclivity for introducing Yiddish phrases into their conversation. Rosanne Bar was Liz’s flatulent mother visiting from Miami.  In this particular episode, the focus of their discussion was the movie, “Prince of Tides, nominated for seven Oscars however none of those was for the movie’s director, Barbra Streisand.  When Linda starts discussing the grievous “injustice,” done to Barbara, she announces that “it’s so unfair.  Now I’m getting emotional.  I’m getting a little verklemmpt.”  She tears up, apologizes and asks the audience to “talk amongst yourselves.” 
With that one word, Ms. Notley had described a different kind of reaction the business men of Calgary to Ms. McCuaig-Boyd appointment than I would have expected.  I was thinking, angry and outraged but verklemmpt? Then I got to thinking about one of the many circumstances I had experienced injustice.  
It was May of 1990 when a conversation with the Assistant Superintendent for the County of Beaver elicited similar emotions. After only one visit to my classroom, he’d decided that my contract with the division was not going to be renewed. I was outraged. When I called him unprofessional, he got so angry I thought he was going to hit me. There wouldn't have been witnesses.
Losing that job might have been one of the best things to ever happen to me however, at the time, it seemed disastrous. Nicola had left her job to raise Jordan, our one-year-old daughter. Pregnant with her second child, Nicola's plan was to stay at home with our this child as well. When I learned that the guy who'd started teaching at the same time was being retained, I gotta say, I got a little verklemmpt.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Two as in $2 a day.  That’s what 1.5 million households [in the U.S.] and roughly 3 million children survive on in any given month.  This number that had doubled in just 15 years and does not just reflect single-mother families.  More than a third of the families are headed by a married couples and nearly half are white.  The rest are African Americans and Hispanics. 

How can this be? you wonder.  Well, in 1996 Bill Clinton ended the welfare system in the U.S. and introduced a system of job creation.  
In theory, sounds great.  Subsidies were provided to employers to hire former welfare recipients, minimum wages were increased nominally and government assistance was provided for the working poor for a period of five years.  After that, they’re on their own, no longer be eligible for welfare, even if they happen to be living off only $2 a day. 

At the height of the old welfare system in the States, 14.2 million people were being served and of those 14.2 million, 9.6 million were children.  After the program was introduced, the number dwindled to 4.4 million by 2012. The statistics are interesting but more interesting to me is how they do it.  How does one live off $2 a day?  What is not understood in the title is that these people often receive food stamps.  Now that’s good.  Even if they’re living on the street, they will at least have something to eat.  The problem is that people don’t usually live on the street.

For eight years, Modonna Harris from Chicago worked in a small record shop for $9 an hour and lived in a one room apartment with her 15-year-old daughter, Brianna. 
Then she was $10 short on her cash and was fired on the spot.  Even though the owners later found the money, she wasn’t rehired.  With Brianna, she moved in with her father only to discover his new wife didn’t like her.   So, she moved in with her sister, the cop.  That didn’t work so Modonna moved in with her mother.  The problem was that her mom’s foster child enjoyed abusing Brianna who was late to enter puberty.  Obviously a sensitive kid, Brianna attempted suicide and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.  At the time of writing, Modonna and Brianna were living in a homeless shelter in Chicago that provided dinner on the weekdays.  Breakfast and lunch were provided at a local recreation centre.  On the weekends, they often went hungry. 

Rae McCormick worked for Walmart in Cleveland. 
During her first six months of employment, she was named “cashier of the month” twice.  Unfortunately, she had to commute to work.  At the time, she and her young daughter Azara, were living with an “uncle” and “aunt” who would care for Azara while her mom was at work.  Then one day she got into her uncle’s truck to drive to work only to discover the tank was empty.  She had no money because she’d given it to her “uncle” for rent and other various expenses including gas.  Her “uncle” told her that he and the “aunt” had used the gas money to run errands over the weekend.  Unfortunately, there was no money left.  She phoned her manager to inform him that she would be unable to make it into work that day only to be told that if she didn’t make her shift, she was fired.  Rae left her “aunt” and “uncle’s” house and at the time of the book’s writing was living on SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance food stamps) and diaper money given her by her “grandma.” 

Martha Johnson lives in the Mississippi Delta where poverty levels can be as high as 65%.  Through a public housing program known as Section 8, her rent is limited to 30 percent of her official cash income which is $150 per month that she gets from child support.  Additional income for her and her four children comes from selling snacks and Kool-Aid popsicles out of her apartment.  Her customers are also living on an extremely limited income so nothing in the store is costs more than $1. 

I think of the United States as a transition state between developed and developing. Not only does it have 1.5 million people living on incomes that would rival those of Third World, it’s infant mortality rate is ranked 41st.  That’s’ the worst among developed nations just behind Serbia, Lithuania and Croatia and considerably worse than evil, Cuba, one of George Ws axis of evils.
The U.S. also ranks worst among developed countries for maternal health. Even though it’s the richest country in the world it also has the most inequality among developed countries, worse than Greece or Turkey.  Its childhood poverty is worse than Latvia and on a par with Romani and, of course, worst among developed nations. UNICEF ranks the U.S. 34th out of 35 countries of the OECD countries, beating out only Romania.

Then there’s its homicide rate, worst among developed countries.  

According to the World Bank’s GINI index on income inequality, the U.S. easily beats out all other developed countries for levels of inequality, ranked 57th highest in the world.  That compares with Canada at 99th, Sweden with a ranking of of 145 beaten only by the Ukraine and Slovenia of all places. 

Two as in “$2 a Day”, is a book written by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer.  I liken it to the book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” written by Katherine Boo that documents life in the slums of Mumbai. 
Both provide a picture of life in conditions that most of us cannot imagine living.  The difference of locals could not be more stark.  One’s supposed to be a developed nation and the other, decidedly is not.