“The Betrayal of the American Dream” by James B. Steele

The Kansas City Public Library is one of my favorite places.  While it is an incredible building on the outside, it is what happens inside the building that makes it so special. The library provides for Kansas City the kind of educational opportunities I imagine were available in the times of Socrates.  It is a place to read, study and share ideas; not for glory, grades or a degree, but for the sheer love of learning.

Last night’s lecture by James B. Steele, co-author of The Betrayal of the American Dream, presented the library at its best. The  seating areas on the first and second floors of the library were packed. The audience, while diverse by any standard, included a significant number of bankers, academics, reporters, and business and civic leaders of both political parties.  I could barely see Mr. Steele from my seat behind the second floor bannister. Despite the inconvenient seating arrangements, no one left.  The audience listened with rapt attention as Steele spoke for 40 minutes and took questions for another 40 minutes.

Steele is a native of Kansas, and a graduate of UMKC, so he is a “hometown success”.  He began his career with the Kansas City Times before moving to the national arena.  An author and long time investigative journalist, he and his long time collaborator, Donald L. Bartlett have won two Pulitzer Prizes, in addition to other notable awards.  The book, American: What Went wrong?, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, is one of the seven books earlier books they co-authored.  

Mr. Steele is a gracious and kindly gentleman, but was quite compelling in his description of the current state of U.S. economics and, particularly the destruction of the middle class; the class he identifies as “America’s Greatest asset”.  He describes ways in which he believes that the middle class has been systematically impoverished, forced to respond to long-term job insecurity and loss of income and benefits in favor of the new ruling elite class. 

His lecture moved through the impact of changing lending practices, loss of employment benefits and high levels of student debt as factors in the movement of the middle class to the status of working poor.  He is concerned that because of inadequate retirement resources our older citizens work later in life, leaving fewer job opportunities for those just entering the work force.  Like Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, Steele is troubled by the long-term repercussions on a generation unable to initially find employment at levels consistent with their skills and education.  Those repercussions can include living with parents, delaying marriage, family and home ownership, as well as lowering life-long career and income potential.

Steele does not point the finger at only one political party, but does point out, as others have, that the failure of bipartisanship among government leaders stifles effective problem solving at a national level. He also describes the negative impact of expanded globalization and movement of U.S. jobs overseas where labor is cheap and companies can often work free of regulation.

I do not presume that Mr. Steele has the answer to all of our problems.  He does, however, in a gracious, professional and forthright manner, cause us to reflect on the economic, social and cultural losses we face as a nation and as a community if we continue to move from a country with a strong middle class to a country dominated by a small but increasingly affluent upper class and a large increasingly impoverished lower class.  Food for thought for all of us.

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This post does not represent the opinions of our family, our friends or our employers.  Hopefully, I have accurately reported Mr. Steele’s views and comments.

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Are we making wise decisions about our charitable contributions?

   [1]

Hopefully, each of us has a charitable heart.  Whether we support educational programs, the arts, disabled veterans, disaster relief, Native Americans, or (name your own favorite cause), we want our charitable moneys to be well spent.  So, the question is, how do we make good decisions about our charitable contributions.

I took this photograph of my dog in an attempt at a little levity.  But it is a significant matter.  Charities and foundations solicit and receive millions of dollars a year from caring contributors like ourselves.

I could set up a charity, comply with the legal requirements and begin to solicit contributions for Kansas City dogs like Casey who have sustained minor injuries.  I could pay myself a salary and an expense account and give nearly nothing for the care of injured animals.  Would anyone contribute?  I hope not, since organizations like Wayside Waifs do such a great job of caring–and finding forever homes–for dogs and cats like Casey.  As evidenced by the fact that Casey is a product of that wonderful organization.

Over $300 billion dollars a years is contributed annually to U.S. charities.  That is an amazing outpouring of generosity from individuals and corporations.  As staggering as the amount of money, we can’t afford to have any of that money wasted.  But it is likely that millions of our dollars fall through the cracks.

All of us have seen, heard or read the tragic stories of human or animal suffering accompanied by a request for money?  I have received solicitations from charities enclosing pennies, dollar bills or a piece of a blanket, accompanied by a request for a contribution.  More important, my 97 year old father has: over, and over, and over again.  Often the same charity sends mailings on a weekly basis.  Sometimes charities with different names, but the same return address, solicit contributions from unknowing but caring individuals–like my dad, who gives generously, but (sorry dad) not always cautiously.  But seriously, why would any charity take my contribution and use my money to send pennies or dollars or trinkets to other potential donors?

Anderson Cooper recently did a special entitled Charity Cheats.   He focused on investigations conducted through AC 360, his program, and research conducted by CNN’s Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick.  He focused on charities and fundraising organizations that solicit and collect millions of dollars, but provide almost no funding for services. Primarily, Cooper focused on  the high cost of building mailing lists, and the abuse of in-kind gifts to intended recipients of charitable dollars.

In addition to the abuses on which Anderson Cooper has focused his attention, there are  also charities that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries to key employees.  A few have been targeted for having huge financial holdings, vast amounts of real estate and supporting elaborate lifestyles for their founders and employees. If these claims are true, how do we protect ourselves from the abuses addressed by Cooper, and others?

Before you open your checkbook to make a contribution to a charity about which you have little information, beware. Most organizations work hard to squeeze every penny out of the donations they receive.  But a few, large and small, are very poor stewards of our money.  So what to do? Find out about charities to which you wish to donate. Numerous watchdog agencies offer assistance in helping us spend our money carefully.  Among them are The Philanthropic Advisory Service of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the American Institute for Philanthropy, GrantSmart, GuideStar, the National Charities Information Bureau and Charity Navigator. Their methodologies may differ, but they provide information not easily available from other sources.

For many of us, the adage to “put your money where your mouth is” may be the best advise.  When we contribute our time and our money to the same organization, we significantly increase the chances that our money is well spent.  When our goal is provide assistance outside of our own areas of knowledge, looking to the wisdom of experts on evaluating charities may be the best way to protect our contributions and those we seek to benefit.

The opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.  Obviously, Anderson Cooper and the investigative reporters at CNN take seriously the issues in “Charity Cheats” and similar reports.   


[1]Casey was obviously an unwilling model for my photo-shoot.  Hard as I tried to get him to appear in distress, he was having none of it.

Independence Day–a day for reflection and fun

Two hundred thirty-six years ago The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress.  In that document the original 13 colonies declared their freedom from Great Britain.  It states, in part:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with                                            certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

Independence Day is a great day on which to remind ourselves of the privileges we hold dear and the sacrifices that have helped shape our nation and our national values.  For me it is a time for gratitude.

Hopefully, it is also a day for celebration: for fun, barbecues, laughter, and fireworks!

Have a safe and happy holiday.

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The American flag was photographed July 3 at the Liberty Memorial.  The fireworks were photographed July 3 during the Westwood, Kansas, fireworks display.  All the photographs were taken using my Nikon D5100 camera and Tamron 18-270 zoom lens.  I am trying to learn the secrets of my camera.  I took lots of shots of a nearly limp or semi-limp flag before I finally was lucky enough to catch a couple of shots where the wind had opened the flag .  I had to try numerous settings to get the light and speed right to make it possible for me to catch the fireworks as they raced across the sky.  It will be years before I photograph fireworks with the skill to make it to PhotoBotos, but for now, I think these are fun.

Election politics–Respecting our own values

It is July, Independence Day is just around the corner.  We are in the thick of a Presidential election campaign. Stories concerning President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, fill our newspapers, our television and radio stations and the internet news.

                                                                                                               NYDailyNews.com Samad/Getty

                                                                                                Washington Post  Charles Dharapak-AP

There are weeks you would swear that the insults and barbs are directed at an enemy nation, not at an individuals who are lead and/or seek to lead, this great nation.  Listening to the venom in the political debate, you would swear that neither candidate is fit to be President.  In fact, both of these men are good men.  They are flawed, as are we all.  Their values, and the values of their parties, may be different than yours and mine.  But they are not evil, incompetent or stupid.

Francis John McConnell, a bishop in the Methodist Church and president of DePauw University from 1909-1912, said it well:

“We need a type of patriotism that recognizes the virtues of those who are opposed to us”.

We are so fortunate to live in a country that values its citizens.  Our government is a model for the world.  We are so fortunate to live in a nation with a United States Constitution that speaks to fundamental rights such as freedom, democracy, liberty and the rule of law.  Wouldn’t our founding fathers weep at the level of venom directed at our government leaders; not only our Presidential candidates, but all levels of elected office (and this isn’t the day to talk about the election of judges.)

As fortunate as we are, and have been, our nation has serious problems, and we aren’t going to solve them by demeaning our government leaders through campaigns of hate.  And can’t we stop throwing insulting comments at family and friends who vote for “the other guy”.  Can’t we recognize their virtues?

Isn’t this a time to direct our attention to finding solutions to serious national problems: the economy, immigration policy, strengthening our position as a leader within the community of nations.  Can’t we look for answers together.  Can’t we set aside our anger long enough to find common ground and to focus on solving problems together rather than focusing on new ways to embarrass and harangue those with whom we disagree.  Can’t we make our leaders and each other look good, not bad?

Support the candidate of your choice.  Raise money, go door to door, help the processes of democracy work well.  But at the end of the day, can’t we just find each other’s virtues?

In this opinion we do not intend to speak for our employers, our spouses, our families or our friends.  

The “Dragon Boats are coming”–and friendship comes with them

From X’ian, China, to its sister city, Kansas City, Missouri, come the Dragon Boat races, a wonderful cultural tradition.

The races are held under the  “Sister Cities International Bridge”, where life-sized Chinese warriors guard the foot bridge as it crosses Brush Creek.  The imposing bronze warriors are symbolic of the rich culture of China’s ancient civilization as well as the friendship between our cities.

Festive red ornaments crossing the bridge announce the 12th annual Dragon Boat races held Saturday, June 9, 2012.  The races are part of an annual celebration of the friendship between the people of these two cities.

The celebration includes races involving local university students and corporate teams as well as representatives of China. The event  includes a wonderful display of pageantry, speeches and a colorful dose of Chinese culture.

While the celebrations include a ceremony called “waking the dragon”, the dragons of most importance are the decorative dragons that embellish the front of each boat.  These dragons are whimsical and colorfully painted.

At this year’s event, Mayor Sly James not only greeted visitors, he spoke to the crowd, encouraged the celebrants, and also agreed to be  the drummer for Kansas City’s home town team.  Way to go, Sly!

Here, a drummer beats the rhythm for the crew in the first race.  The crew paddles as quickly, or as slowly, as the cadence of the drummer.

On this happy day there were no worries about the politics of our two countries, of the balance of trade, or of jobs lost and found.  It was a celebration and a time of friendship.  A good time was had by all.

Impact of Health Issues on Poverty in Rural Iowa, Guest Author, Sherry Mesle-Morain

Biography:  Sherry Mesle-Morain received her undergraduate degree from Tufts University, her Master of Education Degree from George Washington University, and her Masters in Social Work from Smith College School for Social Work.  She began her career in financial aid for students at Nazareth College in Pittsford, New York.  After raising two children she returned to academia at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa.  She retired as the Director of Financial Aid Services for the university.  Since her retirement she has focused on volunteer activities in Lamoni and, as she says found that people suddenly thought she could do anything.  Her volunteer work with the Community Financial Support Coalition (FSC) guided her thinking to the subject of this blog.

Impact of Health Issues on Poverty in Rural Iowa

Life is good.  Or, I should say, my life is good.  I have a family I love and who loves me.  We are kind to each other.  I have more than plenty to eat and I have nice clothes to wear.  I can afford the gas to drive to Atlantic to see my daughter and Kansas City to see my dad, my sister and my son.  And I have energy to serve my community and to have fun. Not everyone in my small town in Southern Iowa is so blessed.

The City of Lamoni has some generous citizens who contribute to the Lamoni Community Financial Support Coalition (FSC), the mission of which is to provide modest emergency financial assistance to citizens in need—shifting the balance, so to speak.  My stewardship with the FSC is to interview those folks who have requested financial assistance from our small pool of funds.

I began to sense that major medical issues were a primary factor in the lives of the people I meet with, but I know that hunches are not truth.  Then I realized that I had the raw data to do a small statistical analysis of the reasons these good folks are in need of help. Of the 32 people seen, 75% of them or their children had medical issues that ate up their resources and/or kept them from working, at least temporarily, whether full-time or part-time.  Their time off work was anywhere from a couple of weeks to a full year.  One of the things that surprised me when I talked to people who had medical issues was that they took seriously their responsibility to pay their outstanding medical bills.  Many used up their savings paying their bills and others were on payment plans that kept them in poverty.  Some were on Medicaid, which relieved them of constant payments, but they still faced the fact of having no income because of their health issues.  Occasionally someone had gone several days or a week without taking vital medications because they would not get paid for another week and could not afford to pay for their prescriptions. Four women were unemployed because of maternity leave.  They not only could not work during those few weeks, but they also did not have paid maternity leave.  And, of course, when they do go back to work they have to figure out-child care—who will provide it and how will they pay for it.  This is a huge expense that eats up their minimum wage earnings.

Just a few days after I did this analysis I heard a news story on National Public Radio of a national study showing the same results.  Both my analysis and the NPR story of April 20, 2012, by Jennifer Ludden verified my observation.  There are three points Ludden made that I would like to share with you.

1)   Two-thirds of women with young children now work.  Nearly half are their family’s primary breadwinner.  (Of the women I interviewed the majority were living with the fathers of their children, men who were either underemployed or unemployed.  These are serious issues, but that is a subject for another day.)

2)   Because so many companies do not offer paid sick leave or paid vacation, a mother who stays home to care for a sick child is at risk of being told not to return to work.  If it is mom who is sick, she is in the same spot.  She doesn’t get paid to stay home, so she can either care for her children herself when she is sick, or she can put them in day care and go to work sick so as to afford the child care.

3)   Having a baby is a leading cause of temporary poverty.  Many women with no maternity leave end up quitting their jobs to care for a baby.  When they lose those needed jobs it is very hard to get back into the workforce.

While on the national level we have the necessary and intense discussions as to how to address unsolvable problems, how to manage the social safety net, and how to see to it that everyone gets health care, the people who request assistance from the Lamoni Community Financial Support Coalition are in real and immediate need: of diapers and wipes, of formula, of heat and water, of a place to live, of medical care, of gas to get to work and to medical appointments.  The needs do not stop and they are real.

I am amazed at the resilience and optimism of these folks.  But from time to time they need a helping hand to shift the balance in their favor.

Please note: the views expressed by guest authors are not necessarily those of the primary authors of Shifting the Balance.  We do believe it is important to encourage the free flow of ideas and to promote collective action and compromise.  In order to keep the country “in balance” we believe we should work together, and that means sharing and respecting ideas, including those that may be different from our own. 

World War II: They died that others might live

World War II holocaust survivor, Bronia Roslawowski, was born Brucha Kibel, in Turek, Poland, to Tzvi Eliezer (Hersh) Kibel and Bluma Bayrach.  She was born in about 1926 but we were never really sure about her age!  She died July 14, 2010, in her adopted hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, after a long and meaningful life.  She was beloved by all who knew her–and she seemed to know almost everyone.

On September 4, 1939, German armed forces marched into Turek, where Bronia lived with her family.  After two already difficult years, in December 1941, Bronia was sent to Inowroclaw Straflager in Northern Poland.  A “resettlement camp” during the war, it was the first of approximately 5 concentration camps in which Bronia survived the war.  In 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She worked in a forced labor camp at Telefunken plant in Reichenbach, escaped the gas chamber in 1944 and was forced on a death march shortly before war’s end. Her right arm was tattooed with the number 57365. Still, despite all that she suffered, she survived.  She was liberated by U.S. servicemen in 1945 and worked briefly in a resettlement camp before moving to the United States.  Only she and a brother survived the war.

Bronia married Mendel Roslawowski, himself a survivor of the camps.  Together they raised his son and her three daughters.  They opened the M & M Bakery at 31st & Woodland.  A popular neighborhood deli, it was a favorite of the local community, medical students and young lawyers.  Her brisket and bagel sandwiches were absolutely priceless.  She had photographs on her walls of children who frequented the deli, many of whom she fed free sandwiches and cookies.  She hugged her customers and seemed to find time to make each of her regulars feel loved.  To Bronia, no one was ever a stranger.

Bronia never forgot her war-time experiences.  She was determined not to let those experiences, or the loss of her family, control her life. She laughed easily and often.  She opened her home to her extended family and her children’s friends–who came to feel like family.  At the same time, anxious to educate her community about the horrors of war, she spoke regularly on behalf of survivors about the holocaust, and worked with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.  Her message was a message of love., stating She forgave those who harmed her, insisting they are all God’s children.  She acknowledges the hate and ugliness she saw in the world and she denounced Nazis, but not the German people.  She stated that “you cannot condemn a nation.”  “I don’t hate” she  repeated.   

Prior to her death she was one of 52 Kansas City Holocaust survivors and war refugees whose stories are included in the book From the Heart.  She is also the subject of a children’s book, Love the World, by Maureen Moffitt Wilt focused, obviously on her message of love.  It is beautifully illustrated by Jeff Porter.  The photograph of her family, taken at her granddaughter’s marriage, is an image of a woman who not only survived the war, but thrived.  She lived a rich and full life. Bronia’s life, and her message of love, are reflected in the strength and commitment to family and community of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

For Bronia, her family and all of the other Bronias, the horrors of their early lives gave way, to meaningful lives here in the United States, in Europe and throughout the world.

A victim of hate, she became a messenger for love.  She understand that as she suffered due to the hate and intolerance of others, she also was given a new life by liberation forces.  Neither their sacrifices, nor Bronia’s message of love, should be forgotten.