Modest Needs for Hard Times

There’s hard times out there. Here’s a charity with a simple and direct mission:

Founded in 2002, Modest Needs is an award-winning public charity with a simple but critical mission: we work to stop the cycle of poverty BEFORE it starts for the low-income workers whom conventional philanthropy has forgotten.

We do this by empowering compassionate members of the general public to safely and securely help hard-working, low-income households to afford the kinds of short-term emergency expenses that we’ve all encountered before: the unexpected car repair, the unanticipated visit to the doctor, or the unusually large heating bill, for example.

Since 2002, by working together in this very ‘modest’ way, Modest Needs’ donors have stopped 10,281 low-income individuals and families from entering the vicious cycle of poverty and a lifetime of dependence on the public welfare system for their survival.

And, through our unique Non-Profit Grant program, we simultaneously empower our donors to invest directly in small non-profit organizations struggling to serve their communities, but whose needs are generally too small to be considered a funding priority by larger, more conventional grant-makers.

100% of every contribution goes directly to low-income individuals and families who’ve requested assistance. The average grant to recipients is $380.

Read testimonials and the Modest Needs blog.

We are the 99%: Congress is the 1%

Image source: William Domhoff, Sociology Department, UC-Santa Cruz

As you can see, only six Senators and thirty Congressmen are NOT among the wealthiest 20% of Americans.

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Why We Occupy: Filthy Rich Legislators

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) secured $800,000 in earmarks for his district and owns assets worth between $240 and $500 million

Supply-side economics, legacy of the ’80s. Wealth trickles down like rivulets from a mountain stream.

Reaganomics was called voodoo economics for more than one reason. First, since the Reagan years, wealth hasn’t trickled–it’s gushed. And secondly, it’s gushed upstream to the already rich and made them even more wealthy.

In another trend, we’re electing lawmakers who are upstream of the average, while voters get pushed downstream a little more. Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled from $280,000 to $725,000. In comparison, median wealth of American families stagnated at about $20,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

The statistics don’t take into account home equity. Given that the 2008-2009 recession gutted home values and the less well-off were more often on the bad end of sub-prime mortgages and foreclosures, these numbers don’t show the true extent of the wealth gap.

Of course legislators with personal wealth can and sometimes do stand up on the right side of issues–keeping a social safety net in place so 10% unemployment doesn’t turn families out into the cold, working for universal healthcare so that one illness doesn’t lead to financial catastrophe. But we know this majority Republican House isn’t on the side of the 99%. They’ve fought tooth and nail to keep the Bush tax cuts for millionaires in place and refused to extend the payroll tax cut–until they got eaten alive by public opinion.

When Republicans claim they’ve never met a tax cut they didn’t like, yet a tax cut for average Americans goes down like cod liver oil, it all adds up to gross self-enrichment.

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Talking Inequality: Occupy makes an impact

If you were wondering if Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement were having an impact, look no further than President Obama’s speech today.

In the last few decades, the average income of the top one percent has gone up by more than 250%, to $1.2 million per year. For the top one hundredth of one percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her workers now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade, the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about six percent.

This kind of inequality—a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression—hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy, from top to bottom. . . . Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them – that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans….

This isn’t about class warfare. This is about the nation’s welfare.

Four short months ago, Republicans in Congress took the nation to the brink by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. By creating a false crisis, the right-wing had succeeded in advancing the lie that the national debt itself was the crisis, and the nation would perish unless all this socialist spending was curbed immediately.

Now nobody could care less about the dead-locked Super-Committee (although we probably should). Something changed the conversation from deficit and debt to income inequality and jobs. And that was Occupy.

Ari Berman of The Nation:

Doing the compromise dance for almost three years, Obama has mostly conceded to GOP core philosophy on “big government” and the wisdom of the “free market.”  This speech is a shift to one of basic fairness.

Of course, we know rhetoric isn’t action.

It’s a cool revolution

Locations worldwide of Occupy groups and actions

Occupy WallStreet. OccupyDC. Occupy Oakland. Occupy Cedar Rapids. Occupy Carbondale. Occupy Islamabad. Occupy Fayetteville. Occupy Macon. Occupy Montreux. Occupy Lubbock. Occupy Ukraine. Okupirajmo Sarajevo. Qiryat Shmona. Samstaða Seydisfjordur.

It’s a cool revolution.

A revolution that transforms the outlook  and behavior of many individuals and thereby slowly transforms a society can be called a “cool revolution.” It educates people to think critically, to enter that realm of nonconformity that has always been the source of change. When people have transformed their minds, they will naturally and coolly act to transform the society and eventually the polity. -Robert Thurman, Inner Revolution

A cool revolution is bottom-up, not top-down. We’re seeing it with the Occupy Movement, a groundswell of grassroots protests originating with the urban encampments. Without an over-arching organizing or funding entity, local groups sprang up and self-organized–relying heavily on social media–around “OCCUPY.”

As Thurman says, when inner transformation occurs, action naturally follows from it. The cool revolution has been in progress for some time and only now taken to the streets. The rallying cry “We are the 99%!” makes sense not only because we know as fact that the highest one percent of income earners in the US hold 40% of the wealth, but because we intuitively understand that this is unjust. We understand that the radical disparity in the allocation of resources has practical and devastating effects on the whole of society and particularly upon its most vulnerable members.

When we realized that Wall Street financiers were not going to be punished for wreaking havoc on the economy, nor was their “too big to fail” model going to be reformed, we felt the scales tip. When the US Supreme Court made their Citizens United verdict, according many rights of citizens to corporations, we knew we were disenfranchised.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.  -Martin Luther King, Jr. (Speech at Riverside Church)

With the hierarchical structure failing, we come to the inevitable conclusion, “It’s Up to You.” Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, in the book of this title, writes about how in practicing self-reflection, we take liberation into our own hands and act out of the true self. This is the point when “the personal becomes the political.” Self-awareness is just as important as political protest, because inner transformation of the individual is the basis from which positive political action flows.  The simultaneous and reinforcing transformation of consciousness of many individuals inevitably disrupts the status quo. It’s a cool revolution.

Occupy could be a Moment and not a Movement. But in my opinion the passions aroused around the globe, the large numbers which only increase when they are persecuted by unwarrented police violence. To me, Occupy is a marker of a new Age of Enlightenment–both a return to Western Enlightenment rationality (which the religious, authoritarian Right has rejected) and the incorporation of the Eastern traditions of spiritual Enlightenment (whose teachings and practices have been adapted by many Westerners apart from their religious institutions).

*Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman coined the term “Cool Revolution,” and this blog is based on his wonderful book Inner Revolution (Riverhead Books, 1998).