Welfare Programs Are Not The Cause Of America’s Financial Problems

The one thing I am learning, both first-hand (as a person receiving SNAP benefits) and second-hand (as someone interested in the subject who is researching it), is that welfare is a complicated topic. It is so complicated that two different people can both be right while apparently supporting diametrically-opposed statements, but still be talking at cross-purposes and misunderstanding each other. They are probably using different statistics (or no statistics at all, just personal anecdotes or assumptions or “friend of a friend” stories). They may have different ideas about what is and is not “welfare.” (Do you think Social Security is welfare? Was the controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program (the “bank bailouts”, or TARP; which, while we’re mentioning it, was passed under the Bush administration) welfare? Are Pell Grants welfare?) The people fighting about “welfare” topics may or may not understand how certain programs are funded (not all “welfare” is paid for with income taxes). And so on.

Just to stave off the inevitable flood of “but I have totally for realz seen people abusing welfare with my own eyes!” anecdotes that welfare-related articles tend to encourage, here is where I urge anyone who has actually seen abuse of welfare programs to report that abuse. There are a few reasons I can think of why you would choose not to report hypothetical abuse:

  1. You have not actually witnessed any “welfare fraud” or assistance program abuse first-hand. You may have seen a stranger out and about in public and made some assumptions about that person, but you have no actual information about his or her finances, what (if any) government assistance he or she is receiving, or how he or she is using it.
  2. You are parroting an anecdote based on hard-to-kill cultural stereotypes about welfare recipients, including the infamous Welfare Queen persona (which has some problematic racist undertones), and assuming that the stereotype is true and that “everyone knows” the stereotype is true.
  3. Since most people who are on some form of welfare are ashamed of it and do not discuss it (much like most of us do not talk openly about our finances in general), you would probably be shocked to know how many of your friends, family members and neighbors are currently receiving some form of assistance. They may not fit your preconceived notion of what a “welfare recipient” is supposed to look like.
  4. Yes, you have witnessed some actual abuse or fraud. You chose not to report it, but — oddly enough — you still complain about abuse and fraud anyway. I have to wonder how complaining about the problem benefits you more than doing something proactive about a problem, since it is clearly an issue about which you have strong feelings and opinions.

So, please, report any actual fraud you see. I have helpfully provided you a link to help you out with that: report that abuse! If you fail to report that abuse, and instead choose to just talk smack about Those People, then you are part of the problem, and other people are pretty sick of hearing your noise.

But I digress, as we’re talking about Welfare and not People Who Are Nasty About People Relying Upon Welfare, and Welfare is a topic that gets nearly everyone upset. It is also (unfortunately) more and more relevant as more and more of our neighbors (and maybe even our own friends and families!) experience financial or un(der)employment-related struggles, fall through the cracks, or experience hard times. It becomes more relevant as the “face” of welfare (in this case, I mean “food assistance” and Medicaid when I say “welfare”) changes and starts to include predominately Caucasian middle-class graduate students and people who have earned Ph.Ds and who are actually working full-time.

Just because your neighbor isn’t talking about it–and most people who experience financial distress are ashamed and do not trumpet that information around–it does not mean that he or she is (or isn’t) relying on a government assistance program (or two) to make ends meet.

What do you mean when you say “welfare”?

What I learned is that I have to be very, very careful to clearly define my terms, and I did not do that as well as I should have. For that lapse, I apologize. To clarify, when I have talked about welfare in the past, I have mostly been referring to SNAP, WIC, TANF and SSI:

  1. Food benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is “financial assistance for food purchasing for low- and no-income people…also known as the Food Stamp Program…[t]o be eligible for food stamps, the recipients must have incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, and also own few assets” and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which is “a child nutrition program for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five; [t]he eligibility requirement is a family income below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines“.
  2. General welfare programs like the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program which “provides stipends to low-income people who are either aged (65 or older), blind, or disabled” and “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which “provides cash assistance to indigent American families with dependent children”.

There are some problems with defining the poverty line, as the methodology “was created in 1963 by food and nutrition economist Mollie Orshansky and hasn’t been updated since“, but that is the standard used to determine if a family or individual is “poor enough” to qualify for government assistance. As Salon puts it:

“[Orshansky’s] method [for determining the poverty line], though arguably appropriate at the time, is incredibly crude by modern standards. Her idea was to calculate the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet for a given-size family. Then she used the early-‘60s rule of thumb that food was about one-third the typical family’s budget. So calculate the income needed to prevent malnutrition, triple it, and there’s your poverty line. Needless to say, this has only a hazy relationship with modern living standards. Worse, because at the time there were few government programs designed to help the poor, it refers to income before taxes and cash transfer payments. The formula also neglects to include the value of in-kind public services such as food stamps and Medicaid, and smaller programs like housing vouchers.”

Unfortunately, I have also said “welfare” on occasion when I intended to refer to all goverment-distributed social assistance programs, which do include the aforementioned programs but also can refer to:

  1. Social insurance (Social Security)
  2. Healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), TRICARE, Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Services Block Grant (ADMS Block Grant), Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPaACA or “Obamacare” and more)
  3. Public education (which includes training, employment, and social services function: elementary, secondary, and vocational education; higher education; and research and general educational aids; see also programs like Head Start, PELL grants, school lunches, government subsidies for private charitable and social outreach programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and more)
  4. Housing assistance (specifically Section 8)
  5. Food assistance for groups not covered by SNAP or WIC, such as elderly or mentally- or physically-impaired adults in non-residential day-care settings who benefit from the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  6. Benefits for federal retirees and veterans
  7. Transportation
  8. Scientific and medical research (NASA falls under this category, which includes general science, space, technology, and health research, and more)
  9. Miscellaneous expenditures, which include corporate subsidies and handouts, bailouts like TARP, government grants for education and the arts, infrastructure expenditures we all benefit from, and so on. This category is the most problematic, as some people bundle bailouts under the “welfare” umbrella, and others include education, public properties like parks and museums, infrastructure and/or national security expenses (which doesn’t just include the military, but also law enforcement officers, firefighters, 911 services, and so on…for our purposes, we are going to assume those expenses are not welfare).

As Wikipedia puts it: “Social programs in the United States are welfare subsidies designed to aid the needs of the U.S. population. Proposals for federal programs began with Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism and expanded with Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. The programs vary in eligibility requirements and are provided by various organizations on a federal, state, local and private level. They help to provide food, shelter, education, healthcare and money to U.S. citizens through primary and secondary education, subsidies of college education, unemployment disability insurance, subsidies for eligible low-wage workers, subsidies for housing, food stamps, pensions for eligible persons and health insurance programs that cover public employees.”

What I may have thought was self-evident (“I am talking about helping hungry, needy people”) turns out to be a lot more confusing, and part of the onus for that misunderstanding is on me for being foolish enough to assume I had a pretty good handle on the topic just because I am living what it is like, daily, as a SNAP beneficiary (but I am not a statistician nor an economist, so what was I thinking?!), and part of that is due to the incredibly confusing way that different statistics are presented, how both partisan and non-partisan groups which focused on taxes and welfare programs and social issues often (deliberately?) cloud the most pertinent and relevant issues, and when even the government itself vomits reams and reams of enormous and dense .PDF and .XLS files full of endless columns of numbers at you, which all makes it very difficult to figure out where all the money is actually going and how much, on average, we are each paying in taxes.

Whatever it is, it is always TOO MUCH, amirite?

 

What do I, personally, pay for with my taxes?

According to John W. Schoen, a Senior Producer at MSNBC, there are no simple answers to that question. In a 2008 article, Schoen explained why it is difficult for the average taxpayer to comprehend where his or her dollars end up.

  1. Citizens pay taxes every calendar year on April 15th, while the government spends based on a fiscal year, which begins October 1st. The two calendars don’t match up. This makes understanding what dollars do where a little trickier, because the calendars do not synch up.
  2. According to Gerald Prante, a senior economist at the Tax Foundation, the “average tax bite” on individuals has remained flat–that means it has not changed dramatically–since 1970. That indicates that money is being allocated and de-allocated and shifted around, because the budget bite for different agencies and programs has not been static. That means that looking at last year’s data may demonstrate a very different picture from looking at the year before’s data, especially when you’re trying to determine if a particular program is using funds responsibly, and if people are actually being helped.
  3. According to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, about two-thirds of your taxes go to the Feds (roughly speaking, anyway), while the remaining third went to your state, county or local government. This also clouds the picture, because different areas have different needs, and the breakdown shifts accordingly. If you live in a so-called “red state,” your fellow citizens consume more funds for tax-supported social service and social safety net programs than they pay for, and so-called “blue states” pay more of their taxes for the same public benefit programs than their citizens consume. In those same states, however, there may be local governments (say, a large city’s) where more services are consumed than paid for, or vice versa. Paul Krugman calls this paradox (where conservative states rely most on government assistance while also supporting conservative politicians who seek to gut social safety nets) “Moochers Against Welfare.”

It is confusing, and when you say “where did my money go?” you probably mean “how much of my money is going to someone other than me?” and this is a question that is only best answered once we figure out where you live (Red States are Welfare Queens), what “invisible” services and programs you yourself might be benefiting from that you don’t believe are “welfare” (or government-funded, citizen-supported) programs or which are government-provided benefits you don’t think about too often (such as small business loans, tax breaks for your marital status or number of kids or your charitable giving, a well-maintained infrastructure, arts funding, Pell grants for students, police officers and fire fighters and the 911 emergency assistance service, free public television and radio broadcasts, weather forecasts and disaster preparedness and relief, clean and safe air and water and medicine, well-maintained national parks and museums, technological and scientific research and space exploration, and so on), and how much you personally paid in taxes (and how many, if any, of your assets were socked away in tax shelters or otherwise hidden or protected with other tax-avoiding maneuvers).

John Schoen breaks down how your taxes are spent (or to be precise, how they were spent in 2007), but, oddly, he bundles certain things together (such as Social Security (which is funded through our paychecks), Medicare (which is collected through specific contributions and not income tax), and “income security” programs (which are mostly but not entirely funded by tax dollars, and which do include government assistance for the disadvantaged) that are usually separated when “how the government spends our money” is discussed. When one combines Social Security, Medicare / Health and Income Security, these bundled expenses appear to cost more than all the expenses that fall under the general category of National Defense, which is actually the largest governmental expense.

Even more confusingly, when the same guy did another analysis, he broke things down into different categories. He’s not wrong, mind you, but it is difficult to walk away from either article feeling as if you have a truly good handle on the “where’s my money go?” question, and that is not Mr. Schoen’s fault. He does a masterful job putting it into understandable “average person budget” and plain English terms, but the simplicity he achieves still requires that some lines get blurred between several government program categories. (For instance, would school lunches be counted by the average taxpayer as food benefits, which are typically included in “income security” programs, or would the lunches be counted as one of many branches of the bundled “education”-related social programs?)

My Esoteric at HubPages (a cost-benefit analyst) believes that the answer to “How much per tax dollar I spend goes towards welfare programs?” is about six cents (or nine cents, if you don’t consider a refund for the TARP bailouts to be repaid welfare expenditures):

“I took a look at the 2012 Federal Budget actuals for 2010 to calculate what percentage of your taxes go toward what part of the budgets. The table below presents my findings [that] show how many cents [per] tax dollar go [towards which] expenditure area.”

REVENUE SOURCE OREXPENDITURE AREA NUMBER OF CENTS FROMYOUR TAX DOLLARUSED FOR THIS PURPOSE
Income Tax
-$1.00
Interest on the Debt
$ .06
Security Programs
$ .24
non-Welfare Related Social Secuity
$ .20
non-Welfare Related Medicare
$ .13
TARP (returned funds)
-$ .03
non-Security Programs
$ .24
Mandatory Welfare Related Programs      
$ .09
You Should Be Able To See The Obvious… but I have some remarks anyway.
  1. If you consider TARP being considered a form of welfare…then only 6 cents out of every tax dollars goes toward providing welfare services to those who can’t provide for themselves. If you don’t, the figure increases all the way up to 9 cents.
  2. The other $ .91 or 91% of your taxes go support the operations of the government or defense. (You ultimately get the Social Security and Medicare back.)
  3. Individual income taxes only provided 26 cents of the revenue dollar needed to fund the 2010 expenditures. 37 cents came for other revenue sources and the last 37 cents was borrowed.

You remember the old phrase, “Hey, mister, can you spare a dime?” Well, after 100 years of inflation the best that can be mustered today is, “Hey mister, can you spare six cents?” Says something about American society, doesn’t it?”

Well, six cents per dollar isn’t bad. The sales tax in my area is higher than that! Even nine cents per dollar isn’t so bad. Is this really what everyone is fussing about? And, of that (let’s say) nine cents, what welfare programs are included? Looking at his data, he appears to be bundling together all social assistance programs which focus on the financially disadvantaged (while excluding Social Security and Medicare, et cetera, which, as we already discussed above, are not funded directly from “our tax dollars”).
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) says only about 13% of our annual budget goes to fund social safety-net programs (and they also exclude Social Security and health insurance-related programs) and state that they “based [their] estimates of spending in fiscal year 2011 on the most recent historical data released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)”: “About 13 percent of the federal budget in 2011, or $466 billion, went to support programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship. […] These programs include: the refundable portion of the earned-income and child tax credits, which assist low- and moderate-income working families through the tax code; programs that provide cash payments to eligible individuals or households, including Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor and unemployment insurance; various forms of in-kind assistance for low-income families and individuals, including food stamps, school meals, low-income housing assistance, child-care assistance, and assistance in meeting home energy bills; and various other programs such as those that aid abused and neglected children.  Such programs keep millions of people out of poverty each year.”
So, nine cents per tax dollar — and about 13% of the government’s total annual budget — go toward social safety net programs that benefit the poorest, the most disadvantaged, and the least powerful among us. Should we really begrudge that?

Who, exactly, is receiving the most welfare?

When I noted that “more whites” are on welfare in a previous article, I promptly received confirmation of that statement when many readers commented and hastened to point out that, statistically, there are more white folks overall in the United States. Yes, exactly. The fact that there are more white people on welfare because there are more white people overall makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? My point was that it seems odd that we define the “face” of welfare by imagining a person of color (usually as a “Welfare Queen”) when the higher percentage of people receiving a form of welfare are white. It is also problematic when certain (usually Republican) politicians knowingly perpetuate racial welfare-related stereotypes to score points with a traditionally discriminatory and under-informed block of the electorate.

Pig Newton

 from Huffington Post says, citing census data, “The figures are well known. More whites  are on welfare, use food stamps, and public health services numerically than blacks and Latinos. More whites rely on social security, Medicare, and farm supports statistically and proportionally than blacks or Latinos. In Mississippi and Alabama the poverty and unemployment rate among whites is among the highest in the nation.”

The point of confusion is that–within racially-separated groups–more non-whites are struggling in poverty than are whites. I’m going to make up some numbers for illustration purposes, but don’t let it freak you out. Just bear with me. Let’s imagine that we have a population of 500 whites, 300 people of color who identify as “black” and 100 people of color who identify as being “other,” meaning neither white nor black. Out of those 500 whites, let’s say 200 are on welfare, and there are 225 blacks (out of 300) on welfare and 10 “others”  (out of 100) on welfare. That means (a) that there are more whites numerically, in total, on welfare than blacks or “others,” (b) that there are more blacks and “others” combined than whites and (c) that there are a greater percentage of  blacks on welfare, when compared to the total number of blacks in the population, than there are whites on welfare when compared to the total number of whites in the population. (Now forget those made-up numbers, because there is no correlation to real stats, and they were just used to make the math and comparisons easier.)
The thing is, no one is saying any of this is untrue. The problem is that there has been a confusion between apples and oranges, where ‘apples’ means “the total number of people who happen to identify as white who are using social safety net programs” and where ‘oranges’ means getting into examining how many people (within a certain racial group, i.e., black people) are on assistance overall as compared to the percentage of white people overall.
Some non-made-up numbers:
  • 29 million people are on welfare
    • White: 11,661,000 (39%) ← This number is larger.
    • Black: 11,362,000 (38%)

Wikipedia says:

  • [Total] US population — 313,544,041
    • White: 227,005,885 (72.4%) ← This number is also larger.
    • Black: 39,506,549 (12.6%)
Whites: 11.661,000 / 227,005,885 * 100 = 5.13%
Blacks: 11,362,000 / 39,506,549 * 100 = 28.75% ← Now this number is larger.
“That means the total percentage of all white people in america on welfare is 5.13%, while the total percentage of all black people in America on welfare is: 28.75%.”
And that is correct, too! That’s just it — saying there are “more white people on welfare” was not intended to ignore the fact that a higher percentage of non-white individuals and families are struggling in poverty when compared to white individuals and families. It was just stating a fact.
Unfortunately, I failed to be very, very clear, and, when talking about welfare issues, one must be very, very clear indeed.
We could write–and indeed there have already been written–many articles on why it is problematic to compare racial groups to each other rather than looking strictly at total numbers, but two analogies may help get that conversation rolling:
First analogy: Some people start life on third base, while other people can’t even get selected to swing the bat. Some aren’t even allowed inside the ballpark. If a successful businessman starts off in life on third base due to having the good fortune to be born in good health and with sound mind to financially comfortable WASP parents in a safe neighborhood with access to good schools, is he truly a “self-made” man? Is he really self-made when he can rely on networking with and trading favors with his parents’ successful friends, or his frat brothers, or his fellow Lions or Shriners or Moose or Masons, or his church, or any of a number of “white welfare” programs? Is he really “self-made” when he got business loans and relied on the same social framework all our tax money collectively helped build and maintain? The short answer is “No, not entirely, because no one is entirely self-made and achieving success in a vacuum”, and that is just a hard truth, and not intended to disparage anyone’s good ideas, smarts, initiative, or hard work.
Melissa Harris-Perry recently confronted the (smug) myth that the rich “risk more” than the poor, and made some good points: “What is riskier than living poor in America? Seriously, what in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America? I live in a neighborhood where people are shot on my street corner. I live in a neighborhood where people have to figure out how to get their kid into school because maybe it’ll be a good school and maybe it won’t. I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No! There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch you and catch you. Being poor is what is risky. We have to create a safety net for poor people. And when we won’t, because they happen to look different from us, it is the pervasive ugliness! We cannot do that!”
What is more risky than being poor?
Second analogy: “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is”. John Scalzi wrote this article of the same title (later re-posted at Kotaku) that explained this concept beautifully: if you are lucky enough to be born into a privileged group (for example, if you are male, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, and White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), you play the Game of Existence on the “easy” setting. Most people of color, or poor people, or non-male people, or non-straight people, or members of minority faiths, or people with disabilities or chronic illnesses (et cetera) are forced to play on the “expert” setting, they aren’t given the standard rules book, and they do not get to use any cheat codes.
Given that an average group of white people are generally going to be more privileged by default than an average group of non-white people (here’s where investigating socioeconomic status (SES) factors might be very enlightening), I find it significant that more white people in total are now relying on welfare programs. That seems significant to me, and, again, it makes the pernicious “duplicitous Person of Color scamming the system” stereotype all the more offensive. The color of the average “face of welfare” is changing.

It is time for the “Welfare Queen” myth to die.

What is most obnoxious about the Welfare Queen myth is that it can be traced back to Ronald Reagan indulging in hyperbole to outrage his conservative Republican base. Stupid Uncle Bonzo.
What Reagan actually said, according to Wikipedia: “During his 1976 presidential campaign, Reagan would tell the story of a woman from Chicago’s South Side who was arrested for welfare fraud: “She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
The closest known real life example, according to Wikipedia: “In 1976, the New York Times reported that a woman from Chicago, Linda Taylor, was charged with using four aliases and of cheating the government out of $8,000. She appeared again in the newspaper while the Illinois Attorney General continued investigating her case. The woman was ultimately found guilty of “welfare fraud and perjury” in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.”
So one woman scammed the government out of a total of eight thousand dollars and went to jail for it and from that, Reagan invented multiple imaginary dead husbands, a six-figure “salary” and multiple Social Security cards…in short, he created the Welfare Queen stereotype by wildly exaggerating information about a real, if rather minor and swiftly punished, criminal act.
Compare and contrast, my friends. That one fairy tale The Gipper told us has led to a lot of misery, and most of it has been directed at the weakest members of our society: those who are the least capable of defending themselves. Are we a country of unkind assholes who lack compassion for our neighbors, now?
Some studies have shown that the “Welfare Queen” story incites racial animosity.
O.K. Kai (of the 40 Acres And A Cubicle blog) comments: “The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Havard University published a study entitled “The Welfare Queen Experiment” in which Black and White participants watched news clips about a lazy welfare recipient named Rhonda.  Separate test groups watched news stories that showed a photo of either a black Rhonda or white Rhonda for a few seconds. Each group was also given a survey to measure attitudes toward race, gender and welfare.  White participants showed a 10% increase in anti-black sentiments when Rhonda was Black and surprisingly, an increase of 12% when Rhonda was White.  This suggests that the Welfare Queen archetype and the distorted view of Black Americans on welfare is well entrenched in the White American psyche. The majority of welfare recipients are non-urban and White.  The majority of food stamp recipients have jobs or are children, so comparing paychecks to food stamps makes no sense.”

Left: Welfare recipient. Right: A leech on society’s “job-creators”

Let’s get this one thing straight: there are no Welfare Queens out there driving Cadillacs, having five kids specifically to get extra financial benefits from the government (or successfully scamming the government to pay for some non-standard expensive medical treatments or procedures). You’re perhaps thinking of Ann Romney with her multiple Cadillacs, her five tax deductions sons (who have undoubtedly benefited from generous and un(der)-taxed loans and financial gifts from their parents), and her $77,000 tax deduction for her so-called “therapy horse” … and we know we haven’t even seen all the tax shelters and tax havens the Romneys have benefited from.

Do you know what’s true (and what’s not) when it comes to welfare topics?

There are a lot of myths about welfare. Here are four of the most persistent:
MYTH #1: Welfare benefits go to minority women who never leave the dole (the “Welfare Queen”).
  • More whites than blacks or Hispanics receive aid (again, we’ve discussed this; see above if you’re still confused by the word “more” and feel the need to nerd out over stats that wind up helpfully proving the actual point being made).
  • Two out of three welfare recipients are children, not adults.
  • Three out of four women on aid get off welfare within two years.
  • TANF benefits are limited to five years (60 months) total. TANF benefits are not renewed or extended if you have additional children. “You can only get TANF for 5 years. This limit applies to all adults and heads of households. […] Adults who reach the 5 year limit cannot collect TANF for themselves or their children. If you get any benefits from TANF during a month, even if you only receive $1, that month will count as one month against your 5 year limit. Periods of receipt need not be consecutive to count towards the 5 year limit.”
  • Alternet says: “Aside from the fact that [the welfare stereotype is] racist, it’s just not true. According to the U.S. government, the majority of welfare recipients are white, live in the suburbs, have two kids, want to work, and stay on welfare an average of only two years. […] While conservatives talk about welfare recipients being a burden on the public, many don’t realize how little we spend on public assistance. The attack on social spending is based on myth. In 1996, all spending on “welfare” programs, including food stamps, free school lunches, unemployment checks, housing assistance, legal defense and the rest came to somewhere around $130 billion. Only counting direct assistance programs like AFDC, however, it was about $50 billion — approximately 4% of the $1.23 trillion budget. When compared to the whole federal budget, the money spent on welfare is trifling, especially when you look at other, truly wasteful federal budget items. Waste and fraud in military spending cost an estimated of $172 billion, while a host of business subsidies — no-strings federal gifts to profitable corporations — cost another estimated $170 billion in taxes. Then there are capital gains and other tax loopholes benefiting the wealthy that cost over $130 billion a year. It looks like the “burdened taxpayers” have bigger things to worry about besides welfare.”
  • The real “Welfare Queens” are corporations. We spend $59 billion on human welfare programs, “and $93 billion were devoted to corporate welfare. This is about 5 percent of the federal budget. To clarify what is and isn’t corporate welfare, a “no-bid” Iraq contract for the prestigious Halliburton, would not be considered corporate welfare because the government technically directly receives some good or service in exchange for this expenditure. Based on the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) findings of $1.4 billion of overcharging and fraud, I suppose the primary service they provide could be considered to be repeatedly violating the American taxpayer. On the other hand, the $15 billion in subsidies contained in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, to the oil, gas, and coal industries, would be considered corporate welfare because no goods or services are directly returned to the government in exchange for these expenditures”.

MYTH #2: Welfare encourages teen pregnancy and large, dependent-upon-the-government families.
  • States with the highest benefits have the lowest rates of additional births, and the states with the lowest benefits have the highest.
  • “In the median state, which adds $57 in monthly Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)benefits for an additional child, each newborn brings a minimum $88.50 a month in new expenses, according to estimates by Catholic Charities USA [this means that each additional child costs approximately $30 more a month after any benefit increased are factored in; more children mean less money overall to survive on].
  • Contrary to the myth, AFDC families also are slightly smaller than the U.S. average. The typical AFDC family consists of 2.9 people, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, compared to the average 3.16 nationwide. Some 42 percent of AFDC mothers have just one child, and 30 percent have two kids. Just 10 percent of AFDC families include four or more youngsters.”

MYTH #3: People on welfare live pretty well.
  • Here are the guidelines for TANF (and here are the names TANF may go by in your state, if “TANF” is unfamiliar to you): Be poor, have infant(s) or children under 18, be ready to work (there is no “free ride”), benefits are limited to a total of five years. Be prepared to give up most if not all of your current assets (if any). The government may provide a cheap mobile phone with pre-paid minutes if the TANF recipient is too poor to afford a land-line or mobile phone of his or her own. This is done so the poor person can communicate with potential employers and with the government employees handling his or her files. (Judgmental people will actually covet these “free” phones and make many nasty comments about how “unfair” it is that a person on welfare “has an iPhone”…but do not kid yourself. You know that not one of them would trade places with the poor person, even if they did get a real iPhone out of the deal.) You can not receive TANF if you have no children, if you are unwilling to work, and if you are not destitute.
  • Here are the guidelines for SNAP: Be poor and hungry. You can only buy food, and only specific kinds of approved food items. (No toiletries, like toilet paper or shampoo or soap. No pet food items or baby care items like diapers, or feminine hygiene items like tampons or pads. No “hot” or deli foods, no pre-prepared or frozen foods (in some areas). No tobacco or alcohol.) Average cost per person per meal is about $1.60, if  s/he can qualify for the maximum food stamp benefits available. There are no actual paper scrip / coupon-like “food stamps” anymore; SNAP benefits are distributed via plastic Electronic Bank Transfer (EBT) cards that look a lot like standard debit cards.
  • Here are the guidelines for WIC: Be poor and hungry, have infant(s) or very young child(ren). There are nutrition “classes” available, and the focus is on providing lots of dairy products for small children. Otherwise, WIC has very similar guidelines as SNAP.
  • Find your local “Section 8” low-income housing area. What kind of neighborhood is it in? Is it safe? Would you feel comfortable driving through or walking around the neighborhood at night? Is it attractive and conveniently situated near good schools, public transportation, grocery stores and businesses? Would you want to live there, even for free? Do you still begrudge those folks a “free” apartment? (Did you know that people can wait up to a decade or more to be placed in this housing?)
MYTH #4: Welfare is a huge drain on the federal budget.
  • It’s true that with state and federal expenditures, welfare programs cost a total of $24 billion annually. And yet welfare payments affect only 1 percent of the federal budget.
  • Affluent Americans enjoy far greater benefits in the form of tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes, capital gains exclusions, and farm subsidies. The higher the household income, under current tax law, the greater the tax advantages. Mortgage interest, which is excluded from taxation on loans up to $1 million, will cost the federal government $53.5 billion in 1995, according to a House Joint Committee on Taxation report—more than twice the payments to poor families.
  • Families earning $50,000 or more enjoyed 88 percent of the total tax benefit, and families earning more than $100,000 annually collected 44 percent, according to the same report. “People with million-dollar mortgages do not need a federal subsidy,” says Henry Rose, director of the Community Law Center at Loyola University Law School in Chicago. “You can own two homes and benefit from mortgage interest deductions on both. The government is subsidizing you to own two homes. Is that really where we want our taxes to go? Contributions to Social Security decline as a percentage of income for persons earning more than $60,000. Thus, a worker who earns $20,000 pays 6 percent of earnings into Social Security while another person who earns $200,000 contributes only 2 percent.
  • Unlike federal assistance to the poor, government payments to Social Security recipients are adjusted annually to ease the bite of inflation.
  • Via ThinkByNumbers.org: “In 1996, Congress passed a bill enacting limited welfare reform, replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the new Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program. One key aspect of this reform required recipients to engage in job searches, on the job training, community service work, or other constructive behaviors as a condition for receiving aid. [T]he success of this reform was pretty dramatic. Caseloads were cut nearly in half. Once individuals were required to work or undertake constructive activities as a condition of receiving aid they left welfare rapidly. Another surprising result was a drop in the child poverty rate. Employment of single mothers increased substantially and the child poverty rate fell sharply from 20.8 percent in 1995 to 16.3 percent in 2000.”
  • The poor unfairly bear the brunt of our political and economic anger and are without powerful defenders. “The typical reaction I hear is, ‘We’re the taxpayers who carry the weight of society. Why are you critical of our meager benefits?'” Rose says. “I can understand that. But when we talk about replacing the welfare state, let’s at least recognize all the forms of benefits and look at who really needs subsidy.”

We don’t think purely logically when it comes to finding solutions to poverty.

One problem we have to deal with is separating what is financially most logical and feasible with what offends the sensibilities when it comes to helping the disadvantaged, be they welfare recipients or the homeless. Whereas I am not taking a side one way or the other on this particular issue, there are hard numbers which demonstrate that actually giving chronically homeless people a cheap apartment is financially less onerous than dealing with keeping the homeless away from tourists and from hassling passers-by, and with paying for their health problems, ER visits and medical bills.
Cracked‘s Chris Zeigler explains it with a humorous twist: “The homeless will always be with us. No one wants to hire them, and there’s no way society can afford to just give them a place to live. When a dude is sleeping in a box he found in the alleyway and eating rats cooked over a cigarette lighter, it’s sad, but he’s not costing us anything — at most, he costs whatever spare change he collects in his hat every day. But has anyone gone ahead and calculated the actual cost of keeping someone alive and homeless? Someone did! And it’s around a million dollars.

Wait, what?

First of all, as a society we’re not cool with just letting poor people die in the streets. So while we don’t provide housing, we do provide emergency room care. It’s counterintuitive, but this begrudging little bit of help actually winds up costing society way more than if we just went the whole way. Why? Well, it should come as a surprise to nobody that living on the street is kind of unhealthy, and that’s before the depression and its accompanying substance abuse come into play. […] In Washington in 2002, 198 [homeless] individuals generated 9,000 emergency room visits, or a little under one a week. At a minimum of $1,000 a visit, that’s a heck of a medical bill that those hospitals are trying to collect from a homeless person. Unless they have a really good day panhandling, that money is coming out of your pocket.
Add in the annual cost of $24,000 if they take advantage of a shelter, plus the cost of the police to arrest and process those who misbehave (plus the round-the-clock housing, feeding and guarding they get once they’re in jail), and it all adds up to a tidy sum for taxpayers to handle. Experts say it really would be cheaper just to house them and treat them. […] The general public, of course, would never go for this idea, on principle alone. But it turns out principle is expensive as hell.”
Power-law solutions focus exclusively on the numbers and ask what would be the most financially feasible solution: What is the bottom-line? It turns out that the solution to many issues that involve the poor which would cost the least amount of money would inevitably be the least popular solution, because certain people would be outraged that the very poor were “getting a free handout” — probably the same people who are outraged about the not-so-free assistance the poor are begrudged now. The fact is, although these people talk a lot about the costs and “I don’t want my tax dollars spent on that!”, if you showed them that it would actually save them money to be more charitable, even to the “undeserving,” those people would not want to try any proposal that appears to “reward” the struggling in any way.
That is because, deep down, a lot of the fighting over welfare is not about what it costs, but who we perceive it to be helping the most. This is why it behooves certain groups (and politicians especially) to perpetuate the Welfare Queen fable: It’s a modern-day Southern Strategy and, unfortunately, it still resonates with resentful white people in particular.
Power-law solutions, even in all their cold, logical glory and demonstrably improved bottom line, do not stand a chance against deep-seated resentment, especially racially-tinged resentment for The Poors that is perpetuated by politicians who know darn well what they are doing. But lefty liberals don’t like power-law solutions either, because they seem too cold and impersonal. Both sides are dead wrong about rejecting power-law solutions if the goal is really to help the poor while also making the smartest financial decisions.
As The New Yorker says: “”Power-law solutions have little appeal to the right, because they involve special treatment for people who do not deserve special treatment; and they have little appeal to the left, because their emphasis on efficiency over fairness suggests the cold number-crunching of Chicago-school cost-benefit analysis. Even the promise of millions of dollars in savings or cleaner air or better police departments cannot entirely compensate for such discomfort.
In Denver, John Hickenlooper, the city’s enormously popular mayor, has worked on the homelessness issue tirelessly during the past couple of years. He spent more time on the subject in his annual State of the City address this past summer than on any other topic. He gave the speech, with deliberate symbolism, in the city’s downtown Civic Center Park, where homeless people gather every day with their shopping carts and garbage bags. He has gone on local talk radio on many occasions to discuss what the city is doing about the issue. He has commissioned studies to show what a drain on the city’s resources the homeless population has become. But, he says, “there are still people who stop me going into the supermarket and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to help those homeless people, those bums.'””
A more recent case where power-law solutions should have been applied was the failed welfare recipient drug testing experiment in Florida. Not only did the testing fail to save taxpayers any welfare money (because the few people who took the test and failed were able to assign other adults to apply for benefits for their families, and those adults passed) but there was no thought to what would happen if a family was denied welfare because the adult applying for benefits was tested and popped positive on a drug screen. One thing that would definitely have happened is that dependent children or elderly family members would be punished due to the irresponsibility of their adult caretaker. Few people mentioned that automatically assuming that welfare applicants would also, naturally, be drug users was insulting, had suspiciously racist undertones, and, as it turns out, was grossly inaccurate (only 2% of the welfare applicants tested positive for drugs, which, when compared to self-reported percentages of up to 9% in the general population as a whole, implies that welfare applicants are actually less likely to do drugs). There was, notably, no discussion about getting those people who tested positive into a rehab or addiction counseling program. There was also no discussion educating the general public that TANF benefits are not “freebies” but part of a “workfare” program.
It was also kept pretty quiet that Governor Rick Scott benefited financially from the drug testing, and that taxpayer money went to line his pocket.
As a result, you had a lot of ignorant people posting things such as “If I have to pee in a cup to work, you have to pee in a cup for workfare assistance.” Translation: Because I was humiliated and had to submit to a probably unnecessary and expensive pee test to get my probably grossly-underpaid crappy job, then you, too, should submit to an arguably unconstitutional procedure so you can participate in a Welfare To Work program which actually does not provide anywhere near a living wage.”
Considering strict profit-law solutions would have nipped the “test the welfare recipients” idea in the bud. The whole debacle wasted far more taxpayer money than it saved in welfare payments.

We must remember there are suffering human beings involved when we discuss welfare.

There is no dearth of anecdotal evidence that details how miserable life on welfare can be. Here’s Cynthia’s story:
From Claretian Publications: “Cynthia Barnett bears no resemblance to the Cadillac-driving “Welfare Queen” that President Ronald Reagan made famous as an example of fraud and excess in programs to aid the poor. […]  Her monthly income consists of $128 in AFDC benefits that she receives for her youngest child, the only one still under 17 years old, and $236 in federal food-stamp assistance.
Barnett aspires to an apartment in “a relatively safe neighborhood,” but has no real hope she will ever make it out of Dearborn Homes, a Chicago public-housing development in one of the poorest, most crime-infested pockets of the nation. “People think we live the life of Reilly, with all the luxuries,” Barnett says. “I don’t have a telephone…color TV…CD player. I sure don’t eat sirloin. When we get our grant at the beginning of the month we go shopping for what’s needed, not what’s wanted. I look for the nicest things at the cheapest prices. I buy a roll of bus tokens for myself and a roll for my daughter. If we run out of tokens, we just don’t go anywhere.”
Barnett wants to work. […] Barnett now volunteers at Women for Economic Security, a program of the Chicago Area Project that offers job and leadership training for women attempting to make it off welfare. As president-elect of Women for Economic Security, one of Barnett’s tasks is educating potential donors about what it’s like to be on welfare.

We should ask why corporations like Wal*Mart get to pay their workers a pittance far below a living wage, forcing taxpayers to subsidize their food and other needs, while Wal*Mart gets tax breaks from the government.

What is it like? AFDC grants and food stamps barely cover the necessities and leave families below the federal poverty line in almost every state. The AFDC grant for a mother and two children in the median state was $366 per month—or $4,392 annually—in January 1994, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The same family would qualify for a food stamp allotment of $295 per month, or $3,540 per year. Together, AFDC and SNAP [food stamp] assistance for the family totals $661 per month, and $7,932 per year. That’s just 64 percent of the federal poverty line for a family of three, which stands at a grim $12,320. Just one in five AFDC families receive housing assistance.
Most wearing for families without resources is the fear that disaster is around the corner—sometimes in the form of an unexpected bill that would be insignificant to others.”
There is no “free ride” welfare any more — if there ever really was — and there has not been since the Clinton administration.
“On August 22, 1996 President Bill Clinton signed into law his now infamous Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act thereby “end[ing] welfare as we have come to know it.” The Act replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
TANF establishes a lifetime limit of 60 months (5 years) for federal assistance, mandates that single parents participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week, and caps federal block grant contributions to states at $16.6 billion per year. (As a result of inflation the real value of the TANF block grant has already fallen by 28%.)
[D]espite few fluctuations in the poverty rate since TANF supplanted AFCD, the participation rate among eligible families has plummeted by 52%  since 1995. Over the same time period—and despite flat to declining crime rates— the U.S. prison and jail population has increased by 44% . Perhaps a quickly expanding prison population is precisely the unspoken foundation upon which “welfare to workfare” rests. We haven’t “ended welfare;” instead we’ve invisiblized it by shifting its beneficiaries from the public square to the prison yard.”

The bottom line is that social assistance programs actually work!

If you are concerned at all about the very poor (unlike Mitt Romney), government safety net programs work.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says: “A Center analysis shows that government safety net programs kept some 25 million people out of poverty in 2010. Without any government income assistance, either from safety net programs or other income supports like Social Security, the poverty rate would have been nearly double in 2010 (28.6 rather than 15.5 percent).” Despite the acknowledged flaws in our social safety net programs, they do work if your definition of success includes “lifting families out of poverty”.
Salon says: “[P]overty fell substantially over the past several decades before rising a bit during the Great Recession. Neither liberals nor conservatives have been eager to embrace this idea—the former to bolster support for new programs and the latter to dismiss the efficacy of what’s already been done. […] The impact of the recession aside, we’re clearly winning the decades-long war on poverty. We’re doing so in part because the economy is evolving in ways that are favorable to the poor, and in part because our government programs are effective. In particular, the not-very-complicated strategy of giving money to the poor through tax credits and Social Security has steadily pushed the poverty rate down over decades, while safety net programs help shelter people from recessions. It’s understandable that advocates like to underscore the severity of social problems. But at a time when many voters seem skeptical about the efficacy of government programs it’s worth saying that these programs work. Long-term investment in anti-poverty spending has done exactly what it is supposed to do.”
Welfare–here, government assistance programs for the impoverished and needy–has never been a major cost to taxpayers in this country. Less than 1% of the average paycheck goes for this non-medical welfare.
Welfare programs are not at the root of our country’s financial problems, and they never really were.

Conservatives: Nasty When Winning, REALLY Nasty When Losing

It’s bad when you’re a sore winner and gloat for months on end. It’s worse when you’re an adult, and a really sore loser.

Please take a moment and compare the reactions of conservatives to the Obamacare ruling to the reaction of liberals to the Citizens United ruling. There is a difference between being disappointed or upset and acting like a crazy person while implying that SCOTUS Justice Roberts’ epilepsy meds made him crazy (or wishing death on the justices).

WTF is wrong with these people?

They are mean-spirited, gloaty, sore winners when things go their way and nasty, petulant, crybaby losers threatening armed revolution, wishing death on others or speculating someone has gone insane when they are denied their way.

“Conservatives have exhibited a veritable rainbow of bad reactions to Thursday’s announcement. Former Fox News personality Glenn Beck has taken to selling Chief Justice John Roberts T-shirts that say “Coward” on his website ($30 plus shipping and handling). Matt Drudge and others have been blaming the ruling on Roberts’s epilepsy medication, although presumably his ruling on Citizens United was not affected by the same factors.

Merrimack, New Hampshire libertarian and Tea Party president Mike Malzone has gone further than others in his outrage, declaring in a Facebook post on the Merrimack Tea Party page, “I hope the (5 Supremes supporting ACA) get colon cancer.””

Charming.

Sometimes everyday ordinary conservatives exhibit similar behavior. Here’s an interesting exchange from Facebook:

Lucy D****: “Well I am Conservative and I don’t hate. Some of my best friends are Liberal*. So you can understand how I find this post offensive!”

Marcela V******: “And you [Lucy] are a huge liar. I just went to your page and it’s filled with pure hate and all your KKK friends post just as much garbage as you do. You call the President every racist and vile name you can think of and then you come here talking like you’re pure and sweet. I reported your page as well for actual hate speech and the use of racist words.”

Chest S********: “This is not a public opinion survey, it’s a fucking Facebook page, so you can understand how I find your post tedious. If you don’t like my page or its content, there is a lot of internet out there for you to be self-righteous on. Good day.”

And from Politico:

‎”Democratically elected representatives pass a law that is signed by the president. The G.O.P. yells and screams that the law is unconstitutional (even though the mandate was their idea), so it goes to the Supreme Court. Now the Supreme Court decides that, in fact, the law is constitutional.

So what’s the next big idea from some of the best and brightest of G.O.P. governors? Hold off implementing any parts of the health care law until the November 6th election has passed, at the very least. Refusal to apply for grants, set up health exchanges or do anything that would benefit the people of their state is the new top priority. In a surprise move (at least to me), Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is not among those looking to play games and wait until the last minute to get anything done in compliance with the A.C.A.

Of course the Obama administration had prepared for such nonsense from the G.O.P. :

“The Obama administration sent a clear message [after Obamacare was upheld by SCOTUS] that it is prepared to begin creating state-by-state health insurance exchanges in places where politicians hostile to the Affordable Care Act refuse to do so.

A White House official stressed that Republican governors’ resistance to the law will be no barrier to the creation of the exchanges. All 50 states, the official said, will have exchanges by 2014.””

* Did you catch that? “Some of my best friends are [members of a particular–usually minority–group]” is almost always a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with a jerk.

The General Public Ruins Classical Music Concerts and Movies

Call me snobby, but part of the reason going to see a movie in a theatre is so excruciating these days is that audiences can’t shut up, sit down and behave for two hours. Bringing incivility and unrestrained audience noises to classical music would not improve the experience for anyone else. If you lack the patience to enjoy something quietly for two hours, please do not punish everyone else around you who can.

Maybe we should have separate screenings for “extreme audience participation” films and “sit down and shut up” films, because some Big Dumb Movies are actually improved by some audience feedback (but it is rare, unless it is the Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Room. Seriously, I don’t want to hear you shouting your stupid advice to Batman).

On the other hand, part of making classical music accessible is bringing it out of the formally-dressed and expensive concert hall and into other performance venues where audiences can dress as they like and pay a fraction of the cost for a concert hall ticket (or nothing at all, at free concerts), but still show respect to the musicians and the various pieces being performed. This is a good thing!

There has to be a balance between “dumbing it down” for the impatient and rude who can’t refrain from hooting and applauding and commenting inappropriately and wandering about during performances, scraping non-anchored chairs around, eating noisy / smelly / messy food, and/or letting small children run about or scream (etc) as is what happens in some live action and movie theatres now (even during movies that are not rated G or PG for the kiddies), and making it so inaccessible and intimidating that only those with expendable income and a nice formal outfit can manage to attend a live concert.

As someone has suggested, it would behoove a lot of concert halls to consider handing out “Is this your first time at the opera / a classical music concert? Here are some tips!” brochures. It would not reach the unreachable, but as it is now, those folks aren’t showing up en masse to classical music concerts anyway unless they are outdoors and the musicians are playing stuff like the “1812 Overture” with fireworks exploding overhead. Because there’s nothing Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel likes more than explosions, unless it is tits and explosions…and beer.

 

Christianity Is Not Under Attack or Endangered, So You Can Relax

One of my favorite Facebook friends is Christian and (not to put words in his mouth) apparently feels a little bit uncomfortable when atheists discuss atheism and/or criticize Christianity. (Again, this is a nice person who seems to grok what Jesus said in the Bible about being decent to other human beings and I am not trying to say otherwise.)

I posted a slightly snarky someecards image to my Wall, and my friend was inspired to comment on it.

He recently said (among other things): “I don’t feel “threatened”, per se….sometimes, though, I feel like atheists and agnostics are downright angry when a person presents as a Christian…and it’s interesting that they won’t act like that with a Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu. I kinda feel like Christianity is under attack…likely because so many “Christians” have acted badly and with hypocrisy.”

And:  

“I just wondered… I don’t put down atheists. Why do they keep putting me down? Does cynicism make up for old persecutions? I guess it’s okay then. As a believer, I do apologize for the Christians who act crappy and superior and repressive. But I don’t do that… I wish people would stop inferring I’m stupid for being Christian. But, I’ll live. ‎…and I’m not really expecting an answer…not sure there is one… We humans are consciously or subconsciously motivated by 1,000 forms of fear. Religious people are frightened of atheists. Atheists are frightened of religious people….and NEITHER ONE can PROVE their positions….or disprove them. I think fear is generated by the unknown and our desire not to be foolish. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t believe in God. I wish THEY didn’t mind that I do. And I promise, personally, to NEVER inflict or impose my beliefs on anyone. That’s why I jealously guard America’s freedom OF religion….AND…freedom FROM religion.”

See? He’s a pretty awesome guy. The problem here is that he’s also feeling some hurt and offense, which is not cool.

My response:

I’m going to say some stuff in a nice tone of voice, which may be hard to “hear” online, but I swear I am saying this all very kindly, and with the intention of responding to your apparent bepuzzlement re: why some atheists / agnostics / other faiths might get a wee bit cranky at Christians when they claim they feel “attacked.”

If you are not currently living in an oppressive Muslim theocracy, you are most likely NOT being “attacked” for being a Christian.

Atheists are generally “live and let live” kind of folks but when theists (believers) make a point of dominating the political and cultural landscape, some atheists do get a wee bit cranky about it. Here’s a thought exercise to try: Compare this to having a neighbor with shitty musical taste. When he (for the sake of argument, it will be a he) plays his music at a reasonable decibel level in his own home, you don’t give a crap WHAT he listens to. When, conversely, he opens every window and blasts it to the whole neighborhood from car or house, the fact that you don’t like Juggalo music or Justin Bieber is suddenly going to become relevant to the amount of irritation you feel being stuck living next door to someone with shitty musical taste. You are likely to be moved to express your opinion about it or to blast your own non-shitty music right back.

When you are an atheist in the United States, it is like your entire neighborhood has the WORST musical taste EVER and also like they simply can’t enjoy their music quietly in their own home but instead have to throw open all their windows and doors and “share” their terrible music with you whether you like it or not and they do so at all hours of the day or night. There is no escape from it, ever. If you move away to a neighborhood with fewer neighbors with crappy musical taste (and this is not something you can know for sure in advance), it only takes ONE GUY playing Slipknot loud enough to drown out jet planes landing to irritate you.

What’s worse? You have no recourse. If you call the cops on your loud neighbor who won’t stop it with the Kenny G and the klezmer bands, and won’t turn it down or shut his windows, you’ll find that the cop is a huge Kenny G fan and won’t understand why you can’t just deal with it.

And that is what it feels like to be atheist in a predominantly theist society. If you choose to blast your own music back, at the same volume, you are seen as the bad guy. You’re the abrasive, obnoxious, argumentative, bad person. All because you were sharing YOUR music just as freely as your neighbor was sharing his. It turns out that this is equally annoying to the other neighbors who hate your neighbor’s shitty musical taste and don’t like the atheist’s taste, either. You are both seen as irritating. Worse, because atheists are a minority and fewer people like their musical taste (lack of belief), they have less support when doing the exact same thing their theist neighbors do all the time (loudly broadcasting their taste publicly). Not fair, but that’s how it goes.

Anyway, in the US, it is the theists who are free to entertain the entire country with their horrible musical taste, and it turns out that since the majority of the population happens to like the same stuff, you’re kind of stuck if you don’t.

If everyone kept their music to a reasonable volume in their own house, or gathered together at the same concerts but refrained from inflicting their musical taste on everyone else at all times, I doubt anyone would complain at all. But that’s not how it works.

Most theists DO keep their music (their beliefs) personal and confined within their own homes or at concert halls (religious gathering sites like churches and temples and mosques). It’s the loud minority of theists who do not, and insist that everyone else tolerate music (beliefs) they don’t like that get atheists upset. And, again, most atheists quietly go about their business and tolerate the aural assault of inescapable bad music (religious beliefs they do not share), but there is also a vocal minority who have just HAD IT and are now insisting on blasting their own music (lack of religious belief) just as loudly.

At any rate, that’s one way to look at it. But, really, theists have no reason to worry.

You can rest easy about your Christianity supposedly being under “attack”  (it isn’t) when: 

  •  the dominant religion in the United States is Christian. (From Wikipedia: “”The majority of Americans (60% to 76%) identify themselves as Christians, mostly within Protestant and Catholic denominations, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively. Non-Christian religions (including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism etc.), collectively make up about 3.9% to 5.5% of the adult population. Another 15% of the adult population identifies as having no religious belief or no religious affiliation. When asked, about 5.2% said they did not know, or refused to reply. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, religious belief varies considerably across the country: 59% of Americans living in Western states (the “Unchurched Belt”) report a belief in God, yet in the South (the “Bible Belt”) the figure is as high as 86%. However, despite this seemingly high level of religiosity, only 9% of Americans in a 2008 poll said religion was the most important thing in their life, compared with 45% who said family was paramount in their life and 17% who said money and their career was paramount.“)
  • Christianity is so well-established in the US that we actually call a huge section of the US “the Bible Belt” (and another section “The Unchurched Belt”–which was news to me).
  • some Christians are busily trying to tear down the wall of Separation between Church and State to enact legislation based on Christian beliefs. This would not fly at all if any other religious group attempted to impose specific tenets of their faith on Americans as a whole. (In fact, some conservative politicians have proposed laws prohibiting adoption of “Sharia Law” in their jurisdictions, even though there is and was no possibility of any such thing happening.) And, yes, some Christians seem to believe that resistance to Biblical rules being turned into laws is somehow an “attack” on their beliefs.

Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1: No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland, Article 37: That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265: No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.

North Carolina, Article 6, Section 8 The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4: No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2: No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.

Texas, Article 1, Section 4: No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

  • you can’t go more than a few miles without finding a Christian place of worship (there are at LEAST eleven places of worship within a one mile radius of my home and each and every one is Christian and probably 8-9 of these are Southern Baptist).
  •  US currency since the 1950s has had Christian sentiments on it (“In God We Trust” replacing “E Pluribus Unum” which means “Out Of Many, One”). People got very angry when it was (falsely) claimed that “In God We Trust” would not appear on new dollar coins. Because people are stupid.

  • the Pledge of Allegiance added “under God” in 1954 during the McCarthy era to try to weed out non-Christians and Communists. The message is that the non-religious are suspect or unpatriotic or immoral in some way.

Article 6, section 3 of the Constitution states: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The Founders clearly wanted the United States government to be a separate entity away from the church and all organized religion. While Christianity dominated the personal lives of many Americans, the Founders didn’t base their government on Christianity, religion, the Bible or the church.

Treaty of Tripoli:

In the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli, written under the George Washington presidency and signed under the John Adam’s presidency, the treaty states that the United States was: “not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” Christian extremists often point to the fact that some of the Founders were Deists and [some were] Christians; while that is true, it didn’t have any effect on how they governed or their ability to create a “Christian nation,” which the United States is not.

  • Christians claim that we were founded as a “Christian” nation (when it is untrue and, more important, provably untrue if you actually look at the relevant documents): “The primary leaders of the so-called founding fathers of our nation were not Bible-believing Christians; they were deists. Deism was a philosophical belief that was widely accepted by the colonial intelligentsia at the time of the American Revolution. Its major tenets included belief in human reason as a reliable means of solving social and political problems and belief in a supreme deity who created the universe to operate solely by natural laws. The supreme God of the Deists removed himself entirely from the universe after creating it. They believed that he assumed no control over it, exerted no influence on natural phenomena, and gave no supernatural revelation to man. A necessary consequence of these beliefs was a rejection of many doctrines central to the Christian religion. Deists did not believe in the virgin birth, divinity, or resurrection of Jesus, the efficacy of prayer, the miracles of the Bible, or even the divine inspiration of the Bible.”

  • our elected officials have national prayer breakfasts and ask God to bless us constantly.
  • The White House has an Easter egg roll event and displays a Christmas tree.
  • we swear on Bibles (by default) when testifying in court. You can “affirm,” rather than “swear,” but imagine, if you can, what the reaction to your choice might be in some areas.
  • our elected officials swear on the Bible (by default) to uphold The Constitution.
  • hundreds, if not thousands, of words, phrases and quotes from the Bible are used frequently by all English-speaking people in the world. A SMALL sampling follows (“KJV” stands for “King James Version” of the Bible):

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
A broken heart: KJV, Psalms 34:18 – The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
A cross to bear: KJV, Luke 14:27 – And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
A drop in the bucket
A fly in the ointment
A graven image: KJV, Deuteronomy 5:8 – Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth.
A house divided against itself cannot stand
A labour of love
A law unto themselves: KJV, Romans 2:14 – For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.
A leopard cannot change its spots
A man after his own heart
A multitude of sins
A nest of vipers
A peace offering: KJV, Leviticus 3:6 – And if his offering for a sacrifice of peace offering unto the LORD be of the flock; male or female, he shall offer it without blemish.
A sign of the times: KJV, Matthew 16:3 – And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
A soft answer turns away wrath: KJV, Proverbs 15:1 – A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
A thorn in the flesh
A two-edged sword: KJV, Proverbs 5:4 – But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
A voice crying in the wilderness: KJV John 1:23 – He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
All things must pass
All things to all men
Am I my brother’s keeper?
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
As old as Methuselah
As old as the hills
As white as snow
As you sow so shall you reap
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
At his wits end
Baptism of fire: KJV, Matthew 3:11 – I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
Be fruitful and multiply: KJV, Genesis 1:22 – And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
Beat swords into ploughshares
Bite the dust
Blessed are the peacemakers
Born again: KJV, John 3:3 – Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Breath of life: KJV, Genesis 2:7 – And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
By the skin of your teeth
By the sweat of your brow: KJV, Genesis 3:19 – In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Can a leopard change its spots?
Cast bread upon the waters: KJV, Ecclesiastes 11:1 – Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Cast the first stone
Coat of many colours
Don’t cast your pearls before swine
Dust to dust: KJV, Genesis 3:19 – In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Eat drink and be merry
Eye to eye: KJV, Isaiah 52:8 – Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.
Faith will move mountains
Fall from grace
Fat of the land: KJV, Genesis 45:18 – And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.
Feet of clay: KJV, Daniel 2: 31-33 – His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.
Fight the good fight
Fire and brimstone: KJV, Genesis 19: 24-26 – Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.
Flesh and blood
For everything there is a season
Forbidden fruit
Forgive them for they know not what they do
From strength to strength
Get thee behind me Satan
Gird your loins…

  • Biblical stories are often retold and used as themes in non-Christian literature / art / film / music*; we also borrow heavily from Greco-Roman and (to a lesser extent, once you get past the five days of the week named after Norse deities) Norse mythology, but nowhere nearly as often as we draw from Christian story arcs and symbolism.
  • Christianity is the dominant religious culture world-wide even though, percentage-wise, Christians are a minority globally.

World religions, by percentage of world population.

Christianity:  33.32%.

Muslim:  21.01%

Hindu: 13.26%.

Buddhist:  5.84%.

Jewish:  0.23%

Other:  12.25%

Non-religious:  11.77%.

Atheist:  2.32%.

  • Christian holidays are celebrated globally even in countries where Christianity is NOT the dominant religion.
  • people of all faiths are inundated with Christmas music for about three months straight every winter (and most of it sucks, especially the so-called “secular” Christmas music) and Christian holiday decor every winter and spring.
  • there are several cable TV channels devoted entirely to religious Christian broadcasting. There are also several Christian TV shows that are not aired on religious cable channels but major networks (such as “Touched By An Angel”). You can also choose a service provider that offers over 50 24-hour Christian networks.

“Sky Angel is your premier source for Christian and family-friendly entertainment – taking the guesswork out of channel surfing. Unlike Christian cable TV providers, Sky Angel’s primary focus is providing the widest variety of faith-based TV and radio available anywhere. Sky Angel also provides over 20 of the most family-friendly, educational mainstream channels – all brought to you exclusively through our affordable subscription packages. 

Although Christian cable TV providers may offer one or two quality Christian channels, Sky Angel delivers over 50 faith-based 24-hour networks that keep your values and budget in mind. Sky Angel sets itself apart from Christian cable TV providers by offering you three reasonably priced programming packages. The Faith Package is $14.99 per month and the Family Package is $19.99 per month. Combining both packages together for the best value, called the Family Values Pak, is only $24.99 per month.” 

  • there are far more Christian-themed holiday movies and TV special episodes than any other religion (though I hear that The Rugrats celebrated Channukkah at least once. See also Seinfeld‘s discussion of “Festivus.”)
  • there are active Christian groups which attempt to censor content in all popular entertainment media based on their Christian beliefs.
  • Christian groups regularly attempt to boycott or ban popular books, such as the Harry Potter series, and keep them out of schools and public libraries, rather than just not reading them.
  • there are active Christian groups which attempt to censor or boycott various companies and institutions which embrace diversity and tolerance. For example, One Million Moms regularly tries to keep retailers like JC Penney from recognizing homosexual people in their advertising.

  • there are Christian parochial and private schools available for parents who want them and they currently can manipulate a “voucher system” in many areas to get taxpayer money to help fund them in defiance of, again, the Separation of Church and State.
  • there are Christian groups like The Good News Club that attempt to recruit public school children in some schools, and which teach genocide is a positive thing (not an exaggeration) based on Bible verses
  • Christians try on a depressingly regular basis to make textbooks include Christian ideas like creationism / intelligent design (but never bother to demand that any other religions’ creation myth stories be included as well).
  • Louisiana private schools that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers are teaching students that the Loch Ness monster is real (this has been debunked repeatedly) and thus disproves evolution.
  • This is not the only stunt Louisiana Republicans have pulled while trying to push a Christian-only agenda in schools. Louisiana was cool with subverting Separation of Church and State by using taxpayer-funded vouchers for private Christian schools, but balked at including any Muslim schools:

It’s an honest mistake, assuming that the Constitution only protects your own personal megachurch faith. But one Louisiana Republican is learning the hard way that religious school vouchers can be used to fund education at all sorts of religious schools, even Muslim ones. And while she’s totally in favor of taxpayer money being used to pay for kids to go to Christian schools, she’s willing to put a stop to the entire program if Muslim schools are going to be involved.

Valarie Hodges admitted that when she supported Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program, she only did so because she assumed the religious school vouchers could only be used for Christian schools. Religious freedom means that everyone’s free to follow Valarie Hodges’ religion!”

  • Christians regularly get butthurt when told that no, they can not tell the students to pray nor can they lead Christian prayers in secular / public schools; these same people get upset or angry if devout Muslim public school students request private time to pray or atheist students ask to be excused from group prayers.
  • Christian religious leaders regularly skirt the line when discussing politics, though they are not supposed to do so if they wish to retain tax-exempt status; to my knowledge not one Christian church has ever lost its tax exempt status no matter how often its leaders discuss politics or openly support one political party or politician.
  • you can easily find symbols of Christianity on car bumpers, in places of business, on clothing, on shoes, on jewelry, on the vast majority of greeting cards, on housewares, in commercial art, in fine art, on pet supplies, on billboards (etc.) It is likely, if you wish to purchase such items, that you can walk into any “big box retailer” and find items with Christian sentiments or symbols on them. If you wish to buy non-Christian merchandise with your faith’s sentiments or symbols on it, or if you want atheist merchandise, you will probably have to go online to order it.
  •  celebrities, politicians, (some) musicians and (especially) athletes make a point of praying Christian prayers publicly; Tim Tebow actually writes Bible verses on top of his patches of eye black.
  • when it is more common than unusual to spot “JOHN 3:16” signs at sporting events, parades and other large gatherings. Rollen Stewart is in jail now, but there are many others ready and willing to carry on in his footsteps.

  • people in jail cynically profess to have “come to Jesus” at parole hearings to get (and often receive) leniency on their sentences or early releases; studies appear to show that the vast majority of people in prison profess to be Christians (however, this sort of assertion relies on statistics which in some cases can be manipulated a bit, so you should look at the stats yourself and draw your own conclusions).
  • some sects of Christianity (Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular) actually make a point to come to your house on weekends to tell you that–even though they don’t know you or what you might or might not believe–they are making the assumption that not only is your personal and private religious belief system their business (it isn’t) but it is also unacceptable compared to theirs. In every neighborhood I have lived in that had “NO SOLICITING” rules, religious people would ignore the signs and proselytize weekly anyway.

  •  some Christians bash people of color, women and homosexuals loudly and proudly and are not tarred and feathered for being hateful and divisive.
  • there’s an entire genre of music (with several sub-genres) called Christian music; this in addition to religious music like religious classical music / hymns which, being public domain, are often used to score content which is not even religious in nature.
  • there are entire bookstores and literary genres devoted to Christian-themed subjects; there are probably fewer than two dozen bookstores nation-wide that feature ONLY religious content for sale that is not Judeo-Christian, Jewish, or Christian.
  • Pope Benedict XVI, aka Cardinal Ratzinger, got caught covering up for pedophile priests abusing children. Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in disgrace as Boston’s archbishop in 2002 after the priest sex abuse scandal exploded in the United States, was promptly given a huge promotion as head of a major Roman basilica. (He has since resigned, but he got a promotion, folks, after he was chased out of Boston for protecting pedophile priests.)
  • a group of Christians (The Gideons) leave Bibles in hotel rooms everywhere; I only know of ONE other group that does anything similar: The cult of Scientology regularly bombards libraries with unsolicited and unwanted Scientology-related literature. An occasional small-scale and short-lived response by individuals leaving Buddhist books (and so on) can not in any way compare.

“I cannot say enough about how horrible a thing it is for you to leave something like this in place of a tip. You can’t imagine how it feels to work your ass off for an hour or more, providing excellent service, only to find a tract sitting on the table – surreptitiously folded up to trick you into thinking you actually got a decent tip, or a tip at all. Christians are known for being notoriously bad tippers to start with. If you doubt me, ask any server. There’s a reason they dread working the Sunday lunch shift.

I have a bit of enlightenment for you,tract-tippers. This is not clever. You are screwing with the livelihoods of the servers on whom you inflict your evangelism. Oh, and that smirk on your face as you walk away from your table after leaving only makes you more of a pretentious dick. 

You want to know what else is not clever? Writing “Jesus Loves You” or some other bogus Christianese slogan to the line on your bill where you are supposed to add your tip.

Oh, and while we are at it, your “let’s eat most of our meal then send it back saying it sucked so we don’t have to pay for it or leave a tip” is a bunch of crap. It’s cheating [and theft], you are a douche for doing it, and the entire staff sees right through you.” ~ Al Stefanelli

  • when orgasming, having a bad day, experiencing misfortune or sneezing, someone is going to mention God 99% of the time. Pretty sure they are not talking about Ganesha, Odin, Ra or Papa Xangô, god of fire, lightning and thunder.
  • some Christians get mad over the use of “Xtian” and “Xtianity” but often can’t spell “Muslim,” “Buddhist” or “atheist” (or “Christian”, come to think of it!) correctly themselves; it is apparently OK to butcher the spelling of other faiths but it is NOT okay to use an X (a perfectly respectable symbolic relacement for “Christ” since around the time dirt was invented) because that somehow manages to threaten the cultural stranglehold Christianity has on the United States or diss Jesus or something.
  • there are museums devoted to promoting creationism that claim that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.

  • one of the most popular artists in the US was Thomas Kinkaid, the “painter of light,” whose insipid and pseudo-spiritual art gets far more exposure and attention than similar artists who did / do not deliberately cater to the Christian market. (I admit that my dislike of Kincaid’s art is a personal opinion, and actually has nothing to do with the messages in his art but entirely to do with his style.)
  • many states have Christianity-inspired “blue laws” that restrict business / commerce on Sunday; Christians can’t just NOT SHOP or NOT WORK on Sunday, they have to force everyone else, including non-Christians, to follow the same rules they do.
  • the work week is also structured around the needs of Christians to (supposedly) worship on Sundays; before unions negotiated for a five day work week, people often worked on Saturday, too.
  • we vote on Tuesdays because we had to accomodate Christian farmers who had to travel to vote and would not travel on weekends (not entirely their fault: Sunday church attendance was mandatory in colonial times and people could be and were convicted of working on Sunday or, apparently worse, not being Christians).
  • Atheists filed a lawsuit pointing out that a 9/11 memorial should acknowledge that people of other faiths and non-religious people died, too, not just Christians, and that the proposed memorial should reflect that fact as a matter of fairness, prompted over 8,000 death threats from angry Christians.

“According to the lawsuit, among the 2,792 people killed in the twin towers 31 were Muslim Americans, approximately 400 to 500 were Jewish Americans, approximately 500 were non-religious Americans, and an unknown number were Americans of other faiths. (So, about half of the people who died were not Christian.) Additionally, no other religious or non-religious group has been permitted a memorial.”

More on this:

“American Atheists filed a lawsuit to prevent a cross from being erected at the World Trade Center Memorial site. 

The cross in question is actually two broken girders from the original tower that were found in the rubble and roughly make the shape of the Christian cross.

The Atheists’ argument is that people of many religions died in the towers on Sept 11 and should be represented in the memorial.

Last week Blair Scott, the Communications Director for the American Atheists, appeared on Fox News show America Live to discuss the lawsuit.  It went as you might imagine.

However, it’s the online aftermath that’s getting much of the attention.  Following Scott’s appearance, Fox News’ FaceBook page received more that 8,000 death threats against atheists.”

  • The Boy Scouts make no bones about aggressively promoting a Christian agenda and discriminating against gays and non-Christians. (The Girl Scouts, by way of contrast, are notably more progressive (and have been inclusive of homosexual and transgender Scouts), and, as such, are often complained about or protested by Christians.)
  • our elected officials are all Judeo-Christian (mostly just plain Christian) with THREE exceptions (that I know of) out of over 550 upper-level politicians: We have TWO Muslims (only) and ONE atheist. That is IT. Again, Christians are in no danger whatsoever of being under-represented in our country any time soon.
  • the vast majority of the heroes schoolchildren are taught to revere and admire are not only white and male, but also Christian (and usually Protestant Christian, too).
  • school calendars and schedules are arranged to allow students time off for Christian holiday celebrations; if you are, for example, Jewish, well, good luck getting time off for your high holy days of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. If you are Muslim, no time off for Ramadan (your high holy day) for you, buddy.
  • everyone has nationwide days off to celebrate the Christian holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas because, other than secular celebrations, all holidays celebrated nationally are Christian: there are no other faith’s holidays that are celebrated nationwide. To be clear, as Wikipedia puts it: “The United States does not have national holidays in the sense of days on which all employees in the U.S. receive mandatory a day free from work and all business is halted by law.” But what days did YOU get off from work*? Sometimes, when the calendar cooperates, we get Passover and Easter bundled together if our schools or workplaces chose to let us have those holidays, but if Passover (a Jewish holiday) and Easter are not conveniently close together, then the default is to have Easter off. Also, for what it is worth, the now-mostly-secular holidays of SAINT Valentine’s Day and SAINT Patrick’s Day offer a hint about how secular they originally were (clue: they weren’t).
  • Christians are not happy with this and also want to turn Hallowe’en into a religious celebration (“Jesusween” being one alternative that some knobhead actually seriously proposed). That it was originally just All Hallows Even(ing) and that it precedes All Saints Day is apparently forgotten. (And yes, that means that these people do not understand that the “w” in “ween” is the last letter in “Hallow,” as in “All Hallow’s Even” or that “een” is the shortened form of “even”, which is itself the shortened form of “evening”.)

  • though there is supposed to be no religious test required for taking office, Christians opposed to Barack Obama not only deny his Christian faith but also insist that he is a Muslim, which is supposed to, in some way, make him unfit to be President. (Please note that Muslims do not eat hot dogs, smoke, or drink beer.) Message: Be Christian or else. Remember also that JFK’s Catholicism was seen as too “radical” for other (Protestant) Christians at the time.

A Muslim explains: “Basically all food is halal and allowed for Muslims to eat except what is forbidden explicitly in Quran and what is forbidden by prophet Muhammad[‘s] saying[s] (Ahadith) or practices. In Islam, alcoholic beverages–or any intoxicants–[are] generally forbidden. Intoxicants were forbidden in the Qur’an, through several separate verses revealed at different times over a period of years. [It] is forbidden to eat (except in cases of severe hunger)…dead animals, pork, blood, and what is not slaughtered under name of God. Smoking is considered also forbidden as…smoking is harmful to health and Quran commands us not to harm our health.”

  • The use of “BC” and “AD” (“Before Christ” and “Anno Domini”– meaning “year of our Lord”) denote vast periods of time; though there has been an effort to popularize “BCE” and CE” (“Before Common Era” and “Common Era”), this has not caught on and it still uses “year zero” which is associated with Christ’s reported date of birth (and which might even be historically inaccurate, but that’s another rant for another day).
  • religious leaders (usually conservative) are frequent guests on news channels and political news programs; the one liberal equivalent to balance all those conservative religious folk that I know of would be the REVEREND Al Sharpton on MSNBC.
  • communities which display public holiday decorations do so at taxpayer expense more often than not and, unsurprisingly, those decorations are usually for Christian holidays AND sometimes even include specifically religious displays like Nativity scenes and not just boughs of holly and pretty lights.
  • Christians have tried to place the Ten Commandments into government buildings and courthouses. Actually, Christians have SUCCEEDED in placing the Ten Commandments in government buildings, and most of them are really pissed off that they were told they could not DO that. (Please name one U.S. government building or courthouse that has a monument depicting tenets of a faith other than Christianity. Public libraries with documents and books about non-Christian religions or atheism do not count.)

  • it is illegal to discriminate against someone or to fire them on the basis of their religious faith (or lack thereof), but try announcing you are anything other than Christian to some employers and see how that works out.
  • it is not uncommon for workplaces to encourage employee-managed “Secret Santa” celebrations and it is even less uncommon for workplaces to have holiday parties that will almost always feature a Christmas tree and Christmas decor and Christmas music.
  •  it is not uncommon for co-workers to announce what they are “giving up for Lent” or to try to form a Bible Study Group with other coworkers or to display Christian inspirational art and quotes prominently in their work areas.
  • some Christians also get all bent out of shape when told “Happy Holidays” (which is inclusive and does not assume you are of any particular faith while intending to be something pleasant and friendly to say) instead of “Merry Christmas” and think nothing of throwing a public tantrum and often do so in a store covered in Christian holiday decor and piping in Christian holiday music. (…Because non-Christians should not be acknowledged at all and should not also have a pleasant winter holiday season? I don’t understand this sort of thing.)

A letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News from a Christian who is “sad and angry” that some people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”:

 “This article made me both sad and angry; sad because we have become a nation that must be so politically correct that we think we cannot celebrate the most blessed holiday of the year by saying “Merry Christmas,” having Christmas trees and parties at school, and celebrating the birth of our Savior with nativity scenes on courthouse lawns. It made me angry because we do not have the wherewithal to stand up for our beliefs.

 The spokesperson for the Allen ISD stated, “times are changing,” and, “there’s more focus on diversity and less assumption that everyone comes from the same background.” Is that a reason to do away with the traditions that this country was built upon? What do you suppose would happen if we, as Americans, immigrated to another country whose culture had different beliefs and celebrations?”

Now substitute any other faith (or lack of faith) for “Christian” and see if ANY OTHER GROUP ON THE PLANET is anywhere near as “oppressed” and “attacked” (or “threatened” or “endangered” or “marginalized”) as Christians claim to be. 

You might discover that Christians are more likely to oppress than be oppressed; at the very least, you are likely to be assimilated, like the Borg, into a monotheistic culture based almost entirely on Christianity.

DID YOU KNOW? An estimated 35% of born-again Christians do not read the Bible at all, writes the Center for Bible Engagement, quoting Ron Rhodes, President of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries.

Studies by The Barna Group and Gallup indicate that Americans are “illiterate” when it comes to the Bible and understanding the Christian faith: Issues such as teaching creationism in public schools, national days of prayer, gay marriage, women’s reproductive rights and placing the Ten Commandments in the public square are often fueled by “Bible believing” Christians in an atmosphere where the majority of people have not read the Bible.

When Christians feel singled out by atheists for criticism, they forget that many atheists live in Western countries where Christianity has dominated culture, politics, and society for over 1,500 years. Atheists are most familiar with Christianity and have to contend with Christianity on a daily basis in their lives, and perhaps even were raised as Christians.

Some atheists raised Christian were discouraged from doubting and questioning but did so anyway and some discovered that they had been misled, deceived and/or lied to by religious parents or religious leaders. This can easily result in a lingering resentment of a belief system that allowed and continues to allow such deception to occur. Experiences like this can cause anger or resentment towards religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Many atheists suffer from discrimination and abuse from family, friends, or colleagues IF they even feel comfortable enough to express their lack of religious belief at all: They can fear reprisals and ostracization. Some atheists are simply not going to have warm, fuzzy feelings about Christianity when it is misused to foster hatred and repression towards them simply because they are not Christian.Eliminating the institutionalized persecution and hatred atheists endure in the name of Christianity is going to be far more effective than attempting to convert atheists. 

All of these are valid and understandable reasons why Christianity is more of a focus for atheist critiques than other religions.

Historically, Christianity was used to excuse:

  • appropriating other religions’ mythology and pagan holiday celebrations and revising them to be Christian traditions instead
  • slavery (it’s in the Bible!)
  • The Holocaust
  • The Crusades
  • The Inquisition
  • cultural appropriation in third-world countries by (well-meaning) Christian missionaries
  • homophobia
  • subjugation of women
  • subjugation of minorities
  • subjugation of children
  • domestic violence
  • more than a few wars
  • more than a few land grabs, globally
  • disenfranchising indigenous peoples
  • torturing / murdering / forcibly converting / hanging people suspected (right or wrong) of not being a particular flavor of Christianity (Puritans hanged Quakers, for instance)
  • passing laws that punish or discriminate against non-Christians
  • antisemitism
  • panics over the Apocalypse
  • baptizing the dead who were not of your faith in life (often multiple times)
  • circumcision (whether you are for or against it, this is why)
  • social oppression
  • science denial
  • denying necessary medical care to the physically or mentally ill
  • using exorcisms to treat the mentally ill

…and much more! There are few, if any, other religions that can claim a list as impressive (and depressing). I’m not saying there aren’t ANY (hello, Islam) but there aren’t as MANY with a similar history of cultural domination.

So Christianity is top dog, and that leads to Christian Privilege. What’s that? As Wikipedia puts it, “Christian privilege” is the overarching system of advantages bestowed on Christians. It is the institutionalization of a Christian norm or standard that establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be Christian. The privileging of Christians and Christianity excludes the needs, concerns, religious cultural practices, and life experiences of people who are not Christian. At times overt and at other times subtle, Christian privilege is oppression by purpose and design, as well as by neglect, omission, erasure, and distortion. U.S. Christians in general and predominantly Protestants, successfully disseminate dominant social constructions as being common sense, as normative, or as universal, even though an estimated 70% of the world’s inhabitants are not Christian.

Here’s where we should reiterate that fact: SEVENTY PERCENT of the world’s population is NOT Christian, but, hey, no worries, the dominant culture world-wide certainly seems to be Christian anyway.

Nice Christians who sense some frustration directed their way by non-Christians are definitely on to something when they (maybe you!) say that it might be because SOME (not all, by any means, and certainly not YOU personally) Christians DO behave badly and make up bullshit like “The War on Christmas” (when people just want other faiths to be acknowledged as simply EXISTING, because GOSH, that takes something away from exactly no one to say, hey, there are people who do not believe exactly the same unprovable faith-based things I believe).

Nice Christians are correct when they notice that SOME atheists get a little cranky at claims that it is Not Okay to get a little exasperated with the FEW (I hope!) misbehaving Christians who refuse to show Jesus-like compassion, love, tolerance and acceptance towards other people IF they are not openly Christian, too.

SOME atheists get grumpy when it is clear that it is Not Okay to resist faith-based initiatives that erode the separation of church and state (it’s a big deal, which is why I have said it more than once), or that it is Totally Okay to force people who do not believe as you do (in Christianity) to follow rules, laws and social conventions based on YOUR (Christian) beliefs. (Also, are there any non-Christian groups that act like Westboro Baptist out there? Look around, and if you find any, let me know.)

Hey, guys…is it making a little more sense now?

What gets really fun (for the uninvolved observer) is when one of the more than THIRTY THOUSAND different flavors of Christianity starts bitching about a different flavor of Christianity. Protestants and Catholics have historically been at odds. Mormons / LDS, Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are called cultists by other Christians. That’s when people who aren’t Christian (or into religion stuff in general) REALLY shake their heads at Christians.

Supposedly a bunch of people who revere the same book (The Bible), and supposedly have read the same stuff in the same book (including a lot of contradictions and scientifically impossible / improbable assertions and a lot of rules and laws that most people only follow when it suits their agenda), still manage to find a hell of a lot of ways to butt heads and scream at each other while arguing about who is correctly interpreting the writings of some desert-dwelling, wandering goat herders who were writing down Jewish myths and stories to share, and who didn’t get around to writing about Jesus until long, long after he was dead (if he lived at all–and there’s some reasons to question that–but I am DEFINITELY not going to open that can of worms). Even more cool is that the standard Bible is missing a heck of a lot of relevant contemporary gospels and writings that have been omitted for…well, um, I don’t know why some made the grade and some didn’t. I’m not a Comparative Religions expert.

Again, find a religious group that acts like this that isn’t Christian, and you would discover that a lot of people get annoyed with THEM, too. (Here’s where you would be right to point out that SOME Muslims are just as pushy about their holy book and religious beliefs. You might also ponder the entertaining fact that it appears to be the most devout Christians who really, really have the most serious issues when attempting to interact with or relate to Muslims.)

What’s worst, in my mind, is how many of my friends and family are Christian and also NICE and not hypocritical, and they are lumped in with the louder and more obnoxious and more offensive Christians (in name only, most of the time) who make them look ignorant or intolerant or mean-spirited. Christians’ worst enemy out there are OTHER CHRISTIANS who, I suspect, have mostly not even read the Bible they like to wave around / thump at other people.

There need to be more people willing to say “you do not speak for ME, even if we supposedly share a common faith” when “bad” Christians act out.

Here’s something else to consider: Some atheists may just have trouble dealing with some of the things they have read directly from The Holy Bible.

Some cool things you can learn from the Bible:

  • The very first two stories in Genesis contradict each other
  • Slavery is a-OK in the Bible
  • Getting your dad (Noah) drunk and having sex with him is OK
  • Throwing your female family members to an unruly mob to rape and murder is better than being a bad host to two total strangers
  • Bats are actually birds
  • There are unicorns and dragons mentioned (A LOT) in the Bible–but not dinosaurs. I’m pretty sure kangaroos aren’t mentioned either, though.
  • Playing football is a no-no…if you play with a pigskin football. You should probably also double-check any suede and leather goods you might own to make sure they are not pigskin.
  • Leviticus, which is often used by the homophobic and self-righteous to justify condemning homosexuals, also spends several chapters (NINE!) detailing how to properly prepare burnt offerings (wow, some churches don’t even bother with incense burners these days) and, in addition to prohibiting The Gays, also prohibits eating pork, clams, oysters, crabs, lobsters and shrimp; getting tattoos; wearing cotton-polyester clothes, etc.) If you’re going to ignore the sections of Leviticus that ban tattoos, pork, shellfish, round haircuts, mixed-fiber clothing and football, how can you possibly turn around and quote Leviticus 18:22 (“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination”) as irrefutable law? Here is a situation where supposedly devout Christians (who should know their Bible) apparently either ignore what Jesus said about Mosaic Laws or treat the Bible like a Quality Street pick-a-mix chocolate candy assortment box and discard the inconvenient laws (like no eating any delicious pork chops) in order to cling to an equally outdated rule about hating non-hetero people.
  • Mules, ligers and non-purebred cats and dogs are a no-no; you shouldn’t crossbreed animals because God hates that stuff. Your labradoodle, cockapoo or Jack Shi’tzu are abominations in the eyes of the Lord your God.
  • Growing more than one crop per field is a no-no, so your Victory Garden is also an abomination unto the Lord. (By this logic, God probably also hates broccoli, which was horticulturally created by by some creative Italians who combined cauliflower with rabe (it’s a vegetable closely related to the turnip; it also called rapini).
  • Divorce is verboten, so choose your life partner very wisely!
  • It’s totally OK to rape someone if you marry them afterwards.
  • Adam and Eve were never married.
  • It’s also OK to have multiple wives and to impregnate multiple servant women (slaves) if your wives aren’t multiplying fruitfully enough for you.
  • Being illegitimate is verboten (even though it is totally not your fault!)
  • Being the great-great-great-great-ad infinitum-grandchild of an illegitimate person is also no good (and, again, it’s not even your fault!)
  • Women and men without testicles (even if it is totally not your fault, and, dude, we are SO sorry for your loss) are not supposed to pray inside a church or temple
  • Wearing gold, pearls, costly (designer?) clothing is–you guessed it!–forbidden
  • “Rounding” the edges of your haircut (no bowl cuts for you) and braided hair are verboten

…There’s so much more!

Man, this book full of ancient advice passed down to us by illiterate Bronze Age wandering desert-dwelling goat-herders is relevant to the 21st century, inerrant, totally internally consistent and everything in it should be followed to the letter…unless it is somehow inconvenient (I mean, bacon-wrapped shrimp is so tasty).

(This is not to say there is nothing good in it, of course; there are some good things in the Bible.)

Fun stuff, amirite? The term for the omnipresence of Christianity in our culture is called “Christian hegemony“:

 “Christian hegemony operates on several levels. At one level is the internalization of dominant western Christian beliefs and values by individuals in our society. Another level is the power that individual preachers, ministers and priests have on people’s lives. Particular churches and some Christian denominations wield very significant political and economic power in our country. There is a vast network of parachurch organizations, general tax-supported non-profits such as hospitals, broadcasting networks, publishing houses, lobbying groups, and organizations like Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship, The Family, World Mission, and thousands of others which wield influence in particular spheres of U.S. society and throughout the world.

Another level of Christian dominance is within the power elite, the network of 7-10,000 predominantly white Christian men who control the largest and most powerful social, political, economic, and cultural institutions in the country. And finally there is the level which provides the foundation for all the others–the long and deep legacy of Christian ideas, values, practices, policies, icons, and texts that have been produced within dominant western Christianity over the centuries. That legacy continues to shape our language, culture, beliefs, and values and to frame public and foreign policy decisions.

Christian dominance has become so invisible that its manifestations appear to be secular, i.e. not religious. In this context, the phrase “secular Christian dominance” might be most appropriate, Christian hegemony under the guise of secularism. Of course, there are many forms of Christian fundamentalism which are anything but secular. Often fundamentalists want to create some kind of theocratic state. But the more mainstream, everyday way that dominant Christian values and institutions influence our lives and communities is less evident, although no less significant and certainly not limited to fundamentalists.”

Honestly, guys, Christianity is NOT under any threat or in danger of going away any time soon. REALLY.

I think you can rest easy if someone is disinterested in accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. It happens, sometimes, and Christianity is not diminished or in danger at all.

I hope this has proven comforting and enlightening. Some people (atheists) may get a little cranky with some Christians, but you Christian guys are going to be just fine. I promise.

Besides, a faith that can’t withstand a little introspection, examination, debate, and / or thoughtful challenge is not a truly strong faith to begin with.

Lastly, if you are an awesome Christian, please continue to be awesome and please feel free to accept this high five from me. 

NOTES:

More on the subject of Christian Privilege.

A critical, skeptical examination of The Bible.

 

 

On Bullying

In the dark days before The Internet and cable TV, you could get most of your information from only a few sources: your parents and relatives, your religious institution (if any) and its holy text (if any), the newspaper, the television (all three and a half channels of it), the radio, books and magazines, teachers, random crazy strangers shouting shit on street corners, and peers. That was pretty much it. Maybe you went to a film or theatre performance now and then and got dipped into the communal pop culture pool of references that others were also dunked into, maybe you were fortunate enough to be tortured by exposure to an elderly spinster teaching piano lessons or some weird dance class that put you on the fast track to an eating disorder and low self-esteem, maybe you belonged to some branch of Scouting (Boy or Girl) that forced you to interact with a bunch of other little assholes in your age group (often outside, for the added misery of sunburn, insect bites and physical activities that you were crap at and hated), but, for the most part, your choices were limited, mostly local, mostly biased and inescapable. Sometimes bathroom walls were educational in unexpected ways, even if it took you years to work out what all that was about.  Maybe you were an introvert and wanted more than anything to just be left the fuck alone and not constantly criticized and pressured and your parents decided that you had mental problems because you actually liked being alone and did not want to be forced to play with your little brother all the damn time and then you saw a shrink who tested you, told your parents you were extremely creative and had an IQ in the genius range and were just an introvert and “normal” (whatever the fuck that means) and maybe they didn’t stop treating you like a nut, but did add some pressure to excel at all costs because you were now officially too smart to ever fail at anything. If you were lucky or your parents were less neurotic and eager to find fault, maybe you skipped that step, and good for you. Anyway…this is the information with which you armed yourself against the world and tried to figure shit out independently.

No one had the basic common courtesy to hand you a list of rules or discuss basic human psychology and logical fallacies or urban legends or human errors or anything like that. You might get traumatized by old “health” films from the forties that told you all sorts of wrong bullshit things about how to be a good citizen (Spoiler: Obey authority and use deodorant), how marijuana will make you crazy and then you’ll be doing cocaine and heroin and shooting meth into your eyeball and then you’d die, what capitalism is (awesome and not flawed in any way) versus communism (Jesus hates it), how not to drive like a mad person (especially if you have been drinking), and how sex is bad, wrong and likely to kill you but when two heterosexual people love each other very, very much they get married and then they promptly start doing bad, wrong, potentially deadly things to each other such as the man puts his schvantz into the lady’s hoo-ha and babies start popping out like clockwork, bing bang bong, and then everything is peachy keen. As a bonus, your teachers are loading you up with American myths like George Washington and that stupid cherry tree and telling you that Newton had an apple fall on his head, you should never split an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition, that we had nine planets in our solar system (sorry, Pluto, you got the shaft),  and telling you that the only important people who ever did anything worthwhile at any point in history were rich white dudes whose judgment could not be debated, even with hindsight. We handled reptiles without freaking out about salmonella, had peanut butter sammiches on the lunch menu (and no one died) and played with liquid mercury in science class (and no one ate any). Seriously, it is a wonder we didn’t all just expire from stupidity and ignorance and unregulated danger all at once.

So there you are, young person, you tabula rasa you, and you have a lot of information getting lobbed your way, and not one bit of it is likely to help you if some of your fellow feral dwarves decide that you are a good target for abuse. Your parents will tell you to be a nice young person and mind your manners and pull up your pants (you should) and turn down your shitty music (fuck that; put on headphones, yo). Your church or temple or mosque will give you a lot of confusing and contradictory advice and rules and then you’ll run into people who don’t seem to understand the Golden Rule at all. Books, if you read (you should), are good, but you have to pick decent ones to read, because Twilight sure as hell isn’t going to teach you anything of value. Magazines and TV programs and movies are going to make you want stuff you can’t afford, show you unrealistically perfect people who were Photoshopped and who you can never look like (especially during the Awkward Phase of puberty), and give you REALLY shitty advice. Teachers, they don’t want to know. They are underpaid and overworked and have 199 other students to try to keep orderly all at once, and they are mostly hoping no one shivs anyone or overdoses on crank in the loo. Your peers are totally self-absorbed with their own angst and problems.

Dude, believe me, I know how much all that sucks. You might just have to learn to cope without a support system or go against all your instincts and peer pressure and unspoken social rules and DEMAND a social support system come to your aid. Caveat: If that was easy, everyone would do it. So I’m not saying it is even a little bit easy.

Speaking personally, I was given the lay of the land pretty early on. My parents set me down when I was a little tiny kidlet and said, “Look, kid, if something happens at school, it’s going to be on you. Your teacher or peers pick on you? That’s on you. Don’t come crying to us, or we will punish you because it has to be your fault. I hope we have made this clear. If you were good, then everything in your life would also be good. Bad things are down to you not toeing the line.”  This included being beaten with a motherfucking belt if I brought home a C or worse on my report card. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an entirely misguided thing to do (well, the beatings were a bit over the top and counter-productive, but the forced studying for hours on the cold, hard, parquet foyer floor until my legs went numb when my brain would NOT grok fractions ended up paying off in the long run). We have seen what happens when some parents blindly take their child’s side in every school-related conflict, such as blaming little Johnny’s inability to, say, do his goddamn homework on Mrs. Othmar, his teacher. That does not benefit the precious snowflake in any way. At best, it creates a monster with a sense of entitlement and self-importance who doesn’t feel–or have to be–accountable for anything, and those little special snowflakes grow up to be shitty adults. We all know one. That said, sometimes shit goes down at school and it is absolutely 100% not your kid’s fault, but, hey, you already said you would never, ever come to your kid’s rescue for any reason whatsoever, so don’t be shocked if your kid spends hours a day being tormented or struggling with some concept or whatever and then says nothing but “fine” when you ask him or her, presumably not caring one way or the other, how school went. Because you eliminated yourself as an ally when it comes to anything school-related, and your kid is damned if she or he is going to tell you squat or ask for your help with any damn thing. If you are lazy, maybe that was the goal all along.

If you think I am kidding, here is an example. One of my elementary school teachers took me into a closet, fingernails dug so hard into my underarms that I literally (and I am not misusing that word) had half-moon shaped scars there that lingered on for about fifteen years. I was probably, to be frank, misbehaving in some way. I recall being thoroughly bored during kindergarten, first grade and second grade because, hello, I could read and add and subtract and make a fucking color wheel with paint and all that shit (I read the entire 1972 World Book Encyclopaedia before I was in third grade and I do mean the ENTIRE encyclopaedia) and if you think that you, even as a mature and socially groomed and polite adult, could bear sitting still for hours on end while someone made all the slower learners in class power through “the fat cat sat on the mat” and “if you have five apples and take away two, how many do you have left,” and goddamn fucking macaroni “art” (especially when Curtis over there is making rubber cement gloves, Bob is mixing his boogers with glitter, and Lynah is eating the entire pot of paste), then you are a better person than I am. I could not. I was not allowed to read a different book, or to work on another project, or anything. I had to sit still, listen to someone read the primer that I read from cover to cover three times on my first day at school, and I got so bored and sleepy that I got nap jerks and at least once fell asleep in my chair and then promptly fell out of it. I crawled under tables, just for a change of scenery. I chattered to other children. (This was not always well-received by the other children.) I made toys out of my school supplies and retreated into imagination. I was bored and under-stimulated. I was not, however, a truly bad kid. I was polite to adults and tried so very hard to be good. Eventually a smarter teacher got the bright idea to teach me something I didn’t already know and to give me useful work to do, and all went swimmingly from that point forward, but for a couple of years there I was SO FUCKING BORED and often dragged off to a supply closet to be shaken until my teeth rattled, and to have bloody furrows clawed into my underarms, because I was not mature enough to conceal that boredom.

When this topic came up in conversation not too long ago, my mother said I was simply a bad kid at the time and that I deserved every bit of punishment I received. (It is probably irrelevant that many of my elementary school teachers were and are also friends of my mom.) I look at my little nieces and remember doing exactly what they are doing now when I was their age, and I worry about them. They are smart. They get bored easily. They do not tolerate it well. I hope to hell that they won’t get the “whatever bad thing happens at school, it is always going to be 100% your fault” message, because, even now, they are intellectually curious and full of energy, and have a lot of spirit and self-esteem. I don’t want them biting other kids or running around like little hellions, but neither do I want them to be so thoroughly bored and desperate for escape that they resort to sliding under the table to count the gum wads. And then I especially do not want some pruney jerk to drag them into a supply closet and shake them until they bite their tongues just because they were fidgeting or chattering or wiggling around, and later, if they dare complain, they get to be told how it is all their fault because they are “bad”.

So, anyway, the topic of bullying came up recently over the family dinner table and I admitted that I had been given a hard time. Here’s where you’d expect your mom to say something like, man, that’s a shame, I am sorry you went through that. Nope. Because I went through a spell when I was about six years old when I was unable to curb my expressions of utter boredom and frustration, I am never allowed to complain about being a human piñata later on, because I had to have really been mean to those other kids first. (This is from someone who was not there, mind you. It also does not matter that some of those kids were not even in elementary school or middle school with me. It was still all my fault because I had the nerve to act like a six year old when I was six years old.)

It did not help that I was a year younger (I tested in early) than everyone else and short for my age, or that my female peers were dressed like little Marcia Bradys with little silver ball pierced earrings, long hair, cords, button-downs or turtlenecks and Keds while my mom cropped my white blonde hair into a Mia Farrow “Rosemary’s Baby” cut so short, hideous, and emotionally scarring that I have never had my hair short ever again. My hair was so blonde and so fine that I looked practically bald and then my mother overcompensated for the androgynous hairdo by dressing me up like a baby doll in itchy smocked plaid shortie dresses, uncomfortable and babyish bubble knickers, Buster Brown Sunday shoes, a big stupid bow on my head, and scratchy, droopy opaque tights that would give me wrinkly elephant ankles and inch down until the crotch was looped around my knees no matter how ladylike I strived to be. In other words, I was marked as a huge uncool nerd pretty much from the jump. My peers, when not kicking my ass or calling me ugly or just generally being obnoxious (because they, too, were kids and were acting like kids), treated me like one of those life-size doll babies that would “walk” with you when you squeezed their hands. Nothing like being treated like an entertaining pet, and having adults think it was just precious. No one likes being treated like a pretty object or toy or condescended to, and I may not have had the words to use to express how that felt, but I still felt it. I am sure that occasionally I was not in the mood to be some bitch’s doll, and that occasionally I was ill-behaved (because kids are), but no matter what I might have done when I was six years old, that does not justify my peers treating me like shit for ten long years after…especially those peers who weren’t even my classmates way back when. Well, my mom thinks it does. But she’s full of shit on this account, and all too eager to place blame on me for stuff I barely remember…but you know what? One of us was there, and one of us wasn’t. I am inclined to think that one of us has a better handle on what it was like. Also, I don’t care if I was a raging asshole as a six year old or not. That does not make excusing bullying directed my way for ten years (did I stutter? TEN YEARS) in any way. Unless you’re my mom. So, yeah, that says a lot about our relationship right there.

Allow me to stipulate that I probably misbehaved, I probably at some point annoyed another child, and probably, at some point, did something I knew darn well I shouldn’t do. In other words, again: I was six.

I have always learned quickly and learning how to deal with my peers was likewise a series of quickly-learned lessons that I then never managed to quite forget. Here’s one I shared not too long ago:  “A friend’s Facebook comment about her sproglet getting in trouble for saying “damp towel” in class reminded me of a similar situation that happened to me in third grade. I got frustrated while doing sums and imitated the cartoon dog Muttley (“rassa frassa sassa frassa!”) under my breath and got told on by classmates AND got in Big Trouble for supposedly using a word I did not, at that age, even know yet. But, hey, I learned a new word (if not what it meant) thanks to that stupidity. Lessons learned: A shiny new legitimate cuss word (NOW I know what “fuck” means! Huzzah!) and “my peers are rotten finks and I am better off not speaking around them or to them when I can avoid it.”

Your peers are looking for things to tattle on you about, so you better not rock the boat by being the weird kid who annoys someone by quietly quoting unpopular cartoon characters in class. At any rate, I wasn’t the kind of kid who looked for shit to tattle on people about or make fun of them for, and I could have. There was the kid who wore red socks every single day for at least two years. I was nice to him. There was the kid whose earwax was so built-up that it would occasionally dislodge on its own and make a thudding noise when it landed on his desk. I was nice to him. There was the popular kid who spent most of his time in class catching horseflies and slowly pulling the wings off of them. I honestly feared him. But I was nice to him. There was the weird but insanely rich girl who self-mutilated to get attention and liked to eat boogers, scabs and eraser rubber, which fascinated and grossed us all out. I was so nice to her, we occasionally had playdates. There was the girl whose buck teeth were practically horizontal, who had freckles, wiry black hair that was styled like Joanie Cunningham’s on Happy Days, and unflattering glasses, and she was far from slim, and she was one of the biggest bullies in class. I wasn’t nice to her, since I was a popular target of hers, especially on the bus ride home, when her sidekick (a girl so blonde as to be albino, with white lashes and the same glasses / buckteeth issues as the main tormentor) but I certainly didn’t go out of my way to be nasty. I ignored them. I ignored the fuck out of them. There were fat kids and kids with glasses and thin kids and red-headed kids and I said nothing to a single one, and occasionally did say “s/he may have red hair, but you’re rude and that makes YOU ugly” to some of the nastier kids. But, as I was a non-winner, having me, a loser, stand up for them did not endear me to my fellow losers. It chased off some of the more insecure bullies, but it didn’t stop the REAL shitheads.

Mostly I kept myself to myself. I got caught in third grade slipping off to the restroom with a stack of books almost as tall as I was. I was happily reading to myself and hiding in a stall to do it before I got busted. I was in all kinds of trouble, but, naturally, this is relayed as a “cute” story now. Back then, I got my butt beat for it. But, hey. Books became my refuge and I was one of those readers who can get SO absorbed in what they are reading that you can stand behind them shouting their name and not get their attention. Happened more than once.

I was also sensitive in about every way you could be. I didn’t like loud noises. Ugly art offended my eye. My clothing tags would raise bloody welts on annoyingly hypersensitive skin. I didn’t like being teased (I am still not particularly keen on it) and had to learn to shrug it off or ignore it. This is a skill that takes some time to learn, so for more than a few years I was a fun target for teasing and pranks and general jackassery. I learned how to put on a poker face and not respond AT ALL, which means I learned how to pretty much turn deaf and blind at will…which, by the way, is no fun for the person trying to get a rise out of someone. To give me a little credit, I knew I was handling things badly and taking stuff to heart that I shouldn’t. I could rationalize a way to shrug it off, but it didn’t stop the hurt feelings or rage or frustration. I also stuck to my guns: They could be jerks, but I didn’t want to be a jerk, too. As a target for verbal abuse or mean-spirited teasing, I became less and less fun, but I was still a viable target for far longer than I should have been because I rarely struck back. On the very few occasions I did respond, the person bothering me regretted it immediately. I was verbal and a quick thinker, and if you kept pushing, I just might say something to embarrass you back. But, like I said, those occasions were few and far between, and usually happened only if the person being an asshole made the mistake of not being particularly varied or creative with their taunts. It gave me time to construct an excellent rejoinder and to hold it in reserve to be deployed when there were plenty of witnesses around to hear it. Those who were more subtle or careful not to bother me around witnesses were harder to fend off. A lot of tormenting happened on the busses, where teachers were absent and there were plenty of equally bored kids, many of which were a lot older, who would egg on any kind of fighting just to have something interesting and entertaining to watch.

Ah, busses. There’s the question of where it is safe to sit and too many people who don’t want to share a seat, especially with YOU. There are gum wads and spit balls and loogies that go where they shouldn’t, and your belongings being snatched away from you and held out of reach, and random sneaky jabs in the ribs or neck or the back of the knee, and people to trip up and send flying up the aisle, shoelaces and ponytail ribbons to untie, little kids to torture and so on. The only safe seats are either right behind the busdriver (you baby!) or the very back seat (usually annexed by the older kids). Hoi polloi go in the middle and suck it up.

I’m leaving out a lot of details because some I don’t remember clearly (and I certainly don’t have any emotional charge over them anymore) and because I was BY FAR not the most tormented kid around. There were many kids far worse off than me. One kid on the bus was socially challenged in all possible ways (unattractive, easy to torment, not the brightest bulb, and unable to take a hint) and I understood what it was like to really dislike someone for being a human punching bag. I didn’t join in when this kid was called things (one thing I recall was “Fagatron,” which still makes me wince), but neither did I want to be his best friend, and he was DETERMINED that I was not only destined to be his best friend (because I didn’t actively abuse him) but also his GIRLfriend. We were the last two kids to be dropped off, so sometimes I would actually hide to avoid his attentions (and once the bus driver had to circle back to drop me off because I hid too efficiently and was reading and didn’t un-hide in time to get dropped off). He eventually clued into this and that method of escape no longer worked.  He would try to touch me inappropriately, he would not leave me alone, and I thoroughly regretted that I had ever stood up for him against the bullies. No good deed goes unpunished, and all that. He didn’t understand that someone being kind was not equivalent to someone wanting to be groped or bugged while reading or whatever. Here’s where the bullied (me) could have become the bully to pick on a kid lower down the totem pole than I, but I didn’t. The whole experience just convinced me that staying under everyone’s radar was the best course of action at all times. Say nothing unless spoken to, and then only respond if you are addressed by your correct name (not an insult, not a nickname you don’t like, not a gibe) and with some courtesy, and then only if the person addressing you is not a raging asshole. Those folks are not to be encouraged to use you in their games. At best, if you happen to encounter a persistent raging asshole, you drag your eyes reluctantly away from the book you are reading, fix them with an unsmiling, silent glare, and slowly look them up and down, not responding to anything they might be saying to you during this process. Then shrug dismissively and go back to reading your book and acting like they don’t exist. If you do this properly, you are officially no fun and might be left alone, or you might enrage them to the point where they actually hit you. This is when a bus driver might be arsed to get involved and drag the little thug off of you, so, hey, win-win. Those bruises and lumps will fade.

My default mode was quiet, polite, nose-stuck-in-book, talk-mainly-to-teachers. If you were pleasant to me, I was pleasant to you, but I didn’t give you endless chances to use me as a punching bag. If you were an asshole to me or someone else (and I witnessed it), your opinion and friendship were no longer of any interest to me. Your popularity was irrelevant. I LIKED being alone and never felt lonely, so fuck ’em. Some other bully-deflating techniques that were occasionally successful: Asking a nosy person why they think you give a shit about their unsolicited advice (trick is, you have to REALLY not care), or “why do you want to know?” when they ask you something that is none of their damn business. If they try to give you any bullshit about wanting to know you better or being your friend, when you know damn well that this is a TRAP and a LIE, treat that with the scorn it deserves. Then there was the “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” when someone said something shitty to you. Bonus points if you timed this response to coincide with the arrival of a teacher. Casual bullies do not often have the ‘nads to repeat a shitty comment. This will not, however, work on shameless bullies. Know your enemy. I also found that responding to unsolicited nastiness with something like, “Excuse me, why do you think I care one little bit about what YOU think? Did I ASK for your opinion? Maybe that should have been a hint” to be somewhat effective.

For the most part, though, my occasional triumphs over shitty behaviors were few and far between. I made it clear I liked being left alone and had no interest in group activities (to the point of occasionally hiding behind the bleachers with a book, or wandering off into the woods, during PE class).  I had a few close friends and was satisfied with that and did not want more. I got a reputation for being a poet-bookworm and a daydreamer (guilty) and an artist who sidelined as a doodler-in-class (SUPER guilty, and you should see my English Literature textbook). I had to have an opinion crowbarred out of my mouth in class, and my teachers gave up trying to embarrass me for not paying attention when I managed to prove that I was paying enough attention to parrot back the last few things they said (and my notebooks were ornate masterpieces).

The biggest change, though, was the death of my father.

A lot of these defense mechanisms were only deployed after my father died (I was in 8th grade) and I got a huge dose of perspective. Tell me again, how does teenage bullshit or dealing with nasty peers measure up in any significant way with the death of a parent? They simply do not. I no longer had the luxury of being QUITE as thin-skinned (though my mother can still get under my skin with her “teasing”), I no longer had the energy to keep up with the changing tides of who was in and popular and who was out and a loser, I no longer gave a rat’s ass what some teenage asshat might think about me whatsoever. If I was ever a bit depressed about bullshit high school drama, all I had to do was step back a bit and say, you know what? This is NOTHING compared to losing my DAD. So FUCK THEM.

To be honest, my first two years of high school are almost a total blank: I was grieving (I still feel things very, very deeply and take a long time to get over emotional pain) and I am guessing I was about as responsive as a block of wood for the most part. Which is a type of weirdness that ordinarily gets you extra grief, but, if it did, I don’t remember it. For the first two years of high school, I put on the ugly preppy wardrobe my mother purchased for me that was not the least bit attractive on me, went through the motions, and managed to continue to breathe in and out and get through it. By junior year I was wearing my dad’s old Air Force jacket, jeans I had painted on, and some rather weird 80s clothing with, like, dolman sleeves or enormous cowl necks or strangely-shaped buttons. I was no longer even remotely interested in pretending I was giving a shit about fitting in, even with my wardrobe, and I was happier as a result.

Now, sure, I got the usual fake invitations to non-existent parties. Solution? I didn’t want to hang out with any jerks, so I returned their invites back with a polite “Sorry, I am busy”. I got the usual passed notes in class that, once opened, were nastygrams. Solution? After the first, I never opened one right then and there ever again. I either threw it out unread or put it in my purse if I was not 100% sure it was going to be shitfulness. I got called stupid names in the hallway. Solution? No response whatsoever. I got Secret Santa gifts designed to embarrass me. Solution? A polite thank you before I pointedly threw it out on my way out of the classroom (and I actually feel a little bad about that, now; go figure). My kindness to a fellow unpopular student resulted in him being just as nasty to me as everyone else in the popular crew he longed to be a part of but by which he had been rudely and pointedly and publicly rejected. Solution? I learned to be more careful about who I chose to be kind to, because teenagers are stupid and desperate for meaningless social advancement. I didn’t get a lot of abuse about my appearance, which made me very lucky, but occasionally there would be something. Solution? Break out that slow, mute, up-and-down raking of the eyes from the top of their head to the tip of their toes, look them in the eye, shake your head, scoff quietly under your breath and walk off. They will fill in the blanks with whatever part of their body they are most insecure about, and serves them right for trying to make YOU feel bad. Worried about who to sit with at lunch? Solution: Resolve not to give a shit, sit wherever you like (an empty table is a good bet), and your friends and non-assholes will come sit with YOU. (And this, friends, was the smartest thing I ever did in high school, because our lunch table was full of the smartest, wackiest, coolest Misfit Toys in school, and lunch was, as a result, enjoyable and not an exercise in misery.)

I spent most of my time with the people I knew were my friends and welcomed non-assholes at all times. I was nice to everyone, even assholes, but assholes only ever got the bare minimum of my time and attention. A smile when I walked past them. Maybe a “good morning” if I felt like talking. I would not go out of my way to communicate with them, but neither would I be openly rude. Some days it felt like all I did was smile or nod at unresponsive assholes who had spent years tormenting me or other kids, but that was OK. I valued being pleasant, so I was pleasant: I did it for me. I spent much of the rest of my time talking to teachers, and they proved to be far more interesting and informative than a bunch of tweens and teens. I learned more OUT of class, talking to adults, than I did IN class. If you are the school hackysack, try talking to your teachers. You don’t have to talk about bullying. Talk about what you are learning. It’s likely to be interesting. Also, you will get better grades. I’m just saying. The smartest kids in my class were the ones who were in the teacher’s offices having chats. You will learn stuff. Learning is good. Being dumb is not good. I don’t know how else to put it.

So, perspective (i.e., “nothing I have to deal with today at school is anywhere near as bad as Dad Being Dead, thankyouverymuch”), learning to distrust that other human beings are going to behave themselves cordially, keeping busy and creative by reading and making art and writing and THINKING a lot, listening to music, trying to appear as bland as warm vanilla pudding whenever possible in between one class or the next (in other words, not being the most exciting target), ignoring the assholes whenever possible, being somewhat oblivious because my mind was on other things and I was busy thinking about stuff, pairing up with real friends (safety in numbers), telling assholes to go fuck themselves (without actually saying exactly that) when I couldn’t avoid them, and spending a lot of time near adults (which, as a bonus, is an effective anti-bully forcefield)…that’s how I survived high school.

There are things kids know that parents often forget. You can’t tell anyone or it gets worse. You can’t avoid them, or they notice, and when they find you again, it gets worse. You can’t make friends with other victims, because it gets worse. You shouldn’t be a bully yourself, because then not only do you feel like shit for being picked on, you feel doubly like shit because you are a hypocite and hurting someone else. You know intellectually that the things you are being teased about are not really all that bad, but emotionally it hurts and you would do anything to make the things you are being teased about go away. If you’re fat, you want to take a knife and slice the fat off your body. If you are short, you would gladly hop on a torture rack and have someone stretch you. If you are weak and skinny, you wish you could lift weights until you faint from exhaustion. If you are flat-chested, you struggle with the decision whether or not to pad your bra and feel boyish and childish and unattractive, and if you have big boobs, you pretty much hate life and get really tired of people snapping or undoing your bra strap and being treated like a whore because your hormones kicked into gear early. If you are freckled, you want to put on an inch of pancake makeup. If you have “bad” hair, you want a wig or a perm or a dye job or straightening or extensions or an entirely new hairdo…anything to make it different. If you wear glasses, you want contact lenses, even if they give you a headache. If you have braces, you would rather put up with your crooked teeth, and if you have crooked teeth, you want braces so badly you could just die. If you are pale, you want to be tan and you’ll inevitably show up with orange palms and streaked ankles at one point. If you are dark, you might be desperate enough to buy skin lighteners and peels and risk ruining your face. Everything about you is suddenly not good enough, and yet WHO is telling you this? Who are THEY? How dare they? Seriously. They are stupid kids and you are fine the way you are. Work on what you can and what you want to, and say “fuck it” about the stuff you can’t change.

Look, I have no words of wisdom. I just know that we ask kids to navigate some complex social waters without many useful tools. It was probably a little better pre-Internet and cable TV. True, now you can go online and read that you’re not alone if you are being bullied. That has to help a little bit. On the downside, there is no time off from bullying in the Internet age. Your bullies aren’t restricted to trying to prank call you until your mother gets tired of answering the phone. Now they can call you on your mobile phone or text you, stalk your social media network homepages, make blogs and forums to discuss you (and other people they are bullying), and on and on. I don’t think we older folks realize that as bad as we had it, kids today can’t just go home and be free of the torment for a few hours. There is no downtime. If you are the bullied person, you can’t even be safe from it when you are at home. It gets you through your cell phone, through the Internet, through Skype, when you play a MMORPG…constantly.

Bullying was always bad, but now there is no time off from it. The ways kids torment each other are more nasty. They may have called each other “gay” when I was a kid, but, honestly, I don’t think most of us were fully clear about what that actually MEANT, and I am pretty sure no one actually knew any out-and-proud gay people or had any serious hatred for them. It was just something people said that made other people feel bad. I was never clear why it was such a horrible insult (and am still not clear about that, because there is nothing wrong with being gay). The bullying today is more violent. There are fewer stay-at-home parents around to watch over their kids when they come home from school. Bullies can follow you to your workplace if you have an after-school job. Bullies don’t have to blow up your land line and annoy your parents when they can attack you directly and BYPASS your parents.

Shit’s got to stop.

If I knew how to make it stop, I would. Saying “it gets better,” while that is true, is hollow. Dude, try to stick it out until you can go off to college. I was fucking popular in college and believe me, I would never have expected that and it actually took me three years to clue in that this was what was going on. But, in retrospect, it is true. I had more friends from more varied circles and groups than I had free time to accept invitations to hang out with them. I overheard people saying NICE things about me. I had people know who I was who I had never met. You never know. Maybe it was because I didn’t give a shit about popularity that it happened. But, hey, SHIT GOT BETTER. Try to stick it out until you can go away to college. Tell someone if you are being targeted. Block assholes online and don’t go to their hangouts online to read stupid shit about yourself. You do not want to be friends with people who say shitty things about other people or treat other people badly. You really, really don’t. Because it will eventually be your turn and it sucks. Resolve not to give a good goddamn about some stupid kids who don’t know who you really are inside, and what a good and decent and awesome human being you are. Their values are shitty, they treat people badly, they are acting like assholes and you really do not want anything from them whatsoever.

Keep learning and creating stuff and devoting your energy to getting the fuck out of your home town once you graduate so you can leave all the loser bullies behind. You don’t want to have to have perspective (such as a parent dying) forced upon you, so you’re going to have to find your perspective within yourself and keep an eye on your goals and what you want in life. Find allies, even if (or especially if) they are adults. Do your own thing. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

It gets better, not that this always helps to hear…and you probably think I am full of shit and don’t understand what it is like, but maybe, just maybe, I kinda do.

There Are Some Things I Won’t Tolerate Anymore

I don’t put up with people coming up to me and whispering words like “gay” or “black” couched in a complaint. So the *whisper* BLACK people in the grocery store blocked the aisle with their carts to say hello to each other? Sorry, those are rude people who HAPPEN to be black. Allow me to share a story about the WHITE people in my neighborhood who block the roadway with their cars to chat.

So you say you are Christian, but want to come up to me and be all judge-y and bitchy about people you don’t like? As a Christian, I am sure you will appreciate some words from Jesus about how you should judge not, lest ye be judged and loving your neighbor and being without sin before casting the first stone. Allow me, the heathen infidel, to share some of those scriptures with you. Because unlike you, I have read your holy book.

So you think it is funny to tell jokes that play on harmful stereotypes and myths about women or men or male-female relations? Pardon me if I don’t laugh about your Stupid Useless Husband or your Sex-hating Frigid Wife. HA HA, he likes sports and beer and can’t wash a dish! HA HA, she likes shoes and silly women’s magazines and can’t wash a dish, either! Man, that’s some kind of comedy. Excuse me if I don’t laugh, and just look at you with my head cocked to one side like a puzzled puppy. Because you aren’t funny. Oh, was that the punchline?

So you think it is fine to casually put your hands on me, even though we are not friends? Pardon me while I hold up your hand in the air and ask loudly which asshat this misplaced hand belongs to, because I found it touching my ass, and I didn’t say that was OK.

So you think it is OK to invade my personal space and make sexually aggressive comments? You will be pleased to discover that I carry a Taser with me and am willing to use it, because it is legal in my area. Perhaps you should back the fuck off.

So you think it is OK to fight with your co-workers, run off competent co-workers, be lazy, be stupid, and not do your assigned job tasks? How much do you like being employed in this shitty economy? Because I’m not doing your work for you, or taking orders from you, or helping you get out of your self-created jams, or teaching you more than once how to do a simple office task. If you can’t get with it, there are at least 100 hungry people out there who want and need a job and who will work, and you CAN and WILL be replaced. So fuck off with your attempts to tell me that my boss OKed you dumping shitwork on me. I asked, she didn’t, you’re busted, so do it yourself. You’re a pestilence.

So you Jehovah’s Witnesses think it is OK to wake me up early on Saturday morning to tell me my religion (or lack thereof) sucks and that yours is better and I should convert? How about I turn the sprinklers on? Is that a subtle enough hint? Because I have talked to you before and told you I am down with blood transfusions and holidays and have no plans to convert to your cult, especially as I have read your holy book and you, clearly, have not. I have asked you to leave me alone. I have posted “No Soliciting” signs, as has the neighborhood. That means religious soliciting, too. I have tried ignoring you. Now, if you are annoying and persistent enough to wake me up and get me out of bed, so help you, I will turn the goddamned sprinklers on you. I am sick of your shit.

So you think it is OK to lie about what our Founding Fathers said, to ignore Separation of Church and State, and be hateful towards women, homosexuals, minorities, the poor, the disabled, the elderly, the pregnant, the foreign, the non-Christian? How about we expose your hypocrisy at every turn and not vote for you assholes? How about we compare YOUR messages with the messages in your holy book? Will you go away, then? Do we have to get as nasty as you are, first? Really, what will it take?

So you think it is OK to treat gays like second-class citizens and deny them their equal rights? How would you like to be shunned because of things YOU were born with, like your height or baldness or eye color? Here’s a shocker: Even if it were true that gay was a choice, which it is not, guess what? Religion is also a choice. You aren’t born believing in one religion or another, you are raised by adults who teach you about their flavor of religion. What if bigots were denied their equal rights? You’d be shit out of luck, Chuck.

What are some things you won’t put up with anymore?

Your Lack Of Insight and Compassion Make You Ugly.

So the conservatives on social networks like Facebook and G+ are busily sharing this image around again.

If you shared this image, you are an asshole.

It pops up every two weeks or so, with a lot of “THIS IS SO TRUE LOL” and “THIS IS OBUMMER’S FAULT” comments from people who look, on average, to be about 15 years old.

Some typical responses:

Christine M A******: “Sad but true.” [She knows this because of her Learnings…in Social Studies 101 at Dead President High School.]

Ben H***: “Well, at least we’re not paying for all their health care….oh, wait a minute….” [Did you catch that “they” there? Who do you suppose he means?]

Julie Z*******: “I deal with these people everyday! They are pigs!” [“Pigs,” you say? Not like you, I’m sure, insulting people in need.]

Hey, people on welfare, conservatives would like you to know the rules. So here they are:

  1. If / when you lose your job, be sure to sell all your nice electronics and luxury goods immediately and make sure you are always dressed well in public (but not too well, because then you are clearly not in need of any financial assistance and will be judged for not immediately selling all your nice clothing, too).
  2. Cover up your tattoos, or people will snark that you are spending your welfare money on body art, even if you have had those tattoos for years, or a friend who is a tattoo artist who did them for free.
  3. Are your shoes nice? Better not wear them in public, especially while at the grocery store paying for food with food stamps, because you MUST have somehow magically converted those food stamps into enough expendable income to buy those shoes. Never mind that they were a gift, or you bought them years ago, or that they actually have huge holes in the soles and tattered insoles because you can’t afford to replace them.
  4. As a bonus, be sure not to have a job with flexible hours or work from home or work as a stay-at-home parent, because judgmental people will be on your ass and assume you are on welfare based on limited or non-existent evidence (even if you are not) and whine bitterly about having to contribute to social safety nets for the needy. That is right: You don’t even have to be on welfare at all, you can simply be out in public with your kid(s) during normal business hours and have total strangers assume you are on government assistance if you don’t look prosperous. Isn’t that cute?

But, hey, you know who will also be first in line with a hand out for benefits when they lose a job or fall on hard times, have family to house and feed, and qualify to receive them? That’s right: The same people who spend a hell of a lot of time claiming that people on government assistance are all undeserving and grifting the system and not really in need because they are, say, clean and are not wearing rags or being extra-careful to only appear in public while exhibiting visible signs of long-term poverty like, say, neglected teeth or unkempt hair and tattered sackcloth outfits.

Oh, you might also want to (5.) sell your car, too, unless it is a Piece Of Shit, because clearly no one receiving unemployment benefits or welfare could possibly have purchased a decent vehicle long prior to losing a job, getting a divorce, having unexpected healthcare expenses that devastated their finances, or just generally falling on hard times. You also don’t ever want to borrow a friend or family member’s car if you DO sell yours to make ends meet, because if it is even slightly nice or of recent vintage, you will be judged as not being needy enough for assistance of any sort.

Think this is an exaggeration? Some Republicans are busily trying to make it a law that if you own a car of any description, you will be unable to receive SNAP benefits (that’s food for the poor, if you aren’t familiar with the term) until you sell that car. This plan is Rush Limbaugh-approved, so you know it is empathetic and fair and kind-hearted and rational. (Yeah…no.) So while you are struggling to find work, and being told that you need reliable transportation to be hired (try to find a decently compensated job that does not require employees to have their own transportation), and being scorned for being unemployed, Republicans want to take your personal transportation away (while blocking any public transportation-related programs, mind you) or deny you help with food. Nice people.

Yes, you must sell everything you own that is even remotely nice, you must dress nicely (but not TOO nicely) when you are out in public, and you need to feel like a complete and utter failure before seeking help. Never mind that it is nearly impossible to get by without a mobile phone or reliable transportation these days.

Hey, poor person; hey, you unemployed person: your phone is too nice and isn’t there public transportation you could be using instead? Of course, anyone who has ever had to rely on public transportation realizes that it is unreliable, often late, sometimes fails to arrive at all, is almost always dirty and smelly and unpleasant, and if you need to get to work or home from work using it, then you get to hang out in unsafe places (often in the dark, and rarely covered to protect you from rain or heat or wind) by yourself (enjoy your mugging).

Of course, if you do wind up sitting on a sidewalk with a cup, these same assholes will walk past you like you are invisible or hiss “get a job” at you.

Also, if you are not white, these rules apply double to you. Because the majority of welfare recipients in the United States are white.

…Wait, what?

You heard me.

“According to the U.S. government, the majority of welfare recipients are white, live in the suburbs, have two kids, want to work, and stay on welfare an average of only two years.”

Who is the stereotypical Welfare Queen now?

You know what? People who post this kind of image and yuck it up and say “SO TRUE LOL HALLELUJAH YES”? Fuck ’em. Selfish bastards. (They better hope nothing bad ever happens to them…though, if it does, it will not be their fault, even though YOUR situation is definitely 100% YOUR fault.) Enjoy that DELICIOUS government powdered macaroni and cheese mix and generic peanut butter, you grifter, you.

I just want to kick people who make image memes like this really hard, right in the junk. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it was some neckbeard living in his parents’ basement and feeling all butthurt that his job at Wendy’s forced him to pay taxes. OH GOD HOW HORRIBLE HAVING TO CONTRIBUTE FINANCIALLY TO THE HEALTH AND WELFARE OF A SOCIETY WHICH YOU ENJOY THE BENEFITS OF EVERY SINGLE DAY. Golly, taxes sure do suck. I, too, wish I could be a selfish infant and never have to spend a penny on anything I don’t want to spend it on, even while I benefit from national parks and museums, Medicare, Social Security, FDIC insured banks, the Post Office, emergency services like firefighters and police officers and rescue services and 911 service, and public schools and public libraries, and funding for the arts and public broadcasting, and clean air and water, and interstates and bridges and tunnels, and safe food and medicine, and scientific advances and space exploration and national disaster preparedness, and weather reports and storm tracking, and garbage pick-up and sewage treatment plants and roads that are swept or plowed, and so on.

Oh, wait, no, I am not a big whiny baby who would rather live in Somalia where there is no government or taxes or welfare and everyone is so very free to just do whatever they want and they all live in peace and luxury and good health. (Except they don’t.)

Conservatives, it may fit your personal narrative and make you feel better about your courageous stance of denying the needy any assistance (while protecting tax breaks for corporations and toadying up to the wealthiest people in our country) and assuming that every single person on assistance is lazy and taking advantage of the system and so on, but I do hope you will remember to eat your words with a nice side of crow should you ever be in a position where you or a loved one need a little help from your neighbors. You probably won’t.

As mentioned above, I’m very familiar with the all-too-common conservative refrain that goes: “All MY problems are 100% not my fault, all YOUR problems are 100% due to bad decision-making and laziness on YOUR part, so while I deserve some help when I am struggling, you need to Learn A Lesson About Personal Responsibility and Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps and Not Be A Beggar.”

Aren’t you glad that there are some liberal folks who are willing to lend you a helping hand when you fall on hard times? Because you and your conservative friends typically begrudge any kind of assistance to anyone…unless they are already rich or are a business…or unless it is YOU who needs some help.

The least you can do, if empathy and compassion are too difficult for you, is not be an arrogant dick about your extreme selfishness. Give it a try.

The newest “funny” anti-welfare meme circulating around Facebook by assholes who enjoy demonizing the poor claims that the poor are spending their welfare checks on luxury goods. O RLY? Do tell.

If you share this image, you’re also an asshole.

Some choice comments:

Boo H***: “Drink’n from the hater-aid :p”

Erica A*****: “LOVE this!!! fuck welfare!! SOLO WORKING MOM RITE HERE!!”

This person ALMOST gets it, but not quite: Lynn W*****: “‎^sad thing is, you should be the one eligible for it, @Erica A***** not the drug addicts that haven’t even bothered looking for a job in the past 5 years. It shouldn’t be looked at as a degrading thing, it’s supposed to be when people are at the end of their rope and have no one to turn to and need to put food on their families tables. But now a days, its become some sort of sick joke and I hate watching my checks deplete to pay for the depletion of the human race. Its sad really.”[Translation: I know nothing about poor people, but I am certain there are simply scads of them using MY TAX DOLLARS to buy drugs, even though statistics show just the opposite.]

Josh J****: “This is perfect!!! Haha!” [Translation: Mocking the poor is awesome! I am laughing right now! Tee hee!]

Sarah A***: “LMAO!” [Translation: Me, too! HA HA, you’re poor!]

Linda M*******: “You betcha!!!!” [Translation: Sarah Palin’s lack of compassion inspires me!]

Fay T******: “DAM !!! Loveit” [Translation: I am clearly a scholar and have put a lot of thought into the plight of the socially and financially disadvantaged. FUCK ’em.]

Kent V*********: “Hard to believe anyone would be dumbass to do that…but Im sure theyre out there!” [Translation: I know nothing about the subject, but I am certain that there MUST be some poor people out there buying iPhones!]

Jenn D****:  “Lmao very true…I know someone who gets help from the gov yet went out and got the iPhone smh. It’s crazy how much money is spent on people who don’t need it but feel entitled to it. They can try but it’s easier to not and get by in life with as little effort as possible” [Translation: I know ONE PERSON who gets welfare who bought a phone. Fucker doesn’t deserve that phone. I am horribly jealous. Furthermore, my sample set of ONE validates your sweeping generalizations about every other poor person on welfare.]

Anthony D******: “This is a must share” [Translation: I can’t wait to spread the HATE THE POOR message to all my friends and family members on Facebook! They will be so impressed with my deep understanding of social issues and taxes and welfare, and will admire me for my compassion and concern for those less fortunate than myself. Oh, HA HA, no, just kidding. FUCK the poor.]

Joe K***: “Yeh I know a couple guys this totally applies to- they both get SSI and the minute they get paid they immediately go bananas and buy a bunch of crap they can afford and dont need, then are broke 3 hours after getting paid. Then 2 days later they pawn the overpriced crap they splurged on (which they never should have bought in the first place) for beer & cigarette money… some people just never learn. They say insanity is repeating the same actions over and over and expecting different results. If you only get paid once a month and only get $700, for Gods sake, leave some of it in the bank for emergencies, groceries, bus fare, or in case you need smokes!!!!!!” [Translation: Joe knows TWO PEOPLE who are totally bad at managing money, so that means ALL poor people are the same! Great logic, Joe!]

Amanda C*****: “‎^^^ welfare is government assistants for people/family that cant get a job or need extra help…NOT FOR IPHONES lol” [Translation: I, too, believe this fairy story about people on welfare all owning iPhones. FUCK ’em!]

Scott H*****: “OMFG YES!!” [Translation: I, too, hate the poor and I believe this nonsense and I am so excited I AM SHOUTING ABOUT IT.]

Tamera H**********: “I see it SO MUCH!! I Phones, Tattoos, Alcohol, and always buying cigarrettes! Yet they need food stamps and a welfare check…Ohhh! I almost forgot the EXPENSIVE vehicles with spinner tiresss!!!!” [Translation: I do not understand how food stamps work, and I am a judgmental asshole. Fuck the poor, right in the ear!]

Andy C**: “capitalist or socialist it should be illegal to take more than your share or rip someone off….”

Andy C**: “only handicaped peoople need iphones, rest of people just play games”

Andy C**: “im sorry i meant retards” [Translation: I am an asshole.]

Rose P***-I*****: “This so true and soooo funny! I see this everyday!” [DO YOU NOW. Did you ask all those people for a glance at their finances, so you can make the determination that they have not spent their money in a manner acceptable to your sensibilities? I fucking doubt it.]

Katherine G******: “wtha about child support. i know someone who spend $2000 of child support money to buy gucci suit” [Prove it. I don’t believe you.]

Douglas K*****: “Just end welfare alltogether. If you do not work you do not eat…natural selection takes it from there” [Translation: FUCK THE POOR, IF THEY CAN’T GET A JOB, THEN JUST LET THEM ALL DIE.]

OH MY FUCKING GOD I HATE ALL YOU STUPID ASSHOLES SO FUCKING MUCH RIGHT NOW.

My (angry!) response:

“If you think someone on welfare can afford an iPhone, you are mentally deficient. It is more likely that they fell on hard times after purchasing the phone or being given the phone as a gift (such as being laid off or having a family member die, or dealing with medical expenses). Welfare checks do not come anywhere close to covering the cost of a new phone. Further, that person on welfare probably paid as much in taxes over the years as you have, if not more, so it is their own tax money being used to help them out when they have fallen on hard times. Try a little more compassion and a lot less of this bullshit “let’s pick on the poor” fantasizing.

I have also just been informed by someone who should know first-hand that sometimes the government hands out a cheap pre-paid mobile phone with 250 minutes on it to the very poor who can’t afford a landline, so they can look for work and communicate with officials handling their accounts. And yes, that phone does look, at a glance, like an iPhone, but it is not. It is a cheap piece of shit. They didn’t buy it, there are a limited amount of minutes allowed, and they do not own it; once off welfare, they have to give it back. (P.S. Did you know that about the pre-paid phones? I didn’t. I learned something new today.)

If you are on food stamps you can NOT buy non-food items AT ALL. No alcohol. No tobacco. No “hot” food from the grocery deli. No pet food. No toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, razors, aspirin, vitamins, etc. Just food. And some jurisdictions do not allow pre-prepared foods (like frozen dinners). Food stamps are distributed via debit-card like food stamp cards, they are not little pieces of paper you can buy or sell or trade for things. The average allotment per meal for food stamps is a dollar and change. Think hard about how well you can eat for less than two bucks, then do that three times a day for months on end.

Oh, people on food stamps can buy birthday cakes from the bakery, but I suppose they should just suffer in silence and not waste their food money on something as frivolous as a child’s birthday cake. Your anecdotal evidence of one or two assholes you know working the system does not indicate that every single other person receiving aid is likewise irresponsible or taking advantage.

There will always be stupid people who do not manage money of any kind well, but that is not an excuse to pretend that the poor, who are struggling to EAT and not be homeless, and to find work when work is hard to find (I have three advanced degrees, great references, a lot of skills, a lot of experience, and I send out a MINIMUM of 50 applications every single day and I have been unemployed, after a layoff, for almost a year…why & how would someone who has fewer of those qualities and advantages than I have manage get a job more quickly or easily than I?) and I hope that some of the most judgmental among you have to experience what it is like to fall on hard times through no fault of your own and to hear nasty comments about it constantly from uninformed, rude, thoughtless people like yourselves who think it is funny to mock the down-and-out and impoverished and to make snap judgments about them.

When and if it happens to you, I hope you will remember every single derogatory and nasty comment you ever made about your neighbors and fellow citizens who are struggling to survive, and I hope you will feel a little shameful about it.

Be sure to sell all your worldly goods, even if you have to take a financial loss (because poor people don’t deserve anything nice, right? and it is your job to assume that they spent “your” money on anything that isn’t completely crappy, correct?) and never buy anything but the bare essentials while you are at it, too.

Have some goddamned sense. So fucking rude.”

Then, finally, after a couple dozen more “LOL”s and “SO TRUE”s from these hateful morons, one guy finally, finally says something sensible:

Rick Penn: “If you think that “welfare” is now (or ever has been) a significant part of any sort of economic problem faced by the country, then you’re very easily distracted and you’re a perfect fit for the GOP. If you want to look at a welfare problem that actually hurts us in our wallets, take a look at corporate welfare. Those numbers are staggering, but you won’t hear about them at the Republican convention.”

Rick Penn, ladies and gentlemen, someone who has an ounce of compassion for people who are less well off than himself, who is aware of the real “Welfare Queens” in our society (corporations turning huge profits who are still getting generous tax breaks and huge corporate handouts, all while they are busily off-shoring American jobs and stashing a lot of their revenue in tax shelters) and who realizes that memes like this which are trying to demonize the poorest and least powerful among us are complete and utter mean-spirited, ignorant bullshit.

Well done, Rick Penn.

I shared the “Poor people are buying iPhones LOL” meme on my Facebook Wall and it sparked some more discussion:

Me: “Here’s the latest “let’s hate the poor and pretend that trying to survive on the tiny allowance welfare provides is a total picnic” bullshit circulating around today. These nasty assholes need a kick in the junk.

It’s not at all possible that the person with the phone purchased it before falling on hard times, or was given it as a gift, or is borrowing it. No, they assume that “their money” is supporting someone else’s ability to buy a fancy toy.

It also ignores the fact that most people on welfare are white single moms who are looking for work and who stay on welfare less than 2-5 years total, and that the people on welfare have usually paid their fair share of taxes for years and so it is their OWN money that they are being granted to help them out now that they have fallen on hard times. You can’t even GET welfare if you do not have dependent minor children, or if your household income tops $9,000-11,000 annually, which is actually far below survival level.

Insensitive compassion-free judgmental assholes. I am sick of their crap. I hope they all experience the “joy” of having to live on welfare and food stamps and see how much fun it is, firsthand. I suspect they won’t be quick to sell off their mobile phones or vehicles the minute they fall on hard times, either. I hope they also hear a lot of comments about how they are “clearly” cheating the system just because they are not dressed in rags and able to bathe regularly, and I hope they remember their previous bullshit condemnation and shitty comments and that they are all repeated back to them by other shitty people every single day while they struggle to eat, pay bills, and keep a roof over their heads.

In short, I wish for a swift dose of karma to the people who think that welfare is “free money” and a lot of fun and games. They are wrong, and I will be thrilled if I ever find out that some of the worst offenders wind up crying into their government cheese and powdered milk about it.”

Lee F****: “Seriously. What a bunch of raging douchebags.”

Xenubarb G*******: “If you have no landline, a cell phone is the option as pay phones are kinda scarce on the landscape these days.”

Lee F****: “Yes, and asking a prospective employer to call a pay phone probably doesn’t work too well, either.”

Cathy D*****-W*******: “to the judgemental a$$h*les…check that cell phone carefully. It may not be an iPhone. It may be one of the free cell phones provided with 250 minutes monthly to people on disablility, or welfare. Because many rely on a government issues cell phone because they have no land-line…and good luck finding a pay phone nowadays. Or for some people, coming up with the .50-1.00 for a call on a pay phone if you found one. […] this is one very mean-spirited cartoon. And, yes, I hope karma gives a major smackdown to ppl who are so petty.”

Lee, Xenubarb and Cathy ALSO get it!

Why do these people always rage about “their” tax money being spent to feed hungry people? Do they really think that everyone on food stamps has magically avoided paying taxes their entire life? Unless they are minor children, they probably haven’t!

Feeling smug that you have never been on welfare, and think you are qualified to make ignorant comments about poor people? Perhaps you shouldn’t feel so smug.

I’m here with two BAs and an MA, a great work ethic, good references, great skills, a great resume, lots of experience, Caucasian, healthy, whole-bodied, from an upper-middle class family. I send resumes out every day and I am taking paralegal courses online to get YET ANOTHER degree, all so I can get a job.

Anything remotely nice I have, I bought long before I fell on hard times or my family has generously given to me.

I did everything right: Went to school (twice! and now, THREE times!) and got good grades, paid my bills, paid my taxes, have never been arrested even once for anything, worked hard for my employers, and made responsible choices. I saved for retirement, I had investments, I had regular old savings and a checking account, I had medical insurance, I bought nothing whatsoever on credit, I own no luxury items, my car is almost 20 years old, I have been actively seeking work for months, my unemployment benefits ran out…and whereas I am not on welfare (I do not qualify, as I do not have a child), I am on food stamps. Without them, I would starve. I have zero dollars left to my name. Zero. As in none.

So you think about that before you judge.

If you think I’m having a wonderful time begging for financial help from my mother while simply trying to EAT on a regular basis and while being rejected over and over and over again as I look for work, you are out of your tiny mind.

I do not know how I will be able to buy my next tube of toothpaste.

It is scary out here.

I certainly do not own a fucking iPhone, but I do have a decent phone I was given as a gift six years ago. I suppose, if you squint and are very stupid, you might mistake it for an iPhone. God help the motherfucker who tries to claim that I bought that phone with “his tax money” to my face, because then I MIGHT just get arrested for turning him or her into a bloody greasespot on the ground.

Don’t be an asshole.