published Friday, January 10th, 2014

Pam's Points: War on poverty, exaltation of guns, and growing older

Which war?

Instead of a war on poverty, why don't we have a war on guns?

We seem to have it all wrong -- to have some important priorities reversed.

We know we have too much gun violence in this country, but we're allowing gun makers and gun lobbyists to push legislation that in essence makes guns as common in a pocket as a wallet.

We know we have people who are hungry and freezing both on the streets and in their homes, but we have conservative lawmakers bent on making them hungrier and colder to teach them some kind of lesson.

And in the end, it is all about money. How much money the gun companies make, and how many donations the conservative groups can draw in using the fear-mongering of classism.

In Georgia, where lax gun controls already make the state what Guns and Ammo magazine calls the 13th "best" state for gun owners, lawmakers are set this week to hammer out particulars on a bill that would allow gun carrying pretty much anywhere, maybe even on more than 50 campuses of the state's university and technical college systems. Obviously the state's board of regents and other higher education leaders have opposed that segment of the bill since it was first debated last year.

Meanwhile on the national stage, partisan politicians and pundits are trading definitions of the 50-year-old war on poverty.

Conservatives argue that if we still have poverty, it's because the poor are lazy and the "war" is not working, so stop wasting tax money. Progressives site U.S. Census figures that suggest poverty rates have fallen by more than one-third since 1968, and a Columbia University study suggests that without government benefits, the poverty rate would have soared to 31 percent in 2012. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, an average of 27 million people were lifted annually out of poverty by social programs between 1968 and 2012.

The war, if you can call it that, is working, but there's so much more to do. And doing nothing will cost more when poverty prompts mass incarceration and a rise in single mothers, among other things.

Here are four numbers to consider:

• 11 million -- The estimated number of people unemployment insurance has kept out of poverty since 2008, including 600,000 children in 2012 alone.

• 1.3 million -- People whose unemployment benefits were taken away at the end of last year.

• 3.6 million -- People who will lose those benefits by the end of 2014 if Congress fails to extend them.

• 240,000 -- the jobs we'll lose this year if we don't extend unemployment insurance. That's because that money won't be turned around to pay bills and buy basics. And without that churn, local businesses will take a hit.

Requiem for a strong elder

We all know some: Super independent people pushing 100 who love their homes and don't want to impose even if they do need help. We love them for their independence and fear for them at the same time.

What a tragedy for the friends and family of Pauline Cain, the 95-year-old Sequatchie County resident who took a familiar path from her house to the edge of the quiet Sequatchie River to fetch a pan of water for her beloved chickens after the water inside her house froze Monday. She didn't make it back inside.

Times Free Press Reporter Ben Benton makes it clear in his Thursday story that Mrs. Cain's son, who lives next door, checked on her a regularly. At noon when he looked in on her, she was heating water on the stove to replace frozen water in the chicken coop. Shortly before 7 that night, he checked on her again, but she was not in the house.

When the sheriff arrived to help search for her, he realized Mrs. Cain's water had frozen under the sink. Instead of calling her son or someone else to help, she did what she and many people often do -- she thought she'd take care of the problem herself. She walked down a familiar path beside the river behind the house where she'd lived for decades. She would dip up some water for her chickens. The sheriff found her body in the knee-deep river.

Condolences to her family and friends -- and to all families of strong, beloved seniors.

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