Suburban Pastoral

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sunday, March 04, 2007

It's here

Voices of Reason is available.

E-mail us here for information on how to purchase.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

VOR 2 is coming soon (we hope)

It is coming. We promise. Voices of Reason 2 with musical contributions from Patrick Myster, The Grip Weeds, Tris McCall, John Testa, the Matt Angus Thing and others. And poetry from Martin Espada, Alicia Ostriker and Eliot Katz, among an array of poets.

Stay tuned for more info.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Low wages and low expectations

Two stories on the wages and the American economy worth reading, from the Times:

Everyday Low Wages

Progress or Regress?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Suburban Pastoral on sale

On sale from Voices of Reason

Suburban Pastoral: Poems by Hank Kalet

To purchase "Suburban Pastoral," send a check or money order made out to Hank Kalet for $4 plus a $1.50 shipping and handling.

All proceeds go to the South Brunswick Food Pantry.

Voices of Reason
P.O. Box 293
Dayton, NJ 08810


Calico kitten lounges on the lawn as
traffic inches along and
pre-teens middle-schoolers jabber on about
south park and ball parks and their
latest exploits on the baseball diamond –
Ella watches at the window where her
own son should be standing only
he’s living with her mother in Jamesburg
she sees him on Sundays and
every other Thursday when they
go to McDonald’s and he
dips his nuggets in honey sauce –
that is, when she lays off the pipe and
keeps her morning beers to a minimum.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Broken promises on poverty

From The Washington Post (Friday, Sept. 1; A21):

Perfect Storm for the PoorIn Income Data,
Something More Damaging Than Katrina

By E. J. Dionne Jr.

After a week of remembering the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, the most depressing realization is how easily our leaders forgot their fervent promises to lift up our nation's poorest citizens.

All manner of politicians and columnists said in Katrina's wake that this was the time to revisit the problems of the destitute. The anguish of the people of New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward would have at least some redemptive power if the country took poverty seriously again.

It didn't happen. The innovative ideas that came from all sides were swept off the table. The poor became unfashionable once more. Congressional conservatives changed the conversation. A concern for the struggling gave way to debate over how to offset spending on Katrina with budget cuts -- directed in large part at programs for the needy.

Perhaps the release of the Census Bureau's annual report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage in this particular week is a sign that God and statisticians have a sense of humor. The report reinforces what we knew at the time of Katrina -- that the poor are still with us and that the middle class keeps losing ground.

The "good" news is that the poverty rate, the proportion of Americans who are poor, didn't change much between 2004 and 2005, falling in a statistically insignificant way from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent. The bad news is that the poverty rate, having risen steadily in recent years, is still higher than it was in 2001, when it stood at 11.7 percent.

Worse is that the proportion of the poor who are very poor has risen. People are considered in deep poverty if they have half or less of the yearly income of those at the poverty line. In 2005 half the poverty line for a family of three was $7,788; for a family of four it was $9,985. (Try living on that.) According to the new report, 43.1 percent of poor people lived in that sort of deep poverty -- a record since 1975, when the government started assembling such statistics.

In the six economic recoveries since the early 1960s, this is the first time the poverty rate was higher in the recovery's fourth year than it was when the recession was at its worst.

The number of Americans without health insurance rose, too, to 46.6 million in 2005, up from 45.3 million in 2004 and 41.2 million in 2001. The proportion without insurance is up from 14.6 percent in 2001 to 15.9 percent in 2005.

What about the middle class? Yes, the median income of American households rose by 1.1 percent last year after five years of decline. But most of the growth was in households headed by Americans 65 and over -- who are helped, rightly, by substantial government benefits. In households headed by people under 65, incomes fell yet again.

Want to know why so many men out there are mad? Check out Table A-2 on Page 38 of the Census report. (I'm grateful to my friend Bill Galston for calling it to my attention.) Adjusted for inflation, men's earnings were lower in 2005 than they were in 1973.

Dear liberals, who worry about the political leanings of angry men, and dear conservatives, who exploit that anger, do you have any proposals to end this income stagnation?

Yes, women have been slowly closing the gender gap in income. Among full-time, year-round workers, women earn 77 percent of what men do, compared with 57 percent in 1973.

But in the most recent year, the gap closed because women lost income at a slightly slower rate than men did. Between 2004 and 2005, the earnings for those working full time year-round dropped 1.8 percent for men and 1.3 percent for women. That's not how most women imagine achieving equality.

The census had some very good news for the well-to-do. The top fifth of American households received 50.4 percent of all income last year, the highest proportion since 1967, when the Census Bureau started following that trend. The biggest gains were concentrated in the top 5 percent.

"The economy is growing, and someone is getting the growth," said Sharon Parrott, a senior analyst at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "So now we know who it is."

President Bush and the Republican Congress, take a bow: You took power to make the well-off even better off, and you have succeeded brilliantly.

As for the poor and the middle class, maybe they'll do better after the next hurricane, or the one after that.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Friday, August 18, 2006

Sunday Poetry Readings in South Brunswick

Beginning in September, the South Brunswick Arts Commission, in cooperation with the South Brunswick Public Library, will present a series of Sunday afternoon poetry readings featuring some of the region's most highly regarded poets. The readings will take place monthly and be followed by an open reading. All readings will be at 2 p.m. in the library.

The fall schedule is:

  • Sept. 10: Maria Mazziotti Gillan

  • Oct. 15: Emanuel di Pasquale, Sander Zulauf and Frank Finale

  • Nov. 19: Alicia Ostriker and Eliot Katz

  • Dec. 17: The Poets of South Brunswick - Hank Kalet, Shandy Walton, Adam Fitzgerald and others.
The schedule of spring readings will be released at a later date.

The readings are free, though a donation of a non-perishable food item to be given to the South Brunswick Food Pantry is encouraged.

For more information, including directions, contact the Arts Commission at (732) 329-4000, ext 7635.

Voices 2 coming soon

A delay in the release, but VOR 2 is coming as promised.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Voices of Reason prepares for new release

Voices of Reason is preparing to release a second magazine and compact disc. The new release so far features music by Steve Bates and Patrick Mystery, along with poetry by Miguel Espada, Alicia Ostriker, Hank Kalet, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Charles Johnson and Eliot Katz.

Stay tune for more details. In the meantime, check out Voices of Reason's first release "The Other Side of the Street / The Other Half."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The economic doldrums

Today's editorial in The New York Times is worth reading. Here it is:

Editorial (New York Times, May 10)

Barely Staying Afloat

President Bush's advisers say that the administration should receive more credit for the state of the economy, which, over all, is growing at a strong clip. But voters don't base their opinions on aggregate statistics. They react to their own paychecks and benefits, weighed against their fixed costs, like housing, health care and gasoline. For all but the wealthiest Americans, the latter are rapidly outpacing the former.

In a time of plenty, more American workers are in danger of slipping into outright poverty. As Erik Eckholm reported this week in The Times, about 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line in 2004: $19,157 a year for a family of four. An additional 54 million lived between the poverty line and double the poverty line: $38,314 for a family of that size. They are the "near poor," and they generally receive little attention. But they are often one injury or layoff away from slipping into poverty themselves.

If the "near poor" feel insecure, they have good reason to. A group of academics found that during the 1980's, 13 percent of Americans in their 40's spent a year or more below the poverty line. In the 1990's, that percentage nearly tripled, reaching 36 percent. While workers once believed that pensions would provide for them in their old age, now they fret over underfunded 401(k) accounts. Houses are supposed to provide stability, but those with adjustable-rate mortgages are watching their payments rise, and some fear losing their homes.

The issue here is not handouts; it's about buffering against the shocks inherent in a fast-paced global economy. Perhaps one of the reasons President Bush is generally regarded as such a poor economic steward is that his administration has done little to make the most vulnerable members of the working class believe that any of the good news is directed at them.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Neil Young's new one is out

Neil Young's new album, Living With War, is available as a Web stream here. It's good, sort of a musical pamphlet or an op-ed piece -- angry, raw, disposable like a newspaper, but more vital and political than most of what's out there.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rich man, poor man

Read this from the Rocky Mountain News

Rich-poor gap widens

By Paul Campos

Over the past generation, much mainstream economic thought has assumed that what is good for rich people is good for America. Naturally, this view has tended to transform university economics departments and business schools into cheerleaders for the Republican Party.

Ask professor Pangloss of the University of Chicago what we ought to do about capital gains or the inheritance tax or unions, and he will dazzle you with equations supposedly demonstrating that the political outcomes sought by the wealthiest Americans are also best for society as a whole.

That, at any rate, is the current economic orthodoxy. How well does it reflect reality?

Nearly 50 years ago, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith published The Affluent Society, in which he predicted that an increasingly wealthy America was in danger of producing "private wealth and public squalor." A few years later, Galbraith advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as they extended the post-New Deal state in ways that lessened the hardships of poverty for millions of Americans.

The America Galbraith lived to see - he died last week at the age of 97 - became an immensely rich nation. In real terms, the gross domestic product is now five times larger than when The Affluent Society appeared, which means that, when one accounts for population growth, the average American is nearly three times wealthier.

But "average" is a tricky concept; it's been noted that if you have one foot in a bucket of ice and another in a bonfire, a statistician will tell you that, on average, the temperature is fine. Over the past quarter-century, political power has shifted from Democrats to Republicans, with striking results for the average distribution of wealth.

Since the election of Ronald Reagan the wealth of the nation has more than doubled. Per capita, Americans are now 70 percent richer than they were in 1979. Where have these several trillion dollars of new affluence gone?

For poor people, the answer is clear: Essentially none of this wealth has come their way. Adjusted for inflation, the tenth percentile of after-tax family income is almost exactly the same today as it was in 1979 - about $13,500 (note this means that 30 million Americans live on even less). For the middle class, the situation is only slightly different. In 1979, the average middle-class family had an after-tax income of $38,000; today that figure is about $43,700, meaning that over the past quarter-century the average American family has seen its income rise by about $200 per year.

For our wealthiest citizens, by contrast, 25 years of Republican rule have made these very much the best of times. During this period, the average after-tax income of the top 1 percent of Americans has risen an astonishing 111.3 percent, from $298,900 to
$631,700 per year (again, all these figures are adjusted for inflation). In
other words, in absolute terms the poor are just as poor as they were a generation ago, while a middle-class family's annual share of the last quarter-century's worth of economic growth allows it to buy one extra tank of gas every three months.

Meanwhile, in relative terms, both groups are far poorer: indeed, compared to the rich, most Americans are now only half as well-off as they were during the Carter presidency.

Like his intellectual mentor Thorstein Veblen, Galbraith understood that, for all its pretensions to being a science, economics has much more in common with sociology. And, like Veblen, he recognized that economists who fail to appreciate this point are
particularly prone to confuse ideological commitment for scientific truth.

That so many of his academic colleagues ended up arguing that the increasingly vast gulf between America's rich and everyone else is actually a desirable state of affairs, did not, I suspect, surprise him.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at .

Monday, May 01, 2006

A new poem by Hank Kalet

A new poem, written last week and debuted at Friday's Evening of Music and Poetry in Cranbury:

By Hank Kalet

Her car was 12 years old,
as old as her son, but less reliable,
drinking gas and burning oil,

tires bald and the paint flaking off
the front left quarter panel.
Last month, it needed a new battery,

seventy-five dollars that she didn’t have
so it sat a week as she waited on her paycheck,
caught the bus or a ride from Jill,

or sometimes walked in the early morning dark
the four miles down a road busy even at that hour,
but at least it’s running now, though she knows

it’s just a matter of time before it
blows a gasket or the insurance bill comes due.

A night past

A good night with a small crowd. Steve Bates played a nice group of songs, Hank Kalet and Howard Zogott offered some stirring poems and Peter Wise of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen reminded us why we do this.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Immigration reform (from The Progressive Populist

Immigration Reform

Undocumented workers are no longer invisible. Taking to the streets in March and April to protest punitive immigration controls being pushed by US Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), millions who had previously toiled in obscurity are now escaping the shadows to demand respect and a place at America's table.

The walkouts came in response to legislation sponsored by Sensenbrenner that would build a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border and turn undocumented immigrants into felons, subject them to immediate deportation and bar them permanently from gaining legal status. The bill also would make it a criminal act to give aid to any undocumented worker.

Its supporters claim that sealing the borders will safeguard Americans and improve both physical security and the job security of low-income Americans. While there are legitimate concerns about the impact that illegal immigration has on low-income workers and on the cost of services, the real foundation for the Sensenbrenner bill and efforts by the close-the-border crowd is xenophobia.

"There is no immigrant crisis -- other than the one created by a small but vocal stripe of opportunist politicians, media demagogues and freelance xenophobes," the columnist Robert Scheer wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in March. "So it has been throughout the history of this country when anti-immigrant hysteria periodically reigns during low ebbs in our national sense of security and vision."

The current immigration debate is no different. Sensenbrenner and its jingoist allies are playing "to the national security and economic fears of ordinary Americans," Robert Kuttner wrote in the Boston Globe. In an atmosphere of anxiety over terrorism and concern about wages, the legislation would seem to have a ready audience.

But the Sensenbrenner bill will do little to address those concerns or make for a saner immigration policy. The legislation targets the Mexican border, though it wasn't Mexican immigrants who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. And while "wide-open immigration slightly depresses wages, especially among unskilled workers," Kuttner wrote, stanching the flow of immigrants will do little to stir up the stagnant waters.

That's because illegal immigration is only a small part of a larger and more complicated web of problems, among them an absurdly low minimum wage and lax labor-law enforcement, a broken health-care system, and a slavish adherence to the profit motive that causes employers to seek out the cheapest workers, wherever they are and wherever they come from.

"[I]n the current debate we should be discussing not only how to treat people when they get to the border but what makes them come -- growing inequality between North and South, the need to escape poverty and the hope that success will make it possible to send money home," The Nation wrote in an April editorial.

It is a sentiment echoed by the author Paul Rogat Loeb.

"[F]looding this or any country with cheap labor can and will drive down wages, especially when unions are being busted and undocumented workers live in fear of deportation," Loeb wrote in April on the Common Dreams News Center ( "If we don't create enough global justice so desperate people don't continue leaving their homes in search of a glimmer of hope, then all but the wealthiest will succumb to the worldwide race to the bottom."

In the meantime, however, we must find a way to deal with the estimated 11 million to 12 million undocumented workers currently living in the United States, and that means taking them -- and their demands -- seriously.

The new "mass movement," The Nation wrote, will (and it emphasized will) transform American politics. "[W]hether it takes two years or ten, this movement, bolstered by its growing social and electoral clout, will have its demands addressed: family reunification; a solution to the visa backlog, now at 6.2 million and counting; and the coveted 'path to citizenship' that allows immigrant workers to build lives with a future."

And make no mistake, most of the people who have come here want to stay here. There is just no other way to read the signs and banners declaring, "We Are America" and "Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote."

Hank Kalet is a poet and the managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and the Cranbury Press, weekly newspapers in central New Jersey. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Putting food on everyone's table

Dispathces: Putting food on everyone's table
A column by Hank Kalet from the South Brunswick Post

The statistics are startling.

About 12 percent of American households in 2004 experienced some level of food insecurity — meaning they did not have enough food to sustain "an active, healthy life for all household members" — according to the federal Department of Agriculture.

Blacks were hit hardest, with 23.7 percent experiencing some food insecurity in 2004, while 21.7 percent of Hispanic households also experienced food issues.

And the figure for households headed by single mothers is particularly staggering: a whopping 33 percent, or one in three, according to the USDA.

As an audience member at Monday's meeting of the Monroe Township League of Women Voters, which focused on food insecurity, said: "It's hard to comprehend."

Read the full column here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hank Kalet and Steve Bates will be in Cranbury on Friday

Hank Kalet (left) and Steve Bates (below) will be at the Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury Town Hall on North Main Street on Friday night. Bring some food for the local food pantry. Show starts at 8 p.m.

Frank O'Hara on Borzoi

Knopf — a division of Random House — has been running its Borzoi Reader daily poems this month, in honor of National Poetry Month. Today’s poem, "Poem" by Frank O’Hara, is a marvel of economy and language. Check it out here. ¶

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Fighting hunger

An editorial in America, the National Catholic Weekly:

Hunger here in the richest nation in the world? Impossible, one might think. But the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey makes it clear that hunger and food insecurity (not always having access to enough food to meet basic needs) not only exist, but are on the rise. The increase is reflected in the fact that the two dozen cities surveyed found that requests for emergency food at pantries and similar sites had risen on average by 12 percent. In many cases, moreover, the requests were not just for short-term emergency needs, but also to fill ongoing food deficits. For some that means filling in the gap when the monthly food stamp allotment runs out, often by the third week of the month. Emergency food providers also said that in almost half the cases, they either had to turn people away or else apportion less than what they had previously provided. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 38 million people live in homes marked by food insecurity.

Some cities reported jumps of over 30 percent for emergency food assistance. In virtually all the cities, the survey reported that low-income people have to make painful choices: whether to pay for rent, medicine, utilities or food. “Food is being pushed farther down the list of priorities,” reported providers in one city. Another respondent put it succinctly: “More demand and fewer resources.” And yet many of those living in food-insecure households are employed. Phoenix, Ariz., for example, reported that 38 percent of recipient households had at least one adult person working and nevertheless experienced hunger and food insecurity. A survey by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, done in conjunction with America’s Second Harvest, discovered that almost half its clients live in the suburbs. Hunger and food insecurity, in other words, are found not only in inner-city neighborhoods.

Participation in the federal government’s food stamp program—an entitlement program for low-income people—has grown steadily over the past few years. A sad footnote is that almost 40 percent of eligible persons throughout the country are not enrolled. In New York City alone, an estimated 700,000 eligible people do not take part in the program. As a result, New York state ranks 36th in the country in the percentage of eligible people participating—a reflection of the Giuliani era, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that caseworkers illegally denied food stamps to thousands of poor people. An often underestimated consequence of lagging participation is the loss of billions of federal dollars nationwide that, when translated into food stamps, could boost local economies through their use in local stores and

Unnecessary barriers make access to the program difficult. In some parts of the country, the sheer complexity of the process can be a deterrent, especially for people with limited education or for whom English is not the first language. New York (along with Arizona, California and Texas) require fingerprinting, a procedure that, according to one anti-hunger advocate, makes applicants feel like criminals. Other obstacles include long hours spent in food stamp offices to establish eligibility, a special hardship for low-wage workers who must take time from their jobs to apply for the program. This may result in pay cuts. Frequent recertification also presents problems. Iowa, however, has taken positive steps to simplify its own process, with an aggressive outreach effort, a toll-free number and recertification required only twice a year. Iowa also allows the use of electronic cards, which enables users to avoid the stigma often associated with paper coupons.

Despite the nutritional benefits to low-income people who use the various federal programs, the president’s FY 2007 budget is proposing cuts that would weaken these benefits. Ellen Vollinger, legal director for the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center told America that the projected cuts represent “several steps backward.” One backward step is a measure that would limit states’ ability to provide food stamps to 300,000 people in working families that are low-income but receive cash welfare benefits. Another negative change would entirely eliminate funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. Currently, this program assists almost half a million seniors with monthly food packages containing nutrient-rich food supplements. Low-income seniors are already at risk of food insecurity because of rising medical costs that can reduce the amount of money available for food.

Congress should firmly resist cutting back on federal nutrition programs and focus instead on strengthening them in such a way as to eliminate hunger and guarantee food security in the United States.

The Working Poor

I have just finished reading a book that should be required reading for everyone living in America. David Shipler's The Working Poor offers a glimpse into the world that far too many Americans inhabit, a world of insecurity in which every mistake, whether larger or small, can be magnified by economics into a life-changing and life-threatening catastrophe.

America, the National Catholic Weekly, offers this by William Bole on the book:

In the debate over poverty in the United States, there are just two ideas, or at least it often seems that way. One is that people are poor because of “the system” and hat any real solutions will have to come from forces outside the individual, namely government. That is the view from the doctrinaire left. Then there is the right’s idea: people are poor because of their own bad choices, and things won’t change until people change themselves.

Left and right have been churning out these arguments for years, and the political debate has become as stale as the 39-cent loaves of white bread sold at factory outlets patronized by the poor. What is new is that the right unquestionably has the upper hand, in an era when the arguments of the affluent go almost unchallenged.

There are not many doctrinaire leftists around anymore, when it comes to poverty. But recently, the New York Times columnist David Brooks tried to make an example of John Edwards, the U.S. senator who spoke often of “two Americas” while campaigning this past year to become a presidential candidate. Brooks praised the North Carolina Democrat for talking about poverty, but blamed him for talking about it in economic terms, as Karl Marx did.

Edwards was a bad target. While on the stump, he referred to the need for both individual responsibility and social justice in bridging the chasm between affluent Americans and the invisible Americans. Inadvertently, however, Brooks showcased the right’s one-way view. “A person’s behavior determines his or her economic destiny. If people live in an environment that fosters industriousness, sobriety, fidelity, punctuality and dependability, they will thrive,” he wrote on March 2, with not a hint that economic circumstances might conspire against them as well. And Brooks is among the less ideological conservatives.

That column applauded David K. Shipler’s The Working Poor, which Brooks called “wonderfully observant.” Brooks would do well to observe more closely what Shipler has done in making visible the lives of these forgotten Americans.

Others would do well to listen along as Shipler enters sympathetically and unsentimentally into some of these lives, into poverty’s tangled web of cause and effect.

Shipler’s journalistic journey began in 1997. He went to black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., and white towns in New Hampshire, to malnutrition clinics in Boston and sweatshops in California, and numerous points in between. It was a time of giddy prosperity that sailed past the people profiled in his book, yet they rarely blamed others for their conditions, as Shipler says they reasonably could have done.

“They often blame themselves, and they are sometimes right to do so,” he says.

Whether it’s dropping out of school or having babies out of wedlock or doing drugs or showing up late for work, Shipler finds enough examples to illustrate the conservative contention that poor behavior generates poor people. At the same time, he finds ample illustration of what liberals mean when they speak of structural causes of poverty, like failing schools and decrepit housing. Most valuably, he sheds light on the ways in which all these personal and social forces are intertwined.

“Working poverty is a constellation of difficulties that magnify one another: not just low wages but low education, not just dead-end jobs but also limited abilities, not just insufficient savings but also unwise spending, not just poor housing but also poor parenting, not just the lack of health insurance but also the lack of healthy households,” writes Shipler, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and former foreign correspondent for The New York Times.

Shipler gets to know a young mother and father who reap a minor windfall from the federal Earned Income Tax Credit—and use it to get tattoos. In the same pages appear frugal mothers who plot ways to put cheap, nutritious meals on the table.

Some stories are unbearably sad. One of the most gripping is that of Caroline Payne, a single mother in New Hampshire. She had much going for her, including a two-year college degree and glowing evaluations by her supervisor at Wal-Mart. Still, she was trapped in one of the superstore’s low-rung jobs, partly because of something she did not have: teeth. She could not come up with the money for dentures, and cashiers are supposed to smile. Payne was also afflicted with depression, which at times led her to neglect her appearance. She faced the frequently impossible challenge of keeping inflexible jobs while tending to the special needs of her 14-year-old daughter, who suffered from mild mental retardation and the aftershocks of sexual abuse by her father, Payne’s ex-husband. Depression and mild retardation are threads that run through these lives, as is sexual abuse of children. One chapter is titled “Sins of the Fathers,” as in biological fathers, not Catholic priests.

The needs of the working poor are not well served by the usual false choices of ideological debate—between strong families and strong government, better values
and better policies, personal and social responsibility. Shipler points a finger of blame at both left and right, yet he is not blindly evenhanded.

“The political opponents have to cross into each other’s territory to pick up solutions from the opposite side,” he advises. But he also suggests that while many liberals have done this by signing on to welfare reform, conservatives have yet to step onto the liberal ground of government assistance.

The final words of Shipler’s remarkable reportage are, “It is time to be ashamed.”

These stories should tell pundits and politicians that it is also time to end the either-or choices.

Here is an interview with Shipler.

-- Hank Kalet

Friday, April 21, 2006

A reminder: Voices of Reason in Cranbury

An evening of music and poetry
Friday, April 28, 8-9 p.m. or so
Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall
North Main Street, Cranbury

Voices of Reason, an arts collective formed to raise money for antipoverty
groups in central New Jersey, and the Cranbury Arts Council are hosting an
evening of music and poetry. Admission is free, but audience members are
asked to bring a non-perishable food item to be donated to the Trenton Area
Soup Kitchen and Skeet's Pantry of the Presbyterian Church of Cranbury.

The event features singer-songwriter Steve Bates and poets Hank Kalet and
Howard Zogott.

The format will be informal, with music and poetry interspersed and
questions encouraged from the audience.

Voices of Reason's first release -- the CD/literary magazine combo, The
Other Half/The Other Side of the Street will be available for sale. It sells
for $10. Proceeds go to Elijah's Promise Soup Kitchen in New Brunswick,
Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and Homefront of Mercer County. Voices of Reason,
PO Box 293, Dayton, NJ 0881;; or

The first Voices of Reason chapbook is ready for sale

I'm not a particularly good blogger, apparently.
But we are back with some news: Voices of Reason's first chapbook, "Suburban Pastoral" by Hank Kalet, is out and can be purchased for $3, plus $1 shipping. Send checks payable to Hank Kalet to Voices of Reason, P.O. Box 293, Dayton, NJ 08810. All proceeds go to organizations fighting hunger in central New Jersey.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Voices of Reason in Cranbury

Hank Kalet and Steve Bates will be at the Gourgaud Gallery in Town Hall in Cranbury, N.J., on April 28 at 8 p.m. for a reading and performance. It will be an informal night of poetry and music. We're hoping to have our first chapbook, Hank's "Suburban Pastoral," ready for distribution by then.

Check out Hank Kalet in Pemmican

Hank Kalet has two poems in the spring edition of the online journal, Pemmican. See them here.

The consequences of the layoff

A new book by Louis Uchitelle appears to confirm what most of us have known for a long time: Coprorate layoffs -- or downsizing, to be more business-friendly -- have wide-reaching consequences. There is the effect on the worker, no small thing, but there are other effects, as well.

Here is a paraphrase of some of Uchitelle's arguments, from a review in today's Times:

The layoff, Mr. Uchitelle argues, has transformed the nation. At least 30
million full-time American employees have gotten pink slips since the Labor
Department belatedly started to count them in 1984. But add in the early
retirees, the "quits" who saw the layoffs coming, and the number is much higher
— a whole ghost nation trekking into what for most will be lower-wage work. This
is the Dust Bowl in our Golden Bowl, and to Mr. Uchitelle, layoffs in one way
are worse than the unemployment of the 1930's. At least then, most of the
jobless came back to better-paid, more secure jobs. Those laid off in our time
almost never will.

And so, we humbly move forward with Voices of Reason in the hopes that some of the distress this corporate behavior creates on the economy and on those being pushed to the margins.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Check out Hank Kalet in Chronogram

Chronogram, a lifestyle and culture magazine in central New York state, has published one of Hank Kalet's "Sonnets of the Everyday" in its March issue. Check it out here (you have to scroll down some).

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Read this and weep -- then work to fix it

More on the economy from Common Dreams News Center:

Incomes Fall, Hunger Worsens as Bush Says 'We're Doing Fine'
by Abid Aslam

WASHINGTON - The average American family has taken a financial tumble and millions in the country go hungry despite President George W. Bush's sunny assessment of the U.S. economy, say federal data and economists.

Bush talked up the nation's wealth last week during a speech in Milwaukee. ''We're doing fine,'' he said and described the economy as ''strong and gaining steam.''

Economic growth had clocked a respectable 3.5 percent, unemployment had been held down to 4.7 percent with more than four million new jobs created in the past 30 months, and after-tax income had risen eight percent since 2001, he said.

Within days, however, the Federal Reserve reported that average incomes after adjusting for inflation actually had fallen between 2001 and 2004.

At the same time, the number of Americans who need emergency food aid to survive had swollen to more than 25 million even before hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck, the nation's largest network of food banks said in a separate report.

Many families continued to struggle in the wake of the 2000 stock market collapse and 2001 recession, the central bank said in its latest triennial ''Survey of Consumer Finances,'' released Thursday.

Inflation helped to eat away at the average American family's income, reducing the total to $70,700 in 2004--a loss of 2.3 percent from 2001. That followed a 17.3 percent gain in average incomes between 1998 and 2001 and 12.3 percent in 1995-98, the Fed said.

Median family income showed a slight increase of 1.6 percent to reach $43,200 in 2004, up from $42,500 in 2001.

Half of all households are understood to stand above, and half to fall below, the median point, which is used to represent the ''typical'' rather than ''average'' family.

Economic analysts said the latest Fed's findings confirmed earlier research showing that the average American family's finances were deteriorating.

''Every American should be able to achieve middle class economic security, a hallmark of national and household stability in this country,'' said Tamara Draut, director of the economic opportunity program at research and advocacy group Demos.

''But the Federal Reserve's findings spotlight trends that are causing economic fragility in today's middle class and are closing the door on low-income Americans.''

The income situation appears to be worsening.

Last year proved to be the worst one on record for inflation-adjusted income, said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

''Wages and compensation for the average worker are lagging inflation despite strong productivity growth,'' Bernstein said, citing figures from last month's ''Employment Cost Index'' report from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

''Averaging over all of 2005, real wages fell 0.9 percent--the lowest annual result on record--while compensation's essentially unchanged rate from 2004 provides its worst year on record as well,'' Bernstein added in an analysis of the BLS report. The term ''compensation'' refers to wages plus benefits.

Draut, at Demos, said she was worried by the latest Fed report's findings that ''growing numbers of American households face mounting debt and financial instability.''

In particular, more than 76 percent of households carry debt, up since 2001. Of households in debt, the median amount of debt, $55,300, amounts to 128 percent of the median household income.

''A greater number of people reported not saving money in 2004 than in 2001. Only 41 percent save regularly,'' Draut said, citing the Fed's figures. ''That's a foreboding number for a nation with 76 million people reaching retirement age over the next 25 years.''

The Fed found that four in 10 senior citizens older than 75 years shouldered debts in 2004, up from 29 percent in 2001.

Americans also have been piling up credit card debt, which grew 10 percent in the median household and 15.9 percent in the average household. Most of the increase occurred in the ''middle class,'' which the Fed defined as the fifth of the population with a median income of $42,500.

''Stagnant wages and skyrocketing healthcare, education and housing costs, plus greater job instability has pushed America's families right to the limit, and they're borrowing on high-cost credit just to make ends meet,'' said Draut.

Home equity loans also have become bigger and more common, with many homeowners using the cash-out refinancing to pay down their credit card debts and to recover expenses they can't cover with their earnings, she added.

Rising household debt and stagnant real wages sapped median net worth, a tally of assets and liabilities. Median net worth grew by 1.5 percent in 2001-04, down from 10.3 percent in 1998-2001, the Fed report said.

The gap between wealthy and poor also has widened, the Fed said. America's wealthiest 10 percent saw their net worth rise by 6.1 percent to an average of $3.1 million while the bottom 10 percent saw theirs fall from zero in 2001 to minus $1,400--meaning they owed this much more than the value of all their assets--in 2004.

Data on net worth would have proven even more anemic were it not for big gains in the notional value of real estate--something that, at least hypothetically, boosted homeowners' financial standing, the Fed and analysts agreed.

''Americans are keeping their families afloat by putting their greatest asset at risk,'' said Draut.

Yet they appear to be among the fortunate, according to America's Second Harvest, which supports 50,000 food-aid charities nationwide.

More than 25 million Americans were forced to resort to food donations from the organization's affiliates last year, an 8 percent increase over 2001, it said.

Nine million children younger than 18 and three million senior citizens stood among the hungry, America's Second Harvest said in its ''Hunger in America 2006'' report.

''About 70 percent of the clients seeking emergency food assistance are living below the federal poverty line,'' the private philanthropy said.

''Nearly 40 percent have at least one adult working in their household,'' it added.

Those figures suggest that increasing numbers of working Americans do not earn enough to feed their families.

Copyright © 2006

Thursday, February 23, 2006

More bad news for the rest of us

It is the economy, stupid.

Just another example of why we do what we do.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pinsky on poetry

Found a copy of Robert Pinsky's "Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry" at a used bookstore in Lambertville on Friday and read it over the weekend. It is a slim volume, but one that forced me to consider the way in which poetry interacts with the world, even the quietest of poems, how public an art it ultimately is because it imagines an audience. The poem, he writes, is a mediating force between the internal and the external, between the solitarya nd the public.

The book also talks about the essential difference between poetry and the more boastful, more celebraty-driven/commerce-driven arts. I recommend it highly.

-- Hank Kalet

Saturday, February 11, 2006

We're available at CD Baby

Check Voices of Reason out at CD Baby by clicking this link and then buy it. Or, to buy directly from us, you can send a check made out to Steve Bates or Hank Kalet to PO Box 293 Dayton, NJ 08810. All the money goes to groups fighting hunger and homelessness in central New Jersey.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Introducing Jim Cohn

Jim Cohn's newest disc, "Trashtalking Country," is exctly what the title says. A bit of country, some blues, some trashtalking and a lot of provacative language. Look for some of Jim's work on the next Voices of Reason disc. In the meantime, check out his Web site. His poem "Wire-taps" appeared in Voices of Reason No. 1, The Other Half.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

An interview with Charles Simic

Voices of Reason's Hank Kalet conducted this interview with Pulitzer Prize winning poet Charles Simic. It ran recently in Time Off, The Princeton Packet's entertainment magazine.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Another bad budget for the other half

The other half are always at the mercy of those in charge. That's the lesson we seem to learn all too often. And it is the lesson that we were forced to learn once again yesterday when Congress approved a budget bill that maintains the president's tax cuts, but has little to offer to those that have little voice.

Here is a quote from today's Washington Post story (which was far better than the story in The New York Times):

In recent days, separate Congressional Budget Office documents estimated that Medicaid changes would impose new costs on 13 million poor recipients and end insurance coverage for 65,000 Medicaid enrollees, that cuts to federal child-support enforcement funds would shift costs to the states and eliminate billions of dollars in child-support payments, and that changes made to the Senate-passed budget package saved private Medicare insurers $22 billion over 10 years.

Not something unexpected, when you get right down to it, but the vote was closer than I would have imagined. That said, it is pretty clear that the folks at the bottom will remain at the bottom for some time and tha the folks at the top don't care.

So do what you can to help. Buy a copy of Voices of Reason, or donate directly to a local soup kitchen. Or volunteer. But help.

-- Hank Kalet

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Affordable housing -- well, not really, not around here at least

From the Star-Ledger:

"The report, "Securing Homes for All New Jerseyans," said at least 697,348 low-income households in New Jersey, or 62 percent, spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. In 1989, there were 432,076 households, or 46 percent, in that situation.

"A report issued by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey last week said the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey is $1,085 per month and 53 percent of renters cannot afford the cost. New Jersey ranked behind only California, Massachusetts and Hawaii as the most expensive state in the nation for renters."

Read the Ledger story on the report here.

Don't forget to check out our magazine and disc. Money goes to central New Jersey antipoverty groups.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A poem by Hank Kalet

By Hank Kalet

Navigating the ’78 Caddy he bought
with the money he won on a good trip to
Monmouth Park
turning left onto the highway as
his passenger sips from a
cardboard coffee cup –
He nailed the trifecta then a
longshot in the last race
walked out with two grand in his pocket
had a steak dinner and bought the car
You should come to the track with me
he says grinning, unlit cigarette dangling
my luck’s been too damn good to
keep to myself

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Unaffordable Housing

This story in The Star-Ledger offers some sense of why we are doing what we do.

New home for the Voices of Reason arts collective on the Web

Voices of Reason has moved from to

Voices of Reason looking for music and poetry

Voices of Reason, an arts collective formed to raise money for antipoverty groups in central New Jersey, is accepting musical and literary submissions for its second compact disc anthology and literary magazine.
Musical and spoken word performances should be submitted in mp3 or standard audio formats and should be mailed on a compact disc to our post office box. Literary submissions can be submitted via e-mail to or by mail to our post office box. Please include all relevant contact information, including an e-mail address, for a response. Mailed submissions can be returned, but only if a self-addressed, stamped envelope is included. Make sure the return envelope has enough postage.
There is no payment for work accepted, aside from a contributor's copy, and that all decisions on distribution of the proceeds from the magazine are at the discretion of editors.
Voices of Reason’s first compact disc, The Other Side of the Street, and literary magazine, The Other Half, sell as a package for $10. Proceeds go to Elijah's Promise Soup Kitchen in New Brunswick, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and Homefront of Mercer County.
Voices of Reason, PO Box 293, Dayton, NJ 0881; or


About Me

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Poet, journalist, blogger, political columnist, professor of journalism and writing. I live with my wife, Annie, and my dogs in Central Jersey.