Monthly Archives: September 2005

The pen is mightier than the sword

The poet Sharon Olds’ response to the war in Iraq. I appreciate her putting her money where her mouth is, so to speak. Thanks to Heather for sending me this link.

http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20051010&s=olds

From a distance …

 

Those of you living in New York in the summer of 1999 may remember a heat wave, which induced brownout in upper Manhattan, leaving a couple hundred thousand people without power in the middle of the night. It was hot. Brutally hot. As a teacher friend of mine would say, “It was like being in a mouth.” About 100 degrees and 95 percent humidity. All fans and air conditioners went out. We sat on the fire escape of my apartment and did the only thing we could: we drank the six beers we had while they were still cold.

But this isn’t about me. I’m illustrating a point about leadership. During the Great Manhattan Brownout of 1999, NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, got out of bed at midnight and was down on the front lines with police and fire officials getting things done. He went to the command station at 181st and Broadway, in the heart of Washington Heights (where the majority of the residents are black and Hispanic). In Washington Heights, Rudy exposed himself to a less-than-ideal situation, and potential criticism from some of the minority groups in the city, many of whom were indirectly affected by some of his “police state” policies as mayor. And who can forget Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima, victims of Rudy’s overzealous NYPD. Let’s just say, Rudy at 181st and Broadway probably didn’t feel nearly as safe as he did at Park Avenue and 79th. He was not in the friendliest territory. But he went there nonetheless, because he had a job to do. He needed to lead his city through a difficult time.

While for the most part I don’t agree with his politics, Rudy was a man of action. He believed that a leader is someone who leads in times of crisis, even if doing so puts him in an uncomfortable position.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch … George Bush has decided to watch Hurricane Rita from one of the most secure and non-threatening places imaginable. He’s at the Northern Command in Colorado, roughly 1,000 miles from the storm, while military commanders and other friendlies surround him. He’s practiced for the cameras what appears to be a look of smug concern for the situation in Texas and Louisiana.

From Today’s Associated Press story:

“It comforts me knowing that our federal government is well-organized and well-prepared to deal with Rita,” Bush said. “The first order of business now is search and rescue teams — to pull people out of harm’s way.”

The first person pulled out of harm’s way? George Junior himself.

This man is a native of Texas. He was Governor of Texas. Yet he has steered comfortably clear of his home state. Most people, when their home is threatened, will make an effort (or at least make a verbal overture) to save what they can.

Once again, Bush is showing us his true colors. If you’re in need, even if you’re his neighbor, he’ll save himself first.

George Bush does not care about America and its well-being more than he cares about his own. Is that the kind of message you enjoy getting from your elected leader?

I hope we don’t make this mistake again in 2008.

Some comments on yesterday’s post

I received several comments to yesterday’s post, one thread of which I’ll share with you here. This is from a guy I went to college with. He’s a well-meaning liberal, and although he works in the investment community, he has a higher than average social conscience. He brought up a point about Clinton’s Welfare to Work programs that I wanted to share. All of you well-meaning liberals out there, take note: Clinton was no saint when it came to social welfare. Much damage has been done. Read on.

READER WRITES:

Change Agent,

Glad you could get all of that off your chest. I’ve been following a lot of this, and have about a half completed LTE on the subject of poverty in america. I was astounded at some of the recent Census numbers from 2004, released this month. Remembering that none of these numbers take into account Katrina or Rita:

More than 1 million more Americans are living below the poverty line than in 2003. 37 million Americans, nearly a third of them children, live below the poverty line. For 2004, the poverty line was set at just below $20,000 for a family of four, just above $1200 for a family of two. Since Bush took office more than 6 million people have fallen below the poverty line, more in every year since he took office. Nearly a million more people in the US are living without health insurance, the total is now 45.8 million.

Don’t get me wrong, most of these people aren’t what we would call Bangledesh poor. But they aren’t paying Bangledesh housing and food prices either.

When Kennedy and LBJ put the “Great Society” into action in the late 60’s they managed to cut poverty in the country nearly in half in 10 years. They didn’t do it with welfare programs, but with WORK programs, educational assistance etc. Then Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush I gutted all of those programs, pushing the expenses off on the states, rather than the Federal budget. Since then, with a few exceptions during economic expansions, poverty has continued to rise in the country. Clinton didn’t/couldn’t do much during his 8 years given the opposition in Congress.

One of the things that killed me in his “speech” last week, was talking about giving the evacuees/refugees from Katrina land on which to rebuild. Of course 90% of those affected don’t have the resources to build, even given free land on which to build. But I’ll bet Trent Lott and a number of Bush’s construction buddies will be standing at the front of the line for this kind of assistance…

Its a shame, and crime that this is happening to our country right now. We can only hope that the damage from Rita is less than they are expecting. I really hope (and am actively working towards) a Democratic revolution in 2006, similar to the Republican revival in 1994. If you weren’t politically active in 2004, you have no excuses now….(not you, but the american people in general…)

CHANGE AGENT RESPONDS:

Clinton dealt the welfare state its final blows, doing more damage to it than Reagan or Bush I ever imagined doing.

All this to say, Nixon and Reagan look practically like Hippies compared to Bush II.

READER WRITES:

Change Agent,

I thought Clinton’s welfare to work programs were both reasonably effective and a step in the right direction. Reagan zeroed the federal funding the Job Corps and a number of other job education and training programs (which helped cut poverty in half over the preceding 15 years).

In either case the real help for the bottom strata of this country ended in the early 1970’s. There are some local programs picking up the slack and the faith based help is out there, but it is something that needs to be re-addressed by Federal Government sooner rather than later.

CHANGE AGENT RESPONDS:

Gentle reader,

The real welfare problem in the country right now is Corporate Welfare. Welfare To Work was a joke.

Welfare to Work was another “look over there!” strategy designed to take focus away from the corporate fatties getting fatter with the government’s help, deregulation, etc., just like in the 80s, when Reagan coined the “Welfare Queen” slogan.

You know what residents of my state get on public assistance get these days? Three hundred bucks a month. If you have more than one kid it goes up to four hundred. Trouble is, the other programs have been dismantled, too: section 8 housing is all but nonexistent (so you have to use your 300 bucks wisely, if you want a place to live), the drug abuse treatment programs are a gaunt version of their former selves, and there’s no job training. Welfare to Work’s core message is truly “Get a Job”. They government doesn’t help people get jobs or train them to have skills, it says “figure it out, this is America, the land of opportunity.” Many of these people grew up poor. They have no soft skills, no job skills, little education (which has also been brutally cut at the Federal level).

There is no social safety net anymore. There used to be one, and it used to catch people when they were falling. That net has been put away. The thing is, in order for the work programs and education programs to work, they need social programs that compliment them. It has to be more of a total solution. LBJ had it right when he envisioned a Great Society.

Not that the Dems have done that much social good in the last 15 years, but considering the alternative, I just hope the GOP gets crucified in the mid-terms.

Opportunity In America

This morning, before she headed off to work, my wife and I had a brief conversation about the State of the Nation. My lovely wife, a tireless advocate for public assistance, mentioned to me another assault on America’s poor. This time, though, it’s in a time of national crisis. Hurricane Katrina killed thousands and uprooted millions. The government’s response to this crisis (especially that of the Executive Branch), and their proposed solutions, are sorely disappointing.

In today’s news, though conspicuously out of the headlines:

“Congress is working to extend Medicaid coverage for victims of Hurricane Katrina, but Bush administration officials are working against the measure, promising instead health care for evacuees and federal help for the states.” (source: NPR.org, 9/22/05)

Don’t be fooled, folks. This is more of the same. In his speech last week in New Orleans, Bush Jr. proposed the creation of the “Gulf Opportunity Zone” (I suppose that Opportunity is all you have when you’ve lost everything).

Bush goes on to describe what the GOZ entails (EMPHASIS MINE): “Within this zone, we should provide immediate INCENTIVES FOR JOB-CREATING INVESTMENT, TAX RELIEF FOR SMALL BUSINESSES, incentives to COMPANIES THAT CREATE JOBS, and LOANS AND LOAN GUARANTEES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again. It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity; it is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty; and we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.” (source: White House press release archives, 9/15/05)

Excuse me? Am I missing something? Where’s the RELIEF? Where are the government grants, housing vouchers, a federal jobs program? If the administration gets its way, the so-called relief package for Katrina victims is coming in the form of tax relief and business incentives, not aid to the people on the ground whose lives were ripped apart. This explains why the Bush administration is working against Medicaid (maybe the last shred of public welfare remaining in this country) and other issues. They don’t believe in helping the poor, even when a disaster like this strikes. We can only hope that congress can prove more visionary.

These victims need HELP. They need food, water and shelter. They need jobs. They need financial assistance (real financial assistance) to reclaim what they’ve lost. They don’t need incentives to start businesses. They need to rebuild their lives. More incentives for entrepreneurs only help those with the MEANS to start a business, something families below the poverty line rarely have. The blind devotion to entrepreneurship as a cure-all for America’s woes is nothing more than a narrow, unrealistic and selfish belief in social Darwinism: the belief that if a person isn’t smart enough or capable enough to take advantage of America’s opportunities, then they don’t
amount to anything, they aren’t deserving of assistance. This is the same crowd who always says “We believe in giving people a HAND UP, not a HAND OUT.” The victims of Katrina NEED a hand out, folks. And our government isn’t doing enough.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Give Direct Aid. My wife and I have offered our RV as a donation to FEMA, who is running a program to provide trailers and motorhomes to people displaced by the hurricane. This program is hardly a long-term solution, but at least it’s some concrete form of assistance, considering the dreadful initial response.

Maybe the Administration is doing this because they see it as an Opportunity to keep the poor in trailer parks, while those of us who can afford it enjoy the housing bubble and get to decide between white or stainless steel appliances in our kitchen. “A concrete patio, or should we go with ceramic tile, honey? I’m not sure. Oh hell, let’s do both.”

This summer, my wife and I experienced a severe property loss. Our rental home was flooded by the city sewer system. Everything had to come out of the house and be replaced: all the floors, the drywall, the cabinets and appliances. Restoring the house will cost upwards of $30,000. But yesterday, we received a settlement check from the city which will pay for about 60% of the damage. Why? Because we had the means and the knowledge to pursue a claim. Even if the city hadn’t responded to our claim, we would have had recourse with our insurance company, but again, we had the means to recover our own losses. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that ours was a SECOND HOME.

Many of the homes in the most ravaged parts of the south have been in families for generations, and therefore have no mortgages, and for many, NO INSURANCE. If it weren’t required by a financing bank, and you had to choose between insurance and food for your kids, you’d opt out of insurance, too.

We suffered a loss, but it was minimized by the fact that we have the means to recover it.

It’s truly a shame that our President isn’t willing (or isn’t able) to use the Opportunity presented by Katrina to develop a vision of America as a better place. Look at a government with vision: in 1933 (I believe you all remember what was going on leading up to that time?), as emergency measures, federal money was given direct to individuals as relief through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. They didn’t stop there. The federal government directly hired people for work projects directly funded by the federal government: the CCC, the WPA, and the Civil Works Administration,
among others. This was called the New Deal.

The New Deal projects were direct responses to a national emergency. They worked by putting people back to work, (not asking them to figure it out for themselves, as the Bush White House is asking).

I didn’t think the Bush Administration was capable of doing it, but they’re using this National Disaster as an excuse to attack Medicaid, the last line of defense in health care for people who can’t afford it. They seem to want to create a society in which anyone without the means is out of luck.

How can that be good for America?