Saturday, November 30, 2013

SO Tired of Poor-Bashing

It is such a sign of our times that, in this season of thanks, we seem to be ramping up the "poor-bashing" to a truly unheard of level.  Are we all going for the Ebenezer Scrooge award or something?  Every day I read a new utterly objectionable quote or meme sent around by raving right wingers that literally drips with loathing for disadvantaged Americans.

Today, a friend pointed me in the direction of a Christian "prosperity prophet" who claims that the poor in first world countries really have no business being poor.  Opportunity here in the God-blessed U S of A is open to anyone.  Everyone.  Those who suffer from poverty in America are suffering the consequences of their own poor choices.  An unintended and definitely un-funny pun.

And the comments about the original piece were as clueless and vicious as the piece itself. "It's not Ramsey's fault that the divide (between rich and poor] is widening."  "No, certainly not his fault or responsibility!"  "I look around and see people who are smart and able sit on their butts and complain there is no opportunity."  "Americans are too proud to start at the bottom."


For every one person you might have seen sitting on his butt and complaining about lack of opportunity, I'll wager there are a hundred who work their asses off at multiple jobs just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.  There may be those who are "too proud" to start at the bottom.  But there are thousands who break their necks every day and stretch up as far as they physically can to reach the bottom.  And use every ounce of their strength and resources just to hang on to that space on the bottom, to keep themselves from falling off into oblivion.

I wonder how many of the folks who cling to this prosperity guru's every word have any idea what real poverty is.  I suspect that most people who have Facebook accounts and computers do not know what real poverty is.   I do not know what real poverty is, yet I am not willing to bash those who live in it as being "too proud", too stupid, too lazy, or any of the other "too's" so easily bandied about, sitting there on your comfy recliner in front of your 300 channels on your flat-screen tv, to cure themselves of their economic ills.

In my comment on the post, I asserted:  "I am going to put this in all caps because, yes, I am yelling:  I AM GETTING REALLY TIRED OF POOR-BASHING.  And if all you can do is sit in judgment of these folks, tell them what to do, what not to do, and who is or is not responsible for the plight of the poor, YOU are part of the problem."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On Poverty, From the Inside

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to a Huffington Post essay.  I followed that link, and what I read blew me away.  The piece was written by a young woman—Linda Tirado— who knows what it’s like to be poor.  It’s written in a voice that I knew existed, but had never heard quite so clearly.  In fact, I wasn’t aware that there was a poor person out there who could put together a piece of writing like this essay.  A piece of writing that slices open and pours out the guts of the “working poor,” in desolate language, dealing with the daily challenges of getting up every morning to face the same bleak reality.

"There's no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it's rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of."

This is the woman I want every troll who posts holier-than-thou comments on stories about the poor and the immigrants and the “entitlements” to hear and to know.  This is the woman who can get in your face and make you feel her poverty—not just her lack of means poverty, but the poverty of the spirit that is borne of it.

"The closest Planned Parenthood to me is three hours. That's a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can't afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don't want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We're aware that we are not "having kids," we're "breeding." We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder."

What is wrong with us that we can’t allow people to have a hard life?  Why can’t we tolerate the idea of someone being unable to rise out of poverty?  Why in the world do we cling so desperately to that “American Dream”—the one where all you have to do is work hard, get an education, save your money and stay away from the temptations of the devil, and you will achieve success beyond your wildest dreams? 

We know damn well that’s a crock of crap.  We see it in our own lives—we work hard, we go (went) to college, we’ve stuck money in the stock market or a 401k, and we’re not getting rich.  In fact, we’re going backward.  Retirement is a pipe dream.  So why can’t we cut the poor some slack? If WE can’t get ahead, how much harder must it be for them?  Are we afraid that if we admit that the guy a few rungs lower on the food chain is never going to claw his way up, even to where we are, that we’re sealing our own fate?

"Especially since the Patriot Act passed, it's hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a check and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around SF for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cell phone to the desk to hold as surety."  

How meaningless, too, is all the hubbub surrounding “Obamacare” to the poor?  Every single one of us doing the arguing has at least some idea of what it is/was to have health insurance.   While we’re whining about the cost of our coverage going up or our shitty policies being canceled or having to wait an hour or two to get on a website, the poor are simply going without.  Or hauling themselves off to an emergency room when they’re so sick they cannot even stand.  For which we do nothing but give them a raft of shit.

"There's a clinic? Great! There's still a copay. We're not going. Besides, all they'll tell you at the clinic is that you need to see a specialist, which seriously? Might as well be located on Mars for how accessible it is. "Low-cost" and "sliding scale" sounds like "money you have to spend" to me, and they can't actually help you anyway." 

Why do we have to make judgments about poor people, about how they should or should not be “allowed” to spend the two pennies they have to rub together at any given time?  I’ll admit, even I have had trouble with the concept of poor people smoking.  I cannot believe how much a pack of cigarettes costs these days.  The smoke shop in town sells single cigarettes for $1 each.  Why would anyone need a nicotine fix so badly that they would spend their last buck on one cigarette?

"I smoke. It's expensive. It's also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It's a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding."

I have prized my liberal views.   Taken them out and polished them lovingly, displayed them proudly for all to see.  And yet, in dinner table conversations, I have been guilty of labeling as “trailer trash” those women who have a passel of kids, each with a different father, trailing around behind them; kids who grow up in that world of never having enough and never knowing quite where to go next to get more.  Why would anyone want to perpetuate that?  Why bring more souls into the world to eke out a life dominated by the inescapable want that you experience every day?

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It's why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It's more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that's all you get. You're probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable.   

One thing I have noticed in the time I have spent hanging around these kinds of posts on the internet and reading the snarky comments posted afterward, is that the folks who seem to be the hardest on the poor are those who regard themselves as having been poor themselves.  They have these stories of overcoming adversity, of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, of working hard and making sacrifices until they “made it” out of their definition of poverty.  There is this pervasive attitude of  “I did it and I am nobody special.  If I can do it, anybody can.  And if they don’t, they’re lazy, stupid or criminal.”  They made it, all by themselves; and by god, they’re not going to lift a finger or part with a dime to help out some slacker.

What is it about having been down that makes you an expert on everybody else’s degree of “down?”  Or makes you think you have any idea of where “down” is, for someone who is not you, somewhere that is not where you are?  Maybe you were “down” in rural Montana.  Is that the same as being “down” in the inner city of Chicago?  Will the tools you used, the opportunities you grasped to pull yourself “up,” even be available to that other person you are calling lazy or stupid?  Would you make it for one minute, walking in their shoes? 

I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It's certainly self-defeating, but it's safer. That's all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

We live in a wacky, twisted 21st century world, where “reality” is rich housewives in Orange County having catfights over designer dresses and party invitations; but we accuse people of inventing or embellishing the suffering and hopelessness of living in poverty.  We want to be the Orange County housewives.  We don’t want anything to do with those exhausted, empty-eyed folks who live in the “bad neighborhoods” of our own towns.  In fact, we would like very much if the poor didn’t exist, because they serve as a sobering reminder of where we might ourselves be under less favorable circumstances, and we don’t want to know that.

Linda Tirado has kicked open the door of separation we’ve erected between ourselves and the people we don’t want to know, and shined a light on the stark reality of their lives.

What are we going to do about it?            

Saturday, November 23, 2013

On "The Knockout Game"

Thursday morning, I caught a story on CBS This Morning that was really disturbing.

It seems there is a new “game” being played by roaming gangs of inner-city teens.  CBS claims it’s called “the Knockout Game.”  The object of the game is to assault a random stranger on the street with one disabling punch.  If you knock that person out cold with one blow, you win.

CBS even showed surveillance camera video of teens in the act of delivering these punches.  A group of three or four kids is walking down the sidewalk, one breaks out of the formation, makes for a passing stranger and lets him (or her) have it.  The stranger goes down like a felled tree, and the little posse of kids just keeps walking.  A disturbing demonstration of truly frightening random violence.

The New York Times published a related piece today, in which the reporter disputed whether this phenomenon is actually as widespread as the CBS piece suggested, and even whether it is indeed an acknowledged “game.”  Seems law enforcement is reluctant to call it so.  I can see why.  Once it is labeled a game, will it sweep the nation via social media in the manner of the “choking game"--so popular among young teens across the country that it was once estimated that 6% of teens across the US had tried it? 

One can imagine a certain amount of reluctance in the hearts of police agencies to spread another such randomly destructive fad—this one manifesting itself as danger to unsuspecting strangers on the street rather than to the teens themselves.  Does the "knockout game" exist?  the police are asked.   Maybe.  Maybe not. We haven’t noticed teens talking it up on social media.  No one has come forward to give us details.

But still…there is this growing incidence of  one-punch assaults by teens—on men, women, young, old…some of which have proven fatal.

My first reaction to this story was, “Oh my god!  What is wrong with these children?  How can they be so randomly violent?  Why are they so angry?  What degree of rage could they possibly have experienced in their young lives that would turn them into sociopathic thugs before they turned 16?”

In the mind of this 50-something white suburban lady who has led a pretty damned sheltered life, this gets chalked up to drugs and gangs and the violent culture of blacks in the inner city.  It reinforces old stereotypes of black kids and bad neighborhoods and places you have never been and are now feeling pretty sure you will never go.  It destroys hope that there is a way out for these kids;  affirms that “their” culture is just too poisoned with hatred and violence for them to be saved.

But then, this 50-something white suburban lady experienced a sort of epiphany.  It occurred to me that maybe young blacks DO have a reason to be angry.  Maybe when "we" rail against their violent tendencies, it’s a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black.

What kind of kids would randomly assault strangers on the street?  I don’t know.

But what kind of society would allow a white man to confront an unarmed black teenager on a dark street in the middle of the night, beat the kid up, shoot him dead, and be convicted of no crime? 

What kind of society would take two weeks to make a case against a white man who shoots and kills an unarmed young black woman on his front porch?

To me, any outrage we expend in the direction of “the Knockout Game” sounds as disingenuous as the cries of “Why do they hate us?” wailed in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Really?  Why are they angry?  With images of Trayvon Martin and RenishaMcBride swimming around us, it’s a wonder we can even ask that question.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On The Nuclear Option


We've gone and nuked the Senate.

And not a moment too soon, in my opinon.

Yes, I remember vividly, during the Bush Administration, when the "nuclear option" was bandied about by Republicans, because Democrats were filibustering Bush's conservative court nominations, something which previously had been done rarely and with much more meaty reasoning behind it than "it's your party against ours and we're not gonna let you do that."

Ten years ago, I'm pretty sure I was thoroughly convinced that the judiciously applied filibuster was the only way for the Democrats, as minority party, to prevent Republicans from completely and immediately turning the government over to moneyed  interests, and setting things up so that those moneyed interests would control things well into the future.  Democrats used the filibuster to block only Bush's most heinously biased conservative appointees.  But it's obvious by the graphic below, that the Republican minority in today's senate has taken that "minority control" tool, used it and abused it to an unprecedented degree.  The uncontrolled use of the filibuster has become the primary weapon in the arsenal of Republican lawmakers, whose professed goal since November 4, 2008 has been to "make this president fail."

The rampant use of the filibuster has become  a huge contributing factor to the dysfunctionality of our federal government.And it had to stop.

It's too bad that the task of applying this "nuclear" fix fell to Senate Democrats. And, yes...this probably will come back to bite them in the ass should they lose their slim majority in that body.  

But something had to be done.  Somebody had to take an axe to the log jam.

And now, it's done.

Good.  Now maybe we can get on with the business of government.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

On George Zimmerman, Act 2...Or 3...Or More

Gary W. Green/EPA/LANDOV

So…George Zimmerman is at it again.

As far as I know, he is still in custody in Florida this evening.  Police arrested him after his new girlfriend called 911 when he started brandishing his guns in her face and using them to bust up her house, which he then proceeded to push HER out of and lock the doors before police could arrive.

When I first became aware of this story, I thought, “This guy is such an idiot.  Either he thinks his acquittal in the Martin case has given him blanket immunity from prosecution, or he is just too violent and too stupid to know when to quit.  Either way, he’s in jail.  Again. We can only hope he stays there this time.”

I even posted something on Facebook to the effect that his girlfriend called the cops on him, and I guess she can consider herself fortunate that he didn’t shoot HER.  And we can only hope the law can put him away before he kills someone else.

But then I caught the Lawrence O’Donnell show on MSNBC this evening.  O’Donnell played the TWO 911 calls generated by the incident.  The first was from the girlfriend, detailing how Zimmerman had smashed up her house, waved his guns in her face, and was now pushing her out the door and locking her out.

The second was from Zimmerman himself.  He called 911, not because he needed help, but because he “needed to get his story out there.”  And then he went on, in a deadly calm voice, to spin HIS side of the yarn for the operator.  About how his girlfriend smashed her own glass table.  About how SHE “went crazy on him” after he decided it would be better if he moved out and he started to pack up his things.  About how SHE was throwing his stuff around and breaking things.  You can listen yourself here:

Isn't this absolutely chilling?  Here is this guy, moments after a highly-charged confrontation which ended with him pushing this girl out the door and locking her out (and then barricading the door against police), and he sounds like he just woke up on a fine morning and hasn’t quite finished his first cup of coffee.  He’s quiet, he’s calm, and he’s got his story absolutely down pat.  And it sounds for all the world as if, not only does he believe every word he’s saying, but he fully expects the 911 operator--and the entire world, which he knows is going to hear this tape--to believe him, too.

This guy is NOT just your run-of-the-mill, gun-loving good ole boy.  He’s a classic abuser with dire anger management problems bordering on psychopathic, who has the balls and the legal know-how to construct elaborate layers of fiction surrounding his misdeeds with the intent to confuse, side-track and even derail prosecution.  What I heard on that tape was frightening.  He sounded as deadly dangerous as any caricature serial killer/villain pulled out of the minds of the writers of Criminal Minds.  And I had to quit watching Criminal Minds because that show seriously creeped me out.   

It must be obvious, now, that the Trayvon Martin killing was not an isolated, “Oops! He beat me up and I had to shoot him.  Sorry!” incident. If the circumstances of this new arrest are any indication, Zimmerman knew exactly what he was doing, and exactly how to craft his story in order to get himself off the hook.  

And if someone doesn’t keep a close eye on him, he will kill again.  With every intention of getting away with it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

On the GOP Drowning in Tea

Here is an interesting tidbit I dug up on the interweb today:

Wherein we get the details of a Tea Party plan to give proper comeuppance in the mid-term elections to those 87 traitorous Republican house members who "caved" to the outrage of the American people and voted to end the government shutdown last month. 

All I could think was, “Karma’s a bitch.”

Back in the early eighties, I was a Pentecostal Christian with a keen distrust of Ronald Reagan.  I never actually subscribed to right-wing politics, even though I was exhorted from the pulpit the Sunday before election day 1980 to go to the polls on Tuesday and cast my ballot for “the Ronald Reagan of my choice,” and for the next four years, I spent a goodly portion of my waking hours among folks who fawningly referred to Reagan as “God’s man in the White House.”

I may have been young and callow—and, back then, not nearly as politically aware as I am now.  But even I could see that the Reagan campaign had rolled out enticements to the Christian right—abortion limitations, government sanctioned school prayer, contempt for the ERA—but once safely in office, The Great Communicator conveniently forgot to go anywhere near those political third rails.  And had the audacity to pull the exact same bait and switch in 1984.  But the Christians ate it up with a spoon.  Politically, I couldn’t figure out which frustrated me more:  Reagan  making promises he never intended to keep, or my Christian brothers and sisters being hoodwinked by his campaign speak.  Twice.

I’m not sure if the Reagan presidency was the genesis of the unholy alliance between the ultra-right-wing fringe and the Republican Party.  Some sources hold that it was the Nixon campaign that originated the idea of “values” voting—mostly by appealing to “conservative” voters in the South (read: white southerners disenchanted with the Civil Rights Act that passed under the previous Democratic administration.)  Wherever the idea came from, the Republican Party of the late 20th century adopted as its mandate the conscription of every ragtag sub-group of whackadoodle right-wingers it could dig up into the ranks of GOP faithful.  No fear was too outlandish, no prejudice too appalling, no hatred too sociopathic to be welcomed under the umbrella of political “conservatism” that the GOP offered to anyone who would mark a ballot in the appropriate column.

Because the GOP was interested in numbers.  It needed control of Congress, of the White House, of both at the same time if the gods really smiled upon them, in order to advance the aggressively pro-business agenda of wealthy corporate backers.   The Republican Party at large had no real interest in the political agendas of this disparate collection of ideologues they had gathered into the fold.  They simply wanted their votes.  So the GOP would promise them anything, and give them nothing.

And it worked.  For a really long time.  All during the Reagan years, on to Bush One, and along through the Clinton Administration, the GOP promised and gathered, gathered and promised.  Talked the talk, and walked the other way.  And the wingnuts sat on the sidelines and nodded, smiled, marked their ballots as requested, and held out their hands…and got nothing.  Until 2001.  Empowered by nationwide fears that an angry god had obviously passed judgment on our fallen nation by allowing jihadists to blow up Manhattan, and by an administration that took every opportunity to exploit those fears,  the ultra-right wing rose up and commenced to demand  everything it had been promised.    

This morning's headline is proof positive, as if we needed it, that those folks are done getting stiffed.  Finally.  Today’s Republican Party is rapidly becoming victim to the most nuclear demonstration of karma in the history of government. 

The GOP has not merely caught fleas from sleeping with dogs.  It has contracted distemper.  Possibly even rabies, from all those vicious bites in the ass inflicted upon it by forging, and then reneging on, deals with the lunatic fringe.  The Republicans traded a couple of decades of unmolested hands in the cookie jar for…what is about to befall them now.  And it may be as serious as the collapse of the party altogether.

I'm tempted to say "Good riddance," but in my heart, I know that there was a day when America's two political parties complimented each other, challenged each other to better performance, even worked together for the common good.  It will be a sad day for the entire country if the Republican Party fails.  REAL Republicans---like Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and even Ronald Reagan--are definitely spinning in their graves.