Friday, June 27, 2008

The Poor In The US Are Sick And Dying: Happy?

The Gini coefficient measures the distribution of income on a scale from zero (where income is perfectly equally distributed among all members of a society) to one (where all the income goes to a single person).

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also
leaks through the holes
in the roof
of this ruined house.


Getting rid of things and clinging to emptiness is an illness of the same kind. It is just like throwing oneself into a fire to avoid being drowned.


Yet do the lazy Snailes no less
The greatnesse of our Lord confesse.

---John Hall

Yesterday at noon I attended a support meeting that I like to go to when school isn't in session. It lasts an hour, is attended by a few regulars, and consists of sitting in silence---unless someone wants to share how the day is going. When that happens we're not supposed to comment back particularly, or offer judgment. It's just practice in offering up something about oneself honestly and simply. On this day, however, (and this happens sometimes) a young, strong-looking woman no one had seen before jumped in immediately. She had been clinging to the man she identified as her partner, rubbing him and caressing him. He was silent but obviously concerned she was coming apart. Her voice and the rest of her trembled uncontrollably as she told why she was there. She said they were not from here, but had traveled the hour and a half down from Columbus, to move in with her grandmother. They had lost their jobs and home, and had a newborn. Grandmother had taken one look at her, called Social Services, taken custody of the baby, and thrown them both out by court order. The girl had been off crack for 3 days, but---and here she began to cry---she knew no other way to deal with a hopeless situation except to drug, she'd relapsed before, and now she was here in this room, with us.

Any reader who has worked or volunteered in a religious institution or social agency of any kind, I'm sure, has had a situation like this land in your lap. Maybe you've been stung before when you offered food or cash. If you've referred the person somewhere else, you probably never did learn how it turned out. Maybe you're in a group, like the one I go to, where you actually get to see the person again and again, and possibly watch the miracle of a recovery occur---or not. Please forgive me if I insulted any reader with the title, which indicates more and more poor people in the United States are becoming sick, that this is one way of taking care of the "surplus population," and maybe that's OK with you. Maybe you don't know what else to do. Maybe you don't want to hear about it. Or think about it. Then surf on, reader, and be well---because a new article on the subject is out, and we need to go into it.

I was set up to read it, which is in the new issue of Harvard Magazine, by another article my good online friend Astrid sent me from yesterday's UK Guardian. The Guardian is another example of world press providing Americans with news we don't get to read over here anymore. This story was written by a correspondent in Los Angeles, about the increasing number of people who now live in their cars. There are so many of them now that a homeless agency in Santa Barbara has launched a "safe parking" service, so that people aren't hit with fines for trying to sleep in the streets. Many are middle class professionals who have been destroyed by foreclosure, and perhaps job loss too, stuff in storage, and maybe nothing left but a car. LA officials estimate they have 73,000 homeless, and a recent poll of 3000 of them revealed 250 are living in cars. How many of us could be in the same situation within a month, if such tragedy befell? From middle class to poor---who increasingly are sick and dying?

So what about this "increasing" thing? Is it so, and what is it about? That's where the Harvard article comes in, and if you have similar concerns I think you'll find it valuable~~~


Quinty said...

The richest country in the world.

Think of it, think of our wealth. How proud we are and how so many of us believe “they hate us for who we are.” That “they” being the third world’s poor. It is a common argument among the powerful: when the powerless resent the arrogance of power it is due to mere envy.

We live by many myths in this country. And these myths hide the numerous contradictions which are our reality. For anyone who has been paying any attention knows we rank way down in the world’s health statistics. And that per capita we have one of the most expensive and ineffective health systems in the world. Only in America would we believe that profit deserves a natural precedence over healthcare. Only in American would insurance companies be allowed to make life and death decisions. Or that Big Pharma’s profits and corporate interests are more important than old people receiving their medicines.

Wherever you go in this country you will see great contrasts between wealth and poverty. It is, in fact, often striking when you drive about. I’ve done this many times. You see pockets of great wealth and then huge pockets of poverty, sometimes right up against each other. The wealthy live pretty well, yes, they do. But next door the poverty on the streets often creates a deeply dismal gray climate, something which can rot out the soul. And some of these poor neighborhoods go on for miles, mile after mile of desolation.

But chief among our myths is that you pretty much reap what you deserve. For the worthy can work their way out of poverty. That is the American Dream. Unfortunately, human nature doesn’t work that way. But in a heartless capitalist economy that iron rule applies to everyone, to the wounded too. Those lacking the power to raise themselves up. Nor do these iron laws of society recognize the validity of any other values. They are iron laws, after all. And everyone has to play by them. So if you are poor then you yourself are to blame. The fault is yours, even if that means you may not be able to obtain the necessary healthcare you require.

And then there’s TV, constantly presenting an upper middleclass lifestyle to us. In the world of advertising even the poor live in beautiful houses with big neat green lawns. Eventually, heavy watchers may begin to view this as the norm. That America is a land without squalor or poverty out on the streets. They have this to contrast their own reality to. As Marx and Seneca pointed out, it’s much in the head.

As for public education we should be falling over ourselves to improve it, and make it more available. Isn’t this a basic quality of life issue? And one which clearly affects us all? Rich and poor alike? For only hermits aren’t at all touched or influenced by their outside world.

And as the author in Harvard points out widespread public health issues affect us all. Without immunization, for example, everyone could be infected by a communicative disease. Even those living behind stone walls. Nor does the Bush administration seem to believe the FDA has a place in tour economy. Since they appear to believe disabling “big government” is a greater good than preventing salmonella and food poisoning to become a national health problem.

jazzolog said...

A blog fable from the near future~~~

Peak Toil
by Frank Lee

Wednesday August 4, 2010.

Another hot and muggy day in what seemed to be an endless summer of scorchers. Mary Cole was fighting an intestinal flu, but found it impossible to take time off from her job at Wal-mart. She couldn’t “afford” to be sick. When her bowels told her that she had to “go,” she notified her boss, who blandly told her that it wasn’t her “break time.” She tried to explain, but he walked away. Within three minutes, she soiled herself and started crying. Frank, another clerk, hears what happens, and begins an angry exchange with Harold, the manager. Enraged at being yelled at, Harold fires Frank on the spot. A small group of employees surround the two in a tight huddle. Frank, instead of leaving, continues to argue, as other employees join in. It escalates with Harold being dragged into the employee lounge and assaulted. Someone calls the police, and four men, including Frank, are arrested. Mary is eventually fired for “instigating” the incident.

When his wife bails Frank out of jail, they are strapped for cash, and fall behind on the rent. A buddy calls him to tell him that a guy has shown up to repossess his car. “I need that car for work,” he tells Frank. “If it goes, my job goes, just like yours did.”

It doesn’t take very long for a half dozen people to show up on the street where the repo man leans on the tow-truck. More people join them. Several of them have already faced the same tow-truck and bored looking repo. Shouts start, and bottles fly at the tow-truck, which speeds away in the August heat. The repo guy dodges a bat, and takes off with a fresh array of dents to the car he came in.

Frank has looked forward to his day in court:

“We are the decent, law-abiding citizens,” he began nervously, “that built America. We are the ‘Joe six-packs’ who have always played by the rules, paid our taxes, and our mortgages. But they lied to us. We can’t refinance, like they promised. We live in Ohio. We live in Kansas. We live in Michigan, and Indiana. The last few years have been hard, but we’ve known hard times before. We’ve been ground down, but what’s happening now is different. The plastic is maxed out, and the interest rate is insane.

“We’ve given up our decent car. Now we drive a beater to work. We gave back the keys on our dream home. Now we live in a crappy apartment. Go out to eat? Hell, our wives have been reduced to hitting up the food pantry behind our backs. We’ve eaten too many “Velvetta” sandwiches for lunch, and our families have shared one too many cheese pizzas for dinner. We took a second, even third job, and our crummy pay check can’t provide enough gas money, steady meals, or a decent roof over our heads. Our kids are freezing at night in the winter, and still the oil bill is completely ridiculous. We’ve cut out all the extras, but the “math” doesn’t add up.

“We aren’t getting by. Not in the slightest. And it’s eating us up. We tried to keep some dignity, some pride. We’ve even hit up our relatives until they’ve had to say ‘I’m sorry. We can’t help. We’re hurting too.’ We’ve lost our dignity, because we had to, to keep our kids fed. We fought with our wives and screamed at our kids. We became the kind of men we promised ourselves we’d never be… because we’re angry. No. Angry doesn’t even capture it. I’m sorry, your honor, but we’re pissed.”

Frank begins to tremble. His voice cracks. Tears well up in his tired eyes.

“I’m one of the people who was supposed to get by…. I spoke to Sean Hannity once, and he said I was a ‘Great American…’” Frank sputters. “ And I voted for President Bush both times…”

“That’s quite enough!” the Judge cuts him off. Frank’s mouth is still slightly open. His lower lip trembles.

Suddenly, Frank has an epiphany that feels like a ball of boiling oil in the pit of his stomach. Thoughts pop into his head. Strange thoughts. An eerie calm relaxes the muscles in his face, and spreads through his entire being.

He doesn’t care what I have to say. He doesn’t even care what happened to Mary. He’s just one more big shot that could care less if we can pay our bills, keep a roof over our heads, or feed our kids. There is no justice. I’m on my own… We’re on our own….

Frank is not alone. Something inside the American working class “snaps.” Soon the feeling spreads like a treetop wildfire.

No one knows why, or where it started, but thousands of people from working-class neighborhoods write, “I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention!” on there credit card bills, and mail them back, postage paid.

Frank tries to explain himself to the local news reporter on the courthouse steps:

“I’m not a criminal or some kind of terrorist. I’ve never been on probation before…”

But local TV news ran a story that night that said he was. They lied about me. It didn’t happen like that at all. He no longer trusts “El Rushbo”, or Sean Hannity. Once he listened to them every day on the way from work. He never really thought about it, but now realizes that they’re not on his side. They’re on the other side: Harold the Wal-mart Manager’s side, the repo man’s side, the credit card’s side, the banker’s side, the bankruptcy court’s side, the judge’s side, and now, inexplicably, disorientingly, Frank struggles with the knowledge that he is now on the opposite side from where he thought he was his entire life…

In Terre Haute Indiana 13 cars are vandalized in the parking lot of a collection agency boiler room. The next day in Columbus Ohio, another collection agency office is torched at 3 am and burns to the ground. Within 3 months 28 collection agencies have suffered arson attacks totaling over seventeen million dollars in property damage. Assaults on repo men become so commonplace that police escorts become necessary. By Christmas Day 2010, over 150,000 people with no prior records have been arrested for assault, vandalism, and disorderly conduct. Fox News labels them the “Deadbeat Vigilantes” and “Blue Collar Bullies.”

Bloggers, labor organizers, and talking heads, all scramble to explain what’s happening to all the “Franks” across the country. What’s behind this wave of “Econo-Crime?” Some attack or defend, while others apologize, or demonize. But it doesn’t matter. Not to Frank. Frank has already taken a baseball bat to his TV and dropped it on the curb.

When six families on his street get their electricity shut off, he visits the electric company, and smashes all the car windows in the executive parking spaces. The next morning, in silent solidarity, six more TV sets are in broken heaps, curbside, on his street.

Frank played by the rules and expected to keep his dignity in tough times, to keep body and soul together. He was even willing to surrender the notions of prosperity and upward mobility that his parents had told him was his birthright.

But how can he give up the expectation of having the basics? Food? Shelter? Gas money for work?

The “Franks” become political, but only in the most radically personal way. There are no “leaders” in any traditional sense, even though some will try and run ahead to act as “spokesmen.” Politicians at first, will strive to “contain” them, but it will not matter. Demagogues will try to harness their rage, but will be ignored. They will not be contained by politicians, or co-opted by opportunists.

It will all unravel, unexpectedly and sporadically. While “official” reactions will incoherently bounce between condemnation and conciliation, sympathy will burgeon on the sidelines. Like the Argentineans who took to the street chanting: “Everyone Must Go! No One Can Stay!” working-class Americans will come to feel in a very personal sense that the system has failed them, and they have nothing left to lose.

We haven’t seen this kind of class rage in over a century. So far these Americans have been quietly complacent, waiting for the fundamental change that never comes.

There could be any number of flash points: a currency crisis, bank failures, skyrocketing food and oil prices, massive lay-offs, etc. Or perhaps there will be concurrent whirlpools of misery, sucking in the collective grievances of millions. It will manifest what has always been the single greatest fear of America’s ruling elite: “There’s a f*ck-load of them, and they have guns.”

What will happen when Middle America can no longer muddle through? Maybe it’s time for a Frank conversation.


Frank Lee is a community organizer, social critic, and writer.

jazzolog said...

I received this message from a friend here yesterday afternoon~~~

"On July 8th I was phoned by a group called ProMark Research purporting to do research on the upcoming election. After a number of questions about my views of state and federal candidates, the real purpose of this call became evident -- to slander a local candidate!

"After some general questions on my views about Debbie Phillips and Jill Thompson, candidates for the Ohio Legislature, the interviewer read a series of statements portraying Ms. Phillips in a negative way -- stating various things that could be viewed as her poor behavior -- asking how I felt about her candidacy after each statement. No list of negative things was given about Ms. Thompson. Curiously, one of the so-called bad behaviors was an allegation that Debbie was arrested for civil disobedience in a protest of the first Gulf war. Since my husband was part of that demonstration and was arrested along with a number of outstanding local citizens, I thought it was to Debbie's credit!

"I don't know who is funding this sleaze attack: Ms. Thompson's campaign, the local or state Republican party, or our very own "swift boat" group, but my opinion of Ms. Thompson has really dropped.

"If you get a call from one of these groups, don't be fooled: the purpose is to blacken the name of a candidate, not to tell you why another candidate is better qualified, or to get honest information about public opinions. Don't fall for it.

"This ProMark company says it's based in Houston, Texas, but I have no other information.

"Ann F-----"

Google reveals Promark has been at this for a long time, usually accepting Republican contracts...although sometimes they will "push" sustainability issues. The term "pushpoll" describes the activity, and according to this press release from Ukiah, California, in 2004, Promark was being "investigated" back then for unethical polling practices.

If the American Association Of Public Opinion Research is anything like most of the better business outfits in our free market, we shouldn't be surprised to find Promark still at it. Two years ago Democrats in Colorado were complaining against the practice and a comment there reveals Promark's "confident, assertive" employee was suggesting a candidate 2 years earlier was "anti-Catholic." And there are complaints from Democrats in Pennsylvania.

By the way, Promark is among those identifying the new generation of political activists (born after Generation X) as Millennials, ages 18 to 25. Forbes tells us Promark has discovered 30% of Millennials only use cellphones and don't even own a landline. They get their info on the Internet, rather than through the mail, newspapers or TV.

jazzolog said...

I happen to be in my hometown in Western New York for the weekend, and so I'm a bit hard put to followup on my post from yesterday. Neverthless, I received a reply from attorney Susan Gwinn, our Democratic Party chairperson. She asked that I share with you her impression of what the people who employ Promark are up to with their pushpolls.

She says most certainly this is the Republican Party trying to find out if what they consider to be "dirt" about Democrats resonates with the people who are telephoned. Then Repubs can construct radio, TV, and mail attack ads out of the Promark results. Since television is so expensive, it is most efficient to use this telemarket method first...and then shovel their money into the attack that will work best. Susan asks that you not hang up on them if you are called, try not to react but rather jot down all the questions they ask and statements they make. Email to me or post here what they say. I'll relay the information. This way Democratic candidates can prepare for the attacks.

I understand Ann's message is appearing in our local newspapers as well. I don't know if Susan is replying in that medium, or if she thinks someone should do so and relay this information. However, I do believe she wants people to spread the word.

jazzolog said...

The solution from the Commanding Decider remains bailout and drill for the rich. More and more Americans are broke...or within a single paycheck of being broke...and the Bush Family still doesn't know the price of a loaf of bread. Are we serfs for these people? Or will they even offer us protection inside the castle walls when the hordes descend?

Bryan Zepp and Robert Scheer express well the frustration this week. Zepp's essay yesterday is at his Commentaries link, but I'm having trouble accessing this morning so I'll just post it all~~~

The worse things get...
The more the Republicans get divorced from reality.
© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

07/15/08 On a day when the papers announced that the federal bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae might cost the taxpayers $1.75 TRILLION dollars, and an estimate was floating around that before the end of the year, 150 banks may have failed, and the FDIC simply didn’t have the funds to save them all, the Republicans decided that this was all the fault of Senator Schumer, who released a document last week questioning the liquidity of IndyMac Bank, the big California bank that went belly up Friday. According to the Republicans, if Schumer had kept the news that the bank was nearly broke out of the public eye, there wouldn’t have been a bank run that Republicans say amounted to $1.6 billion last week. Never mind that with alleged assets of over $32 billion, IndyMac Bank should have been able to weather the storm, and never mind the fact that we already have a government devoted to keeping secrets from the American people in order to protect the corporations, and the track record suggests that it isn’t working out very well. Schumer should have kept his yap shut and let the people get screwed, like a good little public official.

George Putsch threw open the coastlines to oil exploration, and the next day, gas in my neighborhood had dropped from $4.76 a gallon to $1.29, and the owner told me to come back tomorrow, because it would be 29 cents then. But when I got back to my house, I found a bunch of Arab terrorists who all wanted to surrender.

OK. Maybe that didn’t happen. But Republicans are dealing with the oil price crisis with unenlightened self interest, much the way they deal with everything. Remember how in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Republicans argued that we needed a tax cut for the rich NOW if we were to fight a war on terrorism? More of the same here. The only way to lower prices is to let the oil companies rape ANWR, and open up the coasts off Santa Barbara and Tampa Bay for exploration. Never mind that the refineries are only running at 80% capacity, the oil companies have 67 million acres they haven’t even tested for oil, and that America presently exports 1.6 million barrels of oil a day. Never mind that oil out of ANWR would go to Japan, not America, for refining, and never mind that even if they were able to build all the platforms and oil lines and it all went to American refineries the price of gas wouldn’t drop a dime: it’s the only solution. Do it now! Quick! Quick! Don’t stop to think, man, we want to save you money!

John McCain, still channeling Phil Gramm for his economic acumen, went to San Diego to sing the praises of NAFTA and off-shore oil drilling, two items bound to endear him to San Diegans, who love seeing oil platforms off their beaches and have the usual problems with Mexico. McCain, naturally, offered the usual false dichotomy that anyone not for NAFTA was an isolationist, and while quite a few people were looking at the wreck of the American economy and wondering if isolationism was really such a bad thing, most were simply reflecting on the fact that free trade works well only between economic entities that are essentially equal, and that when America is trading with a country such as China, where workers are paid starvation wages, health and safety regulations are ignored, and the government subsidizes all this, Americans aren’t going to do very well beyond being able to buy cheap toxic shit at big barn stores. Even cheap toxic shit doesn’t sell well when nobody has jobs, and thus no money to buy stuff. Now, maybe if places like China worked toward a level playing field regarding worker pay, environmental obligations, and health and safety measures, then perhaps trade would really be “free” and benefit both sides, just like Adam Smith intended. Until then, NAFTA just remains an avenue for major corporations to use slave labor overseas to sell cheap stuff to Americans who can no longer afford it.

McCain and the rest of the GOP have an answer to all this, of course. Lower taxes for the rich. The rich, unburdened by having to pay y the social costs of a large country, will promptly shower the poor and the middle class with largess, just like they have before. Which is to say, never. They invest the money overseas. Or spend it on getting more Republicans elected so they can get more tax breaks and laws to screw over working people. The present scream from the Republicans is that by not extending the tax breaks for the wealthy (which they like to characterize as “raising taxes”), this will make the recession we don’t have far worse. But there is no recession. Only nations of whiners say there is.

They don’t want you to remember that not only do tax raises not cause recessions, but they sometimes cure them. The economy improved after Roosevelt raised taxes in 1934, and it improved when Clinton raised taxes in 1994. Nor does cutting taxes help.

Putsch has cut taxes more than anyone. Notice any big economic miracles going on right now after six years of cut taxes?

Guys like Phil Gramm and John McCain get very upset if you point out that taxes don’t confiscate money, they circulate it. Without money circulating, you don’t have an economy. You just have a few people with big wads of green paper that are no longer worth anything. To use a medical analogy I’ve used before, it doesn’t matter how much blood you have if your heart isn’t beating. If money is the blood of an economy, taxes are the heart.

It’s always fun saying that to a Republican. Their faces turn the most marvelous colors. Especially after you start citing real life examples to show that it’s true.

Finally, they announced that Rush Limbaugh would get a new contract worth $400 million for his radio show. Now, the dirty little secret about Rush is that he really isn’t a profitable enterprise. If you listen to his show, then you know that most of his advertisers are the sort of cheap, low-end advertisers you see on late-night cable TV, plus a bunch of ads from local hardware stores and the like. Radio stations aren’t making the type of bucks needed to keep Rush fat and happy. He’s subsidized until hell won’t have it, pure socialism.

It’s like the Moonie Times. In thirty years, the best year that paper ever had it only lost ten million dollars. Yet there it is, day after day, grinding out Republican propaganda.

The right wing got some flak from New Republic to grind out a “thought piece” for obliging newspapers to run explaining that giving Rush all that money was a good thing, not only because it annoyed liberals (who are mostly laughing their asses off at the amounts of money being wasted on that passé clown), but because it showed that trickle down economics WORKED. Rush is proof that if you serve the rich nobly and faithfully, they will shower you with great wealth.

Well, sometimes.

And despite public disenchantment with GOP policies, and an economy heading south faster than a duck with an atomic asshole, McCain’s campaign is confidently predicting they will raise $400 million. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that he and Rush have that number in common.

That money isn’t coming from your friends and neighbors. It’s coming from the folks who think low taxes for the rich are a good thing, and that oil drilling off Santa Barbara beaches is a good thing, or that spending trillions on the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are a good thing, or that spending trillions more to bail out banksters so they can continue their predatory lending practices is a good thing.

They are willing to spend hundreds of billions to elect a man who believes all that. They are spending a fortune on you to vote against your own best interests.

This is a very good time to ask yourself ‘why’?


Robert Scheer's piece about Phil Gramm at Truthdig the day before reminds us of who this chief advisor to McCain really is---and what the "Reagan Revolution" has done to this country. Scheer is a true scholar on this business. I'll link it for you because I think this piece is going to be online for a good, long while...and hopefully grow in significance~~~