Archive for Poverty

“Nothing makes people more stupid and foolish than money and fear,” the creator of The Wire told the Guardian. David Simon spoke about what drives him, and about his new mini-series, Show Me a Hero.

Set in the 1980s, the show examines a community split over a plan to build public housing in the upscale — predominantly white — east side of Yonkers, NY. It was a breakdown driven not only by race, but by fear and money.

Simon sees the dispute as allegorical of the political dysfunction in an America that no longer knows how to solve its problems. The period coincides, he believes, with the breakdown of the social contract in America, the triumph of capital over labor and the unpairing of tides and boats that had risen together in a postwar America we had come to believe was normal.

This is a point forcefully made by ex-Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich in his recent film, Inequality for All. He dates the busting of the labour unions and the rupture of the social compact to Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. From then on, the idea that a market-driven society would mutually benefit those who held the capital and those who provided the labour was no longer in place, he says. For Simon, this is the point at which the shared community of interests that walked side by side as the American economy surged after the second world war came apart. The collective will that bound together communities, cities and, ultimately, America started to erode.

“What was required in Yonkers was to ask: ‘Are we all in this together or are we not all in this together?’ Is there a society or is there no society, because if there is no society, well, that’s the approach that says ‘Fuck ’em, I got mine’. And Yonkers coincides with the rise of ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ in America.

“That’s the notion that the markets will solve everything. Leave me alone. I want maximum liberty, I want maximum freedom. Those words have such power in America. On the other hand ‘responsibility’ or ‘society’ or ‘community’ are words that are increasingly held in disfavour in the United States. And that’s a recipe for cooking up a second-rate society, one that does not engage with the notion of collective responsibility. We’re only as good a society as how we treat those who are most vulnerable and nobody’s more vulnerable than our poor. To be poor is not a crime, except in America.”

A guy I knew in the T-party once insisted that there is no society, just as Simon describes. And if there is none, by that logic how could he bear any responsibility for it? T-party members may clasp copies of the U.S. Constitution to their breasts, but they’ve lost its spirit after rejecting the document’s first three words. There is no we in their America, just I and me. And community? Sounds too much like communism. And an excuse for low-caste Irresponsibles to collect a government check for not working.

The view portends a grim, decidedly unexceptional American future in which doomsday preppers barricade and arm themselves against their neighbors while the rich retreat to lush, gated sanctuaries protected from both by armed security.

The thing is, as more Americans slip out of the middle class and find themselves struggling to get by, they are catching on to the barrenness of that future. The Moral Monday movement caught on by bringing together a diverse community to call out the depravity of the ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ culture of Wall Street’s Jordan Belforts, and among ALEC corporations out to strip America for parts.

But David Simon doesn’t believe We the People are quite there yet.

“I think in some ways the cancer is going to have to go a little higher. It’s going to start crawling up above the knee and people are going to have to start looking around and thinking ‘I thought I was exempt. I didn’t know they were coming for me’.

“It’s happened to the manufacturing class, it’s happened to the poor. Now it’s happening to reporters and schoolteachers and firefighters and cops and social workers and state employees and even certain levels of academics. And that’s new. That’s not the American dream.”

First they came for the air traffic controllers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an air traffic controller.

Then they came for the factory workers, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a factory worker.

Then they came for the schoolteachers, the firefighters, the cops, the academics … .

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Aug
19

There’s something happening here

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on what Ferguson, MO is really about. Not race, but class.

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

Still. I’ve written about this in various ways lately. Everybody’s got their own agenda, their own political itch to scratch: race, sex, religion, money, freedom, country, class. But in the end, they’re all surrogates for one thing: Power. Who has it. Who doesn’t. The Haves. The Have Nots.

Despite all the camouflaging patriotic rhetoric about freedom and opportunity, for many power is a zero-sum game. More for you means less for them. And those in control won’t stand for that. Deep Throat said follow the money. But if you want to keep from getting screwed, don’t be distracted by the chaff thrown into the air to keep neighbors the elite consider lessers from becoming their equals. Follow the power.

Categories : Action, National, News, Poverty, Race
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Jul
29

The Poor Door

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The Colbert Report
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,The Colbert Report on Facebook

Categories : Poverty, Satire
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Low-budget retailing is growing:

Dollar Tree, a discount retailer known for selling everything for $1, said Monday it plans to buy Matthews-based Family Dollar for $8.5 billion, weeks after an activist investor started pushing the company to sell itself.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn did not think Family Dollar was profitable enough. Retail analyst Howard Davidowitz, an investment banker, told NPR’s Sonari Glinton why low-end retailing is expanding:

DAVIDOWITZ: The story is the growth of the sector and that mirrors where America is.

GLINTON: So what I’m curious about is, while the dollar stores are doing well, then there’s the Sears, the JC Penney.

DAVIDOWITZ: Are getting destroyed because they’re middle-class stores.

GLINTON: Put the dollar stores?

DAVIDOWITZ: The dollar stores are doing better because they have more and more customers who are trading down. If you look at the reality, you will see what’s happening in the economy. And it doesn’t look too pretty.

Bad economic news for America is good business for low-end retailers such as NC state budget director Art Pope, who owns Variety Retailers. He’s expanding into groceries.

Art Pope’s Variety Wholesalers has purchased the vacant Kroger store in Southeast Raleigh with plans to establish the company’s first standalone grocery in an area that badly needs one.

The company, which owns Roses, Maxway and other discount stores, bought the property on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard last week for $2.57 million – well below its assessed tax value of $5.65 million.

Pope plans to split the store into a Roses and a separate grocery store. It’s a neighborhood where over half the families earn less than $35,000 per year, according to the News and Observer.

The NAACP has picketed one of Pope’s local Maxway stores “accusing Pope of using store profits to support conservative causes and candidates.”

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May
27

Can America Ever Be Whole?

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The Case for Reparations

A very sobering account of race relations from Ta-Nehisi Coates, a brilliant writer and a senior editor at The Atlantic. Highly recommended.

On a long drive in the last year or so, we were trading notes with a friend about where we were born, how long we had lived in North Carolina, and something about our family history. It was all pretty light conversation until our friend remarked that her knowledge of family history went back only as far as her great-grandparents in the Caribbean. She didn’t have to explain why. Because before that was Africa.

In white America many take pride or at least an interest in family history. We mostly take it for granted. I certainly did. What jerked us up short was realizing that our friend didn’t have one and why.

My people didn’t arrive on these shores until after the Civil War. It’s been easy to disclaim any taint from what happened here before their arrival. Ta-Nehisi Coates throws cold water on that notion with a disturbing accounting of what the war did not settle, or make right.

One cannot escape the question by hand-waving at the past, disavowing the acts of one’s ancestors, nor by citing a recent date of ancestral immigration. The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte.

In an interview with Bill Moyers, Coates explains, “I am not asking you as a white person to see yourself as an enslaver. I’m asking you as an American to see all of the freedoms that you enjoy and see how they are rooted in things that the country you belong to condoned or actively participated in the past.”

Categories : National, Poverty, Race
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Mar
05

Fox On SNAP: Quality and Class-Based Shame

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“What’s the right mixture of quality and class-based shame poor people should aim for in their meal planning?” the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart asked last night, slamming Fox News’ seeming obsession with SNAP recipients’ grocery shopping habits. Because the “Fox Hounds” have heard — and feel comfortable spreading — “these stories” about poor people and food stamps. Or as Stewart put it, “Fox News: We read the chain mails your grandma gets in her inbox out loud like they were true.”

Because don’t look at how you’re getting screwed by Wall Street, no. Look! Over there! A poor person buying food — to eat — with taxpayer assistance! Or as Lyndon Johnson said,

If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.

The Fox News business model, ladies and gentlemen.

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Feb
23

Hunger Next Door

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Several stories about hunger in America popped up this weekend, a couple online and another just down my street. Among people you wouldn’t identify as poor and struggling just by looking at them. PBS Newshour reported on women in Denver who fell into poverty, women who don’t fit popular stereotypes of people on SNAP.

CAROLINE POOLER: Any one of your fellow peers, colleagues or fellow parishioners may be hungry, but you don’t know that about them, because people don’t want to advertise that about themselves. There’s lots of people out there who do not have enough to eat until next payday. There’s a lot of working people who give their last five bucks to their kid for lunch and they go without. And so that’s kind of a different face of hunger than people are thinking of hunger.

Over at Crooks and Liars, Susie Madrak reposted Jenn’s story from Poor As Folk blog, “Living in poverty is like being punched in the face over and over and over on a daily basis”

That brings me to the hunger. The hunger is extraordinary. There is a constant gnawing in your stomach, an empty feeling that has taken up permanent residence. Even as you’re eating a meal, you feel the hunger. It never goes away because you don’t know when you’re going to eat again…

As food stamp benefits continue to be cut and food pantries struggle to feed communities, that uncertainty will just continue. I hate to think of my children feeling the same way. They get first dibs on all food that comes through this house. There are many days when my kids get their three meals and I get half of one and my husband … well, I never see him because he is working all the time, but he barely eats, too.

A chance meeting my wife had this week brought the problem home. This is the story pretty much in her own words: Read More→

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Feb
21

Losing Ground? It’s No Accident.

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More from Robert Reich here.

Categories : Economy, Education, Labor, Poverty
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Feb
06

Three-Legged Stool

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Screenshot 2014-02-06 at 11.09.48 PMThat was the original title for this essay generously published in the Mountain Xpress this week. Click through to read the whole thing. Excerpts:

I’m proud to be a part of a city where people care about each other. One recent study cited Asheville as one of the most generous cities in America, whose residents volunteer lots of time and money to make the world a better place. This is a community that knows we’re all in it together, and that’s why we’re going to be able to rise to the challenges facing us today.

We love living here, but we’re acutely aware of the fact that Asheville has a very high cost of living and very low median household income. Helping us get that median wage up are Living Wage Certified businesses that have made human value and dignity central to their business models. Great businesses like New Belgium Brewing, Linamar and PLI are helping too. The sad fact, however, is that too many employers here pay low wages for an honest day’s work. No one who works a full-time job ought to live in poverty. The city, county, Economic Development Coalition and Chamber of Commerce are working hard and all rowing in the same direction: toward better paying jobs. Asheville is examining our economic-incentive policies to better support homegrown entrepreneurs who pay living wages.

[...]

Asheville aspires to be a city of equal opportunity for all. Increasing incomes and offering affordable transportation options are two parts of a three-pronged approach to ensure a thriving city for generations to come.

The third leg of that three-legged stool is affordable housing, defined as spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing costs. We all want a vibrant city where economically mobile citizens can get a leg up, and where the elderly and disabled can live in dignity. We want an Asheville where residents can save money toward homeownership, business startups, tuition and increased opportunities for their children. Without affordable housing, a big part of our Asheville family struggles just to stay afloat.

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Compassion for America’s poor and the long-term unemployed is audibly absent among many of the well-to-do, their on-air groupies, and politicians who once upon a news cycle tried to rebrand themselves as compassionate conservatives. A caller to a progressive radio show this week asked when heartlessness became fashionable in America.

Read More→