Monday, November 11, 2013

Dammit, They Deserve Their Poverty!

It is 1964 in the city room of the Detroit Free Press, where the brilliant young editor Derick Daniels has built an editorial staff teeming with talent.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson has just delivered a State of the Union address in which he declared a war on poverty in these United States.  His speech resonates particularly in Detroit, a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

A young reporter, the ink barely dry on his Ivy league masters degree in journalism, is in earnest discussion with Neal Shine and the other city desk editors.  The young man, the editors decree, will illuminate the poverty story in the most compelling way possible: he will live in subsidized public housing, and survive on the minimum wage plus whatever token public assistance he might qualify for if he were truly destitute.  After a month, he will write about his experiences and the people with whom he shared squalor.

On the second night of the venture, the young reporter calls Shine's home in the middle of a cold February night.  "Neal," he whines, "can I go home? I'm freezing and some kind of bugs are eating me!"

          * * *
At least the young reporter cared.  He had suggested the story to his editors.  He believed with all his heart that it was wrong for so many people to be destitute in the richest country in the world. But until that cold, hungry night he had no idea of what poverty really was. In less than 48 hours, it had devastated him.

In almost half a century, not much has changed.  Too many of us still live in poverty, and too many of those are children.  The people who make our laws, sit in judgement of us, and manage our government know less about the reality of poverty than that Ivy league reporter in Detroit.  Unlike him, they don't even pretend to care.

Some on the far right are so sadistically hateful of the "other" that they have slashed public assistance in the form of food stamps.  Food stamps! How dare those shiftless beggars actually want to eat!  This is the Congress you and I elected.  This is the President we elected, the Dr. Kidglove who reaches out time and again to "compromise" with those whose only interest is their own political careers and the profitability of the corporations who bought their offices for them. The people be damned.

In the town where I live, the newspaper call-in column for people who utter their inanities from behind the veil of annonymity is filled these days with comments about the poor from those who are still clinging desperately to the last vestiges of the middle class. The tenor of all of them is, "If you can't get by on $5 worth of food a day, get up off your lazy arse and get a job." (Never mind that the number actually was $4.50 and now is below $4.) They echo the falsehoods of their man in Congress, who holds "job fairs" which, he says, are poorly attended because most of the unemployed couldn't pass drug tests.  He doesn't mention that virtually all of the jobs at his fairs pay the minimum wage, and that most of the employers limit the hours of those jobs so they don't have to pay benefits like health care.

Back in the day when that Detoit reporter was learning the hard lessons of real poverty, the conservative Barry Goldwater was running for president.  The late Bill Mauldin drew a cartoon for the Washington Post that depicted the multimillionaire Goldwater lecturing a tattered pair of poor folk sitting on the curb, faces full of despair.

Goldwater is telling them: "Show some ambition!  Go out and inherit a department store."

Plus ├ža change. . . .


  1. For years the Democratic Party has nurtured those in poverty as a political base. With the inclination of a large percentage of the poor not voting, increasingly the Democrats have attempted to reach out to other bases (green movement, Hispanics, women’s rights groups, and lesbian/gay movement).
    Pubes (Republicans) need to re-discover themselves. They have left their conservative base and as such the party has become fractured.
    The party that wakes up puts country before party may lose an election or two, but end up with a faithful following for years to come.

    1) Jobs – make people work for a living and eliminate welfare and Medicaid subsidies for those that do not want to work. Money will flow into economy.
    2) Healthcare – End the Obamacare/AHA bleeding and rework the healthcare environment from top to bottom. Establish interstate insurance competition. End the government mandate, but do establish less than 10 standardized options minimally subsidized by the federal government (taxpayers) that keep competition sharp in the field.
    3) Energy – Unleash technological incentives to overwrite the petroleum industries bind on efficient ways to harness and store solar energy. Silicon is far too expensive.
    4) Taxes – Fair Tax to tax consumers with adequate concession below an established income (authorized redistribution of wealth).
    5) Immigration – Penalty/repayment plan for illegals with a path to citizenship. Those that refuse no longer receive taxpayer benefits and are on a pathway for deportation.
    6) Water – a precious commodity we are abusing. Restrict usage/supplies regardless of income level. Zeroscapes need to become the norm.
    These are just starting ideas, but a party with the balls to lead rather than rob from future generations is the one that we need. Perhaps this is the window for a strong Libertarian Party!

    1. Better yet, quit worrying about "party bases," and act on behalf of all Americans.

      1. The corporate overlords have shipped all the decent jobs overseas. The government must become the employer of last resort and put the millions of jobless back to work the way FDR did.

      2. Obamacare's flaws are the complexities it took on in sell-outs to right-wing myth makers and the corporate elite. Put everyone on Medicare.

      3. "Technological incentives = tax breaks to develop clean energy, ending subsidies for dirty (fossil fuel) energy.

      4. Fair taxes on corporations, the most profitable of which now pay zero, and on the richest one percent, who spend more on yachts and mink-lined black rhino leather coats than they pay in income tax.

      5. End the predatory pay practices of big Agriculture, big Construction and other U.S. industries on migrant workers; make the path to citizenship more reasonable, and above all, remove racists from positions of responsibility on immigration policy and regulation.

      6. And above all, keep the water supply out of corporate hands.

    2. We have a lot in agreement here. Scary isn't it when two members of the same family, where one was mostly conservative and the other mostly liberal, yet we are both trending to a Libertarian type philosophy to minimize government involvement in our daily lives!

  2. You rock, Chiefy.