Friday, October 18, 2019

The Other America: 1962–2019

Poverty & The Poor

The Other America: Poverty in the United States by Michael Harrington (1962)
Photo Credit: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum

This book is still relevant more than five-and-a-half decades after it was published, to critical acclaim. In some ways, the lives of the poor have bettered; in other ways they have worsened. Things improved in America after Michael Harrington wrote The Other America (1962), which influenced President Lyndon B. Johnson to publicly declare two years later an unconditional War on Poverty.

There was initial success until about 1978, and then America in the last 30 years began to regress, regardless of which political party was in power, thereby eroding any gains that the poor previously made. Under the politics of neo-liberalism, The War on Poverty became The War on the Poor.

The poor might not be as invisible as they once were, but they are still ignored and left without any say or any opportunity in how to better their lives. For more, see my recent essay, “Born Poor, Staying Poor” (May 10, 2018).

The poor, the less successful, the underclass, are still ridiculed and blamed for their poverty, even as the super-wealthy pile up bags of money in obscene, ingenious and immoral ways, doing so without shame or fear of conscience. As for the the middle-class, they are too busy trying to stay middle-class to worry about the poor, including a large group of working poor, fearing that they too are a step or two away from joining this ignoble but growing cohort of the downwardly mobile.

That this is taking place with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the political class of both parties, with few exceptions is a failure of great consequence, to be sure, and the people at the bottom feel it keenly. (Bernie Sanders being a bright example of an individual fighting the good fight, speaking the truth. ) As he points out time and time again, the blame lies elsewhere, as ought the shame, if it is to be found among the wealthy and super-wealthy.

There is no doubt, and it is shown and proven in so many ways, that the poor are at the mercy of a capitalistic predatory system that has no mercy; its list of opportunists are many, including both the financial and religious fraudsters, as well as, of course, the political opportunists, who never fail to seize what is not rightfully theirs, using the cover of law (but not justice) to do so.

Then there are those that use the cover of religion to do their dirty deeds and to hide their rapacious appetites, which is to build a tower of money that serves no good purpose. Defending such actions as the excessive accumulation of money (as is common among the billionaire class)  says much about the persons who do so. I guess that what predators do. But is this the way we all want to live, among predators?

Yes, the poor will always be among us, but whether that is congruent and necessary to a healthy and sane society is highly doubtful. That only the few chosen ones are meant to be rich and the rest struggling to get by is a sure sign that something is wrong, terribly wrong. No, it is more than likely a sign of a sick society, one that is rotten and decaying on the inside.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Vacant Lots Theory

Abandonment & Alienation

An article (“The Other Side of “Broken Windows;” August 23, 2018), by Eric Klineberg, in The New Yorker examines the relationship between abandoned urban lots and crime, which tends to shed light on where the “tough on crime” approach, made famous by the “broken window” article (Wilson and Kelling; The Atlantic; 1982) and its follow-up policing approach failed to address root problems of poverty, especially among black families; Klineberg writes:
But what if the authors—and the policymakers who heeded them—had taken another tack? What if vacant property had received the attention that, for thirty years, was instead showered on petty criminals?
Afew years ago, John MacDonald, the Penn criminologist, and Charles Branas, the chair of epidemiology at Columbia University, began one of the most exciting research experiments in social science. Branas is a leading scholar of gun violence, having become interested in the subject while working as a paramedic. He met MacDonald in the aughts, when they were both working at the University of Pennsylvania, in a seminar on gun violence at the medical school’s trauma center. Both were frustrated by the science that linked crime to neighborhood disorder. “A lot of it, from ‘broken windows’ on, was just descriptive,” Branas told me. “You didn’t know exactly what counted as disorder. And it wasn’t actionable. Outside of policing, which was obviously complicated, there wasn’t much you could do about it.”
The two began meeting on campus. While they were brainstorming, Branas was invited to discuss his research at a conference in Philadelphia. During his presentation, he briefly mentioned his interest in running an experiment on the physical factors related to gun violence. “When I finished, someone from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society approached me,” Branas recalled. That person was convinced that vacant properties—Philadelphia had tens of thousands of empty lots—were driving up violent crime in poor neighborhoods. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, or P.H.S., had incredible data, and offered to help.
The tough-on-crime approach always seems like a good approach, often because it is a simple approach, and appeals to our instincts for justice. But what if the chief problem is poverty, injustice of another kind, and this is made apparent by thousands of vacant and abandoned buildings, overgrown by weeds and by garbage?

What if the city authorities decided to do something about these vacant properties, to beautify the poor areas? To persuade the property owners to take care of what they own, whether privately or publicly?  Wouldn't that be something? I bet that many cities will say that they do not have the public money for such a beautifying project.

Yet, I bet that they do. That the small amount of money necessary to do this can be found, but only if the will is there. Let's call it a coalition of the willing.

For more, go [here]

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Bob Dylan: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (1986)

Bob Dylan: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”as part of the Hard to Handle concert film,shot during the Australian tour in 1986. Bob Dylan is backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in what is a fantastic rendition; they play well together The song, written by Dylan for the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, is the second track on the flip side of the (almost) same-named album, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, which was released on July 13, 1973. That long black cloud is comin’ down/I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door. Yeah, that black cloud is coming down. Can’t you see it. Feel it.
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Traveling Wilburys: End Of The Line (1988)

The Traveling Wilburys: “End Of The Line” (1988) is the last track of their album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. We got to keep on going and doing what we can and saying what is right, with our heart and soulwhen we are alive and have the opportunity to do so and live as we must, even if some might disapprove or find it disagreeable. Freedom to be has never been easy, nor has freedom of conscience. Nice touch with Roy Orbison’s empty chair, guitar and photo. Even if you’re old and gray/You have something to say. Enjoy!
Via: Youtube

Monday, September 23, 2019

Small Town Newspapers are Best Run By Locals

Local News

An article (Reporter’s Notebook; Our Towns: “There’s Hope for Local Journalism;” September 18, 2019), by Deborah and James Fallows in The Atlantic looks at one small-town newspaper that is trying to go against the tide of newspaper ownership by Wall Street investment firms, which are distant, both geographically and philosophically from the publications they own.

Deborah and James Fallows write what small-town newspapers are up against:
The conventional view of the local-journalism crisis is that running a small-town newspaper just isn’t a viable business anymore—now that the internet advertising has drained off revenue, and now that virtual communities and social media have displaced real-world connections and communities.
Those pressures are all too real. (Sobering details on the collapse of ad revenue are here.) But some of the remaining success stories in this troubled field suggest that the ownership structure of local news organizations may matter as much as internet-era advertising shifts, in determining which organizations survive and which perish.
In short: Increasing evidence suggests that the local newspaper business may still be viable, simply as a business. What it can no longer do is provide the super-profit levels that private equity groups expect from their holdings, and that they demand as a condition of letting the papers exist. Papers that are doomed under private-equity ownership might have a chance in some different economic structure.
This proposition—that newspaper ownership is as important as internet-era advertising trends, in deciding local journalism’s future—was examined at length in a 2017 article in The American Prospect by Robert Kuttner and Hildy Zenger (the latter a pen name). It has been a theme connecting our previous newspaper-survivor reports, from Maine to Mississippi. And it is the idea behind a new weekly print newspaper whose first edition came off the presses this month, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the tip of Cape Cod.
Small town papers run by locals are important, because business owners have a stake in the communities in which they live. Moreover, they are not as profit driven (8 percent profit is good) as publications owned by equity Wall-Street investors, which/who care only about much higher double-digit profits of at least 20 percent a year. Is this really sustainable year after year? Unlikely, which explains the mess and chaos that Wall Street creates and for which it is widely known.

I remember a time, in the early 1970s, when everyone thought 7 percent was good enough. This, no doubt, was before the "greed is good" business principle started to become institutionalized and normalized and a model to emulate for success. We witness the results today, four decades later, and we can say it is not all good or pleasing to the eye. Small towns are not the only ones to suffer.

For more on The Atlantic story, go [here].

For more on the The Provincetown Independent, go [here].

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Traveling Wilburys: Handle With Care (1988)

The Traveling Wilburys: “Handle With Care,” performed by George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. It is the first track on The Traveling Wilburys: Vol. 1, released on October 17, 1988.
Via: Youtube

Wikipedia gives the following background information in the making of this song.:
The Wilburys filmed a music video for "Handle with Care" in early October 1988, at an abandoned brewery near Union Station in Los Angeles.[41] It was directed by David Leland, who had recently directed Harrison's HandMade Films production Checking Out.[42] The video features the group members performing the song around an old-fashioned omnidirectional microphone.[43] The band were dressed and styled by Roger Burton, whose stylist credits included the films Quadrophenia and Chariots of Fire, and music videos for David Bowie, Eurythmics and UB40.[41]

The video was the last to feature Orbison,[44] who died of a heart attack on 6 December.[45] Lynne recalls that, as they all travelled together to the film shoot, Orbison kept the band entertained by reciting entire Monty Python comedy sketches by himself. Lynne continues: "And he's got this enormous and most infectious giggle you've ever heard, and we'd all be giggling like schoolgirls after a minute or two and all fall about!"[46] At the time, Lynne described the video as a "nice film, where we're just playing, with nice shots of guitars and heads and feet", and free of "gimmicks and fireworks".[47] Orbison was dressed in a long black coat, black trousers and red shoes, and wore his usual diamond-encrusted Maltese cross broach.[41]
In a later interview, George Harrison says the group was formed by happenstance and circumstance, and its purpose was “to have fun,” and not allow egos to overtake the music, which is not always easy to do. Like all good music, the song remains relevant decades later, perhaps more so. Been stuck in airports, terrorized/Sent to meetings, hypnotized/Overexposed, commercialized/Handle me with care.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Belief in Unicorns

Myth and Imagination

The Unicorn in Captivity (from the Unicorn Tapestries),1495–1505, South Netherlandish, as part of the collection of the Metropolitan  Museum of Art, New York City: The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. “Search for the Unicorn,” May 14, 2013–August 18, 2013.

In an essay (“Greenland Unicorns and the Magical Alicorn;” September 19, 2019) in the Public Domain Review, Natalie Lawrence, writes:
Unicorns seem to be everywhere these days. It’s virtually impossible to walk down a high street or go into a gift shop without coming face to face with one of these rainbow-spangled creatures in some form or other. They have become a fashionable cultural icon of fantasy, escapism, and (somewhat paradoxically) individuality — a fact exploited to the full by manufacturers and marketing experts. All the same, most people today are well aware unicorns don’t exist.
But people want to believe that they do indeed exist, especially today. The unicorns and their magical horns still captivate minds both young and old. This is true in my household, where my son and I--young and old--both enjoy the myth and magic of unicorns and what they can do for us, especially during these times of high anxiety and distress, chiefly brought about by a disruption and a disorder that has eaten away at what we long viewed and thought as good.

The unicorn promises not what politicians or clergy can and do promise, but what myth and magic can along with imagination. Merciful Justice. Fairness. Decency. Feeedom to Be. Such expectations come from somewhere afar, yet they are of the kind that are not humanly possible; the kind that takes the faith of a child, particularly a small one. And of course, unicorns are rare, so rare that you can't see them. At least not with your eyes. Unicorns are also fierce and pure, and these mythical creatures know what is necessary to know. Not everyone knows what the unicorn know, but you can.

For more, go [here].

Friday, September 20, 2019

Why the Green New Deal is Our (Only) Brighter Future

Our Living Planet

An article (“Only a Green Deal Can Douse the Fires of Eco-Fascism;“ September 16, 2019) , by Naomi Klein, in The Intercept, speaks clearly about the importance of the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan that makes perfect sense if you view that the current (non-renewable) fossil-fuel economy is harming our planet and every living thing which lives on it. I certainly do, and so do most scientists with close knowledge of climate change.

Klein writes:
ORGANIZERS ARE EXPECTING huge numbers to turn out for the Global Climate Strike, beginning on September 20 and continuing through September 27. It builds on the first global climate strike, which took place on March 15, and attracted an estimated 1.6 million young people, who walked out of class at schools on every continent.
But this week’s strike will be different. This time, young organizers have called on adults from all walks of life to join them in the streets. So in addition to schools in over 150 countries, almost 1,000 workers at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle have pledged to walk out, as have some faculty unions, Britain’s Trades Union Congress, and many others. There is a plan to shut down Washington, D.C. on September 23.
This diversity of the groups involved may well prove to be a new stage in the climate movement, with many more movements and constituencies seeing themselves in the struggle against climate breakdown — as well as in the emerging vision for an intersectional justice-based Green New Deal.
And it’s a good thing too, because as Donald Trump spews racist hate at Bahamian refugees fleeing the wreckage of Hurricane Dorian and growing numbers of far-right killers cite environmental damage as a justification for their rampages, there is a pressing need to confront the ways in which the fires of climate breakdown are already intersecting with the fires of white supremacy and surging xenophobia globally.
Yes, these issues are related, although on first glance they seem separate. Nativism is nothing but old-fashioned hubris on a collective scale; fascism uses violence and cruelty, among other measures, to enforce its totalitarian and exclusive thinking, one fed on mythology and stories of historical power and supremacy. In this case, the unusual marriage of white supremacy and environmentalism has resulted in eco-fascism, an online ideology which is as bad and hateful as it sounds. It is a blood and soil (blut und boden) movement, mixing Nazism and Norse mythology (North Germanic origins). Eco-fascism is just another fascist thought masquerading as concern for the environment. It is nativist and its concern is exclusive to white people of certain “origins.” (For more on eco-fascism, go here and here.)

Its existence is worrisome, but its existence is not surprising, considering the right-ward tilt politically in many of the world’s wealthy nations. When things get bad, and turn from bad to worse, it is expected that nationalists and fascists will clamor to shut their nations’ borders to migrants fleeing cities, nations and large geographical land-masses that have already been damaged by extreme weather (i.e., floods, hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.), and who have nowhere else to go but to the wealthy nations, which have better infrastructure and more resources to stay afloat. 

Survival of the fittest is not a good model for a modern humane society to follow, that is, unless cruelty and callousness are acceptable, which it is not for most people. Do not the wealthy nations have a moral responsibility to those migrants?  The answer depends on where you stand, not only on climate change, but also on how you view and value other human beings. We are much more interconnected than some believe or acknowledge; borders are human-made constructs, which will become meaningless (and likely impossible to control) in a future where extreme climate disrupts the lives of most of the people residing on Earth.

This is why the Green New Deal (along a Marshall Plan for Climate Change) is so important. The perceived consequences of not having such plans in place are so great that it is something that most of us would rather not think about. There are better ways, better scenarios, buy if only we act prudently and purposefully. There is a good purpose, after all, an end goal. A habitable planet.

We will collectively have to make changes to our way of life, to our habits and especially to our consumption of fossil fuels. As for halving carbon emissions by 2050, the ecological, social and economic benefits are many, and I plan to write about the decided advantages of a net zero carbon economy in a future post. It is always good to point out and remember that it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the Earth. It is the only place that all of us can call home.

For more, go [here].

Thursday, September 19, 2019

U.S. Hospitals That Operate on the Greed Principle

Life & Death

An article (“How Greedy Hospitals Fleece the Poor;” September 11, 2019), by Libby Watson in The New Republic reports on how greed permeates the decision-making of some hospitals in the United States. Such greedy hospitals show no regard for the poor of society, have no understanding of what it is to be poor, and, of greater significance, have carelessly forgotten (that is, if they ever knew) of what is their fundamental  purpose as a provider of healthcare. (Hint: It is not to make huge profits; it is to help heal people)

Yet, not all hospitals and their leaders accept this mandate. For such hospital administrators, it is chiefly, or perhaps only, about money; Watson writes about such examples:
On Monday, a Kaiser Health News report detailed the University of Virginia hospital system’s heartless pursuit of poor patients who owe them money. The hospital has sued its patients 36,000 times over six years, for as little as $13.91, with devastating consequences. The hospital has garnished wages and put liens on houses, levying high interest on delinquent patients. It sued its own employees for unpaid bills around 100 times a year.
It’s not just happening at UVA, though they are particularly aggressive. Last week, The New York Times reported on Carlsbad Medical Center in New Mexico, which has sued many more of its patients for unpaid medical bills than nearby hospitals; even the county judge who hears the cases was sued. In June, ProPublica published a story on Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Hospital in Memphis, which filed 8,300 lawsuits against patients in five years.

These hospitals are outliers in their communities, pursuing cases more aggressively than other hospitals do; some don’t file lawsuits against patients at all. These particularly aggressive hospitals are only known about because reporters have highlighted their practices. How many more of the 6,210 American hospitals are suing their patients? And, in turn, how many Americans have been sued by their hospitals? We don’t know, but it’s at least thousands.
This helps explain why hospitals and the health insurance industry do not want single-payer government medicare (as is the case in Canada, where there are no such stories) made the primary health choice for Americans. “Medicare for All” means just that; no special privilege for the wealthy, and, more important, no going into debt for the average Joe or Jill because of unpaid hospital bills.

Greed. Unchecked greed, plain and simple. It is the same reason that there is a misinformation and disinformation campaign about such a fair and equitable system. It would likely reduce how much these hospital and insurance executives get paid. It is about the money. As long as institutions reward this, it will remain normative. Then we all suffer.

Not surprising, but disheartening. But, then again, this practice is normative in a system that rewards greed and, consequently, ensures that hospital executives and administrators are wealthy, at least in the top 10 percent, if not wealthier. They too are caught in the trap, the treadmill, take whatever metaphor fits, of meritocracy. A false promise, a beguiling one, that appeals to the ego.

Thus, they want more. For these greedy executives, it is profits and personal gain over people. There is a kind of rule of what usually happens when money is worshipped like this. If money becomes the focal point of someone's life, he will never be satisfied, and he will become more callous and more cruel. The love of money will affect his health, including his spiritual well-being.

As long as greed is institutionalized— as it has been for the last 40 years—there is little expectation for real change, but there is always hope. Both are human aspirations, but hope is of the non-material kind, anchored in unseen things. All in all, greed has to be seen for what it is, an unhealthy and deadly vice.

For more, go [here].

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Least of These

The Human Condition

In an article (“Organizing Skid Row;” Summer 2019) in Dissent, Cora Currier describes a scene taking place at Venice Beach in Los Angeles:
Mornings on Venice Beach are often chilly, thanks to low-lying leaden clouds known as the marine layer. The gloom leaves no golden SoCal gleam on the graffitied concrete skate structures or the shuttered souvenir hutches promising legal pot, bikinis, T-shirts, and ice cream. Surfers cross the sand with their wetsuits half-on, joggers careen through with smartwatches on their wrists, and jet-lagged tourists wheel their suitcases in search of a beachfront hostel. And each Friday morning, near the famous weight-lifting equipment of Muscle Beach, a flotilla of trucks and police cruisers assembles. Police officers and sanitation workers, dressed in blue uniforms or white Tyvek coveralls, huddle amid the trucks before the sweep begins.
Their targets are the items accumulated by people living on the beach, the boardwalk, and in the alleys of Venice. Los Angeles permits sleeping in public spaces from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., but on Fridays in Venice, the belongings of each of the unhoused must be packed up and consolidated into a sixty-gallon plastic bag, per city code. Anything that doesn’t fit, anything deemed “bulky,” will be seized, and if it’s “soiled,” it will be trashed.
This takes place regularly, the sweeps done as an attempt to remove all evidence of the human beings who are without any permanent shelter. It is done for very practical reasons, as if it is necessary to remove the shame and the stigma that the urban wealthy feel for not doing anything or not enough to better the lives of their fellow citizens— those who are dispirited, downtrodden and denied justice. The least of these.

It is truly a matter of perception. If you view the homeless as lawbreakers, then you will view the police actions as welcome and necessary; if however, you view the homeless as human beings, then you will take action to improve their lives. One such group is Street Watch, an organization with a purpose and a social conscience; Currier writes:
I’ve watched many of these sweeps over the past year and a half as a volunteer participating in Street Watch, an initiative organized by the L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Skid Row activist group Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), and carried out with volunteers from KTown for All, the Los Angeles Tenants Union, and other organizations. Modeled on Copwatch and building on monitoring work done by LA CAN, Venice Community Housing, and other legal observers over the past several decades, Street Watch sends volunteers out to observe and record sweeps of homeless encampments around the city, looking for illegal seizure of property and other forms of harassment, and offering support to the people in the camps. The work differs from charity outreach in critical ways. As well as helping homeless people to prepare for sweeps and keep their belongings, volunteers provide know-your-rights information. Street Watch also tries to engage homeless Angelenos in the broader fight for housing in the city, offering them rides to public hearings, demonstrations, or organizing meetings. (In this, it also follows the example of LA CAN, which was founded on the principle of low-income downtown residents organizing themselves. The group says that its model “directly addresses the core problem of exclusion of low-income residents in public decision-making by recruiting and training members to be involved—whether invited or not—in all levels of decision-making impacting our communities.”) Street Watch is about connecting homelessness to the issues of over-policing, gentrification, rent control, and the fight for affordable housing—and asking the city to recognize the homeless as members of the community deserving of resources and support, rather than a problem to be swept out of view.
Again, viewing such things on on the material level, it is about allocation of money and resources.  If some of it would be spent on those on the bottom, how much better would be cities like L.A and countless other cities with large number of homeless people. Late capitalism and hyper-capitalism (a political economy of greed mixed with lack of caring) is responsible for the problem as we see it and know it, as is a reduction in affordable housing since the 1980s.

It would be a sign of hope and of humanity if these same people who once advocated for such a cruel and selfish political economy should now want to fix it. It is not too late, and it is within the realm of possibility. This would take, I believe, a change of heart, acknowledging the spiritual malaise in one’s own heart and how it manifests itself in the love of money. Such is an insatiable love, which more often than not opens the door to many, if not all, immoral and unethical actions, including viewing the least of these as not worthy. But, of course, such are. Perhaps more than we know.

If interested, here is my plan for decent affordable housing. Let me know if you think it has any merit.

For more, go [here].