Saturday, January 01, 2011

Tunnel People of Las Vegas Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The SHAME of Poverty in America

When I saw this story I was shocked. It’s a story that hasn’t been reported much in U.S. media:
“These are normal people of all ages who’ve lost their way, generally after a traumatic event. Many are war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. It’s not known how many children are living there, as they’re kept out of sight, but I’ve seen evidence of them — toys and teddy bears.”
Perhaps it’s because the media elites simply do not like to stray outside their two percent tax bracket comfort zone. They prefer to speak of trivialities (Beltway politics) and abstract numbers (the economy) instead of the real flesh-and-bone people behind the misery indexes they breezily report.

Lately, one of the enduring media clichés is, if you want to know what’s really going on in America, read the British press — or watch Al Jazeera. Democracy Now with Amy Goodman works. Or Keith and Rachel. Ed and Cenk. That’s about it.

Big Eddie deserves honorable mention as unyielding spokesperson for the 99ers and the ravaged middle class. Rachel, for pulling back the curtain of corporate lies and propaganda for all to see, for reporting from the military and environmental fronts and for her dogged, successfull pursuit of justice for gays in the military ending in repeal of DADT. Cenk is a consistent administration critic online with the Young Turks and on MSNBC.

It’s no accident this Spartan crew came into their own in secondary alternate media: Progressive talk radio and the internet. Keith, who made it all possible for them to find a voice at MSNBC, much to the chagrin of lesser news deity Tom Brokaw, honed his craft in the freewheeling sports reporting arena.

What are the odds President Obama will be visiting the dispossessed Tunnel People of Las Vegas? Bobby Kennedy would have dragged Nevada’s Harry Reid down into that gutter and challenged the entire Republican leadership to come see for themselves what their policies have done to our middle class. Today, reactions are tempered by decades of wingnut propaganda. I was disgusted, but not shocked or surprised by this one:
“There are certain degrading things that you have to deal with when you live in New York. Like the time I took the tour at Alcatraz only to realized that their inmates had more space than I did in Manhattan at the time. Meanwhile, I had committed no crimes and paid $400 for the privilege to live on 105th Street. Plus, they had sinks in their rooms! And now, The Daily Mail has made us feel the same way once again, with a story about 1,000 people who live in makeshift homes in Las Vegas, carved out of a labyrinth of tunnels underneath the Las Vegas strip.

The article is pretty fascinating, but the first thing that came to mind when we saw the pics? Ooh… Spacious!”
Such callous disregard for other people’s misfortune isn’t simply mocking someone’s slip on a banana peel. It’s schadenfreude redefined to reflect the Lord of The Flies world promoted by Limbaugh, Beck and the Fox network. It values insensitivity, derides compassion as a weak emotion. It deflects a sense of  community, of social responsibility for the needy among us by making a sick joke about living space. Usually, schadenfreude is tempered by the notion that the victims being mocked deserve it. Clearly, right wing acculturation has convinced such thoughtless people that the poor and homeless deserve the plight they’re in. It’s a wingnut media/Republican talking point; a popular perversion of just deserts due the homeless, unemployed, uninsured, poor, and hungry people of America.

Such ignorant attitudes, depressing though they may be, aren’t particularly shocking; but these facts about poverty in the world’s most affluent country are:
  • 1.6 million people were homeless in 2009 and spent at least part of the year in a shelter; nearly 325,000 of them were children.
  • 15 million people were unemployed as of October, 6 million of whom had been looking for work for more than half a year.
  • 44 million people were poor in 2009, 19 million of whom had incomes below half of the poverty line (half of the poverty line corresponds to an income of $5,478 for an individual and $10,977 for a family of four).
  • 50 million people lacked access to adequate food at some point in 2009 because they didn’t have enough money for groceries.  Nearly 18 million people lived in households where one or more people had to skip meals or take other steps to reduce their food intake because of lack of resources.
  • The official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent — up from 13.2 percent in 2008. This was the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004.
  • In 2009, 43.6 million people were in poverty, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.
  • Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites (from 8.6 percent to 9.4 percent), for Blacks (from 24.7 percent to 25.8 percent), and for Hispanics (from 23.2 percent to 25.3 percent). For Asians, the 2009 poverty rate (12.5 percent) was not statistically different from the 2008 poverty rate.
  • The poverty rate in 2009 (14.3 percent) was the highest poverty rate since 1994 but was 8.1 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959, the first year for which poverty estimates are available.
  • The number of people in poverty in 2009 (43.6 million) is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published.
  • Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate increased for children under the age of 18 (from 19.0 percent to 20.7 percent) and people aged 18 to 64 (from 11.7 percent to 12.9 percent), but decreased for people aged 65 and older (from 9.7 percent to 8.9 percent). [Even the Teabaggers will understand this is due largely to Social Security and Medicare.]
  • 51 million people lacked health coverage in 2009.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lost Decade Ends, The Struggle Continues

A few songs to stiffen the spine and cleanse the soul seem appropriate to celebrate the passing of this lost decade. It began tragically with the 9/11 attacks, the seizure of the people's government by a small clique of  oil barons, plutocrats, corporate predators, and insatiable war profiteers. And it ends with cruel and heartless Republicans trying to deny the heroes of that terrible day the healthcare to treat them, many now terminally ill, from having inhaled the clouds of toxic dust that covered Manhattan.

What kind of country have we become?

And the clueless wingnuts ask, have the terrorists "won"? The terrorists "won" the moment Geroge W. Bush and Dick Cheney were installed as co-presidents by a radical activist right wing Supreme Court, Cheney reveling in his Dark Lord persona as senior partner in the shadows of power manipulating all. Bush-Cheney served their wealthy corporate cronies well, slashing environmental controls to enable BP's assassination of our coastal wetlands and fisheries, and Halliburton's plunder of the U.S. Treasury for profit and corruption in Iraq-Af-Pak as our troops died to defend the corporations' power (not right) to line their pockets with our money, with skyrocketing deficits to starve the "beast" of government and feed the rich and powerfully connected.

Bush and Cheney are war criminals by any reasonable definition of international law, which the United States once pledged to uphold. But President Obama looked the other way. His acquiescence in this venal coverup and in refusing to stand up to the Republican Party, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the corporations so much so that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is dictating policy to them, makes the President an accomplice in this venality and a partner in crime. After he surrendered the tax cuts to the rich and corrupt corporate interests, we are told by stealth DLCer Bob Shrum masquerading as a liberal that we should "trust" President Obama.

I do not and will not. President Obama has lost this liberal. I have gone to the mat for the President once too often only to find that the White House was busily sawing off the limb we were on, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Maybe Stephen Colbert is right. Maybe President Obama just isn't that into liberals and progressives. Every significant action he has taken has been matched, even surpassed by retreat. President Obama is like Union General Meade after the battle of Gettysburg when Lee's army limped off in slow retreat to the banks of the Potomac. Had Meade pressed his advantage he could have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia and ended the war in one bold stroke.

President Lincoln, whom Obama admires and has studied (not very well, evidently), was infuriated, writing Meade that he had missed a "goldern opportunity" to end the war. Interestingly, while President Obama's closest adviser is 20-year family friend Valerie Jarrett, a political neophyte who has behaved like one in every way, one senses that Jarrett smothers the President with the kind of protectiveness that is not in the best interests of the nation or the people. She's like the President's shadow. Everywhere he goes she's not far behind. And she's a jumble of facile clichés and meaningless talking points. Last week on Meet The Press Jarrett unctuously asserted that the President "goes to bed at night and wakes up every morning thinking about what's best for the American people." Does this sound familiar? It should, because Jarrett was rehashing word-for-word a Bill Clinton cliché repeated ad nauseum during his particular travails.

One should expect the President's closest aide to be a little more creative, perhaps? But then she announced the President would go on a "listening tour" early in 2011 to listen to the concerns of the American people. This is exactly what the House Republicans did before the midterms. It was nonsense and political atmospherics with not a whit of substance. Their website was a joke. They invited "the American people" to write in with their "concerns" and by far the most popular item was legalizing marijuana. The website was scrubbed. So this is Valerie Jarrett's brilliant game plan? Can the White House spell dis-as-ter?

And another thing. I'd like to know what are the historical examples of lifelong presidential friends  contributing in significant ways to public policy. Either they're ciphers, playing a minimal moral supportive role, in which case no harm no foul, or they're of equal political and intellectual stature. Well, Obama-Jarrett is not Jefferson-Madison. Carter-Lance maybe, and Bert Lance, whose qualities in government only Jimmy Carter could discern, resigned under a cloud of scandal. But they prayed together every morning. Jarrett is supposedly Obama's link to the business community — that turned out well — and known to be partial to Georgetown cocktail parties.

The President needs less highball dilletantes and more close advisers who won't be intimidated to get in his face and tell him some hard truths. It's interesting that the Lincoln model was Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals": Every one of Lincoln's opponents for the presidency — strong wills and egos all — ended up in his cabinet. His biggest rival, Secretary of State William H. Seward, the frontrunner for the nomination and presumptive president, did not think much of Lincoln and tried to sabotage him early on. But in the end, Seward was Lincoln's closest friend. If Hillary ever grows into that role, it will be only with Jarrett's blessing.

The President's team is out of balance. Foreign policy, arguably the least important component, is the strongest with Hillary and Bob Gates running their departments and U.S. foreign and defense policy smoothly in helping the President carry out his objectives. But the most critical component, domestic policy, is a mess. Valerie Jarrett is an incompetent. The invisible cabinet secretaries, with few exceptions (Transportation's Ray LaHood) are weak and have been given little opportunity in the spotlight, which has been hogged by Jarrett and Vice President Biden, whose function seems to be plugging holes in leaky, confused messaging. Biden stands out because he speaks his mind. His harmless gaffes tend to humanize and set him apart from ivory tower operators like the disastrous Larry Summers, perhaps the most fatefully negative appointment Obama made.

So where does this leave liberals and progressives? Where we've been all along: Inside-the-Beltway wilderness but closest to the hearts and minds and souls of the American people. After 30 years of Reaganomics indoctrination, people like Chris Matthews continue to live in the devil's box of Washington power politics and influence, with segments in which he tries to learn from fellow pundits what the "progressive agenda" is. Please. The progressive agenda is America's agenda. You like polls, Chris, then take a look at them. On healthcare, financial reform, protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, getting out of Afghanistan. That's the progressive agenda — America's agenda. Not what the corporate political shills at POLITICO have to say.

The time for liberals and progressives to fight is now. For Social Security, Medicare, the tattered social safety net, the remnants of the New Deal, financial regulatory reform and the healthcare law. We might not get much support from the President or the power elites that run this country. But this isn't virgin territory for progressives. We've been here before. Many, many times before.

If the people of Latin America can overcome the terror, the murders, the torture of American-sponsored fascism and military dictatorship, and elect true socialists like Lula of Brazil, who raised 19 million people out of poverty (not 2 million, Mr. President) and leaves office with an 80 percent approval rating and a thriving capitalist nation that is more just and free and forward-looking, then so can we.

The People United Will Never Be Defeated. 

Inti Illimani is a great Chilean band. Miraculously, they escaped the terror of Pinochet's bloody overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. This song, "The People United Will Never Be Defeated," is a fitting tribute to President Allende's last radio broadcast as the bombs rained down on the presidential palace:
"May you continue to know that much sooner than later the great avenues throught which free men will pass to build a better society will open. These are my last words. I am sure that my sacrifice will not be in vain. I am sure that it will at least be a moral lesson which will punish felony, cowardice and treason."

This too shall pass.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

No-Brainer (Pun Intended) # 2: Study Suggests Wingnuts (AKA, Conservatives) Have More PRIMITIVE Brains

There is a certain pathetic irony to this since our favorite wingnut rag, the Daily Caller, wasted a lot of bandwidth on a bogus “investigation” trying to “prove” KO suffers from a mental illness. Of course, they do reflect their freakish man-child boss, butterfly-tied Tucker Carlson whose potentially serious identity crisis is he’s a wannabe Keith.

Hmm … Tucker, you might want to check with your staff writer/cum psychoanalyst for a diagnosis of your condition he’s already done the prelim groundwork. Most likely, Tucker’s identity crisis may require the intervention of  kinder, gentler, caring conservatives after he called for the execution of Michael Vick.

Then another staffer named Jeff Poor got into a faux lather over Keith’s accurate tweet, “Fox News is 100%  bullshit” … Poor said indignantly that Keith “threw out some profanity to describe a rival network,” which “profanity” was repeated three times, including in the headline of the Poor spitball blurb.

Infantile, ya think? I think the Poor guy’s trying to suck up to his arrested development boss. Which segues nicely into the story about conservatives being hardwired (President Obama identified it as the “reptilian brain” on The View) and hamstrung with inferior brains compared to the more developed liberal brain. According to a study accidentally commissioned by the actor Colin Firth, who wondered whether there were physiological differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives (OF COURSE there are) ... the results are in:

"[R]ecent studies suggest that our brains and genes may be a major determining factor in the views we hold.

A study at University College London in the UK has found that conservatives’ brains have larger amygdalas than the brains of liberals. Amygdalas are responsible for fear and other “primitive” emotions. At the same time, conservatives’ brains were also found to have a smaller anterior cingulate — the part of the brain responsible for courage and optimism.

Rees, who heads up UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, was originally asked half-jokingly to study the differences between liberal and conservative brains for an episode of BBC 4's Today show that was hosted by actor Colin Firth. But, after studying 90 UCL students and two British parliamentarians, the neurologist was shocked to discover a clear correlation between the size of certain brain parts and political views."

Consider the Teabagger lunatics taking over the House of  Representatives next week. Then watch the crazy shit they do, think about this study (there are many others that reach the same basic conclusions) and realize, to your everlasting horror, that the lunatics are running the asylum, whereas before they were just stubbornly refusing to take their meds.

Uh-oh is right.

Healthcare No-Brainer: Most Americans Want a MORE LIBERAL Healthcare Law

Contrary to the corporate politico Idiot Punditocracy spin, most Americans do not “clearly want and expect repeal” as Teabagger Matt Kibbe claimed in a Fox PROP-ed; Americans are actually royally pissed that President Obama caved to special interests and did not deliver a TRUE DEMOCRATIC HEALTHCARE BILL. (My editorial aside because, outside of the Beltway, it’s self-evident.)

Kibbe relied on the findings of a CNN/Opinion Research poll released earlier this week that found Americans opposed the new law 50 to 43 percent (with 7 percent undecided). On closer inspection though, as U.S. News & World Report’s Robert Schlesinger reports, the details of the poll results show that most Americans either support the law or oppose it because it is “not liberal enough”:
Do you oppose that legislation because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think it is not liberal enough?”

Favor 43%
Oppose, too liberal 37%
Oppose, not liberal enough 13%
No opinion 7%
Well, D’OH. Never fear: Presidential confidante and den mother Valerie Jarrett has arranged for an Obama “listening tour” early next year to get another chance (and an earful) to RELIVE his idiotic remark that tax cuts for the rich is “[t]his notion that somehow we are willing to compromise too much reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again.”

Go for it, Mr. President. Who knows, you might learn something.