Thoughts on poverty and homelessness in the U.S.A.

Archive for August, 2011

there’s no incentive to work! why people stay on welfare (or remain homeless) for years and years… (hint: it’s not ’cause they like being poor)

The real reason is this:

Well, actually, it’s not so simple.  I can’t reduce this concept to a sound byte.  Sorry, TV watchers.  But this is a complex idea and will need to be explained in two blog-writing sessions.  I have to go to “work” myself this morning, so I’ll just begin this blog here then continue it later on tonight or tomorrow…

I’ve had yet just another fellow American tell me that safety nets, such as welfare, encourage laziness, that there’s no incentive to work when someone is given everything he/she needs by the government.

Ehem.

This was a very nice person, so I was able to explain my point of view, though not very well, I think, because it is complex.  How do I explain a concept that a semester of college work could perhaps barely explain?  (Yes, I do think there should be Poverty Studies courses in college.  The neo-cons are against this sort of thing.  They dislike the liberal arts in general–contains the word “liberal” after all.)  But the liberal arts teach us to think about each other, about why we’re all really here on this earth, about morality, about ethics, social responsibility and social injustice.  Right now, especially right now, we need to be thinking about those things.  For all their talk about “Christian values,” the neo-cons are anti-morality.  Their only concern is themselves, their money, their material things, and, yes, their taxes.  They don’t like taxes!

Personally, I don’t like poverty and despair.  I don’t like human suffering.  That to me is a much more serious problem than paying taxes.

But there ya’ go.  I’m not a neo-con, neo-liberal, Republic-con, or whatever they call themselves these days.

(Disclaimer:  if you’re  a Republican, rest assured that I don’t want to hate you.  In fact, I’m trying real hard not to hate you.  I know that only a few of you are addicted to money, greed, selfishness and mean-spirited, rugged individualism.  Most of you just don’t have an understanding of what is really happening in this country.  You’ve been misinformed or uninformed.  Without an understanding of how governments and societies are formed and have been formed throughout history, how can you learn of what is happening in today’s world?  So you turn on that TV set–some call it an “idiot box”–and just hope for the best.  Sadly, you make the mistake of turning on Fox News.  Naively, you trust the misinformation you’re given as “fair and balanced.”  And, being uneducated in history, sociology, and human psychology, how would you know enough to do any different?)

So there.

When people say that poor people are lazy and don’t want to work, that safety nets just enable them to not work what they are really saying is that poor people are inferior to rich people and that poor people should not have the right to pursue their own happiness but that only rich people should have that right.

Case in point:

Why is no one attacking rich people for being lazy and not wanting to work?  There are many people who were born into wealthy families who do not have to work. Yes, that’s right, they have nothing to do, nothing that they have to do.  They don’t have to work because their families are so rich that they can literally live off of their parents’ money and never, ever work a day in their lives.  Some of them become very apathetic and bored.  They begin spending their money on drugs and alcohol in a desperate attempt to alleviate the tedium by creating some obstacles for themselves.  (Poor people drink to forget about the obstacles.  The mega-rich drink to create them.  Go figure.)

Yet we don’t attack the lazy and irresponsible rich.  Why?  Because they worked for it, you say?  No, I’m talking about people who were born with  money, who never worked for it.  (I need to repeat myself here and will continue to repeat myself over and over again on these blogs because, sadly, one must repeat one’s self in order to get heard amongst the chaos and shouting in this attention-deficit-disordered, fast-paced age.  So I’ll try to make this simple and repeat myself enough times so that, I hope, some people will “get it.”

Point is this:  if we value  hard work so much (and I’m curious about that too) why do we not attack wealthy people who are lazy and don’t want to work?

(Sadly, I must work and not at what I love to do or am good at. Perhaps one day I’ll earn a living from writing these blogs or from writing in general.  However, now I must go to work at a dead-end, low-paying job that will cause me to become homeless again soon because that is the only kind of work I’ve been able to obtain in this Land of Opportunity, the USSA.)  So I’ll continue this thought later…

Okay, I’m just going to add this thought before I go.  Here’s what I would do if I were collecting welfare and food stamps, if I didn’t have to “work” at a regular job.  I’d spend my days working on my writing, writing more blogs, practicing my guitar, making my videos.  Yep, I’d be working at the things I do best.  Maybe I’d be able to make a positive contribution to society.  Maybe I’d be the next Michael Moore and make films that enlighten, educate, that make other people think differently about their society.  Oh, I guess that explains why some wealthy, powerful people don’t want people like me to really “work.”  They want us to work at low-paying, dead-end jobs that support corporate America.  They just don’t want us to work at anything that will better ourselves and our community.  And often those are the jobs for which we don’t get paid in money.  No one pays me to write these blogs, to make my videos, to produce my music.  No one pays me.  Not a penny.  I don’t even get donations.  Perhaps I should solicit for them.  But right now I want to be able to speak my mind while I still have the right to do so.  Soon the government will send in agents to arrest people like me, to shut us down for good.  I already have reason to believe that I’m on some sort of terrorist-wanted list.

But that’s the way it goes…

And I will continue this later…

What part of freedom do you not understand?

What part of freedom do you not understand?

What part of freedom do you not understand?

So shouted Rush Limbaugh repeatedly into my ear one morning after I’d accidentally fallen asleep…leaving the radio on–a dangerous thing to do these days.

And it started me thinking.  Rush Limbaugh believes (or wants us to believe) that he’s advocating for freedom?  Whose freedom?  His own, I suppose.

Freedom is a concept I’ve always been attracted to.  Since childhood, I’ve always longed to be free, free from my highly dysfunctional family, the gangs of kids who attacked me on my way to and from school, my painful childhood, the poor city I grew up in, the working-class, blue collar prison that says, “You must be a working class hero.  Work shall set you free.  Just work.  Work, work, work.”

Then one day, you’ll wake up and realize that even though you’ve worked hard your entire life you still have nothing.  Nothing.  No matter how frugal you are, no matter how many necessities and desires you do without, no matter how hard you struggle and deprive yourself, you still can’t get any money saved up.  Any money you deposit in your bank account (if you can afford a bank account, that is) is just money you are keeping for withdrawal at the end of the month when you pay your bills.  There’s no vacation this year.  Nor the next.  Nor the next.  Not ever.  Until the day comes when you’re finally allowed to rest peacefully, and that will be a permanent vacation.  They say there’s no rest for the wicked.  But these days, I think that the opposite is true.  There is no rest for those of us who have good intentions, who want the world to be a better place, who are just trying to survive and live peaceably in this troubled world.  This is a world that supports and condones and rewards the wicked, the violent, and the mean-spirited, while it penalizes those of us who want things to be better.  Because, as we all know, making the world a better place means “socialism.”

And we can’t have that.

So let’s just get rid of those pesky public libraries, public schools, fire departments, police departments, hospitals, clinics, parks, and anything else we can think of that constitutes “socialism.”  I’m watching, sadly, libraries and public schools close down in my city.  Do you see this happening in your neighborhood?  I guess that would depend on whether you live in an affluent suburb or a poor, inner-city area.  You can guess which of the two would best describe my neighborhood.

We don’t need to pay taxes or to do anything collectively.  The heck with other people.  We’re all rugged individualists now.  So, everybody, just take a good look at yourself in the mirror and thank yourself.  Thank yourself for being you, and tell yourself you love you.  Feel good about yourself, take really good care of your health, and be the best you can be.  Because remember, in the USA, you are all you have.  If you lose your house, your car, your job, your mind, your spirit, your self esteem, (whatever!), you’d better just be ready to help yourself, pick yourself up by your bootstraps.  Don’t you dare ask anyone else for help.  Don’t even think about it.  We’re not all in this together.  We’re all in this alone, but together reluctantly.  The idea is to be alone, be very alone.  Suck it up and pick it up with those fraying bootstraps you inherited from your parents.  Since you won’t be able to collect social security when you grow older, I’m sure your parents will be ready and willing to provide for you in your old age too–unless they die by then.

Well, who needs a place to live and three meals a day anyway?  Did you know that eating is overrated?  There’s actually an obesity problem in this country.  People are just eating way too much.  So stop feeling sorry for yourself, and just be grateful that you won’t have an obesity problem because you can’t afford to eat enough to get fat.  Besides, if you read about Nazi Germany you’ll discover that many people went without eating, even suffered from malnutrition during Hitler’s reign.  Yet everything seems to be okay in Germany now.  So stop complaining.  Stop whining.  What’s a little poverty?  Builds character!

But I digress.

What I really wanted to post about on this blog was freedom.  The Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Republic-con, Tea Party versions–as well as some other notions of freedom–truly are intriguing.

For example,

Some people want to be free to speak their minds, even if what they have to say is in disagreement with those who possess great amounts of money and power.  They want to have the freedom to express ideas and opinions that other people just don’t like.

Other people want to have the freedom to oversee that speech, to prevent those people from saying things they think are offensive or harmful to others, or to themselves perhaps.  They want to control what is said or not said, to screen speech in all its forms–television, radio, film, poetry or novels.  To decide whose music is played on the radio, which actors will be cast on TV or film productions, which directors, producers, news anchors or writers will be allowed to participate in the process of disseminating information.  They see themselves as keeping the world in order and preventing chaos.  After all, allowing other people to be free to just say whatever they want can be dangerous, right?  Of course, these people who decide what speech is okay and what is not okay are human beings who can make mistakes or who can be corrupted by bribery or manipulation.  But what can you do?  Someone has to watch people and make sure they’re not saying things other people don’t want to hear, right?

Some people want to be free to walk down the street or drive their cars or hop on a bus or a plane or a train and travel.  They want the freedom to travel, to move around, to live or to visit anywhere they’d like.  (Of course, these same people will want to speak their minds anywhere they go too.   They just want it all, don’t they?)

Other people are concerned that strangers walking or driving down their streets might do them harm and would like to have the freedom to stop them.  They’d like the police to stop innocent, law-abiding citizens and just search them, search their cars, search their possessions, check their identity cards.  Are they US citizens?  What if they’re here illegally?  What if they intend to cause trouble in our neighborhood?  Who are these people?  I don’t recognize them.  Maybe they’re good people.  Maybe they’re not such good people.  I don’t know.  But if we stop them when we notice they seem different in some way, perhaps dressed differently, in possession of a different skin color from the type we normally see in this part of town, or maybe they speak funny, if we stop them and search through all their belongings we can determine whether they mean us any harm.  Or not.  (This is, of course, a violation of the 4th Amendment law that used to be in force here in the US.  The 4th Amendment was a law that stated that people could not be searched and that their belongings could not be searched or seized, unless it was known beyond a doubt that they were guilty of something.  A police officer would need to be ready to swear before a judge that he/she knew this person was guilty of something before the officer could search or seize the person or person’s property.  Of course, that law no longer exists in the US and for “good” reason.  We are in so much danger!  There are just so many people attempting to exercise freedoms.  These people need to be stopped, controlled, screened.  The authorities want to have the freedom to do exactly that.  But if they have the freedom to limit other people’s freedom…then other people lose some of their freedom… Oh dear, this does get confusing.

Corporations want to have the freedom to maximize their profits, even if that means laying off American workers and outsourcing labor to third-world countries, exploiting their employees and shortening their lifespans by practically working them to death, paying them tiny wages yet raising the prices of the goods produced and further cheating their customers by overcharging them for goods and services they’ve produced cheaply.  Corporations want to be able to dump toxic waste into our environment and to save money by not implementing safety measures that would protect our environment (as well as protect their workers) from harm.

Corporations want a free marketplace but only for themselves.  You as an individual are not free to stand on a public sidewalk and sell your handmade candles.  You’ll get a ticket, perhaps even arrested, for trying.  Yet a large corporation can dump toxins into our environment.  Are the CEOs arrested?  Jailed?  Do we see articles in the paper (or on the Internet) about CEOs going to prison for cheating consumers, their employees and the environment?

Yet we, the people, want to have the freedom to earn a decent livelihood, to provide for our families, heck, to have families of our own.  We’d like to live full lives and not have our lives cut short because our bosses overwork, underpay and uninsure us.  We’d like to pay the price that products are worth, no more (and certainly not ten times more.)  We’d like to buy products that last, not that are made to break.  We’d like the trees and the birds and, yes, the bees to still be around for our grandchildren.  We’d like for them to have the freedom to walk down a street, breathe fresh air and hear birds sing.  But what we want to be free to do impedes what large corporations want the freedom to do.  And, remember, they’re people too.  Under the law, at least.

Hmm… how do we resolve such conflict?  Seems that what some people want to be free to do conflicts with what others want the freedom to do…

I guess that’s the part of freedom that I don’t understand, Mr. Limbaugh.  Why am I not free to go on national radio and express my opinions about how I think things should be?  Why do you have that right and I do not?  Can you explain that, fat boy?  Because, believe me, I have a lot to say and I’m very articulate.  I may not be as fat as you, Limby, but my lungs haven’t been completely destroyed from breathing in the pollution, asbestos, lead and whatever else infests the poor buildings I’ve had to live in over the past few years, thanks to Republican policy.  I can speak.  And even if you and your cronies try to shut me up, I’ll always be here speaking–in the form and shape of someone else perhaps, but I’ll be here.  Ideas are bulletproof, Limbaugh.  Disenfranchise and discredit me, make it impossible for me to earn a living, or shoot me, if you will, but someone else will come along, someone louder and stronger than I am.  The more you try to shut us up and shut us down, the greater our numbers will grow, the stronger and louder we’ll sound.

You assassinated Kennedy, King, and I believe many other civil rights activists whose deaths were ruled as suicides.  But you can’t assassinate all of us.  And every time you kill one of our heroes, our anger silently grows.  And our mistrust of your system increases.  More and more of us are seeing the truth.  This is not a democracy.

Go ahead, destroy more of our heroes.  It only makes more of us wake up to see you for what you really are.   We’re starting to see your weaknesses too.  You’re bullies–like the kids in the schoolyard who tried to make the rest of us afraid of them except now we’ve grown. Now we realize that it is you who are afraid.  You want us to be fearful all the time because that is how you feel deep, down inside.  And the only way you can stop us from ganging up on you and stopping you is by convincing us that you are invincible and we should be afraid of you.  Well, guess what?  The emperor’s naked.  You are a tiny minority of wealthy, fat, spoiled, lethargic, white males.  We the people do most of the work, so we are strong.  We are powerful.  You need us to get the work done.  You need us to buy your poorly made products.   You need us to be afraid, so afraid of losing our jobs, of not having enough money, of not being able to survive in this world, that we’ll just go along with all your demands, that we’ll just do whatever you tell us to do.

Well, I for one am saying enough.  You can kill me, you can refuse to hire me, and I’ll become homeless and languish on the street or in some homeless shelter.  Maybe I’ll get raped and murdered in the street.  Maybe no one will remember me or want to know me.  Maybe I’ll be shunned and mocked by society, a “crazy” political activist, a “crazy” conspiracy theorist.  Maybe I’ll die painfully and very much alone.  But you still don’t have me.  I’ll never be one of you.  You’re not going to convince me to go along with your plans.

I refuse to work for the collections agencies or the homeland security offices.  I refuse to go along with corrupt corporate policy.  I’ll do my best to survive in spite of my refusal to go along with your wicked plans for this country.  But if I don’t survive, if I die of starvation or being beaten by your police officers for expressing an opinion you don’t like, then so be it.  I will speak to the Higher Power, the force of good which some people refer to as God.  I am accountable to my own conscience, to my own sense of self-respect.  I am not accountable to you.

Thanks really.  Thanks for destroying my country.  Thanks for destroying my life.  Because before I began suffering like this I didn’t know I had this strength within me.  I didn’t know my character was this strong.  As a child, I read a lot about the Holocaust.  The Nazi’s stranglehold over people’s minds really fascinated me.  I wondered, if I were a German alive during the Nazi occupation would I have gone along with Hitler?  Would I too have become a Nazi?  To have allowed myself to be filled with such murderous hate?

I am relieved to know that, as much as I struggle now, I have, at least, not become one of you.  I am not a courageous person.  I don’t think of myself as very strong.  But I am true to myself.  My inner spirit shall not be broken.  You can damage my mind, place me in solitary confinement, torture me at Guantanamo–God knows, you can do that!  You can beat my body and mind into submission.  But my spirit will remain alive.  You may not see it because you are not very intelligent in that way.  You lack a spiritual and moral compass.  You think that is your strength, but it is actually your weakness.  The money and power you wield (and that you value so much) will not last.  Hitler was defeated.  You will die too, one day.  But my spirit remains eternal because it doesn’t end with me.  The spirit of freedom, true freedom, love, kindness and respect for our fellow human beings; the spirit behind the desire for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” (as inalienable rights, not just for me or for you but for everyone, everywhere!) will never die in spite of your futile attempts to assassinate it by exterminating a mere human being who is only a channel, temporarily carrying that spirit until someone else’s turn comes along.

And I guess that’s why you’re fighting so hard now, to take away our civil liberties, to shut us up, to kill or imprison our heroes, because you know that you’re going to lose, eventually, to death–the master of us all.  Your attacks on “we the people,” are just attempts at postponing the inevitable.  And when you die, you’ll be replaced with new, young leaders who will not (if they want to survive) support your diabolical, malicious policies.  How do I know this?  Because your system is not sustainable.  Even evil-hearted men and women cannot support such an unsustainable system forever.  Eventually, you will destroy and demoralize this country completely and people will be unable to live in this society.  Their only choices will be to leave or to create substantial change.  Change will have to happen.  It is inevitable (sort of like death and taxes–the Tea Partiers not withstanding.)  You will die, as we all will, and you will be replaced.  And the new leaders who replace you, if they choose to continue your unsustainable policies, will destroy the entire world and then nothing will be left.  Either way, you and your corrupt policies will die.

But the force of good will continue to thrive somewhere else.  In another country, another land, or perhaps another spiritual realm, it will continue because the force of goodwill reigns eternal.  Opposing forces are just like waves in the ocean, sent to make the water move and grow.  But it’s the water, not the waves, that makes the ocean.

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