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

Posts tagged ‘civil liberties’

Freedom is priceless: First they came for the homeless…then… we became homeless too.

A city in Florida is making it illegal for homeless people to carry possessions in public places.

My question is, how will they know whether or not a person is homeless? Are they just going to target people who are poorly dressed, assume they are homeless then take away whatever possessions they are carrying with them? If someone is walking home from the grocery store, carrying a bag of groceries and looking poorly dressed, might the police not stop that person and demand he/she give up the groceries? Suppose the police officer is hungry, for example, hasn’t eaten in hours and then this rather homeless-looking person shows up carrying a bag of groceries in a city that doesn’t allow possessions to be displayed on public sidewalks?

http://think-progress.tumblr.com/post/83441673147/florida-city-about-to-make-it-illegal-for-homeless

http://wonkette.com/547183/fort-lauderdale-will-magically-fix-homelessness-by-stealing-homeless-peoples-stuff-basically

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/city-pass-law-allowing-cops-seize-homeless-peoples-belongings

Am I trying to be funny here? Just a tongue-in-cheek little anecdote for today’s Mad Bag Lady blog entry?

Look, I know most Americans don’t care at all about the homeless. Whether you’ll admit to it or not, most of you still believe in the “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” nonsense. You think that if you keep supporting the system, keep working hard at tiny wages for bosses who act more like slaveholders than business owners that one day someone will recognize your good “attitude” (slaves are notorious for having good attitudes toward their situation) and promote you to CEO of corrupt corporate America. So you dare not speak out on behalf of the homeless. After all, they’ve just made “bad choices,” obviously. Otherwise, they’d be temporarily embarrassed millionaires too.

Believe me, I get it. I get it.

But remember this: dictators always choose a scapegoat, deprive them of their civil rights first and convince the rest of the population to support it. But the real agenda is to deprive everyone of their rights. It’s just easier to start with the most unpopular people first. The homeless are just guinea pigs for an overall plan to eliminate our public spaces, privatize everything, and take away all of our rights (unless of course we’re wealthy and can afford to buy the streets and sidewalks so that we can do whatever we want on them.)

So Hitler attacked the Jews, for example. But ultimately, no one was free under Nazi leadership. What many people don’t know is that Hitler went after union leaders too.  Union leaders, communists and democratic socialists–anyone who wanted more civil liberties for the average person (as opposed to the wealthy elite) was the enemy of Hitler and the Nazis.

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005686

http://www.johndclare.net/Nazi_Germany1.htm

This might surprise many Americans who’ve been brainwashed into believing that “socialism” is the enemy. In fact, Hitler was strongly against democratic socialism and communism.

Think about that for a moment. Please. Please think, and think for yourself, if only for a moment. Because it’s important to remember that “communism,” “socialism,” “capitalism,” etc., are all just labels. None of those systems are practiced in their purest forms (at least to my knowledge.) Most countries use ideas from all of these systems and combine them to create their own systems. (More about this will be addressed in a future blog.) The Nazis may often be thought of as socialists and may have claimed to be wanting to help the average German (who was struggling during the Great Depression) but the Nazis persecuted union leaders, democratic socialists and communists, threw them in prison or executed them. What the Nazis said publicly and what they actually did were often two different things, as we now know from history. (Oddly, I had a hard time finding any videos online about this. Most were filled with propaganda about the Nazis. However, I’ve read the history of Nazi Germany, and I urge you to do the same, so that you don’t believe the lies being told by people who assume you won’t take the time to actually read about it for yourself.)

 

But back to the point. Laws restricting the rights of the homeless to sleep on “public” sidewalks, to ask for money and now to own possessions of any kind affect all of us. Homeless or not, should you decide to “hang out” in public, you may be accosted by the police. And now, in some cities, you can have your possessions taken from you.

Is this what you want, America?

Perhaps I’m an unusual person because I value freedom over everything, including money. (OMG! OMG! You value something over money!) Yes, people. And I’ll even say it again. Freedom, civil liberties, civil rights–are more important to me than money.

I think we’ve all read about wealthy people who’ve been very unhappy in spite of their material wealth. Marilyn Monroe was a classic example. She was beautiful, wealthy and famous but very, very unhappy. She was not free. That’s right, Marilyn Monroe did not have freedom. As a woman, she was oppressed the way all of us females are. She was a mere sex object. And that’s all she was allowed to be. No matter how often she cried out that she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress, that she didn’t want to be a “joke,” the business people who managed her career would not allow her to be herself. To be herself and a serious actress would have meant speaking in her own authentic voice, not the child-like, false-innocent ingenue voice that had made her famous. Being herself meant not flirting with every man–perhaps there were some men who irritated her. Perhaps there were times when she didn’t feel sexy, when she didn’t want to wear makeup or do her hair. Perhaps there were times when she thought about civil rights issues and politics herself. (From what I’d read, she’d had democratic-socialist ideas. That’s not surprising as she’d grown up poor.) But a sex object does none of those things. A sex object is pretty, mindless and always eager to please.

So tragic. So sad. Ms. Monroe seemed to have it all. But the one thing she didn’t have was that which is priceless, that one thing money cannot buy: freedom. Should she have dropped everything to pursue her own desires, she would have lost all that money, all her connections. And then what? Happiness, maybe. But money? She could have lost it all. Instead she gave up her life. So ultimately she lost it all anyhow.

Personally, I don’t see the point in that. But then who am I? I don’t have a lot of money myself, so I suppose nothing I say really matters, does it? Believe it or not, I was faced with similar choices to Marilyn’s. In some ways, my childhood was similar, and I too–yes, me, the mad bag lady!–was thought of as rather, shall we say, sexy… I could have slept my way to the top…

But I chose a different route. And look where I am today! Woohoo!

I haven’t committed suicide because I chose to be myself and not be commodified, but I, obviously, paid a financial price.

However, it could have been different if I’d had a large following. What I mean is, if millions of Americans had also chosen freedom –and we can do it now, all of us, we can choose freedom today!–if Americans were to choose freedom then the few of us who value freedom wouldn’t be the outcasts, the dregs of society. We’d be the heroes.

But today’s American heroes are sellouts. They live like Marilyn lived. It’s fun for a while until the years go by and you start to find you can’t be a commodity any longer. If you’re an intelligent person, eventually, you’ll start to realize that there are aspects of yourself you’ve had to suppress in order to appease those you’ve allowed to have power over you.

And increasingly, it’s getting dangerous to hold onto our humanity, to be ourselves. We’re all under surveillance. We go to work and our bosses are watching us via cameras all over the building. They watch us as we drive into the parking lot and park our cars. They see us applying that extra dab of lip gloss and straightening out the wrinkles in our clothes before we exit our car. They’re watching while we think we’re alone in the elevator and pulling the crease out of the back of our skirt when we forget someone else is there (behind the surveillance camera.) Even some public restrooms have surveillance cameras in them. But we ignore all that, telling ourselves no one is really watching us, and we adjust our bra strap, maybe remove our blouse to fix our bra, and all the while a man is watching us behind that camera in the restroom where we thought we were alone.

We have no privacy. No time to be ourselves, even when we’re alone. No time to lock ourselves in the bathroom to have a good cry–because they’re watching us there too. But that’s not enough for them.

Now they want the right to stop us and confiscate our belongings–but only if they think we’re homeless.

Well, guess what, Americans? We are homeless! All of us. They’ve taken our country away from us. We grew up living in the Land of the Free and the Brave, the land that claimed, “Give me your tired and your poor…” but our land was taken away from us.

So where do we go now?

 

 

The rich have the means to get mean and meaner… “the Rich are Getting Mean” revisited

I’d written in the past about a poor, struggling man I’d met in a city building. Both of us were there to resolve tickets we’d received by law enforcement, essentially, for being poor. What I mean is, it’s a crime in the US to be poor. Poor people seem to acquire all sorts of legal problems. In Southern California, for example, jaywalking is a serious crime. Mostly only poor people walk over there, of course. And if you can’t afford to pay the jaywalking ticket…well, you can end up in the slammer. Yep, people go to jail for crossing the street in California. I kid you not! A person’s entire life can be ruined by a single act of crossing a street when the walk signal (light flashes an image of a little androgynous human) stops flashing.

http://www.thestreetspirit.org/Dec2006/criminal.htm

But I told myself this blog would be extremely short. So here goes: My little experiment in writing more frequently but shortening the size of each entry…

This poor unfortunate man I’d met had serious health problems and was collecting disability. He was suffering quite a bit and struggling to pay his medical bills. “The rich are getting mean,” he lamented as we’d gotten into a discussion about the social injustice of our needing to constantly defend ourselves legally. (It’s as though we have to defend our very existence. Do the rich want us dead? Why do they hate us so much?) There’s always some ticket to pay, some ordinance or law to be violated, when you’re poor.  My car was ticketed and I had to go to court to defend myself for driving such an old, beat up used car. So I dropped my car off to a junkyard and proceeded to watch my life fall apart, as it was nearly impossible to find a decent job without a car. When I went to court, I had to show proof that I’d given up my car. I wanted to say, “I’m sorry I’d been driving such a stinky car and that it was polluting your fine California air. But I’d drive a much nicer and less stinky car if I could afford it. Really, I would.” But instead, I showed them the proof that I was carless and then began risking getting mugged by taking Southern California’s wonderful and exciting (nearly was assaulted several times!) “public” transportation system. Once I no longer had a car, I found that opportunities diminished for me in so many ways. People looked down on me because they saw me–horror of horrors!–walking in LA.  Basically, a lot of people didn’t want to be my friend. I couldn’t socialize with them anymore as I had no way of getting to the places where they went. (Unless, of course, a friend offered to give me a ride, but that would mean giving, helping, assisting another human being. But, of course, that would involve socialism and most of my friends were against socialism, so they wouldn’t dare help me in any way. I’m very grateful for that, though, because it gave me a chance to see what kind of people they really were. You don’t always get that chance when you have a lot of money and your life is going well.) And, as I said, job opportunities were very limited for me once I had no transportation. Most available jobs these days are not on the bus line and as public transportation increasing gets cut, that problem is increasing. (Hmm… so I wonder how it benefits society to force poor people to give up their cars when their cars don’t meet the strict environmental inspection standards set up by wealthy bureaucrats? But then I’m always wondering how it benefits society to allow the government and big banks to take away people’s homes just because people can’t afford to pay their bills. Yes, people should pay their bills but…do we really want to take away people’s homes and create a new population of homeless people?)

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/fr/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_about_an_injustice.html

(Okay, I’ve tried to embed the above video of Bryan Stevenson’s talk, but, for some strange reason, it won’t embed on this site. Every time I type in the code, it disappears once I save this blog. Yep, I type it in, hit “save” then open up the blog and everything I typed is gone.  This happened with my previous blog entry also. As you can see, though, the other videos embedded just fine.  Not sure what’s going on here.  A virus on my computer perhaps? A glitch on WordPress? Perhaps it’s the NSA virus? Anyhow, it’s odd. But I’ve got the URL typed up there, so if you’d like to view this wonderful video about poverty and crime, please click on that link.)

But this doesn’t affect the rich or even much of the middle class, so why do I even bring this up?  Yes, the rich are getting  mean, but so, oddly enough, are the middle class. They may not be the so-called “one percent” but they sure do think they’re better when they live in their gated communities far, far away from the riff raff, i.e., the poor.

And yet, perhaps ironically, the word “mean” as a noun refers to money, property or wealth. Yes, the rich have the means to be mean.

( Above video is from youtube.com/user/KafkaWinstonWorld )

So here it is–my first blog of the year!  And an attempt to make it a short blog entry.  Okay, I didn’t do as well on that as I’d hoped, but I’m getting there…  😉

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/149094/february-11-2008/philip-zimbardo

 

Petition to tax the rich…

A grassroots organization called MoveOn(dot)org asked people to write their own petitions they’d like to see sent to politicians.  Here is my own:

Petition:
We need to put a cap on extreme wealth in this country.  Extreme wealth leads to extreme poverty.  An analysis of the richest people in the world reveals that most come from wealthy families to begin with (they did not go from “rags to riches”) and most hail from countries that have a large division between the rich and the poor.  In fact, the richest man in the world (according to Forbes Magazine) hails from Mexico, a country that claims over a 50% poverty rate.  So we need to curtail the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. now!  With 1/8th of Americans collecting food stamps, we cannot afford to allow the poor to continue to grow poorer while the rich grow richer.  This rapid increase in poverty is causing too many problems in our society.

We keep hearing that there isn’t enough money to provide social security for the elderly (who already struggle financially with the few benefits they currently receive), health care for the uninsured, financial aid for needy students, unemployment benefits for the unemployed, etc., and we’re seeing libraries, schools, police and fire departments, etc., shutting down!  What’s worse is that we have hunger and homelessness and people who are dying prematurely because they can’t afford the health care they need.  We believe it is irresponsible of our current government to not provide health care for everyone as this can lead to the spread of disease.  This is not the Middle Ages.  We do not want a plague to result from millions of uninsured Americans unable to receive medical care.  This is unacceptable.

Despite the fact that the rich are getting richer–or perhaps because of that fact–we are unable to take care of our own people yet we are constantly called upon to help other people–the victims in Japan or in Haiti, for example, while we did not help our own people who suffered from Hurricane Katrina.  This is an outrage that we the American people refuse to allow to continue.

Therefore, we demand that the rich begin paying taxes at much higher levels, as they once were taxed back in the 1950s, a time when our country was much more prosperous and when even the poor and newly-arrived immigrants held some hope of achieving success someday.

We insist that the U.S.A. return to the wealthy, prosperous, democratic, land of opportunity that it once was.

We need to stop the attacks on the poor and the middle class, coinciding with the attacks on our freedom and democracy.  The way to do this is to limit extreme wealth.  Money is power, so when we allow a minority of people to accumulate extreme wealth, we allow them to buy our politicians, our media, our schools, the companies we work for, the land we live on, and, essentially, our entire lives.  In fact, the wealthy elite have taken over our entire country.

Therefore, given that:
most wealth in the U.S. is inherited wealth–not wealth that was earned through the hard work and diligence of one person–but wealth that was built upon the foundation of one’s parents’ wealth and prosperity, and

that back in 1950, when our middle class was more prosperous, those who earned over $200,000 per year paid 91% of their earnings in taxes, and

that Reaganomics (“trickle-down economics”) has led the U.S. to now have the greatest division between the rich and the poor of any other wealthy, industrialized nation in the world, and

that this has resulted in our loss of civil liberties and democracy and all of the early warning signs of fascism fulfilled, and

that this has led us to become the nation that now imprisons more of its own people than any other nation in the world (and most of those imprisoned are the poor), and

that the U.S. government has determined that $7.25 per hour (and 40 hours of work per week, adding up to $290 per week and a whopping $15,080 per year!) is all a single person needs to be living above the poverty line in the U.S.,

we need to tax the rich at the equivalent of 1950s tax rates.

Income levels were different back in 1950 when those who earned over $200,000 paid 91% in taxes.  $200,000 is a very different figure today in 2011, so we propose the following which we believe to be fair (keeping in mind that, again, according to the U.S. government’s own standards, a person earning over $16,000 per year is living  above the poverty line and, therefore, not poor).

And so, we, the non-wealthy majority of Americans, propose:

that those who earn $1 million or more be taxed at the rate of only 60% (leaving them an income of $400,000 per year.  This is much, much more than what the average American earns in a year and about 25 times over the poverty line.  This is also a lower tax rate than they paid back in 1950);

that those who earn $2 million per year begin paying 70% of their taxes (leaving them with $600,000);

those who earn $5 million begin paying 80% in taxes (leaving them an earnings of $1 million per year);

those who earn $15 million begin paying 85% (leaving them with $2.25 million per year);

those who earn $50 million or more begin paying 90% (leaving them with $5 million per year);

those who earn $100 million begin paying 91% (leaving them with $8.1 million);

those who earn $1 billion begin paying 95% (leaving them with with $50 million per year in earnings.)

Since it is the wealthy elite themselves who frequently insist that the U.S. is the land of opportunity where anyone can strike it rich and move up the ladder, we understand that the rich will find a way to continue moving up that ladder despite these higher taxes.  In fact, raising taxes on the rich will provide the rich with the incentive to work harder to work up that ladder!  We don’t want them to become lazy; we want them to understand the value of hard work.

The wealthy elite have made it clear over and over again that they are capable of picking themselves up by their bootstraps and can overcome any obstacle to obtain wealth.  This is their chance to prove that point.

The wealthy elite believe that those of us who are homeless or living in poverty are capable of working our way out of poverty and picking ourselves up by our bootstraps, but we need the wealthy elite to show us how it is done.  Here is their opportunity to work their way out of mere wealth and back up to the extreme, mega-wealth they achieved as a result of Reagan&Bushanomics.

This is a challenge to the wealthy in the U.S.!  We know you can do it!  You can pay 95% of your income in taxes and still pick yourselves up by those bootstraps and accumulate even more wealth.  We have faith in you.  We know you can still earn millions–even billions–of unneeded dollars each year in spite of our raising taxes on you.  We know you’re up for the challenge.

We also know how much you want to give back to society and to pull us out of this recession.  This tax increase is very modest compared to the levels of 1950.  It enables the very rich to remain very rich but limits the amount of wealth they can keep out of circulation.  When the wealthy hoard the wealth, they keep money in bank accounts or investments.  The money doesn’t circulate, doesn’t give back to our communities.  However, when the poor and middle class earn money, they tend to spend it on necessities, so their money circulates and feeds our economy.

I requested this petition be sent to Obama, Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders in Congress (don’t know if it was.)

Water Story:..:Sweating the small stuff is just a waste of water

Went to buy a sandwich today and thought I’d do something a little radical.

“May I have a glass of water while I’m waiting?” I asked.  Yep, I asked for a FREE glass of water.  I wasn’t paying for it, not requesting the bottled variety, and I don’t drink soda pop.  I just wanted real water–from the tap.  And I did NOT want to pay for it.

I felt a twinge of apprehension.  Would the cashier cringe, throw me a “look,” glare at me from the bottom up to view my attire and thus determine my socioeconomic status, inform me I must pay 15 cents for the cup, or just attempt to sell me something more expensive?

I waited.

To my surprise, the cashier simply rung up my order for a free cup of water then gave me an empty cup.  No questions were asked.  No intimidating stare.  I felt redeemed. Relieved. Grateful. Thirsty.  I grabbed the cup, filled it up with water, and took a sip of that precious resource that someday will only be available to a wealthy few.  (Lots of political ramifications here.  How hard will any of us be able to fight for our rights, to express our opinions, to participate in the management of this country, to care about anything or anyone greater than ourselves, when we no longer have access to that basic resource–water?  When we are painfully thirsty and all of our time and energy is spent up each day by our efforts to just quench our thirst?)

Being the introspective person I am, I questioned my apprehension.  Why did I hesitate to ask for the glass of water?  Why the (albeit tiny) spark of worry associated with a request for a mere glass of water?  The cashier would either say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  So what is my problem?

And I am reminded of previously requested waters.  The waters of times past.  Taco Bell cashiers who told me I would have to pay for the water, even after I’d purchased food.  And efforts of other cashiers to encourage me to pay for water.  “We have bottled water.  Would you like that instead?” The embarrassment of being watched suspiciously by an employee as I filled the see-through cup (made see-through so that staff would notice if you poured soda pop you didn’t pay for into the cup instead of the water you’d claimed you wanted).

Oh yes, and most interesting water gathering experience of all (and this is fodder for a future blog):  the time when I asked for a glass of water and was refused it because the cashier was worried I might give it to a homeless man.  “Are you going to give that glass of water to that homeless man?” she asked critically. Seemed she didn’t want that poor man to have a glass of water–even if I, a customer who had purchased food from her store, wanted to give my own glass of water to him.  (Again, that story will be expanded upon in a future blog…)

Why so much fuss over water?

Is giving a cup of water to a paying customer such a big loss?  What if I weren’t a customer?  What if I swaggered into that fast-food joint and asked for a glass of water just because…just because I was human and thirsty…just because we humans can live longer without food than we can without water…just because I’m one of your brothers or sisters on this planet and I’m just in need of a little refreshment…

Okay, so does giving a free glass of water cost companies a tremendous amount of money?  I mean, seriously, if someone “stole” that little plastic cup and filled it up with soda pop they didn’t pay for would Taco Bell go out of business?  Doesn’t it cost more money to hire an employee to stand by the soda pop machine and watch customers to make sure they are pouring water and not soda pop into their little plastic cups?  Don’t the surveillance cameras hung all over the ceilings of these restaurants cost a pretty penny?  How much is all this security, this fear of being “taken advantage of,” of “being ripped off,” costing us?  Financially?  Socially?  Spiritually?

I’ve seen restaurants charge a fee, yes A FEE, to allow use of their restrooms.  Any of us who lives or works in a major city knows how hard it is to find a public bathroom in a major urban area these days.  Yet we all need to use the bathroom several times a day.  All of us–rich and poor.  And most of us don’t stay home all day.  Most of us go out and while we are out we are going to need, sooner or later, the use of such facilities.  Yet we are creating a society that requires we pay for that, to pay a fee to do what we must do as humans, to fulfill our human needs.  My question is this:

Why?

Are stores and restaurants really losing money by allowing people to use their bathrooms and drink their tap water for free?  At this time, we are seeing the greatest division between the rich and the poor than has ever been seen in the U.S. in recent history.  And the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.  Yet we are also seeing basic resources and services diminishing as the rich cry poverty, claiming they just can’t afford to give.  They can’t afford to pay taxes (thus giving back to their community), they can’t afford to pay their employees decent living wages, they can’t afford to provide benefits to their employees, and they can’t even afford to give a glass of water or a free trip to a restroom to people who live and work in their communities.  (Then they claim that if we raise their taxes, they’ll stop hiring employees but they’re doing that anyway–outsourcing labor to third-world countries and downsizing by requiring more work from fewer employees and at smaller wages.  So whom do they think they’re kidding?  I’m not so hungry and thirsty right now (not yet) that I’ve lost my ability to think and reason.)

Greed really has broken through the glass ceiling and hit an all-time high.  I never thought I’d see the day when it would become practically illegal to be human, when we’d have to feel shame and embarrassment for asking another human being for anything, even a mere cup of water.  Yes, I am referring to the need for a glass of water and to go to the bathroom–often at inopportune moments–as “human” needs.

It seems that to ask anyone for anything these days is just an inappropriate thing to do.  Heaven forbid you are walking down a busy street and suddenly find that you must need to…uh…well, pee. The condition gets worse as you mosey on down the street and yet you discover that no one–no one!–will allow you to legally pee in their premises unless you have some money to spend.

It’s getting awfully expensive to be a human being these days.  And I just wonder how does this serve us?  I mean, is this really the way we want to conduct business?  Why are we “sweating the small stuff”?  Why are we counting the water cups and monitoring how many free glasses of water were given away in a day when there are more serious matters at hand–like whether or not you are loved and respected by members of your community, or whether or not you are contributing to that community in such a way that makes it a better (not worse) place to be…

Okay, I’m going off on a tangent here.  But you know, we as a people create the society we live in.  Do we really want to get stressed out over little things like water?  Give the guy the water already.  Let the lady use the “non-public” restroom.  Show a  little humanity, America.  You used to back in the 1930s during the Great Depression.

I have faith in you.  I know you can bring back empathy and compassion–even in the United States.  Come on America, let’s start thinking as humans (not robots) again.  And let’s start thinking about giving instead of worrying about what we can get out of every interaction.

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