Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The P Word

Deep within the bowels of the Democratic party platform are a few  gratuitous paragraphs about the need to eradicate poverty in America. The document also pays lip service to gun control and climate change, two other verboten topics in this year's presidential contest between the two apparatchiks of the One Percent.

But this political manifesto, like others before it, is more of a Christmas wish list than a literal agenda. Like the Bible, party platforms are cobbled together and hammered out over time by several different factions with diverse agendas. Also like the Bible, they shouldn't be taken literally. They're aspirational things, peppered with a lot of fiction. What is not in them is often more telling than what is.

But thanks in part to the Democrats' odd choice of Charlotte as its party city, that dreaded P word is in evidence right out in the open. That is because there is a dearth of hotels and motels to house all the conventioneers. So when the rich people came to town looking for lodging, the poor people previously housed in the city's temporary digs have been unceremoniously kicked out of them. Charlotte's homeless population skyrocketed an unbelievable 40% in 2010 and another 20% last year -- an increase caused in large part by impoverished rural families fleeing to the city to take advantage of its shelter system.

News reporters converging on the city can't help but notice all the poor people living on the streets. They are literally tripping over them on their way to the heavily policed elite events.

The New York Daily News tells the story of Lakia Ramsey, who was forced to take refuge in a church when her welfare motel jacked up its rates without warning. "They kicked us out like we were trash," the 28-year-old mother of two small children told the News. Another family had been renting a room and paying for it from the husband's low-paying restaurant job in Charlotte. They are now sleeping on a cement loading dock in order to make room for the out-of-towners.

Poverty is so rampant in what is known as Wall Street South that the Charlotte News Observer even has a specialized indigence beat. Fred Clasen-Kelly, the reporter who writes about poor people, was himself interviewed by Democracy Now! this week. He said that Charlotte is big on boosterism, trying to tout itself as a booming city in the New South. The propaganda campaign has been so effective that struggling people have flocked to this ephemeral Mecca hoping to find a better life. And the same big banks that caused so much misery and hardship in the first place now literally loom over hordes of people sleeping on the streets and waiting in bread lines.
The ironic part (he says) of being here at the convention is all these thousands of people going to very fancy parties with lots of suits on are really less than a mile away from the city’s largest homeless shelters, in places like Crisis Assistance Ministries, where people go for financial assistance to get—to stop eviction and to keep their power on. And so, it provides quite a contrast if you walk just a short distance from the convention site and the corporate towers that are downtown. Every morning, in these places like Crisis Assistance Ministries or the homeless shelter, you’ll see hundreds of people lined up outside waiting for food, waiting for money to be able to stay in their homes.

According to an Observer story co-written by Clasen-Kelly, members of the Occupy movement have been trying to recruit the city's poor people to join in their protests, without much success. The poor often have no faith in politics and may suffer from physical ailments preventing them from marching. Others have to work at more than one minimum wage job just to keep body and soul together, and haven't the spare time to demonstrate. The article didn't mention that the massive police presence in Charlotte also tends to put a damper on resistance by people for whom police brutality is an ongoing reality of daily life. After the Occupiers and conventioneers leave, they'll be stuck there. 

But they're still for President Obama, who despite their disappointment in him, is more palatable than Mitt Romney. For the marginalized minorities, Obama is the thin patina of aspiration covering their layers upon layers of despair.


Patricia said...

I have often wondered what happened to all the people who were foreclosed on. Now I know. I just found out this morning that Joe Biden is the chairperson of the Middle Class Task Force.
Who's heard of that? Just a guess but, I haven't heard of a National Homeless Task Force either. There is a Task Force for Homeless veterans, but I still see homeless vets out on the street. It's a disgrace. And you are right, no one mentions the poverty problem in this country, unless you go back to immigrant grandparents and "the only benefit they got was freedom". Since MLK and RFK were assassinated, no one has taken on this issue. Sadly I don't think anyone will. Out of sight out of mind. Great Post!

Anonymous said...

This is truly heartbreaking. Living in motels and hotels is not the only alternative for those down on their luck. One can live in a used minivan. In may ways it is better than living in a motel. It is often cleaner, and allows one mobility for temp work and relocation to greener pastures.

It can also serve as a mobile command center, for the upcoming revolution.

Anonymous said...

Look, the Dems are trying to get votes--to stay in office. If you’d really rather have Romney, well, take your marbles (literally and figuratively) and vote for him.

I’m poor (truly), but I don’t live on the street or in a minivan. I DO share housing, and make compromises. I will vote for Barack Obama--and not as a “lesser of two evils”, but as the best choice under the circumstances--same as I do with being poor in my dotage.

Pearl said...

It is bad enough that the inexcusable poverty numbers keep increasing in the U.S. and barely ever mentioned anymore. Since their votes don't count (?) it is the middle class we are trying to save but even there, nothing is being done to alleviate the basic inequities leading us all to ruin.

I watched Michelle's address, an embarrassing one upmanship to Ann Romney's speech, squirming with her unabashed praise of her husband's political abilities to lead us to enlightenment. This couple, seemed to have learned nothing from the struggles and hard work of their parents and grandparents and live an elitist life in the midst of the increasing suffering of the people they are supposed to represent. And the emphasis on the military with praise to a woman whose 5 children are deployed in keeping us all safe (!?).

Worst of all, were the expressions on the faces of the delegates, mesmerized by the evangelist messages coming from the stage. There were many minorities in the audience who seemed to have developed amnesia about the past 4 years of disappointing realities and were once more putting their lives in the hands of the leaders who have sold them out. The excited positive responses from the pundits who supposedly knew better finished the montage of a lost America. The only touch of reality was the video about Ted Kennedy and the issues he stood for - a dead man who was the only live speaker of the evening. Was Carter ever invited to speak or did he back off when asked to submit his speech to the Convention representatives for approval I seem to recall.

There was no mention in the press of any protests to this Convention or the previous one and I still don't know anything about what may have happened there. Hopefully, the progressive press may have some photos along these lines.

A draining, horrific representation of what we may be facing in the next four years. I am voting for you Jill Stein.

Karen Garcia said...

Reminder to Commenters:
I don't mind people posting anonymously,but would prefer initials or a pseudonym if you'd rather not divulge your identity. It gets confusing when more than one person is an Anonymous. (to post with a name, just go to "name/url" under options and fill out anything you want. Thx)

Denis Neville said...

Bill Clinton will nominate Obama tonight.

It should be remembered that, as President, Clinton signed the 1996 welfare reform law. Today it is a failure. Families are suffering unnecessarily because Clinton vowed to “end welfare as we know it.” The primary impact of the welfare reform law has been to deny cash assistance to the nation’s poorest families. As unemployment and the number of people receiving food stamps skyrocketed, the poor did not receive welfare because of the restrictive limits imposed by the 1996 law.

“Basically, right now, welfare is gone. We have six million people in this country whose only income is food stamps. That’s an income at a third of the poverty line. Nineteen states serve less than 10 percent of their poor children. It’s a terrible hole in the safety net. Welfare has basically disappeared in large parts of this country. The current welfare law ends a very fundamental entitlement of assistance to children in need. The way the law used to work—and this has completely ended—is that if a family with children satisfied the eligibility requirements—and those were national, federal requirements—they could get aid. What’s happened now is it’s entirely up to the state, each state, to decide whether it will help people at all, whether it will give them cash or help them with a voucher, whether it will have its system run by a public agency or by a corporation or some private agency.” - Peter Edelman, author of “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done”

Rampant, extreme poverty is one of Clinton’s darker legacies, a fact that is conveniently ignored because the victims are primarily low-income women and their children, who are all by themselves in a low-wage economy.

Valerie said...

Interesting observation about President Carter not speaking at the Democratic convention, Pearl. I imagine someone of his integrity and unwillingness to sell out the middle class and poor is an embarrassing reminder of what the Democratic party has turned into.

I can't stomach these conventions. Good for the rest of you for watching them critically.

As for the first anonymous saying that (s)he isn't voting for Obama as the Lesser of Two Evils but as the "best choice under the circumstances." All I can say is - semantics.

For all who vote for Obama, don't complain to me when he sells you out even more than he already has. His loyalty is to his newfound social class. Like the Clintons, the Obamas are thrilled to be accepted into the hallowed halls of the ultra-rich and they certainly won't turn on their new friends in order to do right by a bunch of the party faithful who are happy with crumbs.

I have said it more than once, I will follow politics until this election and then I am done. It is too hard to watch the abused wife to stay with her verbally abusive and unfaithful husband just because he is better than a husband who threatens to beat her. All I can say to a woman like that is join with other vulnerable people such as yourself and work together for a better future. Have a little self-respect, get a backbone and leave the bastard. As long as you stay with him, he won’t change – in fact, he will get worse.

Pearl said...

I read that Jimmy Carter did address the Democratic Convention by video and
called for support for Obama. He evidently praised his record and supported his future agenda.
For shame, Jimmy. Does no one have the courage to tell us that the emperor's clothes fell off long ago? (Besides Mitt Romney, that is).

Karen Garcia said...

I watched, and it was a fairly lukewarm endorsement. That is probably why they ran it in non-prime time. I was kind of hoping the alternate version could have snuck in... you know, where Carter reads his scathing Times op-ed condemning Obama's drone strikes.
On a lighter note, the vast majority of conventioneers seemed to shout out their opposition to putting God back in the platform and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but they were ignored and the changes passed, the minority ruled. Just like in Congress! So I guess democracy has been taken out of the Democratic Party. What a joke. I can only stand watching this show a little at a time.

Valerie said...

I am disappointed that Jimmy Carter didn't elect NOT to speak if he couldn't speak the truth. I read that in his speech, he was to praise Obama's foreign relations record. That is certainly a joke considering how Obama has gone along with the status quo of keeping the Military Industrial Complex alive while other people's children die and are maimed and psychologically damaged so the profiteers can keep on making money.

If anyone finds the speech on the internet, would you be so kind as to post the link here? I haven't had luck so far in finding it. Thanks

James F Traynor said...

It is all very discouraging. I just got finished reading the comments to Matt Bai's NYT article comparing Warren and Clinton. The deluded in denial, pathetic. I really have begun to think there is no real hope for this country. Maybe it's time to abandon ship.

Stev-o said...

I discovered this site some time ago, and then whatever and am not sure where it came back into my life, but I am addicted. I check at least three times a day to see if there is an update. I enjoy the comments almost more than the blog itself. I have felt all along that none of the "political elite" are addressing any of the issues that are converging like a tsunami on the UnitedStatesofuckingAmeriKa and will ultimately be responsible for its demise. NO ONE.

Denis Neville said...

The Commode of Shame

Matt Stoller’s list of “Broken Democratic Platform Promises from 2008”

“These aren’t just broken promises, these are all broken promises that have to do with the economic and political rights of the relatively powerless. Privacy, union rights, debtor’s rights, activist rights, etc. – they were promised tangible stuff, and didn’t get it. It looks like the Obama campaign will get a bounce from the convention, because the convention is well-organized and a good show. Just recognize that this show in 2008 had nothing to do with the ultimate policy that was enacted, and it’s likely that the 2012 convention will see a similar outcome.”

Richard Kline comments, “Barack Obama, the ultimate sellout shill if ever there was. Bill Clinton is hard to top in that department, but with another term to go Barack Obama has already beaten Willie to the Commode of Shame.”

Anonymous1 (van man) said...

Rolling Stone has a great piece for understanding what ails America, "Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital"

"And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a "turnaround specialist," a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth."

Problem is, the Democrats are also part of this failed economic model of debt and more debt, pandering to corporations, while shipping American jobs overseas. Financialization has replaced manufacturing!

"One of the most important impetuses to the rise of financialization was the end of the post-World War Two Bretton Woods system of fixed international exchange rates and the dollar peg to gold in August 1971."

Bretton Woods, Glass-Steagall, and manufacturing built the middle class in America. Today all three are gone, and so is the middle class.

@ Anonymous poor in my dotage

Vote for change, not the corporatist law firm of Obama Romney, et al. Even in your dotage you can sharpen pitchforks for the upcoming revolution.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Here's the QUOTATION OF THE DAY that greets readers of the electronic NY Times this morning:

"President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, could have repaired all of the damage he found in just four years."
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON, speaking at the Democratic National Convention.

Pretend you can't see the millions who have been crushed by the first four years of Obama's Administration.

What has Obama repaired, or even begun to repair? He actively worked -- and succeeded magnificently -- at making things much worse. Must we again recite the list of failures, omissions and outright betrayals?

The Republicans, Obama's allies in tearing up the legacies of FDR and LBJ, have a point when they ask whether we're better off today than we were four years ago.

Happy to hear you're doing so much better than the rest of us, Willy.

Pearl said...

Patricia: Your interesting reaction to Bill Clinton's speech was similar to mine. I was lying down watching Clinton's speech, trying to make sense of what he was saying, trying to figure out what was the truth and what were lies or omissions when I began to feel strange, like I was falling through space, with some strong gravity pull moving me off base.

When the speech was over, the voices of CNN pundits came on without their
images as the camera was still focused on the convention stage. First I believe was Wolf, hysterical with joy and screaming about this being the best speech Bill had ever delivered. Then a voice whom I believe may have been Gergen's said that he thought it was a terrific speech because Clinton had been able to stop Obama's wanderings towards the left and bring him back
to the center which was what was needed!
That immediately explained the visceral reaction I had before I was even able to figure out mentally what was happening.

It also reminded me of Clinton's presidency where he was always playing
games with the truth and moving away from realities which nullified his
better instincts in making decisions. One could also question some of the
real reasons for his intense praise of Obama besides making sure he stays in office. Are all these men running for office fighting to preserve democracy or desperately holding on to safeguard their own acquisitions and power status?

The real worry is how many otherwise sane and balanced and informed people
swallowed the snake oil. I am looking forward to reading some of the
progressive reports of people you mentioned in your terrific column, Karen.
We need to regain and keep our balance for whatever comes our way these next years.

And don't we all feel better now that God and Jerusalem have been returned to the Democratic party platform although the shouts pro and con I saw and heard seemed to be equal when the decision was made?!