The pain of the sequester is that kind that lurks: a slow, creeping disaster mainly affecting those Americans on the fringes who are barely inching their way back into a still-bleak job market — or hopelessly locked out of it — and poor Americans too old or too young to participate in it.The words are by Charles M. Blow, from a New York TImes op ed titled Cry About the Real Wolf.
That is how the effects should always have been framed: not as a danger to air travelers and contractors, but as a prowling danger to the most vulnerable in our flock.
Not framing it this way harkens back to a larger problem in our culture: a failure, or outright unwillingness, to acknowledge America’s poor — both working and not — and to appreciate their struggle.
In it Blow uses the fable of the little boy who cried wolf to call the Obama administration to task for how it handled the politics of the sequester.
He then pivots to write about his hometown in Louisiana, with a median family income of under $30,000, "staggeringly high" poverty rates, dependency upon social welfare programs, few professional jobs except at the school that is the regional center for Head Start. It is not that people don't work hard, but most of the jobs do not pay a livable wage.
Blow then write:
It is in places like this, places full of the working poor who don’t take airplanes or own stock, that the effects of the sequester will be all too real.You SHOULD read Blow's column. I wanted to focus on the aspect I address in my title:
What about the most vulnerable?
Let me once again quote the famous words by that liberal lion, Hubert Horatio Humphrey:
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.We have Republicans who either refuse to accept the expansion of Medicaid in their states or if they do want it run through private insurance companies at a greater cost and of less benefit to those it serves. We have Congressional Republicans who still insist upon cutting Medicare despite the fact that the savings in Medicare since such cuts were proposed by Simpson and Bowles already exceed those proposed cuts by $100 billion. We are again seeing a concerted attack on Head Start, now again including the words of supposedly liberal journalists. We have ongoing attacks on defined benefit pensions now available mainly to public employees and not the private sector. This administration is apparently willing to offer chained CPI, which would devastate the benefits of seniors, especially those with few resources beyond Social Security and Medicare.
Most of all, we constantly hear about the Middle Class, but almost nothing about the poor.
You can be young or elderly or sick and not be in the shadows of life.
My wife and I are dealing with major illness. But we have insurance, we have resources, and at worst I may have to come out of retirement to take a job I might not enjoy or we might have to downsize our lifestyle.
The children of the rich and of most of the middle class do not have to worry eating on a snow day when there is no free lunch and even breakfast at school.
Except as employers most of us do not worry about the difference even a single dollar an hour in one's wages make to basic survival.
If we look at the two periods of greatest expansion of government services, the New Deal and the Great Society, in both cases a major part of the motivation for programs was recognition of large numbers of Americans who were suffering from poverty.
Perhaps it is worthwhile to go back to 1937, to words spoking by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his second inaugural, at a time when the population of this nation was only about 40% of what it is today:
I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources. Its hundred and thirty million people are at peace among themselves; they are making their country a good neighbor among the nations. I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.Today that figure is not YET 1/3. But the percentage is going up. Wealth and income are being transferred to those who already have more than enough - and here the Tweet of the Day offered in last night's Open Thread for Night Owls is bitingly relevant: Apparently billionaires feel that they could be trillionaires if not for Obama.
But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.
I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.
I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.
I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.
I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.
I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.
As an educator and educational advocate I find myself having to constantly remind people that international comparisons on test scores, when adjusted for degree of poverty, show America's school performing as well or better than those of any other nation - our schools with 10% or less children in poverty outperform the schools in Finland with only about 4% children in poverty, even though Finland does a far better job of caring for its poor than we do for ours.
For some reason, too many of our political voices remain silent on poverty in America. Voices that advocate for the poor are attacked and destroyed - ACORN anyone? Some do not want to let the poor participate politically because that will undermine their control of the system. We are again seeing a mindset that would impose the equivalent of poll taxes to prevent the poor from voting - elderly, minority poor in particular. How far we have come from the nation that in 1964 (during the Great Society days) ratified the 24th Amendment that banned poll taxes in elections for Federal office - and thus effectively banned them from all elections unless a state or locality wanted bear the cost of running two separate registration and voting system (and two years later the Supreme Court in Harper v Virginia Board of Elections extended the ban to state elections by applying the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment). For those who do not remember, in those days five states still maintained poll tax provisions: Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
We seem increasingly as a society willing to accept a notion that somehow undermines the very structure of commonwealth, of a liberal democracy - how much money you have determines not merely your economic and social status, but allows you greater say in shaping the functions of government to your own benefit. If you are poor, somehow it is your fault, even if you are merely a newborn or small child whose parents were denied a decent education and whose community provides almost no public services because those who own what there is of the tax base have found ways not to give back to the society that enables them to be better off.
We are systematically dismantling the mechanisms and institutions that can make a difference for those who find themselves poor. We are cutting financial aid for post-secondary education. We are shuttering public libraries as local communities find themselves under severe financial stress. We are dismantling unions that allow people to come together and be able to bargain with employers on an equitable basis. Private firms are dismantling defined benefit pensions. Pension funds are not protected when corporations are taken over by financial sharks and driven into bankruptcy. There is still serious resistance to raising the minimum wage. Employers like Walmart keep employee hours low enough to not have to provide healthcare insurance, and even state governments have explored that option
We take necessary services and distort them by the profit motive - this includes criminal justice, this includes providing services to military deployed even in combat zones, this includes access to social safety net programs by running them through banks that take a cut of funds that therefore do not go to helping the needy.
The sequester was too clever by half.
The insistence upon negotiating a grand bargain when one side of the negotiations has more concern for the wealthy than for the needy is to abandon the needy.
When key players in the Democratic party are more concerned with protecting the financial services industry and its obscene profits than with appropriately taxing the transactions that are distorting our financial system and holding to account those who have ripped off the economy and even the taxpayer's funds used to bail them out, what hope is there for those who need the government to do more than merely survive?
The wealthy claim that the poor would only vote for benefits for themselves paid for by the taxes of others. Well, Mr. Romney of the 47% remark and those like you, your Carried Interest provisions, your 15% capital gains tax rate, and so many of your other benefits are paid for by the rest of us, middle class and poor.
We need to rethink our entire economic system and tax system.
Do they serve "we the people" or only the wealthy and powerful?
At least one in 6 Americans is poor by any definition that makes sense. Including things like food insecurity, it is probably around 20%.
Yet we hear NOTHING in our national political discourse about this.
What about the vulnerable?
Perhaps I thought too much about the words of Humphrey, and needed to be more specific?
WHAT ABOUT THE POOR?
or have we as a nation and a society already lost our souls?