Archive for June, 2011

When Weather Kills

Excuse my logic but is it a crime to be poor?  For many of my fellow Americans they must think it is.  This blog is about neglect of people by our own political and government systems.  This neglect touches people here from many different nations and of many different, colors, and creeds.  The one thing they all have in common is they are low or lower middle income. 

I’ve been meaning to write this particular blog for many months now but always had it on the back burner. Then today, someone I was speaking to asked me a rather obvious question, one I’ve asked myself countless times.

Why do we let people remain living in substandard or even dangerous living conditions which could actually cause their death in a country as prosperous as ours?

To sidetrack for a moment. Did I say we are a prosperous country?  Damned right. I recently read somewhere that our GDP or GNP is seven times that of China, the country that everyone runs around saying will one day own us.  If these figures are correct it looks like that time is a long way off.

So with all the money we have for bank bailouts and corporate CEO buyouts and new multi billion dollar sports stadiums that are dripping with opulence, we allow many of our country folk to live on the precipice of serious injury or downright death.

Cases in point:

Hurricane Katrina – A year before that tragedy, people were already talking about a possible breach of the levies.  Nineteen hundred lives lost.  Most or all of those people could have lived if appropriate precautions had been taken.

This year’s tornadoes across the Midwest and Southeast – Hundreds or maybe even thousands have perished. Why in the world in this great nation of vast economic resources, do we allow people who live in these regions to live in mobile homes or homes with no foundations?  Against a powerful hurricane or tornado, if you live in this type of dwelling you might as well live in a cardboard box. Let me expound on this point.  Some years ago, a powerful tornado swept across a town in Florida known as New Smyrna Beach.  I am familiar with the goings on there because I have a relative who lives nearby and I at one time lived there myself.  This tornado hit two cement condominium buildings known as Diamond Head straight on.  It blew out windows, but not one person perished.  The point is that these buildings were strong enough to protect their occupants.  Can the same be said for a mobile home?  Of course not.

Joplin, MO.

Locally to myself, New Jersey to be exact, I watch with sadness each year as the Saddle River in Lodi, NJ and surrounding communities overflows its banks and destroys peoples’ basements, automobiles etc.  It is well documented that even before Hurricane Floyd way back in 1999 the Army Corps of Engineers had been warning the Federal Government, namely Congress, that work needed to be done on that river to prevent drastic flooding.  Still every year it floods. I don’t know if any work has been done, but it’s a low income area, so as I asked in the beginning of this blog, does that make these people criminals, unworthy of even some consideration by Washington, DC?

Also local to myself is the town of Lincoln Park in Morris County, NJ.  The Morris Canal zigzags its way through a hodgepodge of low lying streets in the area close to Wayne, NJ.

Some of these houses are one story affairs, so their gutters may be estimated to be ten feet above ground level.  I have seen that canal, so docile looking in fair weather, swell up so deep in bad storms that the water reaches the gutters of these homes. 

Needless to say, every time this happens, many possessions are ruined and many peoples’ lives are turned upside down.  Once again, many of these peoples’ only crime is that they are low income.  This is their best shot at home ownership – buying houses that can probably be purchased at bargain basement prices (ie. under $150,000 in a county known to feature high home prices).

When these homes flood out, disaster lurks in several corners.  People could drown. People could be electrocuted as water floods over active power lines.  

This is not just rhetoric designed to instill unjustified fear.  When the above-mentioned Hurricane Floyd hit, the downtown section of South Bound Brook, NJ was inundated with flood water.  The downtown caught fire and basically imploded.  One news caster termed the downtown of that city as a “write off.”

What are we to do?  One possibility lies in massive relocations of people from danger zones to safe zones.  A November 17, 2010 article entitled “Seven Towns Where Land is Free” by CNBC.com writer Colleen Kane is just one example that comes to my mind.  Yes, there are places in this country where they will give you land to put up a home, free, with few or no strings attached!  I would bet the farm that the government has many habitable land areas beyond just these that could become sanctuaries for displaced homeowners.

I would also not be surprised to find that there exist even now 15 years later, huge amounts of unoccupied condominiums and other domiciles in multi-family buildings leftover from the infamous S&L crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.  I can remember driving the coastline in parts of Monmouth County, NJ back in the early 1990s and being absolutely awestruck by the thousands of empty condominiums that had been put up in this era of reckless financing. 

Similar overstock of unsold condominium housing may exist in many areas of the country.  Isn’t it better to put people in these units than to leave them gathering dust and rotting from the inside?

I don’t have all the answers. However I do know that in this so called “land of opportunity” we need to get back to recognizing the sanctity of each human life.

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.  

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Sympathy Ploys

Excuse my logic but isn’t it irksome the way some rich and famous people invent fictitious Horatio Alger type stories about their rise to the top?

Just to refresh your memory, Alger (Horatio Alger Jr.) was a prolific writer in the 1800s who wrote more than 100 books for young working class males that in many instances championed the concept that a person born into a meager existence could parlay hard work and ambition into success.  He was the ultimate American dreamer.

According to an article on Wikipedia, a number of notable writers and scholars including filmmaker Michael Moore, the late journalist Hunter S. Thompson, noted Economist Max Sawicky and Yale University Law Professor Harlon L. Dalton have dismissed Alger as a Pollyanna, or even harmful to society.

Moore may have put it best back in 2003 when he succinctly observed “So here’s my question: after fleecing the American Public and destroying the American dream for most working people, how is it that, instead of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn at the city gates, the rich got a big wet kiss from Congress in the form of a record tax break, and no one says a word? How can that be?  I think it’s because we’re still addicted to the Horatio Alger fantasy drug…”

I think whatMoorewas driving at is that the politicians and others who control the taxation system are forever trying to sell a Horatio Alger bill of goods to the middle class and poor that no matter how much of the tax burden they bear, they can still succeed if they just work harder and believe. If you believe these politicians on this theory you might as well continue believing in the tooth fairy.

Fast forward to October, 2008 inToledoOhio, when then unknown Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (a.k.a. Joe the Plumber) asked Barack Obama very simply if he believed in “The American Dream?”

During the hard fought presidential race of that year, both Barack Obama and John McCain made countless references to their desire to help “the man onMain Street.”

What did it all mean?  Were both candidates just empty suits?

Now getting back to Horatio Alger, I have always considered myself an optimist and admittedly I usually bought into the allure of Alger that one could go from rags to riches.  I was not born into a poor family but it wasn’t a rich one either. My dad worked three jobs just to afford all the advanced medical care it took to keep me alive in my childhood years due to an acute asthma condition.  I have lived at times in luxury and there have been times in my life where my family and I family lived on a street filled with crack houses and gangs.

I do believe that with hard work you can achieve a modicum of financial success.  But let me put it quite simply. In many cases to reach the level of great financial success, it takes more than just hard work.  It takes a whole lot of luck and in some cases breaking the rules.

There was a documentary made by Rhonda Byrne in 2006 called “The Secret.” In it she conveyed the message over and over again that in order to achieve success you needed to hold fast to a certain type of “I can win no matter what” attitude which she said was the secret.  A similar message is put forth in the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” by Robert Kiyosaki.

In the case of Byrne’s documentary, I once asked a psychotherapist I knew what she thought of the filmmaker’s concept.  She said quite simply to me that it’s all fine and dandy to tell a person that they can win no matter what adversity they face, but she added, “try telling it to a person with terminal cancer.”

It is also interesting to note that Byrne’s financial dealings themselves were brought into question when Drew Heriot, director of “The Secret” and Dan Hollings, an internet maven whose viral marketing propelled Byrne to fame claimed that the think positive  superstar owed them $300 million.

I am not one to say there’s a conspiracy behind every success story.  However, in the current economy which we are constantly reminded is bad, a worker earning minimum wage cleaning toilets or some similarly menial job will constantly be told, almost mantra-like ”to just be glad they have a job.”  This is how the rich keep the proletariat in check. 

Yet if you took a multi-millionaire athlete or television star and suddenly told them that for the rest of their life they would have to work one of those minimum wage jobs would they express gratitude “at just being lucky to have a job?”

Now, I have been dancing around but not touching on the main point yet.  Alger told us to believe that with hard work and persistence we could rise from any abyss.  Some fantastically successful people have done just that.

Yet there are others who are playing a big con game with the public.  They will tell us that they were born in a cold water flat in theBronxand later we will find out that they actually grew up in a nice upper middle class neighborhood.  They will tell us they were abused as a child and later we find out it was all just a publicity grab to boost their sagging career.  I will not name any names but the public is smart enough to know some of them.

People of my generation will remember the famous political phrase “trickle down economics.”  It basically proffered that if you protected the wealth for the rich, some of their money would trickle down to the middle class and poor.

That phrase was big in the 1980s during the Reagan era.  Thirty years later it seems we’re still being told the same and yet it seems that the trickle has become a drip.  I’ll remain an optimist and keep saying the glass is half full. But then you always have to account for evaporation.

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

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