Then there was this episode of Planet Money: The Disease Detectives or this segment from Morning Edition. It was beginning to look like everyone was talking about this movie. I remembered watching it, or at least starting to watch it. But I couldn’t remember more than the first few minutes of the film.
Wesley Morris, writing for the New York Times, calls it an explanatory drama in his article. I think of it more as a detective story that understands why we might turn on a movie about a fictional pandemic while we are caught up in a very real pandemic all around us. We want answers, and by the end of the film we have those answers. The closing scenes alone are very rewarding, making the sometimes dry delivery of the film worth the wait, if any of you who watch it find that you feel like you are waiting.
I know why I didn’t remember watching the movie to the end the first time. When they start trepanning open the first victims skull and folding back her scalp, I’m pretty sure I bailed on the film. I almost did that again the second time, even knowing what it was I signed up to watch. We will be getting the most out of that frew week of Cinemax that got us access to the movie for free that first night.
After watching Contagion, I surfed over to check out the Netflix documentary that I had heard someone else talk about.
I wasn’t clear on whether this series was a documentary series or not until I tuned in to watch it. The first episode makes this very clear. It’s a documentary. All the episodes inter-relate, but there are different segments in each episode about the different facets of the problem of dealing with a pandemic in different countries. You come away with a pretty clear view of the problems we face dealing with any kind of healthcare crisis in the world, much less one as broad and crippling as the current coronavirus pandemic.
From doctors to anti-vaxxers and back again, the series gives you a broad but shallow look at healthcare in the world today. Since we all have a lot of time on our hands these days, and are probably curious about why we have a lot of time on our hands, this series should help you understand why that is.
Neither venture delivers the punch of an epic disaster movie, though.
Outbreak is just the kind of disaster movie you are probably looking for, if those two offerings aren’t to your taste. From devastating viral death rates to government cover-ups to an edge-of-your-seat ending, this film is everything the others are not. Including it being completely unbelievable to anyone with a shred of understand of how infections spread successfully or how government programs work. But it is a good popcorn movie with a rewarding ending. You can’t ask for much more in these times of stress and worry.
The child separation policy is still going on, over a year and a half after I posted this article the first time (August 26th, 2018) So I’m revising it and moving it up to today, December 22, 2019. We have since learned that the Trump administration has been separating children from their families from the very beginning. So, the crime against humanity that this policy is has gone on in our name for almost three years now.
No one who’s read this damned and damnable executive order, has read it and isn’t a Stormtrumper, seems to think that anything will change tomorrow. Frankly, I don’t see how anything can change tomorrow, which means that the outrage and lawsuits have to continue until we #ImpeachTrump, because the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) doesn’t know what the truth is. If there is one thing we can say for certain about the OHM, it is that he does not have a personalized conception of the truth beyond whatever the words coming out of his mouth at that very moment are. Some people would call that stupid, some people would call that moronic. I simply refer to it as Real Estate Developer’s syndrome, something that everyone of them I’ve ever met seems to have in common.
For days I’ve been reading and posting news stories about the Trump administration’s policy of family separation. This policy is the most inhumane and unAmerican thing that the OHM has done to date, but I don’t think he’s done with the outrageous behavior on the subject of immigration yet. Not by half, even. He can’t stop. This is exactly what he campaigned on. This is why people voted for him. This is what his base wants him to do, punish immigrants to whatever level it takes in order to make the immigrants leave. To make asylum seekers go elsewhere. This is what his cabinet officers and advisors who have spoken on this subject have been saying for weeks now, that punishment is the goal and self-deportation is the desired outcome.
So he can’t be done and this practice will continue in some form, possibly in exactly the same way it has been going on for months. Going on in our name. Rachel Maddow broke down in tears on national television (Tuesday June 19, 2018) just reading about the tender age shelters, the Trump administration’s euphemism for places where they put babies they’ve torn from their parent’s grasp, or tricked them into surrendering voluntarily. So we’ve gotten to a place where talking heads, people trained in the art of maintaining calm in the face of anything the news throws at you, talking heads breaking down in tears at the news that babies have internment camps that they are being sent to. Babies. In internment camps. Let that idea sink in for a few.
The defenders of these policies have a few valid points. The first one is that the parents in question are breaking a law, it is a misdemeanor to cross into the United States except at border crossings. A misdemeanor that would not even get you arrested were it not involving the convoluted subject of immigration in the United States. This law has almost never been subject to prosecution until now, but the OHM is correct that he can have these people prosecuted, and does want these people prosecuted. That is the job of the executive branch of the federal government, 100% his policy in spite of every protestation he has made to the contrary.
The second point is that there are many American children who go to sleep each night in worse conditions than these children in internment camps on the Southern border. This is also demonstrably true. I myself had days when three hots and a cot were more an aspiration than a reality when I was a child. However, the fact that many children face worse treatment and housing conditions in the US is not a justification for treating the children of asylum seekers as badly as we treat our own citizens; rather, it is an observation of just how far the poor in the US need to be elevated in order for them to meet the standards set by governing bodies all around the world for treatment of refugees, let alone what the citizens of the wealthiest nation on the face of this planet should be able to expect from being among the chozen few who get to live here.
There should be a backlash by Americans over the treatment of children who had the misfortune to be born outside the US in a time of global unrest. People who are no different than we would be if we were forced out of our homes and made to seek charity from the tender mercies of the more fortunate. Let us hope that the people we are faced with, should such a misfortune befall any of us, are more forgiving than we have been. We need to send a clear signal to the rest of the world, and we need to do it now. #ImpeachTrump. Do it now. Do it before more horrors are committed in our names.
The OHM’s administration failed to meet family reunification deadlines set by the courts today (July 10, 2018) So the torment of children and their parents at the hands of the US government continues. These are our dollars at work here. This is our government. If you voted for Trump, you voted for this to happen. Understand the horror you have created here. Child abduction is not a political issue. Abducting children and imprisoning their parents for crimes they were given no alternative but to commit can’t be a political issue because there’s nobody out there aside from slavers that think that stealing children is a good idea. I will go so far as to say that I don’t even think immigration should be a political issue.
You live here, you work here, you pay taxes here? Welcome, citizen. I don’t know what other requirements for citizenship there should be aside from saying I want to be a citizen and proving your upstanding status (again, live, work, pay taxes) I’m singularly uninterested in there being an underclass that can be subjected to lower wages and fewer rights so that I can get my tomatoes a few dollars cheaper. I’ll pay more for produce. Institute a guest worker program with a path to citizenship, screen everybody and then let them get to work. It certainly isn’t rocket science to make the immigration system function, we just have to admit that we need the workers and that we want to do right by them.
Asylum seekers are being stripped of rights under the current regime. It was bad enough when Obama allowed ICE to house children in detention centers when they were coming over the border unaccompanied (and with parents) back in 2014 seeking asylum. But at least those kids got asylum hearings and were dealt with in a legal fashion. This travesty has to end, and it isn’t just Trump to blame. Every Republican in congress could have stood up and fixed this problem back in 2010 and every year since. They haven’t. They haven’t even tried, aside from Rubio, who backpedaled from his own bill so fast you’d swear someone else had written it. Shame on them, is all I have to say. Shame on them and everyone who voted for them.
Like the article on Puerto Rico, this article and the other open-ended #ImpeachTrump articles will be updated as I run across more substantial stories that alter or strengthen their core arguments. The hashtag that should be trending if you think this is the election issue to motivate voters? How about #TrumpInternment2018? That has a nice double-entendre to it.
In testimony given in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, it was revealed that the kinds of trauma we are witnessing in the children seperated and now reunited with their parents, was detailed to the Trump administration officials who wanted to carry out these policies, before they put the policies into force,
“There’s no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.”
This is 100% on Trump. Nobody else. His administration, his policies, his fault. Not to mention the hundreds of other children not reunited, that the US will now be sued over because of Trump’s ham-handed policies that violated international and US law. Grounds for impeachment, yet again.
At the Nogales pedestrian port of entry in Arizona, some families with small children waited for up to two weeks before a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer allowed them to come through and ask for asylum, according to the Kino Border Initiative, a binational organization that gives aid to migrants along the border.
On a recent visit to Nogales, four families were waiting. Two had spent the night on the makeshift camp at the port of entry. All of them waited for at least two days to be seen by a CBP officer. And on that day, agents processed only two families.
This inaction is what is forcing asylum seekers to cross the border illegally.
This summer, in a project designed by ProPublica, 10 news organizations are sharing information to flesh out the hidden details of families separated by the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy. Bob speaks with Selymar Colón, digital managing editor at Univision News, one of the organizations involved in the collaboration, about how the consortium has investigated and reported on some of the 200 tips it has received —and about the four families that were reunited after their stories were published.
After U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy in April, the U.S. government faced a national outcry. This new policy meant all adults crossing the border illegally would be criminally prosecuted. A consequence of that shift has meant that thousands of immigrant children have been torn apart from their parents.
Since then, and under a judge’s mandate, the federal government has been scrambling to reunify families. In part one of a two-part episode, Latino USA breaks down the aftermath of the family separation crisis and explores what happens to the hundreds of kids who still aren’t reunited with their families because their parents have been deported.
Juan Sanchez first gained national notoriety back in June of 2018 when Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley flew to Texas to try and tour a shelter that he believed was housing children who had been separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy. Senator Merkley was denied access to the shelter and was even questioned by police who were called by the shelter’s staffers.There seem to be two opposing narratives when it comes to Juan Sanchez. So host Maria Hinojosa and producer Antonia Cereijido travel to Austin, Texas, to see which one was the correct one.
Some five hundred and sixty children are still separated from their parents, including twenty-four who are five years old or younger, and the parents of more than three hundred and sixty of them have already been deported. Between seven hundred and eight hundred other children were reunited with their parents in detention, where their situation is especially confounding. About half of the reunited parents have final orders of deportation—in many instances, because they’d been pressured to sign papers waiving their rights to pursue their immigration cases. As a result, families face a choice: either a parent and child can agree to be deported together, or the child can stay in this country alone while her own case is decided. Last Thursday night, Sabraw issued an order temporarily blocking the deportation of reunited parents so that they could have more time to weigh their legal options with immigration lawyers. As Dara Lind wrote, at Vox, “The question right now is when they will actually be deported, not whether they will be.”
To date (as the article details) no one in the administration has been held to account for their administration’s policy of kidnapping the children of asylum seekers with the intent to profit off of keeping these children in the US illegally. Someone must answer for the Trump administrations crimes.
This scheme of combustion to get power makes me sick to think of — it is so wasteful. Sunshine is a form of energy, and the winds and the tides are manifestations of energy. Do we use them? Oh, no; we burn up wood and coal, as renters burn up the front fence for fuel. We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property.
A hat/tip is due to the On The Media episode Too Hot For School and their contributor Leah Stokes for bringing this quote to my attention. It is truly prophetic, his vision of what science could do for us if we simply applied ourselves to the problem of providing energy for ourselves.
Intimate terrorism is a better descriptive phrase for what occurs in an abusive relationship than domestic abuse or violence ever could be. This segment of On The Media was brought back to mind by this segment of Morning Edition, a podcast feed I only discovered after changing my preferred podcast player to player.fm from beyondpod. I’m not signing up for a subscription to player.fm, mind you, I just like the intuitive interface in player.fm‘s app. I don’t have enough money to allow me to give money to everyone who deserves to be paid. It is a failing in the monetary system that I don’t have enough to cover the costs of essentials. Essentials like easy access to the information that keeps you alive. But I digress.
Someone should probably engage in some counter-terrorism. Say, publish Youtube videos of these murderous men being tracked down and emasculated. A literal or actual emasculation, I don’t think it matters much which it is. Some of these men deserve to be physically emasculated, but I won’t call for harm being caused to anyone, not even those who so richly deserve it. These videos would serve as an example to other abusive men. An example of what will happen to the men who think they can get away with their behavior.
Intimate terrorism reminds me of this episode of The Stakes. A podcast series I started listening to because of On The Media‘s rebroadcasting of the three-part miniseries on A History of Persuasion. The Stakes deals with the fraught nature of modern American society, and what it is we stand to lose if we don’t take the threats represented in the Trump presidency seriously enough.
The ERA, abortion, rape, you know, issues — women were organizing all over the place. But in some ways abortion and rape are more visible issues. This was sort of background noise. You know, the background hum that you get used to and you don’t notice anymore? That was the status of sexual harassment. Between 1960 and 1980 women’s participation in the workforce went from 38 percent to 51 percent. A huge jump. Men were threatened. They were women coming into the old boys club. They needed to assert their dominance, and make sure that women knew their place. And this was one of the ways to do that.
All of this is related. All of it. Male domination of society is coming to an end, and small-minded men are threatened by this fact. They hope to force women back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. The rest of us should be properly outraged by this fact. The Trump presidency is a physical manifestation of this reflexive male panic. Don’t believe that? Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta resigned because he got caught giving a serial pedophile and rapist a free ride. A serial pedophile that Trump called a good friend and used hang out with extensively, to paraphrase Stonekettle Station.
I have a solution to this problem. Men like Trump will not like it. In fact, it is probably their worst nightmare, the kind they wake up screaming from. We (the big we, we as a society or we as the world’s human population) we should train every girl in self defense. We should start this training when they are girls, not women, so that we can get a jump on the passive conditioning forced on most girls in most societies at an early age. Four or five years of age should be young enough. We should train them and then arm them with their weapon of choice. Guns, knives, whatever. Then you give these women one free pass on killing a man. Not two or three, just one. If you kill two or three men, you are probably one of those rare serial killing women. We don’t want to encourage that. Nope, they get one free pass, if… If they present themselves to a police officer or prosecutor and officially make the claim that a rape occurred.
No inquiries, no grand jury, no nothing. A free pass for killing rapists.
I predict that the problem of violence against women will be cleared up in a single generation if we were to install this anti-misogyny policy. If you just pissed yourself, you are probably one of the men that has nightmares about women you’ve mistreated tracking you down after the policy went into effect. Maybe you should try apologizing.
On this week’s On the Media, how painful news might be making America numb. And, why sometimes it’s okay to tune out.
I prefer not to is the sum total of my inclinations for today. My Allianceraiding guild in World of Warcraft has broken up, and now I’m expected to choose sides in a fight I tried to convince people not to have in the first place. So now even my distractions are forcing decisions on me that I never wanted to make in the first place.
…or “why the Federalist Society is not your great, great, great, great grandfathers federalist society.”
Facebook took the time to inform me today that the Federalist Society had added an event to their schedule. I was befuddled by this. Why should I care? Why is this in my notifications? Did I mistakenly like this right wing ideological factory? Why would I do that?
Well, the why in all those questions is quite easy to figure out. The Federalist papers and the Federalist party were a group of the founders of the United States who set about to promote the adoption of the constitution, most of whose writings came from Alexander Hamilton. When I ran across the page on Facebook I assumed that the group was organized to promote some form of return to the US’ constitutional roots, or at least to promote a move to update the language in the constitution to reflect the current structures that the government empowers so as to give them constitutional legitimacy (things like Social Security, Medicare, and money not based on a commodity like gold and silver) but what I have discovered since liking the page on Facebook is that the Federalist Society is just another Koch funded venture. Just another attempt to promote their desire to keep their ill-gotten gains cloaked in conservative ideology.
Within just a few years, the group was embraced and funded by a number of powerful, wealthy conservative organizations, which eventually included foundations associated with John Olin, Lynde and Harry Bradley, Richard Scaife, and the Koch brothers. “The funders all got the idea right away—that you can win elections, you can have mass mobilizations, but unless you can change élites and the institutions that are by and large controlled by the élites, like the courts, there are limits to what you can do,” Amanda Hollis-Brusky, a professor of politics at Pomona College and the author of “Ideas with Consequences,” a study of the Federalist Society, said. “The idea was to train, credential, and socialize a generation of alternative élites.”
The Federalist Society is one of the more the well-respected public faces of this dark conservative web of money within American society. This mechanism created specifically to throw off the yoke of income tax and to secure the wealth of the wealthy for the wealthy and their children exclusively. When I was a member of the Libertarian Party, no one talked about the Koch brothers influence on the party, on the nature of libertarian thought itself, and yet David Koch was one of the early (vice) presidential candidates and spent large sums of his own money to promote the ticket and the party. They co-created the CATO institute, frequently referenced in the early years of this blog, the leading libertarian think tank in Washington DC. Their views on money and finance permeate all of libertarian thought, which is why American libertarians deny the existence of libertarian socialism.
This desire to codify their wealth as theirs beyond question predates the Koch brothers even though they are the current target of choice for most liberals. Jane Mayer has been doing the generic book tour promoting her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. She’s been in high demand since the 2016 election upset that yielded the Orange Hate-Monkey. Here she is talking about what she learned while writing the book on last week’s episode of On the Media,
By about 1971, some of the leaders of the biggest businesses in America became alarmed. They watched the anti-Vietnam War movement taking on the companies that were involved in the defense industry, the consumer movement of Ralph Nader and the environmental movement that was beginning to call for all kinds of regulations on pollution. And you get this kind of call to arms by Lewis Powell, who was then a lawyer from Richmond; he wasn’t yet on the Supreme Court. He wrote a paper for the Chamber of Commerce and he said, ‘big business, if you don’t get organized, we’re going to lose our way of life. The enemy is not the kids who are on the streets protesting, it’s not hippies or yippies. The enemy is elite public opinion. And if we want to fight back, we have to change the way the elite public opinion is formed in this country, all of the instruments that form public opinion, meaning the media, the pulpits, academia, science, the courts and public policy. So the creation of right-wing think tanks, starting in the late 1970s, was an answer to Lewis Powell’s call to arms. The people who set up the Heritage Foundation were literally talking about this Lewis Powell memo and saying, ‘we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to spend money, we’ve got to fight back.’ Joseph Coors, who was heir to a brewing company in Colorado, sent a letter to his senator, Gordon Allott and said, ‘I’ve got money, how do I spend it?’ And an aide who was working for Allott saw this letter, and his name was Paul Weyrich, and he was one of the two founders of the Heritage Foundation and he said, ‘I’ve got an idea. We’re going to set up this think tank.’
The Heritage Society and the Federalist Society are no different from each other once you scratch the surface. Denying science when it suits their purposes, catering to the wealthy with their laughable ideas about supply side or trickle-down economics, undermining the ideals of civic duty and public good with their willingness to take large amounts of cash directly from the wealthy. They are worse than the John Birch society was. At least the Birchers believed the bullshit they peddled. These guys peddle whatever the wealthy pay them to say. They no more believe what they say than the Orange Hate Monkey might believe what he said yesterday or even an hour ago. They’ll believe it so long as they are being paid to believe it. They are preaching conservative ideology every bit as reprehensible as anything the John Birchers ever stood for, and they do it openly as just another thing they want to do to America now that they have control of it since that is what their funders want of them.
One hundred and fifty-six members of the current congress signed a pledge that was created by one of the Koch’s groups saying they will do absolutely nothing about global warming that costs a single cent.
Every time a conservative/libertarian calls calls you a collectivist, they are merely repeating a talking point of David Koch. They are all David Koch clones that are incapable of independent thought. If they could have independent thoughts they might actually question what is so bad about doing things as a group, since nothing much gets done these days without working as a team. They certainly aren’t opposed to owing fealty to a king or dictator, what they really mean by saying “collectivist”. If they were opposed to the centralization and assertion of power they wouldn’t be Stormtrumpers now, would they?
So the long and the short of this is that I unliked the Federalist Society page on Facebook. I really don’t have room in my headspace to sort out all of the various sources of bullshit I’m exposed to these days, especially with the conservative/libertarian love child currently sitting in the White House. The pruning of my libertarian delusions continues at its same, slow pace.
As a libertarian I used to believe some pretty crazy things. I believed that a dollar was something you worked for, for one. A dollar is a debt instrument that every business in the United States is required to accept as payment. It is not a measure of hours worked or effort expended. You don’t work for dollars, you have to have dollars to pay for the things you need or want. You trade effort or hours for dollars if you are a working stiff in the modern age. If you have dollars you make the dollars work for you to create more dollars. This is a subtle but important distinction, one that anyone who desires excessive wealth should take to heart.
Similarly I believed, and most libertarians still believe, that freedom of speech meant you had to listen to every idea equally. Give every idea equal weight. This crazy notion is not limited to just fringe political groups, it has been embraced by a very large portion of conservatives and Republicans, and even American liberals don’t understand some of the finer points of what the first amendment, freedom of speech, means.
The problem with continuing to listen to bad ideas is that each successive generation receives those ideas as if they are all of equal value. This position is obviously false. Some ideas are incorrect. The world is not flat, it is visibly curved to any observer who cares to study the subject. The Earth, her moon, the other planets and their moons, etc. all move in mathematically predictable ways around the sun. We do not have to prove to each successive generation of human beings that the Earth is not the center of the universe. We need simply show how we know the Earth is round, the sun the center of a solar system, for them to grasp the math involved with these correct observations. These are factually demonstrable truths that do not have to be viewed equally with the Ptolemaic system, requiring each successive generation of human beings to determine which finding is the correct one. Learn a little math, do a few observations, yep, that confirms the heliocentric model. Onto the next thing we have to learn.
Not all truths are as obvious as the basic findings of astronomy, and even those findings are not universally embraced by all modern humans. There are a few disturbed people out there who still think the world is flat, and we don’t let those people run NASA for a reason. That reason? Because their denial of science disqualifies them from leading a scientific agency. They fail the test of expertise, another demonstrable truth.
There are things that experts know that the layman does not. I know things about CAD systems and architectural detailing that would bore the pants off of anyone who isn’t enamored of building systems and the illustration of same. That expertise qualified me to hold a high-paying job in the architectural field once upon a time. It had real value; and expertise, all expertise, is demonstrated through that value. If you plant lima beans for a living, and you do it successfully for long enough, you become an expert on lima beans. But that doesn’t make you an expert on rocket ships.
Which brings us to another truth. Expertise is limited in scope, and the farther outside your expertise you venture, the more likely you are to be wrong in your beliefs. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect in a nutshell. Everyone believes they know more about subjects that they are not experts in than they actually do. This is why a brain surgeon isn’t a good candidate to run a poverty program. The fact that Ben Carson successfully navigated a hierarchy as complicated as working in a hospital presents is probably the only reason he still has his cabinet position. He knows how to keep his mouth shut when he needs to. When he has a job to do and isn’t campaigning. He knows the value of expertise and he doesn’t visibly contradict the experts around him who know things about the department of Housing and Urban Development.
When the Republican party formed back in 1854, the value of expertise was understood. With little else to distract the population in the way of entertainment, politicians and pundits would debate for hours in front of huge crowds, working and reworking the issues of the day. Abraham Lincoln was an expert at navigating the treacherous terrain to be found between openly advocating for the abolition of slavery, and allowing slavery to encroach into the Northern states that hated slaves and slavery for what it did to the lives of average men. Hated slavery for the degrading poverty and dearth of industry in the South that slavery imposed on the economy of the South. The Lincoln-Douglas debates featured his abilities to master the subject, a success that eventually snagged him the nomination of the Republican party and through their growing influence, the presidency of the United States.
He then expertly managed to conduct the the office of the presidency, successfully, while maintaining a war with half of the original republic, and at the same time engineering the largest change in civil society, the abolition of slavery, that the United States had seen in its short 75 years of existence. Had he survived his time in office, had he not been felled by Southern hands and succeeded by a Southern sympathizer, many of the problems that we wrestle with today would never have manifested in the first place. That was the master politician that Abraham Lincoln was. That was the kind of organization that the Republican party was when it was progressive and liberal and on the right side of history.
From Lincoln to the Orange Hate-Monkey in 150 years. That is what the Republican party gained from not understanding that there were real, actual truths underneath all the political posturing. That science and expertise have real, demonstrable value. GIGO or Garbage In, Garbage Out has taken its toll on the GOP and rendered it the political organ of a would-be fascist. A would-be fascist whose political supporters want to enact a racial cleansing on the United States. The party that ended slavery has become the party of the inheritors of slavery’s stolen wealth. The irony is almost rich enough to laugh at, if the fate of the world didn’t hang in the balance, and it does currently hang in the balance.
It hangs in the balance because Vladimir Putin did work to get Donald Trump elected as president. He worked to get Britain to embrace Brexit, and his troll farm is still actively attempting to subvert political processes in the United States and all across the world. He is seeking inroads to power wherever he can find them, and right now the internet is his tool of choice. All information on the internet is now suspect. Nothing can be taken for granted. Every platform, every system, every piece of information technology can now be possibly subverted by criminal actors attempting undermine the great advances that have been made in the world, and they are doing this with the technology we, the West, invented.
On Thursday, President Trump flew down to McAllen, Texas to push his pro-wall, anti-immigrant narrative. This week, On the Media examines how the community tells a more welcoming story about the border — and a dogged presidential fact-checker joins us to pick apart the Oval Office address. Plus, how some progressives used Russian election interference tactics against a right-wing senate campaign. Also, is everything online fake?
Make no mistake, we have made great strides toward improving equality across the world. In between the war profiteering and other boondoggles embarked on by the powers that be in Washington DC, the technology we created has moved out of the United States and improved the lives of people everywhere. So much so that poverty in the world is the lowest that it has been at any point so far in history. But the spreading of information and equality through technological systems has opened the doors for misinformation and distraction to be spread in the same way, through the same mechanisms.
Political bias, racial bias, religious bias. All these things still exist, and all these things are corruptions of the truth. They are weaknesses that the power-hungry can exploit in order to gain more power. That is what Vladimir Putin has done in Russia by re-establishing the Russian Orthodox church. He gives ethnic Russians a thing to believe in now that the dictatorships that liberated the Russian people from Czarist rule have fallen. He foments friction at the edges of his political empire, his fake republic, and exploits the resulting distrust by seizing land belonging to neighboring nations, by re-asserting old Soviet alliances. His neighbors fear him, which is what he wants, and his old foes are confused, fighting among themselves. All by his design.
The first thing we need to do, if we want to oppose this new criminal oligarchy founded by Vladimir Putin and embodied in his paid-for stooge in the White House, is to know who it is we are fighting, why we are fighting them and how we intend to win this fight. The first casualty of this information war has to be the ability to promote falsities as truths. If we can’t even determine what is true and what is false, then we have already lost the war.
Garbage In, Garbage Out. If we believe what we are told by others with no need to verify what is true, we are sheep lead to slaughter. Subjectivity is the enemy. The people we are fighting are liars. Charlatans. Confidence artists. People who say things we want to believe but which are not demonstrably true.
Many people cite this quote, few understand it. To be eternally vigilant is to practice due diligence as often as required when it comes to the things you believe as well as the things you are told. What is due diligence? Caveat Emptor. The two states of mind are interchangeable. Healthy caution and skepticism. If you want to be at liberty, if you want to maintain liberty, then you must be skeptical of all things that are not immediately apparent.
As an example. Freedom of speech is not free. You cannot say whatever springs to your mind and expect to suffer no consequences. This is what most people think freedom of speech means. Speech without consequences. All speech has a cost, in that you may be held accountable for the results of the words you speak. This is why you are punished for causing a panic by yelling fire! when there is no fire. It is not the speech that is punished, it is the result of the speech. The cause of the harm was speech if anyone was harmed in the resultant panic. No harm, no foul, as the adage goes.
But how do you assess harm? Is all harm readily apparent? If you are not harmed by a person’s speech, but your neighbor is, should you care? What if your neighbor is a different race? A different religion? A member of a different political party? Insert Niemöller’s law here.
That way lies death. So harm, even delayed, indirect harm, should be guarded against. And that, dear reader, is the quandary. As I noted on my last article about Alex Jones, deplatforming is not censoring a person’s speech. All these people claiming they have been censored by social media have their own websites. They have just as much access to consumers as any other individual in the system has. They simply do not have a megaphone through which to spread their lies. We are fighting an information war here, and the first thing that has to go is information which is demonstrably false.
Kicking ethics violators off of Twitter and Facebook is not censoring them, it is applying objective rules to subjective life. This is necessarily a messy business, but then bad people do exist. Bad ideas do exist. Stupid people do exist, and they don’t know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea. This requires things like rules of order (Robert’s Rules) parliamentary procedures, etcetera. Objective ethical standards have to be in place and they have to be enforced so that ideas can be properly tested and debated. You cannot call for harming another person and not expect the platform from which you speak to be taken away. That is simply good information hygiene. Any platform which doesn’t distinguish between good (correct) and bad (incorrect) information is a platform which is doomed to be dominated by the most ruthless, because it is the ruthless people who have no boundaries. Ruthless people do not worry about harming others to get their way. Lies. Fraud. These are but tools in the hands of the ruthless. Does deplatforming cause them harm? Only if they subjectively deem that their lies bring them power. In that case they don’t need a platform, they need a therapist.
Any platform created to be all inclusive (Spreely.com, Minds.com, etcetera) will be dominated by the most hateful. There is no way to avoid this scenario if you do not set hard ethical lines which cannot be crossed. I hope these platform providers enjoy taking orders from fascists. Fascists that will tell them what and how to think; which is what fascists do and why fascists (like Nazis) shouldn’t be given a platform in the first place. It is a quandary, but it isn’t an unsolvable problem.
I’m still on Facebook, for now. They at least acknowledge the existence of incorrect information and harmful social interaction. I’m not happy with providing a platform for ideas designed to kill me. I won’t spend time on a social platform that allows them space to spread their lies. Consequently those who voice views about political purity, religious purity, racial purity, promote the lie that life is a zero sum game that requires I harm others to win, these kinds of people and beliefs are not welcome anywhere that I am expected to be. I would ban these people myself. I do block and report these people when I’m given the tools to do so.
Authority might be necessary, but authority need not lead to authoritarianism. The difference between allowing Donald Trump to take office because existing mechanisms put him in position to assume that office, and not allowing Caudillo Trump to violate the law in the name of his whims or his stormtrumper’s whims is exactly how that ethical hair is split.
In 1983, 100 million Americans watched an ABC made-for-tv movie called The Day After, depicting the immediate fallout from a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union. Tensions between the two powers were high, with President Ronald Reagan calling the USSR an “evil empire” and building up the country’s nuclear stockpile. Just weeks before The Day After, NATO war exercises were nearly mistaken by Soviets for a real attack.
The movie wasn’t very good, but what it showed was so horrifying that it inspired a national conversation about US policy. Following the broadcast, Ted Koppel hosted a panel debate on deterrence and disarmament with prominent thinkers like Carl Sagan and Robert McNamara. Schools organized discussions for classes, ABC distributed a viewer’s guide, and psychologists warned that children under 12 shouldn’t even watch the movie. Marsha Gordon, professor of film studies at North Carolina State University, wrote about The Day After for the website The Conversation in January. In February, she and Brooke spoke about the public debate sparked by the movie, and what it might mean for a new generation to see a remake.
So who else remembers watching The Day After with the family? I remember watching it quite well, even if I can’t remember much of the film itself. I remember it was depressing. I remember the reassurance from Koppel afterwards that none of this was real. ABC was anxious to not start any panics, so they went to great lengths to make sure everyone knew this was a staged event.
Their care in making sure that audiences knew the show was a fake stands in stark contrast to today’s reality TV programs, where the very same people working in the media today fake everything in front of the camera and then proceed to tell the audience all of what they saw was real. Try explaining the false sense of surety that comes from seeing something happen to your pre-teen children. No, dear. It isn’t real. It’s Youtube. Nothing on Youtube is real. I know this because they still use cameras to focus your attention where they want it. Try explaining to a stormtrumper that the guy on The Apprentice wasn’t really Donald Trump. Let me know how that works out for you.
I also remember discussing The Day After with the Wife a few years later, and her insisting we watch Threads so that she could show me what a nuclear holocaust was really like. After watching Threads I had to admit that they soft-pedaled the effects of nuclear war in The Day After. I don’t blame them for soft-pedaling the harsh reality of nuclear winter. Watching Threads made me want to die.
Later that same year another friend insisted I watch Koyaanisqatsi and later Powaqqatsi in an attempt to show me that nuclear winter was a walk in the park compared to what some humans endure today. After watching those two films, I wondered if nuclear winter might actually be a blessing in disguise. So, you know. It’s all a matter of perspective.
We’ve heard the phrase constitutional crisis all our lives. It’s a phrase I’ve heard and seen attached to many different people for many different reasons over the course of my 50+ years. The phrase is more than just a little misleading. As I’ve heard several pundits note in the last few years, the United States is always in a constitutional crisis because there is always someone out there doing something that is questionable from a constitutional basis. But the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) represents a level of disregard for lawful behavior that shocks even a dyed-in-the-wool non-conformist like myself.
Jim’s quote concerning the Capital Gazette mass shooting is typical for the everyday crisis we deal with in Trump’s America. The recitation of the conservative mantra of thoughts and prayers after tragedies rang hollow even before the current level of disdain for lawful behavior was exhibited by the most corrupt and compromised leader in US history. To hear those words come out of his mouth is to need to dig your own ears out with an icepick. It offends the senses. It is so obvious a lie, this fakir pretending that he prays for anything, this narcissist, this solipsist? There is nothing greater in his mind than he is, how could he possibly pray to anyone or anything?
Funny thing though. Funny thing. Just last night, at yet another political rally, President Trump was telling us, yet again, how the Press — the PRESS — is the enemy of America.
I can’t put too fine a point on this one. When the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) trotted out the phrase enemy of the people and applied it to the United States free press, the world’s free press, inspiring acts of hatred across the world in response including the deaths of five people in Washington DC, that was the moment when the very notion that the OHM could be allowed to leave office unmolested ceased to have any weight. No one who utters that phrase from a position of authority can be trusted unsupervised from that point forward. His time as a free man has come to an end. It is merely a matter of time now before he will be in shackles and facing the judgement of the American people for his assorted crimes. Unlike Hillary Clinton, the OHM has committed crimes, and it didn’t take four years of fruitless investigation to prove this.
At a rally in Tampa, Florida, Trump supporters attacked CNN reporter Jim Acosta, prompting the president to double down on his anti-press “Enemy of the People” rhetoric. A look at how and why the president incites his base — and where it all might lead. And, as the regulatory battle surrounding 3D gun blueprints rages on, we dive into the worldview of Cody Wilson, the man who started the controversy. Plus, why we’re still living in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing, six years later.
President Trump’s attacks on the press have reached a new level in recent weeks. On Sunday, he called the press, “very dangerous & sick” and wrote that the media can “cause War.” The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast team talks about what the goal of the president’s rhetoric is and how the press should respond.
Are there limits on speech under the first amendment? Yes. Yes there are. You won’t hear about those real limits from the OHM or from any conservative pundit in the US today. None of the news organizations, not even FOX, have breached those limits. Football players peacefully protesting by taking a knee have not breached those limits. Yelling fire in a burning theater doesn’t breach those limits. What are those limits, then? Threatening violence. Inciting a riot. Falsifying data in pursuit of personal gain. In other words, what the OHM does nearly every time he rage tweets.
If I threatened violence like Trump does on social media, Twitter and Facebook would suspend my accounts, no matter what the provocation was. Hell, both platforms have suspended me for far, far less.
It’s not just that Twitter continues to protect this lunatic, the REALLY insane part: NO ONE IN THE ADMINISTRATION NOR IN CONGRESS has so far addressed this madness.
No republican. No democrat.
Congress has abdicated its duty to America.
We reached a point where it’s not enough to throw Trump out of office, CONGRESS needs to be replaced in its entirety. If you sons of bitches don’t show up this time and remove these faithless cowards from office, if you don’t start electing better people, then you are complicit in the destruction of the Republic.
As I said previously elsewhere “Imagine the difference we would see in the world around us if authorities had arrested Donald Trump the first time he incited a riot?” Because he has done that. He’s done it more than once, and no one has ever suggested he be prosecuted. His social media accounts should be banned for violating clearly stated boundaries on those media systems. Do not just suspend his accounts, ban them. He should be kicked out of every decent establishment in society along with anyone who sides with him publicly. The cost will be higher now than it would have been back in the campaign days. Higher on all sides, unfortunately. But he has to go. We cannot allow him to go unpunished. Allowing him to walk away without exacting a price on his behavior from him will send the wrong message and leave us unprotected from the next demagogue to come along thinking they will use the system for their own ends. This has to be stopped here, and it should have been stopped before he took the oath of office because we knew he was dirty even then.
#TrumpEnemyofthePeople not the free press. Not the protestors. Not the liberals. The OHM is the enemy of the people, and it is about time we recognized this fact and demanded he be removed from office. Before he does something the system will not recover from.
This was originally part of another article that I have now broken into three parts and embroidered on all three.
There have been several podcasts in my feed over the last year dissecting and observing the subject of poverty. This is probably because of the over-hyped evidence that the majority of Trump (OHM) supporters were poor, rural whites. The podcasters in their turn feel they need to address the issues raised by these people. The issues that made these poor, rural whites feel so desperate that they would hazard the welfare of us all on a known liar and con artist.
I say over-hyped with no intention of belittling the plight of the poor, or the fact that poverty runs rampant in the modern United States. Poverty is more widespread and more painfully felt now than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two. The disparity between rich and poor today is comparative to 1929, in the time leading up to the crash and the Great Depression. People are poorer now and paid worse than at any point in modern American history.
But it isn’t trade deals that are causing this problem. It isn’t illegal aliens in the US taking our jobs. It isn’t any of the things the OHM says is causing poverty; and his solutions to fix poverty are solutions that not only have been tried before but failed to work previously. So why do them again?
No, I say over-hyped because the rural poor more than likely voted for Trump because the rural poor have been the largest viewing block for reality TV. The rural poor have little other entertainment they can access aside from television. The Apprentice was popular with the same people who voted for Trump. Why is it so hard to admit that these people thought that the character on that show was the guy they voted for in the election? That the lack of broadband access in the rural areas of the US have lead to an information gap that resulted in the election of a con artist to the presidency? That poverty is merely a factor in the larger problem of inequality in America?
All of these podcasts have struck a chord with me. I have blogged both directly and tangentially about this subject in the past. It is not a subject I like writing about. The nerves are raw and the wounds are kept fresh in my current situation of disability and poverty. The series from On the Media, Busted: America’s Poverty Mythsbrought me to tears. I recognized so many tropes from my own childhood. Things family members and friends both have uttered in my hearing. Things that I have been guilty of believing in the past. In this article I will take a more purposeful walk down that memory lane, painful as it is. I want to do this in the light of these discussions by scholars, writers and journalists.
…and I will start this journey of introspection with the writer/journalist Stephen Dubner and his podcast Freakonomics,
James Truslow Adams, born in 1878 to a wealthy New York family, became a financier and, later, an author. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of New England; and later he wrote a book called The Epic of America. Even though it was written during the Great Depression, Adams took a fundamentally bullish view of the United States.
His book was hugely popular, and as best as we can tell, it introduced the phrase “The American Dream.” Adams defined this as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The phrase caught on, and not just a little bit. Especially among our presidents…
…The Stanford economist Raj Chetty has been working with large data sets to try to understand why so many Americans are no longer living the American Dream. When it comes to economic opportunity, Chetty and his colleagues found huge regional and even local differences throughout the U.S.
As he told us, kids growing up in San Francisco have about twice the chance of living the American Dream as kids from just across the bridge, in Oakland. Why? One easy explanation would be that the people in those different areas are just different – they have different abilities, different cultures, different job opportunities. And that certainly has some explanatory power. But Chetty and his colleagues found the story isn’t that simple…
…This is hardly a new idea – that growing up in a poor neighborhood isn’t the best launching ground for economic success. This idea, in fact, led the Clinton Administration to experiment in the mid-1990s with a program called Moving to Opportunity.
Okay, so young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on. What, exactly, does this signify? What’s going on in the poor neighborhoods to depress income mobility and what’s going on in the better neighborhoods to increase it? Answering those questions has become a big part of Raj Chetty’s work.
The above hits the high points of that Freakonomics episode, without getting into the meat of it, which is excellent. The scholar Raj Chetty‘s five factors address my personal experiences of poverty directly. It was because of this episode that I felt the need to write more on this subject, but the title of the post comes from a segment of another podcast, which was introduced to me through this episode of Radiolab,
In a 5-part series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” On the Media picked apart numerous oft-repeated narratives about what it’s like to be poor in America. From Ben Franklin to a brutal eviction, Brooke gives us just a little taste of what she learned and shares a couple stories of the struggle to get ahead, or even just get by.
This episode features an excellent overview of the 5-part series; enough for the casually interested, but not enough for someone who remembers the shock of sudden poverty as a child. A now old man who lives in poverty due to illness, disability, a truly lackluster US economy, sexism/ageism in the workplace directed at the Wife, etc. But I don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and discussing the particulars of my experience in poverty even in the general sense gets ahead of the introduction provided in the full five part series from On the Media.
As the Freakonomics episode mentioned, It is actually twice as easy to move up the income ladder in Canada as it is in the US. This is a travesty, an ongoing insult to America, this delusion we live under. What delusion is that? The delusion that the US is the best country in the world to live in, that we provide more access to social mobility than anyplace else in the world. It simply isn’t true. Hasn’t been true for a good, long time.
The first episode of the On the Media series is an introduction to the reality of poverty in America. It is the boxing glove on the fist of the next three episodes that drive home the fact that we Americans really don’t have a clue what it is to be desperately poor in the US. Even I only vaguely recognize the lives that the truly poverty stricken must live. The reason for this is; I profited from the status of my parents. My parents, in their turn, benefited from the status of their parents; white, working class, upwardly mobile christians with land. My paternal grandparents had enough property that they farmed at first, and then sold land to the city and to new families moving into the bustling township that Leoti, Kansas was after the dust bowl. They sold and profited as the town grew around them, just like the dreams of all Americans play out.
“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.”
The possession of land leads to wealth, if one is lucky enough to own the right piece of land at the right time. The Steele family in Wichita county, Kansas were those people. The fact of their ownership of land made them powerful within the township. The location near a then-growing town gave them a chance to sell off some of their property for cash, something that there is never enough of in any small town. People have to eat, after all. They have to have somewhere safe to sleep. All of this costs money in the modern economy, and the only way to get money is to work or be born into it. So I wasn’t born into poverty, at least.
I was born overseas to a father who was stationed there in the military, a mother who enjoyed being overseas for the first time but really didn’t enjoy the constraints of a military wife in the 60’s. She returned to the states not too long after my birth, and my father left the military as soon as his mandatory term of service was up. They returned to my father’s home on the high plains of Kansas as I mentioned. My father grew up in a little town named Leoti that would be so small you would miss it if you blinked, if only the main roads went anywhere near the place. My father’s family had settled there a few decades previously and Grampa had several thriving businesses in the town. One of those businesses was sold/given to my father when he left the military, and he settled down with my mother for the happily ever after that all young people believe in.
Did I say “happily ever after?” Yeah, that never showed up. Dad took to drinking a fifth of bourbon every single day as he struggled to deal with bringing in enough cash to support his growing family. Mother was unhappy because the family kept growing and her husband didn’t seem to be around much to help. The fighting got worse until it damaged the furnishings and frightened the children, and the divorce wasn’t long after that. Coming out of the 40’s and 50’s and the attitudes about women and families, the ridiculous notions of money and politics, wealth and poverty and the meaning of all these things all wrapped up together, the surprising part of this story is that some women put up with the way life was for them. They put up with it instead of leaving. Maybe they had better husbands?
The story of my pre-teen life was pretty common for the time. By the mid-70’s when the divorce happened fully half of all marriages went that way. Prior to World War Two women were expected to stay home, raise children and provide for the running of the household which encompassed pretty much everything you can imagine. Everything you can imagine, if you imagined a self-sufficient household operation that was a day’s horseback ride from the next nearest town, a train ride away from the nearest city with running retail businesses in it. A household without running water or electricity. That is what frontier life was like just two generations into the past for me, four generations now. My grandparents remembered towns without electricity, the introduction of indoor plumbing and the automobile.
Automobiles made the difference. This fact is spelled out in the heaps of rusted metal you can find dotting most older farmsteads. When the old car dies you leave it where it sits and buy another one, just as you did the tractor and the harvester. On the Wife’s family farm you can still see her dad’s first tractor, parked on the edge of the field where it died, rusting into nothing as the decades fly by. It still sits there even though the farm itself has changed hands twice since her mom sold it. Sold it because there just wasn’t any reason to keep it any longer.
We weren’t farmers. We were never going to sign up for that life. The automobile made city life bearable because you could live in the outskirts of the city and commute downtown for work. In the city you don’t need to make your own clothes, you can go to the store and buy them. You can go to the store and buy them, that is, if you have the money. Money has been the limiting factor imposed on the poor for longer than any of the now living can remember. Longer than those who came before us can remember. Further back than even our great-grandparents and their parents time.
Brooke meets Carla Scott, a young woman in Cleveland forced to sell her plasma for bus fare after a series of events derailed her life, as well as Carla’s nonagenarian grandmother, Grace, a hard-line believer in “personal responsibility.”
Personal responsibility or paying for every mistake you’ve made for your entire life. That would be costly, and hasn’t been my experience. This is the privilege of white skin in the United States. It certainly hasn’t been luck that has seen me through to now. I’ve told myself all my life I make my own luck. I make my own luck because 50/50 chances almost never fall my way. Even so, there are many behaviors that I have engaged in that would have resulted in imprisonment and probably death, had I been caught doing them while black.
While I was near homeless for a few years living in friend’s spare rooms and sleeping on enclosed porches, I never had to sell plasma. I didn’t have children of my own to tend to before I was ready largely because I knew what a pain children could be. That was one of the many lessons I learned being raised by a single mom.
The benefit of city living masques the machinery of poverty creation. Having everything you want or need available at a store for purchase makes the delusion of self-sufficiency seem quite real. Self sufficient, if you have the money to buy these things. Self sufficient, if you have work that pays money. I have always had work because I would do just about any job offered to me. White, young, male, with no tattoos and no piercings. This was important above all things; maintain the illusion of a fine, upstanding middle class status. That illusion kept me working.
Poverty waits for those who fail to maintain the illusion. Jobs that go to others. Careless sex that leads to children. Drug addiction. Tattoos and piercings that announce your rejection of white bread America. That inner-city poverty of slums and ghettos? The tattooed and the peirced? The drug addicted and the ne’er-do-well? That poverty that has moved out into the country from the cities. The rebellion that motivated the election of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) was generated in rural America, in the persons of the last victims of a grinding poverty that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of cities since their creation. I noted the rural American bellyaching rang hollow to me in the essay I named after him,
Listening to the people who attempt to defend their affinity for the Orange Hate-Monkey in the podcast isn’t helping. Oh poor, misunderstood me whining by rural whites strikes me as just this side of pathetic. As if urban blacks don’t have problems, haven’t had worse problems for the better part of two hundred years. The fact that the researchers on this podcast are so divorced from the truth of the matter, that the reality-disconnected people they have been interviewing actually turned out to be the ones who had the last laugh, that they got their American Psycho candidate on a collision course with the White House, in the face of the researcher’s own blithe belief that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the presidency, isn’t helping with the surreality of this moment in time.
I know what grinding poverty looks like even though my experience with it was mercifully brief. That time was right after my parent’s divorce. For a time my mom made the best of life in rural Kansas. We got to keep the house. Dad moved into a trailer parked behind his service station. He managed to wrangle down his child support to $300 which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over our heads, even though that roof had been home for as long as we could remember. Mom took her first job outside the house since going to college, a job teaching Head Start to Leoti preschoolers, a job that was taken from her because she didn’t have a teaching certificate. She left college to get married and had no saleable skills aside from homemaking, a job she couldn’t do anymore without a husband.
So mom remarried. He was a nice enough guy when we met in Leoti. As soon as we left Kansas and moved to Texas, the trouble started. The poverty got worse. Dad stopped paying the child support and only restarted it after mom sued him to get it. The stepdad started drinking heavily, and he was a mean drunk. There were a number of times where my mouth got me in trouble and I ended up on the floor. The last time I saw him was the day he brought another woman to the house. After watching him abuse my mother wordlessly for months, after being the victim of his abuse during that time, having him show up and flaunt his girlfriend in my mother’s face was too much. When mom sent us into the house and told us to hide, I waited behind a door I knew he would come through if he did come in for his stuff. I waited with a high vantage point and a heavy blunt object. I wanted to make sure that if the opportunity presented itself, there would be a near guarantee of killing him. I hated him that much.
Luckily for both of us, the opportunity never occurred. He left without his stuff. I was on a plane to stay with my father in Kansas within the week. Psychotherapy was part of that process. I was the lucky one. The luckiest of the four children who endured the stepfather. I had a room of my own in my father’s house. I had running hot water at the tap. I had a mother and father who were concerned for me. I never appreciated this fact, this blessing, until visiting my mother in Texas and seeing what hitching her cart to the stepfather’s wagon had wrought in the end.
The unlucky ones? They had one bed for the four of them to share. Mom went through another divorce, which means those three siblings went through it with her. The garage apartment they found in the tiny town they had ended up in didn’t have a reliable roof or much in the way of indoor plumbing. They had to heat water on the stove to fill the bathtub so that they all could bath each night. My mother had taken the next of dozens of jobs she would eventually hold, working the night shift running that blight of the American landscape, a convenience store. Virtually the only profitable business in yet another small town whose only claim to fame was being on the road to somewhere else.
When I saw how bad their living conditions were, I cried. We siblings then made the first of several pacts that followed over the years. After a few weeks of mutual badgering, our parents in their separate hostile camps were convinced to let the rest of the kids move back up with dad and his new wife. I didn’t appreciate having to share a bed with my brother again, but at least they had hot water to shower with. Television to watch. Decent schools to attend, back in the good old days, when Kansas still believed in investing in young people.
For the first time in my mother’s short life, she was free. No children to supervise. No husband to cook for or tend to. Free to try and advance her skills by returning to school. So she did that. She moved to a larger town in the area, a town called Sweetwater. It was a town with a school, a town big enough for a trade school, but not so big that it became expensive to live in. She took business classes and worked odd jobs. She was probably about as happy as she had ever been.
This happiness was short-lived. This is a section of the story that I wrote about at length here,
Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.
…She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.
It was a point of pride to my mom that she never took food stamps. That she never had to go on welfare. Her memory is a bit more selective than mine. We may never have needed food stamps, but we certainly ate a lot of government bread and cheese. Drank a lot of government milk. I got a job as soon as I could after moving back in with mom. I knew even before she explained it to me, there was no way we’d survive if I wasn’t working. So I started sacking groceries and cleaning up at night at one of the two grocery stores in that mid-sized Texas town. I took a lot of food that the store was going to throw away home with me instead, one of the benefits of being the flunky who throws out the trash. We never went hungry, but that is just barely the truth.
I spent my senior year in high school as a stranger in a school I didn’t really want to attend. I preferred the Kansas schools of the time. Kansas’ investment in higher education (now abandoned) Kansas’ belief in better times ahead (ditto) Texas was meaner. Texas was harsher both in climate and attitude. That mythical Southern hospitality is the velvet glove over the iron fist of crony capitalism and repressive social structures designed to keep the poor in their place.
I attended the same trade school my mom had moved to Sweetwater to attend and I made the best of the illusions I had been fed as a child. That I could be whatever I wanted to be. That I had no limitations. That all I had to do was work hard and I would make the grade. That I could live happily ever after, too.
In the third installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we take on one of our country’s most fundamental notions: that America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all. And we ask why, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, does this idea persist?
With the help of historian Jill Lepore, Brooke traces the history of the “rags to riches” narrative, beginning with Benjamin Franklin, whose 18th century paper manufacturing business literally turned rags into riches. We hear from Natasha Boyer, a young Ohio woman who was saved from eviction by a generous surprise from strangers… only for the miracle to prove fleeting. And we consider the efficacy of “random acts of kindness” and the fateful role of luck — where you’re born, and to whom — in determining success.
Much like Benjamin Franklin in reality, as detailed in this segment of the story, I moved away from the family that was a drag on my ability to succeed on my own. Their poverty making my poverty that much harder to ignore, that much harder to escape. After a brief, heartbreaking few months trying to establish myself in Kansas back living with my father, trying to make good on promises made to a girlfriend I had left in Kansas and failing at that rather spectacularly, I returned to Texas and moved up the road from Sweetwater to Abilene for a brief time, living on my own. Like everyone who transitions to life on their own, that was quite a shock. I think it was the month driving on a leaky tire because I couldn’t afford a new one that brought home just how hard it was going to be to make the grade. Just how remote the possibility that happily ever after might ever occur.
“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
It was while living in Abilene that I noticed that I effectively had no boots and thusly no bootstraps to draw myself up by. I had limited education, most of which I provided for myself through voracious reading. I clearly had a problem producing work in my chosen profession, a barrier that I had never realized was mine alone until that time. There was no one with money in my immediate family. I knew no one in Abilene aside from co-workers at jobs I no longer had, and I wore out their welcomes in pretty short order. I even had to borrow mom’s pride and joy, the first new car she had ever bought for herself, just to get myself out of the rut I’d made in Abilene and move myself to a new, hopefully more promising locale, San Angelo.
It was in San Angelo that I met the Wife, working at one of the many odd jobs that came my way. It was there that I dragged the rest of my Texas family, after I finally found a job that paid money and had rented a house that would fit all of them. It was there that all of them eventually went to college. It was a long, hard struggle even getting to that level, the level where I felt I could attempt to repay a debt to my mother that I knew I still owed. But I was still poor, just not as poor as I had been. In order to not be poor I knew I was going to have to find a bigger city. Bigger cities require more architecture, more planning, more design, and I knew that was a demand that I could help satisfy if I could just get there.
In the fourth installment of our series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we examine the strengths and shortcomings of our nation’s safety net. Government assistance does help lift millions out of poverty each year — indeed, without it, poverty would be twice as high — but those in the most dire circumstances often slip through the cracks.
With the help of Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we consider how anti-poverty programs can actually keep people poor and offer little hope for a way out.
Also, Brooke meets Margaret Smith, a Columbus woman made homeless after a violent crime derailed the life she’d carefully built with her six children. And we visit an Athens County food pantry that provides not just meals to the community, but also school supplies, clothing, furniture, job training, home repairs, disaster relief…even burial plots.
In the city there is no illusion about the temporariness of prosperity, of hearth and home. If there is any real difference between city life and country life, it is the illusion of permanence that country life affords. In the city you pay by the month for everything including hearth and home. You never stop paying for anything, ever. New cars, bigger houses, longer commutes, more roads, taller buildings, denser usage. The city is a meatgrinder, and the meat it grinds is human. Best not to watch it happen if you have a weak stomach.
It’s true, there are more opportunities in the city if you can afford to go there and look for them. I took that leap almost thirty years ago now. Left what I see now as a quiet little town of a hundred thousand people; ten times the size, and more, of my hometown of Leoti at its peak. Austin boasts more than a million citizens now. if you incorporate its far-flung suburbs, there is something closer to two million people who work and live here because of Austin being here and pretty much for no other reason. It certainly isn’t for the weather, which is Texas hot nine months out of the year.
There is a little joke in Austin that if you move here and don’t have allergies, wait five years. You’ll have them, just wait. I had allergies before moving here and I never intended to stay here. Fate has kept me here, year after year in spite of my intentions to leave as soon as I was assured of an ability to provide for my family. I was ill before I got to Austin, and my illness has gotten worse every year I’ve been here. The symptoms which had no name eventually got so bad that I found a name for them, Meniere’s. Finding that my symptoms had a name is the only reason I’m alive to write this uplifting little post today. Having a name for what keeps me from working is what gets me disability payments that kept my now-grown children fed while they were still growing. The disability made me worth more alive than dead; so I’ve kept living, to the consternation of many.
Disability isn’t a carefree life of freedom and bliss. Ill health is generally hard to endure even without the grinding poverty that accompanies it in most cases. The poverty is inflicted on those of ill-health by the system itself, not as a function of their relative worth. The cost of treating illness is itself a function of building the wealth of countless millions of healthcare professionals, people who would be as poor as I am without people like me coming to them for treatment. Without Social Security and Medicare paying my bills, I’d have taken my own life years ago. All those thousands spent to educate my children, house, clothe and feed them, would never have existed. Their promising careers, the careers of my Texas family who went to college because I brought them somewhere that had a college, all of the people who benefitted in some way from the work that I’ve done if not by the simple existence of my health issues, none of them would be where they are now had I simply not existed. Had I been cast aside like the poster-waving homeless visible on every city street corner in the US.
Nothing hits so hard for me as being in my car pulling up to an intersection, and having someone come to me with their hand out. I can’t look because I know that if I give in to my desire to help everyone around me, I will soon be the one standing on the street corner holding a sign. See to your own needs first, as any properly trained triage attendant knows. You can’t help others if you end up needing help yourself. I have clung to the top edge of a vertical drop into non-existence for more than a decade now. Every single cent of every dollar spent in the last ten years having to be justified in some way. Kicking myself for ever frivolously spending anything in the years that I had money, not realizing that those years would be the briefest of all.
When reporting on poverty, the media fall into familiar traps and pundits make prescriptions that disregard the facts. So, in the fifth and final installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we present a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Poverty in America Edition. It’ll equip you with the tools to spot shoddy reporting and the knowledge to identify coverage with insight.
With help from Jack Frech, former Athens County welfare director; Kathryn Edin, co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.
Like him I really don’t have any answers aside from the plain observation that what we have attempted so far in the realm of aid to the poor has failed, utterly. We must begin again if we ever hope to improve the human condition. The only sane way is to approach the problem with the knowledge that we don’t know what will work before we try it. So it will profit all of us to make sure that what we are attempting can be tested for effectiveness before we embrace it as true and real.