Enough Already

Amidst the usual self congratulatory palaver that crowds out reason in U.S. media and academia, a recent essay by Paul Buchheit in AlterNet (a source I admit I very rarely consult) conveys some very striking information. Here are some excerpts:

“America’s wealth grew by 60 percent in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60 percent.”

Shouldn’t that one fact be enough evidence – yes, just that one fact – to convince everyone that U.S. institutions are barbaric? Or perhaps that is too extreme a reaction? Maybe it is nasty naysaying as compared to righteously celebrating the new model iPhone while ignoring homelessness?

Buchheit continues:

“Financier and CEO Peter Schiff said, “People don’t go hungry in a capitalist economy.” The 16 million kids on food stamps know what it’s like to go hungry. Perhaps, some in Congress would say, those children should be working. “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” insisted Georgia Representative Jack Kingston, even for school kids, who should be required to “sweep the floor of the cafeteria”

When you study much earlier times, and you find horribly harsh formulations, at least you can note that in many cases they arose when there was generalized ignorance of related issues. Now, however, we all know what is right. But we are pressured to do what is wrong – and to then rationalize it.

“Teacher Sonya Romero-Smith told about the two little homeless girls she adopted: “Getting rid of bedbugs, that took us a while. Night terrors, that took a little while. Hoarding food.”

Our country spends fortunes every year ostensibly to defend itself (against imaginary threats) but really to profit war mongers and shore up repressive elites as well abroad and at home – and, at the same time, the country being “defended” is despicable. Is that also too harsh? Maybe I need counseling to tone down my anger?

“UNICEF reports, “[Children’s] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.”

The U.S. patrols the world to extract wealth from virtually every corner. Where does the wealth go if not to children? To Moneybags, of course. And what does this warrant from us as Moneybags hunkers down in his private jet flying off to Washington to broker some lucrative policy into the books? Should we analyze? Be angry? Something more? Or maybe just take a pill?

“Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.”

Why wouldn’t these facts, too, engender outrage and action? Imagine if someone told you that in Greece, say, or in Venezuela – such poverty was present. You might say, how horrible. We need to do something. You might ask, why don’t they do something? Of course, the place the claim is actually true of, and the place with the least excuse on the whole planet (we are a humongous outside force subverting Greece and Venezuela but there is no outside force even able to subvert us), is right here. So what should we do about the horror of kids living in poverty right here in the good old USA?

“Nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children, and they averaged about $5 a day for their meals before the 2014 farm bill cut $8.6 billion (over the next ten years) from the food stamp program.”

Would the legendary villain Scrooge do these things? What is particularly horrifying is that it isn’t Scrooge-like characters secretly subverting life with nefarious nasty slyness, nor is it such characters who abide the horrors perpetrated against children, and really, against all the poor, the disenfranchised, etc. No, it is those who pull the levers and make the choices. In other words it is not people secretly and fraudulently running off with society’s options doing the harm, but people openly implementing our society’s underlying logic totally consistently with our society’s structure and history. And, on the other hand, it has to be said, it the rest of us who know it is happening but who haven’t the strength, will, or hope to oppose it, who abet it happening, often even against our own interests.

“In 2007 about 12 of every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today it’s 20 of every 100.”

What a nice growth rate for poverty. Instead of poverty reducing by half every eight years, on a road to sanity – it rises by two thirds in that same time span. What a wonderful societal trajectory.

We are on the Titanic of all Titanics. Some ultra rich and powerful owners are steering toward the icebergs. Some merely rich and powerful managers and intellectuals and lawyers and otherwise empowered citizenry are watching it unfold, nervous and even at times horrified, but also (quite stupidly as well as immorally) satisfied with their way above the waterline berths. And then there are a whole lot of us, moving around deck chairs in a moderate bliss, rarely, or more often in a kind of walking sleep trying for momentary pleasures, yet at some level knowing the icebergs are out there, and indeed already scraping us to smithereens? And then there is the biggest group, the rest, horrified, already suffering in diverse ways, but lacking coherent plans to do anything positive.

“On a typical frigid night in January, 138,000 children, according to the U.S. Department of Housing, were without a place to call home.”

Think about that. Really. Envision it. If it doesn’t make you ill, why not?

Suppose an alien spaceship came into the U.S. and took 2,500 kids on average from every state – more from more populated states, less from less populated ones – and made all the kids live outdoors, with no place to call home? Would we just say, “ah well, that is how it goes. Never mind. Don’t bother me about that, there is nothing to be done?” Or would we go utterly and totally ballistic, including doing whatever was required to save the kids, save the kids, save the kids? And then, even more so, with the kids rescued from homelessness, wouldn’t we also focus on getting the aliens out of our world?

Okay, so the aliens aren’t little green creatures. They are institutions that make child poverty and deprivation, not to mention adult poverty and deprivation, inexorable byproducts of business as usual. So, shouldn’t we be saving the children, short run, and replacing the institutions, in the long run? Is there any fancy rhetoric or complex sociological or economic theory that can even address much less overcome this simple proposition – we need mitigating change leading into revolution that alters our defining institutions – without demonstrating a level of inhumanity that is…alien?

Returning to Buchheit:

“Only two nations still refuse to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: South Sudan and the United States. When President Obama said, “I believe America is exceptional,” he was close to the truth, in a way he and his wealthy friends would never admit.”

So what prevents insurrection? I submit that the answer is hopelessness. A belief that there is no better option out there to be had, and, even if there were such an option, there is no way to win it.

Such views are poppycock, of course, but of a very deadly and suicidal kind.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Michael April 20, 2015 5:25 pm 

    My wife, from Central America, 25 year university teacher in history, and Ph.D. candidate, and I were talking about a news report that said the U.S. economy was improving but not employment. She is trying diligently to understand the U.S. but asked about this seeming contradiction.

    I briefly said, yes, improving for those who have, not for the great majority of those who don’t have, this is what you have to remember, like statistics related to two people, one with an income of $100,000, the other with an income of $6,000. The average income, then, would be $53.000–nothing to do with understanding reality.

    Of course, she knows this, but finds it hard to believe given what she had “heard” of the U.S. prior to living here and witnessing the reality.

    Michael’s article is excellent, of course.

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