Annoying terminology: “war on the poor”

I sometimes cringe when some subjects are brought up. Poverty is one of them.

I often hear “war on the poor”. I’d like to know what is meant by that.

IF one is talking about things like, say, a dearth of good, affordable food options (food deserts) or businesses that prey on the poor (e. g. payday loan places), ok, I agree that these things are bad. The former is a consequence of being too reliant on the capitalist model for everything (food stores in such areas are often not good investments) and the latter is, well, greed.

BUT if one is saying “we want to lower taxes and make safety net programs less generous”, I don’t see how that can be called a “war on the poor”. I don’t think that there is an obligation of someone, no matter how rich, to pay for someone else’s living expenses.

So, becoming less generous really isn’t a “war”.

Now, I am for these safety net programs for a variety of reasons; I think that it is a good thing to do with tax money, and I’d much rather do that than some of the other stupid stuff we do. It think that being a bit more generous (as a society) is a good thing and I support politicians that support that.

But to NOT do that hardly constitutes a “war”.

Workout notes: easy 4 mile walk outdoors in Bradley Park. The weather was brisk. My walk wasn’t.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | poor, poverty, social/political, walking | Leave a comment

Attititudes toward the poor and the vexing politics…..

This post is inspired by this Daily Kos diary “Things that need to change: punitive attitudes toward the poor” by glendenb.

I was raised on the fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper:

Once there lived an ant and a grasshopper in a grassy meadow.

All day long the ant would work hard, collecting grains of wheat from the farmer’s field far away. She would hurry to the field every morning, as soon as it was light enough to see by, and toil back with a heavy grain of wheat balanced on her head. She would put the grain of wheat carefully away in her larder, and then hurry back to the field for another one. All day long she would work, without stop or rest, scurrying back and forth from the field, collecting the grains of wheat and storing them carefully in her larder.

The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. ‘Why do you work so hard, dear ant?’ he would say. ‘Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labour and toil?’

The ant would ignore him, and head bent, would just hurry to the field a little faster. This would make the grasshopper laugh even louder. ‘What a silly little ant you are!’ he would call after her. ‘Come, come and dance with me! Forget about work! Enjoy the summer! Live a little!’ And the grasshopper would hop away across the meadow, singing and dancing merrily.

Summer faded into autumn, and autumn turned into winter. The sun was hardly seen, and the days were short and grey, the nights long and dark. It became freezing cold, and snow began to fall.

The grasshopper didn’t feel like singing any more. He was cold and hungry. He had nowhere to shelter from the snow, and nothing to eat. The meadow and the farmer’s field were covered in snow, and there was no food to be had. ‘Oh what shall I do? Where shall I go?’ wailed the grasshopper. Suddenly he remembered the ant. ‘Ah – I shall go to the ant and ask her for food and shelter!’ declared the grasshopper, perking up. So off he went to the ant’s house and knocked at her door. ‘Hello ant!’ he cried cheerfully. ‘Here I am, to sing for you, as I warm myself by your fire, while you get me some food from that larder of yours!’

The ant looked at the grasshopper and said, ‘All summer long I worked hard while you made fun of me, and sang and danced. You should have thought of winter then! Find somewhere else to sing, grasshopper! There is no warmth or food for you here!’ And the ant shut the door in the grasshopper’s face.

It is wise to worry about tomorrow today.

So, while in high school, I made sure that I did reasonably well and stayed out of trouble; I made sure that I didn’t make some girl pregnant. I got a scholarship to go to college, went into the Navy, then came back and got my doctorate and got a job with it.

There are many who went to the same high school that I did who didn’t end up doing so well; you might say that they made “other choices” along the way. And yes, some did better than I did.

And so it is easy to dismiss the plight of the poor; after all they are the grasshoppers who pissed away their opportunities, right? And yes, it is the easiest thing in the world to look for examples to confirm the point of view that one already has.

One can look at the poor…and see them smoking. Why should public tax dollars go for their tobacco? (note: my knee jerk thought is that they drink more too, but that isn’t the case and obesity…while a problem among some poor, is more complicated.)

Then there is the problem of those in public aid “demanding” this or that. Hey, remember that “beggars can’t be choosers?” If you are paying nothing for a service, then….so what if you don’t like the service? Top that with the fact that poor vote in lower rates….

Of course all of the above misses something. Yes, there ARE individuals who are no good slackers; to pretend otherwise would be dishonest. In fact, there are celebrations of being a no-good slacker. Example:

But what about MOST of the poor? What does the data say?

Well, for one, I’d recommend a book by W. J. Wilson called When Work Disappears. Though it is about the African American community, he said that what was happening to the AA community was a bit like a canary in the coal mine; the dearth of well paying blue collar jobs would bring on many of the pathologies of poverty to the greater community.

Then there is this:

What do you think happened to those who lost their jobs in that “red” time? Yes, some jobs came back, but remember that the potential work force is growing. Do you think that all of these “newly unemployed” people are slackers?

What about those who lost their jobs while in their 50’s? That is one of the toughest times to lose a job as prospects for reemployment are bleak.

As for those who are on public aid: yes, most don’t stay on long, though at any given time, most of the caseload is on the chronically poor.

(No, this is not paradoxical. Suppose you have 100 people in group A who have used public aid at one time or another during a 5 year period but have stayed on public aid for exactly 6 months each. Then in any 6 month period, you’d have 10 people from group A on public aid. Then you have 20 people from group B who have been on public aid for the entire 5 year period. Then, you can say that there are 5 times more people in group A than group B (the short term users) but at any given 6 month period, you’d have twice as many long term users than short term ones)

Then once one gets trapped in the lower income classes, it is hard to break out. The United States has LESS economic mobility than other western countries (here and here). And no, this is NOT simply a matter of the “more intelligent” making it to the top leaving the dummies behind; even smart poor kids complete college at lower rates than wealthier dumb kids:

The fact that college completion is higher for each successive income group among similar scoring students is evidence against a completely meritocratic system. The pattern implies that at every level of test scores, higher income led to higher completion rates. The key comparison in this figure is the fact that high-scoring students from low-income families complete college at nearly the same rate as low-scoring, high-income students (29 percent vs. 30 percent). In other words, high-scoring, low-income children are no more likely to complete college than low-scoring, rich children.

Even worse, being in the lower economic classes is hazardous to one’s health. Even when one accounts for poorer nutrition, worse environment and poorer choices (e. g. smoking) being poor, in and of itself, is a strain on one’s health.

So what do we do about it?
This is a tough one. When it comes to making public policy choices, humans often go more by emotions than reason. The poor: let’s fact it, unfairly or not, they are seen as unattractive losers (the disabled, the mentally ill, the not-so-smart, etc.) and there is no prestige to being “on their side”. Admitting that many of us are only a pink slip away or only one untimely serious illness/accident away from being right with them is too scary to contemplate.

That is why I favor the jobs-jobs-jobs approach; in our current “liquidity trap” situation, have the government spend money on things like infrastructure repair, teachers, firefighters and the like, thereby providing more jobs, thereby providing businesses with more customers, thereby encouraging the private sector to hire more people. And when it comes to the safety net policy…it doesn’t hurt to remind people that these public safety net programs are a form of stimulus; those getting aid spend that money at supermarkets and other places, thereby propping up demand.

It is a pity that compassion is not good politics so we should look for end runs and point out that some compassion might actually make economic sense.

Yes, some enabling will occur and no one likes that.

July 24, 2012 Posted by | economy, poor, social/political | Leave a comment

12 December Blizzard Edition

Watch the latest breaking news, politics, entertainment and offbeat videos everyone is talking about at Get informed now!

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This is one of the liberal positions. Note: I am giving up on the Olbermann show for a while and am watching Parker-Spitzer instead. My take: I like the fact that they present many different views, but I wish they would present fewer topics and cover them more in depth.

More video:
Some of the facts in the US are different (we have stronger free speech protections) but much of this applies:

Sarah Palin’s Alaska Show
I caught most of an episode last night. Actually, it wasn’t all bad; I learned a few things and enjoyed the wildlife shots and learning about the challenges of doing everyday stuff that I don’t normally think about (e. g., the fish processing).

I wish that there had been less focus on her and more, say, discussions with wildlife and nature experts (“here is what you are seeing and why”) but hey, it was ok. I’ve seen far worse.

But as far as her political use of this:

Ms. Palin travels with husband Todd, daughter Piper and niece McKinley for some fishing on the Big Lake River. While floating on the river, the family encounters a group of brown bears. The bears fish, swim … then, one bear starts fighting to protect her territory and her two cubs.

The rival bears growl, snarl and lash out as the babies scamper into the woods.

Sarah and her family view the action from their boat. “Wow,” she says. “Wow … It was amazing to watch. This ‘mama grizzly’ … protecting her cubs!” This seems like an intentional metaphor from Ms. Palin, who has used the ‘mama grizzly’ reference before. The phrase invokes a “common sense” woman who guards her children and her country from harm.

While watching the natural drama, Palin points out how the animals teach their cubs about survival first-hand. “No one else can do it for you,” she concludes, focusing on the the bears’ self-reliance.

THAT is a debate I’d love to have. How well would those bears do if the government didn’t clamp down on industries polluting their environment, poisoning their food supplies, taking over their lands or allowing for uncontrolled hunting? How well would they do if there was uncontrolled climate change? Would we put up with people dying of diseases that basic scientific research could easily cure? Do we want to have the same mortality rate for ourselves that the bears have? In the wild, the sick weak and lame bears die. Do we want this Malthusian society ethic for ourselves?

But politics aside, the show isn’t that bad and she does a reasonably good job of hosting it.

Science, Evolution and Frogs
Evolution in action: Frogs evolve a defense against a killer fungus:

FROGS across Australia and the US may be recovering from a fungal disease that has devastated populations around the world.

“It’s happening across a number of species,” says Michael Mahony at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, who completed a 20-year study of frogs along the Great Dividing Range in Australia for the Earthwatch Institute. Between 1990 and 1998 the populations of several frog species crashed due to chytridiomycosis infection (chytrid) caused by the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, but Mahony’s surveys suggest that the frogs are re-establishing.

Barred river frogs (Mixophyes esiteratus) disappeared, he says, but now up to 30 of the animals have returned to streams across Australia’s Central Coast. The tusked-frog (Adelotus) and several tree frog species (Litoria) have also returned there. Ross Alford at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, says tree frogs are also repopulating other areas of the state after their numbers nosedived. Some have even reached pre-infection levels.

In the US there are also signs of recovery. Roland Knapp at Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory at the University of California says mountain yellow-legged frogs (Rana muscosas) – once “driven virtually to extinction” – are returning. The big question is: are frogs now beating chytrid?

Using electronic tagging to track frogs, Knapp (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0912886107) and Mahony have separately found that recovering frogs are living with low-level infections of the fungus.

It is possible, they say, that the fungus has weakened in recovering areas. Knapp says there is evidence that the frogs are evolving. Initial findings from his team show that frogs from recovered populations can survive when challenged with a fungal strain, unlike frogs with no previous exposure to the fungus, which died after it colonised their skin.

My guess: frogs have been around for 200 million years. Perhaps one reason is that they have the ability to adapt; that is, they are good at evolving to meet new challenges? Note: I am not a biologist so this is a “peanut gallery” guess.

Professor Krugman presents evidence that what we have is a demand problem.

Here is one person’s take on why President Obama can’t blow up at Republicans in public: it is the “angry black man” thing. Frankly, I like it that we have a President who can keep his cool; his even headed deportment is one reason I backed him to begin with.


Other countries have social programs. We have Republicans.

December 12, 2010 Posted by | biology, Democrats, economics, evolution, nature, Peoria, Peoria/local, political/social, politics, politics/social, poor, poverty, religion, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, sarah palin, science | Leave a comment

6 October 2010 pm quickies

Sarah Palin: valuable for getting the Republican nomination. Afterward: not so much. The information comes from here. Key stats:

Note that Obama has a more negative effect among Republicans than Palin does among Democrats, but Obama has a less negative effect with independents than Palin does.

Our lack of compassion toward the less fortunate is drawing attention in other countries. Note:

America’s political and economic crisis is set to worsen following the upcoming November elections. President Barack Obama will lose any hope for passing progressive legislation aimed at helping the poor or the environment. Indeed, all major legislation and reforms are likely to be stalemated until 2013, following a new presidential election. An already bad situation marked by deadlock and vitriol is likely to worsen, and the world should not expect much leadership from a bitterly divided United States.

Much of America is in a nasty mood and the language of compassion has more or less been abandoned. Both political parties serve their rich campaign contributors, while proclaiming they defend the middle class. Neither party even mentions the poor – who now officially make up 15% of the population, but in fact are even more numerous when we count all those households struggling with healthcare, housing, jobs and other needs.

The Republican party recently issued a “Pledge to America” to explain its beliefs and campaign promises. The document is filled with nonsense, such as the fatuous claim high taxes and over-regulation explain America’s high unemployment. It is also filled with propaganda. A quote from President John F Kennedy states that high tax rates can strangle the economy, but Kennedy was speaking half a century ago, when the top marginal tax rates were twice what they are today. Most of all, the Republican platform is devoid of compassion.

America today presents the paradox of a rich country falling apart because of the collapse of its core values. […]

I’ve got a few comments:
1. Politicians will only suck up to those who vote, and the poor really don’t vote at high rates, especially in midterms.
2. The poor include the less educated classes, those with substance abuse problems, racial minorities and those sacked from their jobs. Unfortunately, all of these groups tend to be looked down upon.
3. America is a very superstitious country; the poor are often those viewed to be “cursed” (by fate, a deity, their own sins, etc.)
4. The core values comment is hilarious. The right wing would actually agree with this sentiment, but only because there are too many atheists, homosexuals, we’ve gotten too socialist, etc.

Finally, a voice of Reason: President Obama is doing fine. Oh sure, the conservatives won’t like him, but they will never see any government that they aren’t in charge of as legitimate. What sort of depresses me is the fire from the “I want what I want and want it now” people in the left wing. They don’t seem to grasp that Congressional Democrats are more conservative than they are (48 House members from McCain districts, 13 Senators from red states). From our point of view, President Obama is the best we could hope for.

Yeah, I’d love for our troops to be home, for us to have single payer health care and for gays to have full rights and for creationists/ID types to be denied any benefit from modern science and for the South to secede and for our conservatives to be exiled there But that ain’t going to happen quickly; single payer won’t happen at all (at least during my life time).

October 6, 2010 Posted by | 2010 election, Barack Obama, politics, politics/social, poll, poor, poverty, Republican, republican party, republicans | 2 Comments

Former Bush Adviser Hubbard Weighs in on Tax Cut Debate | PBS NewsHour | Sept. 22, 2010

In the first of several conversations on whether Bush-era should be extended, Gwen Ifill speaks with Columbia University’s business school Dean Glenn Hubbard, who helped craft the cuts when he served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

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September 23, 2010 Posted by | bush-era, business & economy, deadline, Democrats, extension, glenn hubbard, gwen ifill, jim lehrer, newshour, north america, poor, Republican, rich, tax cuts | Leave a comment