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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

October 29, 2007

 

To Defeat the Most Conservative Member in the House...

 

There is going to be a race f0r the US Congress in New Jersey's District -5 next November. NJ-5 is presently represented by the guy who is tied with eight others as the most Conservative Congressman in the nation, Scott Garrett. Rep. Garrett has already said "No" to the bipartisan SCHIP bill.... twice and promises to vote against it time and time again while bashing the Democratic majority in the House as well as any of his GOP party-mates who happen to disagree with his, and President Bush's version of things.

But that's not all... Guess which industry gave Scott Garrett more money than any other? If you guessed the insurance industry, you'd be right!

Garrett is being opposed by Camille Abate, a Civil Rights attorney from Glen Rock, NJ. I had lunch with her and an her advisor on Friday and have offered my services to her in ay way I can. I'm glad to say she accepted.

I have never asked for any donations to any cause here on Note From a Madman before, but I feel that defeating Scott Garrett is one of the more important things we can do in 2008. It will be hard, but without donations and volunteers, it will be impossible.

So use your own judgment and give what you can, and only if you can. www.abate08.com


Thanks,
Noah Greenberg

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Scott Garrett has, once again, voted against the new SCHIP bill. He seems to like the current health care system just the way it is, in spite of the fact that 47 million Americans are doing without health care. This new bill would take an additional four million of these Americans off that list.

Mr. Garrett says that "no child, not one, will be kicked off of SCHIP," because of his vote to "reject" the program. In fact, this is false. At some point there will be a vote to end debate on the SCHIP program. And when this vote comes, and no other bill is passed to take its place, SCHIP will fall to one of two fates: As it falls off the federal radar forever, states will either have to pick up the tab for the whole program (which they now share with the US Government); or those children will simply have to do without. What this means to New Jersey is that we, the already over-taxed citizens of the Garden State, will have to go into our pockets, yet again, because a handful of Congressional members, like Scott Garrett, voted, yet again, with President Bush. And Mr. Garrett is promising to do the same thing over and over and over again.

As a result, it should come as no surprise that Mr. Garrett received over $60,000 dollars from members of the insurance industry in 2006 cycle alone. According to opensecrets.org, which keeps tabs on political contributions, the insurance industry contributed more than any other industry to Mr. Garrett’s campaign.

Even as Rep. Garrett states that he has sponsored a bill to keep the current SCHIP system going, there is no mention of that bill on his website. And after even more negotiations with their GOP counterparts in the House of Representatives, Mr. Garrett still refused to vote with those in his party willing to cross the aisle for the good of the children. Mr. Garrett is one of only three (out of thirteen) New Jersey Congressmen who have refused to sign onto this bill, against the great majority of both Houses.

There can be no doubt that Mr. Garrett is against any form of health care designed to cover all Americans. Scott Garret wrote, "It's important to note that the Democrats' SCHIP proposal ends the program completely in five years." This is when it became obvious to me that he never intends to vote for any plan that would cover all Americans. What it means is that, in the end, when someone without health care insurance gets sick, the chances that he or she or their children would see a doctor before the illness gets out of hand is lessened. And when they do get to the doctor, it will probably be a public health care facility with all of us who pay taxes footing the bill.

Yes, Scott Garret likes things the way they are.

According to Kerry Weems, the White House's Acting Administrator Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (the guy who runs the SCHIP program), "Denying health care to those in need only RAISES health care costs in the long run." Mr. Weems obviously knows that in the near future, we will be spending more than twenty cents on every dollar on health care in the United States, and it appears that Mr. Garrett has no plan to change that.

So as Rep. Garrett seeks to blame the Democrats for his failure to offer up a health care plan that would include all Americans, he is the one denying at least four million in need of that right.


Bush and the Fires

 

PRESIDENT BUSH: I made a pledge to the people of California on behalf of all Americans: We will help you put out the fires, get through the crisis, and rebuild your lives.
MADMAN: Someone get these people the telephone numbers of some Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina and ask them about Bush's promise to them two-plus years ago. Of course, there is a difference: Many of those displaced and left homeless in the affected areas hit worst by the Southland's wildfires are REPUBLICAN and members of the Bush "base" of "haves and have mores", so help may actually be on the way.
It's just a good thing these fires haven't hit Los Angeles' South Central or East LA sections.

BUSH: State officials also reached out to the Federal government for help. And we responded.
MADMAN: Here's your medal for doing what you're actually supposed to do, President Bush.
Has there ever been an administration or a President who has taken so many bows when they've actually done something right, and have deflected the blame each and every time (of those too numerous to mention times) when things didn't come out as planned.
But what about Katrina and the help asked for by DEMOCRAT Governor Kathleen Blanco in 2005? First the administration said that Gov. Blanco had never asked for help. Then it came out that she had originally asked the President personally via telephone for help just to be told to send in the request "through proper channels". Then the correct paperwork, files days before the storm hit, was released and the Bushies stopped blaming Gov. Blanco and put the blame squarely where they felt it belonged - on the people of New Orleans themselves.
After all, the best defense is a good offense.
BUSH: Governor Schwarzenegger requested more Federal help. Within one hour of that request, we approved an emergency declaration that authorized Federal agencies across the government to help state and local responders save lives, protect property, and maintain public health and safety.
MADMAN: One Hour? WOW! Federal construction projects meant to rebuild New Orleans and its surrounding areas, are eight months and more behind schedule. One wonders if "The Govenator" had to jump through the hoops which Gov. Blanco had to jump through just to be turned down? One wonders why, as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast, the Bush administration sent just two "observers" to the area instead of real help, like they've claimed to send into California these past few days.

BUSH: Federal assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repair, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, loans for small business owners, and funding to help clean up debris.
MADMAN: So I guess the good people of Southern California are truly going to get a slightly better response from Bush and his administration than the less fortunate in Louisiana. Just as a reminder (and as I mentioned above), many (if not most) those left homeless on the Gulf Coast still don't have their homes rebuilt and their lives back in order more than two years after the storm hit.
But the people of New Orleans can take solace in the words of Presidential mother (and former First Lady) Barbara Bush, who pointed out the people of New Orleans left homeless were doing "Very well" in their new home, the Astrodome.
BARBARA BUSH: And so many of the people (displaced by Hurricane Katrina) in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I went to Southern California with a message: We want you to know the country cares for you. We're concerned about you, your neighborhoods, and your homes. Things may look dismal now, but there is a better day ahead. And we will not forget you in Washington, D.C.
MADMAN: One has to wonder when President Bush is going to make that same speech for the people of New Orleans and actually do something to make those promises mean something. Many have not come back home, and through a series of mistakes, both before and after Katrina, many neighborhoods haven't even been cleared of debris yet, let alone been rebuilt.
And what about future hurricanes which might hit the area? You can bet your bottom dollar that when the ultra rich of Southern California begin asking for federally funded (a.k.a. middle class taxpayer dollars) measures to avoid a similar disaster, their requests won't be ignored. What about the people of New Orleans and other areas hard hit by Katrina? Well before Katrina hit the area, the Army Corp of Engineers had recommended and upgrade of the levy system to prevent a category five storm from destroying the city in the fishbowl. The existing system was only designed to protect them from a category three storm. It wasn't upgraded before and it certainly isn't going to be upgraded now.

Even those who believe that President Bush learned from Hurricane Katrina and the way the administration mishandled it can't argue that there is no plan to make that city safe from future storms. They'd probably cut down all of the trees from Malibu to Baja California to appease their "base" in SoCal.

-Noah Greenberg



THE NEW ECONOMIC NORMAL
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.


The terrible fires in Southern California last week, stretching from San Diego to Santa Barbara, displaced over a million people and decimated close to 2,000 homes and businesses. Fortunately, few people were killed. The last natural disaster of such magnitude was Hurricane Katrina, in which 1.5 million people were displaced, several Gulf Coast towns and the city of New Orleans almost totally destroyed and more than 1,800 people killed.

The California fires are currently estimated to have caused $2 billion in damages, while the Katrina disaster has thus far cost $81.2 billion–the costliest disaster in U.S. history.

It was impossible for me to *not* think of Katrina while watching TV news coverage of the fires and how this disaster was handled. There were significant differences in the two events and those differences point to the growing economic disparities in America.

The people stranded in New Orleans–left to drown in their homes or to suffer unimaginably in the Superdome stadium and Convention Center, without food, water, medical care or even toilets–were overwhelmingly poor, overwhelmingly people of color.

The people displaced by the fires in California are overwhelmingly wealthy and white, their homes often second homes, but almost all million-dollar and multi-million dollar homes. These homes are built in the wooded hillsides to capitalize on the gorgeous landscape. But every year during the fire season (or the mudslide season), some of these homes are destroyed and firefighters endangered by building in areas that are not really meant for human habitation.

I am not saying that I feel nothing for the fire victims. Just because they are wealthy doesn’t mean they aren’t devastated by their losses or that those losses aren’t tragic.

But I have also seen several people on camera crying and saying this was their second or third house that had been destroyed in a fire. Which does leave one less sympathetic. The people of the Gulf Coast can no longer get insurance to cover their only homes, but these people can? Where is the fairness in this?

While the victims of Katrina continue to suffer *two full years later,* thousands still living in FEMA trailers, which were discovered earlier this year to exude formaldehyde, slowly poisoning their inhabitants, the displaced people in Southern California have been taken under the wing of the “new” FEMA, immediately.

President Bush, who remained on vacation while the Gulf Coast was decimated and New Orleans flooded and only arrived in New Orleans days after the tragedy, was immediately on-site in California, shaking the hands of hundreds of white people.

If I sound bitter about the dichotomy, it’s because I am. It isn’t simply that I lived in New Orleans and think of it as a second home. It isn’t just that so many of my friends were ravaged by Katrina and then treated horribly–and still are–by FEMA. It’s the *obviousness* of the racism and classism of this Administration. I don’t blame the people in California who want a swift resolution to their personal losses–who wouldn’t want that? But I do blame a President and an Administration that continues to blatantly favor one segment of American society over another time and again.

When hip-hop legend and record producer Kanye West shocked so many people at the Grammys in 2005 by saying “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” one would have thought the Administration would try to refute that image. It hasn’t. New Orleanians are still suffering from the impact of Katrina, New Orleans has hardly begun to be rebuilt due to bureaucratic red tape, despite being the largest port in North America. And yet there is President Bush, in California promising the moon to rich, white people who have lost their homes while *two years* have passed for the people of New Orleans, and Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton have built more homes for the displaced than has the Bush Administration.

It’s easy to see the contrast in these two events, the fires and the flood, the wealthy and the poor. Other changes on the American landscape due to Bush’s trickle-up economics might be less obvious, but they are nevertheless as lasting.

Poverty has risen dramatically under the Bush Administration. This isn’t just leftist hyperbole–it’s fact. There are millions more people living at or below the poverty level, more children left behind, 16 million more people uninsured. The numbers are actually staggering, but the Administration continues to say the economy is booming.

For whom?

In his new book, Conscience of a Liberal, Princeton economist Paul Krugman lays it out succinctly. The facts are grim and getting grimmer.

Here’s a little anecdote. Last week I was sitting outside a West Philly Mexican restaurant with my nephew, a recent University of Pennsylvania graduate. My nephew has been living in Mexico and Guatemala for the past few months, working on organic farms.

We were talking about privilege and social justice issues. A homeless man–African American–sat down at the table across from us, looked straight at me and asked me if I could give him money for something to eat. I said, “Sure” and gave him ten of my last 12 dollars.

I didn’t think about it, I just did it. I had just paid for a small meal for my nephew and myself. We had food. He didn’t.

But a few minutes later a man sitting at a table behind us said to his female companion, “People are homeless by choice.”

And therein lies the problem of America under the Bush Administration.

I was homeless once. I almost never talk about it, because it was a painful time in my life. I was homeless for just under a year. I was rarely on the street–mostly I lived with other people I knew and eventually I was able to get a place to live again on my own. I was in my 20s and resilient. I wasn’t mentally ill or an addict, like so many homeless people are. A confluence of circumstances led to my being homeless, but I certainly didn’t want to be homeless. And in the years since, when I have worked with homeless people, I have not met a single person at a shelter or on the streets who wanted to be homeless or chose to be so. Nobody likes the insecurity of being without a place to live. No one likes being dirty and not having a place to use the bathroom. No one likes being hungry. No one likes being too cold or too hot.

How did we get to a place in our society where the rich continue to be rewarded just for being rich and the poor continue to be chastised just because they are poor? There are people I know–decent people–who were saying to me last week that it was “their own fault,” the people in New Orleans who didn’t leave. There really is no comprehension by many Americans who have never been poor what it is to be poor. The people who stayed in New Orleans did so because they couldn’t afford to leave; they had no money, no cars, no place to go. They were trapped by their poverty. And it killed more than 1,800 of them.

Krugman was doing an interview with a local NPR radio host last week, discussing his new book, and he began talking about Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, how FDR worked to fix the poverty wrought by the Great Depression. We need a new New Deal, Krugman asserted.

I couldn’t agree more.

In his book, Krugman cites the disparities between the rich and poor that are widening the class chasm. But I don’t need to read Krugman (though I read his columns weekly in the New York Times) to see that gap grow. I see it in my neighborhood. I see it throughout Philadelphia, which is the poorest big city in America. I see it every time I drive home from Center City along the Parkway, because at night the benches are lined with homeless people, as is the wall along the Youth Study Center.

When my nephew and I were talking about social justice, I noted that the role of government in a capitalist society like our own is redistribution of wealth by government. This is what makes capitalism work: workers get paid, they buy things, they fuel the economy. The wealthy are taxed and social services are created for the poor. But when workers are not paid enough, when the struggle is too great simply to survive, and when taxes are imposed only on the poor and middle class and not the wealthy, the economy begins to suffer. As does the majority of the citizenry–the 98 percent who are not rich.

Under the Bush Administration, that suffering has reached new heights. The housing market is but one example. Ten years ago under the Clinton Administration, your house was equity. It didn’t matter how small, or even how marginal a neighborhood you lived in: Your house was like a bank account on which you could draw. No more.

Now, owning a house if you aren’t rich is a liability. Housing deficits have reached their lowest point since 1928–the year before the big stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. Foreclosures have also reached that same all-time high since the Depression. People are becoming homeless in significant numbers, but we just aren’t talking about it in this Administration.

FDR was also responsible for the GI Bill, which provided veterans with education and other benefits, keeping them from glutting the workforce or becoming unemployed when they returned from WWII.

Where are those benefits now, when so many returning Iraq vets are living in their cars?

The new economic normal under the Bush Administration has been to take from the poor and give to the rich. This not only defies logic, it’s been bad for the economy. Throughout the Clinton Administration, people took equity from their homes and used it to either upgrade those homes or buy other things. That money went back into the national economy, growing that economy.

Fewer poor people during the Clinton years meant less drain on social services and thus less drain on the economy as a whole. The Clinton years are widely considered by economists to have been the most prosperous in the 20th century, while also benefiting the most people in the country economically.

The more poor people in a society, the less able that society is to function. The more disparity between the very wealthy and the seriously struggling, the less ability of the economy to equalize. The middle class is left to bear the tax burden of the rich, which in turn means many will drop from the ranks of the middle class into the growing ranks of the working poor. It’s a scenario that benefits no one except the wealthy.

The images of President Bush shaking hands in California will continue to rankle when juxtaposed against the scenes of him *flying over* the devastated Gulf Coast, but refusing to land. It is perhaps the clearest picture of who this Administration has viewed as important, and who it has dismissed as irrelevant.

But we are all Americans–rich and poor and middle class. We all have a role in this society and we all deserve equal treatment. It would be best for us all if we did not have to wait until January 2009, when a new president takes the helm, for that to happen.


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-Noah Greenberg