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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

www.NationalView.org's Note From a Madman

December 15, 2008


The American Worker Vs. 35 Naysayers

There's an additional illness afflicting the US auto industry and it's hidden beneath all of the talks about bailouts and rescue loans, even though it has been hinted upon. Customers certainly might not want to purchase cars from a company they think is going to go out of business; and they certainly would resist even if that company only files Chapter 11 protection from its creditors and suppliers. But there is one thing for sure:

Americans are bargain-hunters.

Judging from the banter between some friends and family, the reason why some won't even look at a new car today is, in part, that they're waiting for the next shoe to drop. (And in light of the recent events in Iraq involving President Bush, and Iraqi journalist and his shoes, "waiting for the next shoe to drop" could be quite dangerous.) Certainly Americans afraid of losing their jobs, or those who have lost their jobs already, are the main reason that the collective "we" aren't even looking in new car showrooms today (whether they be US- or foreign-owned). The untold reason they aren't looking, however, isn't that widely known or realized.

Americans want that bargain and they're willing to wait for a big ol' going-out-of-business-sale to get it.

If one or many auto manufacturers do decide that they have no other recourse but to close their doors forever, there will be a "Sale-a-thon" the likes of which no dealer has ever brought forth before.

How many cars are sitting on the docks or outside of assembly plants today? And how many will be sitting there waiting for quick sales so creditors could recoup some of the money they lent in dollars and supplies to General Motors, Ford or Chrysler?

Are you willing to go into a car dealership today for a "Red- tag event" that lowers the price of a new car by a couple of hundred dollars; or are you willing to wait and see if those same cars will go on sale in an "everything must go" sales event required by a group of bankruptcy judges?

And this brings me to those who would allow the US auto industry to die for their own selfish reason. That group is headed by Republican Freshman Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee whose state boasts foreign auto assemblers not member of any labor union.

Corker, along with so many other Republican politicians still in the pockets of big business, would like nothing more than to see the death of the UAW, and if it requires the sacrifice of General Motors, the largest employer of manufactured goods in the United States, then that's a loss they're willing, and apparently eager, to make.

Unions have made employment in the US safer and, more importantly, have created the single largest and greatest group of consumers the world has ever known: the US middle class. When candidates for office, especially cynical Southern Republican candidates and politicians, talk about "Main Street" and how a bailout of the US auto industry is bad for "Main Street", they ignore the fact that Labor Unions were the driving force behind its creation.

Today, we are down to a measly eight percent of the American workforce who are members of labor unions. That's down from 25 percent in the 1950's and sixties. Zero percent is what Corker and his ilk are looking for.

No other group has given Bob Corker more money than the Finance industry. In the 2006 Senate election alone, they gave him nearly one million dollars ($866,000) from that group alone, and that doesn't even include those financiers who've identified themselves as "Retired" in donor occupation identification statistics. In the 2007-08 cycle, when including commercial banks and insurance companies in the figures, that number increases to nearly $1.5 million ($1,486,807), up from the combined $1.34 million he received from them in 2006.

By the way, after wagging his finger at President Bush and the Democrats for putting forth the Big Financial industry bailout bill, Corker voted "Aye" to its passage.


Corker, his Alabama GOP colleague Senator Richard Shelby, also from a foreign auto manufacturer state without labor unions (Alabama) and others would love to see the labor union movement meet its end. After President Ronald Reagan's assault on labor in the 1980's, which included the firing of all air traffic controllers in the United States, the Right's dream of removing collective bargaining and workers' rights would come to realization.

And that would be disastrous to us as a nation.

But at least their buddies in Big Finance will still get their $1.5 trillion.

-Noah Greenberg

Waiting on January 20th

It looks like the Democrats and Obama are going to get off and running as soon as he is sworn into office, instead of wasting January, February and March having retreats and not doing any legislative work as the Republicans did during their tenure. There is already a lot of legislation on the agenda for January and just maybe, for once in a long, long time they will actually have a timely budget passed when the fiscal year ends on September 30th of 09. Their calendar actually has them here on most Mondays through Fridays (with a few exceptions) and proposed legislation that might actually provide some relief to us little, hard working (or at least want to be hard working) folks. Even though I love the Christmas season and winter, January 20th can't get here soon enough.


by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

Social issues trend. Some of it is media-driven, some celebrity-driven. Some issues simply grab interest in ways others do not.

For example, breast cancer has been the health issue for women in the past decade. Yet lung cancer is actually the primary cancer killer of women. And heart disease trumps both.

In the early- to mid-1980s, when former President Jimmy Carter was deeply involved with Habitat for Humanity, homelessness was the issue du jour.

Yet as 2008 draws to a close, with an economic recession/depression that put a half million Americans out of work in November alone, homelessness is barely mentioned, even though, according to homeless advocates, it is on the rise.

According to the most recent U.S. Census reports, there are 4 million homeless in America–slightly more than one percent of the population. But homeless advocates say that number is far lower than reality and that the number of homeless in America will likely double in the next year or so, due to the current economic climate.

When most of us think of homelessness, we think of the unwashed schizophrenics mumbling to themselves and lying on park benches. These are the homeless people of the 1970s, when mental institutions released vast numbers of people into their own care, to mixed results. Some thrived, others ended up on the streets, unmedicated and unable to care for themselves, but with nowhere to go and no one to care for them.

Since the 1970s, another large demographic of the homeless have been veterans–first of Vietnam and now of Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans groups assert that ten percent or more of America’s homeless are veterans. Many of these men are also mentally ill and/or substance abusers, suffering from PTSD and other after-effects of their war experiences.

But while for the past few decades the majority of the chronically homeless have been men who suffered from mental illness or substance abuse that had left them destitute and on the streets, they no longer predominate among the homeless.

In the 21st century, the homeless are now more likely to be women and children or whole families and have no substance abuse issues or mental illness. Today’s homeless are more likely to be that family who used to live next door until they lost their jobs, then their homes.

The elderly are also a growing demographic among the homeless for many of the same reasons.

Today’s homeless are increasingly likely to be people we know or used to know. According to those who work with and advocate for the homeless, the problem of a whole new phalanx of homeless families will only worsen, along with the economy.

This Thanksgiving, food banks and shelters across the country struggled to cope with a spike in demand for their services. With more people feeling the pressures of the economic downturn, those who oversee charities say they are seeing many new faces on food lines–many of those who just a year ago were among those giving, are now receiving.

Food banks across the country, including those in our area like Philabundance, are experiencing record numbers of people accessing their services, while also seeing 20 and 30 percent drops in donations. That gap means people are being turned away from food banks in record numbers.

For many, food banks are the last stop on the road to homelessness. Advocates say that once people are unable to pay for food, they are generally already unable to pay for their housing and other bills and may be close to eviction.

But where do people go once they lose their housing?

In Philadelphia, they can access a host of shelters and aid agencies, but these are, like others across the country, stretched beyond capacity. And shelters are not long-term housing. Most have an overnight policy: you stay the night, leave during the day. But to where?

Others have a 14-day policy, where a homeless person/family can stay for two weeks, but then must access the DHS system and find alternative housing. But the waiting list for Section 8 housing can be as long as four years.

In September, I began work on an ongoing series about Philadelphia’s homeless teenagers for PGN. Since then I have spent countless hours with homeless teens and young adults. I’ve also spoken with many of Philadelphia’s key homeless advocates, including Project H.O.M.E.’s extraordinary Sister Mary Scullion, Philly Fight’s Robin Brennan, The Attic’s Dr. Carrie Jacobs, DHS’s Joseph Verdecchio and a host of other workers and volunteers.

The stories are heartbreaking. Teenagers are America’s new hidden homeless. The evening news is rife with stories about family pets being abandoned as families lose income, but what about the children?

Parents are becoming less and less able to care for their children and some see teenagers as more expendable than younger children, more able to fend for themselves. A loophole in Nebraska’s safe-haven law (safe haven statutes allow parents of newborns to drop off their babies, no questions asked, at a hospital, police station or social services agency and walk away with no repercussions) which failed to mention age has allowed parents to drop off children of all ages. Parents have even been driving from other states to drop their children off in Nebraska, leading to record numbers of abandoned children. One man left his ten children at an Omaha hospital, saying he could no longer afford to care for them.

In Philadelphia, there are allegedly 300 chronically homeless people on the streets every day and another 3,000 in the shelter system every day.

But those numbers hardly seem to reflect reality. I spoke with close to 50 teenagers in the course of the past few months–all homeless or semi-homeless (living on someone’s sofa, or staying periodically in shelters, but with no permanent housing). It hardly seems possible that I alone would have met nearly a sixth of Philadelphia’s homeless population in three months time, nor that a sixth of those who are homeless are teenagers.

There are clearly far more homeless on the streets than we are counting.

In addition, the shelter numbers reflect only the number of available beds–not the number of people attempting to access them. What’s more, there are a host of people like the teens I met who are not technically homeless because they are moving from sofa to sofa–staying with friends or the man who took them home for sex that night. There are squats all over the city–abandoned houses that kids have opened up and rigged with electricity or water to be shelter for them and their homeless friends.

No one is counting those numbers.

When the Youth Study Center was sold to become the new home for the Barnes Museum, I wondered what would become of the homeless who had lined the building off the Parkway under the protective overhang for years. When the area was finally fenced off a few weeks ago, the homeless were gone. But to where? One young woman I interviewed a few weeks ago said she used to live there when she was on the streets, rather than in the shelter where she lives now. But what of the others?

Project H.O.M.E.’s Sister Mary Scullion told me last week that “Poverty is institutionalized violence.”

It’s difficult to disagree with such a declarative assessment from the woman who has raised $50 million for Philadelphia’s homeless and set up nearly 500 beds as well as housing like Kate’s Place for people attempting to transition out of homelessness and into mainstream life again. This is Scullion’s life work. She knows homelessness better than anyone in Philadelphia except perhaps the homeless themselves.

Certainly my experience of being on the streets overnight for weeks with the kids I was interviewing, being taken to the houses and apartments where many of them were crashing, meeting the men who would take them home for sex in exchange for a shower, a clean bed and a meal, showed me the violent underside of homelessness.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, clarified just how violent homelessness can get as he reeled off the statistics his organization compiles on crimes of violence against the homeless in America. Those crimes are on the rise and include beatings, burnings, rapes and murders and have resulted in more than 20 deaths in the past year.

Homelessness equals a complete loss of dignity for most people. Every homeless teen or young adult I spoke with over the past few months said the same thing–that people either acted as if they didn’t exist or, to quote one boy, treated them “just like trash.”

Sister Mary Scullion says we are creating throwaway people. Michael Stoops says we are ignoring crimes against the homeless, making them seem as if they are less human than the rest of us. Yet the statistics on homelessness gathered in the past year tell a story that should alarm every American–most of us are just a paycheck or two away from losing everything and becoming homeless ourselves.

As the holidays approach and more and more of us have less and less, we would do well to remember that on a cold night in Philadelphia, there are hundreds of people on the streets without the safety and security a roof over their heads provides.

Philadelphia has a ten-year plan to eradicate homelessness, but that plan didn’t factor in the impact of the current recession/depression. If poverty is indeed institutionalized violence, then our society–and our city, which is the poorest of the ten largest in America–has a lot to answer for. But unless we actually acknowledge the extent of homelessness in our city and the nation, we can’t begin to address it with any seriousness. And address it we must, because the homeless can no longer be consider “those people”–because now the homeless are very much us.

In further response to Boston Legal's final court appearance, Ginger writes::

Also excellent on a regular basis were Candace Bergen, John Laroquette, and Christian ("Hands") Clemensen. I'm hoping to find some Boston Legal DVDs under my Christmas Tree this year.

If you can get ION television in your area, they're re-showing BL from start to finish on weekday nights at 7 CST, and sometimes they show more than one. I'll miss new episodes, but the old ones are fun to watch, too.

In response to George W. Bush's close call with a pair of shoes, Robert Scardapane writes:

Can we now say that Bush is officially "The Heel Of State". Clearly, Chimpy has practiced ducking. There is a man that planned for his retirement. Bye, Bye, Chimpy. Don't let the shoes hit you in the face.

And Bob Driscoll writes:

What's so damned infuriating about this is that we've sacrificed over 4,000 lives to give this a--hole the right to throw that shoe and live to see another day.

Had he done that 6 years ago, he would have ended up in one of Saddam's torture chambers being fed feet first into a wood chipper and his family would have been fed to Saddam's son's dogs!

And Denise writes:

The constituents who were so opposed to the auto bailouts are the very ones who are opposed to free trade agreements, companies taking their business and factories overseas or foreign companies opening businesses in America, and hate the government intervention in setting wages for workers, EXCEPT when it suits them, as was the case in the auto bailout. The Republicans again played the divide game and showed their disgust and hate for the Union that is about the only thing that is left to protect worker's rights and allow decent salaries. They always have to have a boogie man. Too heck with the huge job losses and the fact that their big buddies in the wall street/banking industry are basically screwing the consumers and businesses that aren't getting any extended credit from the bank bailout. So goes Washington, however, their days are numbered.-Denise

Oh yeah, too bad the shoes didn't hit Bush upside the head - maybe it would have knocked some sense in his shallow head.

Robert Chapman writes:

Bush's response, to the shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist.

That he was not insulted or injured.

After all the pain and suffering Bush has caused the Iraqis, he blows the journalist off like he is nothing.

Comparing Bush's "What me worry," attitude to Alfred E. Newman is like comparing Hitler to Groucho Marx. Bush is just too morally insensitive to register any feelings in regard to his damages against the Iraqis and against us.

And in response to a bunch of stuff, Lew Warden writes:

You’re right about the Republican sell-out to the crooked money boys, but a lot of Democrats supported that, too. Obama’s own people are up to their eye-balls in that scandal and it its root causes.

And how come you don’t have something to say about the Good Governor of Illinois and Obama’s denial of any connection? Or is it all a Republican lie? And if so, why not rush to the Gov’s defense?? Or are you hoping it’s just going to go away? I doubt that, you people showed the Republicans the merits of night and day continuous attacks starting even before the new President takes office. I suspect you’ll hear about a lot more scandals before long.

So what’s wrong with letting GM, et al. take the bath? Wipe out their stock holders. Wipe out their bond holders. Wipe out their grossly overpaid union members. What did the guy have to say about paying some idiot $50 bucks an hour to install a hub cap?

Since when do the US tax payers owe them a special living?

You environmentalists want to get Detroit’s gas hogs and air polluters off the highways anyhow. Now is as good a time as any to start. Bring back the old wicker basket electric cars for about-town traffic, instead of the ubiquitous pick-up truck Detroit shoved down our throats with low down payments and special tax breaks. Develop solar energy and think of ways to stimulate work at the end of a computer terminal in the home. It’s totally insane to build super-highways to get people, especially office workers, to drive 100+ miles a day to their jobs and ruin good farm land with wasteful tract homes. And send the Mexicans back home. Teach your kids the virtues of work by having them cut their own lawns, etc. and getting jobs in their neighborhoods. We’ve raised several generations of do-as-little-as-possible want-it-alls by offering them the world of free credit cards to get them hooked on living off debt, thus making the money-lenders and their stockholders rich. So let them all take the gas. Maybe teach you all some good lessons.

In response to "The Defense says, 'Just Kidding!'" Bob Driscoll writes:

Congratulations! You just took a Democrat to task without mentioning a Republican. That is remarkable considering the fact that you blame Republicans for everything from scalp itch to hemorrhoids! Thank God for Illinois. As long as that state is around, New Jersey is the second most corrupt in the Union.

In response to, "To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, Capital cannot exist without labor and is, in fact, reliant upon it, not the other way around," Pat Thompson writes:

Say it once more Madman! The CEO of GM who took home 2.5 million last year, maybe more in stock options (now worth a lot less) and bonus didn't make one car. His salary was enabled by the same workers who will lose their jobs, maybe their homes too.

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-Noah Greenberg