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About Welfare and Liberal Confusion

So, I was responding to Violet’s post at ReclusiveLeftist and my extra long comment got thrown in moderation.  I’m sure it’s nothing personal.  Nevertheless, this needs to be said so here is my response to a snooty comment from Tinfoil Hattie who objected to the fact that on the face of it, I agree with Mitt Romney that women with children as young as 2 should be encouraged to return to the workplace and put their children in subsidized childcare.  Said Tinfoil Hattie:

tinfoil hattie says:

With which of Mitt’s sentiments do you agree, riverdaughter? The one where motherhood is so sacred and important, and mothers should be at home raising children (the LDS doctrine, by the way)? Or the one where mothers should be punished for having children, and must be humiliated and reminded that they are lesser human beings and don’t deserve a “choice” because they are poor?

Here is my response with some additions and clarifications:

Well, tinfoil hattie, let me just say that the Republicans smell a weakness here in the area of welfare that liberals seem to be confused about. Yes, that’s right, I said it. Liberals, and I count myself as one, can’t seem to figure out what they really want in welfare. I would much prefer it if we had a system like Sweden’s or Norway’s where everyone has access to good healthcare and childcare and stipends and such. But we don’t.

But here’s the thing that I think the left is confused about: We seem to actually *want* for poor parents to collect welfare checks. That welfare check will keep them in poverty for a long, long time. When the children of those parents finally go to school, those parents will have been out of work, subsisting, barely, for 5 or more years. How is this a good thing under any circumstances? Even if you are a wonderful parent, welfare is no way to live. You end up in substandard housing, possibly in a high crime area, and all around you are people who have too much on their minds to even think about what lies beyond the confines of their public housing. It warps the perspective. You don’t strive for anything because you don’t know there’s anything worth striving for. If you grow up in an environment surrounded by lots of teenage mothers who didn’t finish their educations, that starts to look normal. Then the next generation gets trapped in it.

I can’t understand how liberals could possibly think that this is a good way to grow up. It’s horrible. So, yeah, anything the government can do to get people out of a generational rut of poverty and into a job is worth trying. Even if that means putting your kid in a government subsidized childcare center and going back to work when they’re two.

Back in the 90′s, when the Clinton administration tried to provide support for welfare recipients to help them transition to work, the Republicans were hard assed bastards and fought him on every single initiative. But think about what Clinton would have accomplished if his reform had gone through. Anyone who lost their job would have had access to training, housing vouchers, healthcare, childcare. It would have been a true safety net like we see in more progressive countries. No wonder the Republicans wanted to kill it. That would have been truly revolutionary. It would have meant that there would have been a path out of welfare and on the other end, it would have meant that no one who found themselves suddenly unemployed would be in danger of losing everything. Well, Republicans couldn’t have that. It would have been another Democratic triumph. So they killed it. And now, we’re all mad a the Clintons for wanting to change the way welfare recipients saw their lives as one endless, bleak month after month?

Don’t get me wrong, Republicans see this confusion on the left as a political opportunity and they’re going to jump on it. You don’t have to believe in welfare queens to want something better for poor people. It is compassionate to want to help single women transition to work. Yes, it sucks that some people have it better than others through no effort. But I don’t think it is a very good argument for why we should oppose work and training programs for people who need them.  There is an old Sufi proverb that says, “In the desert, there is no sign that says, “Thou shall not eat stones.””  I think this means, “I never promised you a rose garden and sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”  If that means you weren’t born with a silver cadillac in your mouth then maybe you have to choose the best option to get back on your feet and that might mean putting your kid in daycare when they’re two and going to work.  What is at issue here is how much of a social safety net should we provide and why we can’t extend it to everyone.  What we need to do is persuade the public that helping others is a good thing and will pay off with a more stable, prosperous country.

So, I would be very, very careful about this issue. The Republicans will wipe the floor with us.  There are two reasons for this: 1.) most people are stretched to the breaking point economically.  If they can’t benefit from something personally, they don’t want anyone else to have it either.  This falls neatly into the Republican strategy of forcing Americans to look down at the next layer of the socioeconomic spectrum.  I’m not saying this is right or moral.  Only that it is human nature.  And the Republicans are very good at letting people’s ids get the best of them.  In this case, a powerless middle and working class person has the power to deny something to a person below them and they get to feel good about being selfish.  2.) The attitude that Anne Romney has it all and therefore we must question her sincerity regarding poorer women feeds right into the Republican “politics of envy” meme.  They will point to the clueless mutterings by liberals about Anne Romney’s privilege and it will look like they want to strip Romney of her money.  And the Republicans will jump all over that.  They’ll say that liberals have a problem with rich people and want to take their money away.  Well, it’s not true that we have a problem with rich people but we do have a problem when they don’t pay their fair share of taxes because that makes it harder on everyone else.  I also have a problem when the wealthy and well connected force their Ebeneezer Scrooge employment standards on the rest of us and strip us of the fruits of our productivity.

I don’t have a problem with Anne Romney’s choices.  I do have a problem with the country turning on working mothers at every possibly convenient moment, but that is not the problem with welfare.  The problem is that we are losing our grip on how to respond to political attacks like these and yes, this is a political attack.  We have failed in our ability to shift attention away from the nitty gritty of welfare and to the issue of why so damn many people are out of work and need welfare in the first place.  The way to address this is to ask why all hard working people don’t have access to government subsidized childcare and medicare for all like civilized countries. Why are we subsidizing bankers and not all women who need to work for a living? Why are we subsidizing insurance companies on top of the outrageous taxes we already pay? Shift the attention upwards to the institutions and wealth that are hiding behind a veil of secrecy.  Who is forcing us to choose and why are hard working people paying so damn much in taxes for goods and services that are rapidly privatizing and costing us more and more money?

Better yet, ask yourself why it is we gave so much money to Wall Street in 2009 only to have the banks turn around and use that taxpayer largesse to buy politicians of both parties to do their will at our expense.  Think about that.  We are subsidizing their campaign contributions that they will use against us. And why is it the banks qualify for welfare but a hard working American can’t even get a decent insurance policy without paying through the nose for it?  Why can’t women get government subsidized daycare no matter what their income is?

Why is our safety net so shitty while the banks’ is so good?  Turn the argument around.

Liberals, we need to get a grip and really think about what we are saying.  Do we really want to be the ones who say that it is ok for a poor person to subsist indefinitely on a government check and that this is the best way we can help poor people?  Because I’m not sure that’s the message we want to send.  We want to think about a policy that conforms to OUR worldview before the Republicans substitute policies that conform to their worldview.  Think it through.  The answers we are coming back with are not working for us.

Finally, never underestimate the Republicans.  They are masters at this crap and they play to win.

BTW, this man has a coherent worldview.

Sunday: Lori, Noam, Libya and Paywalls

Lori

Lorenda Starfelt passed away last Tuesday.  She was 56.  Her death was announced by her husband Brad Mays yesterday on Correntewire where Lori posted under the name Basement Angel.  Long time readers of this blog will remember Brad and Lori as the filmmakers who documented the dispossessed of the 2008 primary elections.  I met them on several occasions.  Brad was a loose cannon and Lori was his voice of moderation.  She was beautiful with a dazzling smile and captivating eyes.  Brad says she died of uterine cancer that had spread to her liver.  I never knew she was sick.  I am very sorry to hear that she has died.  Her voice will be missed.

Lori intuitively understood the people who defected the Democratic party for the Tea Party.  She knew that racism had very little to do with it.  She knew that the Tea Party is rallying its supporters with false messages but at least it gives them answers.  The Democrats have abandoned its base, liberals and working class and the well educated unemployed.  We shouldn’t be surprised that the movement conservatives behind the Tea Party are picking some of them up.  In one of her last posts at Corrente, she posted this clip from an interview that the Commonwealth Club did with Noam Chomsky:

I have mixed feelings about Noam.  I can’t argue with the points he made in this segment.  He understands the way the powerful elite has used language to pit the working people of the world against each other while they make off with the loot.  And he’s right to criticize those of us on the left for failing to get our act together to deliver a different message.  But in an ironic way, he’s part of the problem.  For all of his justifiable criticism of the failures of the Obama administration, which he must known were coming if he was paying attention to the language of Obama’s 2008 campaign, he was willfully blinded to considering any of the other Democratic candidates as better options.  He didn’t like any of them, he says.  Noam reminds me of the people back in 2000 who thought there was no difference between Republicans and Democrats.  Well, there isn’t much difference now but back then there was.  Maybe Bill Clinton didn’t turn out to be the uber liberal that Chomsky and others like him were hoping for but there was a world of difference between him and the Republicans.  In the same manner, there was a world of difference between the top two Democrats who ran.  One lead from deeply held left of center principles; the other was just a brand who walked and talked like the finance industry that footed the bill for his campaign.  The difference between them had everything to do with who was backing them.  (Next time, pay attention.)

Noam’s weakness seems to be that he’s stuck in the 60’s, reliving the civil rights movement, Cold War and Vietnam.  Sometimes, I just want to smack him.  No one likes war and no one on welfare would prefer it to a well paying job.  The last thing we should do to help people on welfare is make it necessary for them to receive it.  Has he forgotten that poor people on welfare tend to live in the low rent parts of town, because that’s all they can afford?  That concentrations of poor people tend to perpetuate generational poverty, substandard educations and hopelessness?  No, Noam, we don’t want that.  We want government to help poor people by helping them get jobs.  There is a role for government but welfare isn’t a goal.  It’s a stop gap on the way to something better.

What would Noam think of the air strikes on Libya?  For the most part, he’s right about the unnecessary wars we’ve been saddled with.  Iraq was a sham that many Americans were tricked into pursuing.  But the war in Afghanistan?  I’m sorry, we needed to go into Afghanistan after 9/11.  The fact that the Bush administration screwed up the country after the invasion does not alter the necessity of going there.  A country can’t allow a ragtag group of terrorists to attack it and then turn the other cheek.  It sends a bad signal to the rest of the world, which despite our civilizing evolution of the past century is still barely holding itself in check from ripping itself to pieces for power and natural resources.

This morning, we  joined the French and other countries in attacking Libya as an impressive cultural shift continues to ripple across north Africa and the middle east.  Radio Free Europe sums it up:

The British and U.S. strikes came after French warplanes fired the first shots on March 19, destroying government tanks and armored vehicles in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The campaign, called “Odyssey Dawn,” currently involves forces and equipment from the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, and Denmark. It is the biggest Western military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It followed a decision on March 19 in Paris by Western and Arab leaders to enforce a UN no-fly zone over Libya in order to prevent Gaddafi from carrying out attacks on civilians and opposition forces.

In an audio message broadcast on state TV, the 68-year-old Qaddafi remained defiant, saying he was prepared to defeat the Western forces in what he said would be a “long, glorious war.”

“You are unjust, you are the aggressors, you are beasts, you are criminals. Your countries are against you. There are protests everywhere in Europe, in America against the steps you’re taking against the innocent Libyan people,” Qaddafi said. “The people are with us, even your people are with us. All the people on Earth are against you. You will fail like how Hitler failed, Napoleon failed, Mussolini failed. All tyrants fall under the feet of the people. This is the era of the people and the great [Qaddafi] revolution.”

Uh-huh.  Maybe Qaddafi should cut back on the hot sweet tea.

If you are a person of principle, ideally, you want to allow the peoples of these countries to determine for themselves what their government should be and encourage them from the sidelines.  But the possibility that civil unrest threatens to destabilize the world’s economies might also make you want to act when a divided country starts to spiral out of control towards years of violence.  Better to pick a side, preferably the anti-dictatorship one, and aid it.  In this case, timing is everything.  Be swift and thorough.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which American politician has been the driving force behind arguing for and assembling the allies for an air strike.  Hint: Ditherers don’t do it.  Unfortunately, unbiased reporting on foreign policy at the NYTimes is spotty, which brings me to the paywall issue announced last week.

While I admit to being a regular NYTimes reader, lately, I have been disappointed and a little shocked by what I read there.  Last week’s coverage of Japan’s struggle with their nuclear reactors was breathless and hyperbolic while reports of the dead, missing and displaced was muted.  For the “paper of record”, it was disgraceful.  Meanwhile, anti-government bias there is becoming obvious.  Maybe the editors aren’t aware of the degree to which they have conformed to the anti-government point of view.  But today, their blurb on the frontpage to their editorial on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget parrots the movement conservative line that “Governor Cuomo is right to argue for spending cuts” even while it laments that the wealthy in the state are not going to be compelled to cough up more in taxes. Who decided that the spending cuts are the right thing to argue?  Did we poll the residents of New York, consult with leading economists, call up some historians?  And this article on the sea walls of Japan that didn’t hold back the tsunamis is just downright bizarre.  Not only is the “government programs are wasteful; private industry initiatives are dazzlingly perfect!” messaging obvious, it’s worked into the piece in particularly awkward ways.  It’s almost like the editors took the original writing from the bureau in Japan and made it work for the Goldman Sachs readers.  Sometimes, I read an article and think *I* could have written it.  Recent writing in the NYTimes doesn’t have the same quality as it did even a couple of years ago.  The prose seems clumsy and amateur, even a little bit dumbed down.

So, while I love Paul Krugman and will find a way to get my fix, I’m not inclined to pony up more money for a paper that seems to be evolving towards the clueless “creative class” readers and Wall Street crowd.  For one thing, soon I won’t be getting a steady paycheck so wasteful government spending in my house is strictly forbidden by real budgetary constraints.  Besides, it’s not like the NYTimes has gone out of its way to cover those of us educated unemployed or working class stiffs.  The union busting moves in Wisconsin were definitely downplayed and even Krugman is puzzled over the way we, the degreed unemployed, are being ignored and forgotten.

The NYTimes is marginalizing itself.  It’s becoming a paper for Mike Bloomberg types and their minions.  The little people who still get the “dead tree” version will have access at no additional charge but if you have internet access, why the heck would you get a hard copy?  It just piles up in the recycling bin.  And if you’re not printing on as much paper, why charge $15.95/month for the electronic version?  Presumably, with the exception of the bandwidth, the costs of printing the paper have gone down.  Is the NYTimes just following the herd of other corporations that have given in to MBAs and consultants who don’t know the business they are asked to manage?  Cater to the money and tell them what they want to hear.  Screw the news, even if it is your core business.  By the time journalism is just a fleeting memory at the NYTimes, the business guys will have taken the money and run.

The NYTimes lost my subscription with the Judy Miller incident.  They’re not getting it back simply because they have international news bureaus, especially if those news bureaus can’t write what’s going on without passing through a political filter.  I’ll have to get my news from more international sources from now on.

Thank goodness Brooke is a budding polyglot.

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