Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Unreconstructed Liberal

Boys in the Hood: It will take more than cash to help these guys

Mad Dog has been taken to task by none other than Ms. Maud for suggesting we "throw up our hands" at the idea of spending money to improve the lot of the Children in the Basement, the dispossessed, the struggling, the underprivileged, the most vulnerable who face hopeless lives of deprivation while corporate profits soar to record highs and the 1% get richer and laugh all the way to the bank.

This really set Ms. Maud off, and evoked such an inspiring outpouring of indignation, it set Mad Dog dreaming about setting up an exploratory committee for Ms. Maud in her run against Kelly Ayotte. Wouldn't you just love seeing Senator Ayotte having to respond to this? It would be one of those, "At long last, Senator, have you no sense of decency?" moments. But Mad Dog digresses.

Surely, we can spend money in a constructive way to better the lot of the most needy.
Paul Krugman has suggested as much, in a way, by saying virtually any government spending in a recession helps lift the economy, and a rising tide lifts all boats. You could bury money in a mine and there would be jobs created just to dig down to it.

But that technique has been tried, back in the 1960's, to try to change the fate of inner city lives, and it was ineffective. 

Mad Dog  does agree we ought not give up. 
Ms. Maud is correct: there is no such thing as "benign neglect."  Mad Dog does agree that:
1. We should do whatever we can do to effectively raise the poor into the middle class and beyond. 
2. Throwing up hands in frustration or despair will never help. You can only hit what you aim at, for the most part. As FDR said: better the occasional faults of a government which lives in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of  a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
3. Government can be at least part, maybe the major player, in accomplishing the goal of helping those who dwell at the bottom or who struggle to remain in the middle.

What affects Mad Dog's thinking, however, is the memory of the last great effort to do all this, the "War on Poverty." Lyndon Johnson set as a goal ending poverty in America in 1964 and from his efforts Congress funded the Office for Economic Opportunity and many other agencies and programs directed at the inner city poor.
Many were the voices which warned against raising unreasonable expectations, which, when dashed, who cause more unhappiness than if we had just left well enough alone. These voices mostly had Southern accents.

Today, of course, different voices, with the same message howl that any effort to spend taxpayer or(Heaven forbid) corporate money to help the less fortunate is doomed to be money poured down a black hole to no effect.  Only trickle down from the top 1% can help create real jobs, they say. They always point to the fruitless efforts of the War on Poverty. These voices emanate from people like Paul Ryan, who believes the reason for inner city poverty is the "laziness" of inner city people. And there are other voices, emanating from people who bear a striking resemblance to turtles. The turtle, you will recall, can retract his arms and legs and head into his shell and seal himself off from the world.
Fear the Turtle

 In 1964, Martin Luther King, who had needed Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, began speaking out against Vietnam, which struck many of his supporters as biting the hand that fed.
But King saw clearly it was all part of a larger picture:  Penniless Black kids from every inner city ghetto saw every opportunity closed to them and they had no other viable option but to join the military, or at least allow themselves to be swept up into the military. King saw the great American war machine as somehow being part of the reason Black people were kept down.
Now, Andrew Bacevich, a West Point graduate, a retired soldier and  a professor at BU, writes about the Breach of Trust between citizens and the soldiers they hire to fight an eternal war, putatively in "service to their country," but actually in service to their own financial security, their own families, and, ultimately, to  corporate bonanzas and to moneyed interests. 

Whereas in the past, service in the Army actually provided some legitimacy to the claims of Black citizens to reap the benefits of the American economy, once they came home,  in the new, all volunteer (i.e. mercenary) Army, this is no longer true. The only claims the Black youths have now is to an artificial arm or leg at the VA Hospitals. That's part of the contract. And "service" has been reduced to contract work. All that talk about "Duty, Honor, Country," has been displaced by talk about better housing, better pay and scholarship money. Part of the payout is a certain claim to social respectability, but we no longer have an army where rich boys serve with poor boys, where the rich defer their entry into upper class pursuits while they "serve their nation" as JFK did on his PT boat, as Oliver Wendell Holmes did when he served in the Union Army.  When you have people who are clearly not improving their own finances in the service, it really is a "service."

Bacevich ties many ills you would not think related to the way we have constructed our military, and while his screed is clearly a polemic, written in white heat rather than cool remove, he does marshal enough thought, if not evidence, to be persuasive.

Essentially, what he is saying, is the Child in the Basement argument: When you have something very rotten at the core, the whole foundation of society is weak and the superstructure totters.

If you have slavery at the core of the Southern economy, eventually that structure will fall.

When you have corporate profit driving the disposition of armed intervention and when you have Congressional districts depending for their wealth on military bases and munitions plants, as directly as the cotton farms depended on slaves, then you have some serious structural problems for the whole society.

Spending money is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to lift all boats. This goes back to George Bernard Shaw and "Major Barbara. " There is no such thing as "clean money" or "dirty money" in a society which prints its money in ink made of blood.

Mad Dog believes we do not actually benefit our economy or protect ourselves effectively by sending only 1% of our population (and not the 1% that owns this country) who comprise our military, off to fight in Afghanistan or Iraq or Ukraine. But the infrastructure which supports this so corrupts Congress and our priorities that this rotten core begins to affect the rest of our society and damages prospects for those at the bottom of the heap.  

So, to address the needs of the underclass, good intentions are not enough. We need to figure out what ails the patient first, and then fashion therapy.


  1. Mad Dog,
    Ah, Sen. McConnell-if ever there was a man who looked like he was spawned in the ocean and spent much of his previous life enclosed in a hard round shell it is he..and apparently he plans, before he returns to his shell and the sea, to continue to be the champion of the top 1% who still wrestle with a multitude of tough decisions. Just last week for example, the NYTimes ran an article titled "Over the Top Amenities-Sweating the Details". It seems that your own private bowling alley in your building is no longer as de rigueur,..Now demonstrating you've made it to the top of the heap requires living in one of the new ultra chic buildings going up in NYC that comes with the most coveted amenity the hamam. I wasn't certain what a hamam was initially-it's a Turkish bath-and apparently I'm not alone in my ignorance, since the Times felt the need to provide the reader with the correct way to pronounce it (Ha-Mom). There are a great many other choices facing the top 1% when buying their new home, since real estate prices in this segment of the market are at an all time high. There's buildings with demonstration and catering kitchens, basketball courts, olympic sized pools with music piped into the water from Carnegie Hall you can listen to as you swim, golf simulators, private car courtyards...Apparently the top 1% must be feeling pretty flush-and we should all be rejoicing since something should be trickling on down to the rest of us anytime now. Just goes to show we're all the same-we all face tough choices-the rich tackling the decision between the hamam, golf simulator or basketball court, while the poor choose between, food, shelter and daily medications--everything is relative...

    As for the case being made by Mr. Bacevich, it's a good thing he's a former military man, since anyone taking on the military machine is taking a big risk in touching a subject that is so often off limits...For anyone else to even suggest that our servicemen might have other motivations besides serving God and Country is blasphemy and un-American. As for the mega military infrastructure that feeds off all of us-most people would prefer to pretend that doesn't even exist.. It would seem our servicemen and their families, will continue to be children in the basement for the foreseeable future..

  2. Ms. Maud,

    We must always be grateful to the ultra rich for showing us the possibilities of what life might be here on earth, if you have enough imagination and money. Louis XIV did the same in his time (Versailles) and the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Carnegies in their own epochs.

    I suspect you and I were either separated at birth or linked by common amino acids in our DNA somewhere back in Europe--we are both viscerally, (likely genetically) appalled by people who would even want to dream about such creature comforts.
    (On the other hand, I have often fantasized about a batting cage in my basement.)

    Mr. Bacevich is worth reading. I'll return all his books to the Lane Library now. His perceptions are prisoners to his military experience, much as mine are limited by my medical world experience, but he's worth a look.

    I do think what Hampton needs is for you, Gail Collins, Andy Borowitz, David Sedaris and Bill Mahrer to sit down around a table (Hagen's? Old Salt? Fast Eddies?) to dissect and illuminate the psychopathology of the rich and determinedly anonymous evident in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and the NY Times. No virtual conversation will do. Now, if I can just get Dorothy Parker on the phone.

    Mad Dog

  3. Mad Dog,
    Why of course-the ultra rich as examples, lighting the way-demonstrating to the rest of us what we too could do with a few extra do always complete the thought-so yes, mon frere, I think quite possibly separated at birth...Of course I can't say I've never had my own fantasies about what I might have were money no object-you'd go for the batting cage in the basement and I'd opt for a personal chef in my that so wrong... if we were willing to spread the wealth otherwise...