Saturday, August 4, 2018

Articles on the Neuropsych of Homelessness; and US Workers are Totally Screwed Compared to Other Nations

A couple of really good recent articles on homelessness of note:

Hanna Brooks Olson wrote a terrific piece on Medium about the neuropsychology of (unfounded) assumptions the average person makes about homeless people, and the causes of their poverty. An excerpt:

"There has, for more than 30 years, been a resounding refrain that poverty is the fault of the poor, and that if you are not poor, you are somehow better, stronger, more capable, and more deserving of food, housing, and peace of mind."

Of course, in the minds of average people with money, homelessness could never have any possible connection to working conditions, as this piece from Eric Levitz at New York Magazine shows. An excerpt:

"But a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) offers a more straightforward — and political— explanation: American policymakers have chosen to design an economic system that leaves workers desperate and disempowered, for the sake of directing a higher share of economic growth to bosses and shareholders.
The OECD doesn’t make this argument explicitly. But its report lays waste to the idea that the plight of the American worker can be chalked up to impersonal economic forces, instead of concrete political decisions. If the former were the case, then American laborers wouldn’t be getting a drastically worse deal than their peers in other developed nations. But we are."

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I Told You So...

From the 3/30/18 issue of the magazine "The Week":

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Why Poor People Are Poor

Bad public policy that is pro-plutocrat and anti-worker contributes heavily to poverty in the richest country in the world.

See for yourself:

I spent most of my adult life missing one of the three legs of the stool of stability: Food, Shelter, and Medical Care. 

Most of my life I was missing medical care, but I compensated for it by not drinking, doing drugs, and becoming a vegetarian at the age of 20. Still, I had medical bills for things that insurance companies denied when I did have insurance. (Most women know how hard it is to get "women's health" medication and therapies covered by insurance, and end up paying for expensive but necessary medication out of pocket. It's easier to buy a gun in the USA than it is to get hormone replacement therapy (HRT).)

These days, at middle age in abject poverty, I have food stamps and Medicaid covering those two legs of the stool, but no shelter/housing. Many people, like me, spend our entire lives just trying to survive. We work twice as hard for half as much, and are then blamed for our poverty. We never get to fulfill our potential in life because we're always trying to scrape together first, last, and deposit, or cover the latest car repair, on low wages. Spending time in college we can't afford, or taking trips or other luxuries, are absolute non-starters for us. Things most middle-class and rich people take for granted--like having a washer and dryer to do laundry instead of trekking to laundromats; or not having to cut your own hair because you can't afford $25-$50 to have a pro do it; or eating out, (even at an inexpensive restaurant), or even enough money for a full tank of gas--are luxuries we rarely attain. 

Article at

One thing people who hate homeless people conveniently forget is that most people have someone or something that supports them: a job, family, a government subsidy, a tax break, or friends who will help when they get into trouble. 

Homeless people don't have a support system like that. Most of us have been completely on our own all of our lives, and remain that way because society hates the poor, and hates the homeless even more, blaming them for their plight. 

It doesn't have to be that way, but change toward a fairer society in the USA isn't even remotely on the horizon.

And then there's this

So anyone at this point who hasn't figured out the system is rigged against working people is deliberately sticking their head in the sand. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Sickness of Society

The mystic and philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." I just finished Rolling Stone investigative reporter Matt Taibbi's latest book, "I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street," about how the NYPD cops who murdered Eric Garner got away with it because of a severely broken judicial system and a corrupt, byzantine, city bureaucracy designed to delay in order to eventually deny anything even remotely resembling justice.

This page from the book is totally profound, and though it describes Garner and his situation, it is something that could easily describe any powerless or homeless person's situation of where America stands in 2018:

The plutocratic nightmare that we have been living in for quite some time is not in danger of ending anytime soon. I am almost wholeheartedly in agreement with George Orwell these days, when he stated, "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." I have no idea when, how, or even if this type of "some people are more equal than others" strata in American society can ever be permanently, or even partially, rooted out, but my guess is that if any progress is going to be made, it's not going to be soon, and it's is most certainly not going to be peaceful. True societal change never is.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Those Who Have the Least Are the Most Generous

Years ago, a Moroccan friend of mine told me that when he was a car valet, the people with the ordinary cars tipped the most, while those with the luxury and exotic cars tipped the least. As a journalist and scientific data lover, I'm not a big fan of anecdotal evidence at all, but that doesn't mean I don't find it interesting at times. 

Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who you may remember from a few years ago for publishing the Edward Snowden material, resides in Brazil. This recent tweet by Greenwald is an interesting anecdote that reminded me of my Moroccan friend's experience:

Greenwald, along with his partner, David Miranda, has established an animal shelter run by homeless people in Rio de Janiero. As many of you know from my writings about my cat, Scooter, pets and homeless people have bonds that run far deeper than those of ordinary pet owners. That's because your pet still loves you when society has turned its back on you, and prefers that you don't exist. From Greenwald's guest column in The Dodo:

"The compassion, empathy and self-sacrifice defining the relationship between those who are homeless and their pets is extraordinary. It is difficult to explain how affecting it is to watch a hungry, homeless person receive a desperately needed meal and, without a second thought, instantly divide it in half to share it with their hungry dog or cat. Leslie Irvine, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, has devoted much of her academic career to studying this unique relationship, and even named her book on the topic, 'My Dog Always Eats First.' "

Irvine's book is scholarly and tedious to read, but I'm glad I did slog through it. She traveled around the San Francisco Bay Area with a veterinarian on wheels who provided free vet services for the pets of homeless people. The book documents those experiences.

Finally, the true causes of homelessness are starting to dawn on the mainstream media. I was pleasantly surprised to find a quote of mine extracted from my Vox article in the national magazine The Week. The article very succinctly sums up the problem--and the lamentable solution: more affordable housing is needed now, but won't be built for years, if ever. Still, the article does wonders in changing the stereotypical narrative about homeless people to one that is accurate--and obvious--to anyone on the West Coast witnessing the problem right in front of them. Without living wages and affordable housing, homelessness will only increase. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Poverty is Policy-Based

Everyone knows the standard narrative about poor people in the U.S. is that they are lazy, uneducated, and either have a mental illness or substance abuse problems, so that's why they are in their desperate situation, and they probably deserve it.

It's a tired and untrue cliche, but it persists because it's the comfortable and convenient narrative that allows the bad public policy that is the true cause of poverty and homelessness to continue unexamined--and therefore, unabated.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights isn't fooled by the American narrative. Take a look at this excellent report by professor Phillip Ralston. Here's some of what he found:

"10. I have been struck by the extent to which caricatured narratives about the purported innate differences between rich and poor have been sold to the electorate by some politicians and media, and have been allowed to define the debate.  The rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic, and the drivers of economic success.  The poor are wasters, losers, and scammers.  As a result, money spent on welfare is money down the drain.  To complete the picture we are also told that the poor who want to make it in America can easily do so: they really can achieve the American dream if only they work hard enough. 
11. The reality that I have seen, however, is very different.  It is a fact that many of the wealthiest citizens do not pay taxes at the rates that others do, hoard much of their wealth off-shore, and often make their profits purely from speculation rather than contributing to the overall wealth of the American community. Who then are the poor?  Racist stereotypes are usually not far beneath the surface.  The poor are overwhelmingly assumed to be people of color, whether African Americans or Hispanic ‘immigrants’.  The reality is that there are 8 million more poor Whites than there are Blacks.  Similarly, large numbers of welfare recipients are assumed to be living high on the hog.  Some politicians and political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching color TVs, while surfing on their smart phones, all paid for by welfare.  I wonder how many of these politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there. There are anecdotes aplenty, but evidence is nowhere to be seen.  In every society, there are those who abuse the system, as much in the upper income levels, as in the lower.  But the poor people I met from among the 40 million living in poverty were overwhelmingly either persons who had been born into poverty, or those who had been thrust there by circumstances largely beyond their control such as physical or mental disabilities, divorce, family breakdown, illness, old age, unlivable wages, or discrimination in the job market.
12. The face of poverty in America is not only Black, or Hispanic, but also White, Asian, and many other colors.  Nor is it confined to a particular age group.  Automation and robotization are already throwing many middle-aged workers out of jobs in which they once believed themselves to be secure.  In the economy of the twenty-first century, only a tiny percentage of the population is immune from the possibility that they could fall into poverty as a result of bad breaks beyond their own control.  The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion as the US since the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

It's Going to Get a WHOLE Lot Worse Long Before it Gets Better

Just take a look at this Associated Press link that tracks homelessness stories:

This excerpt sums it up rather well:

"Homeless advocates and city officials say it’s outrageous that in the shadow of a booming tech economy - where young millionaires dine on $15 wood-grilled avocado and think nothing of paying $1,000 for an iPhone X - thousands of families can’t afford a home. Many of the homeless work regular jobs, in some cases serving the very people whose sky-high net worth is the reason housing has become unaffordable for so many."
"The booming economy, fueled by the tech sector, and decades of under-building have led to an historic shortage of affordable housing. It has upended the stereotypical view of people out on the streets as unemployed: They are retail clerks, plumbers, janitors - even teachers - who go to work, sleep where they can and buy gym memberships for a place to shower."

And yet it's often the very tech bros causing the problem who call homeless people lazy, and want them out of sight.

The photos at the link are every bit as heartbreaking as the stories. And it's going to get much worse when the government passes its tax bill this month, and destroys Social Security and Medicare through "entitlement reform" in 2018, which has been their plan all along. Unless people unite and go on strike nationwide for living wages, things are going to go back to Great Depression-era desperation.