[xmca] Poverty and Wealth in the USA

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at gmail.com>
Date: Sun Jul 13 2008 - 20:28:24 PDT

Colleagues--

Below is a story from July 12 *New York* *Times*. I am passing it along not
as an advertisement for Barak Obama. Rather, its a statement about wealth,
poverty, and political realities in the US (and not only of course). I think
it is worth a few minutes of your time to read, but of course, you will
decide that. I was reminded to recover this story by one on the American TV
program, 60 minutes, which told about a charity health clinic operation that
started in the Amazon among Brazil's poor, but now operates in the US where
a very large part of the population has not health care and cannot afford to
see a doctor. And by a story that workers at the University of California
associated with lower level jobs in health care, physical plant maintenance,
and other such forms of employment are going on strike.

Tomorrow the US working class will be asked to pay for the profiteering to
the US banking industry or risk even further economic disaster.

David Beckham will make 50 million dollars by year's end.

And I face a dilemma. Will I go to UCSD, thereby crossing that picket line,
to meet the graduate students, undergrads, and visitors, who are working as
hard as ever they can to create better conditions for the people at the
bottom of this Dickensonian travesty of social justice, or let the parents
and kids counting on us to fend for themselves.

By all means, everyone with the right answer, speak up!!

What? Do I think? Beats me!!

mike

--------------------------

The presidential campaign is as ungainly a marriage of the achingly real and
the unrelentingly material as one can find in American life.

Senator Barack Obama<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/o/barack_obama/index.html?inline=nyt-per>listens
to a mother who lost a son in Iraq, and a father who cannot afford
health insurance. Then he tightens his tie knot and sets off to elegant
fund-raisers.

The eternal verity of presidential politics is that candidates can talk all
they like about the impoverished and the struggling, but everyone must put
in long hours scrounging up money from the terrifically wealthy. Mr. Obama
puts the dissonance into words in his book "The Audacity of Hope" (Crown
Publishing, 2006).

"I know that as a consequence of my fund-raising I became more like the
wealthy donors I met," he wrote, "in the very particular sense that I spent
more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate
hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality and frequent hardship of the
other 99 percent of the population."

Some days, those worlds nearly collide.

Policy, Up Close

Early Tuesday, in Powder Springs, Ga., policy takes flesh before the
candidate's eyes.

Jeana Brown raises her arm in a forest of outstretched hands in the
bleachers at the high school and Mr. Obama points to her "Me?!" "Yes, you"
and voice quaking, Ms. Brown says:

"I am one of your small contributors $5 actually," she says.

She wants to tell Mr. Obama, who is talking about the 30 percent increase in
the number of Americans who have filed for bankruptcy, about her trailer.

She is 50 and her husband, James, is 48, and they worked and snipped coupons
and saved for five years to afford their double-wide trailer. Their credit
report had the usual nicks and dents, and so they took a 9.25 percent
interest rate on their loan. They relied on their broker's promise "that if
we were good and made our payments, we could refinance at a better rate
after a year."

A year later, Ms. Brown walked back in. The broker told her that because
their trailer did not have a concrete foundation which costs thousands
more dollars than they had she and her husband could not refinance.

A job disappeared and they faced foreclosure. The couple doubled up on
interest payments, from $670 to $1,378 per month. They cut off Internet and
cable service and held three yard sales everything must go!

They saved their home.

Now her husband drives a truck six weeks at a stretch and she works two
jobs. Ms. Brown's chest heaves, her voice a quivering reed.

"I tell you, I'm not sure how we keep doing this," she says.

Obama shakes his head. The gymnasium had gone silent.

"Look," he says, "Jeana is an example of America. Someone who is working
hard, who saved, doing all the right things and then gets put into a
financial bind primarily because people took advantage of her situation."

Afterward, Ms. Brown watches him work the rope line. She has brown hair and
piercing eyes and hails from coal country; she is proud to describe herself
as a white "redneck."

Her husband, James, is black. When she heard Mr. Obama's speech on race in
Philadelphia, she wrote her check. "I researched him; he's real," she says.
"I haven't voted in 32 years but he's got mine."

She touches a reporter's arm; she's got a question.

"Do you think we'll be able to save our trailer?"

Fine Wining and Dining

Seven hours later, Mr. Obama sits in a leather-lined black S.U.V., riding
the "Brother Can You Spare $28,500" finance circuit that has become a
fixture of his campaign in recent weeks.

His evening begins at The Rocks, Senator John D. Rockefeller
IV<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/john_d_iv_rockefeller/index.html?inline=nyt-per>'s
chateau away from chateau, this one all but ensconced in Rock Creek Park in
Washington.

The car turns up a curling driveway. There are oak and chestnut trees and a
wayward doe, and then a three-story Southern-plantation-style manor, with
towering columns and 17 windows across and a slate roof, looms into view. It
is a useful reminder that before Gates and Bloomberg, Buffett and Geffen,
there was old man John D. Rockefeller, who bequeathed to his descendants a
truly astonishing mother lode of money.

The scribes who follow Mr. Obama sit in an air-conditioned van while guests
sip drinks. Then a staff member leads them to an anteroom, graced by
"Reclining Bather" by Pablo
Picasso<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/p/pablo_picasso/index.html?inline=nyt-per>
.

Waiters serve a summer-tropics crab salad, and a tell-tale tinkling of glass
signals that the reporters might wander in. Mr. Rockefeller and his wife,
Sharon, extol their candidate as one might a cherished and vintage Bordeaux;
he is "profoundly intelligent," yet a man of action.

Mr. Obama rises beneath a crystal chandelier and says he hopes to compete in
50 states. (He quotes that "noted political strategist" Woody
Allen<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/a/woody_allen/index.html?inline=nyt-per>,
who says "90 percent of life is showing up.") He asks these elegantly heeled
men and women to put financial shoulders to the wheel of history.

The reporters slip out afterward, leaving donors to their fillets of beef
with mustard-cognac sauce and potato nests, washed down with sundry American
and French wines.

Viewed From a Distance

Next stop is a hotel off Connecticut Avenue, where 550 geeks and investors
shower techno-dollars on Mr. Obama. He references not tax codes, but the
struggling working class. Some set down designer beers and applaud.

The Obama fund-raiser rules are akin to a nonpetting zoo: Reporters may
stare but no touching or talking is allowed, including to the candidate.
Fortunately, Mr. Obama provided a social X-ray of this circuit in his book,
and he did not neglect to scan himself.

"As a rule, they are smart, interesting people, knowledgeable about public
policy, liberal in their politics," he writes of these crowds. But "they
found it hard to imagine there might be a social ill that could not be cured
by a high SAT score."

The danger, he adds, is that such nights leave candidates at a remove from
their days, not least Ms. Brown and her trailer.

"The problems of ordinary people, the Rust Belt town or the dwindling
heartland, become a distant echo," he writes, "abstractions to be managed
rather than battles to be fought."
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Received on Sun Jul 13 20:29 PDT 2008

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