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“A Stranger To Whom?”: President Obama Has To Work Pretty Hard To Feel Much Empathy With People Like Chuck Todd

We all know by now that Chuck Todd thinks of President Obama as The Stranger. That narrative fits pretty well for a lot of DC pundits who see him as aloof, cold, distant and remote.

But I suspect that description would come as a surprise to the young people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation.

When President Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in June, he and first lady Michelle Obama emerged stunned and emotional from a meeting with six students who spoke of lives affected by homelessness, alcoholism, poverty and suicide.

“I love these young people,” Obama said shortly after meeting them. “I only spent an hour with them. They feel like my own.”

The Obamas emerged from the private conversation at a school in Cannon Ball, N.D., “shaken because some of these kids were carrying burdens no young person should ever have to carry. And it was heartbreaking,” Obama said.

The meeting spurred Obama to tell his administration to aggressively build on efforts to overhaul the Indian educational system and focus on improving conditions for Native American youths.

You can read the rest of the article linked above to get details on the action this meeting with tribal youth spurred.

The very same thing happened when President Obama met with youth involved in the Becoming a Man program in Chicago. The result was the launch of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative where he pointed out that “I’m not that different from Roger.” Here was my reaction that day:

What we’re witnessing for the first time in this country’s history is a President who knows these struggles – just like we now have a Supreme Court Justice who embraces the fact that she grew up poor and Latina in the Bronx and an Attorney General who speaks openly about what it means to have “the talk” with his own teenage son following the shooting of Trayvon. The world looks different when viewed through the lens of those who have lived these experiences. I suspect that means an awful lot to young people like Roger.

I would suggest that President Obama has to work pretty hard to feel much empathy with people like Chuck Todd. But he very naturally gravitates to young people like this. Michael Lewis says that its a pattern for him.

His desire to hear out junior people is a warm personality trait as much as a cool tactic, of a piece with his desire to play golf with White House cooks rather than with C.E.O.’s and basketball with people who treat him as just another player on the court; to stay home and read a book rather than go to a Washington cocktail party; and to seek out, in any crowd, not the beautiful people but the old people. The man has his stat­us needs, but they are unusual. And he has a tendency, an unthinking first step, to subvert established stat­us structures.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 6, 2014

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Chuck Todd, Native Americans, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Pitting The Poor Against The Other Poor”: America Should Treat All Poor People As Well As It Treats Poor Veterans

The message about American soldiers is almost always the same across partisan lines: They are hard-working, courageous, brave heroes, the essence of upstanding, wholesome, and industrious citizenry.

This picture may well be true. But there’s a troubling underbelly to this ideal: Our culture’s respect and admiration for the troops is matched in extremity by its disrespect for the poor.

The poor in this country are often described in polar opposite terms of those employed to exalt soldiers. The poor are takers, morally degenerate, lazy, and so welfare-addicted that they can’t even have life dreams and projects. In our depictions of soldiers and veterans, we construct paragons of virtue. In our depictions of the poor and downtrodden, we construct paragons of vice.

However, lurking behind this contrast is an uncomfortable reality: The two groups substantially overlap.

In 2011, nearly 1 in 7 of our country’s homeless were veterans, nearly 1 in 3 veterans between the ages 18 and 24 were unemployed, and veterans lived in 1 in 5 households poor enough to qualify for low-income heating assistance. Last year, nearly 1 million veterans were on food stamps, and many more doubtlessly received low-income transfer payments like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the kinds of transfers being pilloried by those who decry the “47 percent.”

The poor are often veterans, and veterans are often poor.

This fact occasionally puts conservative lawmakers and commentators who heap disdain on the poor in very tough spots. After all, how do you level rhetorical attacks on the poor and the programs that serve them without also attacking the poor veterans whom we lionize in their capacity as former soldiers?

One way conservatives deal with this tension is to just flatly exclude veterans from their welfare bashing. So for instance, when Senate Republicans sought an accounting of all of the means-tested benefits paid out by the federal government each year, they directed the Congressional Research Service to specifically exclude means-tested welfare programs for veterans. After all, if you are going to construct a list of programs that you intend to trash as wasteful, you can’t have it include means-tested veterans’ health care and means-tested veterans’ pensions. That would be far too disrespectful and intolerably dissonant with pro-troop messaging.

On the liberal side of the aisle, the existence of poor and economically suffering veterans presents a huge rhetorical opportunity, but one that the left constantly manages to bungle. Right now, big name Democrats talk about poor veterans in ways that tend to preserve the notion that they are particularly special. So for instance, when Cory Booker discussed the impact of cutting unemployment insurance on veterans, he emphasized that this was a special crime because “these men and women who fought for our country … are not lazy.” Instead of using this opportunity to defend the poor at large, we get special pleading based on the notion that poor and struggling veterans are somehow different from and more virtuous than the other program beneficiaries.

The more sensible move here, both on the merits and politically, is not to sequester poor veterans off into their own special category of poor people. Such hiving off only reinforces the toxic and illegitimate distinction we make between the deserving and undeserving poor. Instead of separating veterans out, they should be depicted as being very much like most people who find themselves in economic trouble.

The reason why veterans — people who in prior years proved themselves capable of adhering to extreme discipline and undertaking grueling amounts of difficult labor — wind up poor or unemployed is because poverty and unemployment are mainstream conditions that affect huge swaths of our population, not just some mythical class of degenerate scum. Four out of five Americans spend at least one year of their adult life in or near poverty, jobless, or reliant on welfare. Over half of American adults spend at least one year of their life in poverty and nearly 1 in 7 Americans report having been homeless at some point in their life.

As the the President’s Commission on Income Maintenance Programs pointed out in 1969, “our economic and social structure virtually guarantees poverty for millions of Americans. Unemployment and underemployment are basic facts of American life.”

It’s time to reform mainstream understanding of the poor. Ask yourself: If the exemplars of greatness in our society can fall into poverty and unemployment, then who else might be in those ranks alongside them?


By: Matt Bruenig, The Week, February 6, 2014

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Poverty, Veterans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blessed Are The Rich”: Charles Koch Is Such A Clueless Visionary

One thing I’ve come to value in the last couple of years is the altruism and keen economic insights of the fourth-richest man in America: Charles Koch.

Even though Koch was raised rich and has now amassed a personal fortune of about $34 billion, he recently gave us a deeper sense of his true worth, measured not in dollars, but in values.

“We want to do a better job of raising up the disadvantaged and the poorest in this country,” he declared. Excellent thought — FDR couldn’t have put it better! Noting that a big problem for the poor is that the Powers That Be “keep throwing obstacles in their way,” Koch cut to the chase, saying, “We’ve got to clear those out.”

Yes, Charlie, I’m with you! Clear out such barriers as the offshoring of middle-class jobs, union busting, poorly funded schools and the lack of affordable health care, housing and child care.

But, alas, that’s not at all what Koch had in mind as obstacles to be cleared out. Rather, he proposes to “help” poor people by eliminating — ready? — “the minimum wage.” Why? Because, explains this clueless son-of-the-rich, having a wage floor “reduces the mobility of labor.”

In case you don’t dwell in the plutocratic, narcissistic, Ayn Randian fantasyland where the Kochs hang out, “labor mobility” is right-wing psychobabble for social Darwinism. Remove all remnants of America’s economic safety net, they coldly theorize (while wallowing in their nests of luxury), and the poor will be “freed” to become billionaires.

As Charles puts it, if the disadvantaged had no protections in the workplace and no government programs to ameliorate their poverty, they would then have to scramble just to live, thus freeing them from reliance on society’s helping hand. Freeing them to do what? Well, Koch says, they could then “start a business … drive a taxicab … become a hairdresser.”

What a visionary he is! Where you and I might see people trapped in debilitating poverty, Charles sees a Brave New World of billionaire hairdressers!

But he’s not the only 1-percenter having utopian visions for hard-hit Americans. For example, I can’t begin to tell you how grateful America’s homeless people are going to be once they hear about Andy Kessler, who has been thinking long and hard about their plight, selflessly seeking ways to eradicate intractable poverty.

Kessler is a former hedge-fund whiz, which means he was in the business of making … well, money. Beaucoup bundles of it. But having seen his 16-year-old son volunteer at a homeless center, he was motivated to develop a plan to solve homelessness — and here it is: Stop dishing out soup to those people, and shut down all those damn shelters!

The homeless problem, he recently wrote in an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal, stems from “all this volunteering and charitable giving” by do-gooders like his son. Homeless folks ought to be working, he lectured, but they’re not, “because someone is feeding, clothing and, in effect, bathing them.”

Golly, Andy, I recall that Jesus said something about our Godly duty to feed and clothe the needy — and even to wash the feet of the poor.

But apparently, Jesus just didn’t grasp the essence of true morality. “Blessed are the rich!” is Kessler’s spiritual mantra. “Where does money come from … to help the unfortunate?” he asked. And yea, I say unto thee, the Holy Hedge-Funder answered his own deep question: It comes from “someone (who) worked productively and created wealth.”

Thus, he sagely concluded, the answer to poverty, to truly helping the poor, is not to pamper the takers, but to provide more tax breaks for the makers of wealth (like him) — the ones who produce “good old-fashioned economic growth.”

Wow, what a role model this guy is for America’s youth — including that misguided boy of his! Wouldn’t you like to buy Andy and Charles for what they’re worth … and sell them for what they think they’re worth? That would fund a whole lot of homeless programs.


By: Jim Hightower, the National Memo, July 24, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Owners Are Getting Scared”: If You Want To Say We’re Just Voting For People Who Promote Our Best Interests, You’re Right

Now that President Obama has won–and is being inaugurated today, hooray!–talk about who should and should not be allowed to vote is becoming more common amongst the tea party rank-and-file.

I work at a homeless shelter. Tonight at dinner, as I sat at our service desk and watched all of the people eat, and talk, and laugh, I remembered how disturbed one of my neighbors was when he heard about our efforts to ensure that the residents of our shelter–and all shelters–got out and voted. My neighbor–white, christian, male, conservative, mid-fifties–went from disturbed to downright offended when President Obama won re-election, and the county that it all seemed to come down to was our county, Hamilton County, Ohio. To my neighbor, by bringing local community organizers into our shelter to have residents sign voting pledges, by having state agencies come in to help our residents register to vote, we were essentially delivering the country to President Obama.

“We didn’t tell them who to vote for”. I said.

“Of course you knew who they were going to vote for. Who gave them the free cell phone?” he said.

Ah, the so-called ‘Obamaphone’. Conservatives hate it. To them, it smacks of decadence, and misguided liberal spending. In reality, it’s a very practical investment for our society to make. Newt Gingrich talked about replacing the safety net with a trampoline: we live in a very high-tech world, and in order to function in this world, we have to be plugged in. If we expect disenfranchised folks to even have a chance at competing, wouldn’t they also have to be plugged in? In the shelter business, we are about helping people get housing, but we’re also about helping people eliminate barriers to housing. If our residents have cell phones, that cuts out a lot of walking time, and a lot of paper work. Ultimately, it should help them get back on their feet, and that is something we all want.

“People who are on the government tit shouldn’t be allowed to vote”. he said.

“If you believe that, then no C.E.O. in the country should be allowed to vote.” I said, always the troublemaker.

“The rich worked for what they’ve got. The people who stay at your shelter have been made soft by the system. ” He said.

My response: You are likely to die in the class you are born into. Inherited wealth gives a person an unfair advantage. Being born into a privileged class gives a person an unfair advantage.Yes, a person can rise from the bottom to the top, but what do they have to become to do so? What do they have to sacrifice? I guarantee you a privileged person who rose to the same level did not sacrifice as much. And what if you don’t have the killer instinct? What if you just want to live a simple life, and not participate in the rat race? Should you have to work so hard? Yes, the man born with sand bags tied around his legs can still hypothetically ‘win the race’, but why not take off those sand bags and see how he does? Why not give him the option of not even running the damned pointless thing in the first place?

It’s a frustrating conversation, especially when you consider that my neighbor should be on my side on this: he is not one of the owners of this society. At best, he only serves as one of the owner’s many attack dogs, operating under the illusion that ‘if only I work hard enough, I too can join the ranks of the owners’. But dogs cannot become men.

The point is, this argument about who should and shouldn’t be allowed to vote is coming up more and more. After Romney lost what he and his followers had deluded themselves into believing would be a great white landslide (no way colored and poor folk will vote again like they did last time!), they started talking about restricting the vote.

But it’s too late for that. Us poor people, Us women, Us black people, Us latino people, Us asian people, Us gay people, us disabled people, us non-religious people–we’re voting. We’re being heard. And if you want to say we are just voting for people who are promoting our best interests, then you’re right: but tell me that the rich in this country don’t do the same thing.

And there are more of us.

The owners are getting scared.

And they should be.


By: Spencer Troxell, Daily Kos, January 21, 2013

January 22, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Romney’s Bad Math: What Specifics, “I’m Running For President For Pete’s Sake”

Speaking at a closed-press fundraiser in Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday night, Mitt Romney offered more details than he ever has to date on what he might do about federal spending and taxes. Luckily, some reporters standing outside overheard him. NBC reports:

“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney said. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I’m not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we’ve got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states.”
Asked about the fate of the Department of Education in a potential Romney administration, the former governor suggested it would also face a dramatic restructuring.
“The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I’m not going to get rid of it entirely,” Romney said, explaining that part of his reasoning behind preserving the agency was to maintain a federal role in pushing back against teachers’ unions. Romney added that he learned in his 1994 campaign for Senate that proposing to eliminate the agency was politically volatile.

Romney expounded on that lesson—that he shouldn’t publicly admit to his plans to leave society’s most vulnerable citizens without any federal support—in a March interview with told The Weekly Standard. “One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” said Romney. “So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.” In other words, Romney believes that if he tells the public what he might actually do in office they will dislike his plans and reject them. This is just as revealing as Romney’s infamous recollection that he told his gardener not to use illegal immigrants on his property because “I’m running for office for Pete’s sake.” Romney doesn’t want to wage an honest contest between his ideas and his opponent’s. His self-described preference is to try to win by telling the American they can have tax cuts without painful sacrifices on spending.

Publicly, Romney has proposed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and to then cut taxes further. He also wants to increase defense spending. In total he would reduce federal tax revenues by $5 billion over the next ten years. The Committee for a Responsible Budget estimated that Romney would add $2.6 trillion to the deficit. He has promised to cut spending as well, but he has avoided mentioning credible specifics.

That’s bad enough. But what is even worse is that what he offers in private doesn’t add up either. It would be one thing if Romney had a secret plan to balance the budget with drastic spending cuts to major federal programs. While it would be dishonorable of him to refuse to discuss that plan while running for president, at least you would know he has a plausible—if totally heartless—plan for governing once elected.

But he doesn’t. Instead the new details he offered were that he might eliminate the mortgage interest deduction on second homes and abolish the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The former idea is a good one, although I’ll believe that President Romney and Congress have the will to stand up to powerful lobbies such as the real estate and construction industries when I see it happen. It would not, however, generate nearly enough revenue to make up for Romney’s massive tax cuts. Perhaps because Romney himself owns three homes he thinks owning a second home is a fairly common middle class practice. In fact, only 6 percent of Americans have a second home. Eliminating the entire mortgage tax deduction would save about $215 billion by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office, so eliminating it only on second homes would save just a fraction of that. If you want to be generous and assume that a lot of the owners of second homes also have third and fourth homes, and that they take out mortgages to buy those homes, you could guess that Romney’s proposal might save something like 10 percent of that total, or a whopping $21.5 billion in total between now and 2021. By contrast, letting the Bush tax cuts expire only on families making more than $250,000 per year would have saved $40 billion in 2011 alone.

While HUD makes for an appealing target for destruction among rich Republicans because it is the only cabinet department dedicated to addressing poverty, it is not actually a very large agency compared to, say, the Pentagon. Its entire budget for fiscal year 2012 is $47.2 billion dollars. (The Department of Defense budget this year is $645.7 billion.) The vast majority of HUD spending falls into one of two appropriation streams: construction of public housing ($19.2 billion) and Section 8 housing vouchers ($17.2 billion). Romney did not specify whether he would eliminate those programs, or just abolish the department that houses them and redistribute their responsibilities. Assuming Romney doesn’t, or can’t, actually get rid of the federal government’s two main programs to prevent homelessness, he won’t get very much savings by closing HUD and its important, but smaller, programs such as Community Development Block Grants. As I report in a forthcoming feature for Next American City, under President Obama HUD has been dramatically helpful to cities with very small amounts of money through programs such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative. I’ve asked the Romney campaign to clarify whether Romney wants to eliminate all federal housing subsidies and, if so, whether he has any plan to combat the dramatic rise in homelessness and severe poverty that would surely result. Having not received a response, my guess is that his honest answer would be that he has no idea what exactly he proposes to cut. And he certainly hasn’t bothered to come up with an alternative affordable housing agenda.

Republicans are not terribly interested in making serious domestic policy proposals or even dealing with social issues at all. For example, House Republicans have decided that their zeal to keep taxes low on millionaires and even billionaires must be paid for by squeezing food stamp recipients. As Politico’s David Rogers reports, “An average family of four faces an 11 percent cut in monthly benefits after Sept. 1, and even more important is the tighter enforcement of rules demanding that households exhaust most of their savings before qualifying for help.” If they succeed, it will save $3 billion per year.

Republicans, including Romney, are fond of saying that they idolize Ronald Reagan and wish to govern as he did. And they would, with lower taxes, higher deficits, greater inequality and less help for the most needy.


By: Ben Adler, The Nation, April16, 2012

April 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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