58 thoughts on “9-11 and Katrina — Lasting Symbolism, Fleeting Reminder

  1. PM says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree, but I think that there is a simpler explanation–us vs. them.

    Katrina was all about uncomfortable lessons about our shortcomings and problems.

    9/11 was all about “them”–how bad, evil, etc., the perpetrators of that attack were.

    We would all rather concentrate on the problems of others than the problems of ourselves.

  2. Mike Kennedy says:

    You are comparing a natural disaster with one brought on by terrorism?

    I think you have it backward. One we cannot do anything about (i.e. nature) and the other we can (willful violence). Most liberals fully supported the Afghan invasion and war — until it became difficult and costly.

    I agree on Iraq, for the most part. But your argument that we prefer not address poverty and racism is just plain hogwash, Bruce. No country on the face of the earth has tried so hard to assimilate people from all cultures. We also spend massive amounts on entitlement programs, as we do with defense.

    Yes, there are very, very poor people who struggle, and there are places with pockets of serious poverty. They need help. But life has been getting better, in this country, not worse over the decades. Standard of living — even for the poorest — is better.

    Are there problems? Yes? Not everyone is going to be equal. Some will have more than others. Some will be unlucky. Others will be lucky. Some will work hard. Some won’t. I don’t want a society where everyone gets to be equal, regardless of effort or resources. But that’s me.

    I guess it comes down to outlook. I choose to live here because I think — on the whole — we try to do the right thing and have made much progress in making life better. I choose to be an optimist. Are we perfect? No. But where is there such a utopia that many liberals in this country seem to favor?

  3. Jim Leinfelder says:

    Yes, Mr. Benidt is “comparing” the two, not “equating” them. He’s comparing our nation’s responses to them, politically and in terms of resources devoted to them. It’s a legitimate comparison.

  4. Mike Kennedy says:

    Really?

    Well, I wouldn’t call $142 billion in federal funds and countless more in philanthropic donations to be “not much change has come in five years.”

    A report compiled by Brookings Institution and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center analyzed 20 indicators of prosperity and found New Orleans is poised to become a safer, more sustainable and economically stronger city than it was before the storm.

    You can argue all day long about government response being slow at the outset. I wouldn’t disagree. But Katrina is not the only example of that……by far.

    I wouldn’t argue that the terrorist attacks changed our lives more. But the two events are totally different. Trying to compare them is like trying to compare the proverbial apples to oranges.

    It’s the same false comparison between the BP oil spill and Katrina — two totally different types of events.

  5. Newt says:

    The Wall Street bailouts and Obama’s stimulus packages exceed in value the entire cost of the Iraq War.

    Yet all three are wrong and misguided.

    We also know that the Corps of Engineers warned in 1995 of a “catastrophic” levee failure in New Orleans. A year later the Corps’ work to upgrade the New Orleans levee was stopped cold for years after a 1996 lawsuit by environmentalists opposed to flood control construction. We also know that Louisiana politicians refused for decades prior to Katrina funding to upgrade the levees.

    The real victims in all this are the poor working rubes of the American private sector whose toil, sweat and tears are rewarded with incompetence, graft, theft and insults.

    What is, is unsustainable.

  6. Mike Kennedy says:

    Newt:

    Those point are well taken. However, the point I’m trying to get at is that I think it’s time that all of us take care and caution in leveling accusations of selfishness, intolerance and racism.

    People respond differently, psychologically, to different events, depending upon the circumstances of the events.

    Natural disasters, whether made worse by government incompetence or not, happen in this country with some regularity. Terrorist attacks in this country do not.

    The fear that someone hates us enough to cause that kind of man made destruction manifests itself in a more loud cry for something to get done and fast. Yes, many American were angry and demanded something be done quickly when seeing the Katrina victims’ plight, but it didn’t cause a visceral, perhaps irrational fear, that a massive terrorist attack causes.

    Yes, your odds are better of dying in a natural disaster than in a terrorist attack, but people don’t make decisions based on probability and odds — if they did, no one would ever buy a lottery ticket and there would be no fear of flying.

    If you want to attack and criticize human nature for being less than rational and calculating, I wouldn’t argue with you. But to lump the country into a majority who honestly don’t care, or are hateful or selfish, I think, is just nonsense.

  7. Bruce Benidt says:

    Hurricane Katrina was an act of god. The destruction of New Orleans was a human act of neglect.

    No New Taxes has consequences. We don’t fund public works, we don’t have the things public works protect — safe streets, safe bridges, safe food, and a New Orleans safe from flooding. The Corps of Engineers knew the levees were substandard, and so did the government the Corps reports to. If these levees were around Boston of San Francisco or New York City, they would not have been neglected.

    And then the response to Katrina was a man-made disaster. A cynical administration that put cronies and hacks in government jobs — the completely unqualified Brownie. The devastation of New Orleans was ignored by Michael Chertoff and Dick Cheney and George Bush for days — that would not have been the case if the flooding were in New York.

    I don’t make accusations of racism and selfishness lightly. But racism played a part in the destruction of New Orleans, I have no doubt. And racism and selfishness plays a part in the extremes of the Tea Party and conservative positions, I have to believe. It’s a “to hell with them” attitude that I just don’t understand.

    Lastly, the issue Katrina ripped open and put before our eyes for a few weeks has absolutely not gotten better. The disparity between rich and poor continues to increase. Only during the Clinton administration did the increase in the disparity slow down.

    We cannot continue as a country, I don’t believe, with so many of our people in poverty, lacking resources.

    No New Taxes has consequences. Many cities in America are now cutting back on firefighters, having rolling brownouts — parts of the cities with staff and equipment withdrawn to cover other parts. People are dying because of it.

    This isn’t a problem where the wealthy people live. We’re becoming two countries — and increasingly, the haves don’t seem to care about the have-nots.

    I’m tired of writing this same old shit every post, and you all are tired of reading it.

    I respond to Mike Kennedy’s sense of optimism — he sees things getting better. Dear God I hope you’re right, Mike.

  8. Newt says:

    There’s an overwhelming tendency here to ignore the preventive measures that would have totally spared this discussion, as well as thousands of lives:

    2005 article in the LA Times …

    “Although the corps and federal officials kept a tight leash on funding, the Orleans Levee Board spent money lavishly, diverting resources to high-stakes investments such as casinos and marinas. The levee board’s unusual authority to hire its own consultants allowed its officials to select firms that regularly gave campaign contributions to politicians with influence over levee board business.

    “Left unchecked because of repeated failures by the Louisiana Legislature to reform the levee board system, critics say, the Orleans district operated its own patronage system.”

    “‘The New Orleans board had the reputation of being one of the worst — by worst, I mean more political than professional,'” said former Louisiana Gov. Charles E. “Buddy” Roemer III… ”

    It’s so facile to say that money, taxation and indifference were the root cause of this tragedy, when in fact government corruption and malfeasance were the problem.

    Bush would have had nothing to botch if Democrats had done their jobs decades earlier.

  9. Mike Kennedy says:

    Unfortunately, this comes down to politics, like it always does.

    The same vaunted government that liberals look to in every instance to save us from everything from global warming (cooling, climate change or whatever) to terrorism and economic downturns — fails. And then when it fails, it only fails when Republicans run it. And the solution is always the same. If only we spend more money on it, the problems will go away.

    Government at every level failed in Katrina. Most people recognize that. But to liberals, only the government run by Republicans failed — thus, Obama isn’t failing now. He just isn’t spending enough and he inherited all this anyway — right?

    Bruce, my friend, I respect you a great deal, but I couldn’t disagree with you more that racism was the cause of the New Orleans fiasco. Incompetence? No doubt — by leaders in general and government overall. The same with 9/11. Clinton and Bush blew it.

    As for the inequality/poverty issue:

    The poverty rate has basically been about the same range for decades though higher now because of the economy.

    A huge majority of the defined poor in this country own auto, refrigerators, televisions, microwaves and have air conditioning. The “average” poor person is not homeless and lives in 1200 square feet.

    Researchers have found that if the poor in this country formed their own country, they would be living as well or slightly better than most typical families in European countries.

    Standards of living for the poor are better now than they have ever been in this country. There is just no evidence to prove otherwise.

    Things can always be better, and I don’t think we should be complacent and satisfied. But things have been getting better in everything from standard of living to curing of disease. Go back in times and measure quality of life and standard of living through our history.

    I choose to believe, that as a friend of mine always likes to say:

    “Optimism is the only realism.”

  10. Newt says:

    Only in America … is someone still defined as “poor” when they are obese, have a flat-screen TV with 100 cable channels, a 1,200′ apartment and drive a car.

  11. Mike Kennedy says:

    Try Wikipedia under “Poverty in America.” Try the following books:

    It’s Getting Better All The Time

    The Rational Optimist

    The Progress Paradox

    Myths of Rich and Poor. Why We Are Better Off Than We Think.

    This is what is used and owned by people falling into the government’s official poverty definition.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      …or “Nickel and Dimed,” a book in which author/journalist wrote about her year or so living in poverty. A summary…

      “(Author Barbara) Ehrenreich concludes with a statistic. The Economic Policy Institute, after many studies, declared that a “living wage” was approximately $30,000 a year for a family of one adult and two children. This is not the minimum as it includes health insurance, telephone, and licensed childcare but not such luxuries as restaurant meals, Internet access, cigarettes, or alcohol. The “living wage” works out to be about $14 an hour. Unfortunately, over 60 percent of American workers earn less than that per hour—many less than half.

      “It is common, among the nonpoor, to think of poverty as a sustainable condition—austere, perhaps, but they get by somehow, don’t they? They are “always with us.” What is harder for the nonpoor to see is poverty as acute distress: The lunch that consists of Doritos or hot dog rolls, leading to faintness before the end of the shift. The “home” that is also a car or a van. The illness or injury that must be “worked through,” with gritted teeth, because there’s no sick pay or health insurance and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next. These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle, even a lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low-level punishment. They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that is how we should see the poverty of so many million of low-wage Americans—as a state of emergency.”

    2. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Being obese is not a marker of living the good life. Quite the opposite. As for the decadence of owning a car, more and more the poor are to be found in suburbs where mass transit is a joke and minimal economic viability requires a car.

      That last book you list is 13 years old, for cryin’ out loud. Alan Greenspan was hailed as a genius 13 years ago and Bush wasn’t president yet.

      And comparing one’s circumstances to the living standards several centuries ago, as the allegedly rational optimist would have us do, is a ludicrous exercise. That is not how human psychology works.

      And the Progress Paradox is an equally facile thesis.

      There’s optimism and then there’s Pollyanna denial and cant to serve one’s own preferred sense of reality. But, hey, as Sinatra said, “booze, sex, drugs, religion…whatever gets ya’ through the night.”

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        Sure, everything that doesn’t fit your worldview is either old or a facile thesis or a ludicrous exercise. Now there is some real solid evidence there. Refuting something by saying it just isn’t so is about as logical of an argument as nah, nah, nah nah.

  12. Mike Kennedy says:

    The “average” poor person is living in 1200 square feet — that’s a mighty big “van down by the river.” Furthermore, the official poverty line in the U.S. does not include non cash items such as food stamps, school lunches, public housing and others.

    In addition, the works I cited are not an “experience” that someone had while writing a book. Economists believe in “statistical” people — not real people, as Minnesota’s own Tim Taylor says. Decisions on social policy need to be made on the basis of effects across society, not individual cases.

    By the way, the World Bank looked at poverty reduction in 92 countries and found:

    * Rapid growth benefits the poor as much as any group in the population.

    * Policies to liberalize trade, impose the rule of law, reduce the footprint of government and foster financial development help the poor as much as middle class and the upper class.

    * “Pro-poor” policies that target the distribution of income have almost no impact on low-income families.

  13. Mike Kennedy says:

    Oh, and Jim, comparing standard of living now to the past is how economics is taught and practiced.

    Many intro to econ classes often pose the question would you rather be low to middle class today or rich 100 years ago? It’s a thoughtful exercise, except for those of you who believe that everyone ought to be exactly equal in not only opportunity but also in outcomes.

  14. Jim Leinfelder says:

    It is? What’s the relevance? If you were rich 100 years ago, you were glad to be so. You would have no awareness of the standard of living 100 year hence.

    It’s a fun thought exercise to look back and compare one’s circumstances to what they might have been 100 years ago. It can give one some perspective, especially when grousing about a dentist appointment or a delay at the airport.

    That we’re better off in many ways than we were 100 years ago is a legitimate, albeit facile, point. But most people assess their lives relative to the circumstances of their contemporary peers, or, in these times, to their circumstances 10 years in the past.

  15. Mike Kennedy says:

    The relevance? It’s that people’s lives are easier by orders of magnitude — on every single scale.

    It’s trying to teach people that they don’t have it anywhere close to as bad as people had it in the past, even at the lowest levels of income.

    It’s that if we stopped measuring ourselves against what the Jones’ have, we would be a lot better off.

    This is an example of what is being taught:

    http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/steckel.standard.living.us

  16. Jim Leinfelder says:

    Yes, it’s taught as history. And it’s all very interesting and does provide perspective. As I said, I, myself, have tried to bring some perspective my self pity when lying in a dentist’s chair or languishing in an airport during a prolonged layover.

    But I wouldn’t accept it from an incompetent dentist who caused me unneeded pain by current standards of care, or from an airline representative who told me being stuck on the tarmack for five hours was a lot better tan riding cross country in a stagecoach.

    The only people who think life was better in, early post-revolutionary America are the people in the three-cornered hats at Glenn Beck “honor-restoring” rallies.

  17. Joe Loveland says:

    Yes, it’s very important to continually remind contemporary workers that they’re lucky to not be living like cave people, so that they don’t focus on the fact that the ratio of worker-to-CEO pay was 42-to-1 in 1960, and 344-to-1 in 2007.

  18. Mike Kennedy says:

    Yes, it’s always important to liberals to remind people that someone else has more than they do.

    I think many corporate CEOs are overpaid — way overpaid. But then I think that of many trial lawyers and entertainers, too — funny I never see liberals complaining about those earnings.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Most Americans are not employed by trial lawyers or entertainers. Most Americans, despite the claims of demagogues, work, not for small businesses, but for corporations that control much more about their daily live than does government.

      And so it is not unreasonable for them, as they are being continually “downsized” and pressured to be even more productive even as their real wages continue their three-decade slide, and they pay more for their health care coverage, to look to the obscene compensation packages awarded to mostly men who run their working lives with an appalling incidence of incompetence and malfeasance, or at least without relation to performance, with some resentment.

      But Mr. Kennedy would expect them to be soothed by blandishments that it was a lot worse for the workers of Dickens’ era.

      The issues, as they usually are, turn merely on fairness, equity, proportionality, accountability. But even as I write this, Wall Streeters are circulating self-pitying letters in which they mewl about the ways President Obama has betrayed them as elite peers. They are not soothed by the fact they are doing vastly better than they themselves did in the very recent past while most Americans are doing worse.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        First, the largest 3000 companies in the U.S. employ less than half of all workers in the U.S. and the average pay for CEOs there (including stock options and bonuses) is $3.2 million. Oprah, by comparison, earned around $250 million.

        Second, how do corporations control your daily life? Do they tell you what car to buy? Where to eat? Where to work?

        Third, who said anything about Dickens era. Of the books I referenced, all were written during this decade. So your numbers a bit off.

        Yes, it all does come down to equality with liberals — equality in outcomes — regardless of who determines them (government for liberals). You put your faith in government to determine what is fair — I and many other don’t.

        By the way, many of the Wall Streeters you loathe so much are huge donors to your party — why don’t you convince your representatives to stop taking their money?

    2. Joe Loveland says:

      Anytime anyone dares to question whether a contemporary CEO-to-worker ratio of 344-to-1 is fair, conservatives throw out the straw man argument “you want a 1-to-1 ratio that doesn’t recognize talent and hard work, and that’s socialism.”

      But, come on now. Let’s be just a little intellectually honest here. I’ve never met a single person who wants a 1-to-1 CEO-to-worker ratio. Did the 1960 CEO-to-worker salary of 44-to-1 really not sufficiently recognize talent and hard work? Were we a socialistic country in 1960? If we weren’t a socialistic nation in 1960, how is it that inching back in that general direction can be characterized with a straight face to be wild-eyed socialism?

      When the richest 1% was increasing it’s share of total wealth from 25% under Ronald Reagan to 35% under Bush II, Tom Emmer and other conservatives weren’t complaining about “redistribution of wealth.” Redistribution in that direction was just fine. It’s only when someone dares to discuss adjusting the tax code to inch back in the direction of Reagan era wealth distribution that the horrified screeches of “redistribution” are heard from my friends on the right.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        Who said anything about 1:1? What I said was I think that many are overpaid — but I think that about all kinds of members of our society — but that’s my opinion.

        Who said anything about Socialism? Read every post I’ve made on this blog and see if I ever mention it. Are you attempting to refute me or conservatives or libertarians? I’m not sure I’m getting it.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        Ok, fair enough. Newt and others go quickly to socialism labels and “you want everyone paid equally without regard to talent” hyperbole, but maybe you don’t. Your comment above about liberals wanting “equality in outcomes” seems to imply an accusation about wanting a 1-to-1 ratio, but I’ll take your word for it.

        So, let me ask you this:

        What would you think about a change in the income tax that caused the distribution of wealth to look like the Reagan era (i.e. top 1% have 25% of all wealth instead of the 35% in 2007)?

      3. 108 says:

        Loveland, that point can only be made with the benefit of complete ignorance.

        In 1980 the top rate was 70%, and kicked in on a joint income of $160k. It was a messy, high deduction environment. An overhaul was required.

        Your chosen metric doesn’t mean what you think it means. There’s a difference between wealth and income as well.

      4. Joe Loveland says:

        Thanks for schooling me 108. I’m not too bright. But I think I have the whole wealth vs. income thing down. Been reading my Running A Small Business for Dummies book, and Kelliher helps me with the big words.

        The accusation from the right is often about “redistribution of wealth!” Clearly, wealth was dramatically redistributed from the Reagan era to the W era, in favor of the wealthiest 1%. Changes in the tax code drove a lot of the redistribution of wealth, though clearly not just the income tax.

        High income is one primary path to high wealth. Not the only path, I know, but not an insignificant one. I bring up the income tax because when Dayton suggests a shift in the income tax that could inch us back in the direction of the Reagan era distribution of wealth, people scream “socialism.” I’m just curious why that objection is only heard when the propsoed redistribution doesn’t favor the wealthiest 1%. Is redistribution that favors Donald Trump good, but redistibution that doesn’t favor Trump bad?

      5. 108 says:

        Well, you’re obliged to go beyond your pet metric, 1% has 35%. What were the changes, give us some cause and effect.

        Give us perhaps the antithesis of the Laffer Curve. We’ll call it the Loveland Curve, and define it as the optimal tax rate at which redistribution is presumed to favor those below the median income. What is it?

      6. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Mr. Kennedy puts a word in my mouth, “equality,” which, while I didn’t use it, is certainly a concept embraced in this country’s Declaration of Independence.

        He then, of course, employs by sneering innuendo the now threadbare and tiresome conceit that all “liberals” demand equality in outcomes, which is, of course, not true. It’s certainly not true of anything I offered here.

        And what I find loathsome about the Wall Streeters now keening and rending their gaberdine over their UNFAIR treatment at the hands of their former favorite peer candidate is the private, self-serving logic they’re employing to justify their childish fits ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/business/31sorkin.html ).

        Still, one has the consolation that economic inequities are not as bad as during the Gilded Age. Oh, wait….

      7. Joe Loveland says:

        Re: “give us cause and effect” that Republican tax code changes redistributed wealth to benefit the wealthy

        To cite just one of many changes over the last few decades, the non-partisan Congressional Joint Tax Committee says the Bush tax cuts reduce taxes for millionaires by an average of $104K/year, year after year after year. The Loveland Curve says that if you put $104K/year more in the pockets of millionaires, the millionaires get richer. Cause: $104K/year tax cut for millionaires. Effect: Millionaires get $104K richer every year. The Loveland Curve utilizes a complex mathematical methodology known to experts as addition.

        As for Laffer Curve lore that tax cuts are alchemy and pay for themselves, I’d point you to this analysis that uses mathematical functions even more complex than addition.

  19. Mike Kennedy says:

    Yeah, Jim, it says all are created equal as defined by our natural rights; thus no one has the rights superior to those of anyone else and we are born with those rights. We don’t get them from government. Indeed, whatever rights or powers government has come from us, and our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to live our lives as we wish.

    OK, so you don’t advocate equality in outcomes. Explain to me your definition of “fairness” “equity” and the other social justice buzzwords the left uses. Set me straight. Please enlighten me.

    If I put words in your mouth, you put expressions on my face. I may have rolled my eyes or shook my head. Sneer? I think not.

    I have no sympathy for Wall Street giants. They proved careless in managing their firms with excessive risk taking and idiotic in backing Obama. They deserve what they get on both counts.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Seriously, Mr. Kennedy, you have no concept of fairness, of justice (shudder, SOCIAL justice), of equal opportunity, of where your idea of your right to live as you wish could come into conflict with the rights of others and the necessity to find an equitable resolution to that conflict? This is all conceptually foreign to you?

      Alrighty then, I’ll just back away. Slap my butt and call me a liberation theologian.

  20. Mike Kennedy says:

    No, Mr. Leinfelder, I have my own definition for what I think is fair and equitable and — gasp — even moral.

    What I asked of you is to help me understand what YOU think is fair and equitable since you obviously don’t seem to think you are living in a fair and just society — oh there I go again, possibly putting words in your mouth.

    So, my request was that you help me understand what is fair in YOUR mind. I’m rather quite certain of where I stand. In your mind, how much should the wealthy pay in taxes? How much should CEOs make? How do you define “fairness.”? No, not my definition. Yours.

    Lastly, to ignore how much better life is now than it has been in the past and how lucky we are to be living where we are, in the time that we are, is living life with blinders firmly attached with no appreciation of man’s advances. Oh, now I’m beginning to understand pessimism.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Mr. Kennedy:

      Your repeated and so broad as to be meaningless point that living conditions have been worse in the course of human history than they are now, for some many people, is really not in dispute. But it doesn’t really add much either.

      I don’t think people ignore your obvious contention as you claim. But human psychology doesn’t operate that way. It’s simply not consoling when faced with systemic inequities, such as access to health care or having to drink polluted ground water, to be told that it was worse for lepers who public officials merely fitted with bells in Christ’s time.

      Who really operates on this standard? I am unconvinced that even you do. When your cable goes out, would it satisfy you to be told by the person answering the “help” line to lighten the hell up and quit ignoring how lucky you are to be living in a time when there even is such a thing as cable TV? I doubt it. More likely you’d concede the facile point and then demand that your signal be restored pronto.

      As far as fairness goes, well, it’s hard to achieve, of course. I don’t possess a singing sword to neatly cut that Gordian knot. But we’ve made efforts since the signing of The Declaration of Independence to live up to its loft principles: Women’s Suffrage, emancipation, child labor laws, the Civil Rights Act, discontinuing the disparity between crack and powdered cocaine in the way we write and enforce our drug laws, progressive taxes, there seems an inexhaustible stream of inequities and solutions to them, and on and on and on…some intended and others merely systemic error, that we can work to correct.

      I’m all for continuing the effort. That, too me, is optimism. Telling people to quit their bitching cuz people in the past had it tougher is not my idea of optimism.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        What a completely invalid comparison about cable TV service to the advent of cable.

        People do compare progress in society to what came before them. You just did it regarding civil rights, women’s sufferage and the other items you mentioned.

        To use the past to measure our progress on some things but not others is selective ideology, cherry picked to try to promote some liberal philosophy of doom and gloom — I would guess to promote class warfare or a general sense of discontentment.

        Polluted groundwater? What an example, considering that we’ve made huge stride. It’s cleaner than ever and getting better. Oops, we can’t use the past for comparison. That might make people feel good about the present and we can’t have that.

        I again pose the question I posed earlier. Where is this Utopian place you seem to favor? Another planet, perhaps.

        By your weird logic, you are arguing against any form of appreciating how far human progress has come from technology, to increases in food supply, to increases of standards of living in China, Latin American etc. to improvements in the environment to…..oh never mind. What a buzz kill to be looking through your lens of perspective.

      2. Jim Leinfelder says:

        No, Kennedy, I’m not. I’ve conceded, repeatedly, you’re point that things have been worse. I’m just not arguing that after appreciating that obvious fact, that we sit on our laurels and do nothing to continue to make them even better.

        I guess I would add that there is the very real possibility of backsliding.

        Make the Pie Higher

        I think we all agree, the past is over.
        This is still a dangerous world.
        It’s a world of madmen
        And uncertainty
        And potential mental losses.

        Rarely is the question asked
        Is our children learning?
        Will the highways of the internet
        Become more few?
        How many hands have I shaked?

        They misunderestimate me.
        I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.
        I know that the human being and the fish
        Can coexist.

        Families is where our nation finds hope
        Where our wings take dream.
        Put food on your family!
        Knock down the tollbooth!
        Vulcanize society!
        Make the pie higher!
        Make the pie higher!

  21. Newt and Mike should go over and read Tom Horner’s comments in another thread: He wants to heavily tax alcohol, tobacco and gambling. If the poor want to drink or smoke – make em pay! You guys are getting your talking points from John Stossel, no doubt, who makes the arguments plugged into his mouth by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Have a car, a TV? You’re not poor! But – that’s now how poverty is experienced, and I think you and Stossel both know it. A TV costs what – $200? How much does health care for a family of four cost? $20,000? Get real.

    1. Newt says:

      I know a Hopkins family living in Section 8 housing that pays $140/month for 100-channel cable TV and data (add $60/mo for PPV). They go to HCMC more often than I go Walgreen’s and they don’t pay a dime. Their 54″ plasma flat screen is worth more than my car. They are wired to the hilt with gaming equipment.

      You think poverty doesn’t pay?

      1. That’s what’s called an anecdote. In fact – children comprise most of the people in poverty. In your world, the poor would act their roles, living on the streets, no tobacco, no alcohol, no tv, no cars, no air conditioners. Would you like to add some things to the list? When would you consider someone poor?

        A few years ago there was a large study done about how poverty is experienced. What the researchers found was that extremes of wealth and status as experienced by the people in the down position produces great stress and anxiety, not to mention deprivation. The great disparities in wealth and status were enough to evoke what is known as cortisol poisoning – a flooding of the system with hormones that are protective in extreme conditions, but which are deadly when experienced all the time.

      2. Dennis Lang says:

        Newt–You’ve finally surpassed yourself. A brilliantly chosen anecdote. That family surely representative of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, similarly bilking the system. Why can’t they all just be exiled–exterminated perhaps? Then the world would be less crowded for the blessed, privileged, talented, good looking… You’re an astute and sensitive man (woman?) Nice work.

      3. PM says:

        While this isn’t a perfect answer to the question of what constitutes poverty, I found this to be one of the most interesting articles on the subject i have ever read. A reporter handed out prepaid credit cards to panhandlers, and asked them to give him back the cards later. this is a story about what they did:

        http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/854018–how-panhandlers-use-free-credit-cards

        (FYI: This is in Canada, and the LCBO referred to is the govt liquor store).

    2. Mike Kennedy says:

      Get real? I suggest you get real. I get my talking points from a variety of sources — otherwise known as reading books and studying history.

      This is the goofball argument that liberals put forth all the time. Many lower income people don’t have access to health insurance. They do have access to health care. There is a big difference.

      Just how is poverty experienced, Rob? I am looking forward to your description of your own encounter with it or with all the people you know who are in poverty — it sounds as though you personally know many in this situation while the rest of us are woefully ignorant.

      1. How is poverty experienced? I’ll give you but one example – at a school in Brooklyn Center a principal got a health care clinic built next to his school. When they got around to giving physicals to the students, 70 percent had untreated eye problems. How can students learn when they can’t see? I guess that is the teachers’ problem, huh?

  22. BTW – this country is NOT getting richer. Median wages have declined, adjusted for inflation, since the 1970s. In some parts of the country infant mortality is worse than in third world countries.

    1. Mike Kennedy says:

      What a completely misleading statistic. First, you don’t measure wealth of a country by income alone.

      Second, wages, may have declined, but total employee compensation has gone UP, a fact conveniently ignored by you. You see, you don’t include benefits. Go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and check it out.

      Ask anyone you know who owns a business. For that matter, ask me. I own one. Wages, bonuses and benefits — all totaled together are up, in my business and most others — and up more than inflation.

      1. Jim Leinfelder says:

        A Decade With No Income Gains
        By DAVID LEONHARDT
        The typical American household made less money last year than the typical household made a full decade ago.

        To me, that’s the big news from the Census Bureau’s annual report on income, poverty and health insurance, which was released this morning. Median household fell to $50,303 last year, from $52,163 in 2007. In 1998, median income was $51,295. All these numbers are adjusted for inflation.

        In the four decades that the Census Bureau has been tracking household income, there has never before been a full decade in which median income failed to rise. (The previous record was seven years, ending in 1985.) Other Census data suggest that it also never happened between the late 1940s and the late 1960s. So it doesn’t seem to have happened since at least the 1930s.

        And the streak probably won’t end in 2009, either. Unemployment has been rising all year, which is a strong sign income will fall.

        What’s going on here? It’s a combination of two trends. One, economic growth in the current decade has been slower than in any decade since before World War II. Two, inequality has risen sharply, so much of the bounty from our growth has gone to a relatively small slice of the population.

        Catherine Rampell has more details on the Census report, including some good charts.

        My question: If, as you say, wages, bonuses (how many people get those?) and benefits–all totaled together–are up, isn’t it largely due to the ongoing runaway costs of health insurance even as outcomes continue to decline?

  23. Mike Kennedy says:

    Well,

    The stock market did absolutely nothing for 10 years either. Does that indicate that it will do nothing for the next 10 in the most dynamic, flexible and innovative economy in the world?

    Hardly. If it rains all night does it mean it will rain for a month?

    Anchoring our beliefs to something that has happened over a certain time period and extrapolating that into the future is an error in critical thinking.

    People do it all the time. That’s why I do what I do for a living. I work with it every day.

    I never said nor do I believe that things are all roses, especially not now. This past 10 year period has included a major terrorist attack and a recession, two wars and the biggest housing bubble (with easy money policies) that lead to the greatest economic downturn we’ve had in decades.

    It’s all a matter of perspective and most of the time, we lose that to fear. What I am saying is that we have seen nothing but advances throughout history. Things can always be better and we shouldn’t stop trying to make them so, but they do, on the whole, continue to improve.

    Again, as Thomas Babington Macaulay observed in Review of Southey’s Colloquies on Society:

    “On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

  24. Mike and Newt’s arguments points out how far this “debate” has passed them by. They are obviously more interested in denial of the poor and moving on than considering the impacts of widening disparities of wealth and income and the obvious civilizational decline we have undergone in the past 40 years. If that decline is to be reversed it will be done in spite of, not with, those who want to return to a pre-enlightenment order of society.

  25. Mike Kennedy says:

    Rob:

    You and I just simply don’t look at things the same.

    Yes. There are poor. Yes they need help. But the lives of the poor have been improving — not declining. Your declinist philosophy and positions are inconsistent with the facts.

    For the Nth time, there is no Utopia, despite Utopian philosphy. Call me crazy — I’ll proudly wear the tag – but while I know there is much work to be done, I am profoundly thankful I was born when I was and where I was, and I have nothing but hope and faith that things will continue to get better.

    It beats fear and despair — I’ve been there. I ain’t going back.

    1. Who’s talking about utopia? How about NOT having a dystopia? Is it utopian to think that children who attend school have eyeglasses to see the blackboard? You’re right – we don’t look at things the same.

    2. Dennis Lang says:

      Nice that the “talking points” for this truly animated discussion originate in the relative comfort of “reading books and studying history”. Sadly we miss the commentary of the social workers, educators, health care professionals, whose lives might be spent with the less advantaged, successful, self-possessed, the “less fit” and struggling. Maybe they would remind us from life on the street how well off we really are.

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