Poverty – The Experience

Courier Times Photo
That’s me (unemployed) in line to get my lights back on. (Courier Times Photo)

I’ve never experienced real poverty. I’ve lived on a restricted budget as a college student and as a young married parent. I’ve never gone hungry, or been at risk of being homeless, or at my wits’ end about where to go or what to do simply survive.

But I got a glimpse of what it feels like by participating in a clever and realistic simulation presented by Bucks County Opportunity Council. The simulation lasted only an hour (four 15 minute weeks) but it drove many of the participants frantic with frustration.

We had to deal with bureaucratic delays and lines, lack of time and resources to do the basic things needed to pay bills, buy food, get to and from work, care for our children. We faced exploitation by payday lenders and banks.  We could easily imagine the plight of those in poverty, as we tried to juggle priorities and prevent eviction, utility shut-offs, missed meals. We experienced frustration, outrage, despair, and seething anger.  Little wonder that marriages fail, children get into trouble, and adults resort to crime. Life with few prospects and little hope can drive a person to desperation.

The take away is profound empathy for people who can’t make it without public assistance. They not only need help to survive, they need emotional support and encouragement in organizing to get on a path to self-sufficiency. Going it alone is a recipe for failure.

The Bucks County Courier Times writer James McGinnis described the experience well:

Poverty CT 181025

Don’t assume that those you love are above this situation.  Wages have not grown with the rest of the economy. In real dollars they have been flat for decades.  In the sixties we though that shelter should cost about 25% of a families income. Now families spend 30 to 50% to keep a roof over their heads. Recent surveys show that a shocking 80% of working families live paycheck to paycheck and have little or no savings. A $1,000 emergency becomes a crisis. Poverty is just one home accident or bit of bad luck away.

Each minimum wage job pays about $15,000 a year before taxes. It takes $60,000 a year for a family of 4 to live independently in Bucks County.

To make ends meet, an unskilled or semi-skilled person and their spouse might need three or four jobs. Minimum wage jobs rarely offer benefits or even stable employment. Nor are they easy or fun.

The MAGA Bomber

Thirteen small but potentially deadly bombs were mailed to left-leaning celebrities critical of President Trump. The reaction of media commentators and social media echo chambers will provide much for social scientists and journalism professors to study and write about in the future. The sequence of events as new facts emerged reveals how irrational people become when confronted by information that is not in harmony with their tribal beliefs.

View from the Left

Most of those not aligned with the right immediately blamed President Trump for publicly encouraging hate and violence and for conspicuously being slow and tepid about condemning it. They also noted that the characterization of leftist demonstrations as “violent mobs” deepens the fear and animosity felt by both sides.

One theme in several articles was “Stochastic Terrorism” – a theory that suggests that there are always a certain number of unstable people among any political group that may be moved to act by hearing rhetoric that suggests hate and violence. Thus, although no specific call to action was made, the law of averages kicks in, and a susceptible person commits an act of terror.

View from the Right

It was clear from the start that there was a partisan motive behind the targeting of the bombs. The right-wing commentators (Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, among others) promptly seized the opportunity to speculate that it was a liberal plot, a “false-flag” ploy, invented on the eve of the midterm elections, to drive voters away from GOP candidates. “Republicans just don’t do these things,” Limbaugh opined.

The Accused’s View

As I write this, I don’t have a quote from the accused bomber himself.  His lawyer says that he saw Donald Trump as a father figure. His van is plastered with partisan pictures that extol GOP leaders and Trump, and show prominent Dems with cross-hairs superimposed. As it turns out, he is something of a celebrity at Trump’s rallies, having been frequently photographed enthusiastically waving placards.

It’s clear the accused is what he appears to be – an over-the-top right-wing zealot whose passions drive him. Fortunately, the bombs didn’t explode, and the bomber left fingerprints and DNA that authorities were able to trace. Although police sought to cover the van’s incriminating artwork, it was so over-the-top that several individuals came forward with photos made long before the bombing.

The Silence

Those who were pushing the idea of a left-wing conspiracy have fallen silent and turned their attention to other matters. The late night comics made jokes about everyone knowing that the Dems are not well enough organized to pull off such a conspiracy. But even the conservative Weekly Standard couldn’t resist calling out the lords of loud on their implausible false-flag spin of the bomb threats.

What’s to be learned?

I offer a video sent to me by a North Carolina GOP partisan. She evidently found it very persuasive and forwarded it to show me how she feels and what she finds credible. This video is viral in her network with over one million (1,000,000) views logged. What about it makes you skeptical?

 

Journalistic Credibility

If you’ve been following my writing, you know that I have my attention of what allows ordinary people to judge what’s credible in the flood of information and the limitless sources we have access to these days. I speak on the topic and other posts in this blog share what I’ve learned so far.

The CEO of  Mother Jones published an essay that is remarkable in its candor about her own thought process. As an amateur, I has assumed that career writers had all this sort of philosophical stuff sorted out. Clearly this is not so.

“Our journalism comes from somewhere. It comes from a passion for justice, fairness, and a democracy where facts matter and all can participate. That’s not a partisan agenda, because these values are bigger than party. But it is a point of view.

Monica Gauerlein, CEO Mother Jones 

In her essay Stand for Something she makes a case for journalism NOT coming from nowhere, not being without a clear viewpoint. She distinguishes this from bias.

No Bugs?

(Be Careful What You Ask For)

Our species (humanity) has reached the degree of control over our environment that we can alter the balance of nature globally. Yet we have no effective means of governing ourselves globally. That’s a problem.

We keep getting warning signals of the danger. A recent news item reported:

45 PERCENT DECREASE
Bugs are disappearing. Biologists estimate that the population of invertebrates such as beetles and bees has decreased 45 percent over the past 35 years. The number of flying insects in German nature preserves dropped 76 percent in a similar amount of time. And a new study found the same thing in a “pristine” Puerto Rican national forest. The animals that eat the insects are disappearing, too: The population of the Puerto Rican tody, a bird that eats bugs, dropped by 90 percent. “Holy crap,” an expert in invertebrate conservation said to the Post. [The Washington Post] via NumLock.

Some of our politicians seem to be waiting for a sign from God. I suggest that, at least in Biblical terms, we have had many: fires, floods, epic storms, lethal heat waves. It’s time to step up and take stewardship of the planet seriously.

Credibility

(My Presentation on 10/9/2018)

I made 100 copies of the handout expecting to have about half of them left over – we ran out!  At 7 o’clock when we started most of the seats in Penn Hall were filled. I talked for about 50 minutes and was gratified to see people’s attention riveted. Comments afterward revealed that they too are very interested in finding ways to judge the authenticity of information that comes their way.
Here are the links for the videos in the Slide Show

Cult or Just Cult-like

The glorification of Donald Trump as a savior who will make America great again justifies calling his supporters cultish. The zeal they show and their stubborn refusal to acknowledge his many gaffes and character faults strongly remind me of cults I have known.  This set me to looking for an objective checklist to test “is he a cult leader?”

Here is what I came up with.

Cult Checklist

 

What do you think?


Doubling Down?

The Washington Post reports that President Trump has uttered a total of 4229 false or misleading statements. They observe that in the last six months he has succeeded in doubling the record-setting first year. (The Toronto Star pegs it at 2,083 as of 7/28, but Toronto is a long way from the source.)

This mendacity may be a common human frailty writ large, as is so much that The Donald does. He has long been known for a curious relationship with the truth. He gets an idea, he envisions it to be true, he declares it to be true, and he then believes that it is true even when confronted with objective facts that contradict what he “knows.”

Entrepreneurs can be very single-minded, and difficult to dissuade once they lock on to an opinion or a course of action. They usually have consummate confidence in their “feel” or intuition in the absence of complete facts. That is, I suggest, why entrepreneurs arrive first at new opportunities — it’s also why three out of four new ventures fail.

Trump isn’t likely to be accused of overthinking anything. He’s used to making big plays where the stakes are high. His dad taught him that in life and in negotiation he must never voluntarily yield or admit error. That only diminishes his leverage.

Not overthinking and not admitting mistakes is an exceedingly poor learning model.  The natural process of learning is to form a vision of the needed actions, take action, observe results, update the vision, and keep on.  Leave out the observation bit, and it’s easy to go way afield of reality. We are seeing that pattern in Washington.

Presidents preside over stuff. That should be obvious. The President of the US presides over vastly more than he or she can possibly personally track. The nature of the job is to choose good subordinates, delegate, be an astute observer, and manage people well — not strong talents of The Donald. The rapid turn over, the flood of critical books by ex-White House insiders, and the large-scale blunders speak for themselves. The Whitehouse under Trump is far from the agile learning organization that the country needs.

Reality is undeterred by being ignored and has a nasty way of whacking us up the side of the head if we try.

 

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