Katrina Proves Liberals Were Right All Along (Part 2: Poverty Edition):
The only time most of America recognizes that poverty exists is when riots happen, and then the political divide is something along the lines of "Niggers have no self-control" to "Rioting is bad and maybe the negroes ought to be helped." Yep, poverty exists for all races (and is growing), but the black face of it is all many Americans ever see.

Every once in a while, though, something untinged (for the most part) by violence occurs that demonstrates the real, awful, degrading condition in which millions of Americans attempt to exist (and this is not even to address the horrible conditions for the migrant workers and illegals attempting to create some simulacrum of an American life). For urban and suburban Americans, poverty exists as "the projects" or the neighborhood to avoid. And in rural America, poverty exists as Brigadoon-like towns, except shitty and shack-filled, seemingly appearing and disappearing (and this is not even to address the horrible conditions for Native Americans on reservations attempting to create some simulacrum of an American life). For the most part, though, poverty is colored black, a perception which is borne out not just by the images from New Orleans, but by the latest stats, which say that the poverty rate for whites is 8.6 percent and 24.7 percent for blacks (with Hispanics a close second at 21.9 percent).

So Katrina happens, ripping the scab off the wound that is the desperate day-to-day life of millions in this America. Then, mostly, the right wing of the nation has offered the familiar, almost monotonous variations on "individual responsibility" and "self-control." Get educated, they whine, stop having babies, don't be hippin' and hoppin' to yer gangsta rap (although when Bill O'Reilly says the word "gangsta," it's time to retire the term completely from the hip-hop lexicon. If he says he's been "kickin' it old school," well, then it's time for rioting). And now, most frighteningly, congressional Republicans are declaring that they are going to take on the issue, although probably through their cutely-named "Republican Poverty Alleviation Agenda," which seeks to filter money to churches and other charitable organizations rather than actually set up programs to deal with, say, alleviating poverty.

At this point, most liberals with memories have got to be shaking their heads in disgust, 'cause, fuck, we've down this goddamned road before. If you try to housebreak a dog and that fucker keeps shitting and pissing in the house no matter how many times you bring it outside, at some point you have to think that the dog is either stupid or mean or both. Your choices are to live with a house stinking of dog shit or to put that dog outside for good or send it to the pound. Right now, Democrats are living with the stench. And real liberals are waving their arms, saying, no, we're humans, we don't have to live like this.

See, liberals believe in a very simple proposition: a stitch in time. You remember that old aphorism for darning socks? "A stitch in time saves nine"? Republicans are fond of saying that liberals want to just "throw money at" some problem whenever a program is suggested. Of course, what's going in the Gulf of Mexico region is just that, with Republicans retreating like sewer rats from flames and offering up billions of dollars in such a haphazard way that it's starting to make the disastrous, corrupt reconstruction of Iraq look lke a model of efficiency. Much of the billions will go to reconstruction efforts (or, to be more precise, to Bush-connected corporations that'll hire contractors that'll be able to hire workers for the cheapest wages with no oversight and probably eventually immunity from lawsuits). But a whole fuck of a lot is going to go to support families who, if, say, education and housing and job programs had been available might not be in as dire straits as they are now. In other words, a little federal money back then in the right programs might have meant a fuck of a lot less now.

And liberals fuckin' knew this and have been saying it for years: you will reap what you've sown, man, and if you sow hate and resentment and despair, sure, the short-term is a disenfranchised population that stays out of the political process so Republicans can win and continue the cycle. But the long-term is a bitch, and that bitch is the Katrina South.

The Great Society programs of the 1960s were a start and a possible solution. Remember the Great Society? Here's Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 speech that laid this shit out: "There is the decay of the centers and the despoiling of the suburbs. There is not enough housing for our people or transportation for our traffic. Open land is vanishing and old landmarks are violated. Worst of all expansion is eroding the precious and time-honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference...In many places, classrooms are overcrowded and curricula are outdated. Most of our qualified teachers are underpaid, and many of our paid teachers are unqualified. So we must give every child a place to sit and a teacher to learn from. Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty." Man, over 40 years later, and those exact same fuckin' words could be spoken. Doomed to repeat, motherfuckers, doomed to repeat.

And so was born the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the creation of HUD, the Fair Housing Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and a great deal more, which contributed to a massive drop in poverty levels, when, in less than a decade, poverty levels dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent. Conservatives were apoplectic at these programs, seeing in them communism and social engineering, and, as ever, that individual states ought to take care of these things. Said Ronald Reagan in 1966: "[We should not] unquestioningly follow those others who pass the problems along to the Federal government, abdicating their personal and local responsibility. The trouble with that solution is that for every ounce of federal help we get, we surrender an ounce of personal freedom. The Great Society grows greater every day--greater in cost, greater in inefficiency and greater in waste." Although you know what's fuckin' hilarious? One of the most controversial of the Great Society programs had the poor in their communities offering up ideas of how to improve those communities. Man, conservatives fuckin' hated givin' up power to the people.

Of course, as Johnson learned, worthless wars always fuck-up budget initiatives, and programs were never funded as well as they could have been if he had had ceased the insanity overseas. Then, of course, Nixon sliced some of the domestic programs. Then, of course, Reagan slashed Great Society programs with the zeal of a bacon addict on a pig farm. Programs for low-income families lost 54% of their funding, subsidized housing went down 80.7%, job and training programs were gutted by 68.3%, and housing assistance for the elderly went down by 47%. And they never recovered. And no state has ever made up for the loss.

It's always a big damn knee-slapper whenever conservatives say that "we tried" this "liberal" program or that for those living in poverty and "it failed." George Will said as much this past Sunday. The problem is? At best, many of those programs were cut and burned. Clinton was little help (remember, children, Clinton was not a liberal - he was a leader, a real President, but he was a DLC-er all the way). And Bush II has sought to gut the remaining Great Society programs. So the answer to conservatives is "how about we try some of those old liberal notions?" It's a stitch in time. Try to end poverty before something like the Katrina South rears its poor, black head and bites you on the ass, costing you not only the money to help the poor, but all the medical attention your own ass is gonna need.

'Cause, you see, if yer gonna teach a man to fish, ya gotta provide him with the teacher, the fishing pole, the means of gettin' to the river, someone to watch the kids while he's fishin', the energy to cook that trout, the tools to cook the fish with...

Tomorrow: Race. Later this week: Education and the environment.