Tag Archives: 60 minutes

With so many in “deep poverty,” mere poverty is almost like the middle class

29 Sep

Philly poverty

If one of us, or many of us, falls behind, way behind, is it the responsibility of those ahead to pull up the less fortunate, the unfortunate and all those whom fortune has woefully forsaken?

Those living in and around Philadelphia should be giving this serious thought. In this city, the name of which means brotherly love, the economy, the culture, the dynamics, the thoughts and the ideals are too weak to sustain the population. What exists there represents gross failure.

A new report says that 12 percent of Philadelphia residents live in something called deep poverty. Sadly, the times have forced us to look beyond mere poverty, which in Philadelphia is 26 percent.

The city, which I live outside of, ranked highest in deep poverty when compared to the nation’s 10 biggest cities. Nearby Camden, across the river in New Jersey, is not among the biggest and wasn’t ranked. But it has a deep poverty rate of 20 percent and a poverty rate of 43 percent.

From my little cloister, that’s difficult to even imagine.

Deep poverty chartAll these figures come from the U.S. Census’ 2013 American Community Survey, which was recently released.

By definition, a family of three is in poverty if it lives on $20,000 a year. In deep poverty, three survive on $10,000 a year.

In terms of sheer numbers, there are 184,000 people in Philadelphia who are clinging to its lowest rung. Alfred Lubrano, a staff writer for the Inquirer, said that’s about the size of cities like Tallahassee, Florida or Salt Lake City, Utah.

It strikes me as being post-apocalyptic.

But I almost never go to the neighborhoods were the 184,000 live. Camden to me is like Mars.

Still, I can’t help feel as if people like me have somehow failed those in deep poverty, even though many have failed themselves.

In any group, on any place in the world, there are people who do well and people who do not. There are those who need no help and there are the helpless. Now and in the past, however, social units like Native-American tribes or New England colonies or even extended families would try to lift up those that some might describe as laggards. They would do so simply because the unit was a unit and felt responsible for its members. To some degree, we do this in America. We have networks of social services, we have churches and synagogues, and we have government.

Lubrano, the Inquirer reporter, interviewed a Philadelphia women in deep poverty. She is 42 years old, separated with three children ages 7 to 17. Born into an Irish-Italian family, she had dropped out of high school and worked as a cashier. According to Lubrano, she fell into depression and was unable to work. So the government provided her with disability payments of $8,880 a year.

This is a nice gesture, but not a solution to the problem.

So what is? With so many types of poverty, there probably would have to be an assortment of solutions, and even then many couldn’t be reached or helped or encouraged. But it’s for certain a studied, intelligent approach would reduce Philadelphia’s Tallahassee-size problem to perhaps a problem the size of Lost Springs, Wyoming, or Bozeman, Montana.

I lack the training, depth and insight of a social engineer, but one thing I’d like to see in every poor neighborhood is a “Factory of Last Resort.” Employment would be open to all those in poverty and deep poverty who are looking for an out. They would manufacture a mundane but useful item, like brooms or soap. These factories probably would operate at a loss, but there would be incentives to keep loses to a minimum and inch toward profitability. Included with the job would be access to health clinics, day care, a dining hall and dorms.

We would be building the equivalent of an urban kibbutz.

After a time, management positions would go to employees who exhibit leadership skills, the ones who have learned and blossomed from the experience. Awakenings often come with restored dignity.

Those of us who are doing well would be encouraged to buy the brooms and soap as a sign of support. It would be a way for all of us to make our cities whole again and to keep humanity human.

And then, should we want to, we can safely and happily visit the once great and now great-again places like Camden, which spawned RCA Records and Campbell Soup. And the City of Brotherly Love can free itself from the embarrassing irony of its name. It can return to its Quaker roots of service, justice, community, self-improvement and independence.

I love a good city. This would give us more of them.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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On Breaking the Cycle of Hate in Gaza and Israel

5 Aug

Gaza rubble

Dangerous are the men and women with nothing to lose. Count the people of Gaza among them.

 

They will have the world burn and themselves with it. They are accustomed to death, to being trapped and hunted, and will die just to make a point.

 

Gaza is a place often described as an open-air prison. The people can’t leave. They are caged. What goes in and out is controlled. Not even a fish can be taken from the sea. The view of that sea can ease the claustrophobia, but only if one ignores the war ships on the horizon.

 

Mohammed Suliman, a Palestinian human rights worker in Gaza, compares the plight of his people to the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. In the Huffington Post he writes:

 

“The besieged Jews of the Warsaw ghetto had a motto ‘to live and die in dignity.’ As I sit in my own besieged ghetto, I think how Palestinians have honored this universal value. We live in dignity and we die in dignity, refusing to accept subjugation.”

 

There is nothing unnatural in what the Gazans do. In their situation, most of us would do the same. We don’t realize that, and won’t admit to that, only because we can’t see ourselves living such a life, can’t even imagine that such a life exists.

 

If the Palestinians in Gaza were docile, their conditions would be better.

Gaza map2The blockade of Gaza is justified as way to combat Palestinian terrorism. And so in striking out at those who created the blockade, Gaza must face its own terror.

 

Israel says it will make Gaza pay an “intolerable price,” which it can. Hamas says it will destroy Israel, which it cannot.

 

Hamas, which rules Gaza, sends men into Israel with guns and bombs. It sends in barrages of largely ineffective missiles. In return, Israel destroys Gaza neighborhoods with jet fighters and missiles, effective ones.

 

The death toll is lopsided. In Gaza, schools, hospitals, homes and places of refuge are bombed. So-called “human shields” die rather than shield. Maternity hospitals become morgues.

 

What Israel sees as Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians see as resistance. There is no common ground for negotiations. This lack of understanding is ironic, since the Hamas approach was used by Jewish freedom fighters in their battle for independence with Britain.

 

What both sides can understand, however, is the preponderance of hate and the need for vengeance and retribution. There is no thought or concern for humanity.

 

While American critics of Israel are being silenced with charges of anti-Semitism, and while real and vicious anti-Semitism grows in sympathetic Europe, I try to remember humanity.

 

I try to avoid the obscuring cloak of religion and see people simply as people and tragedy simply as tragedy. I ignore old scores but recognize the destructive dynamics of power and politics and the readiness to kill to maintain power.

 

I try to see the many victims of power, and the people who must rally around it for protection and as a way to secure the basic necessities of life.

 

With this kind of view, perhaps some answers can be found. Yet the situation grows increasingly complex.

 

There is new instability in the Middle East that is making matters worse. A growing number of Arab nations see Hamas and the Islamic movement as a threat. Like Israel, they want Hamas neutralized. And so these countries, mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, provide back channel support and momentum in the campaign against Gaza. In a way, we are witnessing a proxy war in the Sunni-Shiite fight for regional dominance, which is further complicated by an intra-Sunni rivalry.

 

As a result, hostility is layered upon hostility, making resolution much harder to achieve.

 

When the current war ends, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia may find – to their disappointment — that Hamas actually is stronger. After absorbing such terrific blows, it may win concessions pushed by the United Nations and the international community. Some of the borders around Gaza could open.

 

With people being able to get TVs, medicine, motorbikes and much more of what they need and desire, a degree of calm and possibly optimism will set in. The intelligent thing for Israel and Egypt to do is to go beyond any negotiated settlement and open borders even wider and increase that optimism. They should rebuild schools, hospitals and neighborhoods. They should initiate cultural exchanges and promote commerce and trade.

 

Gaza should be made a decent place to live.

 

Regardless, some Palestinian fighters will continue their attacks, keeping Israel under threat. But slowly, very slowly, sympathy for Hamas could shift to a more accommodating faction. With hate and revenge so insidious, nothing short of a Gandhi-esque approach will work in Gaza. And it will take time.

 

As a big assist, America’s warlike attitudes in these conflicts must end. American Jewish organization and American Jews in general can and should play a part in a new peace initiative. Likewise, Christian organizations must seek to heal and stop seeing Arab progress as a threat to Biblical prophecy. All who value religion need to recognize the importance and necessity of brotherhood and the sanctity of life.

 

A continuation of current policy only guarantees resistance, rebellion, instability, unhappiness, death and a bankruptcy of our collective spirit.

 

Mohammed al-Banna, a Palestinian who in one morning lost nine of his in-laws, told the New York Times, “The aggression here is creating a new generation of youth who want revenge for all the crimes.”

There is no future in this. The cycle of hate and death needs to be broken. The outstanding question is: Who or what has the courage, stamina, patience, temperament and love of mankind to do it?

By Lanny Morgnanesi

A land once overcrowded now builds cities for no one

9 Mar

 

Struggling to sell real estate. -- NEW YORK TIMES PHOTO

Struggling to sell real estate. — NEW YORK TIMES PHOTO

 

A Chinese casino dealer from Vancouver called about an investment. He said vacation homes in China’s tropical Hainan Island, off the southeast coast, were selling for 600,000 yuan or about $92,000. A friend of his bought 16.

China once had no room for its people. Dingy one-room apartments were the norm. That was 25 years ago. Today, there is housing galore. There is so much housing that many cities are completely empty.

Shiny, modern, architecturally splendid ghost towns.

They’ve been built for no one.

According to a report on CBS’s 60 Minutes, these empty new cities are being constructed at a rate of 20 or more a year.

The ghost towns – the name used for them by the Chinese – are not modest. They are grand, with rows of skyscrapers. Many resemble Manhattan.

Why are they being built?

They are being built because people like my friend and his friend are willing to buy them whether they are empty or not. People want to buy them because they see housing as a sure investment, with prices – because of massive speculation – going up and up and up, as if there will be no end to it.

To a smaller extent, this happened in the U.S. Remember? Homeowners all thought they were rich, or would be soon. A bubble was created, and it burst, causing the recession of 2008. The thought of easy money (the easier it looks the harder it hooks) causes people in both the West and the East to lose all reason. But how in God’s name can someone look upon an empty city, knowing that many other empty cities exist, and think real estate is a good investment?

How can developers get financing for these cities? How can an economy that not long ago could not feed its people sustain such ridiculous, irresponsible and wasteful practices? It strains my mental capacity to come up with answer.

But I feel confident of this: Soon there will be great hell to pay.

As the high price of wheat caused an Arab Spring, a drop in housing prices could cause revolt and even revolution in China. I see it as that serious. Average people have invested entire fortunes that will most certainly be lost. Chaos will follow, but it won’t bring back the money.

The Chinese government has tried to cool the housing market and stop the wild speculation. Recently, it said it would apply a 20 percent tax on the sale of investment homes. The New York Times photo at the top of this post shows people struggling to sell their properties after they learned of the new tax.  The Times also reported that couples are getting divorced as a way to skirt the tax and have two people claim residence in two houses.

Some China experts say crafty people will find ways to avoid the tax or the government will end up ignoring it.

So, the frenzied buying of homes is not likely to stop soon. It’s like a contagious disease. Even I would like to have a $92,000 vacation home on lovely Hainan Island if it will be worth $200,000 in a year or so. But if I can control myself and wait a little longer, I might be able to get it for $10,000 – or maybe two for 10.

In a country of 1.3 billion people, I’ll probably have the Hainan beach all to myself. A ghost beach is so much better than a ghost town.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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