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Est. April 5, 2002
September 28, 2017 - Issue 713

Taking a Knee
Bridge the Divide


"Have you heard much about the poverty rate
among black and other minority children?  Most
people have not.  It’s not of interest to the mass
media and it surely is not of interest to Trump,
Republicans, and most politicians, in general."

General awareness among Americans of the injustice that exists into the very corners of the nation’s structure has been growing at a steady pace since the most recent civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, but police shootings of black men and boys in recent years has again kicked that awareness into high gear.

The latest manifestation of the fight for justice has been the refusal of professional football players to stand while the national anthem is played before the game. It’s more than just a player or two. Now, whole teams and, really, the National Football League (NFL) have begun to participate in one, silent and profoundly effective protest that something is wrong. As is usually the case, there is not unanimity on how that should be done.

Judging from the response to the NFL’s “taking a knee” in protest of the shootings of black motorists and others, as well as the rantings of the president and political campaigns involving scofflaws like Roy Moore in Alabama, the nation appears to be openly splitting down the middle, like the popular vote in the Trump-Clinton election.

Interestingly, a recent poll taken by the Cato Institute shows that 61 percent of the American people believe that football players who do not stand for the national anthem should not be fired or otherwise punished for expressing their political opinions. This is in direct contrast to what Donald Trump, the president, believes: That any player who doesn’t stand for the national anthem should be fired. “Fire the son of a bitch,” he said on national television. Most of the people don’t agree and it’s not by a slim margin.

According to the Cato poll, only 38 percent agree with the orange wizard in the Oval Office. That is not enough support to carry him very far. That percentage is likely his base and, if they knew on what principles the U.S.A. was founded that base would be a lot smaller. But they don’t seem to know much more about the founding principles than he does, that this is a nation of laws, not men, and that the First Amendment is one of the foundation blocks of the nation.

Trump has the instincts of an autocrat and he would love to rule as an autocrat more than he loves himself, but that’s not what a president is allowed to do. There are processes and procedures, there are laws, there is that little thing called the separation of powers in the U.S Constitution. He doesn’t realize that. He would like to rule as a monarch. What angers him most is not getting his way on much of anything. “Fire them all” would be his answer to any problem he perceives he has, just like his reality television show.

What he has been attempting to do is fix the nation as if he is back on the small screen and he’s the boss. He isn’t there yet, but he daily tries to set up the national government so that it functions like a reality show. So, he spends his time poking the dictator of North Korea in the eye with a sharp stick, just to get a rise out of him and he rules by “tweets,” which require little thought and even less action, and…he plays golf.

If he were just gambling with his own life, that would be one thing, but he is bringing the world dangerously close to World War III and this war would be worse than the two previous world wars put together. It matters not to him and no one in his administration can convince him to keep his mouth shut or tape his thumbs to his hands.

A smart, intelligent, historically-aware chief executive would have let the simple and peaceful protest of football players take its course and, when it was done, more people would be aware of the rampant abuse of black and other minority Americans by law enforcement. Trump is none of those things. For once, it would have been good for him to acknowledge the idea that Black Lives Matter is a natural extension of the civil rights movements of the previous centuries. He has, instead, gone along with the charge that BLM adherents and supporters are terrorists, as described by the worst of his supporters, among them white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Official violence against blacks and other minorities is not the only problem that faces the nation, but it is one that can bring into sharp focus the problems we all face in trying to unify the country (as in united, or “United States of America) and make the benefits of a free nation available to everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, or sexual orientation.

A particularly egregious wound in the body politic is the disparity in poverty between white and black children. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently quoted the U.S. Census Bureau’s numbers on income, poverty, and access to health care (insurance). The bureau reported that there had been a slight decline in the national poverty rate, from 14.7 percent in 2015, to 14.0 percent in 2016.

Here’s the rub: One-third of black and Native American children still live in poverty. For black children, the racial difference is stark. “Native American, African American, and Hispanic children continue to face the highest poverty rates, all hovering around 30 percent. Despite a small increase in Native American median household income over the year, 1 in 3 Native American children were in poverty in 2016—completely unchanged from 2015.” The child poverty rate for these two groups is three times greater than the poverty rate for white children.

Have you heard much about the poverty rate among black and other minority children? Most people have not. It’s not of interest to the mass media and it surely is not of interest to Trump, Republicans, and most politicians, in general. That goes for both major parties, since the Democrats don’t get off the hook so easily either. Because those children, urban and rural, are the ones suffering and they are in desperate need of a good start in life, politicians at every level should be falling over themselves to make it a major issue in a campaign near you.

Instead, they are interested in trying to perpetrate one of the worst excuses on the planet for a “universal” health care program. The Republican-inspired plan that just failed to make it to a vote in Congress turned out to be worse than the previous GOP plan, which even made Obamacare look somewhat useful. Fortunately, this latest atrocity is dead for another year, but be sure that they’ll try again. They need this plan to facilitate their gift to the richest Americans in the form of yet another tax break. Meanwhile, the children are in poverty and seem destined to stay there.

The EPI reported: “Childhood poverty declines when working parents are able to find quality jobs with a decent wage and benefits including child care and paid family leave. While the federal minimum wage sits at $7.25, many states and localities have increased their minimum wages, which helps lift working families out of poverty.”

The report also noted that government programs, such as Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, low-income earner tax credits and many other programs are “directly responsible” for keeping tens of millions out of poverty. The very Republicans who are more interested in the NFL protest and in perpetrating a fraudulent health care “system” are the ones who are trying to gut the programs that help keep food on the tables of many children.

Neither major party has lifted a finger to create real and sustainable jobs programs for the poorest of Americans. Government programs to provide those jobs need to be brought to the places where the poor children and their families live. There was once a program for community development that did just that. It brought money into the neighborhoods for infrastructure improvements and housing, and it worked. Jobs were created and neighborhoods were reclaimed and whole cities were saved from decline. Right-wingers claimed that it was “throwing money at the problem,” but the grants from the feds were made to local governments and the evidence of the program’s effectiveness was visible. That could happen again.

But that program was an outcome of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and there hasn’t been much mentioned about poverty or a plan to eradicate it from either major party through the intervening years. We have unacceptable poverty among our children and the answer is for some brave soul in the swamp of politics to propose another “War on Poverty,” but this time with staying power.

One thing that could provide enough funding to take such a program to every poor community in the nation: Instead of giving the War Department and weapons manufacturers another $100 billion in the next budget ($600 billion a year was already obscene), put that money into all the places where our children are left out of nearly everything. That kind of money works.

In the past few years, Black Lives Matter has started the conversation about race and the racism that has existed for many generations. There has been some progress, but it is slow in coming to fruition. The “take a knee” protest is pushing the conversation, but there is a yawning gap in the effort to bring the nation together, just as there is a yawning gap in the wealth and income between the top 10 percent and the other 90 percent.

The first gap or divide can be bridged by a never-ending effort on the part of the people, who can accomplish that through education and good will, even though the U.S. has a president who cares nothing about bridging that divide and wouldn’t be inclined to do anything about it, even if he understood that it exists. The other gap, connected to the first, is something that can be solved by political and governmental action. It just takes will power. And, remember a great man, a prisoner and a politician, Nelson Mandela, said: Poverty is not an accident. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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