I’m Hungry!

“I’m hungry!”

That should be such an innocuous phrase, here in our land of plenty.  For me, it heralds a trip to the refrigerator, perhaps the snack cupboard, to address the niggling pangs between meals.

Mind you, a moment or two on the weigh scale would indicate I am certainly not going to perish imminently if I don’t satisfy the urge.  But I still complain, and I still nibble away.

scale

Sometimes, though, I wonder what it would be like if I lived in a currently-emerging country, maybe in sub-Saharan Africa.  What would the phrase mean to me in that case?  Could I blithely traipse to a snack cupboard, to a well-stocked fridge, to stanch the cravings?

Obviously not.  Were I there, I might not even have access to safe drinking water.  But unlike those poor unfortunates, I am blessed to live in a providential country, overflowing with nature’s bounty, where no one ever has to go hungry.

Except…except, that’s not really true.  People do go hungry, even here.

The United States is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet by almost any measure.  Among the thirty-four members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it ranks first in average household income, and leads the world in household spending.  The standard of living sits solidly in the top twenty countries.

However, the gap in household wealth from highest to lowest is larger today than it has ever been.  In 2018, American households held over $113 trillion in assets. If that amount were divided evenly across the population of 329 million, each person would have over $343,000.  But we don’t live in a co-op, and that is not going to happen.

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More than thirty-eight million Americans live in poverty, earning less than twenty-six thousand dollars a year.  The median annual income in America in 2018 was more than sixty-three thousand dollars, so there is a significant gap.  And of course, that number is a minimum.  Many families making much more are still considered low-income by most experts, and many have difficulty making ends meet.

Of the number living in poverty, thirty-seven million struggle with hunger daily, including thirteen million children.  When they say, “I’m hungry!”, it has real import.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this struggle means they have limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life.  Their families make choices between food and housing, between food and medical care, between food and utilities, between food and transportation.

Breakfast programs in numerous school districts provide relief to hundreds of thousands of children, except during holiday periods, of course.  And both government and community organizations also provide assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

food stamp

Still, the number of children crying, “I’m hungry!” hovers around thirteen million.

One of the reasons is the slow recovery for the poorer segment of the population from the economic crash of 2008.  This group was demonstrably the last one for which life improved after the economy began to rise.  Even when the wage-earners in the group found jobs, they were often paid only minimum-wage or slightly higher.

The Economic Policy Institute, an independent, non-profit group studying the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States, found that between 2000 and 2015, wages for the bottom earners were flat or declined, and that the preponderance of gains occurred among the highest earners.

This is the time of year when I—comfortably ensconced in front of my television, nibbling on the snacks I fetched when I realized I was hungry—see heartwarming ads portraying people coming home for the holidays.  The snow is gently falling as they mount the porch steps to a house adorned with twinkling Christmas lights.  When the door is thrown open, they are engulfed in hugs and kisses from those already there, laughing and talking in front of an open, festive fire.  They are not among the lowest wage-earners.

Coming_Home_2017

Indeed, it is a scene right out of Norman Rockwell.

I never see ads out of Charles Dickens, however.  I never see anyone like the Cratchit family, huddled around a miserable hearth, trying like Tiny Tim to find cheer and joy in the season.  But they’re out there.

For me, and perhaps for you, “I’m hungry!” is such an innocuous phrase.  For others, it’s a desperate cry for help.

I wonder what else we can do.

A Preponderance of Stupidity

In these perilous times in which we all live—the beginning of the end-of-times, as some might say—I have become increasingly intrigued by the preponderance of undeniable stupidity evidenced by the human species.

Of which I am a part.

Consider the challenges currently facing us worldwide.  According to the oft-maligned Millennial cohort, that generation of innocents born into western culture during the 80’s and 90’s (of which I am not a part), the major issues include the climate crisis; armed conflicts, often religious in nature, with their threat of nuclear annihilation; poverty, linked to increasing inequality among races, genders, and social classes; rampant corruption among government and corporate entities; and the spectre of food and water shortages, even in the developed world.

who-are-millennials

Every day, it seems, I read about extreme climate and weather events that are almost unprecedented, at least in our limited experience.  I hear about regional war-zones expanding in places faraway from me, drawing major nations closer and closer to open conflict.

I learn about the increasing wealth gap between the haves and have-nots in our society and its concomitant effects—homelessness, unemployment, skyrocketing credit debt.  I see public figures from both public and private sectors who have been caught with their fingers in the till, so to speak—people we older generations were taught to respect and admire.

And I watch as our precious arable land, oceans, and freshwater resources are choked by urban development, abuse, pollution, and general mismanagement.

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Stupidity may be defined as—

  • a lack of keenness of mind;
  • inanity or pointlessness;
  • an annoyance, irritation, or troublesome state;
  • a state of stupefaction.

More humorously, here are some definitions essayed by minds more creative and cleverer than mine—

  • Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. (Einstein);
  • There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life. (Frank Zappa);
  • Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. (George Carlin);
  • Stupidity cannot be cured. (Robert Heinlein);
  • In politics, stupidity is not a handicap. (Napoleon); and
  • Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results. (Margaret Atwood).

But my favourite is this from Ricky Gervais—

  • When you are dead, you do not know you are dead. It is only painful for others. The same applies when you are stupid.

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The humour is short-lived, however, when one pauses to consider the potential consequences of our collective stupidity.  On a small scale, it’s as if, having finished the last of the toilet tissue in my bathroom yesterday, I fail to notice and decry its absence until I need it today.  And by then, of course, it’s too late.  I must do without until I can replenish the supply from a store.

But what happens when all the stores’ supplies are exhausted, too?  Is this where our stupidity is leading us?

Buckminster Fuller wrote, “Human beings always do the most intelligent thing…after they’ve tried every stupid alternative and none of them have worked.”  Would that he is right before it is too late!

If you have read this far, you might well ask me what I am doing to combat the dire state of affairs I’m bemoaning.  The answer, unfortunately, is not a whole lot—unless you count the several blog posts I have written on this site, which almost no one will read.

Of course, the same question might be asked of you, assuming you share my concerns.  Perhaps the best answer for both of us is this statement from a young American activist, Aditi Juneja:

“If you’ve wondered what you would’ve done during slavery, the Holocaust, or the civil rights movement…you’re doing it now.”

apathy

As are so many, alas.

Presidential? Or Preposterous?

As a resident of a country bordering the economic, military, and political colossus that is the United States of America, and as a highly interested, but mostly-unaffected, observer of its 2016 presidential election process, I have some thoughts about the current contenders as they portrayed themselves in the first televised debate recently.

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But let me begin with some context.

First, the American dream, as popularly understood, is that everyone who works hard will achieve prosperity and upward social mobility, unfettered by such barriers as racism, religious persecution, gender bias, and other obstacles of that ilk.  Private enterprise and capitalism will provide the means, and every citizen will provide the ambition.

This worked reasonably well for the educated, dominant white landowners and merchant class in the largely-agrarian country that emerged in the two centuries following the founding of the republic.  It worked less well for the working class (including both slaves and freemen, and immigrants), and scant thought was given to assisting those who didn’t prosper, and who fell into radical poverty.  They, it was assumed (if, indeed, anyone even considered their plight), constituted collateral damage, and could move west to pursue their dream.  Or die unnoticed.

Today, in a population approaching 325 million, inhabiting a largely urbanized country, there are too many of these unsuccessful achievers of the American dream to ignore.  The private sector tries its best to do that, however, in its endless pursuit of profit.  Getting rich has become the yardstick for whether or not one has achieved the American dream, and capitalists pursue that goal without regard for the widening income disparity between the wealthiest and poorest.  Consider the insurance conglomerates, the big banks, and the pharmaceutical industry as examples of this.

So who will look to the needs of the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, if not corporate America?  It would appear the government cannot.  Socialism is a bad word in America, ‘big government’ is anathema, and any candidate espousing an increase in taxes may be committing political suicide.  How, then, can government institute a general sharing of the wealth, drawing from those with means, and giving to those with needs?  Such a radical notion runs contrary to the American ethos on which the whole experiment in nationhood was based.  We’re not commies, son!

But somebody needs to figure out an answer, and soon, before an American Robespierre arises—angry, ambitious, and armed.

Second, the mainstream media portray (or, at best, do not question) the ‘imperial presidency’ as an office where the person occupying the role is omnipotent.  The average American voter—unaware or forgetful of the three branches of federal government, or of the separation of powers that governs their functions—tends to see the president as one who can singlehandedly fix everything that’s wrong with the country, one who can make America great again.  And the media, including the unconstrained social media, perpetuate this misconception because of their endless fascination with ratings and readership numbers—the profit motive.

As informed citizens must know, the presidency is the executive function, intended to manage the government’s functions, enforce the laws, and serve as commander-in-chief.  Congress—the bicameral, legislative branch, comprising the Senate and House of Representatives—is charged with making the law.  And the Supreme Court, the judicial branch, is supposed to ensure that the laws and their execution are constitutional.

If all voters knew this, they would be, perhaps, less likely to fall for the pitches of pretenders to the presidency.

us-capitol

The two candidates for the office in 2016 present a striking contrast, and it was evident in the first debate we watched.  Voters will have to decide which of the two will be best able to manage the economy, address the issues of poverty and racism, combat terrorism to ensure the security of the nation, and deal rationally and firmly with other world leaders.

The economy is nowhere near as healthy as reported by the media—rigged numbers supposedly representing the growth rate, the inflation rate, the unemployment rate.  The only rate with any plausibility is the interest rate, and it’s so low that people (except for the very wealthy) have no incentive or wherewithal to invest or save.  They sure do borrow, though.

The poverty gap is not going to lessen dramatically, regardless of who is elected.  In an increasingly-technological society, low-skill jobs are gone forever.  State-of-the-art education and innovative entrepreneurship are of utmost importance if the situation is ever to improve.  Racism is pervasive and, it sometimes seems, part of the national DNA; there is no quick fix for that, only generational change brought about by relentless pressure and, unfortunately, oft-violent protests.

Terrorism is part of our world, like it or not, and (whether foreign or home-grown) unlikely to be eradicated; there are too many disenfranchised people in the world, with too many grievances, too much hatred, and too many weapons.

The leaders of other nations, allies and foes alike, are not so much interested in American greatness as in their own national aspirations.  And it is they, not just the next president, who will exert a large influence on the state of international relations.

So it’s obvious that neither Mr. Trump nor Ms. Clinton can ‘fix’ America’s problems, make her great again, just by virtue of being elected president.  Were I an American voter, unimpeded by party affiliation, I would try to suss out which of them is best-positioned to make the best stab at it, imperfect though both may be.

Is either of them presidential, or are they both preposterous?

I would want to know which of them (even if neither is truly altruistic) is more interested in my plight; in helping me to achieve my own American dream; in advancing the prospects of every citizen, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status.  Which of them best appreciates the differences between federal and state government functions, and has the skills to foster productive relationships between and among them?  Which of them has the most comprehensive understanding of the sacrosanct Constitution?  Which of them has the ability to talk with, and listen to, other world leaders?

In short, which of them has the experience, the patience, the gravitas to faithfully execute the onerous obligations of the office most effectively?

Given the limited choices in 2016, I know which of them I’d be voting for.

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