Sunday, June 8, 2008

And To Promote The General Welfare

Advocates who promote the idea of private enterprise being the only saviour of America's public housing crisis need look no further than the current mortgage scam pulled off by Wall Street to put an end to their argument. The consensus by otherwise intelligent individuals, is that the U.S. government has no business running public housing projects, and should turn over that responsibility to private Realtors and developers.

But these arguments for more giveaways to the corporate world are swept aside in one fell swoop when one looks at what has happened to public housing that was even partially privatized in the form of Congress's much vaunted, but now swept under the rug program called Hope VI.

Called the Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere program, in New Orleans, the much ballyhooed and promoted idea of private enterprise going into business with the government to provide low income housing after the devastation of Katrina became the most corrupt building project in the city's history. Joining forces with developer Pres Kabacoff, the city tore down several perfectly good and salvageable projects for low income people, promising to replace them with a mixed neighborhood plan and a better life for all. What transpired was a criminal enterprise that shut the poor out of their former housing, in favor of townhouses for well heeled citizens, and a Wal-Mart store.

Seattle also has had it's fun and games with Hope VI. Three separate and ambitious attempts to integrate middle class and poor neighbors by allowing private developers to renovate public housing projects had the same effect as the New Orleans debacle. Developers went for the high end, profitable tenants, pricing the new apartments far out of reach for the poor tenants that should have been rightfully allowed to return to their homes. Senate Democrats have proposed cutting off the funding for Hope VI, but Republicans must repay their corporate sponsors and so the money that should be going to help the poor goes instead into the pockets of private enterprise.

By contrast, and just down the road from Seattle in Kelso, Washington are the Brian Baird Apartments, also public housing. The city sought and received money to renovate the housing units in 2005, and the result has been a low crime neighborhood because of it. Walking down S.6th street, one would never even know they were passing by a 'housing project' due to the attempt by the city to make sure their projects for the poor looked like everyone else's homes.

The arguments made in favor of privatizing public housing by saying that Big Business would better serve the poor are ridiculous by their very nature. Saying that Big Business would have any interest in helping the poor or putting any effort into making their lives better is like saying it's ok to let the wolf guard the sheep because the wolf is strong and powerful enough to do the job. But when one comes back to check on the sheep and finds them all dead and eaten, shoulders shrug, and statements of condolence are sent out with best wishes, yet that doesn't bring back the dead sheep. The wolf moves on to find another sucker, making the same tired argument that right wing fanatics embrace as Gospel Truth over and over and over again.

"And to promote the general welfare". Words long forgotten by Americans, or merely paid lip service to in a recital of an idea that has been eroded to the point of meaningless drivel. An idea that says that we are all in this together, and not here to promote the ideals of a fascist corporate dictatorship. The government is supposed to help ALL of the people to achieve a better life, and since the first public tenement building was built on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1854, it has attempted to do just that.

To those who decry the massive costs of housing the poor, maybe they should take the time to read the 2008 budget again. Oh. They never read it in the first place? then it becomes clear that they would whine about $6 billion being spent on all public housing in the country, underfunded by over one billion dollars due to the ever present machete of the Bush White House that slashes all domestic programs year after year. Those who advocate for privatizing all domestic programs don't want you to know that all programs combined make up about 1% of the annual federal budget. They conveniently forget the fact that more than 50% of our tax dollars goes towards building bigger and better bombs, planes, ships, nuclear missiles, military, military, military, the people be damned.

Next they'll focus on the crime that occurs in public housing projects, and that because of this fact alone, they should be torn down and handed over to private Realtors. In order to make that false argument stick, they'd also have to agree that all white collar criminals should have their homes given over to private enterprise to handle. Oh yes. That's right. The rich commit just as many crimes as the poor, only the rich tend to go for the big money in the form of insider stock trades, ripoffs of government programs, massive fraud schemes, and yes, they steal from the poor. Evidenced by the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, violent crime tends to be committed by those of lower income out of frustration and a sense of futility, but the rich and the middle class commit just as many crimes, albeit in cunningly more inventive ways.

These fallacious and fascist attacks on the poor must cease in this country. Instead of looking at your fellow American's and seeing an adversary, would the nation not be better served if we as a people recognized the problem for what it is? If corporations would stop shipping all of the good paying jobs overseas and give the American worker a chance to make a livable wage, maybe there would come a time that we would no longer even have to be talking about who should be running what. Maybe there wouldn't be any need for public housing.

Because anyone who still believes that government programs should be run by private enterprise only need look at the Medicaid program. Massive cost over runs. Larger and larger budgets. But yet, less people being served by the program, and those who are on Medicaid unable to access medical care. What are you talking about you ask? Why, didn't you know that the Bush administration privatized Medicaid? That HMO's such as Kaiser and Blue Cross and Magellan are actually the beneficiaries of the largest heist in American history? That's right. HMO's run Medicaid now, and they get paid more money to ensure less people receive actual services. The poorest of the poor now pay 'co-pays' for every doctor visit, prescription and specialists cost more, meaning that they can't afford to go to the doctor at all, so who's getting all of that money? The insurance industry, that's who. Disabled people having to choose between food or medicine, that's privatization.

What do the advocates of handing over public housing think will happen once the corporations take over? Will they remodel the projects for the poor and charge them the same subsidized rents? No. They'll tear down the public housing and rebuild in their place some condos or townhouses, with a mall thrown in to attract the higher end renters, leaving the poor holding the bag once again. Will you give them a place to sleep? Or will you rent them space on your lawn to pitch a tent? If not, then know that giving government programs to private enterprise is the worst and stupidest idea anyone has ever come up with, period. Those who advocate this course of action need to take classes in compassion, and perhaps reflect upon why they think that kicking the poor around is perfectly acceptable. They wouldn't feel that way were someone they knew in the position of having to rely on housing and other programs in order to survive, and have a spark of understanding that the ranks are growing every day.

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