Will My School Be Next?

Los Angeles     There’s a point when people get numb.  Not so much used to something as feeling it is inevitable.  Reading the news about another school shooting, this time in suburban Houston where more young people were killed, I was most struck by a young woman who was interviewed while sheltered saying, “we wondered when this would happen here.”

How chilling.  To think that part of the current generation’s experience of their time in a suburban public high school includes not just football games, endless exams, proms, and the questions of what happens next in life, but wondering if you could be killed by random violence.  That’s part of the package now, and after watching the protests from young people in Florida after the tragedy there, there seemed some hope of change.  Even Florida seemed to be getting the message.  Maybe now, Texas might.

I say “might” because although this constant expectation of random violence is now an increased part of public school education, it is not a new phenomenon in the suburbs.  Worse, the expectation of potential violence has been a common part of the program in many large, urban high schools for years, and other than finger pointing from the conservatives, it never prompted reforms or gun control.

The President ordered flags at half-staff in Texas and elsewhere, but that’s neither program nor prevention.  In fact, the little said in the wake of this most recent tragedy makes me feel that the level of resignation has risen.  It has probably gone past young high school students watching friends and classmates killed for no reason to have now infected all of us.  This is the way America is now.  This is what happens and will keep happening.

Where is the tipping point that forces changes in mental health programs and support for alienated and troubled young people?  Where is the program that makes it harder to access guns and restricts them sufficiently to insure both public and private security?

I don’t know, but I can’t believe we are going to continue to watch the body count rise without demanding and forcing change.

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The Racism and Rural-Urban Divide Behind Work Requirement Exemptions

New Orleans   Imposing work requirements to punish the poor seems to be spreading like a virus around the country.  It’s an ugly, mean spirited kind of thing, but a closer look at the way state politicians are trying to carve out exemptions to these requirements reveals even more about the self-serving blindness behind the exemptions and the direct racism and parochial bias at work.  Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia are among the states trying to both impose work and carve out exceptions.

Michigan seems among the most blatant.  There white legislators are trying to punish the poor in the cities where minority populations dominate while protecting their own constituents in rural, white areas by exempting anyone living in counties that are suffering from 8.5% statistically recorded unemployment.  I say “statistical” because virtually no expert in labor economics believes that we accurately capture real levels of unemployment.  I don’t want to get on a tangent though, because in Michigan there are no legislators who do not know the dire poverty experienced in many cities like Detroit and Flint, and the extreme level of unemployment in these cities or the fact that the populations are majority minority, yet by making counties the trigger area for the exemption, the work requirements will block access to benefits there.

The Department of Agriculture in dealing with work requirements for food stamps for example classifies smaller geographical areas as “labor surplus” areas in order to provide exemptions.  This is certainly better if policy makers were trying to be fair rather than punitive, but it’s still not good enough.

Why aren’t other factors relevant as qualifications for exemption like access to affordable transportation.  Once again Michigan’s majority Republican legislators are revealing their true selves on this count.  Auto insurance is ridiculously high for residents of the city of Detroit.  On the doors with ACORN’s Home Savers Campaign there we were finding rates that ran $4 to $6000 per year.  When families owned cars, they were often registering them with friends or family who lived outside of the city or riding naked, both of which have risks.

Lawyers and others rightly point out that these kinds of exemptions in Michigan and around the country are inviting civil rights lawsuits by the score.  We better hope they are filed quickly, because people could starve without access to food stamps, die homeless because they are blocked from housing by new requirements proposed by HUD, or fall at the doorways of hospital because work requirements in many states block them from Medicaid.

The America of forced work and denied benefits is a brutish and nasty place.

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