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American Disconnect

by SAUL LANDAU

New York City’s wealth stands in stark contrast to the countless people begging on its streets.

New York is different of course, but not for the 1% who live well across the country; the rest of the population less or far less well. That’s America in 2012, where people have begun to consider their choice of leader for the next four years.

The President and his rival don’t mention the homeless and poor in their campaign speeches. They refer to the middle class, and spew vague words their advisors hope will connect with voters.

In 2008 almost 60 million people voted for Sarah Palin (yes, for McCain also); some 20 million think Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim socialist, devoted to destroying our country.

“Ann Romney Says Husband Has Deeply Principled Side No One Ever Sees In Public,” said an Onion headline (June 4). . Mostly, Romney’s media picture shows a man with vast wealth, dog and human nastiness – and other business virtues. Only in the unique and exceptional USA, where people casually shoot and kill other people to “defend” themselves, or for a variety of Christian “reasons!” Didn’t Jesus have a large gun collection and throw the moneyless out of the temple?

The moneyless, some 15 percent of Americans, use food stamps. “The program has become what some call the new welfare,” according to NY Times reporter Jason DeParle. In addition, “18 million Americans have had to apply for food aid since the economic crisis began,” and 6 million Americans depend on food stamps for their basic income. (“All Things Considered,” NPR, Guy Raz host, April 22, 2012).

“In my travels through low-income America, I have — over a period of many years — repeatedly been struck by how often and how hard people struggle to keep food on the table throughout the month,” said DeParle.  “For those of us who never think twice about having enough food, it’s hard to imagine what a daily struggle it is for some needy families.” (“Fresh Air,” NPR,  April 12, 2012

Long-term unemployment (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) “rose from 5.1 to 5.4 million in May. These individuals accounted for 42.8 percent of the unemployed.” Official government statistics list 12.7 million people unemployed at the end of May. (Bureau of Labor Statistics June 1, 2012) Unofficial estimates range over 20 million.

Millions remain homeless; others wait — fear — their jobs will end. The politicians assure us: our country is unique, exceptional, and good.

Some of our citizens – the minority that vote — think about their economic interests – who gets what from the government and who doesn’t. Others use abortion, guns, prayer, same-sex marriage and “less government” as issues to determine their ballot choice, reasons that would have made little sense to the sacred Founding Fathers.

“I like Sarah Palin,” a woman in Texas visiting New York told me. “She represents me.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“She’s, you know, kind of homey, you know, kind of like a soccer Mom, and with those kids. My daughter could get pregnant, you know and I like that she didn’t abandon her kid or anything. So, I voted for her – oh, and John McCain, of course. He seemed like nice man.”

The woman and her husband earned less than $40 thousand per year, with two kids, and a sizeable mortgage to burden them. He came to New York on company business and “we had those frequent flyer things so I could come too. But those Broadway shows cost so much, you know.”

A Colorado man loves guns, to hunt with and to protect himself, of course. “And damn anyone who tries to take mine away – and you know what I mean.” In case I hadn’t gotten his point, he added:  “Obama has betrayed the country with his socialist health scheme.”

A New Yorker thought Obama had “sold out Israel,” meaning “he doesn’t really like Jews.”

Huh?

“Why should he tell Bibi Netanyahu [Israeli Prime Minister] what to do? Whose business is it if Jews settle more land there? They civilized that barbaric region. Obama has nerve to try and boss Israel around.”

Do people get these notions in synagogues and churches? From Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, or does their “news” come  from Fox?

I asked two homeless men in New York and one later in San Francisco if they planned to vote. All three stared at me as if I was a space alien. One New Yorker laughed at my question and spat an oyster into the street.

Some Ohio and Missouri tourists opined that government should stay out of their Social Security and Medicare. One Vietnam War vet complained: “the government didn’t let us win.”

“Winning, abortion, prayer, less government, guns –the Republican election topics, alongside Romney’s “jobs come from less taxes and regulation.”

Scientists warn of rapid changes in world climate, experts warn of danger from nuclear weapons spread, and the global economy falters. Yet, as the election approaches, tens of millions of Americans cling to their “exceptional” status, while reaffirming union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Obama and Democratic National Committee contributed little to the campaign. Huge Republican donors outspent the Democrats by 7 to 1.

“What a great country we have,” several people told me. I agreed, wonderful land, resources, huge economy, millions of good people but I didn’t exactly know why it’s great – any more.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP is available for streaming on netflix.

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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

CounterPunch Magazine

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