JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
What is it like to be poor and homeless?
I'm thinking about Homer's Iliad. At the end of his long journey home, Athena concealed Odysseus' identity by disguising him as a homeless old man. Odysseus appears as a beggar until he rightfully claims his true position as head of his household and ruler of Ithake.
Homer is suggesting in this classic masterpiece that the gods are watching us. They're putting our souls to the moral test: how will you treat those in need? Will you act with integrity and compassion? Or will you behave like ruthless swine and chase them away with sledgehammers?
Moral of the story: Be careful about judging people on the basis of appearances. We all know what happened to the tyrants that took over Odysseus' home. No one recognized the true identity of Odysseus in beggars' clothes except for his beloved dog.
If Hawaii's state representative Tom Brower (D) appeared in this ancient tale, he would fail all the moral and ethical tests of character. As Truthout editor William Rivers Pitt put it:
"Tom Brower goes around with a sledgehammer smashing the belongings of homeless people to bits. He is 'disgusted' by the homeless, doesn't want to see them, and is so proud of his actions that he happily allows himself to be filmed while swinging the hammer at the meager possessions of the most vulnerable people in our society."
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It seems to me that this sort of barbaric behavior should be viewed as a breach of office or duty. Tom Brower should not earn a taxpayers' government salary to harass defenseless and homeless people who have slipped through the cracks because certain opportunities were not available to them as they probably were for Brower.
Tom Brower does not represent the Democratic platform principles. He has violated a code of ethics by displaying a fit of anger with a sledgehammer against the homeless who store their few belongings in a market basket. Brower justifies his vile behavior by claiming that he's returning the stolen baskets to the large corporations such as Wal-Mart and Safeway.
It resembles the violent behavior that began springing up during the mid 1930s in Germany: Attack those who are labeled "social misfits".
Homer would perhaps see Brower's "sledgehammer" as a symbol of crushing the homeless from sight and mind. Incidentally, a large number of these homeless folks happen to be wounded vets. About 60,000-100,000 veterans remain homeless, according to the latest survey data available from a count made in January 2012. So when Tom Brower takes a sledgehammer to the poor, it may very well be against homeless veterans. I guess this is his way of "supporting the troops." The population of female veterans remains small, but the challenges the women face to stave off homelessness are significant.
It is easy to criticize those who've never been given a head start in this society. A former college teacher-colleague of mine would at times drop prejudicial, offensive remarks about poor minorities: "They'll never advance in society because they're too lazy; they don't try to work their way up the ladder." I replied, "Yeah, well, unfortunately they didn't inherit a substantial sum from their parents as you have. It certainly helps to have an automatic financial cushion for starters." We have not spoken to each other since that last conversation.
I'm not suggesting that all homeless people are good and innocent and are simply victims of hard times. As poverty increases so too does crime. Nevertheless, homelessness is a problem that we all need to address and resolve in rational and ethical ways that are based on humane values.
Regarding the causes of poverty, as reported daily at Truthout-Buzzflash, for the last thirty years, the industrial oligarchs and Wall Street banksters, who've purchased all three branches of government through hook and crook, have taken a sledgehammer to social services, environmental regulations, food inspections, unions that protect collective bargaining, and every time you turn around, the feds want to chop Social Security and Medicare; benefits, incidentally, that were withdrawn from workers' paychecks. Republicans make it sound as if the government is handing out free benefits. Americans paid for those benefits with every pay check. The only ones who are getting free health care, free gourmet dinners, free private chartered flights, free luxury hotel expenses, free transportation, often limousines—are our wonderful, caring congressmen-women and senators, all expenses paid for off the struggling shoulders of the American tax paying workers.
I find it ironic that the U.S. government has no problem spending billions of dollars on illegal drone killings in the Middle East, how they instantly pass funding at the cost of billions of tax dollars on unconstitutional surveillance operations without debate or hesitation. But when it comes to taking care of our wounded veterans or individuals who should have opportunities for job training and support – forget about it. I have yet to hear the President or members of congress say: Hey, do we really need to spend billions of dollars for drones when we could use that money to improve the lives of Americans?
As Buzzflash at Truthout editor Mark Karlin pointed out in a recent commentary, our government officials are in a big rush to cut Social Security for the elderly, worse still, Republicans, who wine and dine off the tax payers' credit card, recently cut funding for food stamps (and for veterans benefits) at a time when even graduate students can't find decent employment or if they're working, it's at minimum wage paying jobs.
One of the things that made America great was not the richest CEOs in the country: it was our strong middle class society which served as a beacon to the world of how working class Americans could afford decent homes, college education for their kids, and comfortable lifestyles with retirement benefits. Now look at what these 'inequality of wealth policies' have done to our middle class: Meet the people who live in Wal-Mart parking lots.
In history, great societies or empires such as Rome did not fall because they were invaded. They corroded from the inside because of greed, decadence, and widespread corruption.
One thing is for sure, state representatives should not be going around with sledgehammers to harass the homeless. Hawaii's state legislature has an ethical and moral obligation to either reprimand Tom Brower for breach of duty or at the very least to censure him. I hope that Hawaiian residents will vote Tom Brower out—who knows, maybe the gods will teach him a lesson on what it's like to be without a job?
(Photo: Ron B. Thomson)
Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of ForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com. Author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone / Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us is available.