Sunday, August 31, 2008

Some Quiet, Please! (Take Two)

Here's the same song I made on Saturday, sort of, without all the grunge effects. It's the pretty, deeply obsessed over version. The rhythm guitar is straight, but there's a sort of an echoey flanger thing on the lead. It might be the nicest thing I've recorded yet.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Some Quiet, Please

Today's Garageband creation, worked out, again, watching the girls play. When I was ready to record, I decided it was nap time. I hoped the morning spent running up and down the Westgate McDonalds' slide would render the event possible. After about 45 minutes of calling for quiet, I got a clean take.

Afterwards we let Ralph the cat out the front door. What if he goes out the the sidewalk," asked Twin B? It'll be OK, I said. "What if he gets out and goes down the street and gets in the car and drives and orders at Starbucks? And then he goes to cat school?"

Well, that would be wierd.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Moving On

I made this one up tonight while I was hanging out with the girls. They're five, and tolerate my guitar playing fairly well as a backdrop to other, more important, things, like treasure hunts and conversations between rubber duckies. A few nights ago, an upstairs neighbor I'd never met showed up at the front door with a bag of costume jewelry. "I thought your girls would like playing with these," she said. Necklaces. Bracelets. Lots of watches. A few lockets. Even a miniature mantel clock. It looked sort of like booty to me, the sort a pirate might steal from K-Mart. I stopped at St. Vincent de Paul's on the way home and got a few jewelry boxes. When filled, they looked just like treasure chests. The girls marveled at their fortune while I noodled away.

Just before bed, we did Cat in the Hat. One doesn't just read a story to the girls anymore. One engages in dialogical exegesis of the text. Tonight, Twin A observed that "the fish isn't having any fun." This stopped me short. My own interpretation relies more on Freud, with the fish being all about super-ego. Thing One and Thing Two are pure id. The Cat in the Hat, of course, is an expression of healthy, unrepressed ego. I thought I knew all about The Cat in the Hat, but this — this notion of "the fish isn't having any fun" — this was new, and opened up unforeseen interpretive possibilities.

The Cat in the Hat asks how far you can go without getting in too much trouble. I'd always identified with the fish more than the cat or the kids. Maybe this is a Rohrschach to test where one falls on the internalized repression continuum. The fish knows what cats are about. Don't let the bow tie and funny hat fool ya kids. The freak show feline is a killer!

The fish is always right. The cat should not be there when their mother is out. One does not fly kites in the house. Mother would not like it to find us this way. But everything works out in the end, and fish gets all worked up over nothing. He teaches us that being right isn't everything. He isn't having any fun.

The girls had their milk and chocolate chip cookies and were off to bed, leaving me to ponder amidst the scattered treasure. I've been playing a lot lately. I had Twin B feel my fingertips today. They're like rocks with a little perma-grooves engraved into the ends. She said, "cool!"

I opened Garageband once they were down and spent an hour getting this one mostly right. It's recorded without effects. I call it moving on.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"It's a Survival Issue, and Survival is a Right ..."

Pepper Spray Productions
has produced a wonderful video with footage from our March and June encampments at City Hall. Why would 150 people care enough to voluntarily camp on pavement during a cold March rain? Watch and find out. Then contact Natalie to find out more about the Real Change Organizing Project.

Meanwhile, KIRO radio has an excellent story today on the weekly sweeps beneath the Cherry Street viaduct. The logic is inescapable. People who have nowhere to go will return. The City has anticipated this and, according to the Mayor's press spokesperson is moving to the next step: criminalization.
So what do you do when your guests don't want to leave? Alex Fryer, a spokesperson for the Seattle Mayor's Office, acknowledges the difficulty in moving people out of the area, "It's a constant struggle, it really is, we have a shelter system. We encourage people to use it, and we want to move those folks into transitional housing."

Many inhabitants of the area prefer the outdoor living to the thought of moving into a shelter, "Shelters are full and they're full of diseases. I'd rather sleep outside," says one person.

The homeless we spoke with didn't want to give KIRO Radio their names for fear the city would crack down on them. But the city is well aware of this particular site. It's just three blocks from the mayor's office. "We expect that there will be more of a deterrent as law enforcement goes in there and starts talking to people and making sure everyone understands the rules," says Fryer.

"Making sure everyone understands the rules" is a euphemism for writing no trespass citations. The area has reached permanent posting status and the city is moving to the next phase, as predicted.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fear The Poor

The trend toward criminalizing the poor has recently picked up momentum in Seattle, and we should all be very concerned.

Seattle’s support for the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness — which holds that housing is the answer, and any new shelter is a step backwards — is routinely held up to justify the criminalization of survival. The city’s homeless sweeps, which label all homeless campers with the lowest common denominator assumption of criminality and addiction, have aggressively targeted those who resist Seattle’s overcrowded shelter system.

2,631 people were counted outside a past-capacity shelter system last January. 35 new beds have been added to offset the removal of public sleeping options at night. Most campers will remain outside of Seattle’s overcrowded shelters, chased from sweep to sweep until they are ticketed, fined, and bench warranted into jail or out of town.

Seattle Councilmember Tim Burgess has recently released a new plan to attack “social disorder” through more aggressive policing. Seattle, by the standards of any major urban area, is not a threatening city. In fact, crime rates are down. This is Seattle’s newest iteration of Giuliani’s broken windows theory, which defines the urban poor as indicators of social decay and treats them accordingly.

Tim recently had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a crack deal in Belltown at 7 am.
Last Friday morning I stopped at First Avenue and Battery Street (Belltown neighborhood) to drop off my laundry. It was just after 7 a.m. A group of eight people - six men and two women - were standing near the door of the laundry.

One man had wads of cash in both hands. He was dickering with one of the women over price. She protested, "too much," and "more than last time." Here was an open-air drug market, unfortunately a less than desired yet frequent example of commerce in our city.

You know, if you think it sucks having to deal with crack addicts while dropping off your laundry, try being a crack addict. Having worked in Belltown for fourteen years, I've learned that the crackheads that roam the streets in packs until around 7:30 rarely notice civilians. They exist in a world apart, usually typified by desperate poverty, a near complete absence of opportunity, soul-devastating addiction, and a truly shitty circle of friends. Unless you're part of their world, you can pass through large groups of them like a ghost. If you're not of their crowd, you don't exist. It's like being on the Borg ship before one is noticed.

Blogging Georgetown analyzes Burgess' Safe Cities Initiative and concludes that the new council member is using the language of fear to expand police power, primarily that which targets the poor. Being the self-involved sort of guy I am, when I read something like this, I go, "Damn. I wish I'd written that."

On a related topic, the Mayor wants a new jail for misdimeanants, at a cost of $110 million to build and about $19 million to operate. Never mind that upstream alternatives to incarceration have reduced the jail population by thirty-eight percent. The City seems to anticipate a crime wave, and I doubt it has to do with the DUIs and domestic violence perps they keep talking about.

One in ninety-nine Americans are behind bars. Most of them are poor. This fact is still invisible to many of us, but at the rate we’re going, it won’t stay that way for long. Now there's something to be afraid of.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Ballad of the Camp4Unity 15

A few days ago, a friend listened to Dreamy Echoes on the blog and said I should write a song about the Camp4Unity 15. I sort of took it as a dare. It's a ballad. 2631 refers to the number of people counted outside last January on a night the shelters were past full. 35 is the number of new beds the city has provided to offset the displacement caused by homeless sweeps.

Tell you a story 'bout a town that's green,
where the condos they leap to the sky.
People downtown yeah they're gettin' real mean,
don't care much if poor people die.
Shelters are packed and the cards are all stacked,
most of us are on our way down.
The Mayor one day said the rich are OK.
but the poor gotta get out of town.

Yeah they call it compassion. We say it is not.
Like ashes it tastes on my tongue.
Oh we're all endin' homelessness. It'll take some more time.
This old song is still bein' sung.
But we know what's right and we know what's wrong and we know what's false and true.
And we know that we're gonna stay and fight. It's the right thing to do. We're not goin' away …

They tore down the tents they're all garbage they said.
You can't sleep in public at night.
Can't be o'er here you can't even be there,
the city it just isn't right.
They made up some rules, then they added some beds,
it's better this way they all said.
We'd like you all better if you just went away,
We'd like you all better off dead.

They call it compassion. We say it is not.
Like ashes it tastes on my tongue.
Oh we're all endin' homelessness. It'll just take some more time.
This old song is still bein' sung.
But we know what's right and we know what's wrong and we know what's false and true.
And we know that we're gonna stay and fight. It's the right thing to do. We're not goin' away …

We set up new camp where the Mayor can see,
more people they come every time.
We stand up for ourselves, we stand out in the street,
we say survival is never a crime.
We're 2631, not just thirty-five,
they know that there's nowhere to go.
There's nowhere to go to be safe and alive,
to be warm in the rain and the snow.

We camped out for justice. We camped out for love.
We camped out because we're still free.
We'll camp out again for as long as it takes.
We'll camp out 'til they finally see.
But we know what's right and we know what's wrong and we know what's false and true.
And we know that we're gonna stay and fight. It's the right thing to do. We're not goin' away …

Monday, August 25, 2008

The International Homeless Activist Conspiracy

Given that the hyper-focus upside of my ADHD can sometimes look a bit like OCD, and that I love nothing more than the idea of people actually reading the crap I write here, I'll cop to a sometimes unhealthy obsession with my own blog stats. The recent visitor map — which offers a glimpse of the extensive non-local readership — is a personal favorite. This is the beauty of the niche blog. Like-minded others can find those of us who are similarly preoccupied. August is a slow month in blog reader land, but I'm still seeing about 3,500 visitors in the last month. Most don't comment much. I wish you would. We'd all love to hear from you.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Conquering of Tompkins Square

The 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot in New York was, depending on where one stood, either about reclaiming a park from lawless drunks and anarchists, or the official beginning of the war against the homeless over the use of public space. Rapid gentrification of a formerly working class neighborhood led to pressure to clear out the homeless who camped there. This was during a decade where the numbers of people on the street doubled or tripled. When homeless people and their supporters made their stand, the police came in force in the middle of the night to bust heads. It was an early and bloody skirmish in the class war that is still unfolding today. The video below, made twenty years later, erases the history.
"I always knew that I'd be here some day,
sleepin' on the grass on this perfect day,
I think that I could spend my life this way."
The rich irony here is lost on most. Tompkins Square, "the heart of New York's East Village," is just another scenic little enclave for the affluent few. They even show a homeless person. They allow them now, so long as they're outside the fence and their bags are packed to go.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Gullible Isn't In The Dictionary

Not long ago a friend described how hard it was for her to convey what's wrong with Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness. How can I help them understand, she asked, when no one wants to hear it? Could you write about that?

Sure, but lets start with the real problem. The reason it's so hard to explain is that people want to believe it so bad.

People want to think that homelessness can be ended with better data, smarter services, carefully targeted housing programs, and inter-bureaucratic cooperation. Ending homelessness has become the preoccupation of the well-connected and powerful. Government officials from the President of the United States to the Seattle City Council's head of the Human Services and Public Safety Committee to the Director of the Office of Housing can all regularly be heard declaring their commitment to this epic cause.

This can seem quite encouraging.

The philanthropic community, from Bill and Melinda Gates right on down to small family foundations, has largely adopted support of the Ten Year Plan paradigm as a guiding principle for their giving. We witness moving displays of good intention when hundreds of volunteers turn out at the mega help-the-homeless fairs that are organized by government, big philanthropy, and corporate supporters. These offer tangible evidence of people being helped, albeit in mostly small ways. Human service providers want to get something done and they want to do it on the terrain they know and understand without unnecessarily offending anyone. Churches and temples and mosques are stretching to provide what often amount to token efforts at housing and services.

The newspapers regularly print the columns and stories generated by HUD and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. The New York Times recently reported that chronic homelessness is down by 30%. The definitions are narrowed. The data is managed. Glossy declarations of victory are published to market the good news.

Ending Homelessness will not be easy, goes the refrain, but with enough political will, hard won resources, and smart planning, we'll make it happen. It's the right thing to do. It makes fiscal sense, and it's humane. There is a movement to end homelessness, it begins with the President, and one is either part of the solution or sitting irrelevantly on the sidelines.

Little political space exists in which alternatives are discussed or criticism is taken seriously. The Ten Year Plan is where the resources are, and it is where and how the game is played. Dissent from the paradigm occurs almost entirely at the margins and with limited effectiveness.

All of the big shots are in the game. Given a choice between standing with the big shots or with those who are at the margins, most people go with the big shots.

We're forgetting something.

The people we care about — the people whose homelessness we want to end — are not the big shots. They are not even the people the big shots typically lose much sleep over. They are the losers. They have been mostly written off, and their needs are not being met.

Ten years is a magic number, and it's a long time to wait. Meanwhile, The streets are getting meaner and homeless people are left out in the cold.

Portland — the nation's success story with a reported 68% decrease in chronic homelessness — has about 1,000 people who are literally on the streets. Their ongoing homeless sweeps and aggressive enforcement of the no sit-lie ordinance by police and private security have little to do with helping anyone. These policies just deepen the misery of those whose options are limited almost beyond comprehension.

In Seattle — a city widely regarded as one of America's great bastions of liberalism — the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is practically the official state religion and the usual pieties are in abundant supply. And yet, the numbers of people counted outside our filled to overflowing emergency shelter system are greater than ever.

We too have turned on the most vulnerable. All homeless campers are treated as one tribe: they are trespassers and criminals who are out of place. They are drug injecting, trash piling, urine peeing, vectors of crime, disease, and disorder who must be rounded up and "helped" into the shelters that have no room and are being avoided for good reason.

The foreclosure crisis has brought new eddies of economic vulnerability ever more deeply into the working and middle class, and a new wave of homelessness is being created in their wake. The southern homeless encampments in particular are teeming with new residents, many of whom never thought they'd be fighting to survive outdoors in a tent.

When the facts and the facts as they are broadly understood are so radically at odds, vertigo ensues and brains shut down. That's the best time to start asking questions. Here's a few to get us started.

How is homelessness being ended when, here in Seattle, at least three affordable housing units have been lost to market forces for every one that has been brought online through the Ten Year Plan?

How does it makes sense to eliminate homeless encampments and all nighttime sleeping in public space when 2,600 people are out in the cold in January? Does anyone really believe that 35 new beds is an adequate response?

Why does the emphasis on creating housing preclude expanding shelter to meet the need that exists? Why does the long-term and questionable assumption of "ending homelessness" trump the immediate business of alleviating misery?

Why is it that almost all cities with Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness liberally employ the stick of increased repression and criminalization of visible poverty along with the carrot of housing with services? Why are the institutionally connected "homeless advocates" uniformly silent on this issue?

How can homelessness be ended when the inequality rates that have risen for more than thirty years show no sign of slowing? How can homelessness be ended when we write off the new economy's poor and chronically unemployed as prison fodder and human trash through systemic neglect and criminalization?

Who the hell can live on a $600 monthly TANF check? Or a $900 social security payment? Why do food stamps keep getting cut when all the evidence is that hunger is increasing? Why are drugs so damn easy to get and so heavily penalized? Why is effective treatment so hard for poor people to access?

Why does President George W. Bush, the man who consistently cuts taxes for the wealthiest while slashing systems of support for the poor, eagerly support Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness?

How do the relatively paltry new federal spending on homeless programs and services make up for the decades of disinvestment in public housing?

Since when have big institutions and governmental bodies ever done anything because "it's just the right thing to do?" Whose interests are served when we pretend to end homelessness but, in reality, don't even come close?

Why do Ten Year Plan obsessed organizations like the 800-pound advocacy gorilla National Alliance to End Homelessness support policy positions that narrow and limit definitions of who gets counted as homeless? Who does this help most? Homeless people, or bureaucrats who need to show and claim success?

How have we come to the point where the appearance of ending homelessness is widely confused with the real thing? Whose interests are served in this?

Where is the grassroots pressure base? Since when have poor and working people ever won anything without a fight?

What would an effective movement for broad economic security look like, and how is that different from what we now have? What's standing in our way?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dreamy Echoes

This one is named for the Garageband effects I used on each of the tracks, Dreamy Shimmer on rhythm and Acoustic Guitar Echoes on the lead. It's a little like a summer day, on Quaaludes.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Camp4Unity One Minute Soundbite

This just went up on Youtube today. The question was "What are you trying to achieve by this event tonight and the sleep out at City Hall." My one minute response is the model of barely restrained outrage.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Weekly's Swamp Buggy Girl

If I ever start reading the Seattle Weekly regularly again, it'll be Aimee Curl's fault. About a month ago, she took the community organization SAGE to task for their pathetic waffle on the Multi-Family Tax Exemption. This looked like an activist alert to testify at a hearing, followed by an email asking members to NOT testify. Some thought there was some sort of quid pro quo happening with the Mayor, but that's probably too simple an explanation. My guess is that it had more to do with complicated alliances and strange bedfellows in the community and on their board.

I know it's wrong, but I have to admit to a certain amount of evil glee in watching SAGE Director David West twist in the wind that week. These quotes pretty much had me rolling on the floor.
"The common assumption is that we're just rolling over to the powers that be," he says. "But it's actually more complicated than that."
Alrighty then. This brings up certain images I'd prefer not to have in my head. And then there was this:
"Chances are that we will be in a position in the future that maybe we won't agree with the mayor. That's quite possible."
Ya think? Jesus Dave, don't go too far out on a limb there!

But all of that is last month's news. This week, Nickelsville is on the cover of The Seattle Weekly, and Curl has written a surprisingly in-depth piece on the cracks in the Ten Year Plan and the 2,600 or so people who have fallen though. It being in The Weekly, I sort of expected it to suck, but Curl rises above. She's like one of those big-tired dune buggy drag racer monstrosities that bubbas race through the fetid swamps of Florida. The environment of total suckiness seems to have little hold on her.

Since she managed to write 4,400 words on the protest of Seattle's homeless sweeps without mentioning Real Change — the group that has already held three high profile encampments on this issue — I can only assume The Weekly's still pissed.

Yet, overall, she got it right. For someone who has attended just two Nickelsville organizing meetings, she captured the disturbingly grassroots tone of the group admirably, and raised some compelling doubt as to how successful this enterprise might be. She notes that the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness isn't, and asks the hard questions that too seldom arise outside the pages of Real Change. Bill Hobson at the Downtown Emergency Service Center and Alison Eisinger of the Coalition on Homelessness get in some solid hits. The usual Greg Nickels toe-suckers defend their boss and castigate Nickelsville organizers as off point. A few advocates and allies — who I'd hope might better understand the usefulness of finding a consistent target and then polarizing — graciously let Greg off the hook as well.

The whole Portland digression was sort of weird, but Curl apparently has a thing about that, so we'll forgive her. The point of comparing Nickelsville to Portlands Dignity Village when SHARE/WHEEL has successfully run a Seattle tent city for about a decade was lost on me. This, however, is a small flaw in an otherwise fine piece.

To answer the question that the article sets up, of course it's fair to hold Greg Nickels responsible for the City's failure to adequately address homelessness. He's sold the city to developers, made affordable housing an endangered species, and declared war on homeless campers while hiding behind a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness that's clearly failing. She should have just asked me. It's not a hard question.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get Mad Like A Canadian

I stumbled across something on the Homeless People's Network tonight from Canadian health nurse Cathy Crowe on how Philip Mangano is spreading the Ten Year Plan gospel up north, much to the annoyance of those who wonder where America gets off telling anyone how to solve their housing problems. Others in Canada, however, are predictably receptive to his message.
While Canadian cities are looking at the Bush administration's approach to homelessness, the fact that the Bush administration is cutting funding to housing seems lost on Mangano's Canadian hosts. American homeless advocacy organizations in the US such as the National Coalition for the Homeless report this decade as being worse than the Great Depression for homeless people. In addition, the United States is increasingly relying on what has been dubbed "Weapons of Mass Displacement" - policies and funding decisions that limit necessary life-saving supports and spaces for people who are homeless. For example "no-feeding laws" in some American parks, increased policing and ticketing measures in downtown cores, street sweeps, removing public benches, closing public parks at night, using public works trucks to hose sleeping people down, fingerprinting homeless people who use certain shelters, all practices that create further hardships and worsen displacement.

As my friend and documentary filmmaker Laura Sky notes, "Mangano is charismatic and compelling in naming our own collective wish - a home for every resident. At the same time, his solutions are part and parcel of the conservative federal, provincial and municipal policies that brought us the problems we're experiencing right now. The mantra of those policies is: cut services, they're inefficient; cut supports, they're too expensive; eliminate shelters, they're a blight on our cities. We need housing instead, the argument goes - at the expense of support for those who will be swept into that housing. All this without addressing the economic and social conditions, which create the need for shelters.
Crowe is a founder of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, "a group of social policy, health care and housing experts, academics, business people, community health workers, social workers, AIDS activists, anti-poverty activists, people with homelessness experience, and members of the faith community" who have declared homelessness a "national disaster" and advocate what they call the 1% solution. It has a kind of simple elegance. All levels of government, they say, "should dedicate another %1 of their budgets to housing. In Canada, this would be another $2B federally and $2B locally each year.

One place that money could come from, of course, is the military. This is where, despite their freezing fucking weather and their weird devotion to the Queen, I could be content to call myself Canadian. "The Federal government will allot 8.5% ($18.2 billion) of its budget in 2007-2008 to the military. Money is now flowing towards the military at a rate 69% higher than 10 years ago."

Wow. $18.2 billion. This is why the 2002 friendly fire incident — where American bombs killed four Canadian soldiers while wounding Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai — wiped out about half the Canadian military. By comparison, the cost of the US war in Iraq alone is up over $547 billion.

Canada now spends 8.5% of their federal budget on the military. Outrageous. Here, in the heart of the decaying empire, it's more like 54%.

And yet, somehow, Mangano gets to walk around pretending that this isn't a problem for housing, because, after all, it's the responsibility of the localities to get the resources. He's just the vision guy. It's just assumed that the feds are tapped out, and that challenging the war economy is somehow off limits to all right-thinking people. We Americans are good at compartmentalizing.

Maybe, in ignoring that big sucking sound emanating from the Pentagon, people think they're being patriotic or something. Support the war. Screw the people (and their kids, and their kids' kids, and the Iraqi kids too. Why not?).

More and more, I think that the movement for economic justice must grow to drive the movement to end the war. It's the only way we win. This unbelievably misbegotten war is tolerated because, for most of us, it's invisible. But growing poverty, inequality, economic vulnerability, and homelessness are right under our noses everyday. Things are falling apart, and we know where the money's going. It's hardly a great leap of logic to make the connection. And yet, we continually fail to do so.

Learn from the Canadians. They're not nearly as nuts as we are.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mountains o' Things

Some people will post anything. Last night I worked out Tracy Chapman's 1988 classic on the emptiness of consumer culture. The great thing about only half remembering how a song is supposed to sound is that it becomes more your own. To my ear, Mountains of Things played straight is a lot more dull than it needs to be. While this was one of the more lyrically appealing songs on Chapman's hugely successful first album, it wasn't one of the big hits. Maybe if she'd just skewed it a little more.

So, here's my version. I start off a bit rough, but hit a pretty cool groove about a third of the way in. There's one point where I remind myself of William Shatner. I still haven't figured out how the chords really go. All the TAB cheat sites give me Am Dm F G all the way through, which is wrong. The first bridge works well enough with Am C G. I messed with the second one for awhile and still wound up faking it. Life is about faking it. Art is life. Life is art. Rock on.

The life I've always wanted
I guess I'll never have
I'll be working for somebody else
Until I'm in my grave
I'll be dreaming of a live of ease
And mountains
Oh mountains o' things

To have a big expensive car
Drag my furs on the ground
And have a maid that I can tell
To bring me anything
Everyone will look at me with envy and with greed
I'll revel in their attention
And mountains
Oh mountains o' things

Sweet lazy life
Champagne and caviar
I hope you'll come and find me
Cause you know who we are
Those who deserve the best in life
And know what money's worth
And those whose sole misfortune
Was having mountains o' nothing at birth

Oh they tell me
There's still time to save my soul
They tell me
Renounce all
Renounce all those material things you gained by
Exploiting other human beings

Consume more than you need
This is the dream
Make you pauper
Or make you queen
I won't die lonely
I'll have it all prearranged
A grave that's deep and wide enough
For me and all my mountains o' things

Mostly I feel lonely
Good good people are
Good people are only
My stepping stones
It's gonna take all my mountains o' things
To surround me
Keep all my enemies away
Keep my sadness and loneliness at bay

I'll be dreaming, dreaming...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cartoon Noir

My five-year-olds have been watching cartoons on my laptop. Twin B has learned to click on YouTube movies, and when she gets onto a Casper the Friendly Ghost jag it's good for at least half an hour.

I hadn't seen these things since I was maybe eight and was surprised at the old school beauty of the animation. While There's Good Boos To-Night was released in 1948, it feels much older.

This Noveltoon, based on a 1945 Casper the Friendly Ghost comic book, is the second Casper cartoon ever, and predated the Paramount series by two years. This thing is dark. Really dark.

For one, Casper seems to be a dead child, who hangs out reading books about "Our Animal Friends" next to his graveyard tombstone. The WWII imagery of ghost planes dive bombing into a heavily populated city isn't exactly a light touch either. Not in 1948 anyway. And then Casper's adorable little fox friend, Ferdie, with whom he'd rollicked happily in the woods, gets shot and dies. Casper goes into serious grief over the cute little fox's dead body, and buries him next to his own tombstone. Just as Casper is at his lowest, the fox's ghost floats up and happily licks his face while the announcer intones, "and so, Casper and Ferdie lived happily ever after."

I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. The girls found it a little disturbing, and asked hard questions like, "Why did Ferdie have to die?" Of all the caspers they watched, this was the one they kept talking about.

There's a page at the Internet Movie Database where others have commented. Here's a few samples:
"Maybe Casper was meant more as a morality play, or Famous Studios felt like breaking new ground in 'reality' cartoons. … A well-animated project-no doubt there. But … the stark image of Casper's mourning is rather graphic and disturbing for children. … This might be a good cartoon for parents to use in helping explain death to children--but I wouldn't pop it into the VCR for a perky cartoon break."

"It made me break down! … It was so depressing, I just couldn't watch it again. It's just like seeing Lassie die at the end of a movie. … when I think about this Casper cartoon, I think about my cats!"

"It's probably the saddest I've ever felt watching a cartoon. … Second only to the Warner Bros. cartoon "Peace on Earth," this is the most I've ever been moved by an animated short."
It's like cartoon film noir: The world's a shit hole kids, get used to it! The ending softens up the harshness a little, but not much.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Assail Me Not With Your Noble Platitudes ...

With the beginnings of what may be World War Three breaking out in Russia and the likelihood of a pre-election bombing of Iran, war is on my mind. Here's a live acoustic version of Steve Earle's epic homage to the Door's The End. Below is a moving photo montage set to the rocked up album version that takes a "Support Our Troops" tack. To me, the song's vision of an ancient, ruthless, God of war that revels in blood and mindless waste doesn't work so well with the standard "Hate the war, not the warrior" message, but maybe I'm over thinking here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Still Pissed That Earle Thompson Is Dead

I've mentioned before that I'm a total sucker for street intellectuals. Give me a fucked up genius with an alcohol problem, and I'll bend every rule I can find.

I knew Earle Thompson for more than a decade. Earle has a section in the celebrated Native American poet anthology Dancing On the Rim of the World. When he died a few years ago, Sherman Alexie wrote a remembrance that ran in Real Change. Earle would come in to see me regularly, usually drunk, with a handful of new poems. He was what I'd call a genial pain in the ass drunk: equal parts amusing and annoying.

One day, after he'd once again blown his sobriety despite the threat of a foot amputation, I invited him to write us his obit so we'd have it on file when he died. "The New York Times writes these things up way ahead of time. You're obviously going to die soon, so why don't you just save us some trouble and get it the way you really want it to read?"

He never wrote the obit. He did die. This poem of his has been on the staff bathroom bulletin board for a few months. I thought I'd share.

in the shelter last night amid
swearing, snoring
and sleeping
i dreamt of hunting with my brother
who died last september of a drug overdose
in a toilet and after we left mountains
in a music-filled tavern
he admitted smoking a cigarette
he didn’t want to kill bambi
the imaginary cute little fawn
and he shot a fallen tree instead
like rambo in the movies
he said he had always wanted to do that
somehow i became lost in the dark goya canyons
and blue forests
i fell and stumbled
closing my salted eyes in the black
i came upon bones of fallen deer
they had remnants of torn fur
bleached bone protruded
darkened flesh
brown marbled eyes glistened
in the night
i sought and climbed the walls they elongated
and curved to a faint glow
i crawled upward my breathing burned
i wiped my nose on the sweatshirt
shouted help me
i’m alive
a helicopter entered and spotlighted me
i prayed my eyes turned red
so they could find me
i felt warmth and the outline of the logging road
a arm reached out my brother had helped me
he was alright and the fluorescent lights
came on time to wake up
the staff said it was time to leave.

-Earle Thompson

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Denial Is a Strategic Option

Apparently, the Washington State Interagency Council on Homelessness had their quarterly meeting today, and Paul Carlson — Phil Mangano's man in the Northwest over at the USICH — was there to defend the inside the beltway party line.

The WA-ICH was formed two years ago by Governor Gregoire to "create greater levels of interagency coordination and to coordinate state agency efforts with the efforts of state and local entities addressing homelessness." They seem to be doing a great job, and to have a realistic sense of what might be done right now, although the state budget picture might take some of the wind out of their sails. While today's minutes are not yet on their website, last May's offer a glimpse of realists strategically getting things done. Here's the bullets from the Re-entry Housing Program presentation.
  • Efficiencies alone will not result in reducing homelessness by 50%.
  • If we are going to move things forward where do we focus to maximize impact?
  • This is a way to end homelessness for one demographic group - people coming out of institutions who have severe disabilities. It is well documented that by reducing recidivism and the associated impact on local hospitals, etc., costs are avoided.
  • The DSHS Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) team is a proven model from providing intensive services, however there is no funding for housing.
  • High need/high risk offenders who are released from prisons and jails need housing and intensive services. However there is no PACT team equivalent for this group. Will there be an “ask” for an investment in the needed services?
  • For veterans, full access to veteran benefits is essential.
  • There may be a tie in to the local Community Health Centers.
  • There is a definite tie in to the local Community Justice Centers.
Good stuff. The links between homelessness, incarceration, and the disproportionate impact on people of color make this work a place where a handful of bureaucrats can make the world a good bit more rational and just.

Paul was, by all reports, a pretty decent guy before he went over to the dark side. His most recent pre-DC post was as a dweeby but good natured technocrat at Seattle's Office of Housing. Since his migration to DC, however, Paul has helped Phil spread the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness gospel with what can only be described as evangelical fervor.

In some ways, it's an easy sell. People want to believe that homelessness can be ended without addressing all that structural change stuff like inequality and the cooptation of government by the wealthy. You get good data, shift some resources around, work the cost-benefit arguments, and wa-lah, political will materializes and homelessness ends. Easy-peasy.

Part of the data collection process is to ensure said data offers the numbers to support ones case, and Paul has developed a reputation as Mangano's dog in the fight against an accurate count. At recent issue is whether the federal definition should expand to include those in "transitional housing." This would mean resources becoming available, for example, to the 903,000 kids who attend public school under the Dept. of Education definition of homeless, but do not otherwise qualify for homeless assistance. Current federal definition excludes those homeless who are doubled up or living in poverty hotels.

When the question arose of whether the Washington State definition should include transitional housing, Paul spoke. You don't want to do this, he said, "because it's going to be really hard for you to meet your target of cutting homelessness by half if you keep counting them as homeless."

This, obviously, speaks volumes about the federal strategy to "end homelessness."

A representative from Veterans Affairs said what others were thinking. "Well, that would be very artificial. They are homeless, so we will count them as homeless, and we'll just have to reduce homelessness in real ways."

Note to Paul: We here in Washington still cling to that whole "reality-based" thing. While it doesn't make your boss look as good as, say, lying, it tends to actually help people more. Think about it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Plains Drifter

Plains Drifter - Timothy Harris

Here's something I recorded in Garageband. It's a pretty blues thing in A minor, my favorite key. It feels like theme music for a western maybe. I'm not sure.

Monday, August 11, 2008

We're All Workin' for the Pharaoh

Earlier this year, I posted a video clip of Rev. Rich Lang on the modern pharaohs. He said something about the Mayor having his head so far up somewhere or another that the only air he breathes is perfumed by someone or another's flatulence. I don't really remember. You'll have to watch it if you want the exact quote.

Anyway, someone commented that Richard Thompson has a song on the whole pharaoh thing, and I found him performing this in 1990 at Bumbershoot.
Pharaoh he sits in his tower of steel
The dogs of money all at his heel
Magicians cry "Oh truth! Oh real!"
We're all working for the Pharaoh

A thousand eyes, a thousand ears
He feeds us all, he feeds our fears
Don't stir in your sleep tonight, my dears
We're all working for the Pharaoh

It's Egypt land, Egypt land
We're all living in Egypt land
Tell me, brother, don't you understand
We're all working for the Pharaoh

Hidden from the eye of chance
The men of shadow dance a dance
We're all struck into a trance
We're all working for the Pharaoh

The idols rise into the sky
Pyramids soar, Sphinxes lie
Head of dog, Osiris eye
We're all working for the Pharaoh

And it's Egypt land, Egypt land
We're all living in Egypt land
Tell me, brother, don't you understand
We're all working for the Pharaoh

I dig a ditch, I shape a stone
Another battlement for his throne
Another day on earth is flown
We're all working for the Pharaoh

Call it England, you call it Spain
Egypt rules with a whip and chain
Moses free my people again
We're all working for the Pharaoh

And it's Egypt land, Egypt land
We're all living in Egypt land
Tell me, brother, don't you understand
We're all working for the Pharaoh

Pharaoh he sits in his tower of steel
Around his feet the princes kneel
Far beneath we shoulder the wheel
We're all working for the Pharaoh

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Speculation On the Nature of "Soul"

Revel took this picture Sunday at Mercer Slough Nature Park, just prior to the moment Twin A commenced shoveling handfuls of raspberries into her adorable little face. Twin B, as always, was more fastidious, carefully eating one berry at a time, but vigilantly defending her fair share of said berries by keeping the box from her sister as much as possible. These are ways of being that I don't expect will ever change.

Prior to fatherhood, I was of the conviction that we are essentially born who we are, and that all of the life experience that shapes us is essentially overlay to an unchanging core. As I've watched the personalities of the twins emerge and unfold over time, this conviction has only grown stronger. What does this mean? Is this personality, this unchanging being, mere biology, or is it something that most of us would call a soul? I don't have the answer. Maybe someday I will.

I do know that life is, in some ways, a journey to the center of that which we are. The relational flip-side of this is recognizing that core being in others, and trying to see and love the person beneath all of the layers of pain and distortion that often occur over a lifetime. This too, I've come to see as the essence of a life well-lived.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Enough Housing. Just Imagine.

Last week’s Real Change reported that the Seattle Housing Authority needs about $56 million in repairs to their 23 Seattle buildings. There is around $3 million in their capital reserve fund, leaving roughly $53 million of critical repairs without an identified funding source. The Seattle Housing Levy, which is selling itself this time around as funding much of the Housing First approach to “ending homelessness” in Seattle by 2014, is already spoken for.

Also this week, the New York Times reports that the long-term HUD strategy of defunding public housing infrastructure in cities and moving poor people into surrounding communities through the use of section 8 vouchers is running into trouble. The social problems that remain unaddressed follow, and inadequate suburban infrastructure and services exist to pick up the pieces.
The Section 8 program is designed to encourage low-income tenants to settle in middle-income areas by subsidizing 60 percent of their rent. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development issued 50,000 more vouchers for suburban relocations in 2007 than in 2005, bringing the total number of renter families to 2.1 million.

Federal officials and housing experts say that the increase in vouchers was offset by people being forced out of federal housing projects that closed and by renters moving into foreclosed properties. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy and research group, 30 percent to 40 percent of residents in foreclosed properties were renters, many of whom have since sought federal assistance.

Linda Couch, the coalition’s deputy director, said families often waited a decade or more for housing vouchers.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Katrina and the foreclosure crisis that has followed the implosion of the sub-prime loan scam, the federal government has passed the National Housing Trust Fund, the first significant new federal investment in housing for poor people in decades. While the $800 million to $1 billion annual amount is to be raised off budget as a by-product of the $25 billion Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac rescue, the real costs of the industry bailout thus far may be as high as $150 billion.

And yet, in its tortured way, this is progress. Should the National Housing Trust Fund meet expectations, the money raised for low income housing would more than match the combined $750 million or so annually offered by nearly 400 existing state, county, and city housing trust funds. It's a big deal, but after three decades of disinvestment, still not nearly enough.

The hard reality behind all of this is that the various dodges behind federal housing disinvestment are no longer working. The Federal Government must come back to the table as a partner in creating affordable housing.

What’s in the way? An unsustainable regressive tax structure that lets those most able to pay off the hook for the common good. An irrational and ridiculously expensive health care system that is breaking state and federal budgets. A war economy that squanders blood and treasure at the expense of providing real security here at home.

Seattle’s housing needs — and those of the nation — cannot be addressed in isolation from the broader issues that drive America’s state of crisis. In other words, without a broader movement for economic justice, we're screwed. To housing advocates who prefer the comfort of their single-issue silo, I ask, "How's that workin' for you?"

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Monkey's Uncle

This lovely clip of Annette Funicello and the Beach Boys is from the 1965 movie "The Monkey's Uncle." I think my parents might have actually taken me to see this, although I might be confusing things with another monkey movie.
Midvale College is in fear of losing it's college football team. The players have grades lower than the norm. Judge Holmesby, the team's biggest fan, is at a loss for what to do. Enter Merlin Jones, a bright college student, and his nephew Stanley, an intelligent chimpanzee. The judge wants Merlin to create an "honest way to cheat". Merlin uses "sleep learning" to help the players pass their exams. This saves the college football program from being banished, but not for long...the college is tempted to receive a $1 million dollar check from a Mr. Astorbilt. The catch is though the college must get rid of football. Judge Holmesby finds Darius Green III, who will pay $10 million dollars to the college if they can get a man to fly under his own power. The task is in Merlin's hands again. Can Merlin win the day and save the football team?
It's totally epic. I love Annette's little dance at the end. I love Annette.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Every Picture Tells A Story

Seattle's Million Dollar Toilet saga has come to a painful yet ridiculous end. The automatic restrooms have been closed off with tiny little padlocks, and the super-loos are up on EBay. The original minimum bid requirement of $89,000 is gone. Apparently there were no takers.

The New York Times took the opportunity to write on this at length last month. Apparently, we West Coast rubes who think we live in a real city make an irresistible target, especially when we're being stupid and indecisive on such a grand scale.

Not surprisingly, bidders have been scarce. What municipality, during this age of homeless criminalization and urban upscaling, is going to set themselves up by purchasing the Emerald City's cast-off vectors of drug use, criminality, and prostitution? It's a case of bad provenance.

With a little more than eight days to go on EBay, bids on the five toilets now range from $306 to $510.

The photo, taken the night the toilets first closed, is by my friend Revel, who recently became my fiancée. This is French for "person I want to marry." We are of the same clan. It's Alpha-love.

The glass giant that looms behind is the Fifteen Twenty One Second Avenue Building, one of four luxury high-rises going up in the neighborhood. If one wishes to convey exclusivity in a common street address, one method is to spell the numerals. The building bathes the neighborhood in bright reflected light. It's all part of this building's specialness, and the very specialness of those who, sometime between this December and May, will occupy this citadel of excellence. To quote from their website:
If one is lucky, there's a time in life when simplicity takes on new meaning. It becomes less about style and more about the ability to appreciate that which is rare and true.

At Fifteen Twenty-One Second Avenue, the architectural profile is tall and lean, the residential windows floor to ceiling, the water and city views a daily gift. Modestly put, it's a downtown home for the confident few.

Private preview appointments available upon request. Priced from one-million dollars.

Nice. I bet they'll have really beautiful bathrooms.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Question Inevitability

Over the past two decades, the nation’s prison population has more than doubled. According to a recent Pew Center report on incarceration, one in ninety-nine Americans is behind bars. This is 30 percent more people per capita than in China, our closest rival for the title of gulag state. The closer one looks, the uglier it gets. One in thirty men between age 20 and 34 are imprisoned. For African-Americans, the number rises to one in nine.

While Washington State incarceration rates over 1960-1980 remained largely even, since 1980, they have more than doubled. Over the last two decades, county jail incarceration rate grew across Washington by 184%. Similar trends have occurred across the nation.

The good news is that King County has bucked that trend. While U.S. incarceration rates rose more than 25% since 1995, the numbers here have remained roughly the same. Numbers in Seattle Municipal Jail have dropped by 38 percent over the past decade, even as overall population rose by eight percent.

This Seattle/King County success story is a direct result of programs like mental health and drug diversion court and housing vouchers for released prisoners, which have reduced recidivism by 30 to 40 percent.

As a result, the county jail system has roughly 1,500 beds to spare. A continued focus on upstream alternatives to local incarceration — recently expanded with the passage of the Veterans and Human Services Levy — are likely to continue this enlightened trend.

So, why is the City of Seattle hell-bent on building a new jail?

Four neighborhoods have been selected as potential sites for a sprawling 7-acre facility that will cost an estimated $110 million to build and about $19 million annually to operate.

Community meetings have drawn large and angry crowds of potential neighbors. While a unified position has begun to emerge that favors a downtown high-rise facility on city-owned land, most would settle for Anywhere But Here.

Few, however, have argued that no jail should be built at all.

The City is Lying

The proposed city jail is a response to 1999 King County projections that county capacity to house misdemeanor criminals would end in 2012. These projections have not held. By 2008, we were supposed to have 3,800 inmates. The April average was just 2,380. Things have changed.

And yet, the City of Seattle says a new jail is inevitable. Plans have been in motion for nearly a decade. Institutional momentum exists. Big contracts are involved. Jobs are at stake. Budgets will expand. They say we have no choice.

They’re lying.

The city’s talking points are transparently false. While the city concedes that numbers of people in jail are decreasing, city policy analyst Catherine Cornwall says the new facility is needed because “we’ll never get that number down to zero.”

Zero? Why zero? Because, says the official City of Seattle website, the “nonrenewable contract” with King County lapses in 2012, leaving Seattle without a single misdemeanant jail bed.

So, without a new jail, the city implies, we’ll have to release domestic violence perpetrators, drunk drivers, and homeless people charged under the City’s newly tightened public property trespass laws to the street. We’re looking at chaos here.

Again, they’re lying. And apparently they think we’re stupid. The County Council unanimously voted on June 30 to extend current contract terms to 2014 as a first step to renegotiating a regional solution to incarceration.

Homelessness, Race, and Politics

One would think, given that the Committee to End Homelessness in King County's own Color of Homelessness report documents the links between rising incarceration rates, the racialization of poverty, and the disproportionality of people of color among those who are homeless, that CEHKC might have something to say on this issue.

One would be wrong. Both County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels are on the CEHKC governing board. Despite the clear links to the issue of homelessness, CEHKC is politically hamstrung and — as is the case on the city’s policy of homeless sweeps — likely to remain silent.

The report discusses the overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal justice system, and how the absence of services, onerous restitution laws, and discrimination against ex-offenders creates a difficult downward spiral, especially for those who are Black, brown, red, and poor.

The 2008 homeless One Night Count documents that 58 percent of homeless people in King County are persons of color. Countywide, people of color make up less than 25 percent of the general population. Although Blacks make up just five percent of county residents, they make up 40 percent of King County’s homeless. This number is up four percent from just two years ago.

Bruce Western, a leading researcher on the links between incarceration and poverty, describes the downward cycle that prevails in economically devastated communities of color. High incarceration rates lead to reduced wage and employment opportunity. These reduced prospects can often lead to crime, which leads back to incarceration.

Drugs, which offer oblivion and economic opportunity in one convenient package, become very tempting. Drug felons — who have fed the prison boom that began in 1980 and are disproportionately people of color — are subject to a lifetime bar from public housing, education assistance, TANF, food stamps, and veteran’s benefits.

Is it any wonder that people become homeless?

There is a Choice

Seattle’s decision to build a new jail assumes that the numbers of those in jail and prison will continue to grow, just as they have for nearly three decades. Scarce resources will be diverted from the positive business of rebuilding lives to the dead-end logic of ever-expanding incarceration. King County has shown us that there is another way.

For some reason, progressives have largely failed to recognize that Seattle’s jail expansion is an economic justice issue. Homeless advocates have failed to recognize that the facts that exist in their reports also exist in the real world. Even Seattle’s small handful of anti-prison activists seems to be asleep on this one.

The City of Seattle wants a new jail. They say it’s inevitable. It’s not. The only question is whether poor people matter enough for us to care.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vegan Road Rage

I've been following the whole Critical Mass thing and I have to say that people are pretty hilarious.

If you've been off the grid or normally don't have time for such things, Real Change and The Stranger have had the best reporting. Basically, the big rolling fuck you to anyone who drives a car known as Critical Mass did one of their drive throughs and a driver got annoyed and decided to run a few of them over. There was an ugly scene, and then the driver somehow avoided being charged with attempted vehicular homicide, which is essentially what someone who attempts to run a human being over with his car should get, even if said human being is a bit snarky.

It's the details that make me smile.

Cyclists roll up to block an intersection for the group, as is typical in these things. Driver tells cyclist he's late for a reservation. Cyclist retorts that if he'd left fifteen minutes ago, he'd be on time. Driver floors it. Cyclist takes ride on hood.

It gets better. Driver later tells police he floored the vehicle in self-defense because the skinny fucking vegans threatened to overturn his car.

Not surprisingly, skinny fucking vegans don't take this very well. In fact, they take it very badly. The driver pulls over after half a block, realizing he'd just done something incredibly impulsive and stupid. He's freaked out and in tears.

Skinny fucking vegans beat him up. They smash his windows. They beat him bloody with a bike lock. They slash his tires.

I figure there were at least three factors that predispositioned the skinny fucking vegans to act like jerks. First, as I have said, Critical Mass is basically one big self-righteously rolling fuck you. Adrenaline is part of the deal. Second(ly), the guy floors it and provokes every fight or flight response they've got. We're talkin' pure reptilian brain here. Finally, they're a mob — and I mean this in the best sense of the word — and operated under mob psychology. The guy's lucky these were skinny fucking vegans, or he'd of been killed.

Hilariously, one protester later said: We slashed his tires "to stop an out of control driver from hurting anyone else."

That's really good.

Driver, I think, should have been charged. Cops might hate Critical Mass, but that's no excuse. It's not reasonable to run people over just because they're sort of being assholes. But no one here looks real good. If I were any of these people, I'd want to pretend the whole thing never happened.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sexy, Sexy 1964

I can't stop watching this. The Ronettes opened for both The Stones and The Beatles. Hot talented women who dance much better than Mick and their hot back up dancers. The crowd goes wild.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

1,000,000 Watts of Blues

"When you aint got no money, and cain't pay your house-rent and cain't buy you no food, you damn sure got the blues." That voice would cut across a noisy barroom like a four foot chainsaw. And check out his moves. Howlin' Wolf. Dead for 32 years and still larger than life.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Hope Is In The Air

When ordinary people start talking politics and change, you know something is happening out there. This morning, I stopped off to order new glasses on my way to work. The woman I was sitting with — we'll call her Evelyn — made small talk as she measured for fit. "So what are you doing today?" I told her I was on my way to work, and pointed to my Real Change hat, and she lit up and congratulated me for leading a life that matters.

"There's a lot of very vulnerable people out there," I said.

"I know," she said. "I have friends who work in public health, and they all say how little is available, and how hard it is to find the help people need."

"Yeah. From where they sit, it's pretty obvious how broken things are. But everyone is feeling more vulnerable. Inequality keeps widening, and middle-class people are being hit hard as well."

"It's all we talk about here," she said.

"Tell me about it."

"We have people working here who have families, and they're having a really hard time just keeping up on their house payments. I filled my tank this week and it was almost $50. Proctor & Gamble just announced that they were raising their prices 16% across the board. These are basics that you have to buy, and everything else is going up too. People are afraid of losing their homes."

""One of the things I always talk about is how we know how to solve homelessness because we've solved it before with the economic programs that kept the Hoovervilles from reappearing after the war. These were programs that built the middle class. Education through the GI bill. Public housing. FHA loans that fueled the housing boom. Public works programs to build infrastructure. An agreement between government, big business, and labor that no one would be too greedy and that supporting the public good was a mutual goal. This led to thirty years of declining inequality and steady economic growth. Now, we've had thirty years of growing inequality, and people have been pushed about as far as they can go."

She looked at me through the large, squarish, peach frames that perfectly accented her auburn hair and attractive slightly rounded face.

"And now," she said, talking faster, "they're starting to go after things like free speech. The things that make America America. They can't let go of power, and everyone's on the make." She paused. "And it's both Democrats and Republicans."

"Yeah. It's a corrupt culture, and everybody knows it. Although I have to say that I'm throughly enjoying Ted Stevens in Alaska. He's what, 84? End of the road dude!"

She laughed and looked at my paperwork. "How old are you?"


"Well, I'm 57. And I know how things change. I was going to the marches and protests in high school, and we changed things. There was the women's movement, and what happened with blacks. We protested and organized and things moved."

"That's what I think is so important about Obama," I offered. "He's a politician, but he understands the role of citizens' movements. He creates hope and raises expectations. Richard Nixon was a law & order conservative Republican, but by today's standards, his Great Society program was practically socialism. And it was because of the social movements you're talking about. When the pressure builds from below, politicians have to respond."

She offered to clean up my glasses and disappeared for a moment to the back. When she returned, she sat across the small table and looked into my smudge free lenses. "You know, people feel small. They feel bad about themselves when they think they're not making it. But now, they're getting mad."

"I think this is what happens. For awhile, people think it's about their own failure. And then they start looking around and see that no one else is really making it either, and that it's the system that's failing. It's harder and harder to hold onto being middle class, much less become middle class. People are starting to push back."

"People are barely hanging on," she said. "No one has any savings. There's no margin for error anymore, and people are scared. It's all we talk about."

We were wrapping up. It was time to go.

"I'm hearing these conversations everywhere," I said. "At bus stops. In thrift stores. Over in fruit & vegetables at the supermarket. Everywhere."

"So am I," she said.

"Things are changing. It's in the air."

"Thanks Tim," she smiled. "You've made my day."