As I was out and about today, I had occasion, mirabile dictu, to stop at a red light. Now anyone who knows anything about Florida drivers knows that this, in itself, is a small wonder. Between the failure to proceed on a green light, and the failure to stop on a red, Miami drivers treat traffic control devices as mere recommendations. But what struck me about this particular red light was the number of panhandlers. One at each line of cars, four for the intersection.
Each panhandler had a cardboard sign, describing his or her particular plight. “Lost my Job, hungry”, “disabled veteran, homeless”, or some permutation thereof. And it is not just that one intersection; hundreds of intersections are manned around the clock, with some being handled by shift workers.
Earlier in the week, I was walking on the Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, which is Miami’s answer to Rodeo Drive. Millions of dollars spent weekly, maybe even daily. But amid all the wealth and its ostentatiousness, I saw a man, homeless and ill, sleeping on a bench along the sidewalk.
I spoke to a city employee about the man. She told me that the police knew who he was, had tried to get him help, but he would refuse. He is homeless by choice, it seems, daily dying slowly in the presence of Rolex watches and Ferragamo shoes.
There are, by one count, about 4200 more or less permanent homeless in Miami-Dade County, predominantly in Miami proper. That out of a population of 2 and a half million. A statistically insignificant number, percentage-wise, perhaps, but a staggeringly large number in human terms.
New York City estimates a homeless population of 53,000 or so. Against a city of 8 million, again, statistically insignificant. But only a bureaucrat could look at the homeless as statistics.
On one day in January 2012, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported 633,000 homeless people across the US. That’s more than twice the number of US servicemen killed in World War II.
And we see them every day, the armies of busket-men and windshield washers, panhandlers and perennial downtrodden. We pass them by, maybe avert our eyes, and comfort ourselves that the government has programs. Notwithstanding the fact that the government is a likely cause and not a salvation.
There are many people working in the cities, feeding, clothing, and housing our own generation perdue, to borrow from Gertrude Stein. Not nearly enough that anyone of us should forget that it is our brother, our sister, our mother, father, and child who is cold, and hungry.
I will leave you with a story I heard at my father’s funeral. A very good friend of his told it to me. It seems that my father was an easy touch for panhandlers, and would always have something to give. While walking with my Dad, his friend saw him give a homeless guy his last dollar. Dad’s friend asked him what he was going to do for lunch, since he just gave away the last of his money. My Dad replied that he would do without, and offer it up as penance. His friend persisted, and asked him why he gave the homeless guy the money. My Dad replied, “What if he needs it more than I do?”
Maybe that’s an attitude we should think about developing.
After years of feckless foreign policy that has led to disasters in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Obama has turned his amblyopic eye towards the Crimean peninsula. Months after the start of what he might call a “Ukrainian Spring,” if only the upstarts were Muslim Brotherhood cohorts, he has sent forth heralds with his declaration of a new red line, this time aimed at stopping Vladimir Putin’s nascent revanchism.
The herald from Foggy Bottom, erstwhile Senator John Kerry, characterized Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a “brazen act of aggression.”
“It’s a 19th-century act in the 21st century that really puts at question Russia’s capacity to be within the G-8,” Kerry told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
The Pentagon’s messenger, Chuck Hagel, took less umbrage. Secretary of Defense Hagel weighed in on how the U.S. will respond to the Russian invasion of the Crimea.
“What would we do if Russian forces started rolling into other parts of Ukraine?” CBS’s Bob Schieffer asked him.
“Well, I won’t get into the different specific options,” Hagel said. “We have many options, like many nations do, we’re trying to deal with a diplomatic focus, that’s the appropriate, responsible approach and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, also weighed in. In a message to Putin, Rice warned against armed intervention in the Ukraine. Of course, the Russian Foreign Ministry had this to say about that:
“We have noted the expert assessment of Susan Rice based on multiple cases when American troops were sent to various places of the word, especially those where the US administration believed the norms of Western democracy were in danger, or where the local regimes were getting out of hand, “We expect that national security adviser would be giving to the US leadership the same advice on the mistaken path of the use of force if it decides to conduct a new intervention.”
The veiled reproach comes after a Sunday interview, in which Susan Rice said bluntly that sending troops to restore ousted President Yanukovich’s leadership in Kiev “would be a grave mistake” on the part of Russia.
Obama, of course, was non-committal towards any American interest in the Ukraine, whether strategic or merely philosophical. Obama said on camera last week that, in his view, Ukraine is no “Cold War chessboard.” Obama also had this to say to the nation and the world on the evening of February 28:
“Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia or Europe.”
Are there no American interests involved in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine? If there are, and I believe there are, why did Obama leave out America in his list of nations interested in a stable, and presumably democratic, Ukraine? Especially if his purpose was to warn Putin away from intervention? This omission, in a world where words have meanings, sends a clear signal to the Russian Bear that we don’t consider a free Ukraine to be in our interests.
After Obama’s failure to confront Russian adventurism in Syria and Iran, one could be forgiven for thinking that our warnings will do little to deter Putin’s Soviet-style expansionist tendencies.
Also interesting are the warnings of both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney of just such occurrences, if we fail to recognize real threats and not just the proxy wars they present as.
A Russia, bent on regaining its empire, would be a destabilizing force in the world. With a depleted and reduced military, the projection of power we once could wield is dwindling rapidly. Iran, North Korea, and China openly mock our ineffectual response to any saber-rattling. Taiwan and Israel, and to a lesser degree, South Korea, have all recognized the need to beef up their own defenses in light of our increasing indifference to American interests.