My travels in white America – a land of anxiety, division and pockets of pain

Gary Younge writes: Jeff Baxter’s enduring memory, from childhood, is the glow. Coming down over the hill overlooking the coke plant in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the molten iron would make itself known – both as a vision and an aspiration. “It’s like the sun landed there,” says Baxter, a burly, bearded retiree, who achieved his boyhood dream of becoming a steelworker.

Today, the plant, like the one Baxter worked in for 30 years, stands derelict – a shell that represents a hollowing out not just of the local economy but of culture and hope – as though someone extinguished Baxter’s sun and left the place in darkness. Buildings in the centre of town that were once testament to the industrial wealth produced here stand abandoned. More than 40% of the population now live below the poverty line; 9.1% are unemployed.

Cambria County, where Johnstown sits, was once a swing county. Al Gore won it in 2000; George W Bush took it in 2004; it went to Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 – each time by fairly narrow margins. Last year, Donald Trump won it in a landslide.

Baxter, who once backed Obama, voted for Trump, the first time he had ever voted Republican. “I liked [Obama’s] message of hope, but he didn’t bring any jobs in … Trump said he was going to make America great. And I figured: ‘That’s what we need. We need somebody like that to change it.’”

Over at the century-old Coney Island Lunch, this once-bustling institution famous for its chilli dogs and sundowners is virtually empty. “A lot of people have left town,” explains Peggy, who has been serving at the diner for nine years. “There are no jobs. If you’re going to have a life or a steady income, you know, you need to get out of here, because there’s nothing here. I expect a lot of towns go this way. You know, when the steel mills died and the coal died. It’s sad, it’s very sad.”

Across from the counter, Ted sits in a T-shirt emblazoned with a Native American in full headdress. He thinks white America is getting a rough deal and will soon be extinct. “There’s not many white Americans left. They’re a dying breed. It’s going to be yellow-white Americans, African-American white Americans, you know what I’m saying? The cultures are coming together,” he says, with more than a hint of melancholy. “Blending and blending, and pretty soon we’ll just be one colour.”

Ted also voted for Trump. “I liked him on TV. I voted for him, alright, but it was because he was supposedly going to make America great, and what’s he done so far? He hasn’t done anything.”

Two days after I spoke to Ted and Peggy, Coney Island Lunch closed down.

In the 12 years I reported from the US I saw no end of white journalists opine on black America. This summer, I took a trip through white America, driving from Maine (the whitest state) to Mississippi (the blackest), to flip the script. Talking only to white people, I attended a white supremacist conference, accompanied an emergency health worker who sought to revive people who had overdosed, and went to a comedy club in the French Quarter of New Orleans to see the “Liberal Redneck” perform. I was told the Ku Klux Klan were liberals (they weren’t), that Confederate general Robert E Lee didn’t own slaves (he did) and that I could not be British because I’m black (I am).

It was a few weeks before the disturbances in Charlottesville, when a mob of white supremacists, including neo-Nazis and Klansmen, converged on a college town in Virginia, terrorising protesters and leaving one dead and many injured. Just seven months after the US had bid farewell to its first black president, his successor said there were “some very fine people” marching with the neo-Nazis who chanted: “Jews will not replace us.” A poll shortly afterwards showed that almost half of white Americans thought they were “under attack” and one in three thought the country needs to do more to preserve its white European heritage.

Any reckoning with how the US got to this point, politically, demands some interrogation of how white America got to this place economically and culturally; that takes into account both their relative privilege and their huge pockets of pain. [Continue reading…]

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The People’s Republic of Heaven: From the Protestant Reformation to the Russian Revolution

Eugene McCarraher writes: This year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution of October 1917. Toppling the provisional government that had overthrown the Romanov dynasty in February, Lenin and the Bolsheviks did more than deal a coup de grâce to the old regime; they sparked a wave of revolutionary upheaval that eventually washed over almost every continent. (The Cold War, usually dated from 1945, arguably began with the seizure of the Winter Palace.) The fear of revolution among bourgeois elites in the North Atlantic world induced them either to support fascist movements or to compromise with the working classes. The fascist alternative culminated in tyranny, genocide, and global warfare; the compromise enabled the “golden age of capitalism,” when high wages and widespread access to disposable income—ensured by labor unions and welfare states—fueled rates of economic growth and underwrote a level of social equality never before (and not since) seen in the Western democracies. In the Soviet Union itself, “really existing socialism” ended a feckless and brutal monarchy; provided education, medical care, and other public services; and (despite the images of queues served up for propaganda in the capitalist nations) raised the standard of living for ordinary people through rapid industrialization—all at the price of a ferocious oligarchy and its apparatus of murder and repression. The “Soviet experiment” would seem to have been either the tragic miscarriage of a passion for justice or a barbarous attempt to bring heaven to earth that proves the folly of utopian ambition.

Because the Russian Revolution and its consequences are still relatively fresh in historical memory, its centenary can easily overshadow the anniversary of another, perhaps even more consequential upheaval: the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation, which commenced in October 1517. When Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, “out of love for the truth and desire to elucidate it,” he set off a chain of events that ultimately demolished the unity of medieval Christendom. Luther and his fellow reformers triggered a radiating tremor that would shake not only the Roman Catholic Church but all subsequent Protestant denominations, as the “priesthood of all believers” sanctioned the centrifugal energy of Protestantism. (The protest in Protestant hides in plain sight.) If the most hallowed doctrines and even the Bible itself could now be arraigned before the bar of individual judgment, then Christianity could be endlessly transformed and perhaps even ultimately repudiated. While the Russian Revolution launched what E.J. Hobsbawm once dubbed “the short twentieth century,” the Protestant Reformation incited five centuries of turbulence: religious liberty, liberal democracy, capitalist economics, and the “disenchantment of the world” supposedly wrought by the erosion of belief in magic, sacrament, and the occult.

Were the Reformation and the Revolution connected, despite the chasm of 400 years? The British-Pakistani writer and activist Tariq Ali sees a parallel, opening his new book on Lenin by citing Luther’s intransigent (and probably apocryphal) declaration to the Diet of Worms in 1521: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Shortly after the Bolshevik victory, the young German philosopher Ernst Bloch suggested an even longer historical lineage for Lenin. In The Spirit of Utopia (1920), Bloch sketched a genealogy of revolution that included the Jewish prophets, St. John of the Apocalypse, medieval heretics and millenarians such as Joachim of Fiore, and radical Protestants such as Thomas Müntzer and John of Leyden (John Bockelson). Speaking the language of theology, this pre-Marxist vanguard had imagined the kingdom of God as a communist paradise. Bloch linked the Protestant and Soviet moments even more pointedly in Thomas Müntzer as Theologian of the Revolution (1921), whose protagonist envisioned “a pure community of love, without judicial and state institutions”—in marked contrast to the conservative and submissive Luther, who by supporting the German nobles’ suppression of the peasants’ rebellion of 1524–25 had consecrated the “hard and impious materiality of the State.” If Müntzer’s political theology was mired in mythopoeic conceptions of time, Lenin’s scientific appraisal of history ensured the fulfillment of Christian hope. The Soviet state heralded “the time that is to come,” Bloch declared with eschatological flourish. “It is impossible for the time of the Kingdom not to come now,” he concluded; hope “will not be disappointed in any way.” (“Where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem,” Bloch would later write in The Principle of Hope.)

But hope was disappointed, paradise was postponed, and in 1991 the “pure community of love” was exiled to a neoliberal gulag of dreams. With the revolutionary jitters of the ruling class relieved, capital unilaterally abrogated its burdensome and disingenuous truce with labor, and Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no alternative” became the ukase of plutocrats and incremental reformers. Real wages flatlined, growth rates decelerated, and the welfare states deteriorated. The golden age passed into a fiber-optic era of high-tech toil, gig work, and working-class demoralization. Across the liberal and social democracies, the political imagination of the North Atlantic intelligentsia remains resolutely narrow, pecuniary, and technocratic, preempting or foreclosing any hopes or demands not approved by finance or digital capital. Yet the longing “to put an end to fear, to the State, and to all inhumane power,” as Bloch summarized the lineaments of desire, remains as urgent as ever. As the belle époque of neoliberalism yields to what looks to be a long interregnum of chaos—in which, as Antonio Gramsci put it, “a great variety of morbid symptoms will appear”—it’s an opportune moment to reclaim the theological ancestry of communism. [Continue reading…]

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Female lawmakers allege harassment by colleagues in House

The Associated Press reports: For years, Republican Rep. Mary Bono endured increasingly suggestive comments from a fellow lawmaker in the House of Representatives. But when the congressman approached her on the House floor and told her he’d been thinking about her in the shower, she’d had enough.

She confronted the man, who she said still serves in Congress, telling him his comments were demeaning and wrong. And he backed off.

Bono, who served 15 years before being defeated in 2012, is not alone.

As reports pile up of harassment or worse by men in entertainment, business and the media, one current and three former female lawmakers tell The Associated Press that they, too, have been harassed or subjected to hostile sexual comments — by fellow members of Congress. [Continue reading…]

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How the politics of the Left lost its way

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Wrong end of the stick.
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Geoffrey M Hodgson, University of Hertfordshire

One hundred years ago, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and set up the first long-lasting Marxist government. The Russian Revolution’s impact was wide-ranging. One important – and overlooked – effect was how it changed the idea of the term “Left” in political terminology. Following the Bolshevik takeover, the term Left became more strongly associated with collectivism and public ownership.

But originally the term Left meant something quite different. Indeed, collectivism or public ownership are not exclusive to the Left. The word fascism derives from the fasces symbol of Ancient Rome, a bundle of rods containing an axe, which signify collective strength.

Another effect of 1917 was to undermine further the democratic credentials of the Left. These had already been undermined by early socialists such as Robert Owen, who had been opposed to democracy. After Soviet Russia and Mao’s China, part of the Left was linked to totalitarian regimes with human rights abuses, execution without trial, little freedom of expression and arbitrary confiscation of property.

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Canning O’Reilly and other media men won’t change a thing. Here’s what would

Margaret Sullivan writes: So, now that the dam has burst on sexual misconduct at media companies, we’re good, right?

Don’t believe that for a moment.

The appalling behavior that’s been in the headlines for weeks isn’t going to stop just because some high-profile men have fallen from grace.

Yes, maybe, after this month of eye-popping revelations about influential media figures such as Bill O’Reilly, Mark Halperin and Leon Wieseltier, news organizations will do a better job of taking internal complaints seriously. For a while.

And maybe high-powered men will keep their pants zipped and their hands to themselves so that they won’t lose their positions atop the totem pole. For a time.

The revelations do matter. But something deeper — more difficult — has to happen, too.

Media companies have to address the deep-seated gender inequality that’s at the root of this mess.

“It shouldn’t be forgotten that sexual harassment is often more about abuse of power than sex,” wrote former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who with journalist Jane Mayer chronicled Anita Hill’s sexual harassment claims against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings in their book, “Strange Justice.”

When Abramson was top Times editor — the first woman to hold that coveted post — she promoted talented, qualified women so that half of her “masthead” was female. Good thing she moved fast; Abramson was fired after less than three years.

That kind of equity makes a difference. Having a critical mass of women decision-makers, rather than a token presence, allows ideas to bubble up and voices to be heard in new ways. This is, of course, true for racial diversity, too.

It’s rare, though — and not just in media-management ranks. [Continue reading…]

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World’s witnessing a new Gilded Age as billionaires’ wealth swells to $6tn

The Guardian reports: The world’s super-rich hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, when families like the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes.

Billionaires increased their combined global wealth by almost a fifth last year to a record $6tn (£4.5tn) – more than twice the GDP of the UK. There are now 1,542 dollar billionaires across the world, after 145 multi-millionaires saw their wealth tick over into nine-zero fortunes last year, according to the UBS / PwC Billionaires report.

Josef Stadler, the lead author of the report and UBS’s head of global ultra high net worth, said his billionaire clients were concerned that growing inequality between rich and poor could lead to a “strike back”.

“We’re at an inflection point,” Stadler said. “Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest – that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?” [Continue reading…]

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White paranoia: Majority of white Americans think they’re discriminated against

NPR reports on a poll in which 55 percent of its white respondents believe there is discrimination against white people in America today. The responses can be broken down into three categories: Ask [68-year-old Tim] Hershman [of Akron, Ohio] whether there is discrimination against whites, and he answered even before this reporter could finish the question — with an emphatic “Absolutely.”

“It’s been going on for decades, and it’s been getting worse for whites,” Hershman contended, despite data showing whites continue to be better off financially and educationally than minority groups.

Even though Hershman believes he has been a victim of anti-white discrimination, he wasn’t able to provide a specific example. He describes losing out on a promotion — and a younger African-American being selected as one of the finalists for the job. But the position eventually went to a white applicant, who was also younger than Hershman.

Representing Category 2 is 50-year-old heavy equipment operator Tim Musick, who lives in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. He says anti-white discrimination is real, but he doesn’t think he has ever really felt it personally.

“I think that you pretty much, because you’re white, you’re automatically thrown into that group as being a bigot and a racist and that somehow you perceive yourself as being more superior to everybody else, which is ridiculous,” Musick said, speaking during his lunch break at a construction site.

“I’m just a man that happens to have been born white,” Musick continued.

He also makes it clear, however, that he is not comparing what happens to whites to the African-American experience.

“I don’t know what it feels like to be a black man walking around in the streets, but I do know what it feels like to be pegged, because of how you look, and what people perceive just on sight,” said Musick, who has the stocky build of a retired NFL lineman and a shaved head under his hard hat.

Now for the third category — those who scoff at the notion that whites face racial discrimination.

That describes retired community college English teacher Betty Holton, of Elkton, Md.

“I don’t see how we can be discriminated against when, when we have all the power,” Holton said, chuckling in disbelief into her cellphone.

“Look at Congress. Look at the Senate. Look at government on every level. Look at the leadership in corporations. Look. Look anywhere.”

Holton asserts: “The notion that whites are discriminated against just seems incredible to me.” [Continue reading…]

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More than 1 billion ‘invisible people’ worldwide have no proof of identity

AFP reports: More than 1.1 billion people worldwide officially don’t exist — going about their daily lives without proof of identity.

The issue leaves a significant fraction of the global population deprived of health and education services.

Among these “invisible people” — many of whom live primarily in Africa and Asia — more than one-third are children susceptible to violence whose births have not been registered, the World Bank’s “Identification for Development” (ID4D) program recently warned.

The problem is particularly acute in geographical areas whose residents face poverty, discrimination, epidemics or armed conflicts.

Vyjayanti Desai, who manages the ID4D program, said the issue arises from a number of factors, but cited the distance between people and government services in developing areas as major.

For populations near the Peruvian Amazon, for example, traveling to an administrative service can take some five days of transit by boat, according to Carolina Trivelli, Peru’s former development minister.

Many families are also simply not informed about the importance of birth registration — and the consequences of non-registration, which can include the denial of basic rights and benefits, or an increased likelihood of marrying or entering into the labor force underage.

And even if parents are aware of the need to declare a birth, costs can be crippling, said Anne-Sophie Lois, representative at the United Nations in Geneva and director of the children’s aid organization Plan International.

As a result, millions of children in Africa and Asia first encounter the administration only once they reach school age.

But “birth certificates are often needed to enroll in school” or take national exams, Lois said. [Continue reading…]

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Put women in charge

Michelle Goldberg writes: Most women I know — and probably most women you know — have stories about sexual harassment. Mine happened in college, with a professor who was older than my father and who made me think he was genuinely interested in my writing. One day in his office, he told me he wanted to “kiss and molest” me. I muttered something about having a boyfriend and fled.

As stories like this go, I got off easy. I remember thinking at the time, “Huh, so this is sexual harassment.” I wasn’t particularly traumatized, but it was a blow to my faith in my own talents. I felt ridiculous for having believed that this man, whom I very much admired, saw me as a person with promise instead of an easy mark.

Cumulatively, incidents like this erode women’s self-confidence and make it hard for them to find mentors as their male peers do. But in my case, there was no accumulation; I never again experienced anything like it. There’s plenty of harassment in the media; in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, some women passed around an anonymous, crowd-sourced Google Doc listing men in my industry accused of sexual transgressions. I’d heard some of these stories but have somehow been immune since that office visit so many years ago. Why?

I’m sure the friendly people on the internet will say it’s because I’m undesirable, but despite the Weinstein affair, it’s not just dewy bombshells who experience harassment. Maybe I’ve simply been lucky. But I credit the fact that I worked at a succession of publications — Salon, Newsweek and The Daily Beast, The Nation, Slate — headed, for most of the time I was there, by women. (This was unusual; as of 2016, according to the American Society of News Editors, women still made up only 37.11 percent of “newsroom leaders.”) The books I’ve published have been acquired and edited by women. For most of my 20s and 30s, I never had to worry that getting ahead in my career meant staying in the good graces of a straight man.

More women should have the same privilege. [Continue reading…]

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I’m a millionaire. I don’t need another tax break, Mr Trump

Amelie Ratliff writes: At a time of staggering inequality, I can’t believe that Congress and the Trump administration want to give me another tax break.

On Wednesday, the Republican party unveiled their tax reform plan, which included the elimination of the federal estate tax. But as one of a small segment of people in the top 1% with enough wealth to someday pay the estate tax, I believe a tax on inherited wealth is completely reasonable and fair.

I grew up in Alabama, one of the poorest states in the country, in a wealthy family. We benefited from financial deregulation during the Reagan years, as well as prudent taxpayer-funded investments that ensured stability, prosperity and economic growth.

After living through decades of increasing economic division and racial inequality, I believe today’s wealth gap is poisoning our body politic. [Continue reading…]

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Maria fallout lays bare Puerto Rico’s sharp income divide

Bloomberg reports: A humanitarian crisis began to take hold in Puerto Rico on Saturday, three days after Hurricane Maria hammered the commonwealth, and its most vulnerable citizens were the most exposed.

Health-sector workers said the island was nearing a critical moment as some care organizations ran low on fuel for generators. Maritza Lamoso, executive director at Residence Senior Living in the Puerto Nuevo section of San Juan, said she’d put out 20 calls for emergency diesel and been visited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. But as of Saturday afternoon, she still had no fuel.

“If the diesel doesn’t arrive today, I’m going to have to start removing people,” she said from the lobby of the center, adding that two other facilities in the same network were in similar circumstances.

Governor Ricardo Rossello, who met with mayors and state and federal officials in San Juan on Saturday, said agencies were rushing to deliver fuel to hospitals, bring water, food and other aid to isolated communities, and evacuate families living near a failing dam in the northwest. The government couldn’t begin to estimate the financial toll, he said, but it would be more than the billions of dollars in damage caused by Hurricane George in 1998.

“This is, without a doubt, the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico in terms of the damage to infrastructure and in terms of damage to the island as a whole,” he said. “Our consideration is not a fiscal consideration. It’s restoring people’s security and restoring normalcy.”

On an island marked by sharp income disparities, there was a notable ratcheting up of private security by those at the top. [Continue reading…]

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Twin earthquakes expose Mexico’s deep inequality

By Luis Gómez Romero, University of Wollongong

Early in the morning on Sept. 16, 1810, priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of his church in the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, Mexico. His parishioners gathered round, and he urged them to revolt against Spain’s two-year-old Napoleonic government.

Hidalgo’s call to arms, which later became known later as the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores), triggered the Mexican War of Independence. Every September 15, the president of Mexico takes to the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City to reenact it.

This year, just a week before Independence Day, a historic earthquake struck Mexico’s southern coast, killing nearly 100 people. So President Enrique Peña Nieto added a poignant element to his Grito by including in the incantation a reference to the impoverished states that were most devastated by the quake, crying “Long live the solidarity of Mexicans with Chiapas and Oaxaca!”

This year, the president’s ‘Cry of Pain’ included Oaxaca and Chiapas.

It was a nice twist on tradition, but these two states will need more than expressions of solidarity to recover. The 8.2 magnitude quake is the strongest Mexico has experienced in 100 years, surpassing even the Sept. 19, 1985 earthquake that killed up to 40,000 people in and around Mexico City, according to the highest estimates.

It was also significantly more powerful than the recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake that killed upwards of 200 people in and around Mexico’s capital on September 19.

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In the Caribbean, colonialism and inequality mean hurricanes hit harder

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A satellite image of Hurricane Irma spiraling through the Caribbean.
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By Levi Gahman, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus and Gabrielle Thongs, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus

Hurricane Maria, the 15th tropical depression this season, is now battering the Caribbean, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in the region.

The devastation in Dominica is “mind-boggling,” wrote the country’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, on Facebook just after midnight on September 19. The next day, in Puerto Rico, NPR reported via member station WRTU in San Juan that “Most of the island is without power…or water.”

Among the Caribbean islands impacted by both deadly storms are Puerto Rico, St Kitts, Tortola and Barbuda.

In this region, disaster damages are frequently amplified by needlessly protracted and incomplete recoveries. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan rolled roughshod through the Caribbean with wind speeds of 160 mph. The region’s economy took more than three years to recover. Grenada’s surplus of US$17 million became a deficit of $54 million, thanks to decreased revenue and the outlays for rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Nor were the effects of a 7 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 limited to killing some 150,000 people. United Nations peacekeepers sent in to help left the country grappling, to this day, with a fatal cholera outbreak.

A tent city in post-earthquake Haiti.
Fred W. Baker III/Wikimedia Commons

These are not isolated instances of random bad luck. As University of the West Indies geographers who study risk perception and political ecology, we recognize the deep, human-induced roots of climate change, inequality and the underdevelopment of former colonies – all of which increase the Caribbean’s vulnerability to disaster.

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Company Town captures ‘quiet tragedy’ of community polluted by big business

 

The Guardian reports: The documentary Company Town opened in New York City on Friday night, for a short run at Cinema Village on East 12th Street. Introducing a sold-out screening, New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman said co-directors Natalie Kottke-Masocco and Erica Sardarian had captured one of the “quiet tragedies that are taking place all across America all the time”.

The film tells the story of Crossett, Arkansas, a small town dominated by a huge Georgia-Pacific paper mill owned by the Koch brothers, Charles and David, hugely influential Republican donors with a deeply contentious – activists would say appalling – record on the environment. People who live in Crossett blame the mill for the heedless dumping of cancer-causing chemicals they say pollutes drinking water and shortens already straitened lives.

“This is a story that never gets told,” Schneiderman said, “and it takes tremendous commitment to get to the quiet tragedies that are taking place all across America all the time.

“The environmental movement really has not done as good a job perhaps as we should have done carrying the essential message that people who are poor and without power are always on the front lines of pollution and environmental justice.” [Continue reading…]

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Why so many people don’t ‘just leave’ when a major hurricane hits

Eleanor Goldberg writes: Historic storm or not, many Floridians have no choice but to stay put when the winds rise.

Those who don’t evacuate before huge storms are often criticized for “choosing” to stay behind. A 2010 study from Northwestern found that the majority of observers looked favorably on Hurricane Katrina victims who had evacuated, calling them “hardworking and self-reliant.” Those who didn’t leave were described as “lazy, negligent and stubborn.”

Such harsh judgments didn’t match the reality of the situation.

Fourteen percent of the people who remained in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina had a physical disability. Fifty-five percent of them didn’t have access to a car or another way to leave. And 68 percent didn’t have either money in the bank or a useable credit card, Pacific Standard Magazine reported in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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Amazon warehouse employees are the most important workers in America

Hamilton Nolan writes: The Amazon warehouse worker is the face of the future of American work. No, everyone a decade from now will not work in a warehouse, and every warehouse worker a decade from now will not work for Amazon. But these workers sit at the place where the most powerful trend in employment meets the most powerful company in retail. They are the prototypical job of the near future. And how good that job is will represent how well the coming American economy is able to solve its current problems: Low, stagnant wages, lack of job stability, and rampant inequality.

How is Amazon doing on those measures so far? Horribly. Those warehouse jobs offer low wages, little job stability (bolstered by the fact that many of the jobs are seasonal or subcontracted rather than full time), and meanwhile the guy who runs Amazon is one of world’s richest humans. Amazon is in fact the embodiment of every bad trend in the workplace. If we are to make the prototypical job of the future something less than dystopic, we have a lot of work to do.

So, to get to the fucking point of all this: The only realistic way for the future of work not to suck is through the power of organized labor. Either Amazon warehouse workers will organize and unionize and assert their (considerable, latent) collective power to raise their own wages and improve their working conditions, or the future of work will continue to be just as bleak as the present. Let me state this in an even clearer way: There is nothing—NOTHING—more important for American unions to do right now than to unionize Amazon warehouse workers. Unions in America represent a paltry 7% or so of private sector workers, which is a “Prime” (heh) reason why we have the problems that we have in the first place. Power in the workplace has shifted drastically to the side of corporations and away from you, the human. If we ever want to stem inequality, we need unions to get stronger. And if unions ever want to get stronger, they need to move into where the economy is going, rather than spending all their time wallowing in the jobs of the past. Where is the economy going? Into the Amazon warehouse. And do our nation’s most powerful unions have a comprehensive plan to organize all of these workers, thereby saving both the workers and the unions themselves?

Not at all. Not even a bit. [Continue reading…]

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Without equality of income there can be no equality of opportunity

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Incomes and outcomes.
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By Kate Pickett, University of York and Richard Wilkinson, University of York

If moving forward is the goal, it’s a not a good policy to stand still. Yet we hear little from the government about solutions to Britain’s poor record on social mobility. Earlier this year both the current administration and its predecessors were roundly condemned for their failure to make any headway.

Research has repeatedly shown the clear link between high levels of income inequality and low levels of social mobility. This graph, from our book The Spirit Level shows that far from being the land of opportunity, the US has very low social mobility. You’re much more likely to achieve the “American dream” if you live in Denmark.

Mobility and inequality.
The Spirit Level, Author provided

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Bernie Sanders’ campaign isn’t over

Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes: Bernie Sanders’s Presidential race ended a year ago, but his campaign never did. Since the election, he has staged events in Michigan, Mississippi, Maine, West Virginia, Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Montana, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, and Illinois. At every one, he speaks about the suffering of small-town Americans, and his belief that the Democrats can help them. When I caught up with him recently, his shirt was a little untucked, his head hung down, and he carried a printed copy of his remarks. Sanders was catching a late-night flight to Chicago, and was taking a moment to record a message for Snapchat. The central illusion of a Presidential campaign is that a candidate can, through constant motion and boundless energy, meet countless people and, in the end, give voice to the experience of the country. After the election, Sanders seemed to adopt the illusion as an ethos.

Hillary Clinton’s loss gave his efforts a new urgency. The electoral map, with its imposing swaths of red, pointed to a crisis confronting American liberalism. Donald Trump may have lost the popular vote, but, as he likes to point out, he won 2,626 counties to Clinton’s four hundred and eighty-seven. Many of these counties are in states that Sanders won last year, campaigning on a platform of economic populism—Medicare for all, tuition-free college, and a fifteen-dollar minimum wage. Sanders told me that Trump was smart enough to understand that the Democratic Party had turned its back on millions of people: “He said, ‘Hey, I hear you. I’m going to do something for you.’ And he lied.” Sanders, who is seventy-five, may be too old to run again in 2020, but his barnstorming has a purpose—to deepen the connection to progressive ideas in rural America, to develop an attachment that might outlast him. [Continue reading…]

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