Archive for Poverty
A number of people have taken shots at David Brooks this week for his essential cluelessness about people who are not David Brooks. Over at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi calls Brooks’ “The Cost of Relativism” his “10 thousandth odious article about how rich people are better parents than the poor.” Taibbi writes:
Brooks then goes on to relate some of the horrific case studies from the book – more on those in a moment – before coming to his inevitable conclusion, which is that poor people need to get off the couch, stop giving in to every self-indulgent whim, and discipline their wild offspring before they end up leaving their own illegitimate babies on our lawns:
Next it will require holding people responsible. People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?
Yes, improving your station is a simple matter self-discipline and of pulling yourself up by those bootstraps, if you have the boots. Can’t find a job? Pull together some investors and start your own business. Personal responsibility … yadda, yadda, yadda … achieve the American Dream.
Corey Robin considers the irony of how white children learn about Martin Luther King while attending schools that have essentially re-seregated since the Nixon years. He casts a jaundiced eye on the effort for Salon:
In the United States, we often try to solve political and economic questions through our schools rather than in society. Instead of confronting social inequality with mass political action and state redistribution, we prefer to educate poor children to wealth. Education can involve some redistribution: making sure, for example, that black, Latino and working-class students have comparable resources, facilities and teachers as white or wealthy students. But one need only compare the facilities at the Park Slope school my daughter attends with those of an elementary school in East New York—or take a walk around James Hall at Brooklyn College, where I teach political science, and then take a walk around the halls at Yale, where I studied political science—to see we’re a long way from even that minimal redistribution.
Sometimes, our self-deception can be downright funny. Two weekends ago, the New York Times profiled a group of fancy private schools in New York City where wealthy, white and privileged students learn that they are … wealthy, white and privileged. There’s even an annual “White Privilege Conference,” which is being held this year at Dalton School (tuition: $41,350). More and more private schools, according to the Times, “select students to attend” that conference. These students are so select (and these schools so selective) that they have to be selected to attend a conference on their selectedness.
No amount of talking about class advantage this way will change it, Robin believes. He’s right. It’s not the kind of learning that comes from classroom exercises or a book.
But still, as children of advantage, doesn’t talking about structural inequality feel right in a truthiness kind of way? To talk about inequality and believe you’re actually doing something about inequality, the way clicktivism feels like activism. Season the lessons with terms like “micro-aggressions,” have students create and discuss “identity cards,” and such conversations become buzzword bingo. Corey Robin calls this kind of education “the quintessential American hustle.”
(Cross-posted from Hullabloo.)
Reading Charles Blow’s New York Times column this morning, one phrase stopped me cold: a pigment tax. That, essentially, is what the Justice Department’s report charges the Ferguson Police Department was extracting from African American citizens:
The view that emerges from the Justice Department report is that citizens were not only paying a poverty tax, but a pigment tax as the local authorities sought to balance their budgets and pad their coffers on the backs of poor black people.
Perhaps most disturbing — and damning — is actual correspondence in the report where the authorities don’t even attempt to disguise their intent.
Take this passage from the report:
“In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief [Thomas] Jackson that ‘unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.’ Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.’”
The report, writes Blow, reads like an account of “a shakedown gang.”
It was kind of stunning, actually, to see the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson invoke “the common good” in a national newspaper, as I mentioned yesterday. Speaking of that sort of thing (like “public trust”) being so gauche and all. Pitting people against each other? Now that’s how you get ahead in politics. At least, for a certain kind of politician.
Long ago, President Lyndon Johnson explained how this conservative schtick works:
If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.
The Fox News business model, ladies and gentlemen. They’ve just expanded the palette a little.
Regarding pitting people against each other, Michael Hiltzik yesterday looked at how the Republican Congress is dealing with Social Security disability funding — not by solving the problem, but by “intensifying the crisis.” Someone must be punished, and Republicans are pretty sure it’s the Poors, the aged, and the infirm:
In practical terms, the rule change sets up a confrontation over Social Security’s finances by pitting the program’s retirees against its disabled beneficiaries and their dependents. The confrontation is totally unnecessary, because the required reallocation would have minimal effect on the old-age program. The old-age trust fund, which is still growing today and has not yet been tapped, is expected to last at least until 2034; the reallocation would make both the disability and old-age funds solvent until 2033, according to the latest estimates by the Social Security trustees.
The rule change does, however, reflect Republicans’ cherished disdain for disability recipients, whom they love to caricature as malingering layabouts. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) slathered himself in iniquity last month when he told a New Hampshire audience: “Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts.”
Digby dealt with this at Salon yesterday, noting that at $1,130/mo on average, nobody’s living large on disability. But:
Apparently, even that’s too much. The government needs to crack down on these lazy moochers and put them to work. Back in the day they used to sell pencils and apples on street corners, amirite? And in third world countries you see plenty of horrifically disabled people making a tidy living by begging. They show the kind of gumption we are denying our paraplegics and mentally ill by molly coddling them with a poverty level stipend.
“Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled,” the apostle wrote mockingly of false piety, teaching that faith without works is dead. But that zombie faith is much in vogue.
This morning, Stephen Richter examines the need conservative lights such as George Will have to keep flogging the welfare horse, writing:
If there is a resurgence of the level of transfer payments to welfare recipients now, that is not due to any relaxation of the standards under which people qualify for welfare. (Indeed, the bar to obtain and keep benefits remains quite high.)
Nor is it the result of some sweeping cultural degradation foisted upon the good and hard-working American people by “progressives,” as Will ultimately insists. There is little to suggest struggling Americans have become newly enthusiastic about being compelled to seek help – including from the government – to make ends meet.
That the United States is at the bottom of rankings of social mobility among OECD countries matters little to theoreticians like Will, Richter writes.
Facts be damned. Hands up as well as handouts are for the weak, and against the natural order. The Founders may have mentioned tending to the “general welfare” twice in the U.S. Constitution, but they didn’t really mean it. Social Darwinism and The Market are hungry gods.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Esther J. Cepeda’s Washington Post op-ed discusses a study by Emory University researchers, “A rose by any other name?: The consequences of subtyping ‘African-Americans’ from ‘Blacks’”. Specifically, the study looked at how white people responded to the two terms and their attached stereotypes. Notice, there’s as much class as race here:
The researchers conducted four distinct studies in the realms of employment, media and criminal justice to determine the perceptions of the two labels in different contexts.
The data they collected point to whites believing that the label “Black” evokes a mental representation of a person with lower socioeconomic status, education, positivity, competence and warmth than the label “African-American.” And whites “will react more negatively” toward “Blacks” than toward “African-Americans.”
Even more chilling, the researchers found that use of the label “Black” in a newspaper crime report is associated with more negative emotional words than in an article featuring the words “African-American.” And whites view a criminal suspect more negatively when that person is identified as “Black” versus “African-American.”
Wonder how they’d react to calling them “citizens” or “people”? Or “neighbors”?
I noticed how both Cepeda and I both typed lower case above when writing “white” as though it is an ordinary adjective and less of a racial label, while the study prefers “White.” Race is always there, Cepeda notes, because “no matter how post-racial any of us thinks we are, we’re all carrying around varying degrees of racial and ethnic bias.”
For example, this reference in the report to another study jumped out at me for some reason:
Participants, who were predominantly White Americans, rated “poor Blacks” low in both warmth and competence and perceived them similarly to poor Whites and welfare recipients (Figure 1, p. 885, 887, Fiske et al., 2002). Conversely, participants rated “Black professionals” as having high competence and high warmth and perceived them similarly to Americans, the middle class, Christians, the Irish, and housewives (Figure 2, p. 638, Cuddy et al., 2007).
The Irish? HEY! What’s up with that?
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
People choosing between food and heat? It’s that time of year:
This past holiday week, those fortunate enough celebrated with family and friends around their Thanksgiving tables. But for those in our communities who are struggling to make ends meet, winter can be the toughest part of the year. According to the North Carolina Association of Feeding America Food Banks, about 160,000 people statewide receive emergency food assistance weekly and 75 percent of those individuals live in households who choose between buying food and heating their homes.
Times are tough around here as well. Please donate to Manna FoodBank. (See link in sidebar.)
Set in the 1980s, the show examines a community split over a plan to build public housing in the upscale — predominantly white — east side of Yonkers, NY. It was a breakdown driven not only by race, but by fear and money.
Simon sees the dispute as allegorical of the political dysfunction in an America that no longer knows how to solve its problems. The period coincides, he believes, with the breakdown of the social contract in America, the triumph of capital over labor and the unpairing of tides and boats that had risen together in a postwar America we had come to believe was normal.
This is a point forcefully made by ex-Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich in his recent film, Inequality for All. He dates the busting of the labour unions and the rupture of the social compact to Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. From then on, the idea that a market-driven society would mutually benefit those who held the capital and those who provided the labour was no longer in place, he says. For Simon, this is the point at which the shared community of interests that walked side by side as the American economy surged after the second world war came apart. The collective will that bound together communities, cities and, ultimately, America started to erode.
“What was required in Yonkers was to ask: ‘Are we all in this together or are we not all in this together?’ Is there a society or is there no society, because if there is no society, well, that’s the approach that says ‘Fuck ’em, I got mine’. And Yonkers coincides with the rise of ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ in America.
“That’s the notion that the markets will solve everything. Leave me alone. I want maximum liberty, I want maximum freedom. Those words have such power in America. On the other hand ‘responsibility’ or ‘society’ or ‘community’ are words that are increasingly held in disfavour in the United States. And that’s a recipe for cooking up a second-rate society, one that does not engage with the notion of collective responsibility. We’re only as good a society as how we treat those who are most vulnerable and nobody’s more vulnerable than our poor. To be poor is not a crime, except in America.”
A guy I knew in the T-party once insisted that there is no society, just as Simon describes. And if there is none, by that logic how could he bear any responsibility for it? T-party members may clasp copies of the U.S. Constitution to their breasts, but they’ve lost its spirit after rejecting the document’s first three words. There is no we in their America, just I and me. And community? Sounds too much like communism. And an excuse for low-caste Irresponsibles to collect a government check for not working.
The view portends a grim, decidedly unexceptional American future in which doomsday preppers barricade and arm themselves against their neighbors while the rich retreat to lush, gated sanctuaries protected from both by armed security.
The thing is, as more Americans slip out of the middle class and find themselves struggling to get by, they are catching on to the barrenness of that future. The Moral Monday movement caught on by bringing together a diverse community to call out the depravity of the ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ culture of Wall Street’s Jordan Belforts, and among ALEC corporations out to strip America for parts.
But David Simon doesn’t believe We the People are quite there yet.
“I think in some ways the cancer is going to have to go a little higher. It’s going to start crawling up above the knee and people are going to have to start looking around and thinking ‘I thought I was exempt. I didn’t know they were coming for me’.
“It’s happened to the manufacturing class, it’s happened to the poor. Now it’s happening to reporters and schoolteachers and firefighters and cops and social workers and state employees and even certain levels of academics. And that’s new. That’s not the American dream.”
First they came for the air traffic controllers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an air traffic controller.
Then they came for the factory workers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a factory worker.
Then they came for the schoolteachers, the firefighters, the cops, the academics … .
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on what Ferguson, MO is really about. Not race, but class.
This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.
The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.
Still. I’ve written about this in various ways lately. Everybody’s got their own agenda, their own political itch to scratch: race, sex, religion, money, freedom, country, class. But in the end, they’re all surrogates for one thing: Power. Who has it. Who doesn’t. The Haves. The Have Nots.
Despite all the camouflaging patriotic rhetoric about freedom and opportunity, for many power is a zero-sum game. More for you means less for them. And those in control won’t stand for that. Deep Throat said follow the money. But if you want to keep from getting screwed, don’t be distracted by the chaff thrown into the air to keep neighbors the elite consider lessers from becoming their equals. Follow the power.
Low-budget retailing is growing:
Dollar Tree, a discount retailer known for selling everything for $1, said Monday it plans to buy Matthews-based Family Dollar for $8.5 billion, weeks after an activist investor started pushing the company to sell itself.
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn did not think Family Dollar was profitable enough. Retail analyst Howard Davidowitz, an investment banker, told NPR’s Sonari Glinton why low-end retailing is expanding:
DAVIDOWITZ: The story is the growth of the sector and that mirrors where America is.
GLINTON: So what I’m curious about is, while the dollar stores are doing well, then there’s the Sears, the JC Penney.
DAVIDOWITZ: Are getting destroyed because they’re middle-class stores.
GLINTON: Put the dollar stores?
DAVIDOWITZ: The dollar stores are doing better because they have more and more customers who are trading down. If you look at the reality, you will see what’s happening in the economy. And it doesn’t look too pretty.
Bad economic news for America is good business for low-end retailers such as NC state budget director Art Pope, who owns Variety Retailers. He’s expanding into groceries.
Art Pope’s Variety Wholesalers has purchased the vacant Kroger store in Southeast Raleigh with plans to establish the company’s first standalone grocery in an area that badly needs one.
The company, which owns Roses, Maxway and other discount stores, bought the property on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard last week for $2.57 million – well below its assessed tax value of $5.65 million.
Pope plans to split the store into a Roses and a separate grocery store. It’s a neighborhood where over half the families earn less than $35,000 per year, according to the News and Observer.
The NAACP has picketed one of Pope’s local Maxway stores “accusing Pope of using store profits to support conservative causes and candidates.”