AlterNet.org: Barbara Ehrenreich http://www.alternet.org/authors/barbara-ehrenreich en Dead, White, and Blue: The Great Die-Off of America's Blue Collar Whites http://www.alternet.org/labor/dead-white-and-blue-great-die-americas-blue-collar-whites <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1046586'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1046586" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A combination of downward mobility and racial resentment may be an invitation to the kind of despair that leads to suicide in one form or another.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_103035632.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>The white working class, which usually inspires liberal concern only for its paradoxical, Republican-leaning voting habits, has recently become newsworthy for something else: <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html" target="_blank">according to</a> economist Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the winner of the latest Nobel Prize in economics, its members in the 45- to 54-year-old age group are dying at an immoderate rate. While the lifespan of affluent whites continues to lengthen, the lifespan of poor whites has been shrinking. As a result, in just the last four years, the gap between poor white men and wealthier ones has widened by up to four years. The <em>New York Times</em> summed up the Deaton and Case study with this headline: “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/business/income-gap-meet-the-longevity-gap.html" target="_blank">Income Gap, Meet the Longevity Gap</a>.”</p><p>This was not supposed to happen. For almost a century, the comforting American narrative was that better nutrition and medical care would guarantee longer lives for all. So the great blue-collar die-off has come out of the blue and is, as the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> says, “<a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-death-rate-is-rising-for-middle-aged-whites-1446499495" target="_blank">startling</a>.”</p><p>It was especially not supposed to happen to whites who, in relation to people of color, have long had the advantage of higher earnings, better access to health care, safer neighborhoods, and of course freedom from the daily insults and harms inflicted on the darker-skinned. There has also been a major racial gap in longevity -- 5.3 years between white and black men and 3.8 years between white and black women -- though, hardly noticed, it has been <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/huge-black-white-gap-in-life-expectancy-in-us-2014-8" target="_blank">narrowing</a> for the last two decades. Only whites, however, are now dying off in unexpectedly large numbers in middle age, their excess deaths accounted for by suicide, alcoholism, and drug (usually opiate) addiction.</p><p>There are some practical reasons why whites are likely to be more efficient than blacks at killing themselves. For one thing, they are more likely to be gun-owners, and white men favor gunshots as a means of suicide. For another, doctors, undoubtedly acting in part on stereotypes of non-whites as drug addicts, are more likely to prescribe powerful opiate painkillers to whites than to people of color. (I’ve been offered enough oxycodone prescriptions over the years to stock a small illegal business.)</p><p>Manual labor -- from waitressing to construction work -- tends to wear the body down quickly, from knees to back and rotator cuffs, and when Tylenol fails, the doctor may opt for an opiate just to get you through the day.</p><p><strong>The Wages of Despair</strong></p><p>But something more profound is going on here, too. As <em>New York Times</em>columnist Paul Krugman <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html" target="_blank">puts it</a>, the “diseases” leading to excess white working class deaths are those of “despair,” and some of the obvious causes are economic. In the last few decades, things have not been going well for working class people of any color.</p><p>I grew up in an America where a man with a strong back -- and better yet, a strong union -- could reasonably expect to support a family on his own without a college degree. In 2015, those jobs are long gone, leaving only the kind of work once relegated to women and people of color available in areas like retail, landscaping, and delivery-truck driving. This means that those in the bottom 20% of white income distribution face material circumstances like those long familiar to poor blacks, including erratic employment and crowded, hazardous living spaces.</p><p>White privilege was never, however, simply a matter of economic advantage. As the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1935, “It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage.”</p><p>Some of the elements of this invisible wage sound almost quaint today, like Du Bois’s assertion that white working class people were “admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools.” Today, there are few public spaces that are not open, at least legally speaking, to blacks, while the “best” schools are reserved for the affluent -- mostly white and Asian American along with a sprinkling of other people of color to provide the fairy dust of “diversity.” While whites have lost ground economically, blacks have made gains, at least in the <em>de jure</em> sense. As a result, the “psychological wage” awarded to white people has been shrinking.</p><p>For most of American history, government could be counted on to maintain white power and privilege by enforcing slavery and later segregation. When the federal government finally weighed in on the side of desegregation, working class whites were left to defend their own diminishing privilege by moving rightward toward the likes of Alabama Governor (and later presidential candidate) George Wallace and his many white pseudo-populist successors down to Donald Trump.</p><p>At the same time, the day-to-day task of upholding white power devolved from the federal government to the state and then local level, specifically to local police forces, which, as we know, have taken it up with such enthusiasm as to become both a national and international scandal. The <em>Guardian</em>, for instance, now keeps a running tally of the number of Americans (mostly black) killed by cops (as of this moment, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database" target="_blank">1,209</a> for 2015), while black protest, in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement and a wave of on-campus demonstrations, has largely recaptured the moral high ground formerly occupied by the civil rights movement.</p><p>The culture, too, has been inching bit by bit toward racial equality, if not, in some limited areas, black ascendency. If the stock image of the early twentieth century “Negro” was the minstrel, the role of rural simpleton in popular culture has been taken over in this century by the characters in <em>Duck Dynasty </em>and <em>Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.</em> At least in the entertainment world, working class whites are now regularly portrayed as moronic, while blacks are often hyper-articulate, street-smart, and sometimes as wealthy as Kanye West. It’s not easy to maintain the usual sense of white superiority when parts of the media are squeezing laughs from the contrast between savvy blacks and rural white bumpkins, as in the Tina Fey comedy <em>Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.</em> White, presumably upper-middle class people generally conceive of these characters and plot lines, which, to a child of white working class parents like myself, sting with condescension.</p><p>Of course, there was also the election of the first black president. White, native-born Americans began to talk of “taking our country back.” The more affluent ones formed the Tea Party; less affluent ones often contented themselves with affixing Confederate flag decals to their trucks.</p><p><strong>On the American Downward Slope</strong></p><p>All of this means that the maintenance of white privilege, especially among the least privileged whites, has become more difficult and so, for some, more urgent than ever. Poor whites always had the comfort of knowing that someone was worse off and more despised than they were; racial subjugation was the ground under their feet, the rock they stood upon, even when their own situation was deteriorating.</p><p>If the government, especially at the federal level, is no longer as reliable an enforcer of white privilege, then it’s grassroots initiatives by individuals and small groups that are helping to fill the gap -- perpetrating the micro-aggressions that roil college campuses, the <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/09/us/missouri-protest-timeline/" target="_blank">racial slurs</a> yelled from pickup trucks, or, at a deadly extreme, the shooting up of a black church renowned for its efforts in the Civil Rights era. Dylann Roof, the Charleston killer who did just that, was a jobless high school dropout and reportedly a heavy user of alcohol and opiates. Even without a death sentence hanging over him, Roof was surely headed toward an early demise.</p><p>Acts of racial aggression may provide their white perpetrators with a fleeting sense of triumph, but they also take a special kind of effort. It takes effort, for instance, to target a black runner and swerve over to insult her from your truck; it takes such effort -- and a strong stomach -- to <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/the-turnstile/missouri-releases-photo-of-feces-smeared-swastika--photo-221817717.html" target="_blank">paint</a> a racial slur in excrement on a dormitory bathroom wall. College students may do such things in part out of a sense of economic vulnerability, the knowledge that as soon as school is over their college-debt payments will come due. No matter the effort expended, however, it is especially hard to maintain a feeling of racial superiority while struggling to hold onto one’s own place near the bottom of an undependable economy.</p><p>While there is no medical evidence that racism is toxic to those who express it -- after all, generations of wealthy slave owners survived quite nicely -- the combination of downward mobility and racial resentment may be a potent invitation to the kind of despair that leads to suicide in one form or another, whether by gunshots or drugs. You can’t break a glass ceiling if you’re standing on ice.</p><p>It’s easy for the liberal intelligentsia to feel righteous in their disgust for lower-class white racism, but the college-educated elite that produces the intelligentsia is in trouble, too, with diminishing prospects and an ever-slipperier slope for the young. Whole professions have fallen on hard times, from college teaching to journalism and the law. One of the worst mistakes this relative elite could make is to try to pump up its own pride by hating on those -- of any color or ethnicity -- who are falling even faster.</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2015 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1046586'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1046586" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 01 Dec 2015 06:55:00 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch 1046586 at http://www.alternet.org Labor Economy Labor working class manual labor racism Barbara Ehrenreich: In America, Only the Rich Can Afford to Write About Poverty http://www.alternet.org/economy/barbara-ehrenreich-america-only-rich-can-afford-write-about-poverty <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1040502'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1040502" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A relatively affluent person can afford to write about minimum wage jobs. Yet people experiencing them can’t.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_215115700_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Back in the fat years – two or three decades ago, when the “mainstream” media were booming – I was able to earn a living as a freelance writer. My income was meager and I had to hustle to get it, turning out about four articles – essays, reported pieces, reviews – a month at $1 or $2 a word. What I wanted to write about, in part for obvious personal reasons, was poverty and inequality, but I’d do just about anything – like, I cringe to say, “The Heartbreak Diet” for a major fashion magazine – to pay the rent.</p><p>It wasn’t easy to interest glossy magazines in poverty in the 1980s and 90s. I once spent two hours over an expensive lunch – paid for, of course, by a major publication – trying to pitch to a clearly indifferent editor who finally conceded, over decaf espresso and crème brulee, “OK, do your thing on poverty. But can you make it upscale?” Then there was the editor of a nationwide, and quite liberal, magazine who responded to my pitch for a story involving blue-collar men by asking, “Hmm, but can they talk?”</p><p>I finally got lucky at Harper’s, where fabled editor Lewis Lapham gave me an assignment that turned into a book, which in turn became a bestseller, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Thanks to the royalties and subsequent speaking fees, at last I could begin to undertake projects without concern for the pay, just because they seemed important or to me. This was the writing life I had always dreamed of – adventurous, obsessively fascinating and sufficiently remunerative that I could help support less affluent members of my family.</p><p>Meanwhile, though I didn’t see it at first, the world of journalism as I had known it was beginning to crumble around me. Squeezed to generate more profits for new media conglomerates, newsrooms laid off reporters, who often went on to swell the crowds of hungry freelancers. Once-generous magazines shrank or slashed their freelance budgets; certainly there were no more free lunches.</p><p>True, the internet filled with a multiplicity of new outlets to write for, but paying writers or other “content providers” turned out not to be part of their business plan. I saw my own fees at one major news outlet drop to one third of their value between 2004 and 2009. I heard from younger journalists who were scrambling for adjunct jobs or doing piecework in “corporate communications.” But I determined to carry on writing about poverty and inequality even if I had to finance my efforts entirely on my own. And I felt noble for doing so.</p><p>Then, as the kids say today, I “checked my privilege.” I realized that there was something wrong with an arrangement whereby a relatively affluent person such as I had become could afford to write about minimum wage jobs, squirrels as an urban food source or the penalties for sleeping in parks, while the people who were actually experiencing these sorts of things, or were in danger of experiencing them, could not.</p><p>In the last few years, I’ve gotten to know a number of people who are at least as qualified writers as I am, especially when it comes to the subject of poverty, but who’ve been held back by their own poverty. There’s <a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="http://newmexicomercury.com/blog/comments/mercury_qa_darryl_wellington_on_the_african_american_experience_in_nm" name="in body link" id="in body link">Darryl Wellington</a>, for example, a local columnist (and poet) in Santa Fe who has, at times, had to supplement his tiny income by selling his plasma – a fallback than can have serious health consequences. Or <a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/03/my-life-as-a-retail-worker-nasty-brutish-and-poor/284332/" name="in body link" id="in body link">Joe Williams</a>, who, after losing an editorial job, was reduced to writing for $50 a piece for online political sites while mowing lawns and working in a sporting goods store for $10 an hour to pay for a room in a friend’s house. <a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/21/linda-tirado-poverty-hand-to-mouth-interview" name="in body link" id="in body link">Linda Tirado</a> was blogging about her job as a cook at Ihop when she managed to snag a contract for a powerful book entitled Hand to Mouth (for which I wrote the preface). Now she is working on a “multi-media mentoring project” to help other working-class journalists get published.</p><p>There are many thousands of people like these – gifted journalists who want to address serious social issues but cannot afford to do so in a media environment that thrives by refusing to pay, or anywhere near adequately pay, its “content providers.” Some were born into poverty and have stories to tell about coping with low-wage jobs, evictions or life as a foster child. Others inhabit the once-proud urban “creative class,” which now finds itself priced out of its traditional neighborhoods, like Park Slope or LA’s Echo Park, scrambling for health insurance and childcare, sleeping on other people’s couches. They want to write – or do photography or documentaries. They have a lot to say, but it’s beginning to make more sense to apply for work as a cashier or a fry-cook.</p><p>This is the real face of journalism today: not million dollar-a-year anchorpersons, but low-wage workers and downwardly spiraling professionals who can’t muster up expenses to even start on the articles, photo-essays and videos they want to do, much less find an outlet to cover the costs of doing them. You can’t, say, hop on a plane to cover a police shooting in your hometown if you don’t have a credit card.</p><p>This impoverishment of journalists impoverishes journalism. We come to find less and less in the media about the working poor, as if about <a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="http://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-169.html" name="in body link" id="in body link">15% of the population</a> quietly emigrated while we weren’t looking. Media outlets traditionally neglected stories about the downtrodden because they don’t sit well on the same page with advertisements for diamonds and luxury homes. And now there are fewer journalists on hand at major publications to arouse the conscience of editors and other gatekeepers. Coverage of poverty accounts for <a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="http://niemanreports.org/articles/it-cant-happen-here-2/" name="in body link" id="in body link">less than 1%</a> of American news, or, as former Times columnist Bob Herbert <a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/outofthespotlight.aspx?id=eec5acd6-e401-4515-a39f-4da814a2c9ee" name="in body link" id="in body link">has put it</a>: “We don’t have coverage of poverty in this country. If there is a story about poor people in the New York Times or in the Washington Post, that’s the exception that proves the rule. We do not cover poverty. We do not cover the poor.”</p><p>As for commentary about poverty – a disproportionate share of which issues from very well paid, established, columnists like David Brooks of the New York Times and George Will of the Washington Post – all too often, it tends to reflect the historical biases of economic elites, that <a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/01/opinion/david-brooks-the-nature-of-poverty.html" name="in body link" id="in body link">the poor are different than “we” are</a>, less educated, intelligent, self-disciplined and more inclined to make “<a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-patrick-moynihan-knew-about-the-importance-of-two-parents/2015/03/13/2cdf9bae-c9a4-11e4-aa1a-86135599fb0f_story.html" name="in body link" id="in body link">bad lifestyle choices</a>.” If the pundits sometimes sound like the current Republican presidential candidates, this is not because there is a political conspiracy afoot. It’s just what happens when the people who get to opine about inequality are drawn almost entirely from the top of the income distribution. And there have been few efforts focused on journalism about poverty and inequality, or aimed at supporting journalists who are themselves poor.</p><p>It hurts the poor and the economically precarious when they can’t see themselves reflected in the collective mirror that is the media. They begin to feel that they are different and somehow unworthy compared to the “mainstream.” But it also potentially hurts the rich.</p><p>In a highly polarized society like our own, the wealthy have a special stake in keeping honest journalism about class and inequality alive. Burying an aching social problem does not solve it. The rich and their philanthropies need to step up and support struggling journalists and the slender projects that try to keep them going. As a self-proclaimed member of the 0.01% <a class="u-underline" data-component="in-body-link" data-link-="" href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014.html#ixzz3hr7nlghY" name="in body link" id="in body link">warned</a> other members of his class last year: “If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.”</p><p> </p><p><em>This article was produced in association with The Economic Hardship Reporting Project.</em></p><p> </p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2015 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1040502'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1040502" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 06 Aug 2015 07:46:00 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, The Guardian 1040502 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy Labor Media journalism poverty rich inequality writers wealthy Barbara and John Ehrenreich: The Real Story Behind the Crash and Burn of America's Managerial Class http://www.alternet.org/economy/barbara-and-john-ehrenreich-real-story-behind-crash-and-burn-americas-managerial-class <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '797442'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=797442" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">How the rise and fall of the professional-managerial class has impacted the last hundred years. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/topstories_officeworkbossgirl11.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Every would-be populist in American politics purports to defend the “middle class,” although there is no agreement on what it is. Just in the last couple of years, the “middle class” has variously been defined as everybody, everybody minus the 15 percent living below the federal poverty level; or everybody minus the very richest Americans. Mitt Romney <a href="https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=2&amp;ved=0CEEQFjAB&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbsnews.com%2F8301-503544_162-20109658-503544.html&amp;ei=pygkUYKTCMKiyAG5_4CQCw&amp;usg=AFQjCNHQi6MrXaTM1B38JluHFc6i0HXtfA&amp;sig2=IFA0h_E2wZlSf2dmkABAOw&amp;bvm=bv.42661473,d.aWM">famously excluded</a> “those in the low end” but included himself (2010 income $21.6 million) along with “80 to 90 percent” of Americans. The Department of Commerce has given up on income-based definitions, announcing in a 2010 report that “middle class families” are defined “by their aspirations more than their income […]. Middle class families aspire to home ownership, a car, college education for their children, health and retirement security and occasional family vacations”—which excludes almost no one.</p><p>Class itself is a muddled concept, perhaps especially in America, where any allusion to the different interests of different occupational and income groups is likely to attract the charge of “class warfare.” If class requires some sort of “consciousness,” or capacity for concerted action, then a “middle class” conceived of as a sort of default class—what you are left with after you subtract the rich and the poor—is not very interesting.</p><p>But there is another, potentially more productive, interpretation of what has been going on in the mid-income range. In 1977, we first proposed the existence of a “professional-managerial class,” distinct from both the “working class,” from the “old” middle class of small business owners, as well as from the wealthy class of owners.</p><p><strong>The origins of the professional-managerial class</strong></p><p>The notion of the “PMC” was an effort to explain the largely “middle class” roots of the New Left in the sixties and the tensions that were emerging between that group and the old working class in the seventies, culminating in the political backlash that led to the election of Reagan. The right embraced a caricature of this notion of a “new class,” proposing that college-educated professionals—especially lawyers, professors, journalists, and artists—make up a power-hungry “liberal elite” bent on imposing its version of socialism on everyone else.</p><p>The PMC grew rapidly. From 1870 to 1910 alone, while the whole population of the United States increased two and one-third times and the old middle class of business entrepreneurs and independent professionals doubled, the number of people in what could be seen as PMC jobs grew almost eightfold. And in the years that followed, that growth only accelerated. Although a variety of practical and theoretical obstacles prevent making any precise analysis, we estimate that as late as 1930, people in PMC occupations still made up less  than 1 percent of total employment. By 1972, about 24 percent of American jobs were in PMC occupations. By 1983 the number had risen to 28 percent and by 2006, just before the Great Recession, to 35 percent.</p><p>The relationship between the emerging PMC and the traditional working class was, from the start, riven with tensions. It was the occupational role of managers and engineers, along with many other professionals, to manage, regulate, and control the life of the working class. They designed the division of labor and the machines that controlled workers’ minute-by-minute existence on the factory floor, manipulated their desire for commodities and their opinions, socialized their children, and even mediated their relationship with their own bodies.</p><p>At the same time though, the role of the PMC as “rationalizers” of society often placed them in direct conflict with the capitalist class. Like the workers, the PMC were themselves employees and subordinate to the owners, but since what was truly “rational” in the productive process was not always identical to what was most immediately profitable, the PMC often sought autonomy and freedom from their own bosses.</p><p>By the mid-twentieth century, jobs for the PMC were proliferating. Public education was expanding, the modern university came into being, local governments expanded in size and role, charitable agencies merged, newspaper circulation soared, traditional forms of recreation gave way to the popular culture, entertainment and sports industries, etc.—and all of these developments created jobs for highly educated professionals, including journalists, social workers, professors, doctors, lawyers, and “entertainers” (artists and writers among others).</p><p>Some of these occupations managed to retain a measure of autonomy and, with it, the possibility of opposition to business domination. The so-called “liberal professions,” particularly medicine and law, remained largely outside the corporate framework until well past the middle of the 20th century. Most doctors, many nurses, and the majority of lawyers worked in independent (private) practices.</p><p>In the 1960s, for the first time since the Progressive Era, a large segment of the PMC had the self-confidence to take on a critical, even oppositional, political role. Jobs were plentiful,  a college education did not yet lead to a lifetime of debt, and materialism was briefly out of style. College students quickly moved on from supporting the civil rights movement in the South and opposing the war in Vietnam to confronting the raw fact of corporate power throughout American society—from the pro-war inclinations of the weapons industry to the governance of the university. The revolt soon spread beyond students. By the end of the sixties, almost all of the liberal professions had “radical caucuses,” demanding that access to the professions be opened up to those traditionally  excluded (such as women and minorities), and that the service ethics the professions claimed to uphold actually be applied in practice.</p><p><strong>The capitalist offensive</strong></p><p>Beginning in the seventies, the capitalist class decisively re-asserted itself. The ensuing capitalist offensive was so geographically widespread and thoroughgoing that it introduced what many leftwing theorists today describe as a new form of capitalism, “neoliberalism.”</p><p>The new management strategy was to raise profits by single-mindedly reducing labor costs, most directly by simply moving manufacturing offshore to find cheaper labor. Those workers who remained employed in the United States faced a series of initiatives designed to discipline and control them ever more tightly: intensified supervision in the workplace, drug tests to eliminate slackers, and increasingly professionalized efforts to prevent unionization. Cuts in the welfare state also had a disciplining function, making it harder for workers to imagine surviving job loss. </p><p>Most of these anti-labor measures also had an effect, directly or indirectly, on elements of the PMC. Government spending cuts hurt the job prospects of social workers, teachers, and others in the “helping professions,” while the decimation of the U.S.-based industrial working class reduced the need for mid-level professional managers, who found themselves increasingly targeted for downsizing. But there was a special animus against the liberal professions, surpassed only by neoliberal hostility to what conservatives described as the “underclass.” Crushing this liberal elite—by “defunding the left” or attacking liberal-leaning nonprofit organizations—became a major neoliberal project.</p><p>Of course, not all the forces undermining the liberal professions since the 1980s can be traced to conscious neoliberal policies. Technological innovation, rising demand for services, and ruthless profit-taking all contributed to an increasingly challenging environment for the liberal professions, including the “creative ones.” </p><p>The Internet is often blamed for the plight of journalists, writers, and editors, but economic change preceded technological transformation. Journalism jobs <a href="http://transition.fcc.gov/osp/inc-report/INoC-1-Newspapers.pdf">began to disappear</a> as corporations, responding in part to Wall Street investors, tried to squeeze higher profit margins out of newspapers and TV news programs. The effects of these changes on the traditionally creative professions have been dire. Staff writers, editors, photographers, announcers, and the like faced massive layoffs (more than 25% of newsroom staff alone since 2001), increased workloads, salary cuts, and buy-outs.</p><p>Then, in just the last dozen years, the PMC began to suffer the fate of the industrial class in the 1980s: replacement by cheap foreign labor. It came as a shock to many when, in the 2000s, businesses began to avail themselves of new high speed transmission technologies to outsource professional functions.</p><p>By the time of the financial meltdown and deep recession of the post-2008 period, the pain inflicted by neoliberal policies, both public and corporate, extended well beyond the old industrial working class and into core segments of the PMC. Unemployed and underemployed professional workers—from IT to journalism, academia, and eventually law—became a regular feature of the social landscape. Young  people did not lose faith in the value of an education, but they learned quickly that it makes more sense to study finance rather than physics or “communications” rather than literature. The old PMC dream of a society rule by impartial “experts” gave way to the reality of inescapable corporate domination.</p><p>But the PMC was not only a victim of more powerful groups. It had also fallen into a trap of its own making. The prolonged, expensive, and specialized education required for professional employment had always been a challenge to PMC families—as well, of course, as an often-insuperable barrier to the working class. Higher degrees and licenses are no longer a guaranty of PMC status. Hence the iconic figure of the Occupy Wall Street movement: the college graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debts and a job paying about $10 a hour, or no job at all.</p><p><strong>Whither class consciousness?</strong></p><p>So in the hundred years since its emergence, the PMC has not managed to hold its own as a class. At its wealthier end, skilled professionals continue to jump ship for more lucrative posts in direct service to capital: Scientists give up their research to become “quants” on Wall Street;  physicians can double their incomes by finding work as investment analysts for the finance industry or by setting up “concierge” practices serving the wealthy. At the less fortunate end of the spectrum, journalists and PhDs in sociology or literature spiral down into the  retail workforce. In between, health workers and lawyers and professors find their work lives more and more hemmed in and regulated by  corporation-like enterprises. The center has not held. Conceived as “the middle class” and as the supposed repository of civic virtue and occupational dedication, the PMC lies in ruins. </p><p>More profoundly, the PMC’s original dream—of  a society ruled by reason and led by public-spirited professionals—has been discredited. Globally, the socialist societies that seemed to come closest to this goal either degenerated into  heavily militarized dictatorships or, more recently, into authoritarian capitalist states. Within the US, the grotesque failure of socialism in China and the Soviet Union became a propaganda weapon in the neoliberal war against the public sector in its most innocuous forms and a core argument for the privatization of just about everything.</p><p>But the PMC has also managed to discredit itself as an advocate for the common good. Consider our gleaming towers of medical research and high-technology care—all too often abutting urban neighborhoods characterized by extreme poverty and foreshortened life spans. </p><p>Should we mourn the fate of the PMC or rejoice that there is one less smug, self-styled, elite to stand in the way of a more egalitarian future? On the one hand, the PMC has played a major role in the oppression and disempowering of the old working class. It has offered little resistance to (and, in fact, supplied the manpower for) the right’s campaign against any measure that might ease the lives of the poor and the working class.</p><p>On the other hand, the PMC has at times been a “liberal” force, defending the values of scholarship and human service in the face of the relentless pursuit of profit. In this respect, its role in the last century bears some analogy to the role of monasteries in medieval Europe, which kept literacy and at least some form of inquiry alive while the barbarians raged outside.</p><p>As we face the deepening ruin brought on by neoliberal aggression, the question may be: Who, among the survivors, will uphold those values today? And, more profoundly, is there any way to salvage the dream of reason—or at least the idea of a society in which reasonableness can occasionally prevail—from the accretion of elitism it acquired from the PMC?</p><p>Any renewal of oppositional spirit among the Professional-Managerial Class, or what remains of it, needs to start from an awareness that what has happened to the professional middle class has long since happened to the blue collar working class. The debt-ridden unemployed and underemployed college graduates, the revenue-starved teachers, the overworked and underpaid service professionals, even the occasional whistle-blowing scientist or engineer—all face the same kind of situation that confronted skilled craft-workers in the early 20th century and all American industrial workers in the late 20th century.</p><p>In the coming years, we expect to see the remnants of the PMC increasingly making common cause with the remnants of the traditional working class for, at a minimum, representation in the political process. This is the project that the Occupy movement initiated and spread, for a time anyway, worldwide.</p><p><em>Want to read the rest? You can download the full report <a href="http://www.rosalux-nyc.org/wp-content/files_mf/ehrenreich_death_of_a_yuppie_dream90.pdf">here</a>.</em></p><p> </p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2013 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '797442'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=797442" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 19 Feb 2013 22:05:00 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, John Ehrenreich, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung - New York Office 797442 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy managerial class Barbara Ehrenreich: Obama, Kiss Goldman Sachs Good-bye and Bail Out Everyday Americans! http://www.alternet.org/barbara-ehrenreich-obama-kiss-goldman-sachs-good-bye-and-bail-out-everyday-americans <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '742212'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=742212" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Mr. President, bail out your real constituency.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1349849464400-1-0_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The following post originally appeared on <a href="http://billmoyers.com/series/moyers-and-company/">Moyers &amp; Company</a>.</p><p><em>We asked some of </em><a href="http://billmoyers.com/series/moyers-and-company/">Moyers &amp; Company</a>’<em>s recent guests for t<a href="http://billmoyers.com/category/now-what/">heir reactions to the re-election of Barack Obama.</a> We’ll be posting their thoughts throughout the week — add your own at the bottom of each post.</em></p><p>For decades the Republicans won with tall, good-looking candidates who purported to represent the flag- and family-loving “little guy.” Romney seemed cut from the mold — an actual hereditary member of the 1 percent who spoke eloquently about the sufferings of the unemployed. But then he made his “47 percent” remarks and was revealed as a centi-millionaire who lives in his own bubble of super-wealth and has probably never ridden a city bus, punched a time clock, or dodged a collection agency in his life.</p><p>Part of the problem I think is that class polarization has gotten so extreme in this country that it’s almost impossible to find super-rich guys who can even impersonate regular people. We are a nation of the very rich and the very poor, with a lot overworked, stressed-out scramblers in the middle, who can occasionally be mobilized against “entitlements.”</p><p>Rhetoric about an imagined universal “middle class” won’t cover up the gaps. I’m waiting for Obama to recognize the existence of widespread poverty — not just the 15 percent who are officially under the poverty line, but the 30 or more percent who barely getting by from week to week. Mr. President, kiss Goldman Sachs goodbye and bail out your real constituency!</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '742212'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=742212" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 09 Nov 2012 09:03:00 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, BillMoyers.com 742212 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics barbara ehrenreich goldman sachs Ehrenreich: How Corporations and Local Governments Rob the Poor Blind http://www.alternet.org/story/155484/ehrenreich%3A_how_corporations_and_local_governments_rob_the_poor_blind <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670833'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670833" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the<a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade"> </a></em><a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade"><em>latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.</em><em>  </em></a></p> <p>Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves, for obvious reasons. Mug a banker and you might score a wallet containing a month’s rent. Mug a janitor and you will be lucky to get away with bus fare to flee the crime scene. But as <em>Business Week</em> <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_21/b4035001.htm" target="_blank">helpfully pointed out</a> in 2007, the poor <em>in aggregate</em> provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them. </p> <p>The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking.</p> <p>Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.</p> <p>It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to <a href="http://prospect.org/article/permanent-lockdown-0" target="_blank">charging defendants</a> for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.</p> <p>The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was <a href="http://aclumich.org/issues/due-process/2009-03/1353" target="_blank">jailed in 2009</a> for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration.</p> <p><strong>Government Joins the Looters of the Poor</strong></p> <p>You might think that policymakers would take a keen interest in the amounts that are stolen, coerced, or extorted from the poor, but there are no official efforts to track such figures. Instead, we have to turn to independent investigators, like Kim Bobo, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1595587179/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank"><em>Wage Theft in America</em></a>, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that. As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0061733202/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank"><em>Broke USA</em></a><em>: From Pawnshops to Poverty</em>, <em>Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business</em>, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.</p> <p>These are not, of course, trivial amounts. They are on the same order of magnitude as major public programs for the poor. The government distributesabout $55 billion a year, for example, through the largest single cash-transfer program for the poor, the <a href="http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/key-elements/family/eitc.cfm" target="_blank">Earned Income Tax Credit</a>; at the same time, employers are siphoning off twice that amount, if not more, through wage theft.</p> <p>And while government generally turns a blind eye to the tens of billions of dollars in exorbitant interest that businesses charge the poor, it is notably chary with public benefits for the poor. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, for example, our sole remaining nationwide welfare program, <a href="http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/other_resrch/tanf_ccdf/reports/broader_safety.pdf" target="_blank">gets only</a> $26 billion a year in state and federal funds. The impression is left of a public sector that’s gone totally schizoid: on the one hand, offering safety-net programs for the poor; on the other, enabling large-scale private sector theft from the very people it is supposedly trying to help. </p> <p>At the local level though, government is increasingly opting to join in the looting. In 2009, a year into the Great Recession, I first started hearing complaints from community organizers about ever more aggressive levels of law enforcement in low-income areas. Flick a cigarette butt and <a href="http://www.kxii.com/home/headlines/78726172.html?storySection=comments" target="_blank">get arrested</a> for littering; empty your pockets for an officer conducting a stop-and-frisk operation and get cuffed for a few flakes of marijuana. Each of these offenses can result, at a minimum, in a three-figure fine.</p> <p>And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country -- from California and Texas to Pennsylvania -- counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the <a href="http://rt.com/usa/news/jail-ruggles-pay-lawn-765/" target="_blank">crime</a> of having a “messy yard.” Some cities -- most recently, Houston and Philadelphia -- have made it a crime to <a href="http://www.foodnotbombs.net/" target="_blank">share food</a> with indigent people in public places.</p> <p>Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you <a href="http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article28176.htm" target="_blank">in jail</a>. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage -- a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.” In a sequence that National Public Radio <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/12/12/143274773/unpaid-bills-land-some-debtors-behind-bars" target="_blank">reports</a> is “increasingly common,” a person is stopped for some minor traffic offense -- having a noisy muffler, say, or broken brake light -- at which point the officer discovers the warrant and the unwitting offender is whisked off to jail.</p> <p><strong>Local Governments as Predators</strong></p> <p>Each of these crimes, neo-crimes, and pseudo-crimes carries financial penalties as well as the threat of jail time, but the amount of money thus extracted from the poor is fiendishly hard to pin down. No central agency tracks law enforcement at the local level, and local records can be almost willfully sketchy.</p> <p>According to one of the few recent nationwide estimates, from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 10.5 million misdemeanors were committed in 2006. No one would risk estimating the average financial penalty for a misdemeanor, although the experts I interviewed all affirmed that the amount is typically in the “hundreds of dollars.” If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor.</p> <p>And that is only a small fraction of what governments would like to collect from the poor. Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) <a href="http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/research/JLPP/upload/Patterson.pdf" target="_blank">owe</a> $105 billion in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.</p> <p>Attempts to collect from the already-poor can be vicious and often, one would think, self-defeating. Most states <a href="http://greenbook.waysandmeans.house.gov/sites/greenbook.waysandmeans.house.gov/files/images/R41762_gb.pdf" target="_blank">confiscate</a> the drivers’ licenses of people owing child support, virtually guaranteeing that they will not be able to work.  Michigan just started <a href="http://www.wilx.com/home/headlines/Michigan_Heightens_Penalty_for_Unpaid_Parking_Tickets_149946485.html" target="_blank">suspending</a> the drivers’ licenses of people who owe money for parking tickets.  Las Cruces, New Mexico, just <a href="http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/37/3774.asp" target="_blank">passed a law</a> that punishes people who owe overdue traffic fines by cutting off their water, gas, and sewage.</p> <p>Once a person falls into the clutches of the criminal justice system, we encounter the kind of slapstick sadism familiar to viewers of<em> </em><a href="http://abc.go.com/shows/wipeout" target="_blank"><em>Wipeout</em></a>. Many courts impose fees without any determination of whether the offender is able to pay, and the privilege of having a payment plan will itself cost money.</p> <p>In a study of 15 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found 14 of them contained jurisdictions that charge a lump-sum “poverty penalty” of up to $300 for those who cannot pay their fees and fines, plus late fees and “collection fees” for those who need to pay over time. If any jail time is imposed, that too may cost money, as the hapless Edwina Nowlin discovered, and the costs of parole and probation are increasingly being passed along to the offender.</p> <p>The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.</p> <p>Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175520/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_michelle_alexander,_the_age_of_obama_as_a_racial_nightmare/" target="_blank">ever finding a job again</a> once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, making this less like a “cycle” and more like the waterslide to hell.  The further you descend, the faster you fall -- until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175457/barbara_ehrenreich_homeless_in_america" target="_blank">urinating in public</a> or sleeping on a sidewalk.</p> <p>I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing <em>to </em>them.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670833'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670833" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 17 May 2012 08:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch.com 670833 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy Human Rights corporations jail business banks government families criminal justice incarceration credit cards local jobs loans poor arrests subprime mortgages wage theft interest tickets fines private sector stop-and-frisk preying court costs Barbara Ehrenreich: How I Discovered the Truth About Poverty http://www.alternet.org/story/154571/barbara_ehrenreich%3A_how_i_discovered_the_truth_about_poverty <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669935'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669935" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Prevailing attitudes towards poverty blame the victim. Here&#039;s why that&#039;s so wrong.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>The following piece is a joint TomDispatch/Nation article and will appear in print in the new issue of that magazine.</em> <em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the </em><a href="https://app.e2ma.net/app/view:Join/signupId:43308/acctId:25612"><em>latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.</em></a><em>  </em></p> <div>It’s been exactly 50 years since Americans, or at least the non-poor among them, “discovered” poverty, thanks to Michael Harrington’s engaging book<a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/068482678X/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><em>The Other America</em></a>. If this discovery now seems a little overstated, like Columbus’s “discovery” of America, it was because the poor, according to Harrington, were so “hidden” and “invisible” that it took a crusading left-wing journalist to ferret them out.  </div> <p> </p> <p>Harrington’s book jolted a nation that then prided itself on its classlessness and even fretted about the spirit-sapping effects of “too much affluence.” He estimated that one quarter of the population lived in poverty -- inner-city blacks, Appalachian whites, farm workers, and elderly Americans among them. We could no longer boast, as President Nixon had done in his <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitchen_Debate">“kitchen debate”</a> with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow just three years earlier, about the splendors of American capitalism.</p> <p>At the same time that it delivered its gut punch, <em>The Other America </em>also offered a view of poverty that seemed designed to comfort the already comfortable. The poor were different from the rest of us, it argued, radically different, and not just in the sense that they were deprived, disadvantaged, poorly housed, or poorly fed. They <em>felt </em>different, too, thought differently, and pursued lifestyles characterized by shortsightedness and intemperance. As Harrington wrote, “There is… a language of the poor, a psychology of the poor, a worldview of the poor. To be impoverished is to be an internal alien, to grow up in a culture that is radically different from the one that dominates the society.”</p> <p>Harrington did such a good job of making the poor seem “other” that when I read his book in 1963, I did not recognize my own forbears and extended family in it. All right, some of them did lead disorderly lives by middle class standards, involving drinking, brawling, and out-of-wedlock babies. But they were also hardworking and in some cases fiercely ambitious -- qualities that Harrington seemed to reserve for the economically privileged.</p> <p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312626681/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><img alt="" hspace="6" vspace="6" align="left" style="border-top-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-bottom-width: 0px; border-left-width: 0px; " src="http://www.tomdispatch.com/images/managed/nickdime.gif" /></a>According to him, what distinguished the poor was their unique “culture of poverty,” a concept he borrowed from anthropologist <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Lewis">Oscar Lewis</a>, who had derived it from his study of Mexican slum-dwellers. The culture of poverty gave <em>The Other America</em> a trendy academic twist, but it also gave the book a conflicted double message: “We” -- the always presumptively affluent readers -- needed to find some way to help the poor, but we also needed to understand that there was <em>something wrong with them</em>, something that could not be cured by a straightforward redistribution of wealth. Think of the earnest liberal who encounters a panhandler, is moved to pity by the man’s obvious destitution, but refrains from offering a quarter -- since the hobo might, after all, spend the money on booze. </p> <p>In his defense, Harrington did not mean that poverty was <em>caused</em> by what he called the “twisted” proclivities of the poor. But he certainly opened the floodgates to that interpretation. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- a sometime-liberal and one of Harrington’s drinking companions at the famed White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village -- blamed inner-city poverty on what he saw as the shaky structure of the “Negro family,” clearing the way for decades of victim-blaming. A few years after <a href="http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/webid-meynihan.htm">The Moynihan Report</a>, Harvard urbanologist Edward C. Banfield, who was to go on to serve as an advisor to Ronald Reagan, felt free to claim that:</p> <p style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 15px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; line-height: 20px; padding-left: 20px; padding-right: 20px; ">“The lower-class individual lives from moment to moment... Impulse governs his behavior... He is therefore radically improvident: whatever he cannot consume immediately he considers valueless… [He] has a feeble, attenuated sense of self.”</p> <p>In the "hardest cases," Banfield opined, the poor might need to be cared for in “semi-institutions... and to accept a certain amount of surveillance and supervision from a semi-social-worker-semi-policeman.”</p> <p>By the Reagan era, the “culture of poverty” had become a cornerstone of conservative ideology: poverty was caused, not by low wages or a lack of jobs, but by bad attitudes and faulty lifestyles. The poor were dissolute, promiscuous, prone to addiction and crime, unable to “defer gratification,” or possibly even set an alarm clock. The last thing they could be trusted with was money. In fact, Charles Murray argued in his 1984 book <em>Losing Ground,</em> any attempt to help the poor with their material circumstances would only have the unexpected consequence of deepening their depravity.</p> <p>So it was in a spirit of righteousness and even compassion that Democrats and Republicans joined together to reconfigure social programs to cure, not poverty, but the “culture of poverty.” In 1996, the Clinton administration enacted the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_strike,_you%27re_out">“One Strike”</a> rule banning anyone who committed a felony from public housing. A few months later, welfare was replaced by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which in its current form makes cash assistance available only to those who have jobs or are able to participate in government-imposed “workfare.”</p> <p>In a further nod to “culture of poverty” theory, the original welfare reform bill appropriated $250 million over five years for “chastity training”<strong> </strong>for poor single mothers. (This bill, it should be pointed out, was signed by Bill Clinton.)</p> <p>Even today, more than a decade later and four years into a severe economic downturn, as people continue to <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-20105376.html">slide into poverty</a> from the middle classes, the theory maintains its grip. If you’re needy, you must be in need of correction, the assumption goes, so TANF recipients are routinely instructed in how to improve their attitudes and applicants for a growing number of safety-net programs are subjected to drug-testing. Lawmakers <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/us/support-grows-for-idea-of-drug-tests-for-welfare-recipients.html">in 23 states</a> are considering testing people who apply for such programs as job training, food stamps, public housing, welfare, and home heating assistance. And on the theory that the poor are likely to harbor criminal tendencies, applicants for safety net programs are increasingly subjected to finger-printing and computerized searches for outstanding warrants.</p> <p>Unemployment, with its ample opportunities for slacking off, is another obviously suspect condition, and last year <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/unemployment-drug-test-republicans-jobless_n_1153877.html">12 states</a> considered requiring pee tests as a condition for receiving unemployment benefits. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have suggested drug testing as a condition for <em>all</em>government benefits, presumably including Social Security. If granny insists on handling her arthritis with marijuana, she may have to starve.</p> <p>What would Michael Harrington make of the current uses of the “culture of poverty” theory he did so much to popularize? I worked with him in the 1980s, when we were co-chairs of Democratic Socialists of America, and I suspect he’d have the decency to be chagrined, if not mortified. In all the discussions and debates I had with him, he never said a disparaging word about the down-and-out or, for that matter, uttered the phrase “the culture of poverty.” Maurice Isserman, Harrington’s biographer, told me that he’d probably latched onto it in the first place only because “he didn't want to come off in the book sounding like a stereotypical Marxist agitator stuck-in-the-thirties.”</p> <p>The ruse -- if you could call it that -- worked. Michael Harrington wasn’t red-baited into obscurity.  In fact, his book became a bestseller and an inspiration for President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. But he had fatally botched the “discovery” of poverty. What affluent Americans found in his book, and in all the crude conservative diatribes that followed it, was not the poor, but a flattering new way to think about themselves -- disciplined, law-abiding, sober, and focused. In other words, not poor.</p> <p>Fifty years later, a new discovery of poverty is long overdue. This time, we’ll have to take account not only of stereotypical Skid Row residents and Appalachians, but of foreclosed-upon suburbanites, laid-off tech workers, and America’s ever-growing army of the “working poor.” And if we look closely enough, we’ll have to conclude that poverty is not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money.</p> <p><em>Barbara Ehrenreich, a </em><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175480/barbara_ehrenreich_the_making_of_an_American_99%25"><em>TomDispatch regular</em></a><em>, is the author of </em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312626681/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America</a><em> (now in a 10th anniversary edition with a </em><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175428/tom_engelhardt_on_Americans_%28not%29_getting_by_%28again%29"><em>new afterword</em></a><em>).</em></p> <p><em>This is a joint TomDispatch/</em>Nation<em> article and appears in print at the </em><a href="http://www.thenation.com/">Nation</a>magazine.</p> <p>Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch">Facebook.</a></p> <p>Copyright 2012 Barbara Ehrenreich</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669935'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669935" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 15 Mar 2012 10:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch.com 669935 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy poverty homelessness harrington Ehrenreich: The Truth Exposed by Occupy Shows That the Real Elites Are the Thieves of the 1%, Not The Liberals of Conservative Myth http://www.alternet.org/story/153452/ehrenreich%3A_the_truth_exposed_by_occupy_shows_that_the_real_elites_are_the_thieves_of_the_1%2C_not_the_liberals_of_conservative_myth <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '668818'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=668818" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">For decades, conservatives have generated antipathy towards a so-called &quot;liberal elite.&quot; Occupy helped America discover the 1% and their crimes.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the </em><a href="https://app.e2ma.net/app/view:Join/signupId:43308/acctId:25612"><em>latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.</em></a><em>  </em></p> <p><em>"Class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs.”</em></p> <p class="p1">-- E.P. Thompson, <i>The Making of the English Working Class</i></p> <p class="p1">The “other men” (and of course women) in the current American class alignment are those in the top 1% of the wealth distribution -- the bankers, hedge-fund managers, and CEOs targeted by the Occupy Wall Street movement. They have been around for a long time in one form or another, but they only began to emerge as a distinct and visible group, informally called the “super-rich,” in recent years.</p> <p class="p1">Extravagant levels of consumption helped draw attention to them: private jets, multiple 50,000 square-foot mansions, $25,000 chocolate desserts <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/25000-for-a-hot-chocolate/"><span class="s1">embellished</span></a> with gold dust. But as long as the middle class could still muster the credit for college tuition and occasional home improvements, it seemed churlish to complain. Then came the financial crash of 2007-2008, followed by the Great Recession, and the 1% to whom we had entrusted our pensions, our economy, and our political system stood revealed as a band of feckless, greedy narcissists, and possibly sociopaths.</p> <p class="p1">Still, until a few months ago, the 99% was hardly a group capable of (as Thompson says) articulating “the identity of their interests.” It contained, and still contains, most “ordinary” rich people, along with middle-class professionals, factory workers, truck drivers, and miners, as well as the much poorer people who clean the houses, manicure the fingernails, and maintain the lawns of the affluent.</p> <p class="p1">It was divided not only by these class differences, but most visibly <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/opinion/13ehrenreich.html"><span class="s1">by race</span></a> and ethnicity -- a division that has <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/us/26hispanics.html"><span class="s1">actually deepened</span></a> since 2008. African-Americans and Latinos of all income levels disproportionately lost their homes to foreclosure in 2007 and 2008, and then disproportionately lost their jobs in the wave of layoffs that followed.  On the eve of the Occupy movement, the black middle class had been devastated. In fact, the only political movements to have come out of the 99% before Occupy emerged were the Tea Party movement and, on the other side of the political spectrum, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175360/andy_kroll_cairo_in_wisconsin"><span class="s1">resistance</span></a> to restrictions on collective bargaining in Wisconsin.</p> <p class="p1">But Occupy could not have happened if large swaths of the 99% had not begun to discover some common interests, or at least to put aside some of the divisions among themselves. For decades, the most stridently promoted division within the 99% was the one between what the right calls the “liberal elite” -- composed of academics, journalists, media figures, etc. -- and pretty much everyone else.</p> <p class="p1">As <i>Harper’s Magazine</i> columnist Tom Frank has brilliantly <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/080507774X/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><span class="s1">explained</span></a>, the right earned its spurious claim to populism by targeting that “liberal elite,” which supposedly favors reckless government spending that requires oppressive levels of taxes, supports “redistributive” social policies and programs that reduce opportunity for the white middle class, creates ever more regulations (to, for instance, protect the environment) that reduce jobs for the working class, and promotes kinky countercultural innovations like gay marriage. The liberal elite, insisted conservative intellectuals, looked down on “ordinary” middle- and working-class Americans, finding them tasteless and politically incorrect. The “elite” was the enemy, while the super-rich were just like everyone else, only more “focused” and perhaps a bit better connected.</p> <p class="p1">Of course, the “liberal elite” never made any sociological sense. Not all academics or media figures are liberal (Newt Gingrich, George Will, Rupert Murdoch). Many well-educated middle managers and highly trained engineers may favor latte over Red Bull, but they were never targets of the right. And how could trial lawyers be members of the nefarious elite, while their spouses in corporate law firms were not?<b> </b></p> <p class="p1"><b>A Greased Chute, Not a Safety Net</b></p> <p class="p1">“Liberal elite” was always a political category masquerading as a sociological one. What gave the idea of a liberal elite some traction, though, at least for a while, was that the great majority of us have never knowingly encountered a member of the actual elite, the 1% who are, for the most part, sealed off in their own bubble of private planes, gated communities, and walled estates.</p> <p class="p1">The authority figures most people are likely to encounter in their daily lives are teachers, doctors, social workers, and professors. These groups (along with middle managers and other white-collar corporate employees) occupy a much lower position in the class hierarchy.  They made up what we <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0896080374/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><span class="s1">described</span></a> in a 1976 essay as the “professional managerial class.” As we wrote at the time, on the basis of our experience of the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s, there have been real, longstanding resentments between the working-class and middle-class professionals. These resentments, which the populist right cleverly deflected toward “liberals,” contributed significantly to that previous era of rebellion’s failure to build a lasting progressive movement. </p> <p class="p1">As it happened, the idea of the “liberal elite” could not survive the depredations of the 1% in the late 2000s. For one thing, it was summarily eclipsed by the discovery of the actual Wall Street-based elite and their crimes. Compared to them, professionals and managers, no matter how annoying, were pikers. The doctor or school principal might be overbearing, the professor and the social worker might be condescending, but only the 1% took your house away.</p> <p class="p1">There was, as well, another inescapable problem embedded in the right-wing populist strategy: even by 2000, and certainly by 2010, the class of people who might qualify as part of the “liberal elite” was in increasingly bad repair. Public-sector budget cuts and corporate-inspired reorganizations were decimating the ranks of decently paid academics, who were being replaced by adjunct professors working on bare subsistence incomes. Media firms were shrinking their newsrooms and editorial budgets. Law firms had started <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/21/business/worldbusiness/21iht-law.4.7199252.html"><span class="s1">outsourcing</span></a> their more routine tasks to India. Hospitals <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/healthylife/was-your-x-ray-outsourced/9855/"><span class="s1">beamed</span></a> X-rays to cheap foreign radiologists. Funding had dried up for nonprofit ventures in the arts and public service. Hence the iconic figure of the Occupy movement: the college graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2011/11/03/pf/student_loan_debt/index.htm"><span class="s1">student loan debts</span></a> and a job paying about $10 a hour, or no job at all.</p> <p class="p1">These trends were in place even before the financial crash hit, but it took the crash and its grim economic aftermath to awaken the 99% to a widespread awareness of shared danger. In 2008, “Joe the Plumber’s” intention to earn a <a href="http://mediamatters.org/print/research/200810180003"><span class="s1">quarter-million dollars</span></a> a year still had some faint sense of plausibility. A couple of years into the recession, however, sudden downward mobility had become the mainstream American experience, and even some of the most reliably neoliberal media pundits were beginning to announce that something had gone awry with the American dream.</p> <p class="p1">Once-affluent people lost their nest eggs as housing prices dropped off cliffs. Laid-off middle-aged managers and professionals were staggered to find that their age made them repulsive to potential employers. Medical debts plunged middle-class households into bankruptcy. The old conservative dictum -- that it was unwise to criticize (or tax) the rich because you might yourself be one of them someday -- gave way to a new realization that the class you were most likely to migrate into wasn’t the rich, but the poor.</p> <p class="p1">And here was another thing many in the middle class were discovering: the downward plunge into poverty could occur with dizzying speed. One reason the concept of an economic 99% first took root in America rather than, say, Ireland or Spain is that Americans are particularly vulnerable to economic dislocation. We have little in the way of a welfare state to stop a family or an individual in free-fall. Unemployment benefits do not last more than six months or a year, though in a recession they are sometimes extended by Congress. At present, even with such an extension, they reach only about half the jobless. Welfare was all but abolished 15 years ago, and health insurance has traditionally been linked to employment.</p> <p class="p1">In fact, once an American starts to slip downward, a variety of forces kick in to help accelerate the slide. An estimated 60% of American firms now <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/07/12/cb.employers.your.credit/index.html"><span class="s1">check applicants' credit ratings</span></a>, and discrimination against the unemployed is widespread enough to have begun to warrant Congressional concern. Even bankruptcy is a prohibitively expensive, often crushingly difficult status to achieve. Failure to pay government-imposed fines or fees can even lead, through a concatenation of unlucky breaks, to an arrest warrant or a criminal record. Where other once-wealthy nations have a safety net, America offers a greased chute, leading down to destitution with alarming speed.</p> <p class="p1"><b>Making Sense of the 99%</b></p> <p class="p1">The Occupation encampments that enlivened approximately 1,400 cities this fall provided a vivid template for the 99%’s growing sense of unity. Here were thousands of people -- we may never know the exact numbers -- from all walks of life, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175457/barbara_ehrenreich_homeless_in_america"><span class="s1">living outdoors</span></a> in the streets and parks, very much as the poorest of the poor have always lived: without electricity, heat, water, or toilets. In the process, they managed to create self-governing communities.</p> <p class="p1">General assembly meetings brought together an unprecedented mix of recent college graduates, young professionals, elderly people, laid-off blue-collar workers, and plenty of the chronically homeless for what were, for the most part, constructive and civil exchanges. What started as a diffuse protest against economic injustice became a vast experiment in class building. The 99%, which might have seemed to be a purely aspirational category just a few months ago, began to will itself into existence.</p> <p class="p1">Can the unity cultivated in the encampments survive as the Occupy movement evolves into a more decentralized phase?  All sorts of class, racial, and cultural divisions persist within that 99%, including distrust between members of the former “liberal elite” and those less privileged. It would be surprising if they didn’t. The life experience of a young lawyer or a social worker is very different from that of a blue-collar worker whose work may rarely allow for biological necessities like meal or bathroom breaks. Drum circles, consensus decision-making, and masks remain exotic to at least the 90%. “Middle class” prejudice against the homeless, fanned by decades of right-wing demonization of the poor, retains much of its grip.</p> <p class="p1">Sometimes these differences led to conflict in Occupy encampments -- for example, over the role of the chronically homeless in Portland or the use of marijuana in Los Angeles -- but amazingly, despite all the official warnings about health and safety threats, there was no “Altamont moment”: no major fires and hardly any violence.  In fact, the encampments engendered almost unthinkable convergences: people from comfortable backgrounds learning about street survival from the homeless, a distinguished professor of political science discussing horizontal versus vertical decision-making with a postal worker, military men in dress uniforms showing up to defend the occupiers from the police.</p> <p class="p1">Class happens, as Thompson said, but it happens most decisively when people are prepared to nourish and build it. If the “99%” is to become more than a stylish meme, if it’s to become a force to change the world, eventually we will undoubtedly have to confront some of the class and racial divisions that lie within it. But we need to do so patiently, respectfully, and always with an eye to the next big action -- the next march, or building occupation, or foreclosure fight, as the situation demands.</p> <p><em>This is a joint TomDispatch/Nation article and appears in print at the Nation magazine.</em></p> <p><em>Copyright 2011 Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich </em></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175457/barbara_ehrenreich_homeless_in_america">TomDispatch regular</a>, is the author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312626681/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America</a> (now in a 10th anniversary edition with a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175428/tom_engelhardt_on_Americans_%28not%29_getting_by_%28again%29">new afterword</a>). John Ehrenreich is professor of psychology at the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury. He wrote <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/185339601X/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">The Humanitarian Companion: A Guide for International Aid, Development, and Human Rights Workers</a>. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2011 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '668818'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=668818" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 15 Dec 2011 07:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, John Ehrenreich, The Nation and TomDispatch.com 668818 at http://www.alternet.org Occupy Wall Street Occupy Wall Street class race populism right-wing resistance student debt occupy wall st 1% 99% liberal elite l tea party How Homelessness Became an Occupy Wall Street Issue http://www.alternet.org/story/152837/how_homelessness_became_an_occupy_wall_street_issue <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '668220'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=668220" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover what homeless people have known all along--that most ordinary activities are illegal when performed in American streets.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the </em><em><a href="https://app.e2ma.net/app/view:Join/signupId:43308/acctId:25612">latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.</a></em> </p> <p> As anyone knows who has ever had to set up a military encampment or build a village from the ground up, occupations pose staggering logistical problems. Large numbers of people must be fed and kept reasonably warm and dry. Trash has to be removed; medical care and rudimentary security provided -- to which ends a dozen or more committees may toil night and day. But for the individual occupier, one problem often overshadows everything else, including job loss, the destruction of the middle class, and the reign of the 1%. And that is the single question: <em>Where am I going to pee?</em></p> <p>Some of the Occupy Wall Street encampments now spreading across the U.S. have access to Port-o-Potties (Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C.) or, better yet, restrooms with sinks and running water (Fort Wayne, Indiana). Others require their residents to forage on their own. At Zuccotti Park, just blocks from Wall Street, this means long waits for the restroom at a nearby Burger King or somewhat shorter ones at a Starbucks a block away. At McPherson Square in D.C., a twenty-something occupier showed me the pizza parlor where she can cop a pee during the hours it’s open, as well as the alley where she crouches late at night. Anyone with restroom-related issues -- arising from age, pregnancy, prostate problems, or irritable bowel syndrome -- should prepare to join the revolution in diapers.</p> <p>Of course, political protesters do not face the challenges of urban camping alone. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarp, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in American cities -- "as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist," travel expert Arthur Frommer <a href="http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1648349,00.html#ixzz1asP7ocUV">once observed</a>.  And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest. A report entitled “Criminalizing Crisis,” to be released later this month by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, recounts the following story from Wenatchee, Washington:</p> <blockquote> <p>"Toward the end of 2010, a family of two parents and three children that had been experiencing homelessness for a year and a half applied for a 2-bedroom apartment. The day before a scheduled meeting with the apartment manager during the final stages of acquiring the lease, the father of the family was arrested for public urination. The arrest occurred at an hour when no public restrooms were available for use. Due to the arrest, the father was unable to make the appointment with the apartment manager and the property was rented out to another person. As of March 2011, the family was still homeless and searching for housing."</p></blockquote> <p>What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets -- not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping. While the laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in <a href="http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/crimreport/meanestcities.html">Sarasota, Florida</a>, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to “engage in digging or earth-breaking activities” -- that is, to build a latrine -- cook, make a fire, or be asleep and “when awakened state that he or she has no other place to live.”</p> <p>It is <a href="http://flaglerlive.com/13055/pt-sarasota-homeless-police">illegal</a>, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter, or restrooms for their indigent citizens.</p> <p>The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible “financial products,” leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Wal-Mart.</p> <p>As it turned out, the captains of the new “casino economy” -- the stock brokers and investment bankers -- were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed “broken windows” or “quality of life” ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look “indigent,” in public spaces.</p> <p>No one has yet tallied all the suffering occasioned by this crackdown -- the deaths from cold and exposure -- but “Criminalizing Crisis” offers this story about a homeless pregnant woman in Columbia, South Carolina: </p> <blockquote> <p>"During daytime hours, when she could not be inside of a shelter, she attempted to spend time in a museum and was told to leave. She then attempted to sit on a bench outside the museum and was again told to relocate. In several other instances, still during her pregnancy, the woman was told that she could not sit in a local park during the day because she would be ‘squatting.’ In early 2011, about six months into her pregnancy, the homeless woman began to feel unwell, went to a hospital, and delivered a stillborn child."</p></blockquote> <p>Well before Tahrir Square was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and even before the recent recession, homeless Americans had begun to act in their own defense, creating organized encampments, usually <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/tales-tent-city">tent cities</a>, in vacant lots or wooded areas. These communities often feature various elementary forms of self-governance: food from local charities has to be distributed, latrines dug, rules -- such as no drugs, weapons, or violence -- enforced. With all due credit to the Egyptian democracy movement, the Spanish <em>indignados</em>, and rebels all over the world, tent cities are the domestic progenitors of the American occupation movement.</p> <p>There is nothing “political” about these settlements of the homeless -- no signs denouncing greed or visits from leftwing luminaries -- but they have been treated with far less official forbearance than the occupation encampments of the “American autumn.” LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.</p> <p>All over the country, in the last few years, police have moved in on the tent cities of the homeless, one by one, from Seattle to Wooster, Sacramento to Providence, in raids that often leave the former occupants without even their minimal possessions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, last summer, a charity outreach worker <a href="http://timesfreepress.com/news/2011/jul/17/nowhere-go/">explained</a> the forcible dispersion of a local tent city by saying, “The city will not tolerate a tent city. That’s been made very clear to us. The camps have to be out of sight.”</p> <p>What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born “illegals,” facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.</p> <p>But the occupiers are not from <em>all</em> walks of life, just from those walks that slope downwards -- from debt, joblessness, and foreclosure -- leading eventually to pauperism and the streets. Some of the present occupiers were homeless to start with, attracted to the occupation encampments by the prospect of free food and at least temporary shelter from police harassment. Many others are drawn from the borderline-homeless “nouveau poor,” and normally encamp on friends’ couches or parents’ folding beds.</p> <p>In Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed -- the 99%, or at least the 70%, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior -- unless this revolution succeeds.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2011 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '668220'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=668220" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Sun, 23 Oct 2011 20:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch.com 668220 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics Occupy Wall Street Economy media protest bloomberg action times square occupy wall street OccupyWallStreet Shocking Examples of How We've Turned Poverty into a Crime in America http://www.alternet.org/story/152003/shocking_examples_of_how_we%27ve_turned_poverty_into_a_crime_in_america <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '667355'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=667355" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">&quot;When you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> <meta charset="utf-8" /></p> <p><strong><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the </em></strong><strong><em><a href="https://app.e2ma.net/app/view:Join/signupId:43308/acctId:25612">latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.</a></em></strong> </p> <p><em>It was at lunch with the editor of Harper’s Magazine that the subject came up: How does anyone actually live “on the wages available to the unskilled”? And then Barbara Ehrenreich said something that altered her life and resulted, improbably enough, in a bestselling book with almost two million copies in print. “Someone,” she commented, “ought to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism -- you know go out there and try it for themselves.” She meant, she hastened to point out on that book’s first page, “someone much younger than myself, some hungry neophyte journalist with time on her hands.”</em></p> <p><em>That was 1998 and, somewhat to her surprise, Ehrenreich soon found herself beginning the first of a whirl of unskilled “careers” as a waitress at a “family restaurant” attached to a big discount chain hotel in Key West, Florida, at $2.43 an hour plus tips. And the rest, of course, is history. The now famous book that resulted,</em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312626681/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America</a><em>, is just out in its tenth anniversary edition with a new afterword by Ehrenreich -- perfectly timed for an American era in which the book’s subtitle might have to be changed to “On (Not) Getting a Job in America.”  -- Tom Engelhardt</em></p> <p>I completed the manuscript for<em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312626681/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Nickel and Dimed</a></em> in a time of seemingly boundless prosperity. Technology innovators and venture capitalists were acquiring sudden fortunes, buying up McMansions like the ones I had cleaned in Maine and much larger. Even secretaries in some hi-tech firms were striking it rich with their stock options. There was loose talk about a permanent conquest of the business cycle, and a sassy new spirit infecting American capitalism. In San Francisco, a billboard for an e-trading firm proclaimed, "Make love not war," and then -- down at the bottom -- "Screw it, just make money."</p> <p>When <em>Nickel and Dimed</em> was published in May 2001, cracks were appearing in the dot-com bubble and the stock market had begun to falter, but the book still evidently came as a surprise, even a revelation, to many. Again and again, in that first year or two after publication, people came up to me and opened with the words, "I never thought..." or "I hadn't realized..."</p> <p>To my own amazement, <em>Nickel and Dimed</em> quickly ascended to the bestseller list and began winning awards. Criticisms, too, have accumulated over the years. But for the most part, the book has been far better received than I could have imagined it would be, with an impact extending well into the more comfortable classes. A Florida woman wrote to tell me that, before reading it, she'd always been annoyed at the poor for what she saw as their self-inflicted obesity. Now she understood that a healthy diet wasn't always an option. And if I had a quarter for every person who's told me he or she now tipped more generously, I would be able to start my own foundation.</p> <p>Even more gratifying to me, the book has been widely read among low-wage workers. In the last few years, hundreds of people have written to tell me their stories: the mother of a newborn infant whose electricity had just been turned off, the woman who had just been given a diagnosis of cancer and has no health insurance, the newly homeless man who writes from a library computer.</p> <p>At the time I wrote <em>Nickel and Dimed</em>, I wasn't sure how many people it directly applied to -- only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty. But three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., issued a report entitled "Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families," which found an astounding 29% of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a barebones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes -- though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts. Twenty-nine percent is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.</p> <p>The big question, 10 years later, is whether things have improved or worsened for those in the bottom third of the income distribution, the people who clean hotel rooms, work in warehouses, wash dishes in restaurants, care for the very young and very old, and keep the shelves stocked in our stores. The short answer is that things have gotten much worse, especially since the economic downturn that began in 2008.</p> <p><strong>Post-Meltdown Poverty</strong></p> <p>When you read about the hardships I found people enduring while I was researching my book -- the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans -- you should bear in mind that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful.</p> <p>In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street. Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed "experiment," had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job.</p> <p>For the last couple of years, I have attempted to find out what was happening to the working poor in a declining economy -- this time using conventional reporting techniques like interviewing. I started with my own extended family, which includes plenty of people without jobs or health insurance, and moved on to trying to track down a couple of the people I had met while working on Nickel and Dimed.</p> <p>This wasn't easy, because most of the addresses and phone numbers I had taken away with me had proved to be inoperative within a few months, probably due to moves and suspensions of telephone service. I had kept in touch with "Melissa" over the years, who was still working at Wal-Mart, where her wages had risen from $7 to $10 an hour, but in the meantime her husband had lost his job. "Caroline," now in her 50s and partly disabled by diabetes and heart disease, had left her deadbeat husband and was subsisting on occasional cleaning and catering jobs. Neither seemed unduly afflicted by the recession, but only because they had already been living in what amounts to a permanent economic depression.</p> <p>Media attention has focused, understandably enough, on the "nouveau poor" -- formerly middle and even upper-middle class people who lost their jobs, their homes, and/or their investments in the financial crisis of 2008 and the economic downturn that followed it, but the brunt of the recession has been borne by the blue-collar working class, which had already been sliding downwards since de-industrialization began in the 1980s.</p> <p>In 2008 and 2009, for example, blue-collar unemployment was increasing three times as fast as white-collar unemployment, and African American and Latino workers were three times as likely to be unemployed as white workers. Low-wage blue-collar workers, like the people I worked with in this book, were especially hard hit for the simple reason that they had so few assets and savings to fall back on as jobs disappeared.</p> <p>How have the already-poor attempted to cope with their worsening economic situation? One obvious way is to cut back on health care. The <em>New York Times</em> reported in 2009 that one-third of Americans could no longer afford to comply with their prescriptions and that there had been a sizable drop in the use of medical care. Others, including members of my extended family, have given up their health insurance.</p> <p>Food is another expenditure that has proved vulnerable to hard times, with the rural poor turning increasingly to "food auctions," which offer items that may be past their sell-by dates. And for those who like their meat fresh, there's the option of urban hunting. In Racine, Wisconsin, a 51-year-old laid-off mechanic told me he was supplementing his diet by "shooting squirrels and rabbits and eating them stewed, baked, and grilled." In Detroit, where the wildlife population has mounted as the human population ebbs, a retired truck driver was doing a brisk business in raccoon carcasses, which he recommends marinating with vinegar and spices.</p> <p>The most common coping strategy, though, is simply to increase the number of paying people per square foot of dwelling space -- by doubling up or renting to couch-surfers.</p> <p>It's hard to get firm numbers on overcrowding, because no one likes to acknowledge it to census-takers, journalists, or anyone else who might be remotely connected to the authorities.</p> <p>In Los Angeles, housing expert Peter Dreier says that "people who've lost their jobs, or at least their second jobs, cope by doubling or tripling up in overcrowded apartments, or by paying 50 or 60 or even 70 percent of their incomes in rent." According to a community organizer in Alexandria, Virginia, the standard apartment in a complex occupied largely by day laborers has two bedrooms, each containing an entire family of up to five people, plus an additional person laying claim to the couch.</p> <p>No one could call suicide a "coping strategy," but it is one way some people have responded to job loss and debt. There are no national statistics linking suicide to economic hard times, but the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported more than a four-fold increase in call volume between 2007 and 2009, and regions with particularly high unemployment, like Elkhart, Indiana, have seen troubling spikes in their suicide rates. Foreclosure is often the trigger for suicide -- or, worse, murder-suicides that destroy entire families.</p> <p><strong>"Torture and Abuse of Needy Families"</strong></p> <p>We do of course have a collective way of ameliorating the hardships of individuals and families -- a government safety net that is meant to save the poor from spiraling down all the way to destitution. But its response to the economic emergency of the last few years has been spotty at best. The food stamp program has responded to the crisis fairly well, to the point where it now reaches about 37 million people, up about 30% from pre-recession levels. But welfare -- the traditional last resort for the down-and-out until it was "reformed" in 1996 -- only expanded by about 6% in the first two years of the recession.</p> <p>The difference between the two programs? There is a right to food stamps. You go to the office and, if you meet the statutory definition of need, they help you. For welfare, the street-level bureaucrats can, pretty much at their own discretion, just say no.</p> <p>Take the case of Kristen and Joe Parente, Delaware residents who had always imagined that people turned to the government for help only if "they didn't want to work." Their troubles began well before the recession, when Joe, a fourth-generation pipe-fitter, sustained a back injury that left him unfit for even light lifting. He fell into a profound depression for several months, then rallied to ace a state-sponsored retraining course in computer repairs -- only to find that those skills are no longer in demand. The obvious fallback was disability benefits, but -- catch-22 -- when Joe applied he was told he could not qualify without presenting a recent MRI scan. This would cost $800 to $900, which the Parentes do not have; nor has Joe, unlike the rest of the family, been able to qualify for Medicaid.</p> <p>When they married as teenagers, the plan had been for Kristen to stay home with the children. But with Joe out of action and three children to support by the middle of this decade, Kristen went out and got waitressing jobs, ending up, in 2008, in a "pretty fancy place on the water." Then the recession struck and she was laid off.</p> <p>Kristen is bright, pretty, and to judge from her command of her own small kitchen, probably capable of holding down a dozen tables with precision and grace. In the past she'd always been able to land a new job within days; now there was nothing. Like 44% of laid-off people at the time, she failed to meet the fiendishly complex and sometimes arbitrary eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. Their car started falling apart.</p> <p>So the Parentes turned to what remains of welfare -- TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. TANF does not offer straightforward cash support like Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which it replaced in 1996. It's an income supplementation program for working parents, and it was based on the sunny assumption that there would always be plenty of jobs for those enterprising enough to get them.</p> <p>After Kristen applied, nothing happened for six weeks -- no money, no phone calls returned. At school, the Parentes' seven-year-old's class was asked to write out what wish they would present to a genie, should a genie appear. Brianna's wish was for her mother to find a job because there was nothing to eat in the house, an aspiration that her teacher deemed too disturbing to be posted on the wall with the other children's requests.</p> <p>When the Parentes finally got into "the system" and began receiving food stamps and some cash assistance, they discovered why some recipients have taken to calling TANF "Torture and Abuse of Needy Families." From the start, the TANF experience was "humiliating," Kristen says. The caseworkers "treat you like a bum. They act like every dollar you get is coming out of their own paychecks."</p> <p>The Parentes discovered that they were each expected to apply for 40 jobs a week, although their car was on its last legs and no money was offered for gas, tolls, or babysitting. In addition, Kristen had to drive 35 miles a day to attend "job readiness" classes offered by a private company called Arbor, which, she says, were "frankly a joke."</p> <p>Nationally, according to Kaaryn Gustafson of the University of Connecticut Law School, "applying for welfare is a lot like being booked by the police." There may be a mug shot, fingerprinting, and lengthy interrogations as to one's children's true paternity. The ostensible goal is to prevent welfare fraud, but the psychological impact is to turn poverty itself into a kind of crime.</p> <p><strong>How the Safety Net Became a Dragnet</strong></p> <p>The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalized in America.</p> <p>Perhaps the constant suspicions of drug use and theft that I encountered in low-wage workplaces should have alerted me to the fact that, when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation.</p> <p>Most cities, for example, have ordinances designed to drive the destitute off the streets by outlawing such necessary activities of daily life as sitting, loitering, sleeping, or lying down. Urban officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about such laws: "If you're lying on a sidewalk, whether you're homeless or a millionaire, you're in violation of the ordinance," a St. Petersburg, Florida, city attorney stated in June 2009, echoing Anatole France's immortal observation that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges..."</p> <p>In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty. So concludes a recent study from the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the harassment of the poor for more "neutral" infractions like jaywalking, littering, or carrying an open container.</p> <p>The report lists America's ten "meanest" cities -- the largest of which include Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Orlando -- but new contestants are springing up every day. In Colorado, Grand Junction's city council is considering a ban on begging; Tempe, Arizona, carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent at the end of June. And how do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, "an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive" public assistance.</p> <p>That could be me before the blow-drying and eyeliner, and it's definitely Al Szekeley at any time of day. A grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington, D.C. -- the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Phu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972.</p> <p>He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until December 2008, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants. It turned out that Szekeley, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs, or cuss in front of ladies, did indeed have one -- for "criminal trespassing," as sleeping on the streets is sometimes defined by the law. So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail.</p> <p>"Can you imagine?" asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Szekeley. "They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless?"</p> <p>The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, leading to the arrests of several middle-aged white vegans.</p> <p>One anti-sharing law was just overturned in Orlando, but the war on illicit generosity continues. Orlando is appealing the decision, and Middletown, Connecticut, is in the midst of a crackdown. More recently, Gainesville, Florida, began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day, and Phoenix, Arizona, has been using zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to homeless people.</p> <p>For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalization, and one is debt. Anyone can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors' prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can't pay fines for things like expired inspection stickers may be made to "sit out their tickets" in jail.</p> <p>More commonly, the path to prison begins when one of your creditors has a court summons issued for you, which you fail to honor for one reason or another, such as that your address has changed and you never received it. Okay, now you're in "contempt of the court."</p> <p>Or suppose you miss a payment and your car insurance lapses, and then you're stopped for something like a broken headlight (about $130 for the bulb alone). Now, depending on the state, you may have your car impounded and/or face a steep fine -- again, exposing you to a possible court summons. "There's just no end to it once the cycle starts," says Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. "It just keeps accelerating."</p> <p>The second -- and by far the most reliable -- way to be criminalized by poverty is to have the wrong color skin. Indignation runs high when a celebrity professor succumbs to racial profiling, but whole communities are effectively "profiled" for the suspicious combination of being both dark-skinned and poor. Flick a cigarette and you're "littering"; wear the wrong color T-shirt and you're displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighborhood can mark you as a potential suspect. And don't get grumpy about it or you could be "resisting arrest."</p> <p>In what has become a familiar pattern, the government defunds services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Generate no public-sector jobs, then penalize people for falling into debt. The experience of the poor, and especially poor people of color, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks. And if you should try to escape this nightmare reality into a brief, drug-induced high, it's "gotcha" all over again, because that of course is illegal too.</p> <p>One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in the world. Today, exactly the same number of Americans -- 2.3 million -- reside in prison as in public housing. And what public housing remains has become ever more prison-like, with random police sweeps and, in a growing number of cities, proposed drug tests for residents. The safety net, or what remains of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.</p> <p>It is not clear whether economic hard times will finally force us to break the mad cycle of poverty and punishment. With even the official level of poverty increasing -- to over 14% in 2010 -- some states are beginning to ease up on the criminalization of poverty, using alternative sentencing methods, shortening probation, and reducing the number of people locked up for technical violations like missing court appointments. But others, diabolically enough, are tightening the screws: not only increasing the number of "crimes," but charging prisoners for their room and board, guaranteeing they'll be released with potentially criminalizing levels of debt.</p> <p>So what is the solution to the poverty of so many of America's working people? Ten years ago, when <em>Nickel and Dimed</em> first came out, I often responded with the standard liberal wish list -- a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation, and all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.</p> <p>Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: if we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.</p> <p>Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets. Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can't afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty -- though I would argue otherwise. But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they're down.<i><br /></i></p> <p> </p> <p><em>Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of a number of books, most recently </em>Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America<em>. This essay is a shortened version of a new afterword to her bestselling book </em><a target="_blank" style="color: rgb(153, 51, 0); text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312626681/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, 10th Anniversary Edition</a><em>, just released by Picador Books.</em></p> <p>Excerpted from <a target="_blank" style="color: rgb(153, 51, 0); text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312626681/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><em>Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, 10th Anniversary Edition</em></a>, published August 2nd by Picador USA. New afterword © 2011 by Barbara Ehrenreich. Excerpted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.</p> <p> </p> <blockquote style="padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 20px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); "></blockquote> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2011 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '667355'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=667355" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 12 Aug 2011 08:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch.com 667355 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy work economy poverty barbara ehrenreich poor nickel and dimed Barbara Ehrenreich: America's Tragic Decline -- Resistance Bursts Out All Over the World, While We Do Nothing to Fight Corporate Takeover http://www.alternet.org/story/151945/barbara_ehrenreich%3A_america%27s_tragic_decline_--_resistance_bursts_out_all_over_the_world%2C_while_we_do_nothing_to_fight_corporate_takeover <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '667289'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=667289" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Barbara Ehrenreich discusses the sorry state of the American economy and how it impacts real people.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>Editor's note: In the following Democracy Now! interview, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich and Amy Goodman talk about the human cost of the economic meltdown.</em></p> <p><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> Standard &amp; Poor’s announced Friday it’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time in history. The move by S&amp;P, one of three leading credit rating agencies, came just days after Congress approved a $2.1 trillion deficit-reduction plan. S&amp;P called the outlook "negative," indicating that another downgrade is possible in the next 12 to 18 months. Lowering the nation’s rating to one notch below <span class="caps">AAA</span>, the credit rating company said "political brinkmanship" in the debate over the debt had made the U.S. government’s ability to manage its finances, quote, "less stable, less effective and less predictable." It said the $2.1 trillion bipartisan agreement reached last week "fell short" of what was necessary to reduce the nation’s debt over time.</p> <p>In its report, S&amp;P explicitly blamed the political process in Washington and the refusal by Republicans to raise taxes as part of last week’s agreement to raise the debt ceiling, writing, quote, "We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act," they said.</p> <p>Speaking to reporters Sunday, Democratic Senator John Kerry blamed Tea Party Republicans who refused to sign on to any deal that raised taxes.</p> <blockquote style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><p style="margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">SEN</span>. <span class="caps">JOHN</span> <span class="caps">KERRY</span>:</strong> I believe this is, without question, the Tea Party downgrade. This is the Tea Party downgrade because a minority of people in the House of Representatives countered even the will of many Republicans in the United States Senate, who were prepared to do a bigger deal, to do $4.7 trillion, $4 trillion, have a mix of reductions and reforms, in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, but also recognize that we needed to do some revenue.</p></blockquote> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> Well, to talk more about the state of the American economy and how it impacts the American people, we go to Washington, D.C., to talk to bestselling author Barbara Ehrenreich.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">On her Facebook page, Ehrenreich writes, quote, "My patriotic pride is not offended by S&amp;P’s downgrade of the US credit rating, but by the fact that while resistance bursts out everywhere—Tel Aviv, Santiago, Tottingham, not to mention No. Africa and Middle East—we do <span class="caps">NOTHING</span>."</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">The 10th anniversary edition of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book <em>Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America</em> has just been published. In the book, she tells the story of life in low-wage America, and she herself tries to earn a living working as a waitress, a hotel maid, a nursing home aide and a Wal-Mart associate. The book, over the last 10 years, has sold more than two million copies.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">She’s also the author of many other books, including <em>Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America</em> and <em>Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream</em>, a frequent contributor to <em>Harper’s</em> and <em>The Nation</em> and has also a columnist at the <em>New York Times</em> and <em>Time Magazine</em>.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">Barbara Ehrenreich, welcome to <em>Democracy Now!</em></p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Good to be with you, Amy.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> It’s great to have you with us. Before we get to <em>Nickel and Dimed</em>, let’s talk about Standard &amp; Poor’s—and perhaps then we’ll go into poor is the standard in America today—but the significance of this for everyday people in the United States, the downgrading of America’s credit rating?</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> I don’t know. I’m not sure. I mean, it’s part of a general sense of decline that I think we’ve gotten in many ways and that people like Tom Friedman have been writing about in the <em>New York Times </em>for some time. But, you know, in some ways, that is in another world from most Americans and their day-to-day struggles. What is it going to mean to you if you have no job now? Or if you have a job and you have no health insurance? Or if you are trying to get through college while working full time? It just seems very distant and abstract. When we’re talking about the economy in this country, we seldom talk about real people’s lives.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Your book took this country by storm. I am sure there was no one more surprised than you, Barbara. You have written a number of books. You did do something very interesting in <em>Nickel and Dimed</em>, but the fact that it caught on in a time when "prosperity" was the watchword, the buzzword, in the mainstream media—talk about—especially for young people who were 10 years old when the book came out, talk about exactly what you did, what you found then, and what it means today, 10 years later, when "prosperity" is certainly not the buzzword.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Well, I took on a challenge that I set myself, which was to see whether I could support myself on the money I could earn in, well, obviously entry-level jobs, which are the, you know, kind of jobs where you go and apply, and they’re not going to ask—you know, they’re not going to ask for a résumé. They’re not going to—they don’t care about anything, except whether you’re a convicted felon or whether you have—you’re actually—you know, it’s legal for you to work in this country. So, I—you mentioned some of the jobs I worked at. I think you left out the maid with a house cleaning service, though. That was a very instructive one. And all these jobs averaged at the time, in around 2000, about $7 an hour, even including the tips with waitressing, which would be equivalent to about $9 an hour now.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">And basically, what I found, that for me, just as one person—I wasn’t trying to support my family with my earnings or anything like that—it just wasn’t doable, because the rents were so out of line with my earnings. And I did try. I mean, I didn’t spend any money except on gas, food and, you know, the bare minimum, which was possible to do because I worked at each city for only a month. So I wasn’t depending—you know, medical care or anything like that was not coming through my jobs.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">But I found a very important thing—well, two very important things. First, at $7 an hour, or $9 an hour in today’s dollars, you’re not considered poor. You don’t show up in the poverty statistics. You’re considered to be fine if you’re one individual earning that much. And the other big lesson here is—which is maybe a hard one to remember at a time of high unemployment—is that jobs are not necessarily a cure for poverty. Jobs that don’t pay enough to live on do not cure poverty. They condemn you, in fact, to a life of low-wage labor and extreme insecurity.<b><br /></b></p> <p><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>: </strong>This figure, Barbara, of the number of Americans on food stamps, almost one in six, almost 15 percent. The figures from May, people on food stamps were 12 percent higher than a year earlier, according to the Agriculture Department. One in almost six Americans. And this applies directly to the people that you met, to the jobs that you took—for example, being a Wal-Mart associate. Talk about that and the woman you wrote about and where she is today.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Yeah, I mean, one of the surprises to me—and it’s not a surprise anymore, because a lot more research has been done—is how many Wal-Mart employees depend on some kind of government program to supplement their low wages and pathetically inadequate health insurance, which most people can’t afford anyway. In fact, when you—I noticed that when I went through the orientation for my job at Wal-Mart, and there was a whole table full of new hires sitting around, you know, that they, the Wal-Mart people, asked to see whether anybody here might be eligible for <span class="caps">TANF</span>, for example, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, because they’re kind of depending on that government—those government supplements to keep people going. You’re not going to do too well on just your Wal-Mart pay. And then, at another time as a Wal-Mart associate, I went to seek food aid. I went to a sort of public/private charitable place that what you could get—you could come out with a sack of food. And when the interviewer—the social worker who interviewed me kept getting me mixed up with somebody. You know, I’d tell her that I had a car, and then she’d forget I had a car, and so on. And then she said, "You know, it’s just—we have other—you know, people are always coming from Wal-Mart. You work at Wal-Mart. I get you mixed up." And that, to me, was a big clue.</p> <p><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> So, in other words, I mean, you have Wal-Mart, that is famous around the country for fighting unionization, part of the whole movement of corporations that fight tax cuts for the wealthy, for example, is subsidized by the government, is subsidized by the U.S. taxpayers.</p> <p><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Oh, yes. In many more ways than that. There are so many subsidies often involved in luring a Wal-Mart to one’s area—tax rebates or things like that. But I was very excited yesterday. I went to the Jobs with Justice conference in Washington, D.C. That’s an organization that’s devoted to getting workers rights and improving their standard of living. And there were a number of women Wal-Mart employees there—or "associates," as they are called—who are now organizing their own workers’ association, called "<span class="caps">OUR</span> Walmart." And this is a new thing. And they were dynamic. So things may be about to change a little.</p> <p><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> In 2009, you co-authored an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-ehrenreich/the-destruction-of-the-bl_b_250828.html" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(153, 0, 0); outline-style: none;">article</a> called "The Destruction of the Black Middle Class." And you wrote, quote, "For African Americans—and to a large extent, Latinos—the <em>recession</em> is over. It occurred between 2000 and 2007. [...] What’s happening now is a <em>depression</em>," you wrote.</p> <p>Well, we’ve just reported on a new study of the U.S. census data by the Pew Research Center that reveals wealth gaps between whites and people of color in the United States have grown to their widest levels since the U.S. government began tracking them a quarter of a century ago. White Americans now have on average 20 times the net worth of African Americans, 18 times that of Latinos. Last month, we spoke about the findings with <a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2011/7/28/wealth_gap_between_minorities_and_white" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(153, 0, 0); outline-style: none;">Roderick Harrison</a>, who’s the former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau.</p> <blockquote style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><p style="margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">RODERICK</span> <span class="caps">HARRISON</span>:</strong> People use net worth or draw on net worth to invest in their children’s education, to help with perhaps a first home, a down payment for a first home. We’re entering a period now where black and Hispanic families, one-third of whom have no net worth at all or negative net worth, won’t be able to help their children in this way. So this is going to definitely play into the next generation.</p></blockquote> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> Barbara, your thoughts on the report and of the state of black and Latino middle class in this country, if you can even talk about these—</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Yeah.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> —lines anymore?</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Yes. You know, the case of African Americans is very particularly tragic. When you recall that they didn’t—in the middle of the 20th century, they didn’t have a lot of wealth compared to white people, because they came from, you know, very underpaid agricultural jobs, often, in the South. Then—and they couldn’t get credit. You know, that was a big problem. You could not get credit because of racist lending policies. Then, in the 2000s, suddenly, the banks started offering credit actually targeting African Americans, and to a certain extent, Latinos, much more than white people with their subprime mortgages. And it was—you know, it seemed like a great boon to people who hadn’t had credit before because of racism. Surprise, of course. That was a big part of the wipeout of so much of the black middle class, plus the fact, which is hard to explain, that blacks have been much more likely to be laid off in the peak years of the layoffs in the recession and to be unemployed now, three times more likely.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> Talk about some of the other people in <em>Nickel and Dimed</em> that you’ve caught up with 10 years later, that you met as you eked out your living as a house cleaner, as a maid, as a Wal-Mart associate. Who did you find, and who didn’t you find?</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Well, I didn’t find most people. And the reason for that is simple: you may leave that person with an address and a phone number, but those—neither of those is likely to be good in a few months. People—you know, there’s a lot of insecurity among low-wage people, a lot of turmoil in terms of their housing situation, cell phones get cut off, and so on.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">A couple of people, I tracked down. One was not doing that badly. She was still at Wal-Mart. She had advanced to, I think, the huge amount of $10 an hour. But in the meantime, her husband had lost his job, so that, you know, their situation was not at all better. And another woman was piecing together a living cleaning houses and cooking for other people, sort of what she called "catering." But she was in very bad health, and it was hard for her to do.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">The thing that is so painful is that there’s no help coming for people like that. There’s so little help anymore. Food stamps, yes, that’s a help. And I am very—I was very pleased that Obama expanded the food stamp program in '08 and ’09. He made it easier for many people to get unemployment insurance. Now, of course, it's been the aim of Republicans in the Congress to eliminate all such things and to eliminate Medicaid. There’s very little help.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> You’re extremely critical of President Obama. You’ve advocated that students not pay back their college loans, among other things. Talk about both.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Well, I didn’t come up with that idea, but there is organizing going on among debt-burdened young people, who come out of college, you know, with an average of $25,000 in debt and very likely no job or no professional job that’s going to help them pay that off. And there’s a movement among them for debt forgiveness, to just say, "Hey, we cannot do this. You know, we can’t—we don’t have the jobs that’ll allow us to pay these debts off." And, you know, that’s kind of exciting. That’s what’s going on in Chile right now, has to do with the cost of college, tuition. You know, all the demonstrations in Santiago in the last few days have to do with the cost of college. And I think we’re going to have to see something like that here, with people just saying, "Can’t do it. We can’t do it."</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> Now President Obama, your assessment of him, particularly how he’s dealing with, or not, the jobs crisis?</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> I feel like saying, "What President Obama?" You know, he forgot about jobs, decided to focus instead on the issue the Republicans chose, which was the debt limit and the deficit. This is tragic. I have no explanation. I just—the only little footnote I would add, though, is that jobs are not enough, unless they pay enough for people to live on. And one thing we’ve seen among American employers—probably employers worldwide, but especially in America recently—is an unquenchable zeal on the part of employers to hold down wages by any means. It’s not just preventing unionization. It’s so many little tricks that happen at the workplace. It’s little tricks like you have to get to work at 7:45 a.m., but the clock doesn’t start ticking until 8:15 a.m. or something. That’s wage theft, which is another nice way of saying sort of unpaid labor or a kind of slavery even. We have, you know, so many things that are holding people down.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">I would point out—and these are things that I was not aware of when I finished <em>Nickel and Dimed</em>, or they weren’t, you know, very prominent yet—is that employers no longer want to hire unemployed people. Think about that. They don’t want to hire people with bad credit ratings. Well, you know, who doesn’t have a bad credit rating if they’ve been unemployed for a little while and having to pay their own health insurance and everything? So it’s as if, you know, you try to climb out, you try to hold on, and you just get kicked in the face, one way or another, and pushed further down.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> The Heritage Foundation came out with a <a href="http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/07/what-is-poverty" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(153, 0, 0); outline-style: none;">study</a> called "Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?" by researchers Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, who say the U.S. Census Bureau has reported for the past two decades that over 30 million Americans are living in poverty. But, you know, they ask, well, what does it really mean to be poor? And you get, from the headline—cable TV, air conditioning, etc.—what it means to the Heritage Foundation.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Yes. Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation has had a campaign for many decades now to prove that the poor in America really live in some kind of luxury. I would like to say, yeah, in some places, boy, you better have air conditioning. You know, in the D.C. area where I live now, you could not have survived very easily the summer, even with occasional cooling centers to go to.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">But the truth is, here’s what’s happening. More and more people are having to crowd into smaller spaces to live. This is since—this has been going on for a lot of people, you know, for many years. But since the recession, since the financial crisis in '07, you find more and more families—you can have one family per bedroom and somebody, a couch surfer, on the couch in the living room. There's nothing comfortable about that. You know, one of the things that really woke me up to how bad things were was in '09 when a family member of mine suddenly needed money to pay her mortgage or her home would be taken away. I was able to help, but when I found out the real facts, I was horrified. Her home was a trailer home. Not only that, it's a dilapidated trailer home. She lives in it—a single-wide trailer home—along with her daughter and two grandchildren. Now that’s getting down to, you know, third-world levels of poverty, when you crowd that many people into such an inadequate dwelling.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;">Another thing people are doing: give up on medical care. You know, if we have a healthcare system in the United States, I think its real name is Tylenol. You can’t—you know, it’s something you have to drop. You can’t do it. Food prices are too high. Fuel prices are too high. So you have to give up on those things that it seems like you can get through another day without, even if that’s your blood pressure medicine.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> There are some—</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> So I—</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> There are some who are doing very well, of course. The luxury category has posted 10 consecutive months of sales increases compared to a year earlier, this a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/business/sales-of-luxury-goods-are-recovering-strongly.html" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(153, 0, 0); outline-style: none;">report</a> in the <em>New York Times</em>. Luxury items are—</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Yes.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> —you know, are flying off the shelves, if yachts can fit on shelves.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Yes, yes, the rich are back. The rich are back. And that’s one reason why, when you read some of our major national newspapers, there’s not much mention anymore of the recession or economic hard times, because the people at the top are doing great. There was an article recently in the <em>New York Times</em> about tree houses that the very wealthy will build for their children, you know, in their backyard, if they even call them "backyards," on their property—tree houses that can cost as much as $350,000 and include flat-screen TVs and air conditioning. That’s for the kid to go out in a backyard and play in. Three hundred fifty thousand dollars. You know, I think that’s flaunting it a little too much.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> Last week, Congress agreed to raise the federal debt ceiling following protracted negotiations. The deal includes no new tax revenue from wealthy Americans, no additional stimulus for the economy. Speaking on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized Republicans for blocking the tax hike on the wealthy.</p> <blockquote style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><p style="margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">SEN</span>. <span class="caps">HARRY</span> <span class="caps">REID</span>:</strong> The vast majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans think this arrangement we’ve just done is unfair, because the richest of the rich have contributed nothing to this. The burden of what has taken place is on the middle class and the poor. My friend talks about no new taxes. Mr. President, if their theory was right, these huge taxes [cuts] that took place during the Bush eight years, the economy should be thriving. These tax cuts have not helped the economy.</p></blockquote> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> That was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Barbara Ehrenreich, as we begin to wrap up, your comment?</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Well, it’s a way—it’s not new. This has been going on for a while, certainly since the Reagan administration. And that is an upward redistribution of wealth by cutting taxes for the wealthiest, and in subtle ways, raising them for the poorest and for the middle class. That’s what we’ve got. It’s a grab. It’s—I’m waiting for people to get really, really angry about it. I think one thing that has held back Americans is the idea that you’re going to get rich, too, you know? That magically, "Hey, I might be one of those multimillionaires next," so that I don’t want to tax rich people. I think we’ve broken through that. I think, you know, that has begun to look like a more and more crazy expectation, that we have to fight for, you know, those people who represent the great majority, the 90 percent of Americans who are not rich.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> Barbara Ehrenreich, I want to thank you very much for being with us, author of—</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">BARBARA</span> <span class="caps">EHRENREICH</span>:</strong> Oh, thank you.</p> <p style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); margin-top: 0px;"><strong style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span class="caps">AMY</span> <span class="caps">GOODMAN</span>:</strong> —the bestselling book, <em>Nickel and Dimed</em>. It’s its 10th anniversary and has just been republished, <em>Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America</em>.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, <a href="http://democracynow.org">Democracy Now!</a>. Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2011 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '667289'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=667289" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 08 Aug 2011 06:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! 667289 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Activism Economy economy food stamps barbara ehrenreich Barbara Ehrenreich: 12,000 Drones, Lethal Cyborg Insects, See-Shoot Robots -- How Machines Are Taking Over War http://www.alternet.org/story/151581/barbara_ehrenreich%3A_12%2C000_drones%2C_lethal_cyborg_insects%2C_see-shoot_robots_--_how_machines_are_taking_over_war <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '666917'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=666917" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">How far will the automation of war and the substitution of autonomous robots for human fighters go?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> <meta charset="utf-8" /></p> <p> <meta charset="utf-8" /><strong><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the </em></strong><strong><em><a href="https://app.e2ma.net/app/view:Join/signupId:43308/acctId:25612">latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.</a></em></strong>   </p> <div>Last week, William Wan and Peter Finn of the <i>Washington Post</i> <a target="_blank" href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/global-race-on-to-match-us-drone-capabilities/2011/06/30/gHQACWdmxH_print.html"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>reported</u></font></a> that at least 50 countries have now purchased or developed pilotless military drones.  Recently, the Chinese had more than two dozen models in some stage of development on display at the Zhuhai Air Show, some of which they are evidently eager to sell to other countries. </div> <p> <meta charset="utf-8" /></p><p> </p> <p>So three cheers for a thoroughly drone-ified world.  In my lifetime, I've <a target="_blank" href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175155/tomgram:_droning_on/"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>repeatedly seen</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times"> advanced weapons systems or mind-boggling technologies of war hailed as near-utopian paths to victory and future peace (just as the atomic bomb was soon after my birth). Include in that the Vietnam-era, "electronic battlefield," President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (aka “Star Wars”), the “smart bombs” and smart missiles of the first Gulf War, and in the twenty-first century, </font><a target="_blank" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network-centric_warfare"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>"netcentric warfare,"</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times"> that Rumsfeldian high-tech favorite.</font></p> <p>You know the results of this sort of magical thinking about wonder weapons (or technologies) just as well as I do. The atomic bomb led to an almost half-century-long nuclear superpower standoff/nightmare, to nuclear proliferation, and so to the possibility that someday even terrorists might possess such weapons. The electronic battlefield was incapable of staving off defeat in Vietnam. Reagan’s “impermeable” anti-<wbr></wbr>missile shield in space never came even faintly close to making it into the heavens. Those "smart bombs" of the Gulf War proved <a target="_blank" href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/smart-bombs-not-so-clever-in-gulf-war-1258850.html"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>remarkably dumb</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times">, while the </font><a target="_blank" href="http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1212-01.htm"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>50 "decapitation" strikes</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times"> the Bush administration launched against Saddam Hussein's regime on the first day of the 2003 invasion of Iraq took out not a single Iraqi leader, but dozens of civilians. And the history of the netcentric military in Iraq is well known. Its "success" sent Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld into retirement and ignominy.</font></p> <p>In the same way, robot drones as assassination weapons will prove to be just another weapons system rather than a panacea for American warriors. None of these much-advertised wonder technologies ever turns out to perform as promised, but that fact never stops them, as with drones today, from embedding themselves in our world. From the atomic bomb came a whole nuclear landscape that included the Strategic Air Command, weapons labs, production plants, missile silos, corporate interests, and an enormous world-destroying arsenal (as well as proliferating versions of the same, large and small, across the planet). Nor did the electronic battlefield go away. Quite the opposite -- it came home and entered our everyday world in the form of sensors, cameras, surveillance equipment, and the like, now implanted from <a target="_blank" href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/08/AR2009050802064.html"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>our borders</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times"> to our </font><a target="_blank" href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174843"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>cities</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times">.</font></p> <p>Rarely do wonder weapons or wonder technologies disappoint enough to disappear.  And those latest wonders, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175195/nick_turse_the_forty_year_drone_war"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>missile- and bomb-armed drones</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times">, are now multiplying like so many electronic rabbits.  And yet there is always hope.  Back in 1997, Barbara Ehrenreich went after the human attraction to violence in her book </font><a target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805057870/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><i><u>Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War</u></i></font></a><font size="2" face="Times"><i>. </i> In it, among other brilliant insights, she traced the beginnings of our modern blood rites not to Man, the Aggressor, but to human beings, the prey (in a dangerous early world of predators).  Now, in an updated, adapted version of an afterword she did for the British edition of that book, she turns from the origins of war to its end point, suggesting in her usual provocative way that drones and other warrior robotics may, in the end, do us one strange favor: they may finally bring home to us that war is not a human possession, that it is not what we are and must be. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Ehrenreich discusses the nature of war and how to fight against it, click </font><a target="_blank" href="http://tomdispatch.blogspot.com/2011/07/war-without-humans.html"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>here</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times">, or download it to your iPod </font><a target="_blank" href="http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=j0SS4Al/iVI&amp;subid=&amp;offerid=146261.1&amp;type=10&amp;tmpid=5573&amp;RD_PARM1=http%3A%2F%2Fitunes.apple.com%2Fus%2Fpodcast%2Ftomcast-from-tomdispatch-com%2Fid357095817"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>here</u></font></a><font size="2" face="Times">.) <i>Tom</i></font></p> <p style="font-family: Times; font-size: medium; "><font size="6" face="Times"><b>War Without Humans </b></font><font size="2" face="Times"><b> <br /></b></font><font size="4" face="Times"><b>Modern Blood Rites Revisited </b></font><font size="2" face="Times"> <br /> By </font><a target="_blank" href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/barbaraehrenreich"><font color="#0000FF" size="2" face="Times"><u>Barbara Ehrenreich</u></font></a></p> <p>For a book about the all-too-human “passions of war,” my 1997 work <i>Blood Rites</i> ended on a strangely inhuman note: I suggested that, whatever distinctly human qualities war calls upon -- honor, courage, solidarity, cruelty, and so forth -- it might be useful to stop thinking of war in exclusively human terms.  After all, certain species of ants wage war and computers can simulate “wars” that play themselves out on-screen without any human involvement.</p> <p>More generally, then, we should define war as a self-replicating pattern of activity that may or may not require human participation. In the human case, we know it is capable of spreading geographically and evolving rapidly over time -- qualities that, as I suggested somewhat fancifully, make war a metaphorical successor to the predatory animals that shaped humans into fighters in the first place.</p> <p>A decade and a half later, these musings do not seem quite so airy and abstract anymore. The trend, at the close of the twentieth century, still seemed to be one of ever more massive human involvement in war -- from armies containing tens of thousands in the sixteenth century, to hundreds of thousands in the nineteenth, and eventually millions in the twentieth century world wars.</p> <p>It was the ascending scale of war that originally called forth the existence of the nation-state as an administrative unit capable of maintaining mass armies and the infrastructure -- for taxation, weapons manufacture, transport, etc. -- that they require. War has been, and we still expect it to be, the most massive collective project human beings undertake. But it has been evolving quickly in a very different direction, one in which human beings have a much smaller role to play.</p> <p>One factor driving this change has been the emergence of a new kind of enemy, so-called “non-state actors,”  meaning popular insurgencies and loose transnational networks of fighters, none of which are likely to field large numbers of troops or maintain expensive arsenals of their own. In the face of these new enemies, typified by al-Qaeda, the mass armies of nation-states are highly ineffective, cumbersome to deploy, difficult to maneuver, and from a domestic point of view, overly dependent on a citizenry that is both willing and able to fight, or at least to have their children fight for them.</p> <p>Yet just as U.S. military cadets continue, in defiance of military reality, to sport swords on their dress uniforms, our leaders, both military and political, tend to cling to an idea of war as a vast, labor-intensive effort on the order of World War II. Only slowly, and with a reluctance bordering on the phobic, have the leaders of major states begun to grasp the fact that this approach to warfare may soon be obsolete.</p> <p>Consider the most recent U.S. war with Iraq. According to then-president George W. Bush, the <i>casus belli</i> was the 9/11 terror attacks.  The causal link between that event and our chosen enemy, Iraq, was, however, imperceptible to all but the most dedicated inside-the-Beltway intellectuals. Nineteen men had hijacked airplanes and flown them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center -- 15 of them Saudi Arabians, none of them Iraqis -- and we went to war against… Iraq?</p> <p>Military history offers no ready precedents for such wildly misaimed retaliation. The closest analogies come from anthropology, which provides plenty of cases of small-scale societies in which the death of any member, for any reason, needs to be “avenged”  by an attack on a more or less randomly chosen other tribe or hamlet.</p> <p>Why Iraq? Neoconservative imperial ambitions have been invoked in explanation, as well as the American thirst for oil, or even an Oedipal contest between George W. Bush and his father. There is no doubt some truth to all of these explanations, but the targeting of Iraq also represented a desperate and irrational response to what was, for Washington, an utterly confounding military situation.</p> <p>We faced a state-less enemy -- geographically diffuse, lacking uniforms and flags, invulnerable to invading infantries and saturation bombing, and apparently capable of regenerating itself at minimal expense. From the perspective of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his White House cronies, this would not do.</p> <p>Since the U.S. was accustomed to fighting other nation-states -- geopolitical entities containing such identifiable targets as capital cities, airports, military bases, and munitions plants -- we would have to find a nation-state to fight, or as Rumsfeld put it, a “target-rich environment.” Iraq, pumped up by alleged stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction,” became the designated surrogate for an enemy that refused to play our game.</p> <p>The effects of this atavistic war are still being tallied: in Iraq, we would have to include civilian deaths estimated at possibly hundreds of thousands, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and devastating outbreaks of sectarian violence of a kind that, as we should have learned from the dissolution of Yugoslavia, can readily follow the death or removal of a nationalist dictator.</p> <p>But the effects of war on the U.S. and its allies may end up being almost as tragic. Instead of punishing the terrorists who had attacked the U.S., the war seems to have succeeded in recruiting more such irregular fighters, young men (and sometimes women) willing to die and ready to commit further acts of terror or revenge. By insisting on fighting a more or less randomly selected nation-state, the U.S. may only have multiplied the non-state threats it faces.</p> <p><b>Unwieldy Armies</b></p> <p>Whatever they may think of what the U.S. and its allies did in Iraq, many national leaders are beginning to acknowledge that conventional militaries are becoming, in a strictly military sense, almost ludicrously anachronistic. Not only are they unsuited to crushing counterinsurgencies and small bands of terrorists or irregular fighters, but mass armies are simply too cumbersome to deploy on short notice.</p> <p>In military lingo, they are weighed down by their “tooth to tail” ratio -- a measure of the number of actual fighters in comparison to the support personnel and equipment the fighters require. Both hawks and liberal interventionists may hanker to airlift tens of thousands of soldiers to distant places virtually overnight, but those soldiers will need to be preceded or accompanied by tents, canteens, trucks, medical equipment, and so forth. “Flyover”  rights will have to be granted by neighboring countries; air strips and eventually bases will have to be constructed; supply lines will have be created and defended -- all of which can take months to accomplish.</p> <p>The sluggishness of the mass, labor-intensive military has become a constant source of frustration to civilian leaders. Irritated by the Pentagon’s hesitation to put “boots on the ground”  in Bosnia, then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright famously demanded of Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, “What good is this marvelous military force if we can never use it?” In 2009, the Obama administration unthinkingly proposed a troop surge in Afghanistan, followed by a withdrawal within a year and a half that would have required some of the troops to start packing up almost as soon as they arrived. It took the U.S. military a full month to organize the transport of 20,000 soldiers to Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake -- and they were only traveling 700 miles to engage in a humanitarian relief mission, not a war.</p> <p>Another thing hobbling mass militaries is the increasing unwillingness of nations, especially the more democratic ones, to risk large numbers of casualties. It is no longer acceptable to drive men into battle at gunpoint or to demand that they fend for themselves on foreign soil. Once thousands of soldiers have been plunked down in a “theater,” they must be defended from potentially hostile locals, a project that can easily come to supersede the original mission.</p> <p>We may not be able clearly to articulate what American troops were supposed to accomplish in Iraq or Afghanistan, but without question one part of their job has been “force protection.”  In what could be considered the inverse of “mission creep,”  instead of expanding, the mission now has a tendency to contract to the task of self-defense.</p> <p>Ultimately, the mass militaries of the modern era, augmented by ever-more expensive weapons systems, place an unacceptable economic burden on the nation-states that support them -- a burden that eventually may undermine the militaries themselves. Consider what has been happening to the world’s sole military superpower, the United States. The latest estimate for the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is, at this moment, at least $3.2 trillion, while total U.S. military spending equals that of the next 15 countries combined, and adds up to approximately 47% of all global military spending.</p> <p>To this must be added the cost of caring for wounded and otherwise damaged veterans, which has been mounting precipitously as medical advances allow more of the injured to survive.  The U.S. military has been sheltered from the consequences of its own profligacy by a level of bipartisan political support that has kept it almost magically immune to budget cuts, even as the national debt balloons to levels widely judged to be unsustainable.</p> <p>The hard right, in particular, has campaigned relentlessly against “big government,” apparently not noticing that the military is a sizable chunk of this behemoth.  In December 2010, for example, a Republican senator from Oklahoma railed against the national debt with this statement: “We're really at war. We're on three fronts now: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the financial tsunami  [arising from the debt] that is facing us.” Only in recent months have some Tea Party-affiliated legislators broken with tradition by declaring their willingness to cut military spending.</p> <p><b>How the Warfare State Became the Welfare State</b></p> <p>If military spending is still for the most part sacrosanct, ever more spending cuts are required to shrink “big government.”  Then what remains is the cutting of domestic spending, especially social programs for the poor, who lack the means to finance politicians, and all too often the incentive to vote as well. From the Reagan years on, the U.S. government has chipped away at dozens of programs that had helped sustain people who are underpaid or unemployed, including housing subsidies, state-supplied health insurance, public transportation, welfare for single parents, college tuition aid, and inner-city economic development projects.</p> <p style="font-family: Times; font-size: medium; "><a name="0.1_graphic03" id="0.1_graphic03"></a><a target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805087494/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><font size="2" face="Times"><img height="1" width="1" alt="Your browser may not support display of this image." src="http://mail.google.com/a/alternet.org/?name=d33be9805ff33117.jpg&amp;attid=0.1&amp;disp=vahi&amp;view=att&amp;th=13114660ead41bdb" /> </font></a><a name="0.1_graphic04" id="0.1_graphic04"></a><a target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805087494/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><font size="2" face="Times"><img height="1" width="1" alt="Your browser may not support display of this image." src="http://mail.google.com/a/alternet.org/?name=d33be9805ff33117.jpg&amp;attid=0.1&amp;disp=vahi&amp;view=att&amp;th=13114660ead41bdb" /> </font></a><font size="2" face="Times">Even the physical infrastructure -- bridges, airports, roads, and tunnels -- used by people of all classes has been left at dangerous levels of disrepair. Antiwar protestors wistfully point out, year after year, what the cost of our high-tech weapon systems, our global network of more than 1,000 military bases, and our various “interventions” could buy if applied to meeting domestic human needs. But to no effect.  </font></p> <p>This ongoing sacrifice of domestic welfare for military “readiness” represents the reversal of a historic trend. Ever since the introduction of mass armies in Europe in the seventeenth century, governments have generally understood that to underpay and underfeed one's troops -- and the class of people that supplies them -- is to risk having the guns pointed in the opposite direction from that which the officers recommend.  </p> <p>In fact, modern welfare states, inadequate as they may be, are in no small part the product of war -- that is, of governments' attempts to appease soldiers and their families. In the U.S., for example, the Civil War led to the institution of widows' benefits, which were the predecessor of welfare in its Aid to Families with Dependent Children form. It was the bellicose German leader Otto von Bismarck who first instituted national health insurance.</p> <p>World War II spawned educational benefits and income support for American veterans and led, in the United Kingdom, to a comparatively generous welfare state, including free health care for all. Notions of social justice and fairness, or at least the fear of working class insurrections, certainly played a part in the development of twentieth century welfare states, but there was a pragmatic military motivation as well: if young people are to grow up to be effective troops, they need to be healthy, well-nourished, and reasonably well-educated.</p> <p>In the U.S., the steady withering of social programs that might nurture future troops even serves, ironically, to justify increased military spending. In the absence of a federal jobs program, Congressional representatives become fierce advocates for weapons systems that the Pentagon itself has no use for, as long as the manufacture of those weapons can provide employment for some of their constituents.</p> <p>With diminishing funds for higher education, military service becomes a less dismal alternative for young working-class people than the low-paid jobs that otherwise await them. The U.S. still has a civilian welfare state consisting largely of programs for the elderly (Medicare and Social Security). For many younger Americans, however, as well as for older combat veterans, the U.S. military <i>is</i> the welfare state -- and a source, however temporarily, of jobs, housing, health care and education.</p> <p>Eventually, however, the failure to invest in America’s human resources -- through spending on health, education, and so forth -- undercuts the military itself. In World War I, public health experts were shocked to find that one-third of conscripts were rejected as physically unfit for service; they were too weak and flabby or too damaged by work-related accidents.</p> <p>Several generations later, in 2010, the U.S. Secretary of Education reported that “75 percent of young Americans, between the ages of 17 to 24, are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.” When a nation can no longer generate enough young people who are fit for military service, that nation has two choices: it can, as a number of prominent retired generals are currently advocating, reinvest in its “human capital,”  especially the health and education of the poor, or it can seriously reevaluate its approach to war.</p> <p><b>The Fog of (Robot) War</b></p> <p>Since the rightward, anti-“big government”  tilt of American politics more or less precludes the former, the U.S. has been scrambling to develop less labor-intensive forms of waging war. In fact, this may prove to be the ultimate military utility of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: if they have gained the U.S. no geopolitical advantage, they have certainly served as laboratories and testing grounds for forms of future warfare that involve less human, or at least less governmental, commitment.</p> <p>One step in that direction has been the large-scale use of military contract workers supplied by private companies, which can be seen as a revival of the age-old use of mercenaries.  Although most of the functions that have been outsourced to private companies -- including food services, laundry, truck driving, and construction -- do not involve combat, they <i>are</i> dangerous, and some contract workers have even been assigned to the guarding of convoys and military bases.</p> <p>Contractors are still men and women, capable of bleeding and dying -- and surprising numbers of them have indeed died.  In the initial six months of 2010, corporate deaths exceeded military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan for the first time. But the Pentagon has little or no responsibility for the training, feeding, or care of private contractors.  If wounded or psychologically damaged, American contract workers must turn, like any other injured civilian employees, to the Workers’ Compensation system, hence their sense of themselves as a “disposable army.”  By 2009, the trend toward privatization had gone so far that the number of private contractors in Afghanistan exceeded the number of American troops there.</p> <p>An alternative approach is to eliminate or drastically reduce the military’s dependence on human beings of any kind.  This would have been an almost unthinkable proposition a few decades ago, but technologies employed in Iraq and Afghanistan have steadily stripped away the human role in war. Drones, directed from sites up to 7,500 miles away in the western United States, are replacing manned aircraft.</p> <p>Video cameras, borne by drones, substitute for human scouts or information gathered by pilots. Robots disarm roadside bombs. When American forces invaded Iraq in 2003, no robots accompanied them; by 2008, there were 12,000 participating in the war.  Only a handful of drones were used in the initial invasion; today, the U.S. military has an inventory of more than 7,000, ranging from the familiar Predator to tiny Ravens and Wasps used to transmit video images of events on the ground.  Far stranger fighting machines are in the works, like swarms of lethal “cyborg insects” that could potentially replace human infantry.</p> <p>These developments are by no means limited to the U.S. The global market for military robotics and unmanned military vehicles is growing fast, and includes Israel<b>,</b> a major pioneer in the field, Russia, the United Kingdom, Iran, South Korea, and China. Turkey is reportedly readying a robot force for strikes against Kurdish insurgents; Israel hopes to eventually patrol the Gaza border with “see-shoot” robots that will destroy people perceived as transgressors as soon as they are detected.</p> <p>It is hard to predict how far the automation of war and the substitution of autonomous robots for human fighters will go. On the one hand, humans still have the advantage of superior visual discrimination.  Despite decades of research in artificial intelligence, computers cannot make the kind of simple distinctions -- as in determining whether a cow standing in front of a barn is a separate entity or a part of the barn -- that humans can make in a fraction of a second.</p> <p>Thus, as long as there is any premium on avoiding civilian deaths, humans have to be involved in processing the visual information that leads, for example, to the selection of targets for drone attacks. If only as the equivalent of seeing-eye dogs, humans will continue to have a role in war, at least until computer vision improves.</p> <p>On the other hand, the human brain lacks the bandwidth to process all the data flowing into it, especially as new technologies multiply that data. In the clash of traditional mass armies, under a hail of arrows or artillery shells, human warriors often found themselves confused and overwhelmed, a condition attributed to “the fog of war." Well, that fog is growing a lot thicker. U.S. military officials, for instance, put the blame on “information overload”  for the killing of 23 Afghan civilians in February 2010, and the <i>New York Times</i> reported that:</p> <p>“Across the military, the data flow has surged; since the attacks of 9/11, the amount of intelligence gathered by remotely piloted drones and other surveillance technologies has risen 1,600 percent. On the ground, troops increasingly use hand-held devices to communicate, get directions and set bombing coordinates. And the screens in jets can be so packed with data that some pilots call them “drool buckets” because, they say, they can get lost staring into them.”</p> <p>When the sensory data coming at a soldier is augmented by a flood of instantaneously transmitted data from distant cameras and computer search engines, there may be no choice but to replace the sloppy “wet-ware” of the human brain with a robotic system for instant response.</p> <p><b>War Without Humans</b></p> <p>Once set in place, the cyber-automation of war is hard to stop.  Humans will cling to their place “in the loop” as long as they can, no doubt insisting that the highest level of decision-making -- whether to go to war and with whom -- be reserved for human leaders. But it is precisely at the highest levels that decision-making may most need automating. A head of state faces a blizzard of factors to consider, everything from historical analogies and satellite-derived intelligence to assessments of the readiness of potential allies. Furthermore, as the enemy automates its military, or in the case of a non-state actor, simply adapts to our level of automation, the window of time for effective responses will grow steadily narrower. Why not turn to a high-speed computer? It is certainly hard to imagine a piece of intelligent hardware deciding to respond to the 9/11 attacks by invading Iraq.</p> <p>So, after at least 10,000 years of intra-species fighting -- of scorched earth, burned villages, razed cities, and piled up corpses, as well, of course, as all the great epics of human literature -- we have to face the possibility that the institution of war might no longer need us for its perpetuation. Human desires, especially for the Earth’s diminishing supply of resources, will still instigate wars for some time to come, but neither human courage nor human bloodlust will carry the day on the battlefield.</p> <p>Computers will assess threats and calibrate responses; drones will pinpoint enemies; robots might roll into the streets of hostile cities. Beyond the individual battle or smaller-scale encounter, decisions as to whether to match attack with counterattack, or one lethal technological innovation with another, may also be eventually ceded to alien minds.</p> <p>This should not come as a complete surprise. Just as war has shaped human social institutions for millennia, so has it discarded them as the evolving technology of war rendered them useless. When war was fought with blades by men on horseback, it favored the rule of aristocratic warrior elites. When the mode of fighting shifted to action-at-a-distance weapons like bows and guns, the old elites had to bow to the central authority of kings, who, in turn, were undone by the democratizing forces unleashed by new mass armies.</p> <p>Even patriarchy cannot depend on war for its long-term survival, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, at least within U.S. forces, established women’s worth as warriors. Over the centuries, human qualities once deemed indispensable to war fighting -- muscular power, manliness, intelligence, judgment -- have one by one become obsolete or been ceded to machines.</p> <p>What will happen then to the “passions of war”? Except for individual acts of martyrdom, war is likely to lose its glory and luster. Military analyst P.W. Singer quotes an Air Force captain musing about whether the new technologies will “mean that brave men and women will no longer face death in combat,”  only to reassure himself that “there will always be a need for intrepid souls to fling their bodies across the sky.”</p> <p>Perhaps, but in a 2010 address to Air Force Academy cadets, an under secretary of defense delivered the “bad news” that most of them would not be flying airplanes, which are increasingly unmanned. War will continue to be used against insurgencies as well as to “take out” the weapons facilities, command centers, and cities of designated rogue states. It may even continue to fascinate its aficionados, in the manner of computer games. But there will be no triumphal parades for killer nano-bugs, no epics about unmanned fighter planes, no monuments to fallen bots.</p> <p>And in that may lie our last hope. With the decline of mass militaries and their possible replacement by machines, we may finally see that war is not just an extension of our needs and passions, however base or noble. Nor is it likely to be even a useful test of our courage, fitness, or national unity. War has its own dynamic or -- in case that sounds too anthropomorphic -- its own grim algorithms to work out. As it comes to need us less, maybe we will finally see that we don’t need it either. We can leave it to the ants.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. Tom Engelhardt, editor of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/">Tomdispatch.com</a>, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of <a href="www.amazon.com/gp/product/1608460711/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_2?pf_rd_p=486539851&amp;pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&amp;pf_rd_t=201&amp;pf_rd_i=1416544569&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_r=05CB1P9G7BTVHW8AAWMS">The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's</a>.<br /><a href="https://app.e2ma.net/app/view:Join/signupId:43308/acctId:25612">Sign up to receive the latest updates fromTomDispatch.com here</a>. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2011 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '666917'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=666917" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Sun, 10 Jul 2011 04:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com 666917 at http://www.alternet.org World World war bush iraq obama afghanistan robots drones Wal-Mart -- It's Alive! How the Company Is Terrorizing the Country With its Corporate 'Personhood' http://www.alternet.org/story/150766/wal-mart_--_it%27s_alive%21_how_the_company_is_terrorizing_the_country_with_its_corporate_%27personhood%27 <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '666144'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=666144" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">If Wal-Mart is a person, as per the Supreme Court, it&#039;s a behemoth terrorizing the countryside. But when it comes to workers&#039; rights, it remains curiously immune from lawsuits.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>What is Wal-Mart -- in a strictly taxonomic sense, that is? Based on size alone, it would be easy to confuse it with a nation: In 2002, its annual revenue was equal to or exceeded that of all but 22 recognized nation-states. Or, if all its employees -- 1.4 million in the U.S. alone -- were to gather in one place, you might think you were looking at a major city. But there is also the possibility that Wal-Mart and other planet-spanning, centi-billion-dollar enterprises are not mere aggregations of people at all. They may be independent life-forms -- a species of super-organisms.</p> <p>This, anyway, seems to be the takeaway from the 2010 <i>Citizens United</i> decision, in which the Supreme Court, in a frenzy of anthropomorphism, ruled that corporations are actually persons and therefore entitled to freedom of speech and the right to make unlimited campaign contributions. You may object that the notion of personhood had already been degraded beyond recognition by its extension, in the minds of pro-life thinkers, to individual cells such as zygotes. But the court must have reasoned that it would be discriminatory to let size enter into the determination of personhood: If a microscopic cell can be a person, then why not a brontosaurus, a tsunami, or a multinational corporation?</p> <p>But Wal-Mart's defense against a class action charging the company with discrimination against its female employees -- <i>Dukes v. Wal-Mart</i> -- throws an entirely new light on the biology of large corporations. The company argues that with "7 divisions, 41 regions, 3400 stores and over one million employees" (in the U.S., as of 2004, when the suit was first launched), it is "impossible" for any small group of plaintiffs to adequately represent a "class" in the legal sense. What with all those divisions, regions, and stores, the experiences of individual employees are just too variable to allow for a meaningful "class" to arise. Wal-Mart, in other words, is too big, too multifaceted and diverse, to be sued.</p> <p>So if Wal-Mart is indeed a person, it is a person without a central nervous system, or at least without central control of its various body parts. There exist such persons, I admit -- whose brains have lost command over their voluntary muscles -- but they are in a tiny minority. Surely, when the Supreme Court declared that corporations were persons, it did not mean to say "persons with advanced neuromuscular degenerative diseases."</p> <p>For those who have never visited more than one Wal-Mart store, let me point out that the company is not a congeries of boutiques run by egotistical retailing divas. True, there are detectable differences between stores. Some feature Wal-Mart's indigenous "Radio Grill," famed for its popcorn chicken; others offer McDonald's or Subway. But other than that, every detail, from personnel policies to floor layout, is dictated by corporate headquarters in Bentonville.</p> <p>An example: In 2000, I worked for three weeks in the ladies' wear department of a Wal-Mart in Minnesota. (Full disclosure: This makes me part of the class now suing Wal-Mart for sex discrimination, though the possibility of an eventual payout in the high two-figure range has not, I think, influenced my judgment on these matters.) In the course of my work, I made a number of sensible suggestions to my supervisor -- for example, that the plus-size women's jeans not be displayed at what was practically floor-level, where plus-size women could not reach them without requiring assistance to regain altitude. Good idea, my supervisor said, but it was up to Bentonville to determine where the jeans, like all other items, resided.</p> <p>Much has changed since my tenure at Wal-Mart. The company has struggled to upgrade its image from sweatshop to a green and healthful version of Target. It has vowed to promote more women. But one thing it hasn't done, as far as anyone knows, is to reconfigure itself as an anarchist collective. Bentonville still rules absolutely, over both store managers and "associates," which is the winsome Wal-Mart term for its chronically underpaid workers, some of whom report that they are still being forced to work off the clock, for no pay at all, just as I found in 2000.</p> <p>So if Wal-Mart is a life-form, it is an unclassifiable one, at least in ordinary terrestrial terms. It eats, devouring acre after acre and town after town. It grows without limit, sometimes assuming new names -- Walmex in Mexico, Asda in the U.K. -- to trick the unwary. Yet in its defense in the <i>Dukes v. Wal-Mart</i> suit, Wal-Mart claims to have no idea what it's doing. This could be a metaphor for capitalism or perhaps a sign that a successful alien invasion is in progress. The only thing that's for sure is, should the Supreme Court decide in favor of Wal-Mart, we'll have a lot more of these creatures running around: monstrously oversized "persons" who insist that they can't control their own actions.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of several books, including Nickel and Dimed and Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2011 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '666144'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=666144" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 29 Apr 2011 14:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, The American Prospect 666144 at http://www.alternet.org Economy News & Politics Economy Human Rights wal-mart corporate personhood What Should Lefties Do in These Revolutionary Times? http://www.alternet.org/story/147882/what_should_lefties_do_in_these_revolutionary_times <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '663294'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=663294" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The role of the left should not be to uphold or defend a government increasingly at odds with the interests of the people, but to change it, drastically and from the ground up.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>So a black man finally wins the presidency, only to discover that it's about as useful as a 32 cent stamp. <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/154019/kabuki-democracy">According to</a> Eric Alterman, the federal government, avatar of liberal hope for at least a century, has become hopelessly undemocratic, poisoned by corruption and structurally snarled by partisan divisions. Poor Barack Obama, who steps up to the plate and gets handed a foam bat!</p> <p>The government, as Alterman convincingly describes it, is not only expensive, "bloated" and all the rest. It has become a handmaid to corporate power—a hiring hall from which compliant officials are selected for vastly more lucrative private-sector jobs, as well as an emergency cash reserve for companies that fall on hard times. No wonder so many Americans unthinkingly conflate "big government" and "big corporations." This is not the kind of government that hires unemployed people to paint murals on post office walls. And, as everyone knows, when the bank decides to repossess your home, it's a public employee who will kick in the door.</p> <p>All that should be enough to sour liberals' trust in government as a tool for progressive social change. But the situation is much worse than Alterman acknowledges. In the years since government—state and local as well as federal—has shed its role as a kindly change agent, it has assumed a new one as über-cop: building more penitentiaries, snapping up stoners, harassing blacks and Latino-looking people on the streets. Nonviolent protests have dwindled, not only because of activists' lingering deference toward Obama but because the police response to any outdoor gathering so resembles the assault on Falluja.</p> <p>Even the more helpful government programs have become agents of an increasingly repressive state. Food stamp offices, public housing complexes and homeless shelters are the sites of "warrant searches" used to gather up people who might have missed a court date concerning an unpaid debt. Public housing residents are subjected to drug tests; in many states, the process of applying for what remains of welfare (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) parallels that of being booked by the police, complete with mug shots and fingerprints. Although you won't find them out campaigning against ICE raids and urban stop-and-frisk programs, some of the Tea Partyers seem to dimly understand this, with one handmade poster at last year's 9/12 demonstration in Washington saying, for example, G<span style="text-transform: uppercase; font-size: 9px;">overnment</span> H<span style="text-transform: uppercase; font-size: 9px;">ealth</span> C<span style="text-transform: uppercase; font-size: 9px;">are</span> = P<span style="text-transform: uppercase; font-size: 9px;">ee in a</span> C<span style="text-transform: uppercase; font-size: 9px;">up</span>.</p> <p>And what is a liberal to make of the city of Maywood, California, which more or less disbanded itself in June, outsourcing all municipal functions—sounds like a liberal nightmare, right? Until you read that the now-defunct police department was found by the state in 2009 to be "permeated with sexual innuendo, harassment, vulgarity...and a lack of cultural, racial and ethnic sensitivity and respect.''</p> <p>Alterman acknowledges the problem only tentatively, observing that "one might argue that this [Democratic] faith in government's ability to improve people's lives is misplaced." You betcha. The role of the left should not be to uphold or defend the government, meaning, for now, the corpo-Obama-Geithner-Petraeus state, but to change it, drastically and from the ground up. That may sound overly radical to Alterman, who seems to want "progressives who think of themselves as left of liberal" to abandon even that tiny distinction. But as the Tea Partyers keep reminding us in their nasty and demented ways, these are revolutionary times.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2010 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '663294'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=663294" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 17 Aug 2010 12:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, The Nation 663294 at http://www.alternet.org World World progressives left eric alterman corporate state Barbara Ehrenreich: Why Forced Positive Thinking Is a Total Crock http://www.alternet.org/story/146940/barbara_ehrenreich%3A_why_forced_positive_thinking_is_a_total_crock <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '662302'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=662302" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Positive psychology -- forced optimism -- is actually quite Calvinist, putting happiness to work as a means to an end.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>From the book</em>Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America<em>by Barbara Ehrenreich. Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Ehrenreich. Reprinted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. <strong>Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at <script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript"><!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!-- <!-- var prefix = '&#109;a' + 'i&#108;' + '&#116;o'; var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '='; var addy13588 = 'l&#101;tt&#101;rs' + '&#64;'; addy13588 = addy13588 + 'psychn&#101;tw&#111;rk&#101;r' + '&#46;' + '&#111;rg'; document.write( '<a ' + path + ''' + prefix + ':' + addy13588 + ''>' ); document.write( addy13588 ); document.write( '' ); //-->n //--><!]]> </script><a href="mailto:letters@psychnetworker.org">letters@psychnetworker.org</a> <script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript"><!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!-- <!-- document.write( '<span style='display: none;'>' ); //--> //--><!]]> </script><span style="display: none;">This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it <script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript"><!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!-- <!-- document.write( '</' ); document.write( 'span>' ); //--> //--><!]]> </script></span>, or at <a href="http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org">www.psychotherapynetworker.org</a>. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.</strong></em></p> <p>I approached my chance to interview Martin Seligman in May 2007 with some trepidation. Only three months earlier I had published an essay in <em>Harper's</em> critical of both positive psychology and pop positive thinking. Sure enough, when I first encountered Seligman he was practically scowling. "There he is!" the security guard at the reception desk in a boxlike building at the University of Pennsylvania said, pointing upward to a short, solid, bullet-headed man looking down from the second-floor balcony. I smiled and waved, to which Seligman responded only, "You'll have to take the elevator."</p> <p>He was not, however, waiting for me on the second floor and had disappeared into his office. His secretary informed me that he would be busy for a minute and that he wanted me to meet these two ladies from the Australian military while I waited. After shaking their hands and learning that they had come for help in "preventing problems before they get to the complaint stage," I was ushered into his office, only to face another delay—a phone call from the BBC, he told me, which I was welcome to sit through, although no chair was offered.</p> <p>The phone call—to schedule an interview about a plan to offer "optimism training" in the British public schools—seemed to lift his spirits, and after a few minutes of innocuous conversation, he announced that it was such a beautiful day that it would be a shame to spend it indoors. "I have a plan," he said. "We're going to go the art museum. Flowers will be blooming outdoors and we can see the Monets." I protested weakly that this excursion might interfere with note taking, not bothering to point out the contradiction between being in a museum and being outdoors. But apparently he was following his own instruction from <em>Authentic Happiness</em>: "Choose your venue and design your mood to fit the task at hand." As soon as we were in a taxi heading to the museum, he revealed that the Monets were his wife's idea. "That'll put her in a good mood," she had suggested. I began to wonder whether the Australian visitors and the BBC call had been timed, in part, for my benefit.</p> <p>Once we were at the museum—the one made famous by Rocky Balboa—the barriers to a normal interview seemed only to multiply. First he insisted on a quick tramp around the outside of the building; then, inside at the reception desk, he made my heart sink by inquiring about a lecture that seemed to be going on. When that turned out to be unavailable, he started asking about an exhibition of photographs of early Santa Monica, and I pictured an afternoon spent trailing him throughout the more obscure sections of the museum. It was impossible not to dwell on the fact that Seligman's early work, before he announced the launching of positive psychology, had been about "learned helplessness," showing that when dogs are tormented in random ways they become passive, depressed, and unable to defend themselves.</p> <p>Although note taking was almost impossible, I attempted to carry on a conversation about <em>Authentic Happiness,</em> which I had found just as elusive as he was turning out to be. Like most lay books on positive thinking, it's a jumble of anecdotes (primarily autobiographical in Seligman's case), references to philosophers and religious texts, and tests you can take to assess your progress toward a happier and healthier mind-set. Only on a second reading did I begin to discern a progression of thoughts—not a logical progression but at least a kind of arc. He begins with what positive psychologists call their field's "origin story," about how he was weeding his garden one day when his five-year-old daughter challenged him to stop being such a "grouch." Grouchiness, he realizes, is endemic to the academic world: "I have noticed over thirty years of psychology department faculty meetings—conducted in a cheerless, gray, and windowless room full of unrepentant grouches—that the ambient mood is on the chilly side of zero." Prodded by his daughter, he decides that "it was worth trying hard to put more positive emotion into my life," and a veritable candy land of pleasures begins to open up, epitomized by "a cloudless spring day, the ending of the Beatles' ÔHey Jude,' pictures of babies and young lambs, and sitting down in front of a blazing fire on a snowy evening."</p> <p>But just as he seems to be on the verge of embracing hedonism, or at least a kitschy version thereof, he pulls back sharply in a burst of Calvinist disgust, enjoining the reader to "strive for more gratifications, while toning down the pursuit of pleasure."</p> <p>"Gratifications," it turns out, are "higher" forms of pleasure because they take some effort, and they include "playing three sets of tennis, or participating in a clever conversation, or reading Richard Russo." In contrast, things like "watching a sitcom, masturbating, and inhaling perfume" involve no challenge and hence are only "pleasures." This seems unnecessarily judgmental, and not only because Richard Russo is not exactly Marcel Proust, but the reader soon finds, to her complete confusion, that the whole category of "positive emotions," including both gratification and pleasure, is suspect: "When an entire lifetime is taken up in the pursuit of positive emotions, however, authenticity and meaning are nowhere to be found," and without them, evidently, there can be no "authentic happiness."</p> <p>Abandoning the positive emotions, Seligman's book goes off in search of character," which he admits is a Calvinist-sounding concept—"nineteenth-century Protestant, constipated, and Victorian." To get to the roots of character, he and his colleagues sift through two hundred "virtue catalogs"—including Aristotle and Plato, Augustine and Aquinas, the Old Testament, Confucius, Buddha, and Benjamin Franklin—out of which they distill "six virtues": wisdom and knowledge, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, spirituality and transcendence. Now, as we walked up the museum stairs to the Monet exhibition, I told him that he had lost me at this point in his book. Courage, for example, could take one very far from the "positive emotions," with their predicted positive effects on health and success, and into dangerous and painful situations, just as spirituality could lead to social withdrawal, fasting, and self-mortification. In fact, I blathered on, the conventional notion of "character" seems to include the capacity for self-denial, even suffering, in pursuit of a higher goal. To my surprise, he deflected the implicit criticism onto his erstwhile collaborator, Ed Diener, saying that Diener is "all about the smiley face" and just "trying to make people feel better," whereas he, Seligman, is concerned with "meaning and purpose."</p> <p>Loyalty, I recall, did not make it onto the list of virtues.</p> <p>Finally we arrived at the Monets, where after some preliminary gushing on his part we sat down on a bench and I settled my stenographer's pad on my knee for some serious interviewing. But just then a security guard bore down on us and announced that I could not use a pen in the presence of the Monets. It is true, I don't like the Monets, if only because they have been so thoroughly absorbed—along with lavender, scones, and "pictures of babies and young lambs"—into middle-class notions of coziness. I wanted to protest that I don't hate them enough to stab them with my felt-tip pen, but I obediently traded it in for one of the stubby No. 2 pencils available at a nearby desk. At this point, the interview seemed to have gotten completely out of control: Seligman was the psychologist; I was the mental patient, deprived of sharp objects.</p> <p>I plowed ahead, focusing now on the "Authentic Happiness Inventory," a test available on one of his Web sites (<a href="http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu">http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu</a>). I had scored a less-than-jubilant 3.67 out of 5, and one of the questions that had pulled down my score asked the test taker to choose between "A. I am ashamed of myself" and "E. I am extraordinarily proud of myself." I am neither of these, and since we'd been talking about virtues, it seemed fair to ask: "Isn't pride a sin?" He answered that "it may be bad, but it has a high predictive value." Predictive of what—health? "The research is not fine-grained enough to say that pride predicts health." Frustrated and by now utterly baffled, I moved on to another question that had hurt my score, where I had confessed to being "pessimistic about the future," assuming that it was the future of our species at issue, not just my own. Now, in the museum, I mentioned the possibilities of specieswide disasters like extinction or barbarism, but he just looked at me intently and said that, if I could "learn" optimism, as in his earlier book <em>Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,</em> which shows the reader how to reprogram his or her thoughts in a more optimistic direction, my productivity as a writer would soar.</p> <p>Only when we returned to his office, away from the mood-elevating Monets, did things take a nasty turn. Going back to his Authentic Happiness Inventory, I remarked that many of the questions seemed a bit arbitrary, leading him to snap, "That's a cheap shot and shows your failure to understand test development. It doesn't matter what the questions are so long as they have predictive value. It could be a question about butterscotch ice cream and whether you like it. The issue is how well it predicts." Well, no. First you come up with a test that seems to measure happiness as generally defined, and then you can look for things that happiness seems to correlate with, such as liking butterscotch ice cream. But you cannot fold the ice cream into the definition of happiness itself. Instead of saying this, I moved on to one of the most irritatingly pseudoscientific assertions in his book, the "happiness equation," which he introduces with the coy promise that it "is the only equation I ask you to consider," as if positive psychology rests on whole thickets of equations from which the reader will mercifully be spared. The equation is:</p> <p>H = S + C + V</p> <p>H is "your enduring level of happiness, S is your set range, C is the circumstances of your life, and V represents factors under your voluntary control," such as, for example, whether you engage in "optimism training" to suppress negative or pessimistic thoughts. I understand what he is trying to say: that a person's happiness is determined in some way by his or her innate disposition (S), immediate circumstances (C), like a recent job loss or bereavement, and by the efforts (V) that the person makes to improve his or her outlook. This could be stated unobjectionably as:</p> <p>H = f(S, C, V)</p> <p>Or, in words: H is a function of S, C, V, where the exact nature of that function is yet to be determined. But to express it as an equation is to invite ridicule. I asked the question that would occur to any first-year physics student: "What are the units of measurement?" Because if you're going to add these things up, you will have to have the same units for H (happy thoughts per day?) as for V, S, and C. "Well, you'd need some constant in front of each," he said, and when I pressed on, he responded that "C is going to decompose into twenty different things, like religion and marriage," referring to the fact that positive psychologists have found that married and religious people are likely to be happier than single and skeptical people. So how, I ask, do you boil C into a single number? Again, his face twisted into a scowl, and he told me that I didn't understand "beta weighting" and should go home and Google it.</p> <p>So, just to be sure, I did, finding that "beta weights" are the coefficients of the "predictors" in a regression equation used to find statistical correlations between variables. But Seligman had presented his formula as an ordinary equation, like E = mc2, not as an oversimplified regression analysis, leaving himself open to literal-minded questions like: How do we know H is a simple sum of the variables, rather than some more complicated relationship, possibly involving "second order" effects such as CV, or C times V? But clearly Seligman wanted an equation, because equations add a veneer of science, and he wanted it quickly, so he fell back on simple addition. No doubt equations make a book look weightier and full of mathematical rigor, but this one also makes Seligman look like the Wizard of Oz.</p> <p><strong>Happiness and Health</strong></p> <p>The central claim of positive psychology, as of positive thinking generally, is that happiness—or optimism, positive emotions, positive affect, or positive something—is not only desirable in and of itself but actually useful, leading to better health and greater success. One book on positive psychology states that "happiness . . . is more than pleasant, it is beneficial," and Seligman begins <em>Authentic Happiness</em> by summarizing a few studies showing that happy (or positive) people live longer than unhappy ones. In other words, you should make an effort to be happy, if only because the consequences of unhappiness may include poor health and lower achievement. Would happiness stop being an appealing goal if it turned out to be associated with illness and failure? Isn't it possible to imagine being gloriously contented with a life spent indulging unhealthy habits, like the proverbially happy "pigs in shit"? Nothing underscores the lingering Calvinism of positive psychology more than this need to put happiness to work—as a means to health and achievement, or what the positive thinkers call "success."</p> <p>Happy, or positive, people—however that is measured—do seem to be more successful at work. They are more likely to get a second interview while job hunting, get positive evaluations from superiors, resist burnout, and advance up the career ladder. But this probably reflects little more than the corporate bias in favor of a positive attitude and against "negative" people. A widely cited review article entitled "The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?," coauthored by Ed Diener, makes no mention of this bias and hence appears to do little more than to confirm it.</p> <p>When it comes to the proposed health benefits of a positive outlook, the positive psychologists would seem to be on firmer ground. A positive outlook cannot cure cancer, but in the case of more common complaints, we tend to suspect that people who are melancholy, who complain a lot, or who ruminate obsessively about every fleeting symptom may in fact be making themselves sick. Recall the miraculous cures worked on chronic invalids by Phineas Quimby and others in the nineteenth century, simply by encouraging them to get up out of bed and start thinking of themselves as healthy people. We don't have "neurasthenics" today, but there are plenty of ills with a psychosomatic component, some of which may indeed yield to a "mind over matter" approach. When John E. Sarno, a professor of rehabilitation medicine, published a book proposing that lower back pain was caused by repressed anger rather than a physical abnormality and that it was curable by mental exercises, thousands testified that they were helped, including the well-known health guru Andrew Weil.</p> <p>In contrast to the flimsy research linking attitude to cancer survival, there are scores of studies showing that happy or optimistic people are likely to be healthier than those who are sour-tempered and pessimistic. Most of these studies, however, only establish correlations and tell us nothing about causality: Are people healthy because they're happy or happy because they're healthy?</p> <p>Adding further ambiguity to the "picture of happiness as a prolonger of life and improver of health" are a number of studies showing that happiness or other positive emotional states may have no effect on one's health. An improved mental outlook—generated in support groups or through psychotherapy—does not extend the lives of breast cancer patients, and the same has been found for those suffering from throat and neck cancer. Nor, it turns out, does optimism add to the longevity of lung cancer patients. The evidence that positive emotions can protect against coronary heart disease seems sturdier, although I am not in a position to evaluate it. At least a list of articles on heart disease and emotional states compiled for me by Seligman included a number of studies finding that optimism and other positive states can both protect against heart disease and hasten recovery from it. But others on Seligman's list were more equivocal, and one study cited by Barbara Held of Bowdoin College found that people high in "trait negative affect" do more complaining about angina but are at no greater risk of pathology than cheerful people.</p> <p>Some of the studies Held has reviewed even conclude that negative traits like pessimism can be healthier in the long run than optimism and happiness. For example, a 2002 study found that women who are mildly depressed are more likely to live longer than nondepressed or very depressed women. Somewhat alarmingly, a longitudinal study of more than a thousand California schoolchildren concluded that optimism was likely to lead to an earlier death in middle or old age, possibly because the optimistic people took more risks. Another, more recent, study found that preteenagers who were realistic about their standing among their peers were less likely to become depressed than those who held positive illusions about their popularity. But the most surprising case for pessimism comes from a 2001 study coauthored by Seligman himself, finding that, among older people, pessimists were less likely to fall into depression following a negative life event such as the death of a family member. This study goes unmentioned in <em>Authentic Happiness,</em> but at the time it led Seligman to comment to the <em>New York Times</em> that "it's important that optimism not be footless [probably meaning "footloose"] and unwarranted." So realism has its uses after all.</p> <p>But the results that go out to the public through the media tend to be spun toward the positive effects of positive emotions on health. Partly, this represents a long-standing media bias away from "null results": a study finding, for example, that there is no sex difference in the ability to sprint or solve quadratic equations is likely to be judged less newsworthy than a study reporting that one sex left the other in the dust. In the case of positive psychology, a 2002 <em>New York Times</em> article cited two studies linking optimism to longevity—and four studies tracing longevity to such other traits as "conscientiousness," calmness, pessimism, and even cantankerousness. Yet the article was headlined "Power of Positive Thinking Extends, It Seems, to Aging."</p> <p>Another case of positive self-spinning is provided by Suzanne Segerstrom, a researcher at the University of Kentucky, who won the 2002 Temple-ton Foundation Award for Positive Psychology for her work on what may be the holy grail of positive psychology—the possible link between positive emotions and the immune system. Although the immune system plays no clear role in cancer, it is definitely important in fighting off colds and other infectious illnesses. Whether there is a link between positive emotions and the immune system is another matter. Martin Seligman asserts such a link, writing that "happy people" have "feistier immune systems than less happy ­people." In a 1998 paper, Segerstrom reported that optimism was correlated with greater immune competence, as measured by levels of key immune cell types. But in a second study, published three years later, she found that "some contradictory findings have emerged" and that, in some circumstances, more optimistic people "fare worse immunologically" than pessimists.</p> <p>You would not know, however, that her results were negative or at best "mixed" from reading her newspaper accounts of her work. In a 2002 interview with the <em>New York Daily News,</em> she stated that the health benefits of optimism are "significant" and that not only do "optimists almost always have better emotional adjustments," but "most optimists show higher immune responses to illness." When I interviewed Segerstrom by phone in 2007, she insisted that she had been under no pressure from the media, or anyone else, to downplay her negative results. But when I brought up her award a little later on in our talk, she told me, "To get the Templeton award . . . You don't get anything for a null result."</p> <p><strong>The Templeton Connection</strong></p> <p>The Templeton Foundation, which contributed $2.2 million to Seligman's Positive Psychology Center in the first decade of the twenty-first century, as well as about $1.3 million to miscellaneous positive psychology research projects on such matters as gratitude, humility, and connectedness, is probably best known for its efforts to put religion on an equal intellectual footing with science. Founded by billionaire investor Sir John Templeton in 1972, the foundation gives out an annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, which was designed to fill a gap left by the Nobel prizes and pointedly pays more than they do. (In 2002, perhaps reflecting a certain lack of progress in religion, it was renamed the Templeton Prize for Progress toward Research or discoveries about Spiritual Realities.) The foundation's campaign to bring scientific legitimacy to religion has led to some dubious ventures, including funding in 1999 for a conference on intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. More cautiously, in recent years, the foundation has backed away from intelligent design and expressed its "spiritual" orientation through funding for research into the efficacy of prayer—another null result—as well as various abstract qualities like "character" and "humility." Until his death in 2008, Sir John Templeton was fond of bringing scientists and theologians together with the aim of finding common ground in luxurious tropical resorts.</p> <p>Templeton might have been attracted to positive psychology's claim that positive emotions can influence physical health—a "mind over matter" proposition that can be found in just about any form of American spiritualism since the nineteenth century. But there is another, more intriguing connection. Templeton was an acolyte of Norman Vincent Peale and a minor positive thinking guru himself. According to the Templeton Foundation's 2004 "Capabilities Report," he "credits Norman Vincent Peale's book, <em>The Power of Positive Thinking,</em> read 70 years ago, with making him realize that Ôwhat I had become in my short lifetime was mainly dependent on my mental attitudes—a mental attitude of looking for the good will bring good to you; a mental attitude of giving love will bring love to you.'"</p> <p>But Templeton was not just another positive-thinking businessman. He was something of a political ideologue, as is, to an even greater degree, his son and, since 1995, successor at the foundation. John Templeton Jr. is a major Republican donor and activist, having helped fund a group called Let Freedom Ring, which worked to get out the evangelical vote for George Bush in 2004. In 2007, he contributed to Freedom's Watch, which paid for television commercials supporting the war in Iraq, often by conflating Iraq with al Qaeda. More recently, he supported the Romney and then the McCain campaigns for the presidency and was the second-largest individual donor to the campaign for California's Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage.</p> <p>The foundation itself is, of course, nonpartisan but is strongly biased in favor of "free enterprise." Over the years, it has given cash awards to a number of conservative scholars, including Milton Friedman and Gertrude Himmelfarb, and grants to a long list of conservative organizations. In its 2006 report, we learn that the Templeton Foundation "supports a wide range of programs and research initiatives to study the benefits of competition, specifically how free enterprise and other principles of capitalism can, and do, benefit the poor." The words "and do" suggest a foregone conclusion, although the report goes on to raise the plaintive question <em>"Why should half the world's population live in circumstances of relative squalor when it has been demonstrated that the principles of the market and free enterprise can lead to sustained economic development?"</em>(italics in original).</p> <p>This is not to suggest that positive psychology, or positive anything, is part of a right-wing conspiracy. Pop positive thinking has a mixed political lineage: Norman Vincent Peale was an outspoken conservative, at least until his attacks on a Catholic candidate, John F. Kennedy, resulted in charges of bigotry. On the other hand, perhaps the most famous contemporary promoter of positive thinking is Oprah Winfrey, whom we normally think of as a liberal. As for positive psychology, Seligman himself certainly leans to the right. He is famously impatient with "victims" and "victimology," saying, for example, in a 2000 interview: "In general when things go wrong we now have a culture which supports the belief that this was done to you by some larger force, as opposed to, you brought it on yourself by your character or your decisions."</p> <p>The real conservativism of positive psychology lies in its attachment to the status quo, with all its inequalities and abuses of power. Positive psychologists' tests of happiness and well-being, for example, rest heavily on measures of personal contentment with things as they are. Consider the widely used "Satisfaction with Life Scale" developed by Diener and others, which asks the respondent to agree or disagree with the following propositions:</p> <p>In most ways my life is close to my ideal.</p> <p>The conditions of my life are excellent.</p> <p>I am satisfied with my life.</p> <p>So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.</p> <p>If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.</p> <p>One could imagine positive psychology, or a more liberal version thereof, spawning a movement to alter social arrangements in the direction of greater happiness—by advocating more democratically organized workplaces, to suggest just one example. Instead, positive psychology seems to have weighed in on the side of the employers, with Seligman collaborator Chris Peterson telling the <em>Cleveland Plain Dealer</em> in 2008 that business executives are particularly enthused about the new happiness science: "Hardheaded corporate culture is becoming interested in how to get more work out of fewer workers. They're realizing that if their workers are happy, they will work harder and more productively. So they're leading the charge." As for social action against societal injustice, the American Psychological Association's <em>Monitor</em> reported in 1998: "Seligman asserts that . . . those who reproach others and side with the underdog may feel better in the short term, . . . but such good feelings are transient." Why social activism should produce only fleeting good feelings—compared with performing other virtuous deeds, viewing Monets, or reading Richard Russo—is not explained.</p> <p>Like pop positive thinking, positive psychology attends almost solely to the changes a person can make internally by adjusting his or her own outlook. Seligman himself explicitly rejects social change, writing of the role of "circumstances" in determining human happiness: "The good news about circumstances is that some do change happiness for the better. The bad news is that changing these circumstances is usually impractical and expensive." This argument—"impractical and expensive"—has of course been used against almost every progressive reform from the abolition of slavery to pay equity for women.</p> <p>The next time I met Martin Seligman he was unexpectedly friendly and ­welcoming. The setting was the Sixth International Positive Psychology Summit, held in the majestic Gallup Organization building in downtown D.C. He invited me to sit down next to him and asked whether I had enjoyed the morning session's "energy break." This had been a five-minute interval embedded in a presentation on teaching positive psychology at the graduate level, led by some female graduate students. The audience was instructed to stand, do a few shoulder rolls and neck stretches, shake their bodies, and then utter a big collective "Aaaah."</p> <p>At the time of the "summit" meeting, in October 2007, positive psychology had a lot to celebrate. It was gaining ground at all levels in academia, with more than two hundred colleges and graduate schools offering courses in positive psychology, sometimes dubbed "Happiness 101," in which students reflected on their happier moments and engaged in exercises like writing "gratitude letters" to people in their lives. At Harvard, the introductory positive psychology course had drawn 855 students in 2006, making it the most popular course on campus, surpassing even economics, and a similar undergraduate course at George Mason University was the subject of a <em>New York Times Magazine</em> article in early 2007. Graduate-level courses, like those required for the master of applied positive psychology degree at the University of Pennsylvania, were popping up all over the world. According to one summit speaker, Ilona Boniwell of the University of East London, "rapid growth" of postgrad programs could be expected in Argentina, Australia, India, Israel, Mexico, Spain, and Singapore.</p> <p>Moreover, attractive careers seemed to await those who earned higher degrees in positive psychology. The University of Pennsylvania program claims as one of its alums a coauthor of the business self-help book <em>How Full Is Your Bucket?</em> and two other alums have founded a consulting group to bring positive psychology into the public schools, through workshops on such topics as "measuring and nurturing character strengths and virtues" and "learning tools for building optimism and resilience." Another alum, David J. Pollay, is a business consultant and columnist for the Happy News Web site. Mostly, the opportunities seemed to lie in applying positive psychology to organizations and businesses, through consulting and coaching.</p> <p>Yet even at this self-congratulatory "summit," there was some anxiety about the scientific foundations of positive psychology. In her description of the "challenges" facing the master's program in positive psychology at her London university, Ilona Boniwell had included "healthy British skepticism." This struck me as odd: Wouldn't a physics or sociology professor be delighted to have skeptical, questioning students? When I put this query to her during a break in the proceedings, she told me: "A lot of results [in positive psychology] are presented as stronger than they are; for example, they're correlational, not causative. The science of positive psychology has not necessarily caught up with the promise of positive psychology." The "promise" was lucrative careers in business coaching, and the science would apparently just have to catch up.</p> <p>In fact, the publicity received by positive psychology in the preceding year had been less than 100 percent positive. The 2007 <em>New York Times Magazine</em> article on Happiness 101 courses had complained about "the sect-like feel of positive psychology" and suggested that "the publicity about the field has gotten ahead of the science, which may be no good anyway." The article went on to report that "the idea that whatever science there is may not yet be first-class troubles Seligman, too. ÔI have the same worry they do. That's what I do at 4 in the morning,' he says."</p> <p>These worries finally surfaced at a late afternoon plenary session on "The Future of Positive Psychology," featuring the patriarchs of the discipline, Martin Seligman and Ed Diener. Seligman got the audience's attention by starting off with the statement "I've decided my theory of positive psychology is completely wrong." Why? Because it's about happiness, which is "scientifically unwieldy." Somehow, this problem could be corrected by throwing in the notions of "success" and "accomplishment"—which I couldn't help noting would put the positive psychologists on the same terrain as Norman Vincent Peale and any number of success gurus. With the addition of success, Seligman went on, one was talking no longer about positive psychology but about a "plural theory" embracing anthropology, political science, and economics, and this is what he would be moving on to—"positive social science."</p> <p>Seligman's statement created understandable consternation within the audience of several hundred positive psychologists, graduate students, and coaches. It must have felt a bit like having one's father announce that he found his current family too narrow and limiting and would be moving on to a new one. In the Q&amp;A session, some picked up on Seligman's admission that the scientific basis of positive psychology is all too thin, with one asking, "How do we balance the empirical side of positive psychology with the applied stuff ," like coaching? Diener responded, in part, that "people doing things that there isn't good evidence for" are at least "meeting a need." Seligman agreed, saying that positive psychology was under pressure to produce practical results because "people want happiness." If that sometimes means that the applications, like coaching, get ahead of the science—well, "science follows from practice," he said, invoking the Wright brothers, "who flew when scientists didn't know how birds fly."</p> <p>The idea of moving on to "positive social science" provoked even more anxiety. Diener defended the phrase "positive psychology," saying, "It's a brand." Besides, he said, he "hates" the idea of positive social science, since social science includes sociology and sociology is "weak" and notoriously underfunded. The subject seemed to have veered away from science to naked opportunism. When one audience member proposed renaming positive psychology "applied behavioral economics," because "it's popular in business schools and goes with high salaries," nobody laughed.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2010 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '662302'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=662302" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 20 May 2010 05:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Psychotherapy Networker 662302 at http://www.alternet.org Books Personal Health Books ehrenreich positive psychology sleigman bright-sided ehrenreich seligman bright-sided seligman seligman positive psychol Ehrenreich: The Pink-Ribbon Breast Cancer Cult http://www.alternet.org/story/144320/ehrenreich%3A_the_pink-ribbon_breast_cancer_cult <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '659693'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=659693" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What feminists don&#039;t need, no matter how many &quot;races for the cure&quot; they run, is a ladies’ auxiliary to the cancer-industrial complex.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Has feminism been replaced by the pink-ribbon breast cancer cult? When the House of Representatives passed the Stupak amendment, which would take abortion rights away even from women who have private insurance, the female response ranged from muted to inaudible.</p> <p>A few weeks later, when the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended that regular screening mammography not start until age 50, all hell broke loose. Sheryl Crow, Whoopi Goldberg, and Olivia Newton-John raised their voices in protest; a few dozen non-boldface women <a title="http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/1109/680841_video.html?ref=newsstorypicketed" href="http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/1109/680841_video.html?ref=newsstoryhttp://www.wjla.com/news/stories/1109/680841_video.html?ref=newsstorypicketed" target="_blank">picketed</a> the Department of Health and Human Services.  If you didn’t look too closely, it almost seemed as if the women’s health movement of the 1970s and 1980s had returned in full force.</p> <p>Never mind that Dr. Susan Love, author of what the <em>New York Times</em> dubbed “the bible for women with breast cancer,” endorses the new guidelines along with leading women’s health groups like Breast Cancer Action, the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.stopbreastcancer.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=979&amp;Itemid=169">National Breast Cancer Coalition</a>, and the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN). For years, these groups have been warning about the excessive use of screening mammography in the U.S., which carries its own dangers and leads to no detectible lowering of breast cancer mortality relative to less mammogram-happy nations.</p> <p>Nonetheless, on CNN last week, we had the unsettling spectacle of NWHN director and noted women’s health advocate Cindy Pearson speaking out for the new guidelines, while ordinary women lined up to attribute their survival from the disease to mammography. Once upon a time, grassroots women challenged the establishment by figuratively burning their bras. Now, in some masochistic perversion of feminism, they are raising their voices to yell, “Squeeze our tits!”</p> <p>When the Stupak anti-choice amendment passed, and so entered the health reform bill, no congressional representative stood up on the floor of the House to recount how access to abortion had saved her life or her family’s well-being. And where were the tea-baggers when we needed them? If anything represents the true danger of “government involvement” in health care, it’s a health reform bill that – if the Senate enacts something similar -- will snatch away all but the wealthiest women’s right to choose.</p> <p><a target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805087494/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><img vspace="6" hspace="6" align="left" src="http://www.tomdispatch.com/img/brightehrenreich.gif" alt="" /></a>It’s not just that abortion is deemed a morally trickier issue than mammography. To some extent, pink-ribbon culture <em>has</em> replaced feminism as a focus of female identity and solidarity. When a corporation wants to signal that it’s “woman friendly,” what does it do?  It stamps a pink ribbon on its widget and proclaims that some miniscule portion of the profits will go to breast cancer research. I’ve even seen a bottle of Shiraz called “Hope” with a pink ribbon on its label, but no information, alas, on how much you have to drink to achieve the promised effect. When Laura Bush traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2007, what grave issue did she take up with the locals? Not women’s rights (to drive, to go outside without a man, etc.), but “breast cancer awareness.” In the post-feminist United States, issues like rape, domestic violence, and unwanted pregnancy seem to be too edgy for much public discussion, but breast cancer is all apple pie.</p> <p>So welcome to the Women’s Movement 2.0: Instead of the proud female symbol -- a circle on top of a cross -- we have a droopy ribbon. Instead of embracing the full spectrum of human colors -- black, brown, red, yellow, and white -- we stick to princess pink. While we used to march in protest against sexist laws and practices, now we race or walk “for the cure.” And while we once sought full “consciousness” of all that oppresses us, now we’re content to achieve “awareness,” which has come to mean one thing -- dutifully baring our breasts for the annual mammogram.</p> <p>Look, the issue here isn’t health-care costs. If the current levels of screening mammography demonstrably saved lives, I would say go for it, and damn the expense. But the numbers are increasingly insistent: Routine mammographic screening of women under 50 <em>does not</em> reduce breast cancer mortality in that group, nor do older women necessarily need an annual mammogram. In fact, the whole dogma about “early detection” is shaky, as Susan Love <a target="_blank" href="http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-love23-2009nov23,0,1732820.story">reminds us</a>:  the idea has been to catch cancers early, when they’re still small, but some tiny cancers are viciously aggressive, and some large ones aren’t going anywhere.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a title="http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/144177/47,000_women_could_die_as_a_result_of_the_new_mammogram_guidelines/One" href="http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/144177/47%2C000_women_could_die_as_a_result_of_the_new_mammogram_guidelines/" target="_blank">One response</a></span> to the new guidelines has been that numbers don’t matter -- only individuals do -- and if just one life is saved, that’s good enough. So OK, let me cite my own individual experience. In 2000, at the age of 59, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer on the basis of one dubious mammogram followed by a really bad one, followed by a biopsy.  Maybe I should be grateful that the cancer was detected in time, but the truth is, I’m not sure whether these mammograms detected the tumor or, along with many earlier ones, contributed to it: One known environmental cause of breast cancer is radiation, in amounts easily accumulated through regular mammography.</p> <p>And why was I bothering with this mammogram in the first place? I had long ago made the decision not to spend my golden years undergoing cancer surveillance, but I wanted to get my Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) prescription renewed, and the nurse practitioner wouldn’t do that without a fresh mammogram.</p> <p>As for the HRT, I was taking it because I had been convinced, by the prevailing medical propaganda, that HRT helps prevent heart disease and Alzheimer’s. In 2002, we found out that HRT is itself a risk factor for breast cancer (as well as being ineffective at warding off heart disease and Alzheimer’s), but we didn’t know that in 2000. So did I get breast cancer because of the HRT -- and possibly because of the mammograms themselves -- or did HRT lead to the detection of a cancer I would have gotten anyway?</p> <p>I don’t know, but I do know that that biopsy was followed by the worst six months of my life, spent bald and barfing my way through chemotherapy. This is what’s at stake here: Not only the possibility that some women may die because their cancers go undetected, but that many others will lose months or years of their lives to debilitating and possibly unnecessary treatments.</p> <p>You don’t have to be suffering from “chemobrain” (chemotherapy-induced cognitive decline) to discern evil, iatrogenic, profit-driven forces at work here.  In <a target="_blank" href="http://www.alternet.org/healthwellness/144053/do_yearly_mammograms_save_women%27s_lives/?page=3">a recent column</a> on the new guidelines, patient-advocate Naomi Freundlich raises the possibility that “entrenched interests -- in screening, surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments associated with diagnosing more and more cancers -- are impeding scientific evidence.” I am particularly suspicious of the oncologists, who saw their incomes soar starting in the late 80s when they began administering and selling chemotherapy drugs themselves in their ghastly, pink-themed, “chemotherapy suites.” Mammograms recruit women into chemotherapy, and of course, the pink-ribbon cult recruits women into mammography.</p> <p>What we really need is a new women’s health movement, one that’s sharp and skeptical enough to ask all the hard questions: What are the environmental (or possibly life-style) <em>causes</em> of the breast cancer epidemic? Why are existing treatments like chemotherapy so toxic and heavy-handed? And, if the old narrative of cancer’s progression from “early” to “late” stages no longer holds, what <em>is</em> the course of this disease (or diseases)? What we don’t need, no matter how pretty and pink, is a ladies’ auxiliary to the cancer-industrial complex.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 17 books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed <em>and</em> Bait and Switch. <em>A frequent contributor to </em>Harper's<em> and the </em>Nation<em>, she has also been a columnist at the </em>New York Times<em> and </em>Time<em> magazine. Her seventeenth book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805087494/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America</a> (Metropolitan Books), has just been published.</em> </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '659693'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=659693" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 02 Dec 2009 09:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch.com 659693 at http://www.alternet.org LGBTQ LGBTQ feminism breast cancer barbara ehrenreich Barbara Ehrenreich: Why Your Children May Not Get a Swine Flu Shot Before They Need It http://www.alternet.org/story/143712/barbara_ehrenreich%3A_why_your_children_may_not_get_a_swine_flu_shot_before_they_need_it <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '659099'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=659099" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Too much faith in private enterprise has left us open to a flu epidemic.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>If you can't find any swine flu vaccine for your kids, it won't be for a lack of positive thinking. In fact, the whole flu snafu is being blamed on "undue optimism" on the part of both the Obama administration and Big Pharma.</p> <p>Optimism is supposed to be good for our health. According to the academic "positive psychologists," as well as legions of unlicensed life coaches and inspirational speakers, optimism wards off common illnesses, contributes to recovery from cancer, and extends longevity. To its promoters, optimism is practically a miracle vaccine, so essential that we need to start inoculating Americans with it in the public schools -- in the form of "optimism training."</p> <p>But optimism turns out to be less than salubrious when it comes to <i>public</i> health. In July, the federal government promised to have 160 million doses of H1N1 vaccine ready for distribution by the end of October. Instead, only 28 million doses are now ready to go, and optimism is the obvious culprit. "Road to Flu Vaccine Shortfall, Paved With Undue Optimism," was the headline of a front page article in the October 26th <i>New York Times</i>. In the conventional spin, the vaccine shortage is now "threatening to undermine public confidence in government." If the federal government couldn't get this right, the pundits are already asking, how can we trust it with health reform?</p> <p>But let's stop a minute and also ask: Who really screwed up here -- the government or private pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and three others that had agreed to manufacture and deliver the vaccine by late fall? Last spring and summer, those companies gleefully gobbled up $2 billion worth of government contracts for vaccine production, promising to have every American, or at least every American child and pregnant woman, supplied with vaccine before trick-or-treating season began.</p> <p>According to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the government was misled by these companies, which failed to report manufacturing delays as they arose. Her department, she says, was "relying on the manufacturers to give us their numbers, and as soon as we got numbers we put them out to the public. It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy."</p> <p>If, in fact, there's a political parable here, it's about Big Government's sweetly trusting reliance on Big Business to safeguard the public health: Let the private insurance companies manage health financing; let profit-making hospital chains deliver health care; let Big Pharma provide safe and affordable medications. As it happens, though, all these entities have a priority that regularly overrides the public's health, and that is, of course, profit -- which has led insurance companies to function as "death panels," excluding those who might ever need care, and for-profit hospitals to turn away the indigent, the pregnant, and the uninsured.</p> <p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805087494/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><img vspace="6" hspace="6" align="left" src="http://www.tomdispatch.com/img/brightehrenreich.gif" alt="" /></a>As for Big Pharma, the truth is that they're just not all that into vaccines, traditionally preferring to manufacture drugs for such plagues as erectile dysfunction, social anxiety, and restless leg syndrome. Vaccines can be tricky and less than maximally profitable to manufacture. They go out of style with every microbial mutation, and usually it's the government, rather than cunning direct-to-consumer commercials, that determines who gets them. So it should have been no surprise that Big Pharma approached the H1N1 problem ploddingly, using a 50-year old technology involving the production of the virus in chicken eggs, a method long since abandoned by China and the European Union.</p> <p>Chicken eggs are fine for omelets, but they have quickly proved to be a poor growth medium for the viral "seed" strain used to make H1N1 vaccine. There are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sen-bob-graham/why-werent-h1n1-vacccines_b_339986.html">alternative "cell culture" methods</a> that could produce the vaccine much faster, but in complete defiance of the conventional wisdom that private enterprise is always more innovative and resourceful than government, Big Pharma did not demand that they be made available for this year's swine flu epidemic. Just for the record, those alternative methods have been developed with government funding, which is also the source of almost all our basic knowledge of viruses.</p> <p>So, thanks to the drug companies, optimism has been about as effective in warding off H1N1 as amulets or fairy dust. Both the government and Big Pharma were indeed overly optimistic about the latter's ability to supply the vaccine, leaving those of us who are involved in the care of small children with little to rely on but hope -- hope that the epidemic will fade out on its own, hope that our loved ones have the luck to survive it.</p> <p>And contrary to the claims of the positive psychologists, optimism itself is neither an elixir, nor a life-saving vaccine. Recent studies show that optimism -- or positive feelings -- do not affect recovery from a variety of cancers, including those of the breast, lungs, neck, and throat. Furthermore, the evidence that optimism prolongs life has turned out to be shaky at best: one study of nuns frequently cited as proof positive of optimism's healthful effects turned out, in fact, only to show that nuns who wrote more eloquently about their vows in their early twenties tended to outlive those whose written statements were clunkier.</p> <p>Are we ready to abandon faith-based medicine of both the individual and public health variety? Faith in private enterprise and the market has now left us open to a swine flu epidemic; faith alone -- in the form of optimism or hope -- does not kill viruses or cancer cells. On the public health front, we need to socialize vaccine manufacture as well as its distribution. Then, if the supply falls short, we can always impeach the president. On the individual front, there's always soap and water.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 16 books, including the bestsellers</i> Nickel and Dimed <i>and</i> Bait and Switch. <i>A frequent contributor to Harper's and the Nation, she has also been a columnist at the New York Times and Time magazine. Her seventeenth book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805087494/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America</a> (Metropolitan Books), has just been published. An examination of recent studies of the medical ineffectiveness of positive thinking, mentioned in this essay, can be found in the book. To listen to the TomDispatch audio interview with Ehrenreich that accompanies this piece, <a href="http://tomdispatch.blogspot.com/2009/11/interview-w-barbara-ehrenreich.html">click here</a>.</i> </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '659099'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=659099" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 03 Nov 2009 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch.com 659099 at http://www.alternet.org Personal Health Personal Health obama public health pharma swine flu h1n1 Ridiculous Study Blames Feminism for Non-Existent 'Happiness Gap' Between Men and Women http://www.alternet.org/story/143260/ridiculous_study_blames_feminism_for_non-existent_%27happiness_gap%27_between_men_and_women <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '658667'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=658667" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Much-discussed study claims that women are more depressed relative to men in recent decades, when it actually suggests that neither marriage nor children make women happy.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Feminism made women miserable. This, anyway, seems to be the most popular takeaway from "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," a <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1405977">recent study</a> by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers which purports to show that women have become steadily unhappier since 1972. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/opinion/20dowd.html">Maureen Dowd</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/the-sad-shocking-truth-ab_b_290021.html">Arianna Huffington</a> greeted the news with somber perplexity, but the more common response has been a triumphant: <i>I told you so</i>.</p> <p>On <a href="http://www.doublex.com/section/news-politics/whine-womyn-and-thongs">Slate's DoubleX website</a>, a columnist concluded from the study that "the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s gave us a steady stream of women's complaints disguised as manifestos… and a brand of female sexual power so promiscuous that it celebrates everything from prostitution to nipple piercing as a feminist act -- in other words, whine, womyn, and thongs." Or as Phyllis Schlafly <a href="http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=32305">put it</a>, more soberly: "[T]he feminist movement taught women to see themselves as victims of an oppressive patriarchy in which their true worth will never be recognized and any success is beyond their reach... [S]elf-imposed victimhood is not a recipe for happiness."</p> <p>But it's a little too soon to blame Gloria Steinem for our dependence on SSRIs. For all the high-level head-scratching induced by the Stevenson and Wolfers study, hardly anyone has pointed out (1) that there are some issues with happiness studies in general, (2) that there are some reasons to doubt this study in particular, or (3) that, even if you take this study at face value, it has nothing at all to say about the impact of feminism on anyone's mood.</p> <p>For starters, happiness is an inherently slippery thing to measure or define. Philosophers have debated what it is for centuries, and even if we were to define it simply as a greater frequency of positive feelings than negative ones, when we ask people if they are happy, we are asking them to arrive at some sort of average over many moods and moments. Maybe I was upset earlier in the day after I opened the bills, but then was cheered up by a call from a friend, so what am I really?</p> <p>In one well-known psychological experiment, subjects were asked to answer a questionnaire on life satisfaction, but only after they had performed the apparently irrelevant task of photocopying a sheet of paper for the experimenter. For a randomly chosen half of the subjects, a dime had been left for them to find on the copy machine. As two economists summarize the results: "Reported satisfaction with life was raised substantially by the discovery of the coin on the copy machine -- clearly not an income effect."</p> <p>As for the particular happiness study under discussion, the red flags start popping up as soon as you look at the data. Not to be anti-intellectual about it, but the raw data on how men and women respond to the survey reveal no discernible trend to the naked eyeball. Only by performing an occult statistical manipulation called "ordered probit estimates," do the authors manage to tease out any trend at all, and it is a tiny one: "Women were one percentage point less likely than men to say they were not too happy at the beginning of the sample [1972]; by 2006 women were one percentage more likely to report being in this category." Differences of that magnitude would be stunning if you were measuring, for example, the speed of light under different physical circumstances, but when the subject is as elusive as happiness -- well, we are not talking about paradigm-shifting results.</p> <p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805087494/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20"><img vspace="6" hspace="6" align="left" src="http://www.tomdispatch.com/img/brightehrenreich.gif" alt="" /></a>Furthermore, the idea that women have been sliding toward despair is contradicted by the one <i>objective</i> measure of unhappiness the authors offer: suicide rates. Happiness is, of course, a subjective state, but suicide is a cold, hard fact, and the suicide rate has been the gold standard of misery since sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote the book on it in 1897. As Stevenson and Wolfers report -- somewhat sheepishly, we must imagine -- "contrary to the subjective well-being trends we document, female suicide rates have been falling, even as male suicide rates have remained roughly constant through most of our sample [1972-2006]." Women may get the blues; men are more likely to get a bullet through the temple.</p> <p>Another distracting little data point that no one, including the authors, seems to have much to say about is that, while "women" have been getting marginally sadder, black women have been getting happier and happier. To quote the authors: "… happiness has trended quite strongly upward for both female and male African Americans … Indeed, the point estimates suggest that well-being may have risen more strongly for black women than for black men." The study should more accurately be titled "The Paradox of Declining White Female Happiness," only that might have suggested that the problem could be cured with melanin and Restylane.</p> <p>But let's assume the study is sound and that (white) women have become less happy relative to men since 1972. Does that mean that feminism ruined their lives?</p> <p>Not according to Stevenson and Wolfers, who find that "the relative decline in women's well-being... holds for both working and stay-at-home mothers, for those married and divorced, for the old and the young, and across the education distribution" -- as well as for both mothers and the childless. If feminism were the problem, you might expect divorced women to be less happy than married ones and employed women to be less happy than stay-at-homes. As for having children, the presumed premier source of female fulfillment: They actually make women <i>less</i> happy.</p> <p>And if the women's movement was such a big downer, you'd expect the saddest women to be those who had some direct exposure to the noxious effects of second wave feminism. As the authors report, however, "there is no evidence that women who experienced the protests and enthusiasm in the 1970s have seen their happiness gap widen by more than for those women were just being born during that period."</p> <p>What this study shows, if anything, is that neither marriage nor children make women happy. (The results are not in yet on nipple piercing.) Nor, for that matter, does there seem to be any problem with "too many choices," "work-life balance," or the "second shift." If you believe Stevenson and Wolfers, women's happiness is supremely indifferent to the actual conditions of their lives, including poverty and racial discrimination. Whatever "happiness" is...</p> <p>So why all the sudden fuss about the Wharton study, which first leaked out two years ago anyway? Mostly because it's become a launching pad for a new book by the prolific management consultant Marcus Buckingham, best known for <i>First, Break All the Rules</i> and <i>Now, Find Your Strengths</i>. His new book, <i>Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently</i>, is a cookie-cutter classic of the positive-thinking self-help genre: First, the heart-wrenching quotes from unhappy women identified only by their email names (Countess1, Luveyduvy, etc.), then the stories of "successful" women, followed by the obligatory self-administered test to discover "the role you were bound to play" (Creator, Caretaker, Influencer, etc.), all bookended with an ad for the many related products you can buy, including a "video introduction" from Buckingham, a "participant's guide" containing "exercises" to get you to happiness, and a handsome set of "Eight Strong Life Plans" to pick from. The <i>Huffington Post</i> has given Buckingham a column in which to continue his marketing campaign.</p> <p>It's an old story: If you want to sell something, first find the terrible affliction that it cures. In the 1980s, as silicone implants were taking off, the doctors discovered "micromastia" -- the "disease" of small-breastedness. More recently, as big pharma searches furiously for a female Viagra, an amazingly high 43% of women have been found to suffer from "Female Sexual Dysfunction," or FSD. Now, it's unhappiness, and the range of potential "cures" is dazzling: Seagrams, Godiva, and Harlequin, take note.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 16 books, including the bestsellers</i> Nickel and Dimed <i>and</i> Bait and Switch<i>. A frequent contributor to</i> Harper's <i>and the</i> Nation<i>, she has also been a columnist at the</i> New York Times <i>and</i> Time <i>magazine. Her seventeenth book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805087494/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America</a> (Metropolitan Books), has just been published. </i> </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '658667'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=658667" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 13 Oct 2009 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch.com 658667 at http://www.alternet.org LGBTQ LGBTQ Media women depression Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor? http://www.alternet.org/story/142075/is_it_now_a_crime_to_be_poor <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '657522'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=657522" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">If you&#039;re living on the streets, engaging in the biological necessities of life -- like sitting, sleeping, lying down or loitering -- will get you in jail.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>It's too bad so many people are falling into poverty at a time when it’s almost illegal to be poor. You won’t be arrested for shopping in a Dollar Store, but if you are truly, deeply, in-the-streets poor, you’re well advised not to engage in any of the biological necessities of life — like sitting, sleeping, lying down or loitering. City officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about the ordinances that afflict the destitute, most of which go back to the dawn of gentrification in the ’80s and ’90s. “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a city attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla., said in June, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”</p> <p>In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more poverty. So concludes a<a title="Study PDF" href="http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/crimreport/crimreport_2009.pdf">new study</a> from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which found that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with ticketing and arrests for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering or carrying an open container of alcohol.</p> <p>The report lists America’s 10 “meanest” cities — the largest of which are Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco — but new contestants are springing up every day. The City Council in Grand Junction, Colo., has been considering a ban on begging, and at the end of June, Tempe, Ariz., carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent. How do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, “An indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.</p> <p>That could be me before the blow-drying and eyeliner, and it’s definitely Al Szekely at any time of day. A grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington — the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Fu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972. He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until last December, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants.</p> <p>It turned out that Mr. Szekely, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs or curse in front of ladies, did indeed have a warrant — for not appearing in court to face a charge of “criminal trespassing” (for sleeping on a sidewalk in a Washington suburb). So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail. “Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Mr. Szekely. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless.”</p> <p>The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, and several members of the group were arrested. A federal judge just overturned the anti-sharing law in Orlando, Fla., but the city is appealing. And now Middletown, Conn., is cracking down on food sharing.</p> <p>If poverty tends to criminalize people, it is also true that criminalization inexorably impoverishes them. Scott Lovell, another homeless man I interviewed in Washington, earned his record by committing a significant crime — by participating in the armed robbery of a steakhouse when he was 15. Although Mr. Lovell dresses and speaks more like a summer tourist from Ohio than a felon, his criminal record has made it extremely difficult for him to find a job.</p> <p>For Al Szekely, the arrest for trespassing meant a further descent down the circles of hell. While in jail, he lost his slot in the shelter and now sleeps outside the Verizon Center sports arena, where the big problem, in addition to the security guards, is mosquitoes. His stick-thin arms are covered with pink crusty sores, which he treats with a regimen of frantic scratching.</p> <p>For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalization — one involving debt, and the other skin color. Anyone of any color or pre-recession financial status can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors’ prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can’t afford to pay their traffic fines may be made to “sit out their tickets” in jail.</p> <p>Often the path to legal trouble begins when one of your creditors has a court issue a summons for you, which you fail to honor for one reason or another. (Maybe your address has changed or you never received it.) Now you’re in contempt of court. Or suppose you miss a payment and, before you realize it, your car insurance lapses; then you’re stopped for something like a broken headlight. Depending on the state, you may have your car impounded or face a steep fine — again, exposing you to a possible summons. “There’s just no end to it once the cycle starts,” said Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. “It just keeps accelerating.”</p> <p>By far the most reliable way to be criminalized by poverty is to have the wrong-color skin. Indignation runs high when a celebrity professor encounters racial profiling, but for decades whole communities have been effectively “profiled” for the suspicious combination of being both dark-skinned and poor, thanks to the “broken windows” or “zero tolerance” theory of policing popularized by Rudy Giuliani, when he was mayor of New York City, and his police chief William Bratton.</p> <p>Flick a cigarette in a heavily patrolled community of color and you’re littering; wear the wrong color T-shirt and you’re displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighborhood can mark you as a potential suspect, according to “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice,” an eye-opening new book by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor in Washington. If you seem at all evasive, which I suppose is like looking “overly anxious” in an airport, Mr. Butler writes, the police “can force you to stop just to investigate why you don’t want to talk to them.” And don’t get grumpy about it or you could be “resisting arrest.”</p> <p>There’s no minimum age for being sucked into what the Children’s Defense Fund calls “the cradle-to-prison pipeline.” In New York City, a teenager caught in public housing without an ID — say, while visiting a friend or relative — can be charged with criminal trespassing and wind up in juvenile detention, Mishi Faruqee, the director of youth justice programs for the Children’s Defense Fund of New York, told me. In just the past few months, a growing number of cities have taken to ticketing and sometimes handcuffing teenagers found on the streets during school hours.</p> <p>In Los Angeles, the fine for truancy is $250; in Dallas, it can be as much as $500 — crushing amounts for people living near the poverty level. According to the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group, 12,000 students were ticketed for truancy in 2008.</p> <p>Why does the Bus Riders Union care? Because it estimates that 80 percent of the “truants,” especially those who are black or Latino, are merely late for school, thanks to the way that over-filled buses whiz by them without stopping. I met people in Los Angeles who told me they keep their children home if there’s the slightest chance of their being late. It’s an ingenious anti-truancy policy that discourages parents from sending their youngsters to school.</p> <p>The pattern is to curtail financing for services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement: starve school and public transportation budgets, then make truancy illegal. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Be sure to harass street vendors when there are few other opportunities for employment. The experience of the poor, and especially poor minorities, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.</p> <p>And if you should make the mistake of trying to escape via a brief marijuana-induced high, it’s “gotcha” all over again, because that of course is illegal too. One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in the world. Today the same number of Americans — 2.3 million — reside in prison as in public housing.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the public housing that remains has become ever more prisonlike, with residents subjected to drug testing and random police sweeps. The safety net, or what’s left of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.</p> <p>Some of the community organizers I’ve talked to around the country think they know why “zero tolerance” policing has ratcheted up since the recession began. Leonardo Vilchis of the Union de Vecinos, a community organization in Los Angeles, suspects that “poor people have become a source of revenue” for recession-starved cities, and that the police can always find a violation leading to a fine. If so, this is a singularly demented fund-raising strategy. At a Congressional hearing in June, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers testified about the pervasive “overcriminalization of crimes that are not a risk to public safety,” like sleeping in a cardboard box or jumping turnstiles, which leads to expensively clogged courts and prisons.</p> <p>A Pew Center study released in March found states spending a record $51.7 billion on corrections, an amount that the center judged, with an excess of moderation, to be “too much.”</p> <p>But will it be enough — the collision of rising prison populations that we can’t afford and the criminalization of poverty — to force us to break the mad cycle of poverty and punishment? With the number of people in poverty increasing (some estimates suggest it’s up to 45 million to 50 million, from 37 million in 2007) several states are beginning to ease up on the criminalization of poverty — for example, by sending drug offenders to treatment rather than jail, shortening probation and reducing the number of people locked up for technical violations like missed court appointments. But others are tightening the screws: not only increasing the number of “crimes” but also charging prisoners for their room and board — assuring that they’ll be released with potentially criminalizing levels of debt.</p> <p>Maybe we can’t afford the measures that would begin to alleviate America’s growing poverty — affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation and so forth. I would argue otherwise, but for now I’d be content with a consensus that, if we can’t afford to truly help the poor, neither can we afford to go on tormenting them.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '657522'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=657522" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 19 Aug 2009 09:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, The New York Times 657522 at http://www.alternet.org Human Rights Economy Human Rights poverty law enforcement homelessness The Economic Fallout Has Decimated the Black Middle Class http://www.alternet.org/story/141825/the_economic_fallout_has_decimated_the_black_middle_class <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '657312'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=657312" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">40 percent of African Americans will have experienced unemployment or underemployment by 2010 and child poverty will increase to slightly over half.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>To judge from most of the commentary on the Gates-Crowley affair, you would think that a "black elite" has gotten dangerously out of hand. First Gates (Cambridge, Yale, Harvard) showed insufficient deference to Crowley, then Obama (Occidental, Harvard) piled on to accuse the police of having acted "stupidly." Was this "the end of white America" which the Atlantic had warned of in its January/February cover story? Or had the injuries of class -- working class in Crowley's case -- finally trumped the grievances of race?</p> <p>Left out of the ensuing tangle of commentary on race and class has been the increasing impoverishment -- or, we should say, re-impoverishment -- of African Americans as a group. In fact, the most salient and lasting effect of the current recession may turn out to be the decimation of the black middle class. According to a study by Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy, 33 percent of the black middle class was already in danger of falling out of the middle class at the start of the recession. Gates and Obama, along with Oprah and Cosby, will no doubt remain in place, but millions of the black equivalents of Officer Crowley -- from factory workers to bank tellers and white collar managers -- are sliding down toward destitution.</p> <p>For African Americans -- and to a large extent, Latinos -- the recession is over. It occurred between 2000 and 2007, as black employment decreased by 2.4 percent and incomes declined by 2.9 percent. During the seven-year long black recession, one third of black children lived in poverty and black unemployment -- even among college graduates -- consistently ran at about twice the level of white unemployment. That was the black recession. What's happening now is a depression.</p> <p>Black unemployment is now at 14.7 percent, compared to 8.7 for whites. In New York City, black unemployment has been rising four times as fast as that of whites. Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, estimates that 40 percent of African Americans will have experienced unemployment or underemployment by 2010, and this will increase child poverty from one-third of African-American children to slightly over half. No one can entirely explain the extraordinary rate of job loss among African Americans, though factors may include the relative concentration of blacks in the hard-hit retail and manufacturing sectors, as well as the lesser seniority of blacks in better-paying, white collar, positions.</p> <p>But one thing is certain: The longstanding racial "wealth gap" makes African Americans particularly vulnerable to poverty when job loss strikes. In 1998, the net worth of white households on average was $100,700 higher than that of African-Americans. By 2007, this gap had increased to $142,600. The Survey of Consumer Finances, which is supported by the Federal Reserve Board, collects this data every three years -- and every time it has been collected, the racial wealth gap has widened. To put it another way: in 2004, for every dollar of wealth held by the typical white family, the African American family had only one 12 cents. In 2007, it had exactly a dime. So when an African American breadwinner loses a job, there are usually no savings to fall back on, no well-heeled parents to hit up, no retirement accounts to raid.</p> <p>All this comes on top of the highly racially skewed subprime mortgage calamity. After decades of being denied mortgages on racial grounds, African Americans made a tempting market for bubble-crazed lenders like Countrywide, with the result that high income blacks were almost twice as likely as low income white to receive high interest subprime loans. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, Latinos will end up losing between $75 billion and $98 billion in home-value wealth from subprime loans, while blacks will lose between $71 billion and $92 billion. United for a Fair Economy has called this family net-worth catastrophe the "greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern U.S. history."</p> <p>Yet in the depths of this African American depression, some commentators, black as well as white, are still obsessing about the supposed cultural deficiencies of the black community. In a December op-ed in the Washington Post, Kay Hymowitz blamed black economic woes on the fact that 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers, not noticing that the white two-parent family has actually declined at a faster rate than the black two-parent family. The share of black children living in a single parent home increased by 155 percent between 1960 to 2006, while the share of white children living in single parent homes increased by a staggering 229 percent.</p> <p>Just last month on NPR, commentator Juan Williams dismissed the NAACP by saying that more up-to-date and relevant groups focus on "people who have taken advantage of integration and opportunities for education, employment, versus those who seem caught in generational cycles of poverty," which he went on to characterize by drug use and crime. The fact that there is an ongoing recession disproportionately affecting the African American middle class -- and brought on by Wall Street greed rather than "ghetto" values -- seems to have eluded him.</p> <p>We don't need any more moralizing or glib analyses of class and race that could have just as well been made in the 70s. The recession is changing everything. It's redrawing the class contours of America in ways that will leave us more polarized than ever, and, yes, profoundly hurting the erstwhile white middle and working classes. But the depression being experienced by people of color threatens to do something on an entirely different scale, and that is to eliminate the black middle class.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the president of United Professionals and author, most recently, of "This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation." Dedrick Muhammad is a Senior Organizer and Research Associate of the Institute for Policy Studies. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '657312'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=657312" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Sun, 09 Aug 2009 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, Barbaraehrenreich.com 657312 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy race economy african americans middle class Barbara Ehrenreich: Welcome to a Dying Industry, J-School Grads http://www.alternet.org/story/140442/barbara_ehrenreich%3A_welcome_to_a_dying_industry%2C_j-school_grads <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '655930'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=655930" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Drop your sense of entitlement, Ehrenreich tells a graduating class of media makers, journalists are now &quot;part of the working class.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>The following is the text of Barbara Ehrenreich's commencement address</em><em>on May 16</em><em>to the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2009.</em></p><p>The dean gave me some very strict instructions about what to say today. No whining and no crying at the podium. No wringing of hands or gnashing of teeth. Be upbeat, be optimistic, he said -- adding that it wouldn't hurt to throw in a few tips about how to apply for food stamps.</p><p>So let's get the worst out of the way right up front: You are going to be trying to carve out a career in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. You are furthermore going to be trying to do so within what appears to be a dying industry. You have abundant skills and talents -- it's just not clear that anyone wants to pay you for them.</p><p>Well, you are not alone.</p><p>How do you think it feels to be an autoworker right now? And I've spent time with plenty of laid-off paper-mill workers, construction workers and miners. They've got skills; they've got experience. They just don't have jobs.</p><p>So let me be the first to say this to you: Welcome to the American working class.</p><p>You won't get rich, unless of course you develop a sideline in blackmail or bank robbery. You'll be living some of the problems you report on -- the struggle for health insurance, for child care, for affordable housing. You might never have a cleaning lady. In fact, you might be one. I can't tell you how many writers I know who have moonlighted as cleaning ladies or waitresses. And you know what? They were good writers. And good cleaning ladies, too, which is no small thing.</p><p>Let me tell you about my own career, which I think is relevant, not because I'm representative or exemplary in any way, but because I've seen some real ups and downs in this business.</p><p>I didn't start out to be a freelance writer or a journalist, but after a number of false starts and digressions, I discovered that's what I really loved doing. In about 1980, I was a single mother of two small children, and my work quota was four articles or columns a month. I did my research at the public library. I bought my clothes at Kmart or consignment stores. The kids did not get any special lessons or, when the time came, SAT prep courses.</p><p>Then came the fat times, in the '90s, which I realize now were an anomaly in the history of journalism. The industry was booming; editors would take me out for three-course lunches in Manhattan. I'll never forget one of those lunches: It was with the top editor of <em>Esquire</em>, and I was trying to pitch him a story on poverty. He looked increasingly bored as we got through the field greens with goat cheese, the tuna carpaccio and so forth -- until we finally got to the death-by-chocolate dessert, and he finally said, "OK, do your thing on poverty -- but make it upscale."</p><p>It was still an uphill struggle to write what I cared about, but at least I was getting generously paid -- up to $10 a word by <em>Time</em> magazine. Imagine that -- $10 a word. Most Americans would be happy to make $10 an hour.</p><p>Then, bit by bit, it all began to fall apart. The newsweeklies: <em>Time</em> let me go in 1997. The book-publishing industry was in tatters by 2005. And then the newspapers began to shrink within my hands or actually disappear. I was beginning to feel a certain kinship with blacksmiths and elevator operators when the recession hit in 2008, and every single income stream I had began to dry up.</p><p>But it was the recession, of course, that saved me from self-pity. I began to get sick and tired of the typical media recession story -- which was about rich people having to cut back on the hours they spend with their personal trainers. All right, I realize those are man-bites-dog stories compared to a story about a laid-off roofer being evicted from his trailer home. But it seemed to me that the recession had absolutely eliminated the poor and the working class from the media consciousness. Once again, they had disappeared from sight.</p><p>So a couple of weeks ago, I pitched a certain well-known newspaper a series of reported essays on precisely this topic. They took it -- but at about only one-quarter of what they had paid me for writing columns five years ago, barely enough to cover expenses. That bothered me. But then I had a kind of epiphany and realized: I've got to do this anyway. I'm on a mission, and I'll do whatever it takes.</p><p>Which brings me back to the subject of journalism as a profession. We are not part of an elite. We are part of the working class, which is exactly how journalists have seen themselves through most of American history -- as working stiffs. We can be underpaid, we can be jerked around, we can be laid off arbitrarily -- just like any autoworker or mechanic or hotel housekeeper or flight attendant.</p><p>But there <em>is</em>this difference: A laid-off autoworker doesn't go into his or her garage and assemble cars by hand. But we -- journalists -- we can't stop doing what we do.</p><p>As long as there is a story to be told, an injustice to be exposed, a mystery to be solved, we will find a way to do it. A recession won't stop us. A dying industry won't stop us. Even poverty won't stop us, because we are <em>all</em>on a mission here. That's the meaning of your journalism degree. Do not consider it a certificate promising some sort of entitlement. Consider it a license to fight.</p><p>In the '70s, it was gonzo journalism. For us right now, it's <em>guerrilla</em>journalism, and we will not be stopped.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of This Land is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation (Holt Paperbacks, April 2009). She delivered this commencement address on May 16 to the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2009. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '655930'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=655930" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 03 Jun 2009 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, AlterNet 655930 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics journalism barbara ehrenreich commencement speech j-school Unemployed, and Not Getting a Job Anytime Soon? Why Not Build a Better World? http://www.alternet.org/story/139966/unemployed%2C_and_not_getting_a_job_anytime_soon_why_not_build_a_better_world <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '655477'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=655477" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">You may be poorer than you&#039;ve ever been, but you have more free time to express anger and urgency.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In most parts of the world, mass unemployment brings the specter of mass social unrest. Not in the U.S., though, where 13 million people have accepted joblessness with nary a peep of protest.</p><p>Many reasons -- from Prozac to Pentecostalism -- have been cited to explain American passivity in the face of economic violence. But the truth might be far simpler: In America, being unemployed doesn't mean you have nothing to do but run around burning police cars. Unemployment has been reconfigured as a new form of work.</p><p>Nowhere is this clearer than in the white-collar world, where the laid-off are constantly advised to see job searching as a full-time job. As business self-help guru Harvey Mackay advises: "Once you're fired, you already have a job. The job you have is tougher than the last one. It's more demanding." How demanding? He says you need to "plan on 12 to 16 hours a day."</p><p>Picture it: People across America rising at the usual time, suiting up in full corporate regalia and setting themselves down at their laptops to fiddle with resumes, peruse Monster.com and pester everyone on their address lists for leads.</p><p>Some people no doubt have found jobs in this manner, but there have been no scientific comparisons of the technique with, say, printing a resume on a sandwich board and parading around Times Square.</p><p>If there is something familiar in the image of laid-off workers soldiering on, it may be because of films such as "Tokyo Sonata" and the 2001 French film, "Time Out," in which the heroes -- laid-off executives -- conceal their status from their families and continue to mime the daily ritual of going to work. In the movies, this behavior seems pathetic -- a case of terminal denial -- but it's exactly what the American "transition industry" of career coaches and outplacement companies recommends: If you don't have a job, fake one.</p><p>In real life, it's OK for a man to tell his wife he's lost his job; he should just never reveal that he has time on his hands. A February article in The New York Times featured a laid-off Illinois man who justified his refusal to do more around the house by saying, "As one of the people who runs one of the career centers I've been to told me: 'You're out of a job, but it's not your time to paint the house and fix the car. Your job is about finding the next job.' "</p><p>At the kinky extreme, laid-off white-collar people are advised to simulate the office environment further by finding someone to play the part of a "boss" -- a spouse, a friend, a paid career coach -- to whom you report every few days on your progress.</p><p>Is it any wonder there's no time left for lobbying for universal health insurance or reading Marxist tracts on the "reserve army of the unemployed"? It's all a person can do to keep up with the relentless pressures of an imaginary job.</p><p>The blue-collar unemployed are subjected to gerbil-like exercises of their own. While white-collar layoff victims are encouraged to polish the "brand called you," blue-collar people are told they have nothing to offer unless they start all over with "retraining." Hence, in part, the current surge in community college enrollments.</p><p>But in his 2006 book "The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences," Louis Uchitelle raised the obvious question: "Retraining for what?" At the beginning of the decade, computer skills were all the rage; then the low-level computer work vanished to India. Air-conditioner repairing is popular right now, and big-rig truck driving is a perennial favorite. There are no guarantees, of course, of eventual jobs. In a recent report for the organization Food AND Medicine on laid-off manufacturing workers in Maine, Steve Husson, who himself was laid off as a DHL driver, found paper-mill workers stuck with intermittent seasonal work and low-paid service-sector jobs despite stints of retraining.</p><p>Even two or three years ago, when the economy was apparently healthy, average layoff victims "landed" in new jobs paying 17 percent less than the old ones -- if they landed at all. Today, with the country losing more than a half-million jobs a month, both white-collar job searching and blue-collar retraining are becoming surreal exercises in futility. No matter how smart you are -- how flexible, personable and skilled -- you can't find a job that isn't there. At least until the unemployment benefits run out and the credit cards are canceled, you might as well devote yourself to "Madden NFL" and "Minesweeper."</p><p>Of course, there are a few constructive, work-like alternatives. You could join one of the emerging efforts to organize the unemployed, such as Food AND Medicine in Maine, the Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers Association of Allen County, Ind., or the nationwide group United Professionals, which I helped start. Or you could pitch in with one of the several organizations fighting for single-payer health insurance or at least a huge expansion of public health insurance for the unemployed. You could get together with laid-off friends and co-workers to discuss how you would design an economy that made use of people's precious skills instead of periodically tossing them out like so much trash.</p><p>But the first step, as in any 12-step program, is to overcome denial. Job searching is not a job; retraining is not a panacea. You may be poorer than you've ever been, but you are also freer -- to express anger and urgency, to dream and create, to get together with others and conspire to build a better world.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '655477'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=655477" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 11 May 2009 16:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Madison Capital Times 655477 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics activism barbara ehrenreich unemployment If We Are in the Death Spiral of Capitalism, Can We Start Using the "S" Word? http://www.alternet.org/story/130365/if_we_are_in_the_death_spiral_of_capitalism%2C_can_we_start_using_the_%22s%22_word <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '655473'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=655473" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The electroshock paddles of &quot;stimulus&quot; keep being applied, but the capitalist patient isn&#039;t waking up. Is it now safe to talk about socialism?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><b>Note for NYC Residents:</b> <i>This Friday, The Nation Institute, Nation Books, and AlterNet are co-hosting a panel discussion, "Meltdown: The Economic Collapse and a People's Plan for Recovery," with an all-star cast that includes Joseph Stiglitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Jeff Madrick, Christopher Hayes. Some of them should be consulting for the Obama administration in place of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers et al. instead of offering us their thoughts for free at 8 pm this Friday at 2 West 64th Street in New York City at <a href="http://www.nysec.org/">The New York Society for Ethical Culture</a>.</i> Doors open at 7:15, first come, first served. <p>If you haven't heard socialists doing much crowing over the fall of capitalism, it isn't just because there aren't enough of us to make an audible crowing sound. We, as much as anyone on Wall Street in, say, 2006, appreciate the resilience of American capitalism--its ability to regroup and find fresh avenues for growth, as it did after the depressions of 1877, 1893 and the 1930s. In fact, <i>The Communist Manifesto</i> can be read not only as an indictment of capitalism but as a breathless paean to its dynamism. And we all know the joke about the Marxist economist who successfully predicted eleven out of the last three recessions.</p><p> </p><!-- /end .inset --><p>But this time the patient may not get up from the table, no matter how many times the electroshock paddles of "stimulus" are applied. We seem to have entered the death spiral where rising unemployment leads to reduced consumption and hence to greater unemployment. Any <em>schadenfreude</em> we might be tempted to feel as executives lose their corporate jets and the erstwhile Masters of the Universe wipe egg from their faces is quickly dashed by the ever more vivid suffering around us. Food pantries and shelters can no longer keep up with the demand; millions face old age without pensions and with their savings gutted; we personally are consumed with anxiety about the future that awaits our children and grandchildren.</p><p>Besides, it wasn't supposed to happen this way. There was supposed to be a revolution, remember? The socialist idea, prediction, faith or whatever was that capitalism would fall when people got tired of trying to live on the crumbs that fall from the chins of the rich and rose up in some fashion--preferably inclusively, democratically and nonviolently--and seized the wealth for themselves. Such a seizure would have looked nothing like "nationalization" as currently discussed, in which public wealth flows into the private sector with little or no change in the elites that control it or in the way the control is exercised. Our expectation as socialists was that the huge amount of organizing required for revolutionary change would create an infrastructure for governance, built out of--among other puzzle pieces--unions, community organizations, advocacy groups and new organizations of the unemployed and nouveau poor.</p><p>It was also supposed to be a simple matter for the masses to take over or "seize" the physical infrastructure of industrial capitalism--the "means of production"--and start putting it to work for the common good. But much of the means of production has fled overseas--to China, for example, that bastion of authoritarian capitalism. When we look around our increasingly shuttered landscape and survey the ruins of finance capitalism, we see bank upon bank, realty and mortgage companies, title companies, insurance companies, credit-rating agencies and call centers, but not enough enterprises making anything we could actually use, like food or pharmaceuticals. In recent years, capitalism has become increasingly and almost mystically abstract. Outside manufacturing and the service sector, fewer and fewer people could explain to their children what they did for a living. The brightest students went into finance, not physics. The biggest urban buildings housed cubicles and computer screens, not assembly lines, laboratories, studios or classrooms. Even our flagship industry, manufacturing autos, would require major retooling to make something we could use--not more cars, let alone more SUVs, but more windmills, buses and trains.</p><p>What is most galling, from a socialist perspective, is the dawning notion that capitalism may be leaving us with less than it found on this planet, about 400 years ago, when the capitalist mode of production began to take off. Marx imagined that industrial capitalism had potentially solved the age-old problem of scarcity and that there was plenty to go around if only it was equitably distributed. But industrial capitalism--with some help from industrial communism--has brought about a level of environmental destruction that threatens our species along with countless others. The climate is warming, the oil supply is peaking, the deserts are advancing and the seas are rising and contain fewer and fewer fish for us to eat. You don't have to be a freaky doomster to see that extinction may be what's next on the agenda.</p><p>In this situation, with both long-term biological and day-to-day economic survival in doubt, the only relevant question is: do we have a plan, people? Can we see our way out of this and into a just, democratic, sustainable (add your own favorite adjectives) future?</p><p>Let's just put it right out on the table: <i>we</i> don't. At least we don't have some blueprint on how to organize society ready to whip out of our pockets. Lest this sound negligent on our part, we should explain that socialism was an idea about how to rearrange ownership and distribution and, to an extent, governance. It assumed that there was a lot worth owning and distributing; it did not imagine having to come up with an entirely new and environmentally sustainable way of life. Furthermore, the history of socialism has been disfigured by too many cadres who had a perfect plan, if only they could win the next debate, carry out a coup or get enough people to fall into line behind them.</p><p>But we do understand--and this is one of the things that make us "socialists"--that the absence of a plan, or at least some sort of deliberative process for figuring out what to do, is no longer an option. The great promise of capitalism, as first suggested by Adam Smith and recently enshrined in "market fundamentalism," was that we didn't have to figure anything out, because the market would take care of everything for us. Instead of promoting self-reliance, this version of free enterprise fostered passivity in the face of that inscrutable deity, the Market. Deregulate, let wages fall to their "natural" level, turn what remains of government into an endless source of bounty for contractors--whee! Well, that hasn't worked, and the core idea of socialism still stands: that people can get together and figure out how to solve their problems, or at least a lot of their problems, collectively. That we--not the market or the capitalists or some elite group of über-planners--have to control our own destiny.</p><p>We admit: we don't even have a plan for the deliberative process that we know has to replace the anarchic madness of capitalism. Yes, we have some notion of how it should work, based on our experiences with the civil rights movement, the women's movement and the labor movement, as well as with countless cooperative enterprises. This notion centers on what we still call "participatory democracy," in which all voices are heard and all people equally respected. But we have no precise models of participatory democracy on the scale that is currently called for, involving hundreds of millions, and potentially billions, of participants at a time.</p><p>What might this look like? There are some intriguing models to study, like the Brazilian Workers Party's famous experiments in developing a participatory budget in Porto Alegre. <i>Z Magazine</i> founder Michael Albert developed a detailed approach to mass-based planning that he calls participatory economics, or "parecon," and one of us (Fletcher, in his book <i>Solidarity Divided</i>, written with Fernando Gapasin) has proposed a locally based network of people's assemblies. But all this is experimental, and we realize that any system for mass democratic planning will be messy. It will stumble; it will be wrong sometimes; and there will be a lot of running back to the drawing board.</p><p>But as socialists we know the spirit in which this great project of collective salvation must be undertaken, and that spirit is solidarity. An antique notion until very recently, it flickered into life again in the symbolism and energy of the Obama campaign. The Yes We Can! chant was the slogan of the United Farm Workers movement and went on to be adopted by various unions and community-based organizations to emphasize what large numbers of people can accomplish through collective action. Even Obama's relatively anodyne calls for a new commitment to volunteerism and community service seem to have inspired a spirit of "giving back." If the idea of democratic planning, of controlling our destiny, is the intellectual content of socialism, then solidarity is its emotional energy source--the moral understanding and the searing conviction that, however overwhelming the challenges, we are in this together.</p><p>Solidarity, though, is an empty sentiment without organization--ways of thinking and working together, and of connecting the social movements that are battling injustice every day. We see a tremendous opportunity in the bleak fact that millions of Americans have been rendered redundant by the capitalist economy and are free to dedicate their considerable talents to creating a more just and sustainable alternative. But if we are serious about collective survival in the face of our multiple crises, we have to build organizations, including explicitly socialist ones, that can mobilize this talent, develop leadership and advance local struggles. And we have to be serious, because the capitalist elites who have run things so far have forfeited all trust or even respect, and we--progressives of all stripes--are now the only grown-ups around.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author, most recently, of This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation. Bill Fletcher Jr. is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He was a co-founder of both the Center for Labor Renewal and the Black Radical Congress. He is the co-author of "Solidarity Divided" (University of California Press, 2008)." </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '655473'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=655473" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 05 Mar 2009 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher Jr., The Nation 655473 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy socialism capitalism How a Man Was Thrown into Gitmo and Tortured for Clicking on My Article http://www.alternet.org/story/128888/how_a_man_was_thrown_into_gitmo_and_tortured_for_clicking_on_my_article <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '653871'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=653871" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">America in the Bush years was so vicious and stupid that it managed to take my freedom of speech and turn it into someone else&#039;s living hell.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>I like to think that some of the things I write cause discomfort in those readers who deserve to feel it. Ideally, they should squirm, they should flinch, they might even experience fleeting gastrointestinal symptoms. But I have always drawn the line at torture. It may be unpleasant to read some of my writings, especially if they have been assigned by a professor, but it should not result in uncontrollable screaming, genital mutilation or significant blood loss.</p> <p>With such stringent journalistic ethics in place, I was shocked to read in the February 14</p> <i>Daily Mail Online</i> <p>a</p> <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1138845/Food-writers-%20online-guide-building-H-bomb--evidence-man-Guantanamo.html" linkindex="61">brief article</a> <p>headed "Food writer's online guide to building an H-bomb...the 'evidence' that put this man in Guantánamo." The "food writer" was identified as me, and the story began:</p> <p class="blockquote">A British 'resident' held at Guantanamo Bay was identified as a terrorist after confessing he had visited a 'joke' website on how to build a nuclear weapon, it was revealed last night.</p> <p class="blockquote">Binyam Mohamed, a former UK asylum seeker, admitted to having read the 'instructions' after allegedly being beaten, hung up by his wrists for a week and having a gun held to his head in a Pakistani jail.</p> <p>While I am not, and have never been, a "food writer," other details about the "joke" rang true, such as the names of my co-authors, Peter Biskind and physicist Michio Kaku. Rewind to 1979, when Peter and I were working for a now-defunct left-wing magazine named <i>Seven Days</i>. The government had just suppressed the publication of another magazine, <i>The Progressive</i>, for attempting to print an article called "The H-Bomb Secret." I don't remember that article, and the current editor of <i>The Progressive</i> recalls only that it contained a lot of physics and was "Greek to me." Both in solidarity with <i>The Progressive</i> and in defense of free speech, we at<i> Seven Days</i> decided to do a satirical article entitled "How to Make Your Own H-Bomb," offering step-by-step instructions for assembling a bomb using equipment available in one's own home.</p> <p>The satire was not subtle. After discussing the toxicity of plutonium, we advised that to avoid ingesting it orally, "Never make an A-bomb on an empty stomach." My favorite section dealt with the challenge of enriching uranium hexafluoride:</p> <p class="blockquote">First transform the gas into a liquid by subjecting it to pressure. You can use a bicycle pump for this. Then make a simple home centrifuge. Fill a standard-size bucket one-quarter full of liquid uranium hexafluoride. Attach a six-foot rope to the bucket handle. Now swing the rope (and attached bucket) around your head as fast as possible. Keep this up for about 45 minutes. Slow down gradually, and very gently put the bucket on the floor. The U-235, which is lighter, will have risen to the top, where it can be skimmed off like cream. Repeat this step until you have the required 10 pounds of uranium. (Safety note: Don't put all your enriched uranium hexafluoride in one bucket. Use at least two or three buckets and keep them in separate corners of the room. This will prevent the premature build-up of a critical mass.)</p> <p>Our H-bomb cover story created a bit of a stir at the time, then vanished into the attics and garages of former <i>Seven Days</i> staffers, only to resurface, at least in part, on the Internet in the early 2000s. Today, you can find it quoted on the <a href="http://port80.blogsome.com/2005/03/13/how-not-to-build-a-%20thermonuclear-bomb" linkindex="62">blog spot of a University of Dayton undergraduate</a>, along with the flattering comment: "This forum post is priceless. It is one of the best pieces of scientific satire I have ever seen. I can only hope and pray that terrorist groups attempt to construct an atomic bomb using these instructions -- if they survive the attempt, they'll have at least wasted months of effort."</p> <p>Enter Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian refugee and legal resident of Britain who had found work as a janitor after drug problems derailed his college career. According to his lawyer, Clive Smith of the human rights group Reprieve, Mohamed traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, attracted by the Taliban's drug-free way of life -- which, from my point of view, was a little like upgrading from bronchitis to lung cancer. War soon drove him out of Afghanistan and to Karachi, from where he sought to return to the UK. But, as a refugee, he lacked a proper passport and was using a friend's, which led to his apprehension at the airport. Smith says the Pakistanis turned him over to the FBI, who were obsessed at the time with the possibility of an Al Qaeda nuclear attack on the United States. After repeated beatings and the above-mentioned hanging by the wrists, Mohamed "confessed" to having read an article on how to make an H-bomb on the Internet, insisting to his interrogators that it was a "joke."</p> <p>But post-9/11 America was an irony-free zone, and it's still illegal to banter about bombs in the presence of airport security staff. It's not clear how the news of Mohamed's H-bomb knowledge was conveyed to Washington -- many documents remain classified or have not been released -- but Smith speculates that the part about the H-bomb got through, although not the part about the joke. The result, anyhow, was that Mohamed was thrust into a world of unending pain -- tortured at the US prison in Baghram, rendered to Morocco for eighteen months of further torture, including repeated cutting of his penis with a scalpel, and finally landing in Guantánamo for almost five years of more mundane abuse. He was just released and returned to Britain today.</p> <p>As if that were not enough for a satirist to have on her conscience, the United States seems to have attributed Mohamed's presumed nuclear ambitions to a second man, an American citizen named Jose Padilla, <i>a k a</i> the "dirty bomber." The apparent evidence? Padilla had been scheduled to fly on the same flight out of Karachi that Mohamed had a ticket for, so obviously they must have been confederates. Commenting on Padilla's apprehension in 2002, the <i>Chicago Sun-Times</i> editorialized: "We castigate ourselves for failing to grasp the reality of what they're [the alleged terrorists are] trying to do, but perhaps that is a good thing. We should have difficulty staring evil in the face."</p> <p>I am not histrionic enough to imagine myself in any way responsible for the torments suffered by Mohamed and Padilla -- at least no more responsible than any other American who failed to rise up in revolutionary anger against the Bush terror regime. No, I'm too busy seething over another irony: whenever I've complained about my country's torturings, renderings, detentions, etc., there's always been some smug bastard ready to respond that these measures are what guarantee smart-alecky writers like myself our freedom of speech. Well, we had a government so vicious and impenetrably stupid that it managed to take my freedom of speech and turn it into someone else's living hell.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '653871'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=653871" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 25 Feb 2009 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 653871 at http://www.alternet.org Human Rights Human Rights torture guantanamo prison gitmo Corporate America, Ground Your Jets http://www.alternet.org/story/128057/corporate_america%2C_ground_your_jets <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '653767'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=653767" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The American taxpayer, reeling from the economic meltdown, doesn&#039;t feel like subsidizing lavish jets and bonuses any more.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>If anything symbolizes the excesses and inequalities of the last few years, it's the private Learjet or Gulfstream. While the masses take off their shoes and line up for security screening, high-fliers inhabit a parallel transportation universe characterized by cozy private terminals, flexible departures and nonexistent security. In flight, the sky is the limit, with some private jet owners spending $10 million to $40 million on interior decorating, which could include gold bathroom fixtures and rare-wood paneling, as well as flight staffs, including chefs and masseuses.</p><p>But corporate America is finally waking up and smelling the jet fuel. The American taxpayer, reeling from the economic meltdown, doesn't feel like subsidizing lavish jets and bonuses any more. First there was the spectacle of the Big Three auto-industry CEOs flying in their separate private jets to beg for taxpayer bailout funds. Humbled by the blowback, they each drove energy-efficient cars on their subsequent visit to Washington.</p><p>Then it was revealed that Citigroup, recipient of $50 billion in federal bailout funds, was purchasing a $50 million French-made, 12-seat, Dassault Falcon private jet. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., was livid: "To permit Citigroup to purchase a plush plane -- foreign-built no less -- while domestic auto companies are being required to sell off their jets is a ridiculous double standard." President Barack Obama weighed in, pressing Citigroup CEO Richard Parsons to forgo the jet. Yet, six other financial companies that received billions in bailout funds, including AIG, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America continue to operate fleets of private jets.</p><p>A ban on private jet ownership for recipients of funds from the Trouble Assets Relief Program passed the U.S. House of Representatives and awaits action in the Senate.</p><p>But now is the time for all of America's corporate titans to surrender their private jets -- and not just as symbols of greed. Private jet travel imposes heavy costs on to the rest of us, first by straining air traffic control systems. Although commercial airlines are mostly to blame for airport delays, private jets add to the congestion, particularly in the New York City airspace where commercial flights only account for 53 percent of the air traffic. The Big Apple's delays compound through the air system, triggering a third of all delayed flights nationwide.</p><p>Private jets also contribute disproportionately to global warming. A private jet passenger, with his or her Godzilla-size carbon footprint, puts five times more carbon into the atmosphere than a commercial jet passenger. An hour aloft in a private jet burns as much fuel as a year of driving. Furthermore, as Britain's anti-terror chief has warned, private jets pose an unacceptable security risk, since there's nothing to stop passengers from carrying weapons aboard, never mind 4-ounce containers of lotion. The U.S. Homeland Security department agrees, but eight years after 9/11, it still hasn't adopted security rules for private jets.</p><p>Meanwhile, the rest of us, as taxpayers and commercial travelers, subsidize private jet travel through fees, infrastructure funds and tax breaks. Private jets use 16 percent of air traffic control system services, but pay only 3 percent of the costs, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. And a third of airport improvement funds over the last couple years have gone to fix up small, remote airports serving primarily private jets, such as Oregon's North Bend airport, where 5,000 wealthy golfers a year are able to land their private jets before playing at the world-class Brandon Dunes course.</p><p>If it's too painful for the super-rich to abandon their stratospheric sybaritism, Congress should at least impose a luxury tax on private jets to offset their environmental impact. They should also fix the FAA's funding structure to require private jets to pay their fair share of the air traffic control system costs and impose a few security requirements. But ideally, the high fliers should come down to earth with the rest of us. Maybe if more powerful CEOs had to endure the delays, indignities and discomforts of commercial air travel, they would throw their tremendous clout behind a transportation policy that works for everyone.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13 books, including the New York Times best-seller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harper's and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and chairman of the <a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/projects/commongood.htm">Working Group on Extreme Inequality</a>, an emerging coalition of religious, business, labor and civic groups concerned about the wealth gap. He is coauthor with Bill Gates Sr. of <a href=" http://bookswelike.net/isbn/0807047198">Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes</a>. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '653767'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=653767" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 20 Feb 2009 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Chuck Collins, AlterNet 653767 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy corporate america jets financial crisis bonuses The Nouveau Poor Have Reached Numbers Too Large to Ignore http://www.alternet.org/story/119360/the_nouveau_poor_have_reached_numbers_too_large_to_ignore <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '652807'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=652807" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">As the poor and the formerly middle-class become the new American majority, will they finally have enough status to get their needs met?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><div class="entry-content"><div class="entry-body"><p>Ever on the lookout for the bright side of hard times, I am tempted to delete “class inequality” from my worry list. Less than a year ago, it was the one of the biggest economic threats on the horizon, with even hard line conservative pundits grousing that wealth was flowing uphill at an alarming rate, leaving the middle class stuck with stagnating incomes while the new super-rich ascended to the heavens in their personal jets. Then the whole top-heavy structure of American capitalism began to totter, and –poof!—inequality all but vanished from the public discourse. A financial columnist in the Chicago Sun Times has just announced that the recession is a “great leveler,” serving to “democratize[d] the agony,” as we all tumble into “the Nouveau Poor…”</p><p>The media have been pelting us with heart-wrenching stories about the neo-suffering of the Nouveau Poor, or at least the Formerly Super-rich among them: Foreclosures in Greenwich CT! A collapsing market for cosmetic surgery! Sales of Gulfstream jets declining! Niemen Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue on the ropes! We read of desperate measures, like having to cut back the personal trainer to two hours a week. Parties have been canceled; dinner guests have been offered, gasp, baked potatoes and chili. The New York Times relates the story of a New Jersey teenager whose parents were forced to cut her $100 a week allowance and private Pilates classes. In one of the most pathetic tales of all, New Yorker Alexandra Penney relates how she lost her life savings to Bernie Madoff and is now faced with having to lay off her three-day- a-week maid, Yolanda. “I wear a classic clean white shirt every day of the week. I have about 40 white shirts. They make me feel fresh and ready to face whatever battles I may be fighting …” she wrote, but without Yolanda, “How am I going to iron those shirts so I can still feel like a poor civilized person?”</p><p>But hard times are no more likely to abolish class inequality than Obama’s inauguration is likely to eradicate racism. No one actually knows yet whether inequality has increased or decreased during the last year of recession, but the historical precedents are not promising. The economists I’ve talked to -- like Biden’s top economic advisor, Jared Bernstein -- insist that recessions are particularly unkind to the poor and the middle class. Canadian economist Armine Yalnizyan says, “Income polarization always gets worse during recessions.” It makes sense. If the stock market has shrunk your assets of $500 million to a mere $250 million, you may have to pass on a third or fourth vacation home. But if you’ve just lost an $8 an hour job, you’re looking at no home at all.</p><p>Alright, I’m a journalist and I understand how the media work. When a millionaire cuts back on his crème fraiche and caviar consumption, you have a touching human interest story. But pitch a story about a laid-off roofer who loses his trailer home and you’re likely to get a big editorial yawn. “Poor Get Poorer” is just not an eye-grabbing headline, even when the evidence is overwhelming. Food stamp applications, for example, are rising toward a historic record; calls to one DC-area hunger hotline have jumped 248 percent in the last six months, most of them from people who have never needed food aid before. And for the first time since 1996, there’s been a marked upswing in the number of people seeking cash assistance from TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), the exsanguinated version of welfare left by welfare “reform.” Too bad for them that TANF is essentially a wage-supplement program based on the assumption that the poor would always be able to find jobs, and that it pays, at most, less than half the federal poverty level.</p><p>Why do the sufferings of the poor and the downwardly- mobile class matter more than the tiny deprivations of the rich? Leaving aside all the soft-hearted socialist, Christian-type, arguments, it’s because poverty and the squeeze on the middle class are a big part of what got us into this mess in the first place. Only one thing kept the sub-rich spending in the 00’s, and hence kept the economy going, and that was debt: credit card debt, home equity loans, car loans, college loans and of course the now famously “toxic” subprime mortgages, which were bundled and sliced into “securities” and marketed to the rich as high-interest investments throughout the world. The gross inequality of American society wasn’t just unfair or aesthetically displeasing; it created a perilously unstable situation.</p><p>Which is why any serious government attempt to get the economy going again -- and I leave aside the unserious attempts like bank bailouts and other corporate welfare projects -- has to start at the bottom. Obama is promising to generate three million new jobs in “shovel ready” projects, and let’s hope they’re not all jobs for young men with strong backs. Until those jobs kick in, and in case they leave out the elderly, the single moms and the downsized desk-workers, we’re going to need an economic policy centered on the poor: more money for food stamps, for Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and, yes, cash assistance along the lines of what welfare once was, so that when people come tumbling down they don’t end up six feet under. For those who think “welfare” sounds too radical, we could just call it a “right to life” program, only one in which the objects of concern have already been born.</p><p>If that sounds politically unfeasible, consider this: When Clinton was cutting welfare and food stamps in the 90s, the poor were still an easily marginalized group, subjected to the nastiest sorts of racial and gender stereotyping. They were lazy, promiscuous, addicted, deadbeats, as whole choruses of conservative experts announced. Thanks to the recession, however -- and I knew there had to be a bright side -- the ranks of the poor are swelling every day with failed business owners, office workers, salespeople, and long-time homeowners. Stereotype that! As the poor and the formerly middle class Nouveau Poor become the American majority, they will finally have the clout to get their needs met.</p></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2009 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '652807'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=652807" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 12 Jan 2009 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 652807 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy protests poor people How Positive Thinking Wrecked the Economy http://www.alternet.org/story/100396/how_positive_thinking_wrecked_the_economy <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '650045'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=650045" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Besides greed, another habit of mind should get its share of the blame: the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>(A shorter version of this appears as an op ed in the New York Times yesterday.)</i><br /><br />Greed -- and its crafty sibling, speculation -- are the designated culprits for the ongoing financial crisis, but another, much admired, habit of mind should get its share of the blame: the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking. As promoted by Oprah, scores of megachurch pastors, and an endless flow of self-help bestsellers, the idea is to firmly belief that you will get what you want, not only because it will make you feel better to do so, but because thinking things, "visualizing" them -- ardently and with concentration -- actually makes them happen. You will be able to pay that adjustable rate mortgage or, at the other end of the transaction, turn thousands of bad mortgages into giga-profits, the reasoning goes, if only you truly believe that you can.<br /><br />Positive thinking is endemic to American culture -- from weight loss programs to cancer support groups -- and in the last two decades it put down deep roots in the corporate world as well. Everyone knows that you won't get a job paying more than $15 an hour unless you're a "positive person" -- doubt-free, uncritical, and smiling -- and no one becomes a CEO by issuing warnings of possible disaster.<br /><br />According to a rare skeptic, a Washington-based crisis management consultant I interviewed on the eve of the credit meltdown in 2007, even the magical idea that you can have whatever you truly want has been "viral" in the business culture. All the tomes in airport bookstores' business sections scream out against "negativity" and advise the reader to be at all times upbeat, optimistic and brimming with confidence -- a message companies relentlessly reinforced by treating their white collar employees to manic motivational speakers and revival-like motivational events. The top guys, meanwhile, would go off to get pumped up in exotic locales with the likes of success guru Tony Robbins. Those who still failed to get with the program could be subjected to personal "coaching" or of course, shown to the door.<br /><br />The same frothy wave of mandatory optimism swept through the once-sober finance industry. On their websites, scores of motivational speakers proudly list companies like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch among their clients. Angelo Mozilo, the former CEO of Countrywide Mortgage whose subprime ventures precipitated the entire crisis, was known for his congenital optimism and described in the Guardian earlier this year as "absurdly upbeat" even as his industry unraveled. No one was psychologically prepared for hard times, when they hit, because, according to the tenets of positive thinking, even to think of trouble is to bring it on. In May, the New York Times reported that Merrill, caught up short, was suddenly trying to "temper the Pollyannas in its ranks," and force its analysts to occasionally say the word "sell."<br /><br />For those at the very top of the corporate hierarchy, all this positive thinking must not have seemed delusional at all. They actually could have almost anything they wanted, just by expressing the desire. CEO compensation has ballooned in recent years, creating the new class of billionaires and centi-millionaires who inhabit Lear jets and four-figure a night hotel rooms, who can dispatch a private plane to pick up a favorite wine, or a pet, they happen to have left in the Hamptons. According to a new book from the UK, <i>Unjust Rewards</i> by Polly Toynbee and David Walker, these masters of the universe tend to be seriously uninformed about how the other 99 percent lives and, Toynbee told me, often uncomprehending of the financial operations -- the derivatives, CDS's, etc. -- that their wealth is derived from. If you live in a bubble of perfect wish-fulfillment, how could you imagine that, for example, some poor fellow in Cleveland might run up against unexpected medical bills or car problems that could waylay his mortgage payments?<br /><br />Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendents, was a grim Calvinism that offered wealth only through hard work and savings, and even then made no promises at all. You might work hard and still fail; you certainly wouldn't get anywhere by adjusting your attitude or dreamily "visualizing" success. Calvinists thought "negatively" as we would say today, carrying a weight of guilt and foreboding that sometimes broke their spirits. It was in response to this harsh ethos that positive thinking arose -- among mystics, lay healers, and transcendentalists -- in the 19th century, with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough.<br /><br />When it comes to how we think, "negative" is not the only alternative to "positive." As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism -- seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news, and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. Now, with our savings, our homes and our livelihoods on the line, we ought to give it a try. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '650045'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=650045" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 25 Sep 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 650045 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy economy bailout Flight Rage Incident Reveals the Dark Side of Osteen's 'Prosperity Gospel' http://www.alternet.org/story/94850/flight_rage_incident_reveals_the_dark_side_of_osteen%27s_%27prosperity_gospel%27 <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '648931'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=648931" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The wife of get-rich-now pastor Joel Osteen faces a civil trial that embodies the sense of entitlement of those who preach the gospel of prosperity.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->For heartsick former supporters of John Edwards, this week offers an edifying tabloid alternative: the civil trial of Victoria Osteen, wife of megachurch minister and televangelist Joel Osteen, for assaulting a flight attendant. The issue was what is sometimes described as a "spill" and sometimes as a "stain" on the armrest of Mrs. Osteen's first-class seat, which the flight attendant refused to clean up with sufficient alacrity because she was busy assisting others aboard. Although there is no evidence that the spill consisted of tuberculosis-ridden phlegm or avian flu-rich bird poop, Osteen was mightily pissed, allegedly pushing and punching the flight attendant and making such a ruckus that the Osteen family had to be removed from the flight.<br /><br />I would be more sympathetic to the flight attendant, Sharon Brown, if she weren't demanding 10 percent of Osteen's fortune to compensate for injuries including a "loss of faith" and hemorrhoids somehow incurred from a frontal assault. But it isn't easy being a flight attendant in this era of layoffs, pay cuts and packed planes -- certainly not compared to being a millionaire on her way to Vail. Whatever dubious substance Victoria Osteen faced on that first-class armrest, she should have been able to derive some serenity from the fact that the church she co-pastors draws 40,000 worshippers a week and that her husband has been dubbed "America's Most Influential Christian."<br /><br />Just another celebrity meltdown set off by insufficiently servile servers? Recall Russell Crowe's 2005 assault with a telephone on a SoHo hotel clerk, or Naomi Campbell's attacks with similar weapons -- a cell phone and a Blackberry -- on members of her own staff. But there's a curious antecedent here that Christians would do well to ponder: In 1997, another megachurch pastor and leading televangelist, Robert Schuller, was prosecuted for an eerily similar first-class tantrum.<br /><br />Schuller, like the Osteens, is a proponent of positive thinking -- the doctrine that God intends for you to be rich, healthy and generally "great" right here in this life. While politicos have focused on the Christian Right, there's been far less attention to the fast-growing brand of Christianity Light, also represented by televangelists Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar. Positive thinking is the theology of the modern megachurch, and it avoids all mention of sin -- including the "sins" of abortion and homosexuality -- lest such "negative" topics turn off any potential converts or "seekers." Its promise is that you can have anything you want simply by "visualizing" it or, as Osteen puts it, "believing for it" -- a doctrine derided by some Christian critics as "name it and claim it."<br /><br />Schuller faced a different biohazard on his first-class flight in '97: cheese. When the flight attendant gave him a fruit-and-cheese plate for dessert, Schuller insisted that the cheese be removed. The flight attendant refused, explaining, reasonably enough, that all the fruit had been plated with cheese and could be contaminated, from a cheese-allergy sufferer's point of view. But the pastor was simply on a low-fat diet and did not want to see the cheese on his plate, so he got out of his seat and accosted the flight attendant, shaking him violently by the shoulders. Schuller ended up paying a $1,100 fine and undergoing six months of police supervision.<br /><br />In the theology of Christian positive thinking, "everything happens for a reason." The Osteens may conclude that the divine intention was to prod them into emulating Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar by investing in a private jet. But there's another possible message from on high: that this brand of Christianity fosters a distinctly un-Christian narcissism.<br /><br />Consider the ways the Lord works in the life of the Osteens, as recounted in Joel Osteen's book <a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780446532754"><i>Your Best Life Now</i></a>, which has sold 4 million copies and is graced by a back cover photo of the smiling couple. Acting through Victoria, who kept "speaking words of faith and victory" on the subject, Joel was led to build the family "an elegant home." On other occasions, God intervened to save Joel from a speeding ticket and to get him not only a good parking spot but "the premier spot in that parking lot." Why God did not swoop down with a sponge and clean up the offending stain on the armrest remains a mystery, because Osteen's deity is less the Master of the Universe than an obliging factotum.<br /><br />Plenty of Christians have already made the point that the positive thinking of Christianity Light is demeaning to God, and I leave them to pursue this critique. More importantly, from a secular point of view, it's dismissive of other humans, and not only flight attendants. If a person is speeding, shouldn't he get a ticket to deter him from endangering others? And if Osteen gets the premier parking spot, what about all the other people consigned to the remote fringes of the lot? Christianity, at best, is about a sacrificial love for others, not about getting to the head of the line.<br /><br />If the Osteens' brand of religion is what flight attendant Sharon Brown lost faith in as a result of being manhandled by on that plane to Vail, then the suit should be dropped, because Victoria Osteen has already done her enough of a favor. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13 books, including the New York Times best-seller <a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780805063899"><i>Nickel and Dimed</i></a>. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '648931'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=648931" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 12 Aug 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 648931 at http://www.alternet.org Human Rights Human Rights joel osteen prosperity gospel Suicide Spreads as One Solution to the Debt Crisis http://www.alternet.org/story/93077/suicide_spreads_as_one_solution_to_the_debt_crisis <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '648552'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=648552" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In a culture where credit rating is the key measure of self-worth, the increasing response to huge debts is &quot;Just shoot me!&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->A few days before Congress passed its Housing Bill, Carlene Balderrama of Taunton MA found her own solution to the housing crisis. Just a little over two hours in advance of the time her mortgage company, PHH Mortgage Corporation -- may its name live in infamy -- was to auction off her home, Balderrama killed herself with her husband's rifle.<br /><br />This is not the kind of response to hard times that James Grant had in mind when he wrote his July 19 <i>Wall Street Journal</i> essay entitled "Why No Outrage?" "One might infer from the lack of popular anger," the famed Wall Street contrarian wrote, "that the credit crisis was God's fault rather than the doing of the bankers and the rating agencies and the government's snoozing watchdogs." For contrast, he cites the spirited response to the depression of the 1890s, when lawyer/agitator Mary Lease stirred crowds with the message that "We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out .... We will stand by our homes and stay by our firesides by force if necessary"<br /><br />Grant could have found even more bracing examples of resistance in the 1930s, when farmers and tenants used mob power -- and sometimes firearms -- to fight foreclosures and evictions. For more on that, I consulted Frances Fox Piven, co-author of the classic text <i>Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail</i>, who told me that in the early 30s, a number of cities were so shaken by the resistance that they declared moratoriums on further evictions. A 1931 riot by Chicago tenants who had fallen behind on their rent, for example, had left three dead and three police officers injured.<br /><br />According to Piven, these actions were often spontaneous. A group of unemployed men would get word of a scheduled eviction and march through the streets, gathering crowds as they went. Arriving at the site of the eviction, they would move the furniture back into the apartment and stay around to protect the threatened tenants. In one instance in Detroit, it took 100 cops to evict a single family. Also in Detroit, Piven said, "two families protected their apartments by shooting their landlord and were acquitted by a sympathetic jury."<br /><br />What a difference 80 years makes. When the police and the auctioneers arrived at Balderrama's house, the family gun had already been used -- on the victim of foreclosure herself. I don't know how "worthy" a debtor she was -- the family had been through bankruptcies before, though probably not as a result of Caribbean vacations and closets full of designer clothes. It was an Adjustable Rate Mortgage that did them in, and Balderrama, who managed the family's finances, had apparently been unwilling to tell her husband that their ever-rising monthly mortgage payments were eating up his earnings as a plumber.<br /><br />Suicide is becoming an increasingly popular response to debt. James Scurlock's brilliant documentary, <i>Maxed Out</i>, features the families of two college students who killed themselves after being overwhelmed by credit card debt. "All the people we talked to had considered suicide at least once," Scurlock told a gathering of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys in 2007. According to the <i>Los Angeles Times</i>, lawyers in the audience backed him up, "describing clients who showed up at their offices with cyanide, or threatened, 'If you don't help me, I've got a gun in my car.'"<br /><br />India may be the trend-setter here, with an estimated 150,000 debt-ridden farmers succumbing to suicide since 1997. With guns in short supply in rural India, the desperate farmers have taken to drinking the pesticides meant for their crops.<br /><br />Dry your eyes, already: Death is an effective remedy for debt, along with anything else that may be bothering you too. And try to think of it too from a lofty, corner-office, perspective: If you can't pay your debts or afford to play your role as a consumer, and if, in addition -- like an ever-rising number of Americans -- you're no longer needed at the workplace, then there's no further point to your existence. I'm not saying that the creditors, the bankers and the mortgage companies actually want you dead, but in a culture where one's credit rating is routinely held up as a three-digit measure of personal self-worth, the correct response to insoluble debt is in fact, "Just shoot me!"<br /><br />The alternative is to value yourself more than any amount of money and turn the guns, metaphorically speaking, in the other direction. It wasn't God, or some abstract economic climate change, that caused the credit crisis. Actual humans -- often masked as financial institutions -- did that, (and you can find a convenient list of names in Nomi Prins's article in the <a href="”http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2008/07/where-credit-is-due-timeline.html”">current issue of <i>Mother Jones</i></a>.) Most of them, except for a tiny few facing trials, are still high rollers, fattening themselves on the blood and tears of ordinary debtors. I know it's so 1930s, but may I suggest a march on Wall Street? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '648552'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=648552" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 28 Jul 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 648552 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy suicide debt Body Fat Holds The Key to Energy Independence http://www.alternet.org/story/89127/body_fat_holds_the_key_to_energy_independence <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '647679'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=647679" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Obese America is literally sitting on vast energy reserves -- all we need to do is extract it.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Everyone talks about our terrible dependency on oil -- foreign and otherwise -- but hardly anyone mentions what it <i>is.</i> Fossil fuel, all right, but whose fossils? Mostly tiny plants called diatoms, but quite possibly a few Barney-like creatures went into the mix, like Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus and other giant reptiles that shared the Jurassic period with all those diatoms. What we are burning in our cars and keeping our homes warm or cool with is, in other words, a highly processed version of corpse juice.<br /><br />Think of this for a moment, if only out of respect for the dead. There you were, about 100 million years ago, maybe a contented little diatom or a great big Brontosaurus stumbling around the edge of a tar pit -- a lord of the earth. And what are you now? A sludge of long-chain carbon molecules that will be burned so that some mammalian biped can make a CVS run for Mountain Dew and chips. <br /><br />It's an old human habit -- living off the road kill of the planet. There's evidence, for example, that early humans were engaged in scavenging before they figured out how to hunt for themselves. They'd scan the sky for circling vultures, dash off to the kill site--hoping that the leopard that did the actual hunting had sauntered off for a nap-- and gobble up what remained of the prey. It was risky, but it beat doing your own antelope tracking.<br /><br />We continue our career as scavengers today, attracted not by vultures but by signs saying "Safeway" or "Giant." Inside these sites, we find bits of dead animals wrapped neatly in plastic. The killing has already been done for us -- usually by underpaid immigrant workers rather than leopards.<br /><br />I say to my fellow humans: It's time to stop feeding off the dead and grow up! I don't know about food, but I have a plan for achieving fuel self-suffiency in less time than it takes to say "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." The idea came to me from reports of the growing crime of French fry oil theft: Certain desperate individuals are stealing restaurants' discarded cooking oil, which can then be used to fuel cars. So the idea is: why not could skip the French fry phase and harvest high-energy hydrocarbons right from ourselves?<br /><br />I'm talking about liposuction, of course, and it's a mystery to me why it hasn't occurred to any of those geniuses who are constantly opining about fuel prices on MSNBC. The average liposuction removes about half a gallon of liquid fat, which may not seem like much. But think of the vast reserves our nation is literally sitting on! Thirty percent of Americans are obese, or about 90 million individuals or 45 million gallons of easily available fat -- not from dead diatoms but from our very own bellies and butts.<br /><br />This is the humane alternative to biofuels derived directly from erstwhile foodstuffs like corn. Biofuels, as you might have noticed, are exacerbating the global food crisis by turning edible plants into gasoline. But we could put humans back in the loop by first turning the corn into Doritos and hence into liposuctionable body fat. There would be a reason to live again, even a patriotic rationale for packing on the pounds. <br /><br />True, liposuction is not risk-free, as the numerous doctors' websites on the subject inform us. And those of us who insist on driving gas guzzlers may soon start depleting their personal fat reserves, much as heroin addicts run out of useable veins. But the gaunt, punctured, look could become a fashion statement. Already, the combination of a tiny waist and a huge carbon footprint -- generated by one's Hummer and private jet -- is considered a sign of great wealth.<br /><br />And think what it would do for our nation's self-esteem. We may not lead the world in scientific innovation, educational achievement, or low infant mortality, but we are the global champions of obesity. Go to<a set="yes" linkindex="27" href="http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_obe-health-obesity">http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_obe-health-obesity</a>; and you'll find America well ahead of the pack when it comes to personal body fat, while those renowned oil-producers -- Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran-- aren't even among the top 29. All we need is a healthy dose of fat pride and for CVS to start marketing home liposuction kits. That run for Mountain Dew and chips could soon be an energy-neutral proposition. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '647679'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=647679" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 23 Jun 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 647679 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment oil biofuels obesity corn energy independence liposuction This Land Is Their Land: How the Rich Confiscate Natural Beauty from the Public http://www.alternet.org/story/88095/this_land_is_their_land%3A_how_the_rich_confiscate_natural_beauty_from_the_public <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '647507'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=647507" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In the era of the superrich, if a place is truly beautiful, ordinary people can&#039;t afford to be there.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><br /><br />I took a little vacation recently -- nine hours in Sun Valley, Idaho, before an evening speaking engagement. The sky was deep blue, the air crystalline, the hills green and not yet on fire. Strolling out of the Sun Valley Lodge, I found a tiny tourist village, complete with Swiss-style bakery, multistar restaurant and "opera house." What luck -- the boutiques were displaying outdoor racks of summer clothing on sale! Nature and commerce were conspiring to make this the perfect micro-vacation.<br /><br />But as I approached the stores things started to get a little sinister -- maybe I had wandered into a movie set or Paris Hilton's closet? -- because even at a 60 percent discount, I couldn't find a sleeveless cotton shirt for less than $100. These items shouldn't have been outdoors; they should have been in locked glass cases.<br /><br /><br /><br />Then I remembered the general rule, which has been in effect since sometime in the 1990s: if a place is truly beautiful, you can't afford to be there. All right, I'm sure there are still exceptions -- a few scenic spots not yet eaten up by mansions. But they're going fast.<br /><br /><br /><br />About ten years ago, for example, a friend and I rented a snug, inexpensive one-bedroom house in Driggs, Idaho, just over the Teton Range from wealthy Jackson Hole, Wyoming. At that time, Driggs was where the workers lived, driving over the Teton Pass every day to wait tables and make beds on the stylish side of the mountains. The point is, we low-rent folks got to wake up to the same scenery the rich people enjoyed and hike along the same pine-shadowed trails.<br /><br /><br /><br />But the money was already starting to pour into Driggs -- Paul Allen of Microsoft, August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch, Harrison Ford -- transforming family potato farms into vast dynastic estates. I haven't been back, but I understand Driggs has become another unaffordable Jackson Hole. Where the wait staff and bed-makers live today I do not know.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />I witnessed this kind of deterioration up close in Key West, Florida, where I first went in 1986, attracted not only by the turquoise waters and frangipani-scented nights but by the fluid, egalitarian social scene. At a typical party you might find literary stars like Alison Lurie, Annie Dillard and Robert Stone, along with commercial fishermen, waitresses and men who risked their lives diving for treasure (once a major blue-collar occupation). Then, at some point in the '90s, the rich started pouring in. You'd see them on the small planes coming down from Miami -- taut-skinned, linen-clad and impatient. They drove house prices into the seven-figure range. They encouraged restaurants to charge upward of $30 for an entree. They tore down working-class tiki bars to make room for their waterfront "condotels."<br /><br /><br /><br />Of all the crimes of the rich, the aesthetic deprivation of the rest of us may seem to be the merest misdemeanor. Many of them owe their wealth to the usual tricks: squeezing their employees, overcharging their customers and polluting any land they're not going to need for their third or fourth homes. Once they've made (or inherited) their fortunes, the rich can bid up the price of goods that ordinary people also need -- housing, for example. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban ranch houses, while billionaires' horse farms displace rural Americans into trailer homes. Similarly, the rich can easily fork over annual tuitions of $50,000 and up, which has helped make college education a privilege of the upper classes.<br /><br /><br /><br />There are other ways, too, that the rich are robbing the rest of us of beauty and pleasure. As the bleachers in stadiums and arenas are cleared to make way for skybox "suites" costing more than $100,000 for a season, going out to a ballgame has become prohibitively expensive for the average family. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, superrich collectors have driven up the price of artworks, leading museums to charge ever rising prices for admission.<br /><br /><br /><br />It shouldn't be a surprise that the Pew Research Center finds happiness to be unequally distributed, with 50 percent of people earning more than $150,000 a year describing themselves as "very happy," compared with only 23 percent of those earning less than $20,000. When nations are compared, inequality itself seems to reduce well-being, with some of the most equal nations -- Iceland and Norway -- ranking highest, according to the UN's Human Development Index. We are used to thinking that poverty is a "social problem" and wealth is only something to celebrate, but extreme wealth is also a social problem, and the superrich have become a burden on everyone else.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />If Edward O. Wilson is right about "biophilia" -- an innate human need to interact with nature -- there may even be serious mental health consequences to letting the rich hog all the good scenery. I know that if I don't get to see vast expanses of water, 360-degree horizons and mountains piercing the sky for at least a week or two of the year, chronic, cumulative claustrophobia sets in. According to evolutionary psychologist Nancy Etcoff, the need for scenery is hard-wired into us. "People like to be on a hill, where they can see a landscape. And they like somewhere to go where they can <i>not</i> be seen themselves," she told <i>Harvard Magazine</i> last year. "That's a place desirable to a predator who wants to avoid becoming prey." We also like to be able to see water (for drinking), low-canopy trees (for shade) and animals (whose presence signals that a place is habitable).<br /><br /><br /><br />Ultimately, the plutocratic takeover of rural America has a downside for the wealthy too. The more expensive a resort town gets, the farther its workers have to commute to keep it functioning. And if your heart doesn't bleed for the dishwasher or landscaper who commutes two to four hours a day, at least shed a tear for the wealthy vacationer who gets stuck in the ensuing traffic. It's bumper to bumper westbound out of Telluride, Colorado, every day at 5, or eastbound on Route 1 out of Key West, for the Lexuses as well as the beat-up old pickup trucks.<br /><br /><br /><br />Or a place may simply run out of workers. Monroe County, which includes Key West, has seen more than 2,000 workers leave since the 2000 Census, a loss the <i>Los Angeles Times</i> calls "a body blow to the service-oriented economy of a county with only 75,000 residents and 2.25 million overnight visitors a year." Among those driven out by rents of more than $1,600 for a one-bedroom apartment are many of Key West's wait staff, hotel housekeepers, gardeners, plumbers and handymen. No matter how much money you have, everything takes longer -- from getting a toilet fixed to getting a fish sandwich at Pepe's.<br /><br /><br /><br />Then there's the elusive element of charm, which quickly drains away in a uniform population of multimillionaires. The Hamptons had their fishermen. Key West still advertises its "characters" -- sun-bleached, weather-beaten misfits who drifted down for the weather or to escape some difficult situation on the mainland. But the fishermen are long gone from the Hamptons and disappearing from Cape Cod. As for Key West's characters -- with the traditional little conch houses once favored by shrimpers flipped into million-dollar second homes, these human sources of local color have to be prepared to sleep with the scorpions under the highway overpass.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />In Telluride even a local developer is complaining about the lack of affordable housing. "To have a real town," he told the <i>Financial Times</i>, "Telluride needs some locals hanging out" -- in old-fashioned diners, for example, where you don't have to speak Italian to order a cup of coffee.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />When I was a child, I sang "America the Beautiful" and meant it. I was born in the Rocky Mountains and raised, at various times, on the coasts. The Big Sky, the rolling surf, the jagged, snowcapped mountains -- all this seemed to be my birthright. But now I flinch when I hear Woody Guthrie's line "This land was made for you and me." Somehow, I don't think it was meant to be sung by a chorus of hedge-fund operators.<br /><br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '647507'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=647507" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 16 Jun 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, The Nation 647507 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy Environment inqequality public space Hillary Revealed That Women Can Be Nasty, Deceptive Candidates Too http://www.alternet.org/story/85633/hillary_revealed_that_women_can_be_nasty%2C_deceptive_candidates_too <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '646813'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=646813" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Hillary Clinton smashed the myth of innate female moral superiority in the worst possible way -- by demonstrating female moral inferiority.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->In last Friday's <i>New York Times</i>, Susan Faludi rejoiced over Hillary Clinton's destruction of the myth of female prissiness and innate moral superiority, hailing Clinton's "no-holds-barred pugnacity" and her media reputation as "nasty" and "ruthless." Future female presidential candidates will owe a lot to the race of 2008, Faludi wrote, "when Hillary Clinton broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys."<br /><br />I share Faludi's glee -- up to a point. Surely no one will ever dare argue that women lack the temperament for political combat. But by running a racially-tinged campaign, lying about her foreign policy experience, and repeatedly seeming to favor McCain over her Democratic opponent, Clinton didn't just break through the "glass floor," she set a new low for floors in general, and would, if she could have got within arm's reach, have rubbed the broken glass into Obama's face.<br /><br />A mere decade ago Francis Fukuyama fretted in <i>Foreign Affairs</i> that the world was too dangerous for the West to be entrusted to graying female leaders, whose aversion to violence was, as he established with numerous examples from chimpanzee society, "rooted in biology." The counter-example of Margaret Thatcher, perhaps the first of head of state to start a war for the sole purpose of pumping up her approval ratings, led him to concede that "biology is not destiny." But it was still a good reason to vote for a prehistoric-style club-wielding male.<br /><br />Not to worry though, Francis. Far from being the stereotypical feminist-pacifist of your imagination, the woman to get closest to the Oval Office has promised to "obliterate" the toddlers of Tehran -- along, of course, with the bomb-builders and Hezbollah supporters. Earlier on, Clinton foreswore even talking to presumptive bad guys, although women are supposed to be the talk addicts of the species. Watch out -- was her distinctly unladylike message to Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong-Il, and the rest of them -- or I'll rip you a new one.<br /><br />There's a reason why it's been so easy for men to overlook women's capacity for aggression. As every student of Women's Studies 101 knows, what's called aggression in men is usually trivialized as "bitchiness" in women: Men get angry; women suffer from bouts of inexplicable, hormonally-driven, hostility. So give Clinton credit for defying the belittling stereotype: She's been visibly angry for months, if not decades, and it can't all have been PMS.<br />But did we really need another lesson in the female capacity for ruthless aggression? Any illusions I had about the innate moral superiority of women ended four years ago with Abu Ghraib. Recall that three out of the five prison guards prosecuted for the torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners were women. The prison was directed by a woman, Gen. Janis Karpinski, and the top U.S. intelligence officer in Iraq, who also was responsible for reviewing the status of detainees before their release, was Major Gen. Barbara Fast. Not to mention that the U.S. official ultimately responsible for managing the occupation of Iraq at the time was Condoleezza Rice.<br /><br />Whatever violent and evil things men can do, women can do too, and if the capacity for cruelty is a criterion for leadership, as Fukuyama suggested, then Lynndie England should consider following up her stint in the brig with a run for the Senate.<br /><br />It's important -- even kind of exhilarating -- for women to embrace their inner bitch, but the point should be to expand our sense of human possibility, not to enshrine aggression as a virtue. Women can behave like the warrior queen Boadicea, credited with slaughtering 70,000, many of them civilians, or like Margaret Thatcher, who attempted to dismantle the British welfare state. Men, for their part, are free to take as their role models the pacifist leaders Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. Biology conditions us in all kinds of ways we might not even be aware of yet. But virtue is always a choice.<br /><br />Hillary Clinton smashed the myth of innate female moral superiority in the worst possible way -- by demonstrating female moral inferiority. We didn't really need her racial innuendos and free-floating bellicosity to establish that women aren't wimps. As a generation of young feminists realizes, the values once thought to be uniquely and genetically female -- such as compassion and an aversion to violence -- can be found in either sex, and sometimes it's a man who best upholds them. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '646813'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=646813" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 16 May 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 646813 at http://www.alternet.org Election 2008 Election 2008 sex gender hillary clinton Truck Drivers Block Freeway Traffic Across the U.S. to Protest Soaring Fuel Prices http://www.alternet.org/story/81641/truck_drivers_block_freeway_traffic_across_the_u.s._to_protest_soaring_fuel_prices <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '645861'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=645861" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Faced with $4-per-gallon diesel fuel, truck drivers -- who deliver 70 percent of the nation&#039;s goods -- are hitting the brakes.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Until the beginning of this month, Americans seemed to have nothing to say about their ongoing economic ruin except, "Hit me! Please, hit me again!" You can take my house, but let me mow the lawn for you one more time before you repossess. Take my job and I'll just slink off somewhere out of sight. Oh, and take my health insurance too; I can always fall back on Advil.<br /><br />Then, on April 1, in a wave of defiance, truck drivers began taking the strongest form of action they can take: <a linkindex="21" href="http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5h754857XlNi4En4IBAv5GxRgEYhQD8VPC1380">inaction</a>. Faced with $4-per-gallon diesel fuel, they slowed down, shut down and started honking. On the New Jersey Turnpike, a convoy of trucks stretching "as far as the eye can see," according to a turnpike spokesman, drove at a glacial 20 miles per hour.<br /><br />Outside of Chicago, they slowed and drove three abreast, blocking traffic and taking arrests. They jammed into Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; they slowed down the Port of Tampa, where fifty rigs sat idle in protest. Near Buffalo, one driver told the press he was taking the week off "to pray for the economy."<br /><br />The truckers who organized the protests -- by CB radio and Internet -- have a specific goal: reducing the price of diesel fuel. They are owner-operators, meaning they are also businesspeople, and they can't break even with current fuel costs. They want the government to release its fuel reserves. They want an investigation into oil company profits and government subsidies of the oil companies. Of the drivers I talked to, all were acutely aware that the government had found, in the course of a weekend, $30 billion to bail out Bear Stearns, while their own businesses are in a tailspin.<br /><br />But the truckers' protests have ramifications far beyond the owner-operators' plight -- first, because trucking is hardly a marginal business. You may imagine, here in the blogosphere, that everything important travels at the speed of pixels bouncing off of satellites, but 70 percent of the nation's goods -- from Cheerios to Chapstick -- travel by truck. We were able to survive a writers' strike, but a trucking strike would affect a lot more than your viewing options. As Donald Hayden, a Maine trucker put it to me: "If all the truckers decide to shut this country down, there's going to be nothing they can do about it."<br /><br />More importantly, the activist truckers understand their protest to be part of a larger effort to "take back America," as one put it to me. "We continue to maintain this is not just about us," JB -- which is his CB handle and stands for the "Jake Brake" on large rigs -- told me from a rest stop in Virginia on his way to Florida. "It's about everybody -- the homeowners, the construction workers, the elderly people who can't afford their heating bills... This is not the action of the truck drivers, but of the people." Hayden mentions his parents, ages and 81 and 76, who've fought the Maine winter on a fixed income. Missouri-based driver Dan Little sees stores shutting down in his little town of Carrollton. "We're Americans," he tells me, "We built this country, and I'll be damned if I'm going to lie down and take this."<br /><br />At least one of the truckers' tactics may be translatable to the foreclosure crisis. On March 29, Hayden <a linkindex="22" href="http://bangornews.com/news/t/news.aspx?articleid=162283&amp;zoneid=5">surrendered</a> three rigs to be repossessed by Daimler-Chrysler -- only he did it publicly, with flair, right in front of the statehouse in Augusta. "Repossession is something people don't usually see," he says, and he wanted the state legislature to take notice. As he took the keys, the representative of Daimler-Chrysler said, according to Hayden, "I don't see why you couldn't make the payments." To which Hayden responded, "See, I have to pay for fuel and food, and I've eaten too many meals in my life to give that up."<br /><br />Suppose homeowners were to start making their foreclosures into public events -- inviting the neighbors and the press, at least getting someone to camcord the children sitting disconsolately on the steps and the furniture spread out on the lawn. Maybe, for a nice dramatic touch, have the neighbors shower the bankers, when they arrive, with dollar bills and loose change, since those bankers never can seem to get enough.<br /><br />But the larger message of the truckers' protest is about pride or, more humbly put, self-respect, which these men channel from their roots. Dan Little tells me, "My granddad said, and he was the smartest man I ever knew, 'If you don't stand up for yourself, ain't nobody gonna stand up for you.'" Go to <a linkindex="23" href="http://www.theamericandriver.com/home.html">TheAmericanDriver.com</a>, run by JB and his brother in Texas, where you're greeted by a giant American flag, and you'll find -- among the driving tips, weather info, and drivers' favorite photos -- the entire Constitution and Declaration of Independence. "The last time we faced something as impacting on us," JB tells me, "There was a revolution."<br /><br />The actions of the first week in April were just the beginning. There's talk of a protest in Indiana on April 18, another in New York City, and a giant convergence of trucks on DC on April 28. Who knows what it will all add up to? Already, according to JB, some of the big trucking companies are threatening to fire any of their employees who join the owner-operators' protests.<br /><br />But at least we have one shining example of defiance of the face of economic assault. There comes a point, sooner or later, when you stop scrambling around on all fours and, like JB and his fellow drivers all over the country, you finally stand up.<br /><br /><i>If you would like to help support the truckers in any way, go to<a linkindex="24" href="http://www.theamericandriver.com/files/TruckersAndCitizensUnited.html">Truckers and Citizens United.com</a>.</i> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '645861'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=645861" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 07 Apr 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 645861 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics Economy new jersey oil prices truckers protests fuel prices diesel prices Hillary's Ties to Religious Fundamentalists http://www.alternet.org/story/80248/hillary%27s_ties_to_religious_fundamentalists <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '645376'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=645376" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">When it comes to unsavory religious affiliations, Hillary Clinton is a lot more vulnerable than Barack Obama.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->There's a reason why Hillary Clinton has remained relatively silent during the flap over intemperate remarks by Barack Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. When it comes to unsavory religious affiliations, she's a lot more vulnerable than Obama.<br /><br />You can find all about it in a widely under-read article in the September 2007 issue of <i>Mother Jones</i>, in which Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet reported that "through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the "Fellowship," aka the Family. But it won't be a secret much longer. Jeff Sharlet's shocking exposé, <i>The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power</i> will be published in May.<br /><br />Sean Hannity has called Obama's church a "cult," but that term applies far more aptly to Clinton's "Family," which is organized into "cells" -- their term -- and operates sex-segregated group homes for young people in northern Virginia. In 2002, writer Jeff Sharlet joined the Family's home for young men, foreswearing sex, drugs and alcohol, and participating in endless discussions of Jesus and power. He wasn't undercover; he used his own name and admitted to being a writer. But he wasn't completely out of danger either. When he went outdoors one night to make a cell phone call, he was followed. He still gets calls from Family associates asking him to meet them in diners -- alone.<br /><br />The Family's most visible activity is its blandly innocuous National Prayer Breakfast, held every February in Washington. But almost all its real work goes on behind the scenes -- knitting together international networks of right-wing leaders, most of them ostensibly Christian. In the 1940s, the Family reached out to former and not-so-former Nazis, and its fascination with that exemplary leader, Adolph Hitler, has continued, along with ties to a whole bestiary of murderous thugs. As Sharlet reported in Harper's in 2003:<blockquote>During the 1960s the Family forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most anti-Communist (and dictatorial) elements within Africa's postcolonial leadership. The Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, with Family support, was overseeing regular fellowship groups for Latin American leaders, while, in Indonesia, General Suharto (whose tally of several hundred thousand "Communists" killed marks him as one of the century's most murderous dictators) was presiding over a group of fifty Indonesian legislators. During the Reagan Administration, the Family helped build friendships between the U.S. government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, himself an evangelical minister, who was linked to both the CIA and death squads before his own demise.</blockquote>At the heart of the Family's American branch is a collection of powerful right-wing politicos, who include, or have included, Sam Brownback, Ed Meese, John Ashcroft, James Inhofe, and Rick Santorum. They get to use the Family's spacious estate on the Potomac, the Cedars, which is maintained by young men in Family group homes and where meals are served by the Family's young women's group. And, at the Family's frequent prayer gatherings, they get powerful jolts of spiritual refreshment, tailored to the already-powerful.<br /><br />Clinton fell in with the Family in 1993, when she joined a Bible study group composed of wives of conservative leaders like Jack Kemp and James Baker. When she ascended to the Senate, she was promoted to what Sharlet calls the Family's "most elite cell," the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, which included, until his downfall, Virginia's notoriously racist Sen. George Allen. This has not been a casual connection for Clinton. She has written of Doug Coe, the Family's publicity-averse leader, that he is "a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God."<br /><br />Furthermore, the Family takes credit for some of Clinton's rightward legislative tendencies, including her support for a law guaranteeing "religious freedom" in the workplace, such as for pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics.<br /><br />What drew Clinton into the sinister heart of the international right? Maybe it was just a phase in her tormented search for identity, marked by ever-changing hairstyles and names: Hillary Rodham, Mrs. Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and now Hillary Clinton. She reached out to many potential spiritual mentors during her White House days, including new age guru Marianne Williamson and the liberal Rabbi Michael Lerner. But it was the Family association that stuck.<br /><br />Sharlet generously attributes Clinton's involvement to the underappreciated depth of her religiosity, but he himself struggles to define the Family's theological underpinnings. The Family avoids the word Christian but worships Jesus, though not the Jesus who promised the earth to the "meek." They believe that, in mass societies, it's only the elites who matter, the political leaders who can build God's "dominion" on earth. Insofar as the Family has a consistent philosophy, it's all about power -- cultivating it, building it and networking it together into ever-stronger units, or "cells." "We work with power where we can," Doug Coe has said, and "build new power where we can't."<br /><br />Obama has given a beautiful speech on race and his affiliation with the Trinity Unity Church of Christ. Now it's up to Clinton to explain -- or, better yet, renounce -- her longstanding connection with the fascist-leaning Family. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13 books, including the New York Times<i> bestseller </i>Nickel and Dimed<i>. A frequent contributor to the </i>New York Times<i>, </i>Harper's<i>, and the </i>Progressive<i>, she is a contributing writer to </i>Time<i> magazine. She lives in Florida. </i></div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '645376'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=645376" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 19 Mar 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 645376 at http://www.alternet.org Election 2008 Election 2008 religion hillary obama hillary clinton religious fundamentalism the family the fellowship The Fall of the American Consumer http://www.alternet.org/story/79389/the_fall_of_the_american_consumer <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '645159'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=645159" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">We have been the world&#039;s designated shoppers, and, if we fall down on the job, we take the global economy with us.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->How much lower can consumer spending go? The malls are like mausoleums, retail clerks are getting laid off, and AOL recently featured on its welcome page the story of man so cheap that he recycles his dental floss -- hanging it from a nail in his garage until it dries out.<br /><br />It could go a lot lower of course. This guy could start saving the little morsels he flosses out and boil them up to augment the children's breakfast gruel. Already, as the recession or whatever it is closes in, people have stopped buying homes and cars and cut way back on restaurant meals. They don't have the money; they don't have the credit; and increasingly they're finding that no one wants their money anyway. NPR reported on February 28 that more and more Manhattan stores are accepting Euros and at least one has gone Euros-only.<br /><br />The Sharper Image has declared bankruptcy and is closing 96 U.S. stores. (To think I missed my chance to buy those headphones that treat you to forest sounds while massaging your temples!) Victoria's Secret is so desperate that it's adding fabric to its undergarments. Starbucks had no sooner taken time off to teach its baristas how to make coffee than it started laying them off.<br /><br />While Americans search for interview outfits in consignment stores and switch from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart for sustenance, the world watches tremulously. The Australian Courier-Mail, for example, warns of an economic "pandemic" if Americans cut back any further, since we are responsible for $9 trillion a year in spending, compared to a puny $1 trillion for the one billion-strong Chinese. Yes, we have been the world's designated shoppers, and, if we fall down on the job, we take the global economy with us.<br /><br />"Shop till you drop," was our motto, by which we didn't mean to say we were more compassion-worthy than a woman fainting at her work station in some Honduran sweatshop. It was just our proper role in the scheme of things. Some people make stuff; other people have to buy it. And when we gave up making stuff, starting in the 1980s, we were left with the unique role of buying. Remember Bush telling us, shortly after 9/11, to get out there and shop? It may have seemed ludicrous at the time, but what he meant was get back to work.<br /><br />We took pride in our role in the global economy. No doubt it takes some skill to make things, but what about all the craft that goes into buying them -- finding a convenient parking space at the mall, navigating our way through department stores laid out for maximum consumer confusion, determining which of our credit cards still has a smidgeon of credit in it? Not everyone could do this, especially not people whose only experience was stitching, assembling, wiring, and packaging the stuff that we bought.<br /><br />But if we thought we were special, they thought we were marks. They could make anything, and we would dutifully buy it. I once found, in a party store, a baseball cap with a plastic turd affixed to its top and the words "shit head" on the visor. The label said "made in the Philippines" and the makers must have been convulsed as they made it. <i>If those dumb Yanks will buy this ... </i><br /><br />There's talk already of emergency measures, like making Christmas a weekly holiday, although this would require a level of deforestation that could leave Cheney with no quail to hunt.<br /><br />More likely, there'll be a move to outsource shopping, just as we've already outsourced manufacturing, customer service, X-ray reading, and R &amp; D. But to whom? The Indians are clever enough, but right now they only account for $600 million in consumer spending a year. And could they really be trusted to put a flat screen TV in every child's room, distinguish Guess jeans from a knock-off, and replace their kitchen counters on an annual basis?<br /><br />And what happens to us, the world's erstwhile shoppers? The president recently observed, in one of his more sentient moments, that unemployment is "painful." But if a pink slip hurts, what about a letter from Citicard announcing that you've been laid off as a shopper? Will we fill our vacant hours twisting recycled dental floss onto spools or will we decide that, if we can't shop, we're going to have to shoplift?<br /><br />Because we've shopped till we dropped alright, face down on the floor. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '645159'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=645159" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 11 Mar 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 645159 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics consumerism global economy shopping recession retail american consumerism world economy purchasing power Obama's Campaign: An Emotional Escape Hatch from the Bush Era http://www.alternet.org/story/77193/obama%27s_campaign%3A_an_emotional_escape_hatch_from_the_bush_era <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '644540'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=644540" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">When Americans vote for &quot;change,&quot; what they&#039;re really saying is, &quot;&lt;i&gt;Get us out of here!&lt;/i&gt;&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><br />When did you begin to think that Obama might be unstoppable? Was it when your grown feminist daughter started weeping inconsolably over his defeat in New Hampshire? Or was it when he triumphed in Virginia, a state still littered with Confederate monuments and memorabilia? For me, it was on Tuesday night when two Republican Virginians in a row called CSPAN radio to report that they'd just voted for Ron Paul, but, in the general election, would vote for ... Obama.<br /><br />In the dominant campaign narrative, his appeal is mysterious and irrational: He's a "rock star," all flash and no substance, tending dangerously, according to the <em>New York Times</em>' Paul Krugman, to a "cult of personality." At best, he's seen as another vague Reagan-esque avatar of Hallmarkian sentiments like optimism and hope. While Clinton, the designated valedictorian, reaches out for the ego and super-ego, he supposedly goes for the id. She might as well be promoting choral singing in the face of Beatlemania.<br /><br />The Clinton coterie is wringing its hands. Should she transform herself into an economic populist, as Paul Begala pleaded on Tuesday night? This would be a stretch, given her technocratic and elitist approach to health reform in 1993, her embarrassing vote for a credit card company-supported bankruptcy bill in 2001, among numerous other lapses. Besides, Obama already just leaped out in front of her with a resoundingly populist economic program on Wednesday.<br /><br />Or should she reconfigure herself, untangle her triangulations, and attempt to appeal to the American people in some deep human way, with or without a tear or two? This, too, would take heavy lifting. Someone needs to tell her that there are better ways to signal conviction than by raising one's voice and drawing out the vowels, as in "I <em>KNOW</em> ..." and "I <em>BELIEVE ..."</em> The frozen smile has to go too, along with the metronymic nodding, which sometimes goes on long enough to suggest a placement within the autism spectrum.<br /><br />But I don't think any tweakings of the candidate or her message will work, and not because Obama-mania is an occult force or a kind of mass hysteria. Let's take seriously what he offers, which is "change." The promise of "change" is what drives the Obama juggernaut, and "change" means wanting out of wherever you are now. It can even mean wanting out so badly that you don't much care, as in the case of the Ron Paul voters cited above, exactly what that change will be. In reality, there's no mystery about the direction in which Obama might take us: He's written a breathtakingly honest autobiography; he has a long legislative history, and now, a meaty economic program. But no one checks the weather before leaping out of a burning building.<br /><br />Consider our present situation. Thanks to Iraq and water-boarding, Abu Ghraib and the "rendering" of terror suspects, we've achieved the moral status of a pariah nation. The seas are rising. The dollar is sinking. A growing proportion of Americans have no access to health care; an estimated 18,000 die every year for lack of health insurance. Now, as the economy staggers into recession, the financial analysts are wondering only whether the rest of the world is sufficiently "de-coupled" from the US economy to survive our demise.<br /><br />Clinton can put forth all the policy proposals she likes -- and many of them are admirable ones -- but anyone can see that she's of the same generation and even one of the same families that got us into this checkmate situation in the first place. True, some people miss Bill, although the nostalgia was severely undercut by his anti-Obama rhetoric in South Carolina, or maybe they just miss the internet bubble he happened to preside over. But even more people find dynastic successions distasteful, especially when it's a dynasty that produced so little by way of concrete improvements in our lives. Whatever she does, the semiotics of her campaign boils down to two words -- "same old."<br /><br />Obama is different, really different, and that in itself represents "change." A   Kenyan-Kansan with roots in Indonesia and multiracial Hawaii, he seems to be the perfect answer to the bumper sticker that says, "I love you America, but isn't it time to start seeing other people?" As conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan has written, Obama's election could mean the re-branding of America. An anti-war black president with an Arab-sounding name: See, we're not so bad after all, world!<br /><br />So yes, there's a powerful emotional component to Obama-mania, and not just because he's a far more inspiring speaker than his rival. We, perhaps white people especially, look to him for atonement and redemption. All of us, of whatever race, want a fresh start. That's what "change" means right now: <em>Get us out of here!</em><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '644540'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=644540" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 15 Feb 2008 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 644540 at http://www.alternet.org Election 2008 Election 2008 barack obama change The Boom Was a Bust for Ordinary People http://www.alternet.org/story/75944/the_boom_was_a_bust_for_ordinary_people <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '644242'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=644242" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Our challenge isn&#039;t just to prop up stock prices but to rebuild an economy in which everyone shares the good times.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->It begins to sound a bit naughty -- all this talk about the need to "stimulate" the economy, as if we were discussing how to make a porn film. I don't mean to trivialize our economic difficulties or the need for effective government intervention, but we have to face a disconcerting fact: For years now, that strange stimulus-crazed beast, the economy, has been going its own way, increasingly disconnected from the toils and troubles of ordinary Americans.<br /><br />The economy, for example, has been expanding, at least until now, and growth is supposed to guarantee general well-being. As long as the gross domestic product grows, World Money Watch's Web site assures us, "so will business, jobs and personal income."<br /><br />But hellooo, we've had brisk growth for the past few years, as the president has tirelessly reminded us, only without those promised increases in personal income, at least not for the poor and the middle class. According to a study just released by the Economic Policy Institute, real wages actually fell last year. Growth, some of the economists are conceding in perplexity, has been "decoupled" from widely shared prosperity.<br /><br />I first began to sense this in the boom years of the late 1990s, when I was working in entry-level jobs for my book "Nickel and Dimed." While the stock market soared and fortunes were being made in the time it takes to say "IPO," my $6-to-$8-an-hour co-workers lunched on hot dog buns because that was all they could afford and, in some cases, fretted about whether they could find a safe place to sleep.<br /><br />Growth is not the only economic indicator that has let us down. In the past five years, America's briskly rising productivity has been the envy of much of the world. But again, there's been no corresponding increase in most people's wages. It's not supposed to be this way, of course. Economists have long believed that some sort of occult process would intervene and adjust wages upward as people worked harder and more efficiently.<br /><br />We like to attribute our high productivity to technological advances and better education. But a revealing 2001 study by the consulting firm McKinsey &amp; Co. also credited America's productivity growth to "managerial ... innovations" and cited Wal-Mart as a model performer, meaning that our productivity also relies on fiendish schemes to extract more work for less pay. Yes, you can generate more output per apparent hour of work by falsifying time records, speeding up assembly lines, doubling workloads and cutting back on breaks. That may look good from the top, but at the middle and the bottom, it can feel a lot like pain.<br /><br />And what about the unemployment rate? The old liberal certainty was that "full employment" would create a workers' paradise, with higher wages and enhanced bargaining power for the little guy and gal. But we've had nearly full employment, or at least an official unemployment rate of under 5 percent, for years now, without the predicted gains. What the old liberals weren't counting on was a depressed minimum wage, weak unions and a witch's brew of management strategies to hold wages and salaries down.<br /><br />So thoroughly is the economy decoupled from ordinary experience that according to a CNN poll, 57 percent of Americans thought we were already in a recession a month ago. Economists may complain that this is only because the public is ignorant of the technical definition of a recession, which specifies at least two consecutive quarters of negative growth. But most of the public employs the more colloquial definition of a recession, which is hard times. And -- far removed from whatever happens on Wall Street, the Nikkei, Dax, or the curiously named FTSE -- most Americans have been living in their own personal recession for years.<br /><br />I could see this when I was doing research for a book on white-collar unemployment in 2004. Although the economy was officially on an upturn, I met laid-off people who'd been searching for a job for more than a year and often ended up -- after selling their homes and borrowing from relatives -- taking low-wage work as big-box sales clerks or even janitors.<br /><br />In the months ahead, we can expect the hard times to spread. Citigroup has announced plans to eliminate 21,000 jobs; investment banks in general will shed 40,000. The mortgage industry is in a meltdown; Business Wire predicts a 37 percent increase in the number of companies planning layoffs this year. This is what a stimulus package needs to address: the persistent and growing struggles of the middle class and the working class, which is increasingly conterminous with the working poor.<br /><br />There are reasons for doing so other than compassion. The chronically poor and the battered middle class have become a tripwire in the American economy -- generating defaults on debts, depressed consumption and global market turmoil.<br /><br />Consider how we got into the current credit crisis in the first place, through defaults on subprime mortgages. These went to plenty of affluent folks and have wreaked havoc in gated communities. But overall, subprime loans were designed for, and snapped up by, the poor. According to a recent study from United for a Fair Economy, 55 percent of subprime loans went to African Americans and 17 percent to whites. Among whites, they went far more frequently to low-income people than to the wealthy -- 39 percent compared with 24 percent. Hence the subprime industry's noble boasts about providing the opportunity for home ownership to people who might otherwise have been excluded from it.<br /><br />And why were so many Americans poor enough to turn to subprime mortgages and other dodgy credit schemes? The chief reasons are low wages and job insecurity. Chronically low wages afflict about 25 to 30 percent of the population -- more than twice the 12 percent the federal government counts as "poor." And even earnings in the six-figure range can be canceled overnight when an employer downsizes or outsources, leaving a family without income or health insurance.<br /><br />For years now, we've had a solution, or at least a substitute, for low wages and unreliable jobs: easy credit. Payday loans, rent-to-buy furniture and exorbitant credit card interest rates for the poor were just the beginning. In its May cover story on "The Poverty Business," BusinessWeek documented the stampede to lend money to the people who could least afford to pay the interest on it: Buy your dream home! Refinance your house! Financiamos a todos! It wasn't just the bottom-feeders that joined the unseemly frenzy to lend to the poor; big companies, such as Wells Fargo and Countrywide Financial, plunged right in. But somehow, no one bothered to figure out where the poor were going to get the money to pay for all the money they were borrowing.<br /><br />When personal finances are squeezed hard enough, you have the possibility of a genuine recession. People buy less, so growth declines to the point where even the economic overclass has to sit up and take notice. We saw the beginnings of that in the last Christmas season, which even Wal-Mart survived only through perilously deep discounting.<br /><br />Not that we hadn't been warned. A century ago, Henry Ford realized that his company would only prosper if his own workers earned enough to buy Fords. But, like Wal-Mart, too many of our employers today haven't figured out that their cruelly low wages would eventually curtail their own growth and profits.<br /><br />Government intervention, whether short-term or long-term, needs to get to the heart of this problem by offering a hand to the poor and the unemployed. Until the House capitulated to Bush two weeks ago, Democrats seemed to be standing solidly behind a stimulus package that would include an increase in food-stamp allotments and an extension of unemployment benefits, both of which are screamingly obvious measures. Current unemployment benefits last just 26 weeks in most states and end up covering only a third of people who are laid off. Food stamps are in even shabbier shape, with an allotment amounting to about $1 per meal. Nothing could be more stimulating than putting money in the hands of those who will spend it quickly.<br /><br />But you can't jump-start a car that lacks a working battery. We need less titillating talk about "stimulus" and more commitment to some fundamental repairs -- higher wages, a real safety net and a return to progressive taxation among them. The challenge isn't just to prop up stock prices but to rebuild an economy in which everyone shares the good times -- and no one is consigned to a permanent recession. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '644242'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=644242" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 04 Feb 2008 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, The Washington Post 644242 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy economy recession stimulus package Clitoral Economics http://www.alternet.org/story/74595/clitoral_economics <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '644241'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=644241" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Ben Bernanke may not use this imagery, but the immediate challenge is how best to get the economy throbbing again.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->With all the talk about how to stimulate it, you'd think that the economy is a giant clitoris. Ben Bernanke may not employ this imagery, but the immediate challenge--and the issue bound to replace Iraq and immigration in the presidential race--is how best to get the economy engorged and throbbing again.<br /><br />It would be irresponsible to say much about Bush's stimulus plan, the mere mention of which could be enough to send the Nikkei, the DAX, and the curiously named FTSE and Sensex tumbling into the crash zone again. In a typically regressive gesture, Bush proposed to hand out cash tax rebates--except to families earning less than $40,000 a year. This may qualify as an example of what Naomi Klein calls "<a href="http://www.thenation.com/directory/disaster_capitalism">disaster capitalism</a>," in which any misfortune can be re-jiggered to the advantage of the affluent.<br /><br />But even the liberal stimulus proposals have me worried--not so much for their content as their rationale. Most liberals want a stimulus package that includes an increase in food stamp allotments and an extension of unemployment benefits, which are both screamingly obvious measures. Currently, the food stamp allotment amounts to about $1 per meal, and when four Democratic congresspersons <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/15/AR2007051501957.html">tried living on that</a> for a week last May they ended up even crankier than if they'd had to sit through a week-long filibuster by Tom DeLay.<br /><br />As for unemployment benefits: They last just twenty-five weeks in most states and end up covering only a third of people who are laid off. If ever there was a time to create a real working system of unemployment compensation, it is now. Citigroup has announced plans to eliminate 21,000 jobs; investment banks in general will shed 40,000. The mortgage industry is in a state of meltdown; and Sprint--how did they get into this?--will lay off 4,000 full-time employees as well as 1,600 part-time and contract workers.<br /><br />The economic rationale for more a progressive stimulus package, which we hear now several times a day, is that the poor and the freshly unemployed will spend whatever money they get. Give them more money in the form of food stamps or unemployment benefits and they'll drop more at the mall. Money, it has been observed, sticks to the rich but just slides off the poor, which makes them the lynchpin of stimulus. After decades of hearing the poor stereotyped as lazy, stupid, addicted, and crime-prone, they have been discovered to have this singular virtue: They are veritable spending machines.<br /><br />All this is true, but it is also a form of economy fetishism--or should I say worship? If we have learned anything in the last few years, it is that the economy is no longer an effective measure of human well-being. We've seen the economy grow without wage gains; we've seen productivity grow without wage gains. We've even seen unemployment fall without wage gains. In fact, when economists want to talk about life "on the ground," where jobs and wages and the price of Special K are paramount, they've taken to talking about "the real economy." If there's a "real economy," then what in the hell is "the economy"?<br /><br />Once it was real-er, this economy that we have. But that was before we got polarized into the rich, the poor, and the sinking middle class. Gross social inequality is what has "de-coupled" growth and productivity from wage gains for the average household. As far as I can tell, "the economy," as opposed to the "real economy," is the realm of investment, and is occupied by people who live on interest and dividends instead of salaries and wages, aka the rich.<br /><br />So I'm proposing a radical shift in rhetoric: Any stimulus package should focus on the poor and the unemployed, not because they spend more, but because they are in most in need of help. Yes, when a parent can afford to buy Enfamil, it helps the Enfamil company and no doubt "the economy" too. But let's not throw out the baby with the sensual bubble bath of "stimulus." In any ordinary moral calculus, the baby comes first.<br /><br />Far be it from me to make the revolutionary suggestion that babies are more important than profits. My point is just that our economy--with its dizzying bubbles, wild lending sprees, reckless downsizings, and planet-wide hyper-sensitivity--has gotten too far disconnected from ordinary human needs. We could take the current crisis as an opportunity to fix that, at least in part, by shoring up government support for the needy and the dislocated. Or we can wait around and watch while the appropriate imagery gets nasty, as this ghostly creature, "the economy," starts acting like a nymphomaniac junkie in withdrawal.<br /><br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '644241'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=644241" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 22 Jan 2008 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 644241 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy economy recession stimulus package Experts Warn of Recession -- Duh, We're Living in One Already http://www.alternet.org/story/73286/experts_warn_of_recession_--_duh%2C_we%27re_living_in_one_already <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '643630'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=643630" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Growth and productivity mean nothing when they are de-coupled from most people&#039;s lived experience: being squeezed.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->The soothsayers have slaughtered the ox and are examining the gloppy entrails for signs: Rising unemployment, a falling dollar, weak consumer spending, the credit crisis, a swooning stock market. Could there be something wrong here? Could we actually be approaching a, god forbid, recession?<br /><br />To which the only sane response is: Who cares? According to a CNN poll, 57 percent of Americans thought we were already in a recession a month ago. Economists may complain that this is only because the public is ignorant of the technical -- or at least the newspapers' standard -- definition of a recession, which specifies that there must be at least two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the GDP. But most of the public employs the more colloquial definition of a recession, which is hard times. If hard times have already fallen on a majority of Americans, then "recession" doesn't seem to be a very useful term any more.<br /><br />The economists' odd fixation on growth as a measure of economic well-being puts them in a parallel universe of their own. WorldMoneyWatch's website tells us that, for example, that "The GDP growth rate is the most important indicator of economic health. If GDP is growing, so will business, jobs and personal income." And the latest issue of <i>US News and World Report</i> advises, "The key... for America is to keep its economy growing as fast as possible without triggering inflation."<br /><br />But hellooo, we've had brisk growth for the last few years, as the president always likes to remind us, only without those promised increases in personal income, at least not for the middle class. Growth, some of the economists are conceding in perplexity, has been "de-coupled" from mass prosperity.<br /><br />Growth is not the only economic indicator that has let us down recently. In the last five years, America's briskly rising productivity has been the envy of much of the world. But at the same time, real wages have actually declined. It's not supposed to be this way, of course. Economists have long believed that some sort of occult process would intervene and adjust wages upward as people worked harder and more efficiently.<br /><br />And what about the unemployment rate? The old liberal faith was that "full employment" would create a workers' paradise, with higher wages and enhanced bargaining power for the little guy and gal. But we've had nearly full employment, or at least an unemployment rate of under five percent, for years now, again, without the predicted gains. What the old liberals weren't counting on was a depressed minimum wage, impotent unions, and a witch's brew of management strategies to hold wages and salaries down.<br /><br />Now if those great and solemn economic indicators -- growth, productivity and employment rates -- have become de-coupled from most people's lived experience, then there's something wrong with the economists, the economy, or both. The clue lies in the word "most." We have become so unequal as a nation that we increasingly occupy two different economies -- one for the rich and one for everyone else -- and the latter has been in a recession, if not a depression, for a long, long time. Not all economists can bring themselves to admit this.<br /><br />I suspect that America's fabulous growth in productivity is another illustration of the disconnect between economic measures and human experience. It's been attributed to better education and technological advances, which would be nice to believe in. But a revealing 2001 study by McKinsey also credited America's productivity growth to "managerial innovations" and cited Wal-Mart as a model performer, meaning that we are also looking at fiendish schemes to extract more work for less pay. Yes, you can generate more output per apparent hour of work by falsifying time records, speeding up assembly lines, doubling workloads, and cutting back on breaks. Productivity may look good from the top, but at the middle and the bottom it can feel a lot like pain.<br /><br />When employees are squeezed hard enough, then you have the possibility of a genuine recession as technically defined. People buy less, so growth declines, to the point where even the economic over-class has to sit up and take notice. This is happening in Japan, where a recent <i>Wall Street Journal</i> headline announces: "Growing Reliance on Temps Holds Back Japan's Rebound: Firms Increasingly Add Part-Time Workers; Spending Power Lags." The U.S., where consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy compared to a little more than half in Japan, is even more vulnerable to a downturn in personal consumption.<br /><br />What is this fixation on growth anyway? As a general rule of biological survival, any creature or entity that depends on perpetual growth is well worth avoiding, lest you be eaten alive. As Bill McKibben argues in his book <i>Deep Economy</i>, the "cult of growth" has led to global warming, ghastly levels of pollution, and diminishing resources. Tumors grow, at least until they kill their hosts; economies ought to be sustainable.<br /><br />Apocalypse aside, the mantra of growth has deceived us for far too long. What it translates into is: <i>Don't worry about the relative size of your slice, just concentrate on growing the pie!</i> Now, with a recession threatening even more suffering for those who are already struggling, may be the perfect time to get out the pie-cutter again. Too bad that the one leading Democratic candidate who promises to do so now appears to be on the ropes.<br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2008 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '643630'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=643630" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 09 Jan 2008 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 643630 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics economy depression growth recession productivity economic indicators gdp What's So Great About Gated Communities? http://www.alternet.org/story/69582/what%27s_so_great_about_gated_communities <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '642951'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=642951" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">When we live in gated communities, are we keeping things out or just fencing ourselves in?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Another utopia seems to be biting the dust. The socialist kibbutzim of Israel have vanished or gone increasingly capitalist, and now the paranoid residential ideal represented by gated communities may be in serious trouble. Never exactly cool -- remember Jim Carrey in <i>The Truman Show</i>? -- these pricey enclaves of privilege are becoming hotbeds of disillusionment.<br /><br />At the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington last week, incoming association president Setha Lowe painted a picture so dispiriting that the audience guffawed in schadenfreude. The gated community residents Lowe interviewed had fled from ethnically challenging cities, but they have not managed to escape from their fear. One resident reported that her small daughter has developed a severe case of xenophobia, no doubt communicated by her parents:<br /><br /><i>We were driving next to a truck with some day laborers and equipment in the back, and we stopped beside them at the light. She [her daughter] wanted to move because she was afraid those people were going to come and get her. They looked scary to her.</i><br /><br />Leaving aside the sorry spectacle of homeowners living in fear of their landscapers, there is actually something to worry about. According to Lowe, gated communities are no less crime-prone than open ones, and Gopal Ahluwalia, senior vice president of research at the National Association of Home Builders, confirms this: There are studies indicating that there are no differences in the crime in gated communities and non-gated communities. The security guards often wave people on in, especially if they look like they're on a legitimate mission -- such as the faux moving truck that entered a Fort Meyers' gated community last spring and left with a houseful of furniture. Or the crime comes from within, as in the Hilton Head Plantation community in South Carolina where a rash of crime committed by resident teenagers has led to the imposition of a curfew.<br /><br />Most recently, America's gated communities have been blighted by foreclosures. Yes, even people who were able to put together the down payment on a half-million dollar house can be ambushed by Adjustable Rate Mortgages. <i>Newsweek</i> reports that foreclosures are devastating the gated community of Black Mountain Vista in Henderson NV, where "yellow patches [now] blot the spartan lawns and phone books lie on front porches, their covers bleached from weeks under the desert sun." Similarly, according to the <i>Orlando Sentinel</i>, "countless homeowners overwhelmed by their mortgages are taking off and leaving behind algae-filled swimming pools and knee-high weeds" in one local gated community.<br /><br />So, for people who sought, not just prosperity, but perfection, here's another sad end to the American dream, or at least their ethnically cleansed version thereof: boarded-up McMansions, plastic baggies scudding over overgrown lawns, and, in the Orlando case, a foreclosure-induced infestation of snakes. You can turn away the Mexicans, the African-Americans, the teenagers and other suspect groups, but there's no fence high enough to keep out the repo man.<br /><br />All right, some gated communities are doing better than others, and not all of their residents are racists. The communities that allow owners to rent out their houses, or that offer homes at middle class prices of $250,000 or so, are more likely to contain a mixture of classes and races. The only gated community I have ever visited consisted of dull row houses protected by a slacker guard and a fence, and my host was a writer of liberal inclinations. But all these places suffer from the delusion that security lies behind physical barriers.<br /><br />Before we turn all of America into a gated community, with a 700 mile steel fence running along the southern border, we should consider the mixed history of exclusionary walls. Ancient and medieval European towns huddled behind massive walls, only to face ever-more effective catapults, battering rams and other siege engines. More recently, the Berlin Wall, which the East German government described fondly as a protective "anti-fascism wall," fell to a rebellious citizenry. Israel, increasingly sealed behind its anti-Palestinian checkpoints and wall, faced an outbreak of neo-Nazi crime in September -- coming, strangely enough, from within.<br /><br />But the market may have the last word on America's internal gated communities. "Hell is a gated community," announced the <i>Sarasota Herald Tribune</i> last June, reporting that market research by the big homebuilder Pulte Homes found that no one under 50 wants to live in them, so its latest local development would be un-gated. Security, or at least the promise of security, may be one consideration. But there's another old-fashioned American imperative at work here, which ought to bear on our national policies as well. As my Montana forebears would have put it: <i>Don't fence me in!</i> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2007 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '642951'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=642951" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 04 Dec 2007 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 642951 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics xenophobia fence America's Rich Citizens Can't Escape Our Poor Public Infrastructure http://www.alternet.org/story/68541/america%27s_rich_citizens_can%27t_escape_our_poor_public_infrastructure <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '642709'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=642709" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Can you spare a tear for the ultra-wealthy?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><br />Can you spare a tear for the ultra-rich? One week after achieving the Guinness World record for the world’s most expensive dessert – a $25,000 “Frrozen Haute Chocolate” containing 5 grams of edible 23-karat gold – the New York restaurant Serendipity 3 was shut down by the health department. It turns out that in addition to truffle shavings and other Haute Chocolate ingredients, the restaurant’s kitchen contained "a live mouse, mouse droppings in multiple areas of the restaurant, fruit flies, house flies, and more than 100 live cockroaches," according to the inspectors.<br /><br /><br />The Haute Chocolate story is already exciting the usual populist outrage drizzled with references to Marie Antoinette. In the <em>Detroit News</em>, Brian O’Connor notes that for the price of two dozen of these confections all the food banks in his city would be able to meet the Thanksgiving demand instead of facing the holiday with empty shelves. He recommends guillotining the Haute Chocolate eaters, “Then we could treat the needy to a helping of my favorite dessert: ladyfingers.”<br /><br /><br />But there could be all kinds of reasons for needing a $25,000 Haute Chocolate. What about the chocolate addict who freely chooses to blow his or her life savings on a single dessert? And we mustn’t rule out those who suffer from a rare gold deficiency disorder and have already consumed their fillings and wedding rings. All of these worthy people now face a shuttered Serendipity when they go for their fix.<br /><br /><br />No, this isn’t just another story about gluttony. It’s a story about the inevitability of cockroaches in a world divided between rich and poor and served by a public sector in a state of bad decay. In this situation, even the rich get ripped off, and should live in fear that those truffle shavings are actually maggots in cross-section. As Robert Frank, the author of <em>Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich,</em> observed of the cockroach finding: "It goes to show that in today's mass luxury world, just because something is expensive doesn't mean something's good or high-quality."<br /><br /><br />I discovered this when a recent move put me within striking distance of two high-end food markets, Whole Foods and Balducci’s. Ah, was my thought, no more cooking! For dinners at least, I would eat nothing but their tasty deli offerings. How disillusioning then to discover that the items that look so delightful behind the counter are little better than the take-out at Safeway. Balducci’s fresh mozzarella-topped lamb burgers require a steak knife; their shrimp-and-caper concoction, at $26 a pound, seems to involve a preparatory stage of fossilization. You can do slightly better at Whole Foods, but only if you avoid anything with a sauce, which is likely to be a super-saturated solution of sodium chloride.<br /><br /><br />Yes, over-salting and over-cooking have a preservative effect, perhaps allowing the same items to be displayed for days at a time. But there could be something else behind the consistently bad prepared food at these upscale sources: Many, if not all, of the people doing the cooking behind the scenes are making foods they are unlikely ever to confront in real life. Ask a Salvadoran immigrant to whip up chicken masala and he or she will no doubt follow directions, but in complete ignorance of the desired taste. One of the women working at the Balduccis I have patronized has only one visible tooth in her mouth, which in addition to speaking ill of the store’s dental benefits, means she can never have bitten into one of the lamb burgers she sells.<br /><br /><br />And what about the kitchen workers at Serendipity 3? Like most underpaid New Yorkers, they probably went home to vermin-infested apartments, and thought nothing of a cockroach or two.<br /><br /><br />What this means is that even the very rich cannot escape into their own little bubble of purity and excellence, of “haute” this and “haute” that. Ride around in a limo and you still have to sit in traffic created by ordinary people who can’t afford to live near where they work. Fly in a private jet and you’re still dependent on archaic, underfinanced, systems of air traffic control. Travel first class on the Acela train and you still have to stare out at the rotting environs of Philadelphia and Newark. Oh, and you lobbied against higher taxes and regulations on business? Then think twice before you sink your teeth into that chocolate and gold dessert. The vermin are always with you.<br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida. </div></div></div> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2007 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '642709'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=642709" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 20 Nov 2007 21:00:01 -0800 Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbaraehrenreich.com 642709 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics wealth divide public infrastructure