Why do so many poor people eat junk food, fail to budget properly, show no ambition?

‘Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken’

Linda Tirado knew exactly why… because she was one of them. Here, in an extract from her book, Hand to Mouth, she tells her story in her own words

Linda Tirado photographed by Scott Suchman near her home in Washington DC for the Observer New Revie
Linda Tirado photographed by Scott Suchman near her home in Washington DC for the Observer New Review.

In the autumn of 2013 I was in my first term of school in a decade. I had two jobs; my husband, Tom, was working full-time; and we were raising our two small girls. It was the first time in years that we felt like maybe things were looking like they’d be OK for a while.

After a gruelling shift at work, I was unwinding online when I saw a question from someone on a forum I frequented: Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive? I thought I could at least explain what I’d seen and how I’d reacted to the pressures of being poor. I wrote my answer to the question, hit post, and didn’t think more about it for at least a few days. This is what it said:

Why I make terrible decisions, or, poverty thoughts

There’s no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.

Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6am, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes), then work, then I get the kids, then pick up my husband, then have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12.30am, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3am. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr Martini [her partner], see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork.

Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.

When I was pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel for some time. I had a mini-fridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC [government-funded nutritional aid for women, infants and children]. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12 for $2. Had I had a stove, I couldn’t have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron while knocked up.

I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate from high school. Most people on my level didn’t. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you’ll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they’ll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. If you fuck it up, you could make your family sick.

We have learned not to try too hard to be middle class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up?

We have very few of them.

The closest Planned Parenthood [family planning clinic] to me is three hours. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We’re aware that we are not “having kids”, we’re “breeding”. We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.

Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act [aimed at strengthening domestic security in the war against terrorism] was passed, it’s hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a cheque and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around San Francisco for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cellphone to the desk to hold as surety.

Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation.

Patients without medical insurance flock to a free dentistry event in Los Angeles.
Patients without medical insurance flock to a free dentistry event in Los Angeles. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm”, which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, pov”. I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won’t make me a server because I don’t “fit the corporate image”. I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on B12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.

CONTINUED:   http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/21/linda-tirado-poverty-hand-to-mouth-extract?CMP=fb_gu

Professors on food stamps

The shocking true story of academia in 2014

Forget minimum wage, some adjunct professors say they’re making 50 cents an hour. Wait till you read these stories

Professors on food stamps: The shocking true story of academia in 2014
(Credit: domin_domin via iStock/Roobcio via Shutterstock/Salon)

You’ve probably heard the old stereotypes about professors in their ivory tower lecturing about Kafka while clad in a tweed jacket. But for many professors today, the reality is quite different: being so poorly paid and treated, that they’re more likely to be found bargain-hunting at day-old bread stores. This is academia in 2014.

“The most shocking thing is that many of us don’t even earn the federal minimum wage,” said Miranda Merklein, an adjunct professor from Santa Fe who started teaching in 2008. “Our students didn’t know that professors with PhDs aren’t even earning as much as an entry-level fast food worker. We’re not calling for the $15 minimum wage. We don’t even make minimum wage. And we have no benefits and no job security.”

Over three quarters of college professors are adjunct. Legally, adjunct positions are part-time, at-will employment. Universities pay adjunct professors by the course, anywhere between $1,000 to $5,000. So if a professor teaches three courses in both the fall and spring semesters at a rate of $3000 per course, they’ll make $18,000 dollars. The average full-time barista makes the same yearly wage. However, a full-time adjunct works more than 40 hours a week. They’re not paid for most of those hours.

“If it’s a three credit course, you’re paid for your time in the classroom only,” said Merklein. “So everything else you do is by donation. If you hold office hours, those you’re doing for free. Your grading you do for free. … Anything we do with the student where we sit down and explain what happened when the student was absent, that’s also free labor. Some would call it wage theft because these are things we have to do in order to keep our jobs. We have to do things we’re not getting paid for. It’s not optional.”

Merklein was far from the only professor with this problem.



“It can be a tremendous amount of work,” said Alex Kudera. Kudera started teaching in 1996 and is the author of a novel about adjunct professorship, “Fight For Your Long Day.” “When I was an adjunct, I didn’t have a social life. It’s basically just work all the time. You plan your weekend around the fact that you’re going to be doing work Saturday and Sunday — typically grading papers, which is emotionally exhausting. The grading can be tedious but at least it’s a private thing. It’s basically 5-10 hours a day for every day of the week.”

One professor from Indiana who spoke to Salon preferred to remain anonymous. “At some point early in my adjunct career, I broke down my pay hourly. I figured out that I was making under minimum wage and then I stopped thinking about it,” he said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I essentially design my own courses. And sometimes I don’t find out how many courses I’m going to be teaching until maybe Thursday and they start Monday. … So I have to develop a course, and it’s been the case where one summer I taught English 102 where the course was literally dropped in my lap three days before it started and I had to develop it entirely from scratch. It didn’t even have a text book. That was three 16-hour days in a row developing a syllabus. … You’re expected to be in contact with students constantly. You have to be available to them all the time. You’re expected to respond to emails generally within 24 hours. I’m always on-call. And it’s one of my favorite parts of my job, I don’t regret it, but if you factored those on-call hours in, that’d be the end of it. I’d be making 50 cents an hour.”

Being financially secure and teaching at an institute of higher education are almost mutually exclusive, even among professors who are able to teach the maximum amount of courses each semester. Thus, more than half of adjunct professors in the United States seek a second job. Not all professors can find additional employment. An advanced degree slams most doors shut and opens a handful by the narrowest crack.

Nathaniel Oliver taught as an adjunct for four years in Alabama. He received $12,000 a year during his time teaching.

“You fall in this trap where you may be working for less than you would be at a place that pays minimum wage yet you can’t get the minimum wage jobs because of your education,” Oliver said.

Academia’s tower might be ivory but it casts an obsidian shadow. Oliver was one of many professors trapped in the oxymoronic life of pedantic destitution. Some professors in his situation became homeless. Oliver was “fortunate” enough to only require food stamps, a fact of life for many adjuncts.

“It’s completely insane,” he said. “And this isn’t happening just to me. More and more people are doing it.”

“We have food stamps,” said the anonymous adjunct from Indiana. “We wouldn’t be able to survive without them.”

“Many professors are on food stamps and they go to food donation centers. They donate plasma. And that’s a pretty regular occurrence,” Merklein told Salon.

Life isn’t much easier for those lucky enough to find another income stream. Many are reduced to menial service jobs and other forms of first-world deprivation.

“I ended up applying for a job in a donut shop recently,” said an Ohio professor who requested to go by a pseudonym. Professor Doe taught for over two decades. Many years he only made $9600. Resorting to a food service job was the only way he could afford to live, but it came with more than its expected share of humiliation.

“One of the managers there is one of the students I had a year ago who was one of the very worst writers I’ve ever had. What are we really saying here? What’s going on in the work world? Something does not seem quite right. I’m not asking to be rich. I’m not asking to be famous. I just want to pay my bills.”

Life became even more harrowing for adjuncts after the Affordable Care Act when universities slashed hours and health insurance coverage became even more difficult to obtain.

“They’re no better off than people who work at Walmart,” said Gordon Haber, a 15-year adjunct professor and author of “Adjunctivitis.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, other professors echoed this sentiment.

“There’s this idea that faculty are cheap, renewable labor. There’s the idea that student are customers or clients,” said Joseph Fruscione, a former adjunct of 15 years. “And there are some cases where if a student is displeased with a grade, there’s the notion where they’re paying for this, so they deserve an A or a B because of all this tuition.”

“The Walmart metaphor is vivid,” Kudera said. “There are these random schools where they’re just being terrible. But as some of the schools it seems like there’s some enlightened schools and it doesn’t seem like every single person who speaks up loses their classes. It varies school to school. They’re well aware some of their adjuncts may not afford toothpaste at the end of the month or whatever those kinds of tragedies may be.” He suggested looking at the hashtag #badmin to see transgressions and complaints documented in real time.

Robert Baum, a former adjunct and now a dean, was able to provide insights from both sides of the problem.

“That pressure [to make money] has been on higher education forever,” he said. “A lot of the time when I was an adjunct, things were very black and what I’m finding is that the graying is happening a lot. I’m losing track of the black and white.” Still, Baum noted that the current system was hardly ideal, and that change was necessary. “The Walmart model is based on the idea of putting the burden on taking care of the worker on either the state or on the worker’s credit card or on the worker’s family. And that is no different than what I’ve experienced across my adjunct life. No different. Zero difference.”

Ana Fores Tamayo, an adjunct who claims she was blacklisted over her activism, agreed with the latter parts of Baum’s assessment.

“Walmart and the compartmentalized way of treating faculty is the going rate. The way administration turns around and says, for instance, where I was teaching it was probably about 65% adjunct faculty. But the way they fix their numbers, it makes it looks as if it’s less when they show their books because the way they divide it and the way they play with their numbers it shows that it’s less.”

“As soon as they hear about you organizing, they go on the defensive,” Merklein said. “For instance, at my community college, I am being intimidated constantly and threatened in various ways, hypothetically usually. They don’t like to say something that’s an outright direct threat. … They get really freaked out when they see pamphlets around the adjunct faculty office and everyone’s wearing buttons regardless of what professional organization or union it is. They will then go on the offensive. They will usually contact their attorney who is there to protect the school as a business and to act in an anti-labor capacity.”

The most telling phrase in Merklein’s words are “the school as a business.” Colleges across the country have transitioned from bastions of intellectual enlightenment to resort hotels prizing amenities above academics. Case in point: The ludicrously extravagant gyms in America’s larger universities are home to rock climbing walls, corkscrew tracks, rooftop gardens, and a lazy river. Schools have billions to invest in housing and other on-campus projects. Schools have millions (or in some cases “mere” hundreds of thousands) to pay administrators.  Yet schools can’t find the money to hire more full-time professors. If one follows the money, it’s clear that colleges view education as tertiary. The rigor of a university’s courses doesn’t attract the awe of doe-eyed high school seniors. Lavish dorms and other luxuries do.

Despite such execrable circumstances, professors trek onward and try to educate students as best they can. But how good can education provided by overworked, underpaid adjuncts be? The professors Salon spoke to had varying opinions.

Benay Blend has taught for over 30 years. For 10 of those years, she worked in a bookstore for $7.50 an hour because she needed the extra income.

“I don’t want to fall into the trap that the media use that using adjunct labor means poor education,” Blend said. “I have a PhD. I’ve published probably more than full-time people where I teach. I’ve been teaching for 30 years. I’m a good teacher.”

“On the whole, teaching quality by adjuncts is excellent,” said Kane Faucher, a six-year adjunct. “But many are not available for mentoring and consultation because they have to string together so many courses just to reach or possibly exceed the poverty line. This means our resources are stretched too thinly as a matter of financial survival, and there are many adjuncts who do not even have access to a proper office, which means they work out of coffee shops and cars.”

The anonymous adjunct professor from Indiana expressed a similar sentiment.

“I definitely don’t want to go down the road of ‘Adjunct professors, because of the way we’re handled, are not able to be effective teachers.’ I think some of us are more effective teachers than people who get paid a lot more than we do. Some of us aren’t for really good reasons which have to do with not having the resources. I mean if you’re working at three different colleges, how can you possibly be there?”

Ann Kottner, an adjunct professor and activist, agreed.

“The real problem with the adjunct market right now is that it cheats students of the really outstanding educations they should be getting,” she said. “They’re paying a lot of money for these educations and they’re not getting them. And it’s not because they have bad instructors, it’s because their instructors are not supported to do the kind of work they can do.”

The situation reached such a flashpoint that Kottner and several colleagues (some of which spoke to Salon for this article) penned a petition to the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. The petition calls for “an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty.” Ana Foryes Tamayo has a petition as well, this one to the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. They both have over 8,000 signatories.

When asked about the petition’s impact, Kottner said it was “just one tactic in the whole sheath of a rising adjunct response to contingency.” Other tools included unionization, which is difficult in many states. Kottner said the most powerful force was information. “I think our biggest weapon now is basically making the public aware of what their tuition dollars are not paying for, and that is professor salaries and professor security.”

When asked if there was any hope about the future, no consensus was reached among the adjuncts Salon spoke with. Some believed things would never change. Others thought the tide would turn if enough people knew how far the professoriat had fallen.

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/21/professors_on_food_stamps_the_shocking_true_story_of_academia_in_2014/?source=newsletter

Do You Really Want to Save the Earth? Flood Wall Street!

  Occupy Wall Street  

Monday’s rally in NY’s financial district will target the role of global capitalism, the root cause of our environmental crisis.

Photo Credit: Stuart Monk/Shutterstock

This is a critical week for the planet. On Sunday, the People’s Climate March is expected to be the largest environmental march in history. But it would be a grave mistake, for the planet and for ourselves, to overlook another event that is to take place on Monday. That’s when the Flood Wall Street rally will target the role of global capitalism in our environmental crisis.

The profit economy is a root cause — make that the root cause — of climate change.

Wall Street is, in a very real sense, the epicenter of our environmental crisis. To ignore that fact is to risk dooming our other climate efforts to failure, or to use them merely as palliatives for troubled consciences. There’s no other way to say this: Capitalism, as practiced on Wall Street today, is an existential threat to humanity.

To make that statement is not necessarily to issue a jeremiad against capitalism in all its forms. The danger comes not from commerce itself, but from the extraordinary concentration of wealth and power that has accrued in recent decades to corporations and their Wall Street investors. This has led in turn to an ideological shift that has entirely captured the GOP and has seized large portions of the Democratic Party as well.

There has been a counter-revolution in the boardrooms of America’s corporations as well. The widespread amorality that characterizes the current generation of corporate executives — and their Boards — would have been unrecognizable to business leaders of the 1950s and 1960s. While those gentlemen weren’t saints, they understood that society would not tolerate corporate behavior that included widespread fraud, open disregard for the lives of a global workforce, or a rapacious indifference to the fate of the planet itself.

Times have changed. The men and women who lead today’s corporations are a new and more calculating breed. The new culture of corporate America makes every executive a Wall Street speculator. Executive pay packages rely heavily on stock options and bonuses that drive CEOs to push quarterly results without any concern for the future of the company, much less the future of the planet.

They’re aided and abetted by the political class. The cult of Ayn Rand-style libertarianism has infused much of the right with a fanatical belief in the infallibility of executive greed. Democrats in the Bill Clinton mold insist on legitimizing errant executives and their ideas, whether by inviting Goldman Sachs leaders to the Clinton Global Initiative or boosting the pro-corporate “centrism” of the Simpson/Bowles crowd.

Mainstream journalists have idealized the behavior of the ruthless men and women who now lead the private sector. They continued to glorify bank executives like JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, even as his institution was paying out tens of billions for rampant and ongoing fraud. (It’s worse than Enron.) They uncritically lionized Steve Jobs, despite the fact that Jobs and his subordinates appear to have engaged in control fraud, and knowingly tolerated the conditions that led to the burning deaths of employees in China. (See “Hell is Cheaper.”)

This ideology of profit über alles has created a climate of public tolerance for corporate greed, at least in certain quarters, which has helped a number of major executives escape public censure — even when their behavior threatens the planet itself. A Newsweek list of the worst companies for the planet includes Archer Daniels Midland (Patricia Woertz, CEO), Duke Energy (Lynn J. Good, CEO), ConAgra Foods (Gary Rodkin, CEO), and Peabody Energy (Gregory Boyce, CEO).

And let’s not forget Koch Industries, whose actions pollute the environment as its leaders pollute the political process.

If large corporations were held accountable for the damage they’re causing — $2.2 trillion per year, by one estimate — many of them would become unprofitable. But, in an unprecedented shift of social responsibility, it has been determined that others will bear the cost instead, one way or another.

Although corporate executives have always misbehaved, society eventually found ways to control their behavior: with regulations, with law enforcement, and with that ancient form of social control known as shame. Now, even shame is failing us. Ironically, in a case of greenwashing on an epic scale, JPMorgan Chase even sponsored a massive rock concert for Hurricane Sandy relief, which featured the formerly Ameriquest-sponsored Rolling Stones. (See “Jumpin’ Jamie Flash” for more on Sandy, Jamie, and Mick.)

Regulation, prosecution, shame: Our modern systems of control have broken down, leaving the planet in danger.

Today’s blatantly amoral capitalism is an anomaly in modern history, a throwback to the days of the Industrial Revolution. But it is an anomaly we can no longer afford. The skies of 19th-century Manchester, England, darkened with soot and smoke, but the planet survived. Today’s threat circles the globe and is already darkening our future. There is no escaping it — not in space or time.

We need to draw the world’s attention to the harm that corporations and their investors are inflicting on the planet. We need to redeploy the anti-apartheid sanction strategies of the 20th century against the corporate interests that are causing such devastating harm to current and future generations. That means publicly identifying the malefactors, boycotting their products, and bringing pressure to bear on the investors and institutions that finance their environmental destruction.

It can be done — but only if Saturday’s marchers carry on for one more day and walk a little bit further down the island of Manhattan. Sunday’s demonstrators will gather around the massive statue of a bull that sits outside the New York Stock Exchange. (Apparently the golden calf hasn’t been erected yet.) The rally will feature Naomi Klein, whose new book is on the relationship between capitalism and climate change, as well as speakers like Chris Hedges and Rebecca Solnit.

Marchers will be wearing blue to represent a “flood.” That metaphor will eventually become fact if climate change goes unchecked. Scientists say that rising sea levels will eventually leave most of Manhattan below 34th Street permanently underwater. Of course, the titans of uncontrolled capitalism will be long gone by then. Only the devastation will remain.

Richard Eskow is a writer, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, and the host of a weekly radio show, “The Breakdown.”

How the People’s Climate March Became a Corporate PR Campaign

Business as Usual in Manhattan

https://secure3.convio.net/engage/images/content/pagebuilder/PCMlargestmarch.png

by ARUN GUPTA

I’ve never been to a protest march that advertised in the New York City subway. That spent $220,000 on posters inviting Wall Street bankers to join a march to save the planet, according to one source. That claims you can change world history in an afternoon after walking the dog and eating brunch.

Welcome to the “People’s Climate March” set for Sunday, Sept. 21 in New York City. It’s timed to take place before world leaders hold a Climate Summit at the United Nations two days later. Organizers are billing it as the “biggest climate change demonstration ever” with similar marches around the world. The Nation describes the pre-organizing as following “a participatory, open-source model that recalls the Occupy Wall Street protests.” A leader of 350.org, one of the main organizing groups, explained, “Anyone can contribute, and many of our online organizing ‘hubs’ are led by volunteers who are often coordinating hundreds of other volunteers.”

I will join the march, as well as the Climate Convergence starting Friday, and most important the “Flood Wall Street” direct action on Monday, Sept. 22. I’ve had conversations with more than a dozen organizers including senior staff at the organizing groups. Many people are genuinely excited about the Sunday demonstration. The movement is radicalizing thousands of youth. Endorsers include some labor unions and many people-of-color community organizations that normally sit out environmental activism because the mainstream green movement has often done a poor job of talking about the impact on or solutions for workers and the Global South.

Nonetheless, to quote Han Solo, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Environmental activist Anne Petermann and writer Quincy Saul describe how the People’s Climate March has no demands, no targets,and no enemy. Organizers admitted encouraging bankers to march was like saying Blackwater mercenaries should join an antiwar protest. There is no unity other than money. One veteran activist who was involved in Occupy Wall Street said it was made known there was plenty of money to hire her and others. There is no sense of history: decades of climate-justice activism are being erased by the incessant invocation of the “biggest climate change demonstration ever.” Investigative reporter Cory Morningstar has connected the dots between the organizing groups, 350.org and Avaaz, the global online activist outfit modeled on MoveOn, and institutions like the World Bank and Clinton Global Initiative. Morningstar claims the secret of Avaaz’s success is its “expertise in behavioral change.”

That is what I find most troubling. Having worked on Madison Avenue for nearly a decade, I can smell a P.R. and marketing campaign a mile away. That’s what the People’s Climate March looks to be. According to inside sources a push early on for a Seattle-style event—organizing thousands of people to nonviolently shut down the area around the United Nations—was thwarted by paid staff with the organizing groups.

One participant in the organizing meetings said, “In the beginning people were saying, ‘This is our Seattle,’” referring to the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial that was derailed by direct action. But the paid staff got the politics-free Climate March. Another source said, “You wouldn’t see Avaaz promoting an occupy-style action. The strategic decision was made to have a big march and get as many mainstream groups on board as possible.”

Nothing wrong with that. Not every tactic should be based on Occupy. But in an email about climate change that Avaaz sent out last December, which apparently raked in millions of dollars, it wrote, “It’s time for powerful, direct, non-violent action, to capture imagination, convey moral urgency, and inspire people to act. Think Occupy.”

Here’s what seems to be going on. Avaaz found a lucrative revenue stream by warning about climate catastrophe that can be solved with the click of a donate button. To convince people to donate it says we need Occupy-style actions. When the moment comes for such a protest, Avaaz and 350.orgblocked it and then when it did get organized, they pushed it out of sight. If you go to People’s Climate March, you won’t find any mention of the Flood Wall Street action, which I fully support, but fear is being organized with too little time and resources. Nor have I seen it in an Avaaz email, nor has anyone else I’ve talked to. Bill McKibben of 350.org began promoting it this week, but that may be because there is discontent in the activist ranks about the march, which includes lots of Occupy Wall Street activists. One inside source said, “It’s a branding decision not to promote the Flood Wall Street action. These are not radical organizations.”

Branding. That’s how the climate crisis is going to be solved. We are in an era or postmodern social movements.

The image (not ideology) comes first and shapes the reality. The P.R. and marketing determines the tactics, the messaging, the organizing, and the strategy. Whether this can have a positive effect is a different question, and it’s why I encourage everyone to participate. The future is unknowable. But left to their own devices the organizers will lead the movement into the graveyard of the Democratic Party, just as happened with the movement against the Iraq War a decade ago. You remember that historic worldwide movement, right? It was so profound the New York Times dubbed global public opinion, “the second superpower.” Now Obama has launched an eighth war and there is no antiwar movement to speak of.

Sources say Avaaz and 350.org is footing most of the bill for the People’s Climate March with millions of dollars spent. Avaaz is said to have committed a dozen full-time staff, and hired dozens of other canvassers to collect petition signatures and hand out flyers. Nearly all of 350.org’s staff is working on climate marches around the country and there is an office in New York with thirty full-time workers organizing the march. That takes a lot of cheddar. While the grassroots are being mobilized, this is not a grassroots movement. That’s why it’s a mistake to condemn it. People are joining out of genuine concern and passion and hope for an equitable, sustainable world, but the control is top down and behind closed doors. Everyone I talked to described an undemocratic process. Even staffers were not sure who was making the decisions other than to tell me to follow the money. It’s also facile to say all groups are alike. Avaaz is more cautious than 350.org, and apparently the New York chapter of 350.org, which is more radical, is at odds with the national.

But when the overriding demand is for numbers, which is about visuals, which is about P.R. and marketing, everything becomes lowest common denominator. The lack of politics is a political decision. One insider admitted despite all the overheated rhetoric about the future is on the line, “I don’t expect much out of this U.N. process.” The source added this is “a media moment, a mobilizing moment.” The goal is to have visuals of a diverse crowd, hence the old saw about a “family-friendly” march. Family friendly comes at a high cost, however. Everything is decided by the need for visuals, which means organizers will capitulate to anything the NYPD demands for fear of violence. The march is on a Sunday morning when the city is in hangover mode. The world leaders will not even be at the United Nations, and they are just the hired guns of the real climate criminals on Wall Street. The closest the march comes to the United Nations is almost a mile away. The march winds up on Eleventh Avenue, a no-man’s land far from subways. There is no closing rally or speakers.

An insider says the real goal was to create space for politicians: “If you can frame it as grandma and kids and immigrants and labor you could make it safer for politicians to come out and support. It’s all very liberal. I don’t have much faith in it.”

When I asked what the metrics for success for, the insider told me media coverage and long-term polling about public opinion. I was dumbfounded. That’s the exact same tools we would use in huge marketing campaigns. First we would estimate and tally media “impressions” across all digital, print, outdoor, and so on. Then a few months down the road we would conduct surveys to see if we changed the consumer’s opinion of the brand, their favorability, the qualities they associated with it, the likelihood they would try. That’s the same tools Avaaz is allegedly using.

Avaaz has pioneered clickbait activism. It gets people to sign petitions about dramatic but ultimately minor issues like, “Prevent the flogging of 15 year old rape victim in Maldives.” The operating method of Avaaz, which was established in 2007, is to create “actions” like these that generate emails for its fundraising operation. In other words, it’s a corporation with a business model to create products (the actions), that help it increase market share (emails), and ultimately revenue. The actions that get the most attention are ones that get the most petition signers, the most media coverage, and which help generate revenue.

Avaaz has turned social justice into a product to enhance the liberal do-gooding lifestyle, and it’s set its sights on the climate justice movement.

The more dramatic the emails the better the response. It’s like the supermarket. The bags and boxes don’t say, “Not bad,” or “kinda tasty.” They say “the cheesiest,” “the most delicious,” “an avalanche of flavor,” “utterly irresistible.” That’s why climate change polls so well for Avaaz. It’s really fucking dramatic. But it’s still not dramatic enough for marketing purposes.

One source said the December 2013 email from Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel about climate change was a goldmine. It was headlined, “24 Months to Save the World.” It begins, “This may be the most important email I’ve ever written to you,” and then says the climate crisis is “beyond our worst expectations” with storms and temperatures “off the charts.” Then comes the hook from Patel, “We CAN stop this, if we act very fast, and all together. And out of this extinction nightmare, we can pull one of the most inspiring futures for our children and grandchildren. A clean, green future in balance with the earth that gave birth to us.”

Telling people there is 24 months to save the world is odious, as is implying an online donation to Avaaz can save the planet.

The same overblown rhetoric is being used for the People’s Climate March: It’s the biggest ever. There is “unprecedented collaboration” with more than 1,400 “partner” groups in New York City. Everything comes down to this one day with the “future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history.”

Presumably the orderly marchers behind NYPD barricades will convince the governments of the world that will meet for the Climate Summit that won’t even meet for another two days that they need to pass UN Secretary­ General Ban Ki-­moon’s “ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution.”

Moon is now joining the march. But it’s hard to find details, including on the Climate Summit website, as to what will actually be discussed there. The best account I could find is by Canadian journalist Nick Fillmore. He claims the main point will be a carbon pricing scheme. This is one of those corporate-designed scams that in the past has rewarded the worst polluters with the most credits to sell and creates perverse incentives to pollute, because then they can earn money to cut those emissions.

So we have a corporate-designed protest march to support a corporate-dominated world body to implement a corporate policy to counter climate change caused by the corporations of the world, which are located just a few miles away but which will never feel the wrath of the People’s Climate March.

Rather than moaning on the sidelines and venting on Facebook, radicals need to be in the streets. Join the marches and more important the direct actions. Radicals need to ask the difficult questions as to why for the second time in fifteen years has a militant uprising, first Seattle and then Occupy, given way to liberal cooptation. What good is your radical analysis if the NGO sector and Democratic Party fronts kept out-organizing you?

Naomi Klein says we need to end business as usual because climate change is going to change everything. She’s right. Unfortunately the organizers of the People’s Climate March didn’t get the memo. Because they are continuing on with business as usual that won’t change anything.

One prominent environmental organizer says that after the march ends, “The U.N. leaders are going to be in there Monday and Tuesday and do whatever the fuck they want. And everyone will go back to their lives, walking the dog and eating brunch.”

The future is unwritten. It’s not about what happens on Sunday. It’s what happens after that.

Arun Gupta contributes to outlets including Al Jazeera America, Vice, The Progressive, The Guardian, and In These Times.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/09/19/how-the-peoples-climate-march-became-a-corporate-pr-campaign/

 

Are We Supposed to Live at Work?

Google Sleep Pods and Yelp Beer Pumps:

Corporations aim to blur the boundaries between leisure and work.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Have you ever got to the end of a working day and thought: “You know what? I think I’ll hang around here for a bit longer … ”?

No, nor me.

But you might, if you worked for a tech giant like Google. There’s even an informal competition to see how long a Google employee can “live” at one of the search behemoth’s delightfully appointed HQs; eating in the canteen, showering in the gym, and sleeping in a car parked in the corporate lot. The record is supposedly held by an employee at Google’s Crittenden site and stands somewhere in the two year range.

To make that job even easier Google has installed some delicious-looking retro-futuristic “sleep pods” that are technically designed for mid-shift cat naps but could well be pressed into service as improvised beds.

It’s an approach that could catch on in the UK, especially in the home counties. After all, salaries in the UK are flatlining (unless you’re an MP). Property prices are still steadily inflating (particularly good news if you’re an MP). And of course tech companies tend to recruit the type of employee who missed out on their opportunity to step on to the property price escalator by dint of carelessly being born too late.

Plenty of tech and advertising firms have created kidult working environments with table football and mini-fridges to make their office feel more like a youth club than a workplace.

For that matter, so many of us are now so attached to our employers through smartphones and 3G tablets that we may as well be in the office all day anyway.

It’s only natural I suppose. As the industrial age, at least for us in the west, puffs its last climate-punishing puff, we can throw off the yoke of the commuter and choose to work where live, or live where we work. Just as we did in those fondly remembered days when we were all serfs.

If we are moving to a work environment where we graze at our duties for protracted periods, rather than gulp them down in rigid shift patterns, more of our workplaces need to enable the new culture of low-level presenteeism. Here are some steps in the right direction:

One admirable innovation has already been implemented at City giants Deloitte. There workers can observe their offspring’s nursery activities via webcam. In due course, those same children can no doubt aspire to a bit of work experience at Deloitte and ultimately join the megacorporation themselves. If that notion doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, you’re not damaging your cardiovascular system with enough sedentary desk work.

The business review site Yelp offers a whole suite of workplace blandishments to keep workers on site; pool tables, table-tennis, a videogame room, and perhaps most enticingly the KegMate. An in-house invention, this state-of-the-art beer pump offers free on-tap craft beers for staff and guests. Again, taking the long view: our agrarian ancestors drank home-brewed ale all day long and it didn’t do their work-rates any harm. Try having the Wars of the Roses today. Without a few cold drinks to keep people’s minds focused on the slaughter, the wars wouldn’t last a week.

Some workplaces have also offered staff a Treadmill Desk. First implemented in our prisons by Sir William Cubitt in the early 19th century, treadmills not only keep staff fit so that they can live longer, more productive lives – they can also supplement the company’s electricity supply. After all, keeping the lights on for all these late-night workers doesn’t come cheap.

Now, the last thing I’d like to imply to any potential employers, especially in the current perma-recession, is that I’m in some way hostile to this constant erosion of our work-life balance. Au contraire, I’m happy to dispense with the distinction between work and leisure entirely. I’m never happier than when I’m deliberately losing at table football to my slightly tipsy line manager.

In fact, you know what? I think I’ll hang around here for a bit longer.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/google-sleep-pods-and-yelp-beer-pumps-are-we-supposed-live-work?akid=12269.265072.yDYVbH&rd=1&src=newsletter1020024&t=23&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

 

Google report documents surge in electronic surveillance requests by governments worldwide

http://kielarowski.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/54202-chinesehackerswhobreachedgooglein2010gainedaccesstothousandsofsurveillanceorders.jpg?w=512&h=232

By Thomas Gaist
20 September 2014

Google received some 32,000 data requests from governments worldwide during the first six months of 2014. The total number of data requests submitted by governments have surged 150 percent in the past five years, according to a “transparency report” published this week by the company.

Google complied with 65 percent of the requests, including 84 percent of the requests submitted by the US government, according to the report.

Data requests by the US government increased 250 percent over the same period, including almost 20 percent in the first half of 2014 alone. The US government accounted for 40 percent of total data requests, demanding data from some 21,500 specific user accounts in the first half of this year.

Internationally, Google reported receiving at least 1,000 user data requests from France, Germany, India, Italy, Singapore and UK; more than 500 requests from Australia, Brazil, Poland, Spain and Taiwan; and more than 100 requests from Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey. Data requests submitted by the Australian government have tripled since 2010, Google reported.

A number of governments began demanding data from Google for the first time in 2014, including Albania, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Maldives, Namibia and Nepal.

Google’s document makes clear that its transparency reporting is subject to various loopholes and delays. Statistics covered in the report do not include data requests that carry “gag orders,” nor does Google report on “emergency data requests” relating to national security or some criminal investigations. Requests submitted to the company through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) are subject to a six-month reporting delay. “New Capability Orders,” or data requests relating to a new form of electronic surveillance, are only reported by Google after a two-year delay, the report said.

US government agencies can also access data without a specific warrant through several avenues. Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), top FBI officials can issue National Security Letters (NSL) demanding names, addresses, calling records and other information, all without a warrant. Specific users targeted by NSLs are generally not informed that they are being surveilled, Google reported.

Google releases a range of different forms of data to the government:

* Subscriber registration information, including names, account creation information, associated email addresses, and phone numbers

* Sign-in IP addresses and associated times

* Email header information and email content

* From YouTube, subscriber registration information, video upload IP addresses and time stamps

* Copies of private videos, private messages, private blog posts and other content

Google claims that it only transfers actual content of electronic communications to the government in response to specific warrants.

However, the National Security Agency’s PRISM program enables the NSA to directly seize communications data in bulk by tapping into the fiber optic cables that carry the majority of the world’s internet traffic.

After PRISM’s existence was revealed by Edward Snowden in the summer of 2013, Google and the other tech companies denied any knowledge of the program. Subsequent leaks revealed that Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, and other tech giants accepted millions of dollars from the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division, the NSA branch responsible for managing the agency’s “corporate partnerships,” as part of their collaboration with PRISM.

Seeking to rehabilitate its public image in the wake of the Snowden disclosures, Google has been collaborating with Digital Due Process (DDP), a coalition of NGOs and corporations that includes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amazon, Apple, the Constitution Project, the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, Facebook, Microsoft, Reddit and other organizations. The DDP aims “to balance the law enforcement interests of the government, the privacy interests of users, and the interests of communications service providers,” according to its statement of principles.

In reality, the privacy interests of internet users are in direct conflict with the interests of the communications companies, which have played a central role in the erection of the global surveillance machinery.

Far from having an adversarial relationship with the surveillance agencies of the state, Google functions as an indispensable co-partner and facilitator of the mass spying. As Wikileaks head Julian Assange commented late this week, “Google’s business model is the spy. It makes more than 80 percent of its money by collecting information about people, pooling it together, storing it, indexing it, building profiles of people to predict their interests and behavior, and then selling those profiles principally to advertisers, but also others,” Assange said.

“So the result is that Google, in terms of how it works, its actual practice, is almost identical to the National Security Agency or GCHQ,” Assange said.

Google has been working with the NSA “at least since 2002,” Assange noted.

“They are formally listed as part of the defense industrial base since 2009. They have been engaged with the Prism system, where nearly all information collected by Google is available to the NSA. At the institutional level, Google is deeply involved in US foreign policy,” Assange said.