Tethered to Corporate Capitalism, Neither Party Willing to Eradicate Poverty

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If we have learned anything in recent years, it is that the interests of the wealthy almost always win out.

For the nation’s poor, neither major party has shown the necessary regard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

After her loss to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, few predicted that Hillary Clinton would leave the world of presidential politics. On the contrary, it was widely believed that she would make another run for the White House.

Anticipating such a run, the renowned political scientist and activist Frances Fox Piven, along with sociologist Fred Block, penned an open letter calling on Clinton, who had just left the State Department, to “step forward” and “launch a national debate about poverty and welfare.”

“Specifically,” Piven and Block wrote, “we are asking for you to open a conversation about the shortcomings of the 1996 welfare legislation that was passed when you and Bill Clinton were in the White House.”

The letter was not unprovoked: In the years immediately following welfare reform’s implementation, Hillary Clinton was an ardent defender of its underlying logic, arguing that it was a “critical first step” in the broader move toward a more effective system.

And Clinton’s defenses of the law didn’t cease even as evidence of its harmful effects became increasingly prominent. Indeed, in 2008, the New York Times reported that, in an interview, “Clinton expressed no misgivings about the 1996 legislation.”

In 2016, circumstances changed. Faced with a primary opponent running far to her left, Clinton shifted: “Now we have to take a hard look at” welfare reform, Clinton said in April, citing the entirely predictable failure of the now almost non-existent safety net to catch those harmed by the financial crisis.

Fast-forward several months, however, and the issue has all but vanished from the scene; no such “hard look” appears to be forthcoming.

Welfare reform’s absence was especially conspicuous in Clinton’s recent Times op-ed, in which she outlined her “plan for helping America’s poor.”

Clinton highlighted her tenure as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, where she was mentored by Marian Wright Edelman, the organization’s founder. But the issue that prompted a rather bitter split between the two was left unmentioned.

Prior to its passage, welfare reform garnered striking bipartisan support. But dissent was there, and it was forceful. Edelman’s voice was among the most powerful, the most insistent, and, to those reading her words today, the most prescient.

“It would be wrong to leave millions of voteless, voiceless children to the vagaries of 50 state bureaucracies and politics, as both the Senate and House bills will do,” she wrote in the Washington Post. “It would be wrong to strip children of or weaken current ensured help for their daily survival and during economic recessions and natural disasters, as both the Senate and House bills will do. It would be wrong to exacerbate rather than alleviate the current shameful and epidemic child poverty that no decent, rich nation should tolerate for even one child.”

Her pleas fell upon deaf ears; welfare reform passed and was implemented, and its successes in booting millions off of “the dole” and diverting money away from poor families and into the coffers of state governments—which were given tremendous latitude in how they could spend the money — were cheered by Democrats and Republicans alike.

But for the most vulnerable, there was little to celebrate.

Some found work, largely in low-wage jobs; those who didn’t, or couldn’t, slipped into deep poverty. The research of Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, noted the Washington Post‘s Max Ehrenfreund in February, “shows that the number of people living on $2 a day or less in cash has increased more than twofold, to 1.6 million households” since welfare reform’s passage.

The impact on children has been profound. “Under TANF,” a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “the number of children living in deep poverty—with incomes below half the poverty line, using a comprehensive poverty measure—has risen significantly, placing large numbers of children at risk for long-term negative academic, employment, and health outcomes.”

It is significant that Hillary Clinton has consistently downplayed this reality. In her Times piece, she acknowledges in passing that “extreme poverty has increased,” but she does little to explain how such destitution arose in the world’s wealthiest nation.

And, as Ryan Cooper explains, while many of the proposals Clinton puts forward are welcome and necessary—from her emphasis on affordable housing to her support for paid family and medical leave — her plan taken as a whole is “woefully inadequate.”

“The problem, at root, is the same one Paul Ryan has with his various anti-poverty ideas—a wildly disproportionate focus on work, and a corresponding lack of attention to the welfare policies that could seriously cut poverty,” Cooper argues.

Citing the research of Matt Bruenig, Cooper writes that Clinton’s work-centric approach would do little to alleviate poverty because a “huge majority of poor people are not employable.”

Bruenig calls this large group “the CEDS bloc“: It consists of children, the elderly, those with disabilities, and students. And, Bruenig notes, “no matter which common poverty measure you use,” 60 to 65 percent of the poor fall in one of these four categories. Add to that the 20 percent represented by “carers and those who faced a spell of involuntarily unemployment during the year,” and you have a picture of poverty that is entirely different than that painted by the nation’s two major political parties.

“So, all together,” Bruenig concludes, “the CEDS bloc plus carers and those who faced a spell of involuntarily unemployment make up around 80-85% of the poor in any given year.”

Given this context, Clinton’s assertion that “The best way to help families lift themselves out of poverty is to make it easier to find good-paying jobs” is, at best, disconnected, both from the lived experience of impoverished families and from statistical realities. Cooper notes that, of course, “more and better-paying jobs are a great policy objective, but it will have little purchase on the problem of poverty.”

That work is nonetheless at the center of Clinton’s anti-poverty strategy—as opposed to, say, the most effective approach to reducing poverty—is indicative of the ideological limitations not just of Hillary Clinton’s agenda, but of the Democratic Party more broadly. It is not merely, to use Adolph Reed’s phrase, an “atrophy of political imagination” that imposes such strictures; it is also the party’s active commitments, both to its donor base and to dominant economic and political ideas.

Perhaps the most apt description of the party’s ethos comes from former Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips, who once remarked that the Democratic Party is “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.”

“They do not interfere with capitalist momentum,” he added, “but wait for excesses and the inevitable popular reaction.”

Far from defying this tradition—one that consolidated power during the administration of Bill Clinton—Hillary Clinton is advancing it, embracing a political status quo in which big money dominates and celebrating the relationship between America’s dominant institutions and the nation’s economic direction.

“Hillary Clinton is a capitalist,” Emmett Rensin summarizes, “and even within a capitalist party, she is in both perception and in practice unusually comfortable with capitalism’s worst practices.”

Often characterized as clear-headed pragmatism, Clinton’s approach to poverty lays bare the deep conservatism of the party that claims for itself, despite contradictory evidence, the label “progressive.” But such conservatism is not surprising if one considers the significant changes that have taken place within the party over the last several decades.

Thomas Frank has documented the extent to which the Democratic Party has come to consist of professionals and technocrats, and this is reflected in voting patterns: As Lee Drutman has noted, as Democrats have moved rightward, theirs has increasingly become “the preferred party of the very wealthy.”

Hillary Clinton’s embrace of the anti-Trump members of the billionaire class provides only a superficial marker of this shift; the most consequential shifts have taken place just below this surface.

Clinton’s party, Thomas Edsall has observed, is largely made up of an “unruly coalition“: “upscale well-educated whites and, importantly, ethnic and racial minorities, many of them low income.”

If we have learned anything in recent years, it is that the interests of the wealthy almost always win out.

As such, Edsall concludes, “Instead of serving as the political arm of working and middle class voters seeking to move up the ladder, the Democratic Party faces the prospect of becoming the party of the winners, in collaboration with many of those in the top 20 percent who are determined to protect and secure their economic and social status.”

A party committed to securing the privileges of elite sectors of society cannot also push the aggressive (but remarkably simple) measures necessary to eradicate poverty; the party of Goldman Sachs, the party of ultra-rich professionals, and the party of oil lobbyists cannot also be the party of the poor.

In 2009, Peter Edelman—the husband of Marian Wright Edelman—and Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a scathing critique of the new anti-poverty discourse, whose adherents “consider poverty a voluntary condition, one curable with a quick kick in the pants and the opportunity to work for minimum wage.”

This view persists in the present, on both sides of the political aisle; it is, in effect, a way of omitting the systemic causes of destitution, invoking in their place a critique not of capitalism, but of those victimized by it.

If we are to wage a successful war on poverty, we cannot, in the words of Mathew Snow, “accept capital’s terms for addressing its own problems or purported moral imperatives that presuppose them. We can [we must] overturn those terms completely.”

The lie of white “economic insecurity”: Race, class and the rise of Donald Trump

The media loves to promote the lie that the white working class supports Trump and the GOP for economic reasons

The lie of white "economic insecurity": Race, class and the rise of Donald Trump
(Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar)

Questions of race and class have cast a heavy shadow over a presidential campaign in which “economic insecurity” has been repeatedly identified (quite incorrectly) by the mainstream news media as the driving force behind the rise of Donald Trump. In response, there has been a flurry of recent articles and essays exploring how matters of race and class are influencing the decision by “white working class” voters to support Donald Trump’s fascist, racist and nativist campaign for the White House.

Writing at The Guardian, sociologist Arlie Hochschild offers a devastating critique of how race and class intersect for white working-class American voters. In “How the Great Paradox of American Politics Holds the Secret to Trump’s Success,” Hochschild explores how white voters in the South and elsewhere rationalize their support for a Republican Party and a “small government” ethos that has devastated their lives and communities. She tells this story by focusing on one person, Lee Sherman, and his journey from pipefitter at a petrochemical plant to environmental activist and whistleblower to eventual Tea Party activist. Hochschild writes:

Yet over the course of his lifetime, Sherman had moved from the left to the right. When he lived as a young man in Washington State, he said proudly, “I ran the campaign of the first woman to run for Congress in the state.” But when he moved from Seattle to Dallas for work in the 1950s, he shifted from conservative Democrat to Republican, and after 2009, to the Tea Party. So while his central life experience had been betrayal at the hands of industry, he now felt – as his politics reflected – most betrayed by the federal government. He believed that PPG and many other local petrochemical companies at the time had done wrong, and that cleaning the mess up was right. He thought industry would not “do the right thing” by itself. But still he rejected the federal government. Indeed, Sherman embraced candidates who wanted to remove nearly all the guardrails on industry and cut the EPA. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had vastly improved life for workmen such as Sherman – and he appreciated those reforms – but he felt the job was largely done.

Lee Sherman’s story is all too common. Because of political socialization by the right-wing media, the Christian evangelical movement, and closed personal and social networks, many white conservative voters are unable to practice the systems level thinking necessary to connect their day-to-day struggles with the policies put in place by the Republican Party.

While this way of seeing and understanding the social and political world (what Walt Whitman influentially described as “the pictures inside of people’s heads”) may be at odds with the type of critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning that liberals and progressives take for granted, it still exerts a powerful hold over many millions of conservatives. This alternate reality is, not surprisingly, anchored in place by the right-wing disinformation machine and Fox News.

Hochschild’s essay is further evidence of what I suggested in an earlier piece here at Salon: Republicans and the broader right-wing movement profit from a Machiavellian relationship where the more economic pain and suffering they inflict on red-state America, the more popular and powerful they become with those voters. This is political sadism as a campaign strategy.

Politico’s “What’s Going on With America’s White People?” features commentary by leading scholars and journalists such as Anne Case, Angus Denton, Nancy Isenberg, Carol Anderson and J.D. Vance, whose collective work examines the relationships between race, class and white America. The piece highlights how death anxieties greatly influence the political calculations and decision-making of white conservatives in red-state America. These people use their own broken communities — places that are awash in prescription drug addictions, have high rates of out-of-wedlock births and divorce, and see deaths of despair (suicide by guns and alcohol; chronic untreated illnesses) reign — to draw incorrect conclusions about America as a whole. These anxieties have combined with increasing levels of authoritarianism, racial resentment and old-fashioned racism among white conservatives and right-leaning independents to fuel extreme political polarization and make the emergence of a demagogue such as Donald Trump a near inevitability.

If the fever swamps that birthed Donald Trump are to be drained, there needs to be a renewed focus on the dynamics of race and class for white (conservative) voters during this 2016 presidential election. But these analyses should also be accompanied by several qualifiers.

First, liberals and progressives are often easily seduced by a narrative, popularized by Thomas Frank and others, in which white working-class and poor Americans are depicted as having been hoodwinked into voting for the Republican Party. In this argument, white poor and working-class red-state voters chose “culture war” issues over economic policies. However, as compellingly demonstrated by political scientist Larry Bartels (and complemented by fellow political scientist Andrew Gelman), poor and other lower-income voters tend to vote for the Democratic Party while middle- and upper-income voters tend to vote for the Republican Party. Poor and lower-income (white) voters participate in formal politics less frequently than middle- and upper-income voters. Moreover, “culture war” issues did not drive a mass defection of white working-class voters from the Democratic Party to the GOP.  In total, it is white economic and political elites and not the white poor and working classes who are largely responsible for the political and social dysfunction that plagues American politics today.

Second, since its very founding America has been struggling with two powerful impulses. On one hand, there is a truly progressive and left-wing type of pluralism that seeks to work across lines of race and class in order to create an inclusive democracy where upward mobility and the fruits of full citizenship are equally attainable for all people. This type of pluralism is embodied by Bernie Sanders — and to a lesser degree Hillary Clinton and the broader Democratic Party. Juxtaposed against this is a right-wing and reactionary type of pluralism that is exclusive and not inclusive, stokes the fires of racial and ethnic division, and offers a vision of America where white people stand on the necks of non-whites in order to elevate themselves. This is embodied by Donald Trump and a Republican Party that functions as the United States’ largest de facto white identity organization.

Most importantly, the white “working-class” and poor voters featured in the recent pieces by Politico and The Guardian possess agency. It has long been fashionable for liberals and progressives to suggest that the white poor and working classes are confused by “false consciousness” as demonstrated by their allegiance to America’s racial hierarchy and an economic system that often disadvantages people like them. In reality, the white poor and working class are keenly aware of the psychological and material advantages that come with whiteness and white privilege.

Whiteness is a type of property in the United States. For centuries, white people, across lines of class and gender, have coveted and fiercely protected it. The white working class and poor are not victims in this system; they have benefited greatly from it at the expense of non-whites. Ultimately, as Americans try to puzzle through their current political morass, a renewed emphasis on race and class is invaluable because it serves as a reminder of how simple binaries (one must choose between discussing either “race” or “class”) and crude essentialism (“a focus on class inequality will do more good than confronting racism!”) often disguises and confuses more than it reveals.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

The Ugly Truth Behind Apple’s New iPhone 7

Posted on Sep 20, 2016

New product releases from Apple often are a time for analysis, comparison and celebration. But the arrival of the iPhone 7 has brought unwanted attention to the company’s darker side of globalization, oppression and greed.

In a report from The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty says that Apple oppresses Chinese workers, does not pay its fair share of taxes and deprives Americans of high-paying jobs while making enormous profits.

Apple’s iPhones are assembled at three firms in China: Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron. While Apple CEO Tim Cook says the company cares about all its workers—calling any words to the contrary are “patently false and offensive”—the facts on the ground show the opposite.

In 2010, Foxconn employees were killing themselves in high numbers—an estimated 18 attempted suicide and 14 of them died. The company responded by putting up suicide-prevention netting to catch them before their deaths. Apple vowed to improve worker conditions at the plant, yet in August, after reports surfaced that changes in overtime policies caused great stress among workers, two employees killed themselves.

At the Wistron factory, a Danish human-rights organization found it forces thousands of students to work the same hours as adults, for less pay. Students were told they were required to work if they wanted to receive their diplomas. Using young people to work is not a new revelation about Apple. In 2010, the company admitted that 15-year-old children were working in factories supplying Apple products. At a plant run by Wintek in Suzhou, China, workers reportedly were being poisoned by n-Hexane, a toxic chemical that causes muscular atrophy and blurred eyesight.

At Pegatron—the other iPhone assembler—U.S.-based China Labor Watch found staff members work 12-hour days, six days a week. They are forced to work overtime, and 1½ hours are unpaid.  One researcher working there had to stand during his entire 10½-hour shift. When the local government raised the minimum wage, Pegatron cut subsidies for medical insurance.

The Guardian reports:

While iPhone workers for Pegatron saw their hourly pay drop to just $1.60 an hour, Apple remained the most profitable big company in America, pulling in over $47bn in profit in 2015 alone.

What does this add up to? At $231bn, Apple has a bigger cash pile than the US government, but apparently won’t spend even a sliver on improving conditions for those who actually make its money. Nor will it make those iPhones in America, which would create jobs and still leave it as the most profitable smartphone in the world.

It would rather accrue more profits, to go to those who hold Apple stock—such as company boss Tim Cook, whose hoard of company shares is worth $785m. Friends of Cook point to his philanthropy, but while he’s happy to spend on pet projects, he rejects a €13bn tax bill from the EU  as “political crap”—while boasting about how he won’t bring Apple’s billions back to the US “until there’s a fair rate … . It doesn’t go that the more you pay, the more patriotic you are.” The tech oligarch seems to think he knows better than 300 million Americans what tax rates their elected government should set.

When the historians of globalisation ask why it died, they will surely find that companies such as Apple form a large part of the answer. Faced with a binary choice between an economic model that lavishly rewarded a few and a populism that makes lavish promises to many, between Cook on the one hand and [Nigel] Farage on the other, the voters went for the one who at least didn’t bang on about “courage”.

According to a new report from Global Justice Now, a group based in the United Kingdom, 69 of the top 100 economies in the world are corporate entities (an increase from 63 a year ago). Apple is one of those corporate entities. With $234 billion in revenue in 2015, Apple is the ninth-largest company in the world and is wealthier than most countries.

http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/the_ugly_truth_behind_apples_iphones_20160920

I Came to San Francisco to Change My Life: I Found a Tribe of Depressed Workaholics Living on Top of One Another

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Hacker House Blues: my life with 12 programmers, 2 rooms and one 21st-century dream.
By David Garczynski / Salon September 18, 2016

I might have been trespassing up there, but I would often go to the 19th-floor business lounge to work and study. Located on the top floor of the a luxury high-rise in the SOMA district of San Francisco, the lounge was only accessible to residents of the building. Yet for a while I found myself there almost every day.

Seventeen floors below, I lived in an illegal Airbnb with 12 roommates split between two rooms. There were six people packed into my bedroom alone — seven, if you included the guy who lived in the closet. Three bunk beds adorned the walls, and I was fortunate enough to score a bottom bunk. Unfortunately, though, it was not the one by the window, which, with the exception of one dim lamp, was the only source of light in the room. Even at midday, the room never lit up much more than a shadowed cave. At most hours of the day, you could find someone sleeping in there. Getting in and out of bed was a precarious dance in the darkness to avoid stepping into the suitcases on the floor, out of which most of us lived.

In the shared kitchen, the sink more often than not held a giant pile of dishes, and the fridge, packed with everyone’s groceries and leftovers, emanated a slightly moldy aroma. Mixed in there were the half-eaten meals and unfinished condiment jars of tenants who had long since moved out — all left to rot, but often too far buried in the mass of food to be located.

Let’s just say the room was not as advertised.

The Airbnb posting did boast of access to a 24-hour gym, roof deck and bocce courts. The building has an indoor basketball court, an outdoor hot tub and even a rock climbing wall. The 19th-floor business lounge alone comes with a pool table, a porch, several flat-screen TVs and an enviable view of much of San Francisco. For $1,200 a month, it all seemed worth it. The post did say it was a four-person apartment, not 13, and included a picture of a sunny room with a pair of bunk beds, but I figured for a short sub-lease while I attended coding school, it wouldn’t be so bad. The reviews, after all, were pretty positive, too: mostly 5-stars. However, none of them mentioned the fact that I wouldn’t even be given a front door key.

I’d have to sneak into the building every night. The only way I entered the building was by waiting until someone exited or entered, and then I’d slip through the door before it closed. From there I’d walk straight past the front desk guard and head to the bank of elevators. Despite my nerves, that part was surprisingly easy. The building caters to the young tech elite, so a backwards hat and a collegiate T-shirt practically made me invisible. When I got to my floor, I’d make sure none of the neighbors were watching, and if no one was around, I’d stand on my tiptoes and grab the communal key hidden atop the exit sign. Once the door was unlocked, I’d return the key to its perch for the next tenant to use.

I had moved to San Francisco to break into the tech world after being accepted into one of those ubiquitous 12-week coding boot camps. I had dreams of becoming a programmer, hoping one day I could land a remote contracting gig — a job where I could work from wherever and make a good living. My life would be part ski bum and part professional.

In my mid-20s uncertainty, the coding route seemed to have the most promise — high paychecks in companies that prized work-life balance, or so it seemed from afar. I knew the road wouldn’t be easy, but any time I’d mention my ambitions to family and friends, they responded with resounding positivity, affirming my belief that it was a well-worn path to an obtainable goal.

All of the people in that Airbnb were programmers. Some were trying to break into the industry through boot camps, but most were already full-time professional coders. They headed out early in the morning to their jobs at start-ups in the neighborhood. A lot of them hailed from some of the top schools in the country: Stanford, MIT, Dartmouth. If I was going to get through my program, I needed to rely on them, academically and emotionally. Once the program started up, I would find myself coding 15 hours a day during the week, with that number mercifully dropping to 10-12 hours on the weekends. Late at night, when my stressed-out thoughts would form an ever-intensifying feedback loop of questioning despair — What am I doing? Is this really worth it? — I would need to be able to look to the people around me as living reminders of the possibility of my goals.

Every night, the people whose jobs I coveted would come home from 10- to 12-hour shifts in front of a computer and proceed to the couch, where they’d open up their laptops and spend the remaining hours of the night in silence, sifting through more and more lines of code. Beyond preternatural math abilities and a penchant for problem solving, it seemed most didn’t have much in the way of life skills. They weren’t who I thought they would be — a community of intelligent and inspiring men and women bouncing ideas back and forth. Rather they were boys and girls, coddled by day in the security of companies that fed them, entertained them and nursed them. At home, they could barely take care of themselves.

Take for example the programmer who lived in my closet: Every night he’d come home around 9 p.m. He’d sit on the couch, pour himself a bowl of cereal and eat in silence. Then he would grab his laptop and head directly into the closet — a so-called “private room” listed on Airbnb for $1,400 a month. It was the only time I’d ever see him. The only way I could tell he was home was by the glow of his laptop seeping out from under the closet door. Hours later, deep into the night, the light would go out, and I would know he had to gone to sleep. By the time I arrived, he had been living there for 16 months, in a windowless closet with a thin mattress placed right on the floor. During the day he codes for Pinterest. Yeah . . . that Pinterest.

Maybe there were people working in this city who were living out the tech dreams of everyone else, but I’ve realized the number of people who dream about it far outnumber of people who obtain it. Everyone I spoke to in this town seemed doe-eyed about the future, even while they were living in illegal Airbnbs and working at failing startups across the city.

The odds weren’t in my favor. Most likely I’d find myself in the 92 percent of start-ups that go under in three years, trapped like some of my friends — much smarter and better programmers than I’ll ever be — bouncing from failing company to failing company.
Or maybe not. Maybe I would make it, only to become like my friends who earn six-figure paychecks and still lament that they’ll never be able to buy a home here. What illusions could I continue to maintain then?

There was a good chance I’d find myself in a situation like another roommate’s. During salary negotiations for a job at a start-up, he was encouraged to accept the pay tier with a lower salary but higher equity stake. Now he works 12-hour days just to try to keep the company (and his potential payout) afloat on a paycheck not much higher than some entry-level, non-programming jobs.

The most likely scenario, however, was that I’d become like the mid-30s man who slept in the bunk above me. The reality of his situation slowly slipped him into a depressive state, until he was sleeping most hours of the day. The rest of his waking hours were spent walking around slumped and gloomy.

Programming for me was never supposed to be more than a means to an end, but that end started to feel farther and farther away. The longer I lived in that Airbnb, the longer I realized my dreams would never be met. In all likelihood I would be swept up in an economy here that traded on hopes and dreams of the people clamoring to break in. The illegal Airbnbs that dot the city can afford to charge their amounts because there is no shortage of people wanting to break in. There is another smart kid around the corner who believes that despite the working and living conditions this is just the first step to striking it big. Never tell them the odds.

I had hinged my happiness on an illusion and naively fought to get into a community that wouldn’t help me advance in the direction of my dreams. Maybe in the end I would get everything I needed or at least a nice paycheck, but I’d lose all of myself in the process. I’d be churned and beaten by the underbelly of the tech world here long before I could ever make it out.

If you are interested, it’s not that hard to sneak up to the 19th-floor lounge. I still do sometimes, despite having long since moved out and given up programming. From up there the view of San Francisco takes on the artificial quality of a miniature model. To the north, you’ll see a sea of tech start-ups, their signs and symbols a wild mash of colors. From this distance, it can all look so peaceful. Just know that somewhere in that view is another “hacker house” with bright kids living in almost migrant-worker conditions. Somewhere out there is a coding boot camp with slightly inflated numbers, selling a dream. Their fluorescent halls and cramped bedrooms are filled with the perennially hopeful looking to take the place of those who have already realized this dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It is a beautiful view, though. Just one I no longer want for myself.

David Garczynski has lived in the Bay Area for one year now. In that time, he’s lived in an illegal Airbnb, on his cousin’s couch, in two short-term subleases, and has been evicted once. He just signed an official (and legal) lease last week.

http://www.alternet.org/labor/hacker-house-blues-my-life-12-programmers-2-rooms-and-one-21st-century-dream?akid=14654.265072.JhW8o4&rd=1&src=newsletter1063941&t=12

Two American Dreams: how a dumbed-down nation lost sight of a great idea

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As Clinton and Trump prepare to debate next week, noble ideals are overwhelmed in a culture where most Americans do not know what is real anymore and the dream of equal opportunity is a fantasy

by


Every child had a pretty good shot

To get at least as far as their old man got

But something happened on the way to that place

They threw an American flag in our face.

Billy Joel, Allentown

We know it today as the American Dream. The now-obscure historian James Truslow Adams coined the term in his book The Epic of America, defining “the American dream” as:

a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Adams was writing in 1931, but the dream was there from the start, in Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” formulation in the Declaration of Independence, “happiness” residing in its 18th-century sense of prosperity, thriving, wellbeing.

Nobody ever came to America with a starry-eyed dream of working for starvation wages. Plenty of that available in the old country, and that’s precisely why we left, escaping serfdom, peonage, tenancy, indenture – all different iterations of what was essentially a “rigged system”, to put it in current political verbiage – that channeled the profits of our labor upstream to the Man. We came to America to do better, to secure for ourselves the liberation that economic security brings, and for millions – mostly white males at first, and then slowly, sputteringly, women and people of color – that’s the way it worked out, nothing less than a revolution in the human condition.

Upward mobility is indispensable to the American Dream, the notion that people can rise from working to middle class, and middle to upper and even higher on the model of a (fictional) Horatio Alger or an (actual) Andrew Carnegie. Upward mobility across classes peaked in the US in the late 19th century. Most of the gains of the 20th century were achieved en masse; it wasn’t so much a phenomenon of great numbers of people rising from one class to the next as it was standards of living rising sharply for all classes. You didn’t have to be exceptional to rise. Opportunity was sufficiently broad that hard work and steadiness would do, along with tacit buy-in to the social contract, allegiance to the system proceeding on the assumption that the system was basically fair.

The biggest gains occurred in the post-second world war era of the GI Bill, affordable higher education, strong labor unions, and a progressive tax code. Between the late 1940s and early 1970s, median household income in the US doubled. Income inequality reached historic lows. The average CEO salary was approximately 30 times that of the lowest-paid employee, compared with today’s gold-plated multiple of 370. The top tax bracket ranged in the neighborhood of 70% to 90%. Granted, there were far fewer billionaires in those days. Somehow the nation survived.

“America is a dream of greater justice and opportunity for the average man and, if we can not obtain it, all our other achievements amount to nothing.” So wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated column of 6 January 1941, an apt lead-in to her husband’s State of the Union address later that day in which he enumerated the four freedoms essential to American democracy, among them “freedom from want”. In his State of the Union address three years later, FDR expanded on this concept of freedom from want with his proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights”, an “economic” bill of rights to counteract what he viewed as the growing tyranny of the modern economic order:

This Republic had at its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship … As our nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy has expanded – these political rights have proved inadequate to assure us equality. We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.

Political rights notwithstanding, “freedom” rings awfully hollow when you’re getting nickel-and-dimed to death in your everyday life. The Roosevelts recognized that wage peonage, or any system that inclines toward subsistence level, is simply incompatible with self-determination. Subsistence is, by definition, a constrained, desperate state; one’s horizon is necessarily limited to the present day, to getting enough of what the body needs to make it to the next. These days a minimum wage worker in New York City clocking 40 hours a week (at $9 per hour) earns $18,720 a year, well under the Federal Poverty Line of $21,775. That’s a scrambling, anxious existence, narrowly bounded. Close to impossible to decently feed, clothe, and shelter yourself on a wage like that, much less a family; much less buy health insurance, or save for your kid’s college, or participate in any of those other good American things. Down at peon level, the pursuit of happiness sounds like a bad joke. “It’s called the American dream,” George Carlin cracked, “because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

“Necessitous men are not free men,” said FDR in that 1944 State of the Union speech. “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” A dire statement, demonstrably true, and especially unsettling in 2016, a point in time when the American Dream seems more viable as nostalgia than a lived phenomenon. Income inequality, wealth distribution, mortality rates: by every measure, the average individual that Eleanor Roosevelt celebrated is sinking. Exceptional people continue to rise, but overall mobility is stagnant at best. If you’re born poor in Ferguson or Appalachia, chances are you’re going to stay that way. Ditto if your early memories include the swimming pool at the Houston Country Club or ski lessons at Deer Valley, you’re likely going to keep your perch at the top of the heap.

Income inequality, gross disparities in wealth: we’re told daily, incessantly, that these are the necessary consequences of a free market, as if the market was a force of nature on the order of weather or tides, and not the entirely manmade construct that it is. In light of recent history, blind acceptance of this sort of economics would seem to require a firm commitment to stupidity, but let’s assume for the moment that it’s true, that the free market exists as a universe unto itself, as immutable in its workings as the laws of physics. Does that universe include some ironclad rule that requires inequality of opportunity? I’ve yet to hear the case for that, though doubtless some enterprising thinktanker could manufacture one out of this same free-market economics, along with whiffs of genetic determinism as it relates to qualities of discipline and character. And it would be bogus, that case. And more than that, immoral. That we should allow for wildly divergent opportunities due to accidents of birth ought to strike us as a crime equal in violence to child abuse or molestation.

Franklin Roosevelt: “[F]reedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.” The proposition goes deeper than sentiment, deeper than policy, deeper even than adherence to equality and “the pursuit of happiness” as set forth in the Declaration. It cuts all the way to the nature of democracy, and to the prospects for its continued existence in America. “We may have democracy in this country,” wrote supreme court justice Louis Brandeis, “or we may have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Those few, in Brandeis’s judgment, would inevitably use their power to subvert the free will of the majority; the super-rich as a class simply couldn’t be trusted to do otherwise, a thesis that’s being starkly acted out in the current era of Citizens United, Super Pacs, and truckloads of dark money.

But the case for economic equality goes beyond even equations of power politics. Democracy’s premise rests on the notion that the collective wisdom of the majority will prove right more often than it’s wrong. That given sufficient opportunity in the pursuit of happiness, your population will develop its talents, its intellect, its better judgment; that over time its capacity for discernment and self-correction will be enlarged. Life will improve. The form of your union will be more perfect, to borrow a phrase. But if a critical mass of your population is kept in peonage? All its vitality spent in the trenches of day-to-day survival, with scant opportunity to develop the full range of its faculties? Then how much poorer the prospects for your democracy will be.

Economic equality can no more be divorced from the functioning of democracy than the ballot. Jefferson, Brandeis, the Roosevelts all recognized this home truth. The American Dream has to be the lived reality of the country, not just a pretty story we tell ourselves.

I have always gotten much more publicity than anybody else.

Donald Trump

Then there’s that other American dream, the numbed-out, dumbed-down, make-believe world where much of the national consciousness resides, the sum product of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex: movies, TV, internet, texts, tweets, ad saturation, celebrity obsession, sports obsession, Amazonian sewers of porn and political bullshit, the entire onslaught of media and messaging that strives to separate us from our brains. September 11, 2001 blasted us out of that dream for about two minutes, but the dream is so elastic, so all-encompassing, that 9/11 was quickly absorbed into the the matrix of FIC. This exceedingly complex event – horribly direct in the result, but a swamp when it comes to explanations – was stripped down and binaried into a reliable fantasy narrative of us against them, good versus evil, Christian against Muslim. The week after 9/11, Susan Sontag was virtually crucified for pointing out that “a few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand how we came to this point”. For this modest proposal, no small number of her fellow Americans wished her dead. But if we’d followed her lead – if we’d done the hard work of digging down to the roots of the whole awful thing – perhaps we wouldn’t still be fighting al-Qaida and its offspring 15 years later.

Here’s a hypothesis, ugly, uncharitable, but given our recent history it begs inquiry: most of the time most Americans don’t know what’s real any more. How else to explain Trump, a billionaire on an ego trip capturing a major party’s nomination for president? Another blunt-speaking billionaire tried twice for the presidency in the 1990s and went out in flames, but he made the mistake of running as himself, a recognizably flesh-and-blood human being, whereas Trump comes to us as the ultimate creature, and indisputable maestro, of the Fantasy Industrial Complex. For much of his career – until 2004, to be exact – he held status in our lives as a more or less normal celebrity. Larger than life, to be sure, cartoonishly grandiose, shamelessly self-promoting, and reliably obnoxious, but Trump didn’t become Trump until “The Apprentice” debuted in January 2004. The first episode drew 20.7 million viewers. By comparison, Ross Perot received 19,742,000 votes in the 1992 presidential election – yes, I’m comparing vote totals with Nielsen ratings – but Trump kept drawing that robust 20 million week after week. The season finale that year reached 28 million viewers, and over the next decade, for 13 more seasons, this was how America came to know him, in that weirdly intimate way TV has of delivering celebrity into the very center of our lives.

It was this same Trump that 24 million viewers – a record, of course – tuned in to watch at the first Republican debate last year, the glowering, blustering, swaggering boardroom action figure who gave every promise of shredding the pols. One wonders if Trump would have ever been Trump if there hadn’t been a JR Ewing to pave the way, to show just how dear and real a dealmaking TV rogue could be to our hearts. Trump’s performance on that night did not disappoint, nor through all the debates in the long march that followed, and if his regard for the truth has proved more erratic even than that of professional politicians, we should expect as much. In the realm of the Fantasy Industrial Complex, reality happens on a sliding scale. The truth is just another possibility.

I speak the password primeval.

I would give the sign of democracy;

By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

In nine days Trump and Hillary will take the stage for their first face-to-face debate. There will be blood. The knives are going to be out, and the ratings are bound to be, need it be said, yuge. The American Dream will no doubt be invoked from both podiums, for what true-blue patriot was ever against the American Dream? And yet for the past 30 years the Democratic candidate has worked comfortably within a party establishment that’s battered the working and middle classes down to the bone. The “new” Democrats of the Clinton era are always strong for political rights, as long as they don’t upset corporate America’s bottom line. Strong for racial and gender equality, strong for LGBT rights (though that took time). Meanwhile this same Democratic establishment joined with the GOP to push a market- and finance-driven economic order that enriches the already rich and leaves the rest of us sucking wind.

That’s the very real anger Trump is speaking to, no fantasy there. Bernie as well; small wonder their constituencies overlapped, though Trump’s professed devotion to the common man stumbles over even the simplest proofs. On whether to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, Trump’s moral compass has spun from an implied no (wages are already “too high”), to implied yes (wages are “too low”), to weasel words (leave it up to the states), to yes and no in the same breath (“I would leave it and raise it somewhat”), and, finally, when pressed by Bill O’Reilly in July, to yes-but (raise it to $10, but it’s still best left to the states). All this from the candidate who’s firmly in favor of abolishing the estate tax, to the great benefit of heirs of multimillionaires and none at all to the vast majority of us.

Meanwhile, the Fantasy Industrial Complex is doing just fine this election season, thank you. Speaking at a Morgan Stanley investors’ conference in March, one of the commanders of the FIC, Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS and a man whose 2015 compensation totaled $56.8m, had this to say about the Trump campaign. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. The money’s rolling in and this is fun … this [is] going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/17/american-dream-divided-nation-equal-opportunity-trump-clinton-campaign

The crisis of the Democratic Party: Clinton’s poll numbers

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16 September 2016

The presidential contest in the United States has tightened considerably, with Democrat Hillary Clinton leading Republican Donald Trump by the barest of margins. Trump has erased most of the lead of eight to ten points Clinton enjoyed a month ago.

Thursday’s New York Times headlined the results of the latest CBS/Times poll, “Clinton, Trump Locked in Tight Race,” with its survey showing Clinton with a two-point lead over Trump head-to-head, 46 percent to 44 percent, and tied with Trump at 42 percent each in a four-way race, when Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are included.

Statewide polls showed Trump closing the gap or taking small leads in such battleground states as Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Florida and New Hampshire, although Clinton remained ahead in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina and was competitive in previously Republican states like Arizona and Georgia.

It is significant that the trend in the polls is at least as much a decline in support for Clinton as it is a rise in support for Trump. Clinton is doing particularly poorly with younger voters, who flocked to support Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. A Gallup poll last week found Clinton’s approval rating among voters age 18 to 29 was only 33 percent, the lowest for any age group.

There is enormous disaffection with the choice that the two-party system presents to the American people, particularly among younger voters and those not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties. In a Quinnipiac poll, 52 percent of independents and 62 percent of young people aged 18 to 34 said they would “consider voting” for a third-party candidate.

The obvious question is why, in the face of widespread popular revulsion, particularly among young people, against the racist bigotry and bullying authoritarianism of Donald Trump, the most unpopular figure ever nominated by one of the two major capitalist parties, the Clinton campaign is so obviously struggling.

The answer is that the Democrats—and Clinton in particular—are themselves deeply reviled. As a political organization, the Democratic Party represents an alliance between dominant sections of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus and the most privileged sections of the upper middle class. Behind its empty rhetoric, the attitude of these layers to the working class is one of hostility and contempt.

Clinton, in an unguarded moment before wealthy donors last week, let slip the outlook of the Democrat Party when she said that half of all Trump supporters made up a “basket of deplorables,” speaking of broad sections of the population as if they were another species. Those backing Trump, she said, were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.”

There is no question that Trump has appealed to all those forms of bigotry in the course of his campaign. However, he has also made an appeal, in an entirely demagogic way, to deep-seated economic grievances. Among white men without a college education, he leads Clinton by as much as 50 percentage points.

If there is unrest among white workers, the apologists of the Democratic Party claim, it is due entirely to racism, exacerbated by eight years of the administration of the first black president. President Obama repeatedly asserts that conditions in America are “pretty darn great,” and liberal pundits hailed, falsely, the latest Census report on income as proof that claims of widespread economic distress in America had no factual basis (see: “Further considerations on the household income report: Poverty and inequality in America”).

In fact, what is ultimately fueling social and political discontent is the enormous decline in living standards, over which the Democrats no less than the Republicans have presided. The association of the Democratic Party with liberal social reform belongs to a particular historical period—between the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs of the mid-1960s.

Since then, a half century has passed without a single meaningful social reform, as the Democrats have moved continuously to the right. During his time in office from 1977 to 1980, Jimmy Carter laid the foundation for the social counter-revolution that took place under Reagan during the 1980s. And during the years of Bill Clinton, the Democrats oversaw the dismantling of welfare, the end of the Glass-Steagall restraints on the banks and other right-wing measures.

Throughout this period, the trade unions transitioned from their alliance with the Democratic Party on the basis of ferocious anti-communism into outright instruments of the corporations and the state. They have and continue to collaborate in the “orderly shutdown” of factories and mines, after pushing through wage and benefit cuts on the bogus pretext of “saving jobs.”

The Democratic Party’s “liberalism” consists, not in advocating economic reforms, but in promoting identity politics—setting aside a portion of the profits and perks of the ruling elite for a small section of highly privileged blacks, women, gays, etc., to give a veneer of “diversity” to an increasingly unequal and undemocratic social order.

This reached its culmination in the election of Obama, the first African-American president, who promised “hope and change” and delivered war and economic stagnation. Now we have the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, who would be the first female president, presumably giving a feminine touch to the delivery of cruise missiles and 500-pound bombs and the evisceration of Social Security, Medicare and other social programs in the interests of big business.

What passes for “left” politics in the United States, from the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party to its supporters in the pseudo-left, is completely bankrupt. Yet this bankruptcy is an expression of a broader crisis of political legitimacy of the state apparatus as a whole.

In the end, the actual policy differences between Clinton and Trump are comparatively small. The next administration, regardless of who heads it, will escalate the drive to war against Russia and China, and intensify the ongoing assault on jobs, living standards and social benefits. But the rise of Trump points to new dangers in the political situation. The Trump campaign is tapping into the same social anger, and giving it a noxious right-wing expression, as similar political movements that have developed over the past decade in Europe.

The urgent conclusion that must be drawn from the political crisis in the United States is the necessity for building a revolutionary socialist movement–to unite working people across all lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc., in a struggle for common class interests: jobs, decent living standards, the rebuilding of the social infrastructure of roads, schools, water systems and hospitals, and an end to imperialist war and police violence.

 

Patrick Martin

WSWS

Hunger and the social catastrophe facing America’s youth

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13 September 2016

Two reports released this week cast a sharp light on the social catastrophe in the United States and its impact on America’s youth.

“Impossible Choices: Teens and Food Insecurity in America” (Urban Institute) and “Bringing Teens to the Table: A Focus on Food Insecurity in America” (Feeding America), both based on joint research conducted by the two organizations, detail the widespread hunger and the catastrophic choices young people are making in an effort to feed themselves, their families and their friends.

In 2015, 12.7 percent of US households were food insecure, meaning they had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. Among these 40 million people struggling to have enough to eat in America are an estimated 6.8 million young people ages 10 to 17, including 2.9 million who have very low food security, according to one food insecurity expert.

The new reports show that in addition to “traditional” coping strategies of skipping meals and eating cheap food, these teens and pre-teens are increasingly forced into shoplifting, stealing, selling drugs, joining a gang, or selling their bodies for money in a struggle to eat properly.

Researchers conducting the study spoke to teenagers in 10 focus groups in low-income communities throughout the country over the course of three years. The young people researchers spoke to—of varying races and backgrounds—live in communities where jobs are scarce, and those jobs available pay low wages, offer inadequate hours, or require skills that the teens’ parents do not have.

Due to decades of cuts in social programs and the lingering impact of the Great Recession, many parents struggling to feed their families begin running out of food by the middle of the month. Under these circumstances, teenagers, especially those with younger siblings, feel a responsibility to help out. “I will go without a meal if that’s the case,” a teenager interviewed in Chicago said. “As long as my two [younger] siblings [are] good, that’s all that really matters.”

Many of these families face a perfect storm of food insecurity. Grocery stores selling affordable, nutritious food are scarce, and the cost and time of traveling to better stores is prohibitive. Teens must often settle for food at local fast-food restaurants, drug stores, gas stations and convenience stores. “When you’re broke, you get the dollar menu,” said a boy from San Diego.

Some food insecure teenagers look for work in order to contribute to the family food budget, but find they must compete with adults for a limited number of low-skill, low-paying jobs at fast-food restaurants or in retail. It is when these possibilities do not pan out that some teenagers turn in desperation to make money “outside of the legal economy,” according to the researchers.

Food-insecure teenage boys interviewed reported stealing and selling drugs as one strategy for earning money to pay for food and other necessities, subjecting them and others to personal and legal risks. “Drugs, alcohol, everything,” said a teenage girl in rural Oregon. “Bad things people used to just do in high school has spread to the junior high and down to the elementary school.”

Food insecure teens, and girls in particular, are vulnerable to another type of insidious risk: sexual exploitation. Teens in all of the study’s locations spoke of girls having sex for money to pay for food and other needs.

This often takes the form of “transactional dating,” in which the teen regularly sees and has sex with someone, usually an older man, in exchange for food, meals, cash or other material goods. “It’s really like selling yourself,” said a teenage girl in Portland, Oregon. “You’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.”

A smaller number of teens resort to the strategy of purposefully getting arrested to ensure continued access to food—in prison.

Drug dealing, stealing, voluntary incarceration, sexual exploitation—these are the “choices” significant numbers of teenagers in America are undertaking out of the material need to put food on the table for themselves and their families. This tragic reality for the generation born in the new century speaks volumes about the violent and socially unequal state of class relations in America in 2016.

In a rational world one would expect banner headlines and a national debate on strategies to combat hunger among young people. But in the current political climate, dominated by the election contest of the two big business parties, it has received scant attention. There is no mention of this crisis by the Clinton and Trump camps, where the social catastrophe confronting the working class in 21st century America is routinely ignored. Nor is there particular concern for horrific circumstances poor girls are forced into from the upper middle class practitioners of identity politics around the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the catastrophic state of social life in the United States—of which the two reports published this week are only a partial snapshot—is the outcome of decades of social counter-revolution carried out by both big business parties. The Clintons bear particular responsibility, as it was the administration of Bill Clinton that gutted the welfare system in the US and ensured a vast increase in poverty and hunger as a consequence.

As for Obama—who has repeatedly proclaimed that life is “pretty darn great” in America—his administration has overseen $8.6 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the food stamp program. A report earlier this year predicted that 1 million people across the US could lose their benefits in 2016 due to the work requirements for SNAP included as part of the Clinton administration’s welfare “reform.”

Working families are told that there is “no money” to extend food assistance. Rather these and other social programs must be slashed to fund the Pentagon’s war budget, as the US government-military apparatus prepares new wars. Whatever individual occupies the White House following next January, he or she will be dedicated to imposing even deeper social cuts and austerity.

A society should be measured by the health and welfare of its most vulnerable citizens, particularly the young. Children and teenagers in a just society should be nurtured by having nutritious food in adequate supply, a decent roof over their heads, quality education, and the opportunities to explore the arts, sports and other interests as they prepare for their place in the workforce. These are inalienable social rights that should be guaranteed.

While the media and the political establishment choose to ignore this latest study on food insecurity and the suffering and perils it poses to American teenagers, workers and young people need to recognize it as a particularly noxious sign of the outmoded and barbaric capitalist profit system.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/09/13/pers-s13.html