State of Resistance: California in the Age of Trump

ELECTION 2016

The battle begins now.

Photo Credit: ilozavr / Shutterstock

For the past two decades, California has been on the cutting edge of social and economic change in America. Now, with Donald Trump about to enter the Oval Office, the Golden State is poised to take on a new role: leader of the anti-Trump resistance.

California’s frontline position in opposing Trump is not merely a reflection of its deep-blue politics. On many of the flashpoint issues expected to define Trump’s presidency, California has a tremendous amount at stake. As the new administration tries to reverse the significant gains made on immigrant rights, climate change, criminal justice and workers’ rights, to name a few subjects, many of the fiercest battles in the country will be fought up and down the state.

Can California lead the resistance to Trump’s right-wing agenda and continue to be in the vanguard of advancing progressive change? Yes – and in fact, the two are inextricably linked, both tactically and symbolically. In the months and years to come, California must become like the best sports teams, capable of playing defense and offense at the highest level.

Why California Must Lead

No state rivals California either in the dimensions of its population or economy. At just under 40 million people, California has more residents than the nation’s 20 least densely populated states put together. Its economy is the sixth-largest in the world, trailing only the U.S., China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

California is also home to several of the nation’s most powerful and influential industries, including high tech and entertainment. Both Silicon Valley and Hollywood wield enormous economic clout, and are key shapers of consumer habits and cultural norms.

Why is this significant? Because California has the ability to exert enormous pressure on everything from markets and mores to politics and policy, a position it has ably demonstrated in its leadership role in addressing climate change, despite federal inaction.

Size and economic strength by themselves are not enough. But over the past 20 years, California has acquired another key comparative advantage: It has developed some of the most innovative social movements in the country – and exported them to cities across the U.S. These movements have secured rights for immigrants, boosted worker pay, protected LGBTQ Californians and pushed the state forward on addressing climate change. They will be called upon to use their organizing prowess to hold the line against Trump even as they continue to push the envelope of social and economic justice in California and beyond.

California advocates have succeeded in large part by mobilizing an incredibly diverse set of stakeholders. This will pay big dividends now, as very disparate groups of people – immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, the poor, women, communities already suffering the effects of climate change – see their interests threatened by the Trump administration. The experience of working together across racial, ethnic, geographic and class lines will lend itself to the creation of even broader alliances – so broad that California could be a key base for the biggest and most diverse progressive coalition the nation has ever seen.

Flashpoint Issues

While California’s anti-Trump coalition will need to develop the capacity to fight many battles at once, one initial front will surely be immigration. If Trump makes good on his campaign promises, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants will be faced with deportation, many of them DREAMers protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The economic, social and human costs of disrupting the lives of so many Californian families are staggering. Recognizing this, state and local leaders have vowed to resist efforts targeting immigrants, setting the stage for high-stakes confrontations with the new administration.

No less dramatic will be the battles over climate change. Governor Jerry Brown has vowed to oppose any efforts to roll back the state’s pioneering environmental policies (including a promise to have California launch its own satellites to gather information on global warming!), and he will be joined by a broad-based group of business leaders and activists.

Another flashpoint will be workers’ rights. Fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder is likely to be the new labor secretary: He is on the record as opposing increases in the minimum wage and expansion of overtime pay and is clearly no ally of those who seek to rein in the abuse of independent contractors and gig-economy workers. In California, the nation’s strongest labor movement, together with community and business allies, has enacted some of the most far-reaching worker protections in the country; we will need to stand firm on what we’ve won and stand strong against an assault on labor rights.

More broadly, unions face an existential crisis under a President Trump. Just last year, the Supreme Court heard a key case initiated out of the Golden State, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which anti-labor advocates sued to eliminate the ability of unions to collect dues for collective bargaining. Down one justice, the Court deadlocked – but since a tie sets no national precedent, another version of the same sort of case is widely expected to come up once Trump fills the open seat. Californians will have to be among those opposing any Court nominee likely to ignore worker, minority or women’s rights.

Another bone of likely contention: Trump can also be expected to push hard on a law-and-order agenda that will fly in the face of efforts to reform the criminal justice system. After recognizing its own disastrous infatuation with over-incarceration, California has embraced recent initiatives to reduce the sentences of nonviolent offenders and to ban labor market discrimination against former felons. This will be another policy battleground and will provide the opportunity to showcase a national counter-example to Trump’s fear-driven attempt to strengthen law enforcement at the expense of civil rights.

The Challenges Ahead

While California is well positioned to lead the charge against Trump, the success of these efforts is not inevitable. The challenges ahead include the risks of factionalism, the rise of extremism and the need to craft a new relationship with business forces.

When Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, left-of-center political forces fragmented badly, expediting the rise of conservatism, which in turn has dominated national politics ever since. California’s progressive movement does not appear to be headed in this direction, but Trump has proven himself a master at dividing and conquering, and he will no doubt pursue the same strategy as president. He will also attack on many fronts, creating a strain on resources and the possibility of destructive in-fighting.

And although California may currently vote progressive, it is also no stranger to extremism. The descendants of the John Birch Society are alive and well, the Tea Party has its Golden State adherents and it’s worth recalling that Rush Limbaugh got his talk-radio start in Sacramento. With Trump in the White House, the right in general and the politics of hate in particular may well get a boost. The inland and rural regions of California have been the traditional breeding grounds for white nationalism, but the alt right is also operating in the state’s urban population centers.

Finally, some business leaders, lured by tax cuts, deregulation and union-busting, will be supportive of the Trump agenda even if they are repulsed by the anti-immigrant and anti-trade rhetoric. Other business leaders have a more balanced perspective, recognizing that a strong and sustainable economy requires that wages rise, racial inclusion occurs and the planet is protected. Progressives will have to figure out where alliances are possible and effective. This is particularly important in California, where some “business Democrats” often side with corporate lobbies on critical environmental and labor legislation. While several such elected officials found themselves unelected in 2016, others may be emboldened by Trump and his brand of scorched-earth capitalism. This could pose a serious risk to progressive priorities, even with the Democratic super-majority in the state legislature.

Looking Forward

As Trump and his allies wage war on all fronts, a weariness may set in – and along with it a tendency to take refuge in California’s different political reality. That would be a very costly mistake. Not only must California help the country fight back, it must not take its own prolific advances for granted.

After all, it was only two decades ago that we were convulsed by our own anti-immigrant hysteria in the form of Proposition 187, a law that sought to strip all services, including education, from undocumented immigrants. It passed with an overwhelming majority, and the state soon followed with an electoral attack on affirmative action and aggressive efforts to criminalize black and Latino youth. And even as the nation voted for Obama in 2008, California voted for Proposition 8, stripping the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

We’ve come out of our political morass, not just because time has passed and demographics have shifted, but also because of a new hard-fought and hard-forged politics and social compact. With the nation now experiencing its own “Prop 187 moment,” we have a responsibility to help others avoid our own mistakes and accelerate the country’s path to a more inclusive future.

We will also need to lead by example. For all of California’s political progress, we still have one of the highest levels of inequality in the country, some of the most polluted communities, huge shortages of affordable housing, a massive homeless population, ongoing police brutality and one of the nation’s highest number of people caught up in the criminal justice system.

Even in the Trump era, California can tackle these problems – but it will require old relationships and new allies, solid institutions and innovative strategies, long-standing-values and a fresh and compelling vision of our future. All this will require a clarity of purpose, a level of passion and strength of resolve that few of us have been called on to summon.

So get ready. The battle begins now.

 

 

 

Dr. Manuel Pastor is Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California where he also directs the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and co-directs USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. His most recent books include Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions (Routledge 2012; co-authored with Chris Benner) Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future (W.W. Norton 2010; co-authored with Angela Glover Blackwell and Stewart Kwoh), and This Could Be the Start of Something Big: How Social Movements for Regional Equity are Transforming Metropolitan America (Cornell 2009; co-authored with Chris Benner and Martha Matsuoka). 

50 Years Later, Here Are 3 Big Ways the Summer of Love Is Still with Us

CULTURE
The ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through American culture.

Members of Jefferson Airplane performing at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin County, California, United States in June, 1967
Photo Credit: Bryan Costales ©2009 Bryan Costales, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0-Bcx.Org: http://www.bcx.org/photos/events/concerts/ffair/?file=KFRCFantasyFair19670603_7464SBCX.jpg, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0; Jefferson Airplane, Marin County, CA, 1967

Born of the simple intention to unite people in the name of connection and love, an event on the polo fields of Golden Gate Park half a century ago sparked a cultural paradigm shift unrivaled in the U.S. since World War II. But this time it was the antithesis to war that would reshape America: the Summer of Love.

The impetus for that fateful summer was called the Human Be-In, in a nod to the peaceful sit-ins waged by university students in the preceding years against racial segregation. In the years surrounding the Summer of Love, the frigid prospect of nuclear war loomed, minorities and women were rising up against myriad oppressions and the government was cracking down on mind-altering substances like LSD and cannabis. The Summer of Love and its values of free expression, love, peace, activism, and psychedelic exploration of consciousness were the backlash.

The early acid-rock sounds of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and others mixed with the words of boundary-pushing poets and psychedelic pioneers to gather 75,000 or so young people in the park. They spilled out into the five-block radius of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood with fresh smells, sounds and ideals that came to shape the era’s iconography.

Bill McCarthy, founder of the Unity Foundation, co-produced a 50-year anniversary celebration of the Be-In in San Francisco this week.

“It’s important that we celebrate the past, celebrate the victories, triumphs and challenges of the past, but at the same time look at what’s happening today,” he said. “We’re saying yes, in 1967 this all happened, so let’s rededicate ourselves to that. But let’s also see what’s happening today that can build community, build empathy with people all over the world that are struggling.”

He said given the current political climate, with Trump’s impending inauguration and all that’s bound to come with it, there is more reason than ever to “activate ourselves.” He said when you take the “long view” from 1967 to now, it’s obvious that we’re moving forward.

“The values we treasure and movements we created are still stronger than they ever have been,” he said. “When there’s darkness in the world, the thing that feeds darkness is fear. The last thing we should do right now is be fearful.”

Fifty years since the Be-In, as the digital age re-molds the economy, values and skylines of San Francisco and beyond, the ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through our culture in ways we rarely pause to acknowledge. From the sounds of activism to the shape of companies to that box of free stuff out on the corner, many hippie dreams are alive and well in 2017.

Annie Oak, founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress, a nonprofit dedicated to exploring altered states of consciousness, says the prevalence of psychedelics in the 1960s and ’70s is directly related to the ideas put forth by young people at the time.

“These substances allowed people to think way outside the box and also question social systems,” she said. “The hippies here really put forward a liberal political consciousness and humanist values that impacted society.”

Here are three modern cultural shifts that have their roots in the psychedelic Summer of Love.

1. Collectivism, from communal living to open-source software. 

Annie Oak says communal living, which is everywhere now, was born in the Summer of Love. So, she says, are collectivist projects like the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which is still in operation, offering medical treatment free of charge.

“These ideas of collectivism really launched larger ideas like the open-source software movement and creative commerce,” she notes. “These are ideas that are commonplace now.”

Michael Gosney has produced Digital Be-Ins over the years at Be-In anniversaries to pay homage to the initial Be-In of ’67 and to look to the future. He was involved in early desktop publishing and digital media in San Francisco in the late ’80s. It was the dawn of personal computers, and his magazine was covering early Macintosh creativity. He describes the publication as a “nexus of artists and tech people coming together.”

Between ’85 and ’92 he observed that psychedelics—which made their debut in modern culture during the Summer of Love—heavily influenced the creation of digital media. He says the software programmers who worked on digital music, animation, photography and video were influenced by psychedelics.

“I noticed the preponderance of psychedelic influence in the programming community with the engineers that were inventing these new tools,” he said. “Psychedelic influence was extremely powerful, and really that’s how people were seeing the vision of digital networks and so forth. It very much came out of the influence of psychedelics.”

2. Activism and alternative media.

The mainstream newspapers in 1967 were not about to promote the Be-In event. An underground, independent zine called the Oracle, produced for free in Haight-Ashbury, was the first to cover what would become the catalyst for the hippie days and cultural revolution.

“The Oracle was the first to write about the Be-In, so it helped launch the alternative press,” Annie Oak of WVC says. “And there were also underground radio stations that helped promote the events, so the whole alternative media movement really was moved along by the Be-In and the Summer of Love.”

Oak notes that the environmental movement was also taking place in Haight-Ashbury at the time. The local community organized in the ’60s against a proposed freeway project that would run through the panhandle portion of Golden Gate park, connecting Golden Gate Bridge with the Peninsula. The community organized in protest on the same polo grounds where the initial Be-In took place, and their uprising eventually killed the freeway project. This was in 1964, but Oak says the power of community organizing was a key motif of the ’67 Be-In and its cultural imprints.

“The freeway was one of the important predecessors of the Be-In activism and gathering that took place also in the polo grounds three years later, and the later protests against the war,” she said. “Timothy Leary kind of set the tone with his famous phrase, turn on, tune in, drop out, which kind of set the tone for the Be-In. But what really happened here is people kind of turned on to activism, and then took over. They took over big sections of our culture and changed it in positive ways.”

Oak notes the irony that because of the proposed freeway project, which would have displaced many residents, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood harbored lower-income residents like students and minorities. As the years passed following the Summer of Love, the neighborhood became an iconic tourist destination. Today, as wealthy techies have been drawn to the city for its iconic allure, lower-income residents are priced out.

“Haight-Ashbury sort of personified the transition between the beat generation—the poets and jazz hipsters that were embracing a lot of the black jazz culture—and the hippies, who then kind of came into what was then a black neighborhood,” Oak says. “And, to some degree, later that movement ironically gentrified the neighborhood, and a lot of the black community then left. It was a very complex form of gentrification, and that gentrification is still happening.”

Bill McCarthy of Unity Foundation said in planning the Be-In anniversary this year he had a conversation with author and historian Dennis McNally about how the mainstream media of the time co-opted the Summer of Love.

“[McNally] was saying… the media created the hippie and created this—how we should look at the culture, and that was part of the downfall,” McCarthy said. “And to that I said, well, Dennis, the beautiful thing now is we can create our own media. We’re not saddled by ABC, NBC, CBS, whatever anymore. We have our own media vehicles.”

3. Cannabis legalization and psychedelic science are influencing mainstream medicine.

Two years prior to the Summer of Love, the psychedelic beloved by many young people who associated LSD with spiritual enlightenment and creative expression was criminalized, like cannabis before it. Retaliating against the Summer of Love and the progressive concepts it launched, President Richard Nixon waged the racist, violent (and ultimately failed) war on drugs that vilified psychedelics and cannabis in the public eye for decades.

Cannabis and most psychedelics remain federally illegal to this day, though the pendulum is starting to swing back. Eight U.S. states have legalized weed for adult use, and this decade the first U.S. government-approved human trials assessing psychedelics in tandem with psychotherapy treatment are showing overwhelmingly positive results. Most of the studies are sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit group founded by Rick Doblin in 1986.

Doblin said the Summer of Love set society on a path toward important cultural shifts.

“Since the iconic Summer of Love, 50 years ago, marijuana has gone from being a heavily demonized drug used by rebellious youth to a medicine, with one of the largest growing demographics being elderly people,” he said. “Psychedelics now are being investigated as tools used in scientific research for therapeutic uses, a catalyst of spirituality, art and creativity, acceptance of death and we are now facing their legitimization and acceptance as medical tools.”

In addition, MAPS is conducting studies of MDMA’s potential to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, researching the use of ibogaine for opiate addiction and “implementing ayahuasca research for PTSD and broadening psychedelic harm reduction outreach for more widespread acceptance into our culture,” Doblin said. Similar to the path of cannabis in culture, he predicts psychedelics will first be accepted medicinally, then for their broadened spiritual and cultural uses.

“One day people will take for granted that psychedelics are legal, are highly prized, and help people make positive contributions to society,” he said.

April M. Short is a yoga teacher and writer who previously worked as AlterNet’s drugs and health editor. She currently works part-time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide. 

http://www.alternet.org/culture/50-years-later-here-are-3-big-ways-summer-love-still-us?akid=15118.265072.82O0Sv&rd=1&src=newsletter1070698&t=14

The Oakland fire tragedy and the housing crisis in America

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7 December 2016

The death toll from last Friday’s fire at a warehouse in Oakland, California stands at 36, with 85 percent of the burnt-out structure having been searched. Among the dead, some of whom have yet to be identified, are young people and artists who made their home in the 86-year-old sprawling two-story structure known as the Ghost Ship. The building was leased to an artists’ collective in the Fruitvale district of the city.

It was the deadliest building fire in the US since a Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003, which claimed 100 lives. The tragedy has horrified the San Francisco Bay Area and the world, leaving many asking how such an event could take place in 21st century America.

It is unclear at this point whether criminal charges will be filed against the owner of the building, Chor Nar Siu Ng, who owns several other blighted properties in Oakland, or against Derick Ion Almena, who leased the property, lived there with his wife and three children, and ran the artists’ collective. Looking for an individual to blame, the media has launched a campaign against Almena in particular, who lost many people he knew in the blaze.

Authorities have pointed to electrical problems and the lack of basic fire safety provisions in the dilapidated structure. At the root of the tragedy, however, lies the dysfunctional character of American capitalism, including a housing crisis born of poverty, social inequality, and years of neglect by government authorities.

The Bay Area, long known as a haven for artists and students, is now largely unaffordable for workers and young people. Along with the tech boom of the last six years, housing prices have skyrocketed. Warehouses and lofts in San Francisco’s former industrial areas have given way to high-end condos and workspaces to house tech start-ups and their employees. More than 2,000 people are evicted annually in the city.

This has pushed artists and others struggling to find affordable housing to Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, and beyond. Now these areas are also increasingly unaffordable, with the median cost of available rentals in Oakland standing at $3,000 a month, far beyond what is affordable for most Americans. People living in buildings such as the Ghost Ship are faced with the choice of living in substandard housing or being homeless.

Speaking to CBS, a city councilor from Fruitvale estimated that there are some 200 warehouses in Oakland “that have no papers, no permit, no fire code, nothing.” If occupied, these structures are disasters waiting to happen. And while building inspectors apparently ignore these deathtraps, no measures are taken to alleviate the growing crisis that leads to their use as housing.

The Bay Area’s economy has spawned a small army of billionaires, with 50 of them making it onto the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 2016. Oakland itself is increasingly socially polarized, home to the fifth largest cluster of “elite zip codes” in the US, ranked by a combination of high income and education level attained. At the same time, more than 800,000 people in the region live below the poverty line.

The housing crisis in the Bay Area mirrors that of metropolitan areas across the country. The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 20,000 rent-controlled apartments in LA have been taken off the market since 2011 to make way for pricey homes and condos for the wealthy, leading to hundreds of evictions this year.

Evictions are taking place not only in thriving real estate markets like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, but also in places like Milwaukee and St. Louis, where deindustrialization and unemployment, combined with wages that do not keep pace with the cost of living, are driving people out of their homes.

According to a report released last year by Harvard University titled “Projecting Trends in Severely Cost-Burdened Renters,” by 2025 nearly 15 million US households will devote more than half of their income to rent. Those unable to keep pace with their rent or mortgage payments will find themselves evicted and possibly homeless.

The federal government has long since abandoned any responsibility for the provision of decent housing, leading to disasters like that in Oakland last week. According to the US Fire Administration, an organization that tracks fire deaths based on media reports, there were 2,290 fire deaths in the US in 2015, many of them in mobile homes or other substandard housing.

The first US national housing legislation, passed in 1937, went beyond providing low-cost public housing and was aimed at improving the lagging economy by funding jobs to build affordable housing. Public housing today has largely ceased to exist, with units sold off to developers to turn a quick profit, and those in need of housing waiting years if not decades for openings to use their Section 8 housing vouchers.

The Obama administration, following the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, has made no pretense of establishing a public works program to address the woeful state of infrastructure in the US—whether in housing, roads, bridges, energy grids or in other vital areas.

President-elect Donald Trump has made clear his attitude toward the housing crisis with his nomination of Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no professional housing policy experience, has declared his hostility to the entire concept of public housing and social provision in general, stating: “It really is not compassionate to pat people on the head and say, ‘There you poor little thing, I’m going to take care of all your needs, your health care, your food and your housing, don’t you worry about anything’” (Conservative Political Action Conference, February 26, 2015).

The Socialist Equality Party calls for an immediate halt to foreclosures and evictions and for the provision of billions of dollars to provide decent, low-cost housing to those in need. Housing is a social right that can be assured only by placing the home construction and financing industry under public ownership.

For tragedies like that in Oakland to be averted in the future, public funds must be poured into the construction of new homes for working families. Such a project can be undertaken only under a workers government based on a socialist program, which treats affordable housing as a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for the wealthy.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/07/pers-d07.html

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

Sanders supporters discuss issues outside California rallies

By WSWS reporters
1 June 2016

In the two weeks leading up to the June 7 primary in California, Bernie Sanders has been holding rallies up and down the state. He frequently speaks in two or more cities each day, trying to gain an edge over frontrunner Hillary Clinton to better position himself for the Democratic National Convention in July. Despite trailing in pledged delegates, Sanders has vowed to campaign through the convention.

Sanders speaking in Oakland

Reporters from the World Socialist Web Site spoke to workers and youth attending rallies in Santa Barbara and Oakland. The people drawn to Sanders campaign had widely varying conceptions although all were looking for an alternative to the current political system. Most opposed war, despite Sanders’s support for Obama’s drone assassination and bombing campaigns. Many opposed Clinton specifically or the Democrats generally despite Sanders’s repeated statements in support of both. Almost all were drawn to Sanders’s claim to be a socialist.

Leading Democratic Party officials, afraid that Sanders cannot line his supporters up behind Clinton, have called on him to withdraw from the race to prevent a contentious convention.

In Oakland on May 30, about 60,000 people came to listen to Sanders speak in Frank Ogawa Plaza. WSWS reporters distributed copies of the election statement of Jerry White and Niles Niemuth for the Socialist Equality Party, and interviewed some of those waiting to get in.

Devin

Devin is a 38-year-old visual effects editor from Oakland. “The 2016 election is like a giant circus,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense that it might come down to Hillary Clinton and Trump who nobody likes. We’ve been spoon-fed Hillary, and it makes me sad to see Bernie not be a shoo-in, because his policies represent the interests of so many people.

“I’m absolutely for society not being run by corporations, and I believe education and health care should be free. There needs to be a revolution in thought, not through violence. Bernie has proposed a set of ideas, and now we need to find people who support them and get them elected. I hope this doesn’t stop after the election.”

Javier

Javier, a 17-year-old student from San Francisco, described himself as a Marxist. “I think the election is leading to a political revolution because Sanders has shown us what’s wrong with the Democrats,” he began. “I feel like his policies on health care and education have a socialist character, but this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more that needs to be done after the election.”

On the issue of war, Javier was less certain: “I’m not as aware of his stances on foreign policy as I should be, but I know he didn’t support the war in Iraq, and if other politicians had listened to him in 2003 then maybe the US wouldn’t have entered that terrible war. He also hasn’t supported war against Iran, which is important. If the US worked to help other countries, the world would be a better place. But because of imperialism we’re not, we’re just screwing them over entirely.”

Mateen

Mateen is a 29-year-old bar manager coming from Oakland who did not see Sanders’s policies as necessarily socialist. “They’re just common sense,” he said. “They can be equated with socialist ideals, but they’re practical solutions to real problems. Regarding the need for revolution—things need to be turned on their head. We have an auction, not a democracy. We need to raise taxes on the top 1 percent, and anyone making over $500,000 a year. They don’t need that much money.”

When asked whether how they would feel if Sanders formally endorses Clinton’s candidacy, the response was overwhelmingly negative. “I can’t support the lesser of two evils any more,” Mateen said. “I’ll make a stand by writing in Bernie.” Devin was opposed to an endorsement of Clinton, saying: “It would be a bitter pill to swallow. I couldn’t support her no matter what. There’s a lot of tough questions to consider though—what happens if Trump becomes president?” Javier was much more emphatic, “If Sanders did that, it would be an F-you to his supporters because he’s exposed her so much over the course of the primaries.”

When the rally began, Sanders was introduced by actor Danny Glover and economist Robert Reich. The crowd booed Reich when Glover introduced him as former secretary of labor under Bill Clinton. Sanders began his speech by praising Reich, who participated in an administration that began gutting social services through welfare “reform.”

“He was one of the greatest secretaries of labor that this country has ever had,” Sanders said. “He made clear which side he was on, and that was the side of working people.”

At Santa Barbara City College, roughly 6,000 people came to hear Sanders speak on Saturday, May 28.

Echo Zen

Echo Zen teaches health education at California State University Channel Islands. “Youth are essential to the future of democracy in the United States,” she said. “We’re finally seeing a candidate who is able to activate a traditionally uninvolved demographic, the young people. That’s why I’m here. I see how youth are responding, and it’s very heartening.

“One can certainly argue that his ideas don’t go far enough. But let’s not forget that maybe 10 or 20 years ago, to be considered a socialist was a political death sentence. Now we find a substantial chunk of the population considering themselves socialist. It’s an earthquake in politics.”

Matthew (left) and Rosie (right)

Rosie Fatta, a University of California Santa Barbara student majoring in environmental studies, said, “Big business interests are definitely affecting our country. Actually, climate justice is what I’m interested in. I believe the fact that he’s even talking about that is important because some people are denying that there is global warming. And Bernie is addressing the root causes of it. Capitalism is the root cause of it.”

Her brother Matthew Fatta recently graduated from University of New Mexico in business. “There’s deep funding by big oil companies,” he said. “There should be more money provided for alternatives to fossil fuels. And we need to stop the corrupt relations between the fossil fuel industry and government.”

When a WSWS reporter raised the danger of war that none of the politicians is discussing, he said, “I don’t agree with war. The politicians are all saying that the enemy is China, but they’re still human beings like us.”

Raymok Ketema

Raymok Ketema from University of California Santa Barbara rejected the efforts to line minorities up behind Clinton, “I support Bernie Sanders because he has spoken out against the classism of this system,” he said. “Some people criticize him, saying he doesn’t address the racism in this country. But classism is racism.”

A retiree from the Navy said, “What’s wrong with socialism? It’s a necessity. There are over 300 million people in this country, and capitalism doesn’t work for us.” He said he had served overseas in the South China Sea and the Philippines during the Second World War. He discussed with the WSWS that those same areas are today flashpoints in Obama’s provocations against China.

On the war danger, he said, “This is the only country that has ever dropped atomic bombs. Not even the Soviet Union had one then. Is that something to boast about? I think the biggest problem for the working class is ignorance. It makes them malleable.”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/06/01/cali-j01.html

Financial parasitism and the global housing crisis

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By Gabriel Black
31 May 2016

Rent and housing costs in most major cities have skyrocketed since the financial crisis, cutting deeply into workers’ standard of living and prompting concerns about a new global housing bubble. Driving the soaring cost of rent is a global financial system that is being pumped full of cheap credit by all the major central governments at the expense of workers around the world.

Prices in some areas boggle the mind. San Francisco’s average asking price for a one-bedroom apartment went from $1,258 per month in January 2010 to $4,126 in February 2016. In London, the average home price has doubled since 2009, from about £300,000 ($437,600 USD) to £600,000 ($875,100).

Hong Kong’s housing market, which largely avoided the US real estate crash, more than tripled in its average sale between 2004 and today. The city is now considered the least affordable place in the world, with the median Hong Kong home price worth 19 times the city’s average skilled white-collar worker’s annual salary.

Housing and rental markets are so high that the Swiss bank UBS estimates that the majority of the world’s urban real estate markets are now “significantly overvalued.”

What is most striking about the colossal increase in prices, however, is how divorced it is from the incomes of the vast majority of the global population, which are moving in the opposite direction.

Historically, rent prices have tended to move with income and inflation. For example, in the United States the median home price adjusted for inflation remained largely flat between 1970 and 1998, fluctuating slightly above and below $160,000. This was a period in which workers’ incomes were also flat. After 1998, however, the housing market skyrocketed, with the median home price rising from about $160,000 in 1998 to $275,000 in 2006, the peak of the finance-driven boom. This jump was driven by all manner of financial speculation, including rampant criminal behavior, which had been let loose by the lowering of interest rates by the US Federal Reserve.

The housing market today is going through a new version of the 2006 housing crisis. However, unlike 2006, this process is global. Nearly every major capitalist government in the world is pursuing a policy of near-zero interest rates, encouraging rampant speculation in both the stock market and the real estate market.

This trend can be seen clearly in the United States. Between 2001 and 2014, the average real rental price rose 7 percent nationwide according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. During that same period, median household income dropped by 9 percent.

In Los Angeles, the second largest city in the US, 40 percent of families either make poverty wages or are unemployed. As families and individuals increasingly struggle to make ends meet, rent has increased sharply in LA. In January 2010, an average one bedroom apartment went for $1,224 a month. Six years later, the cost was $1,935. And the worst is not over. A 2016 forecast by USC Casden Multifamily predicts that in the next few years rent will “soar.” It is no wonder that homeless in the city grew by 16 percent in just two years between 2013 and 2015.

Another way of capturing the growing divide between wages and rent for hundreds of millions of workers around the world is the Median Multiple, the ratio between median household income and average home price. According to the Demographia International Housing Affordability 2016 Survey, a Median Multiple of three and under is considered affordable (e.g., a family making $50,000 a year buying a house at $150,000 or less). A multiple exceeding five is considered “severely unaffordable.”

In 2015 Demographia surveyed 367 cities inside the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Japan. According to the group, the 10 most unaffordable cities were: Hong Kong with a Median Multiple of 19.0; Sydney (12.2); Vancouver (10.8); Melbourne, (9.7); Auckland (9.7); San Jose (9.7); San Francisco (9.4); London (8.5); Los Angeles (8.1) and San Diego (8.1). All of these cities have experienced a doubling or even tripling of their Median Multiple since 1998.

The surge in prices and collapse in income has led to more renters on the renting market, since buying has become out of reach. In the United States, between 2005 and 2015, there were 9 million new renting households. This is the largest gain on record for a 10-year period according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. In 2015, 37 percent of all US households rented, the highest level since the mid-1960s, and up from 31 percent in 2005.

Workers are now becoming trapped in this situation, as they spend more of their income paying for rent and are less and less likely to be able to buy a house. In 2001 in the US, 41 percent of renters spent 30 percent of their income or more on rent. This rose to 49 percent in 2014. In the same year, 26 percent of the renting population spent more than half of their income on rent. In the UK, a fifth of all young adults now stay in their parents’ home until they are at least 26. In 2015, 31.5 percent of US young people aged 18 to 34 lived at home, up from 27 percent in 2005.

While workers suffer under crushing rent burdens, landlords and investors are raking in millions if not billions. This year, a total of 184 billionaires made their wealth through real estate. This was up by 22 individuals from the year before, even as the overall number of billionaires went down from 1,826 to 1,810 individuals.

Those who make money off of rents do not add anything to the productive system. While a certain amount of money can go to maintenance and upkeep, vast and increasing sums of money made by real estate are from the pure monopoly status of owning land.

The wealth of these billionaires principally comes from the unsavory fact that in order to keep the global economy afloat, the central banks around the world have pumped the major banks full with cheap credit.

As UBS Global notes in its 2015 Global Real Estate Bubble Index, “Loose monetary policy has prevented a normalization of housing markets and encouraged local bubble risks to grow.” They write that much of the “overvaluation” in the global housing stock comes from a “dependence on low interest rates.”

“Price-to-rent (PR) multiples are greatest in Zurich, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Geneva and Singapore. The extremely high PR multiplies indicate an undue dependence of housing prices on low interest rates. Paris, London and Sydney follow suit and form a trio of cities with PR multiples around 30. House prices in these cities are vulnerable to a sharp correction should interest rates rise.”

In other words, the deluge of cheap credit provided by the world’s central governments to their major banks has unleashed an orgy of speculation. The world’s richest are getting even richer by doing nothing as their real estate investments shoot through the roof. Meanwhile the vast majority of the world’s population must pay increasingly obscene amounts just to have a place to live.

As Lenin noted in his work Imperialism, in capitalism’s state of decay there is an “extraordinary growth of a class, or rather, of a stratum of rentiers, i.e., people who live by ‘clipping coupons’, who take no part in any enterprise whatever, whose profession is idleness.”

This describes exactly the parasitic layer of real estate moguls, whose money comes not from producing anything of value to the world economy, but by sucking away money from the system in the form of rent. There is no one who benefits from high rents except the small layer of people who control the vast majority of the world’s property.

 

WSWS

The Gig Economy Is Ripping Out Floor Below Middle Class

ECONOMY
Gig economy profits are mostly going to wealthy executives.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) tostphotos

The latest tech-driven gyrations upending traditional employment and increasing the divide between the haves and the have-nots are as profound as they are poorly understood by the public and federal lawmakers.

In what’s called the gig economy, companies like Uber hire people to use their own cars as taxis; property owners use firms like AirBnB to rent homes and rooms; and the well-off use firms like Instacart for on-demand shopping. While this may seem to offer more freedom of choice to all, some say the gig economy not only erodes wage-based work and benefits, it poses systemic risks to the economy as income becomes more erratic.

That was the takeaway from a talk by David Cay Johnston, the renowned investigative business reporter, at San Francisco Public Press, an independent non-profit outlet. Yet according to just-released findings by Pew Research Center in the first national survey about this corner of the “new digital economy,” most Americans have little idea of the changes underway.

“Imagine that you are a mortgage lender. Are you going to lend people money for 30 years if they don’t have the security of employment?” Johnston said, offering an example of how the successful push by the technology sector to undermine and overturn the labor laws created during the New Deal are tilting too far toward piecemeal purveyors and will create new instability.

“People are working without salary, benefits and the stability to buy a house and raise a family,” he said, saying that the blame can be placed at the foot of high-tech lobbyists who have donated to congressional campaigns and federal officeholders who subsequently loosened federal laws to their benefit.

Meanwhile, according to Pew’s New Digital Economy report, 61 percent of Americans have never heard of “crowdfunding,” 73 percent are not familiar with the “sharing economy,” and 89 percent have never heard of the “gig economy.”

Johnston is a registered Republican but schooled in the belief that business prospers when wages and benefits are reliable and income is spent locally. He described how the fundamentals of middle-class stability are being further eroded by a new technology-based oligarchy. Despite all the hip apps and marketing, gig economy profits are only going to executives while the jobs offered are intrinsically unstable, fiscally unpredictable and most of the risk and expense are placed on contract workers.

During Johnston’s presentation, he said the protests against companies like Uber are not going to be enough to address the underlying disparities became they are based on federal law—or an absence of regulation—to create a healthier balance for employers, workers and the economy. Johnston believes these underlying issues and resulting shifts in the economy are neither recognized nor understood by 2016’s presidential candidates.

I spoke with him after his talk to further elaborate these points.

Steven Rosenfeld: What’s really going on with the gig economy?

David Cay Johnston: The gig economy is really about pushing down the costs of labor. And it’s government rules that help corporations pay less for labor and therefore make more profits, unless they push so far that they don’t effectively run the business. And they’re going to push them down and down because government policy lets them do it. When you pay people as employees, they get a regular paycheck. That means the employer takes more of the risk and the worker gets reliability. And that’s a much better system, because most people can’t live in a world of unreliability. How are you going to finance a mortgage if you don’t have a reliable income?

SR: You said these protests on the street against Uber aren’t really going anywhere, and neither is a litigation strategy because the federal courts are stacked with judges who are anti-labor, so where’s the pressure point?

DCJ: Demonstrations like shutting things down can be very beneficial, but they are a tactic, not a strategy. The strategy is we have to break the campaign finance system. We have to vote out of office those politicians in both parties who are rigging the game in favor of the oligarchs, who are feeding them and against everybody else. And how do you do that? Well, a lot of people were elected to Congress because they went door to door in their district and knocked on every door for a year—things like that. Or they got other people to do it with them. And they repeatedly went to people with a message and they got it across.

SR: The thing that I see as a reporter is that what unites the Bernie people and what unites the Trump people is they feel vulnerable. They feel unprotected against big systems—some big systems are government. Most big systems are corporate and private. And the gig economy is part of that, because people are not empowered and have fewer choices. So what do people do? 

DCJ: The underlying problem here is in the law. We’re getting the law wrong and we’re getting the principles wrong. People don’t understand that at all. First, of all, you can’t be too abstract. I am in this bizarre position in the people I champion in my books are the people going with Bernie or Donald. And I’ve written the toughest pieces about both of them that have been in this campaign—to the point where Donald called and threatened to sue me. And yet neither of these people is capable of doing anything.

Bernie Sanders is not capable of making any change. He doesn’t know how to run anything. And Donald, if he gets elected, he doesn’t care about any of this. He’s a narcissist.

So fundamentally we’ve got to find ways to build organizations that aren’t necessarily the organizations that are for people at their work. We’ve got to create social movements and find people who are leaders—this is not me. This is not my area—who will get across messages that will unite people and get them to say, Yeah, we’ve had enough of this and we are not taking it anymore, and elect different people to office.

SR: Everyone agrees with that. But we have a political culture whose language, whose rhetoric, whose understanding seems so dumbed down.

DCJ: My simple answer to that is I am in the diagnosis business. I am not in the solution business. I wish I was. But I have spent my whole life exposing problems and I have offered here and there solutions, but the fundamental solutions of how do you organize this society and a culture to change—I don’t know how to do that; it’s not what I do.

SR: But I’ll tell you what you do do—you analyze the money. Where it goes. You analyze how it’s structured. You analyze whether there is enough to be shifted from a column here as a tax break and giveaway, to a column here as a public benefit that could be a safety net. And as you said earlier tonight, there is enough money there to really have people lead more assured, confident and economically secure lives.

DCJ: So one of the ways to do that is nobody needs or can spend enormous huge incomes. My thought is a couple of reforms that we need is that even high income should be taxed at a much higher rate to discourage those high incomes. Secondly, if it’s wealth—you’re not spending the money, you’re building wealth—you should be able to build all the wealth you want, but when you die we should heavily tax it to take it away. And you shouldn’t be able to borrow against that wealth to live on—that’s how super-rich people live tax-free. If you had $1 billion and are spending only $10 million a year, you can borrow and get richer and richer without paying taxes. We need to stop that. We need to recognize that there is no utility to this.

You know, if you invent something and it makes you $10 billion, god bless you. You keep the $10 billion until you die. And then we should heavily tax that. We have gotten the idea that somehow this is wrong. The only reason you made the $10 billion is because you live in the United States of America. We have the market and the technology that taxpayers have invested to make it possible, and now we’re going to go harvest it. And if we don’t do that, here’s what we’re saying. We’re going to let that rich person who benefited from all that public investment and spending keep the money, and you’re going to be taxed so they can pay less. That’s crazy.

SR: Do you think there is an opening now because millions of Americans are looking to Bernie and looking to Trump to address deep anxieties?

DCJ: No, I think this is evidence of people’s panic. People know that the promise of the Reagan revolution, that it would make them rich, hasn’t worked out. They don’t know why. They don’t know what to do about it. So they have gone to two false prophets. And the difference between them is people who are motivated by racial animus or other bigotry are going to one, and people who have a better—in my view—or more reasonable understanding of society are going to the other. But they are false prophets. They can’t fix anything. They don’t know how to fix anything. And they don’t really care.

Leading members of Congress will tell you that Bernie has never accomplished anything and doesn’t know how to, and he’s a miserable human being if you ever meet him. I know that about him. But he has never accomplished anything. He’s a rabblerouser. We need rabblerousers. But he shouldn’t be president.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

 

http://www.alternet.org/economy/gig-economy-ripping-out-floor-below-middle-class?akid=14285.265072.eNjVAm&rd=1&src=newsletter1056976&t=2