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Forum Post: Why Should We All Be Considered "Equal"?

Posted 7 months ago on Aug. 27, 2013, 4:33 p.m. EST by LeoYo (4899)
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Why Should We All Be Considered "Equal"?

Thursday, 22 August 2013 09:54 By Jeffrey Nall, Truthout | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/18341-occupy-ethics-how-are-all-people-equal

Facts matter. The wealthiest 1% of the US population possesses 34.6 percent of wealth. The top 1% to 10% owns another 38.5 percent of the wealth. This means that the wealthiest 10% control 73.1 percent of American wealth. How much does this leave for the other 90%? Just 26.9 percent. For perspective, imagine you're at a dinner party with 9 other people, and the host is about to serve a delicious chocolate cake. He cuts it into 10 equal slices, puts one piece onto a plate and invites you and the other 8 guests to divvy it up. Meanwhile he settles down for a belly-aching good time with the other nine slices. That's how wealth is distributed in this nation: Damn near the whole cake goes to the people in the multi-million-dollar suites or mansions, but for one slice, which the rest of us battle each other for.

The 2011 documentary, Park Avenue, is an example of a film that expertly details the facts of US economic distribution, the way lobbyists and wealthy donors influence policies that affect this distribution and the consequences all of this has for the poor. Yet such films do not meaningfully discuss fundamental ethical concepts such as "moral equality," "moral status" and "justice." Instead these ideas are addressed indirectly, often by pulling on religious heartstrings. In Park Avenue, a protestor reproaches Republican Paul Ryan for adopting Ayn Rand's egoistic economic policy and failing to heed Jesus' dictate to help the poor. Michael Moore pulls similar religiously motivated heartstrings in Capitalism: A Love Story, offering up religious leaders as spokespersons for morality. Otherwise, such films assume that abstract concepts such as moral equality, dignity and justice are so basic and/or obvious that they don't merit explicit explanation and discussion, or are simply beyond the film's parameters. But these ideas are no longer (and perhaps never were, in fact) basic to the American worldview, and it's time we inspire a real discussion of the just and fair society. We need to do a better job of knowing and discussing fundamental ethical concepts such as "moral equality" and a better job of explaining the moral meanings of the facts.

Moral Equality

Let's start with "moral equality" a concept so fundamental to the ideals of the United States of America that it's enshrined in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men [sic]."

Obscured by the spectacle of fireworks and patriotic sloganeering that increasingly define the holiday, such talk is strikingly absent from mainstream celebrations of Independence Day. Yet this pivotal document in American history provides a clear moral assertion that "all men" - which we now understand to include all people - are equal in fundamental human worth.

This ethical concept, however basic to American history, is increasingly misunderstood and disavowed. Some contend that the principle of equality creates an unnatural, unjustifiable equality between superiors and inferiors. Isn't it obvious, some plead, that the medical doctor is not equal in worth to the bus driver, and that the business entrepreneur is superior to the Walmart cashier? The very fact that the doctor and the entrepreneur are successful, many argue, proves they are not equal! Implied in such thinking is this background belief: Our value as people is based upon having a certain amount of education, financial power or mastery of socially exalted talents or skills. Those without these qualities are regarded as being less valuable and, therefore, unequal.

This line of thinking confuses equality of moral worth with equality of social talent or success. Sure, the medical doctor's knowledge of treating sickness is probably better than the bus driver's. (Never mind that the bus driver is likely better at driving buses than is the physician!). This is where we should do a better job of saying, "So what's your point?" For the fact that a medical doctor is better at practicing medicine than a bus driver does not necessarily mean the doctor's life counts for more than the bus driver's life. No one is denying that, for example, a bus driver and medical doctor's knowledge or skill in the field of medicine is unequal. But such discussions of equality have to do with equality in talent not "moral equality" or equality in overall moral status.

Defining Dignity

To have moral status or dignity is to be inherently valuable. Lewis Vaughn writes: "A being with moral status is of moral importance regardless of whether it is a means to something else, and in our dealings with it we must somehow take this fact into account." Those without moral status are excluded from the circle of moral concern: Thus we can eat them, wear them, break them, cut them, and, put simply, use them anyway we like. Theirs is a purely "instrumental" value.

Perhaps this just brings us back to square one, with the "moral equality" skeptic asking: "so what entitles something or someone to the claim of moral status or dignity?" Throughout history, ruling elites have attempted to rationalize denying moral status to others on the basis of their lacking the possession of "necessary" qualities such as specified intelligence, cultural or familial origins, race-ethnicity, religious identification, sexual orientation, class-economic standing, sex/gender, and political affiliation among others. Most contemporary moral philosophers see these assertions as disguises masking self-centered prejudice. Philosopher Anthony Weston writes:

"There was a time when moral concern only went as far as the walls of a man's city. Indeed, it didn't even go that far, as women, children, slaves and non-property-owning males within the walls didn't count either. Gradually some of these others came to be recognized as moral equals, but each step was a fight. The abolition of slavery took centuries. [And illegal slavery still exists around the world.] Deeply rooted forms of racism and sexism still persist. So does suspicion of outsiders - those not of 'our' race or nation or culture - and the willingness to abandon them to whatever misery fate may impose on them."

Moral status or dignity is not tied to a narrow quality or capacity such as medical, mathematical or linguistic knowledge. The 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant provides one of the most respected articulations of the conditions for moral status or dignity (i.e. inner-worth). This status is deserved by all people. But Kant doesn't mean the biological category - human. By person he means beings who are self-aware, capable of reasoning and making free choices, and, consequently, responsible for one's actions. Kant asserted that these are the qualities that distinguish those things in the world that are deserving of basic respect from those that are not. What makes an action right is that it treats people as ends in themselves and not merely as means to another's desired end. As Kant states in his "respect for persons" principle, morality requires that we "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity . . . never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end." Actions that objectify, manipulate or otherwise use people against their will are immoral because they conflict with the basic recognition of the freedom and dignity of the person.

Contemporary philosopher Peter Singer offers a more inclusive theory of moral status that exchanges the emphasis on "reasoning" for one emphasizing "sentience" and the basic condition of having "interests." This includes: "Avoiding pain, developing one's abilities, satisfying basic needs for food and shelter, enjoying warm personal relationships, freedom to pursue projects without interference." If we openly and impartially reflect on the question, Singer theorizes, we will recognize that whatever differences we have in terms of our intellectual and/or physical competencies, career paths, economic standing, sexual orientation, race-ethnicity and so on, nearly all humans (and other species as well) share a basic desire for a good life. Our fundamentally shared interests for a good life is what entitles us to moral concern or respect and requires each of us to equally consider the well-being of others in our ethical deliberations.

One way to assess our ideas about what entitles us to moral status - dignity, inherent worth - is to answer these questions: How would you feel if a teacher viciously stomped on an eraser? What if the eraser was made in America or was white rather than black? What if the eraser cried out in pain and was trying to get away? To the extent that it is absurd to suggest our concern for the eraser would increase if we discovered its "color" or "nationality," it's clear these are irrelevant to moral status. But it might well be an indication of our humanity to be shocked or disturbed by an eraser crying out in pain as it was thrown across a room. And our reaction would suggest that the capacity to suffer earns something moral status or consideration. Putting this into context, when morally-motivated critics decry multi-million-dollar companies' paying workers minimum wage pay on grounds it is unfair, they aren't saying that people working as cashiers necessarily have an equal talent for business as the CEO. What they're asserting is that the cashier's life is no more or less fundamentally valuable than the CEO's, and that her basic well-being, insofar as it is immediately affected by her job (pay, on-the-job treatment, etc.) ought to be as much a factor in budgetary considerations of a thriving business - that she is contributing her labor to - as the CEO's.

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[-] 3 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

(Reminding the Powerful of) The Perils of Disavowing Dignity

All of this brings us back to the initial reply by critics of the concept of moral equality: "So what." When others reject basic humane principles such as the moral status of persons or those with interests, the conversation may well be over. But before we abandon dialogue with our ideological opponents, it's worth reminding the self-titled superiors of the perils of disavowing universal dignity for persons. Many believe that talk of moral equality is nonsense and that it is obvious that being more talented in some field or another means that one is not simply superior in talent, but also superior in overall worth. Imagine, Janis rejects the notion that she and Sherry are morally equal because Sherry is less competent in mathematics, for instance. But this "presumption of superiority," as I call it, is fallacious. As Singer explains, "Racists who maintain [that equal status depends on intelligence] are in peril of being forced to kneel before the next genius they encounter." This much was clear to US founders such as Thomas Jefferson, who explained that moral equality is not based on "talent." He wrote, "Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the property or persons of others."

There are other reasons the rejection of moral equality via the presumption of superiority is doomed. Even if it were true that some individual or group of individuals were, on average, superior to another in a particular aptitude, this would tell us nothing about the value we should place on such aptitudes. Despite dominant culture's attempts to pretend it is thoroughly value-neutral, proclamations about the significance of assorted characteristics and skills are statements of value. When someone asserts that Janis deserves greater moral consideration than Sherry because she is superior in mathematics or engineering or linguistics skills, the unstated presumption is that aptitude in these fields corresponds to an elevation in moral worth. The same is true when it's assumed that someone skilled in engineering is entitled to greater moral consideration than someone skilled in child care, dance, music or painting. But why should we accept any of these assertions? Why does superiority of skill in some culturally exalted intelligence or practice entitle one to superiority of moral consideration? Why should we accept the "commonsense" belief that if you're a "low-skill" fast-food worker, for instance, you don't deserve to be paid a "living wage"? Simply put, we shouldn't. They are just the latest versions of an irrational, inhumane and self-centered ideology seeking to obscure the moral equality we all deserve and can understand.

More than Facts: Fundamental Ethical Ideas/Theory of Value

Facts are essential, but they are not sufficient to understand or address issues of income-inequality. Facts are rather meaningless without applying relevant theories or concepts of value. This is where ethics, the philosophical study of moral values, comes in. Sure the wealthy have chocolate cake coming out of their eye-sockets while the rest of us are fighting each other to lick the plate. But the reply many offer is a simple: "So what?" or "That's just how it is." How do we respond? "It's not fair!" To which many reply, "Life isn't fair." But what do we even mean by the words "fair" and "inequality"? Advocates for social justice, be they journalists, activists, students, parents, social workers and the like, need to do more than know and state the facts. We need to embrace and participate in the creative discussion of moral theory and values and how they should shape our understanding of the facts.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by JadedCitizen (4277) 6 months ago

The double standard on the right. The only time they pretend to care about equality is when it comes to a flat tax. Oh sure, now you agree we should all be treated the same, regardless of profession, talent, etc. Jerks.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

If It Takes Blocking a Bank Door With Your Body to Keep Your Home, Would You Do It?

Sunday, 01 September 2013 00:00 By Eleanor J Bader, Truthout | Book Review

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/17676-if-it-takes-blocking-a-bank-door-with-your-body-to-keep-your-home-would-you-do-it


Descendants of Slaves Hold Out against Coal Mining

Descendants of slaves hold out against company's attempt to mine East Texas land for coal

http://news.yahoo.com/descendants-slaves-hold-against-coal-153636622.html


The Ancestral Values We Inherited: Protecting Indigenous Water, Land and Culture in Mexico

Sunday, 01 September 2013 11:10 By Tory Field and Beverly Bell, Other Worlds | Harvesting Justice Series

http://truth-out.org/news/item/18524-the-ancestral-values-we-inherited-protecting-indigenous-water-land-and-culture-in-mexico

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

Fighting Back Against Predatory Lenders Is a Struggle for Justice

Friday, 30 August 2013 00:00 By Laura Gottesdiener, Zuccotti Park Press | Book Excerpt

http://truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/18492-fighting-back-against-predatory-lenders-is-a-struggle-for-justice

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

Resisting Foreclosure: Rising Up for a Dream Called Home

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 10:20 By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview

http://truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/18451-resisting-foreclosure-rising-up-for-a-dream-called-home

America's current financial situation is not about one recovering economy; it's a tale of two economies.

One economy is soaring, breaking records of stock market and asset wealth. The other economy is barely holding on, as living-wage jobs - for those lucky enough to have them - are being replaced by employment that provides minimum-wage income that leaves families, in many cases, at the edge of or below the poverty level. For the people in the economy of surging wealth, The New York Times offers evidence that the good times are back better than ever in articles such as "Hamptons McMansions Herald a Return of Excess."

For those whose dreams have been decimated, but who have not lost the will to resist and reclaim what is theirs, there is Laura Gottesdiener's remarkable new book, A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place Called Home.

Gottesdiener provides damning historical context to detail how a large percentage of black Americans have historically been dispossessed - except for a short period of time following emancipation after the Civil War - of home, property and adequate work as a de facto economic policy.

In the foreword to A Dream Foreclosed, journalist and author Clarence Lusane states:

CNN Money released a report in 2012 stating that not only is the median wealth of white households twenty times great than that of black households, but black wealth has undergone a devastating decline - 53 percent from 2005 to 2009 - with the result that the typical black household possessed less than $5,000 in wealth, compared to over $100,000 for whites.

By continuing predatory practices that have resulted in millions of house foreclosures in the past few years, many blacks are still pawns in a great predatory financial system. Nearly 140 years after the Civil War resulted in the end of legal slavery, blacks as a racial group are still being targeted, are still facing daunting - often illegal - challenges to achieve a the dream of a place to call home. Order A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home now and help support Truthout with a minimum contribution. Just click here to order.

MARK KARLIN: Can you give a brief history providing the context for which a large number of black Americans have been denied, in one way or another, land ownership since slavery? Didn't this begin with the promise of "40 acres and a mule" to ex-slaves after the Civil War, which was not fulfilled, and continues through the exiling of black families from land and home as a result of the subprime foreclosure scam?

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: The long history of denying black Americans land ownership - and, by extension, the rights afforded to the owner class in this society - is one that could easily fill a much longer book than mine. But to summarize briefly, this history began in 1865, in the abandoned rice fields of the Georgia and South Carolina coast, where 40,000 freedmen and women had already begun establishing schools, courts and paid employment. These lands were to be redistributed in 40-acre plots to the freedmen and women, but, as you noted, that decision was reversed, and the land was instead returned to the white enslavers.

This broken promise didn’t only doom the Reconstruction effort; it also serves as a bleak metaphor for much of the history of land ownership in the African-American community since slavery. The failure of Reconstruction ushered in a period of economic servitude in the South called sharecropping and convict leasing. A full 6 million black Americans fled this system through the 20th century and resettled in Northern and Western cities. But these regions also had landscapes and economies based on exclusion. Neighborhoods with people of color were “redlined,” meaning that the federal government refused to extend mortgages, or guarantee any mortgages, in these areas. Most suburbs had restrictive covenants that prohibited residents of color. Meanwhile, local governments bulldozed or seized through eminent domain many downtown neighborhoods where people of color lived in order to build highways or infrastructure in a move called “urban renewal.”

All this discrimination and exclusion was supposed to have ended with the passage of civil rights legislation in the late 1960s and 1970s. But instead what we saw beginning in the 1990s was the recognition on the part of the nation’s mortgage institutions that this long history of racism had created a lucrative market: people desperately in demand for mortgages and adequate housing. This recognition created “reverse-redlining,” the practice of mortgage companies pushing terribly predatory mortgages onto these communities, with full recognition that they were exploiting a historical context of racism for their own short-term profit. And now we’re seeing the effects: millions of foreclosures, evictions and another cycle of racially slanted displacement.

MARK KARLIN: Your book is subtitled Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home. Many progressives emphasize the victimhood of injustice. You acknowledge that and detail it, but you are energized by the stories of resistance to foreclosure that you detail by following the four stories of families who resist being victims of predatory lenders. Resistance in A Dream Foreclosed is energizing and empowering, isn't it?

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Resistance is one of the driving forces of history, particularly in the United States, so of course it’s energizing. This whole idea that African-Americans have been disproportionately victimized by the foreclosure crisis, well yes, that’s true, and that reality must be better understood if we’re ever to end structural racism in this country. But we don’t focus often enough on how discrimination and exclusion - whether [they’re] meted out against African-Americans or women or immigrants - create the material necessities and intellectual freedoms in which powerful resistance movements can form, flourish and ultimately benefit everyone. The African-American families and organizers I focused on in the book are far from victims; they’re the reason that we have a radical housing justice movement in this country today. African-Americans are the reason we have breakfast programs in public schools. They’re the reason we haven’t torn down all our public housing and that Detroit hasn’t fully collapsed and that we actually have a powerful movement to stop mass incarceration of people of all races. There’s a quote by Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets at the beginning of Black Power Mixtape that I love for its lyricism and honesty. He says, “America is a dumb puppy with big teeth that bite and hurt. And we take care of America. We hold America to our bosom; we feed America, we make love to America. There wouldn't be an America if it wasn't for black people.”

In other words, there will never be a moratorium on foreclosures for only black Americans. That would never happen. So when we witness powerful African-American-led efforts to stop displacement and eviction, what we’re really seeing is a movement to make the United States a safer and more secure home for families of all races. And once you understand that, you realize that victimhood has no place whatsoever in this history and that white Americans, like myself, should be in solidarity with, and learning from, these movements.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

MARK KARLIN: Dispossession of black families from homes appears integrally related not only to an adverse impact on keeping families together but also to the American reality that property rights are related to power. Those without property rights are, in the eyes of the status quo, without power against those who own land and housing.

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: This dispossession definitely, ultimately, comes down to power. Stokely Carmichael explained it well when he wrote in 1966, “Black Americans are a propertyless people in a country where property is valued above all. We had to work for power, because this country does not function by morality, love and nonviolence, but by power.”

What I am trying to highlight in this book is the connection specifically between property and democracy in this country. Our democratic process began with only white male property-owning people having the right to vote. Today, a handful of majority African-American cities across Michigan have been stripped of their local democratic rights altogether after an onslaught of foreclosures decimated their economies. The question I ultimately want to pose with this book is: Can a society truly be a democracy if housing is not considered a right?

Of course, after Citizens United, I think few would be foolish enough to call this nation a functioning democracy, anyway.

MARK KARLIN: Reading A Dream Foreclosed, I felt that for poor and economically vulnerable blacks who played by the rules - and who were exploited by unethical and illegal subprime mortgage lending practices - there is a canary in the coal mine here: The value and dignity of life is superceded by the value of property and those who pull the strings on its ownership. Eventually, that most likely will not be confined to a historically targeted race.

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: In terms of sheer numbers, more white Americans have been displaced so far in the foreclosure crisis, so the devaluation of home and human life is definitely not confined to a historically targeted race.

Really, the canary in the coalmine has already been present for years. The types of predatory “subprime” loans that were pushed to people of all races beginning in the 1990s actually looked a lot like the ones that used to only exist in the secondary mortgage market in redlined neighborhoods. These loans were sold only by sleazy white salesmen called “loan sharks” who took advantage of the fact that reputable, established mortgage companies wouldn’t lend in these neighborhoods. Now very similar contracts are sold to middle-class white families by Bank of America. In other words, and we can see this in many industries, not just the mortgage market, the economic system has grown more and more radical in recent years, with formerly fringe exploitation moving into the mainstream.

What hasn’t changed very much is the racial disparity in generational wealth and property ownership, which is why we continue to see economic crises producing more profound effects in communities of color. For example, as of this past June, the African-American homeownership rate is 43 percent, compared to the white American rate of 73 percent. That’s a [gap of 30 percentage points]. That’s a larger gap than existed in 1970.

MARK KARLIN: These foreclosed houses represent lost assets by the black community. I read that half the asset values of blacks in the United States has declined since the 2007 crash, largely because of the subprime manipulation by the banks too big to fail and secondary lenders. Is that accurate?

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Those are the same numbers, in terms of asset declines, that I’ve seen as well. It’s worth remembering that the rampant overinflation of house values by the mortgage industry in the lead-up to the collapse certainly factors into this calculation. But regardless, the wealth loss in the African-American community has been staggering. The National Fair Housing Alliance called it “the largest loss of wealth for these communities in modern history.” What’s important to highlight, however, when we talk about wealth loss, is that we’re really talking about the loss of a family’s generational stability and the future access to everything wealth buys, including higher education, health care, nutritious food, etc. On a community level, we’re also talking about funding for public schools, hospitals, youth programs, recreational centers, art and cultural activities. So we’re really not talking about wealth. We’re talking about survival and the value of people’s lives. Here’s a concrete example: On the South Side of Chicago, which has a predominately African-American population and much less wealth than the city’s North Side, there is no level-one trauma center. One study estimated that longer transport times in the city led to “6.3 excess deaths per year.” Translation: Each year, six South Side residents die because their community has less wealth and, as a result, their lives are less valuable.

MARK KARLIN: You follow four families and individuals as the book unfolds, and you interweave the history of de facto discrimination toward black ownership of land and homes, even after redlining was eliminated. Massive foreclosures appear to decimate communities, not just families.

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Yes, that’s the issue that I think has been most overlooked in this crisis: the community effects of foreclosure. We talk a lot about individual contracts between families and mortgage pushers, and conservatives and business interests cry that if these contracts aren’t honored, well, then the whole integrity of this contract-loving, law-abiding nation will collapse. It’s the “moral hazard” argument. But this perspective is ultimately myopic, because it falsely assumes that individual homeowners live in a vacuum in which their contracts affect no one but themselves. We know from extensive economic research, as well as pure common sense, that this isn’t the case. When one family is foreclosed on and evicted, everyone else’s property values on the block decrease. This decrease produces two effects: First, it makes others more likely to be “underwater” on their mortgage. Two, it decreases the local tax base and makes it harder for the city to provide services. Both effects lead to more families falling into foreclosure and being evicted. Then you get a downward foreclosure spiral (the International Monetary Fund calls it a “self-reinforcing contractionary spiral”) in which communities end up with lots of vacancy, crime, blight and - as happened in Highland Park, Michigan - a local government so bankrupt that the streetlights are repossessed. It’s really quite obvious how individual foreclosures can lead to community devastation. So, to return to the contract issue, it’s also quite clear that the entire city of Highland Park, or Richmond, California, or Providence, Rhode Island, never signed a contract ensuring its own destruction. In other words, the core question is whether or not the mortgage industry and the Wall Street banks that securitized these loans have broken the broader social contract by engineering this economic collapse and then enforcing the resulting 4.5 million home evictions. I strongly believe, based on my experience traveling through many of these neighborhoods, that they did - and that, as a result, these contracts are no longer valid.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

MARK KARLIN: At your book launch in Brooklyn in August, you mentioned the housing justice movement. How many organizations are there currently working as advocates and how does one find out more about working with these groups?

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: There are thousands, at least. I followed two national networks in the course of my reporting: Take Back the Land, an African-American-led housing network, and Occupy Our Homes, an outgrowth of the Occupy movement that has chapters in about a dozen cities. There is also the Home Defenders League and Right to the City, both of which are large, national umbrella organizations. Nearly every city, large or small, has grass-roots housing groups. In New York City, for example, there’s at least a half dozen that focus on public housing alone.

As I wrote in an article for Yes! magazine near the beginning of this project, “The right-to-housing movements are among the most consistent in our nation’s history of activism - a constant necessity in a country where private property is a right but a family’s basic shelter, security, and safety is a privilege.”

Every city has them, especially now. So for people looking to get involved, I’d begin asking around locally which grass-roots groups are operating in your area, or look for local partners that are working with some of these national umbrella networks.

MARK KARLIN: Given that August 28 is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," can you discuss a bit further the quotation of Dr. King that Clarence Lusane uses in the foreword to your book?

Just as the doctrine of white supremacy came into being to justify the profitable system of slavery, through shrewd and subtle ways some realtors perpetuate the same racist doctrine to justify the profitable real estate business.

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: That quote comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, which was published in 1967. It was his last book and the one that speaks most about poverty and the way that economic justice and social equality are inextricably entwined.

The quote, directly, illuminates something very powerful: the way that racism is used as a mechanism to uphold - morally, legally and socially - unjust economic systems. To repeat, white supremacy’s end goal is not racism itself. Rather, it’s a tactic deployed by economic elites who want to maintain their grip on power and use it to not only justify their profit but also to sow racial discord in order to discourage people from uniting and organizing together. It’s really one of the most vile ways of holding on to power, since it essentially entails instilling a doctrine of unfounded hate throughout society, particularly in the minds of young children. And, as many historians have noted, racism often hurts middle- and lower-class whites as well as blacks, which is another reason that I think it’s quite silly for some white people to consider race an issue that only other people should worry about.

To return to the quote, the first economic system, slavery, is one we obviously today consider morally and even economically unjust. But what’s interesting to me about the second part of his quote is that he’s criticizing an economic system - the for-profit real estate business - that is very much still part of our current lives. He wrote this sentence before the passage of the Fair Housing and Fair Lending Acts (1968 & 1977, respectively). Yet today it’s quite well-documented how the mortgage industry still deploys racism for profit: by targeting of communities of color that have been historically denied loans, by steering African-Americans into predatory mortgages and by, most insidiously of all, spreading a doctrine that subtly equates race with being irresponsible, being an unfit homeowner and (since we are a nation of homeowners) being not quite American. As Dr. King said, it’s more subtle but no less significant.

I don’t think it will be too long until we look back and see both slavery and profiting off people’s basic needs as unjust.

MARK KARLIN: You begin your book with the poem "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes. Why did you choose it to open your narrative?

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Obviously the title of the book itself, A Dream Foreclosed is echoing Hughes. I also thought that, in this context, the final line - or does it explode? - alluded quite nicely to the explosion of the housing market in 2008. More broadly, I chose it because it still speaks to the present reality, despite being more than 50 years old.

Yet, what I would argue makes the poem iconic is not its continued relevance, but rather the way it concretizes people’s hopes and dreams and aspirations, dramatizing them as real enough to fester and stink and crust over and certainly much more real that abstract derivatives or high frequency trading scams. In other words, I thought the poem accurately oriented the reader to anticipate where this book places value.

MARK KARLIN: What is the power that those who are dispossessed, marginalized and exploited have to restore their dream of home, family and land?

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: People always have power in organizing together and using direct action to either protest the current system or to build parallel institutions that sidestep the current structures. We talk a lot about Wall Street as an impenetrable force - globalized, infinitely wealthy and protected by all the most powerful armies on Earth. In some ways, it’s important to understand the strength of one’s enemy. On the other hand, this depiction is giving Wall Street far too much credit.

Over the last year, I’ve seen women beat the mortgage industry by planting gardens in their backyards. Grandmothers elude sheriffs’ departments tasked with enforcing Wall Street evictions by lying down outside office doors. Single mothers repossess on the repossessors by rallying neighborhood kids to help her put up drywall and rehab bank-owned homes.

Nonviolent direct action and community organizing works. Only those ignorant to this nation’s history - and world history - would discount its power. So for those committed to restoring their dreams of home, family and land, I’d reiterate the words spoken by the mother of Michael Hutchins, who used community organizing to stop the destruction of his public housing complex: “People in numbers work magic,” she told him. “In great big numbers, they work magic.” Order a A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home now and help support Truthout with a minimum contribution. Just click here to order.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

This man owed $134 in property taxes. The District sold the lien to an investor who foreclosed on his $197,000 house and sold it. He and many other homeowners like him were

Left with nothing.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2013/09/08/left-with-nothing/

Written byMichael Sallah, Debbie Cenziper, Steven Rich

Graphics byTed Mellnik, Emily Chow, Laura Stanton

Photos by Michael S. Williamson

Published on September 8, 2013

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (17973) 7 months ago

OMG !!! How much more proof do we need that The U$A is now owned (head)lock, (share)stock and (pork)barrel by The Banksters ?!! Mthrfkrs ! Remind yourself how it was 2 years ago and how and why we tried to get educated, agitated and organised, wherever we were and how we can try to be so again :

Yet another stonking link, amongst many - just on this thread alone !!! Thanx Leo !! Solidarity ! & again :

per aspera ad astra ....

[-] 2 points by ZenDog (20519) from South Burlington, VT 7 months ago

because . . .

  • we all bleed red
[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4899) 6 months ago

Freeing Marissa Alexander

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 09:10 By Victoria Law, Truthout | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19447-freeing-marissa-alexander

Three years ago, a single warning shot sent Marissa Alexander to prison. Last month, an appeals court overturned her conviction, ruling that the jury received flawed instructions on self-defense. Supporters are calling for the prosecutor to drop all charges rather than subject Alexander to a new trial. As reported earlier on Truthout, Marissa Alexander, a mother of three and a survivor of abuse, had given birth to a baby girl in July 2010. The previous year, she had obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband Rico Gray. When she learned that she was pregnant, she amended it to remove the ban on contact while maintaining the rest of the restraining order.

On August 1, 2010, she and Gray were at home when Gray attacked her. "He assaulted me, shoving, strangling and holding me against my will, preventing me from fleeing all while I begged for him to leave," Alexander recounted in an open letter to supporters. This was not the first time that he had assaulted her.

Alexander escaped into the garage but realized she had forgotten the keys to her truck and that the garage's door opener was not working. She retrieved her gun, which was legally registered, and re-entered her home to escape or grab her phone to call for help. "He came into the kitchen ... and realized I was unable to leave ... he yelled, 'Bitch, I will kill you!' and charged toward me. In fear and desperate attempt, I lifted my weapon up, turned away and discharged a single shot in the wall up in the ceiling," she recounted. Gray called the police and reported that Alexander had shot at him and his sons. Alexander was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Alexander attempted to invoke Stand Your Ground, but a pretrial judge ruled that she could have escaped her attacker through the front or back doors of her home. In a 66-page deposition, Gray admitted to abusing all five of the women with whom he had children, including Alexander. Several witnesses, including Alexander's daughter, younger sister, mother and ex-husband testified that they had seen injuries that Gray had inflicted on her.

The judge instructed the jury that, when considering Alexander's self-defense plea, that she had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gray was committing aggravated battery when she fired. The jury deliberated for 12 minutes and returned with a guilty verdict. Prosecutor Angela Corey added Florida's 10-20-LIFE sentencing enhancement, mandating a 20-year minimum sentence when a firearm is discharged.

On September 26, 2013, an appeals court found that the judge's instructions regarding self-defense shifted the burden of proof from the prosecutor to Alexander. “At trial, the only real issue was whether she had acted in self-defense when she fired the gun. Because the jury instructions on self-defense were fundamental error, we reverse,” the court stated, remanding her case for a new trial. Marissa Alexander, however, remains in prison.

Mobilizing to Free Alexander

After her arrest, Marissa Alexander's first husband, Lincoln Alexander, and her sister, Helena Jenkins, formed the Committee to Free Marissa Alexander. Shortly after her conviction, individuals in various states mobilized to form the Free Marissa Now campaign. Sumayya Fire had been working against domestic violence as an advocate, consultant, trainer and program builder for more than 20 years when she learned about Alexander's case. “It touched my heart as an advocate and survivor of violence, to make a decision about defending yourself and get 20 years in prison," she told Truthout. "It sends a message to women who fight back, who choose to save their lives. I could not not use my voice and my resources to help.”

Although Fire had never organized a campaign before, she began reaching out to those who had been organizing before Alexander's sentencing. Radical Women and Pacific Northwest Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander was one of the first groups to respond. Lincoln Alexander referred her to Aleta Alston-Toure with the New Jim Crow Movement in Jacksonville, Florida, who had been organizing around the case.

Alisa Bierria, who has organized with INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, remembered reading about Alexander shortly after her sentencing. "I connected her case with the tradition of black women organizing for their right to self-defense, including movements to free Joan Little, the New Jersey Four and CeCe McDonald," Bierria told Truthout. She reached out to Lincoln Alexander, who connected her with Sumayya Fire.

From these connections came the Free Marissa Now mobilization campaign. The campaign attracted increased national attention after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. News pundits and organizers compared her case - complete with the denial of a Stand Your Ground defense - with Zimmerman's. “The Zimmerman verdict spiked attention to Marissa Alexander overnight,” Fire said. “In one week, we had thousands of new followers on our Facebook page and hits on our tumblr. There was outrage that, in the same state, Zimmerman killed a person [and got off] while Marissa fired a warning shot and got 20 years.”

"I believe that Marissa's case got national attention because of the timing," Bierria agrees. But, she adds, "we have to do everything we can to keep her name out there." She points to the 2001 INCITE! and Critical Resistance statement on the divide between the movements addressing mass incarceration and domestic and sexual violence. "There's been a depoliticization of work to end domestic violence and sexual assault. It's been integrated into the state's increase in criminalization and incarceration." A decade later, she notes, "Black women are less likely to be the symbol used to provoke organizing against mass incarceration and police brutality. Also, instead of being supported, Black women survivors of domestic violence tend to be punished by the media, their communities and institutions. We have the opportunity to highlight the connection between domestic violence and mass incarceration. We can see it clearly with Marissa, but she's not the only survivor in prison. This is an opportunity to bring attention to all the other survivors whose names we don't know."

For Marissa Alexander's 33rd birthday, on September 14, 2013, supporters across the country held events to commemorate the day and draw attention to her case. “We had birthday parties, rallies and parades,” Fire said. In addition, supporters sent Alexander cards. “Marissa received 200 cards in one day,” she recalled. “Part of our peaceful protest is to get as many people to connect with her, to let her know that she's not forgotten.”

Utilizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness month, Emotional Justice Unplugged, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Women, and Free Marissa Now launched a monthlong multimedia letter-writing campaign called #31forMARISSA. The campaign urges men to write letters of support to Alexander, share stories of violence experienced by women in their lives, donate to Alexander's legal expenses, and become engaged as active allies in the domestic violence movement. Noting that men make up 25 percent of the campaign's 14,000 Facebook followers, Fire stated that #31forMARISSA “gives men an opportunity to support the campaign and to speak out about domestic violence and sexism.” “We are asking a nation of men - of all creeds and colors - to stand up and engage in the pursuit of freedom of a black woman,” the campaign call stated. The letters appear on the SWAGspot tumblr, which was launched in 2013 as an emotional justice community of conversations with men for men, and excerpts of the letters appear on Ebony.com daily. Each week, paper copies of the letters are mailed to Alexander.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4899) 6 months ago

Four Decades Earlier: Yvonne Wanrow, Self-Defense and Support

In 1972, a single shot also changed the life of Yvonne Wanrow, a mother of two in Spokane, Washington, and a Colville Native American. On August 11, William Wesler attempted to pull Wanrow's 11-year-old son off his bicycle and drag him into his house. The boy escaped to the house of Shirley Hooper, a family friend. Wesler followed him.

Earlier that year, Hooper's 7-year-old daughter had been raped by an unidentified person. The rape had given her a sexually transmitted disease. When she saw Wesler, the girl told her mother, "He's the man who did it to me." Hooper's landlord also saw Wesler; he told Hooper that Wesler had tried to molest a young boy who had previously lived there.

Hooper called the police. Although they had previously arrested Wesler for child molestation and were familiar enough with him to nickname him "Chicken Bill," they refused to arrest him. Instead they recommended that Hooper wait until after the weekend to file a complaint at the police station. The landlord suggested that Hooper hit Wesler with a baseball bat if he tried to enter the house. The police did not discourage the suggestion; they advised Hooper, "Yes, but wait until he gets in the house." Hooper telephoned Wanrow, asking her to spend the night at Hooper's home. Wanrow, a 5-foot, 4-inch woman, recently had broken her leg and was on crutches. She brought her pistol. The women also asked Angie and Chuck Michel, Wanrow's sister and brother-in-law, to spend the night.

At 5 in the morning, Chuck Michel went to Wesler's house with a baseball bat. He accused Wesler of molesting small children. Wesler, who was visibly intoxicated, suggested that they straighten the matter out at Hooper's house.

Once inside Hooper's house, Wesler refused to leave. Wanrow went to the front door to yell for Chuck Michel. When she turned and found the 6-foot-2 Wesler towering over her, she shot him.

At her trial, the judge instructed the jury to consider only what had happened "at or immediately before the killing." These instructions omitted Wesler's record as a sex offender. Neither Hooper's daughter nor the doctor who had treated Wanrow's son after Wesler's kidnapping attempt was allowed to testify. Wanrow was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Social justice groups and organizers took up her cause, turning her into a symbol of a woman's right to defend herself and her family from assault. Feminists in Seattle and Washington, D.C., formed Yvonne Wanrow Defense Committees, hosting events to generate public interest and raise legal funds. Women in Minnesota formed the Lesbian Feminist Organizing Committee to support her. Members of the American Indian Movement, Women of All Red Nations and the Native American Solidarity Committee organized a two-day benefit to raise money for her defense fund while educating the 200 attendees about her case, the underlying issues of violence against women, and the history of systemic violence against native people in the United States.

In 1977, the Washington State Supreme Court granted Wanrow a new trial, partially on the basis that the original instructions to the jury on the law of self-defense were inaccurate. The judge's instructions had not allowed the jury to consider the relevant facts: Wesler was a known child molester; Wanrow had heard that he had previously raped her friend's daughter; and, less than 24 hours earlier, he had attempted to assault her son. "The justification for self-defense is to be evaluated in light of ALL the facts and circumstances known to the defendant, including those known substantially before the killing," the court declared. The court also recognized that women's lack of access to self-defense training and to the "skills necessary to effectively repel a male assailant without resorting to the use of deadly weapons" made their circumstances different from those of men. "Care must be taken to assure that our self-defense instructions afford women the right to have their conduct judged in light of the individual physical handicaps which are the product of sex discrimination." The decision was hailed as a landmark case for a woman's right to self-defense.

At her 1979 retrial, Wanrow pleaded guilty to reduced charges. She received suspended sentences on the manslaughter and assault charges, five years of probation and one year of community service. Without the pressure, publicity and resources generated by her supporters, Wanrow would most likely have stayed in prison.

"We don't want to wait to see her come out the gate"

As proven nearly 40 years earlier, support can make a huge difference. The Free Marissa Now campaign understands this and is harnessing the attention and outrage to press state officials to drop Alexander's case rather than proceed with a new trial. "We're hoping that letters will make a difference," Fire said. "I just wonder if Marissa would receive a fair trial if the state already sees her as guilty and with such personal prejudgement in interviews and articles. So we are we're asking our supporters to write e-mails and letters to encourage the state to drop the case."

She and Bierria hope the attention and actions around Alexander's case will lead to her freedom. "It will be through community organizing, advocacy, political education and love of self and value of our own lives that we reaffirm our right to live," Bierria said.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4899) 6 months ago

Slave Descendants Fighting Tax Hikes on Ga. Coast

Slave descendants on Ga. seacoast battle property tax hikes, fearful of being driven off lands

http://news.yahoo.com/slave-descendants-fighting-tax-hikes-104349183.html

Associated Press Russ Bynum, Associated Press October 1, 2013 6:43 AM

DARIEN, Ga. (AP) -- Residents of one of the few remaining Gullah-Geechee communities on the Southeast coast opened new appeals Monday against soaring property values that brought them big tax hikes, fearful they could be forced off lands their families have owned since their ancestors were freed from slavery.

The African-American residents of the tiny Hog Hammock community on Georgia's Sapelo Island got sticker shock last year when steep increases in their property values saddled them with whopping tax bills.

Skyrocketing appraisals and tax bills come amid pressure from affluent mainland buyers driving up land values while seeking property along or near the Atlantic coast. But critics say the increasing tax burden violates protections enacted to help preserve the island's indigenous inhabitants.

Made up of slave descendants long isolated from the U.S. mainland, the Gullah-Geechee culture has clung to its African roots and traditions more than any other in America. Hog Hammock — with fewer than 50 residents — is one of the last such communities from North Carolina to Florida.

Julius and Cornelia Bailey saw the appraised value of the single acre on which they have a home, a convenience store and a small inn shoot from $220,285 in 2011 to $327,063 last year. Appraisers in Georgia's McIntosh County held firm on the new value after being ordered to take a second look in January by local authorities.

The Baileys and more than 40 of their neighbors appealed anew Monday after seeing little relief from the new appraisals.

Cornelia Bailey said her tax bill shot from about $800 to $3,000, though she and other island residents receive virtually no county services. They have no schools, no trash pickup, no police station and only one paved road.

"So what are we paying taxes for?" Bailey said after the board shot down her appeal and at least nine others Monday. "We're just paying for privilege of living on Sapelo Island. We don't want to be crybabies, but it seems like we're being treated unfairly."

Sapelo Island is separated from the mainland and reachable only by boat. Since 1976, the state of Georgia has owned most of its 30 square miles, largely unspoiled wilderness, while the tiny Hog Hammock community sits on less than a square mile of modest homes amid dirt roads.

The Gullah, referred to as Geechee in Georgia, are scattered in island communities over 425 miles of Atlantic coast where they've endured after their slave ancestors who worked island plantations were freed by the Civil War.

Scholars say these people long separated from the mainland retained much of their African heritage — from unique dialect to skills and crafts such as cast-net fishing and weaving baskets. But isolation also caused Gullah communities to shrink.

Since 2010, a handful of Hog Hammock landowners have sold their properties for as much as $165,500 a half-acre to mainland buyers wanting to build houses near the water. County appraisers insist they have valued homes according to market demands and land sale prices in the community.

"The values that we placed on their properties, we feel they still hold," said property appraiser Blair McLinn. "Nothing, we felt, has changed."

In at least one case the resulting property value increase was extreme. William and Maggie Banks saw a single acre of undeveloped land they own vault from an appraised value of $10,000 two years ago to a whopping $181,250. The appeals board upheld that higher value Monday.

Reed Colfax is a Washington-based attorney for 28 Hog Hammock landowners who have a separate housing discrimination complaint pending against McIntosh County with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He said the higher appraisals fly in the face of a 1994 county ordinance that designates Hog Hammock a special zoning district intended to prevent "land value increases which could force removal of the indigenous population."

"They can't afford it," Colfax said. "They're going to be forced off the island in direct contradiction to the ordinance."

Attorneys for Hog Hammock residents argued Monday that county appraisers unfairly valued properties based on land sales between corporations and developers that were artificially high and dealt with properties never listed on the open market. They also said newer homes that have driven up property values are larger than allowed under zoning ordinances.

Robert Hudley, chairman of McIntosh County's Board of Equalization that hears appeals of property values, said his board was powerless to deal with zoning violations. He urged Hog Hammock residents to keep up their fight as the board upheld most of the higher appraisals. Its decisions can be appealed to Superior Court.

"I agree with what you're saying," Hudley told the group. "I'm saying go to a higher court. This doesn't need to stop here. It needs to go further."

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

The Age of Hyper-Racism: White Supremacy as the White Knight of Capitalism

Friday, 20 September 2013 09:07 By Michael Ortiz, Truthout | Opinion

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/18780-the-age-of-hyper-racism-white-supremacy-as-the-white-knight-of-capitalism

Think the world needs an alternative to corporate media? Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and keep independent journalism strong. We've heard the argument over and over. "Of course we're in a post-racial society; racism is over; slavery is long gone; the president is black, etc." And then we've heard the counterargument over and over. "Post-racial?! How can that be the case when health disparities remain significant along racial lines? When unemployment and incarceration continue to disproportionately affect people of color, etc.?"

However, what both arguments fail to admit, and what the media refuse to acknowledge (although they fan the flames as well as anybody), is that racism has gotten worse over the decades. Why and how has it gotten worse? And how can we realistically remedy a problem if we cannot call it for what it really is? If we don't understand exactly what racism is and where it comes from, how can we expect to live in a society of true equality? The disheartening truth is that we can't.

Understanding the supremacist framework

Unfortunately, racism has been defined in a superficial way. Racism tends to get looked at as a set of prejudiced beliefs or attitudes toward racial or ethnic groups. However, the idea that racism is limited to individual thought and behavioral patterns does a disservice to the examination of its structural roots; this, in turn, works brilliantly to perpetuate racism because it avoids deeper mainstream analysis.

Sociologically speaking, though, racism refers to the systemic, structural, institutional or ideological disparity in the allocation of social and material rewards, benefits, privileges, burdens and disadvantages based on race. That includes access to resources, capital, property (which affect life chances) and possession of social power and influence.

Going even farther down the rabbit hole, racism is built on the framework of racial supremacy. Racial supremacy refers to the systemic, structural, institutional and ideological racial base that our contemporary society operates within. All interaction among participating members or structures of the society becomes racialized. If and when we find disparate and discriminatory outcomes within the frame of racial supremacy, then we've got ourselves a good ol' case of racism.

Specifically, white supremacy is the form of racial supremacy that we operate under in America. The white supremacist framework has been set in place for centuries, yet it doesn't get much critical attention in the media or in the overall social structure. And therein lies the root of the problem to which racism is tied. White supremacy is a social framework, which means that its basis is fluid, not rigid. Its power lies in its amorphous ability, its ability to change "faces." It expresses itself via different social and structural modalities. The only thing that actually changes is the systemic form that white supremacy portrays takes (through which order and control is maintained). For example, we went from the system of slavery to the system of Jim Crow to the contemporary system of colorblind racism and mass incarceration. Throughout all of these changes in form, the fundamental centralization and concentration of racial power has not shifted. In fact, it has only gotten stronger.

Consider what has taken place in the past few months. The Supreme Court has struck down key portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; affirmative action measures that aim to reduce discrimination in college acceptance are being threatened; surveillance and policing of black youths is becoming more rampant; and Trayvon Martin and many other similar young people have been killed because of intensified racial anxieties. Consider also all of the other economic, educational and health disparities that are particularly experienced by people of color.

White supremacy is stronger now is because it operates under the guise that it doesn't exist and that race is no longer an issue in America. So certain rationales become justified in stopping and frisking targeted black youths for nonracial "suspicion" reasons. Or if black unemployment is disproportionately high, it must be the result of a lack of trying because race is not an issue. Therefore policies meant to guard against employment discrimination may no longer be needed. In actuality, these rationales are highly racialized, and they do become institutionalized. They divert attention from larger, more complex forms of covert control. In this way, a hyper-racist social environment has been constructed whereby the distribution of social and material advantage and disadvantage has become severely disproportionate under the assumption that race is no longer a factor in racially inequitable outcomes.

Once we understand what the racial framework of white supremacy is and how it operates, then we can begin to see how contemporary racism works. They are inextricably linked. From that point, it may be possible to mobilize, contest and transform the racial platform and live in a racially equitable environment.

We cannot simply keep advocating for policy change and political change, because racism has gotten worse in the past two centuries. And clearly, white supremacy is flexible and adaptable in keeping the conditions necessary for it to flourish. Therefore, it may suit us to create a social rift of sorts that white supremacy cannot adapt to. And that rift can begin with raising individual consciousness as well as simple, everyday gestures that reject the racial status quo. If people of all racial, ethnic, cultural and social delineations come together and redefine their relationships to each other on the basis of unity rather than division, then the social framework will have no choice but to change and morph into a structure of true equality.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

Rejecting systems of inequality

If the framework of white supremacy disproportionately affords benefits and privileges to those in the dominant group, what incentive would there be for the dominant group to abandon it? Why would anyone in their right mind bite the hand that feeds them? The answer lies in the fact that white supremacy - just like any other social structure - does not simply exist in a vacuum. It exists in relation to many other social frameworks and structures in an intersectional manner. And when we begin to fit the pieces of this intersectional puzzle together, we begin to see exactly why there is a severe disunity of people based on race (as well as other social identities) in the first place. The circumstances and consequences of white supremacy are no coincidence.

White supremacy has a history of intersecting with social class, which has been utilized as a tool, of sorts, to maintain prevailing social and economic power interests. White supremacy was created as means for a powerful Eurocentric elite to exploit the labor power of black slaves (as well as poor whites) and quell any possibility of people with a common class status from realizing their commonality by creating the constructed delineation or division of race. As time progressed, the economic system of capitalism came into fruition and developed a harmonious marriage between itself and white supremacy, which aimed to exploit all people regardless of race, but granted whites dominant group status and the illusion that they were truly part of the "in" crowd.

To this day, white supremacy acts as the white knight of capitalism. It acts as a specialized type of guardian or warden of the economic elite by keeping the majority of the population fractured along racial lines. In this way, it works to cover up the social ramifications of the crises that capitalism inherently produces. So if we are living in a time of hyper-capitalism (or hyper-appropriation of value), then it would make perfect sense for white supremacy to create this environment of hyper-racism. It is done through a plethora of ways mentioned earlier, but one specific way hyper-racism is generated is by fueling white racial anxiety through accentuating and amplifying a false narrative of "otherness." It creates this sense of an "in" crowd and an "out" crowd, of the need to be protect the values and attributes of the "in" crowd at all costs from "deviant outsiders." In this way, the perspectives of individual dominant group members (as well as all members of the population) can continue to be manipulated for the purposes of disunity and dominant economic interests. Severe economic inequality that affects all people of all social identities calls for extreme methods that must be implemented to distract the masses of people from realizing the overwhelming commonality that they share with each other.

So white supremacy offers temporary, specious benefits and privileges to dominant group members, which will run out when this hyper-capitalist economy spins itself off the edge of the cliff. Dominant group members will feel the sting of the divorce between capitalism and white supremacy once they begin to lose the protective facade of whiteness (that they may or may not have even known they had) to the reality of disastrous economic conditions. The sooner we all come to grips with this reality, the less of a sting we will feel when we begin to detach ourselves from these dominant frameworks. The sooner we all begin to reject these systems of inequality (that were doomed from the start), the sooner we can begin to construct alternative systems of equality and unity. We must cease consenting to systems that are designed to exploit human beings and the planet itself - and start supporting systems that are conducive to harmony and thriving possibility. The only way to get there is by renouncing the restrictive and oppressive structures we've been placed in and by realizing the common unity that we all share. Seeing through the divisions that have been assigned to us is the social rift we need that none of the dominant structures will be able to adapt to. Together, we can get it done.

Copyright, Truthout.

[Removed]

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

Before the NYPD could target mosques as terrorist groups, it had to persuade a federal judge to rewrite rules governing how police can monitor speech protected by the First Amendment.

The rules stemmed from a 1971 lawsuit, dubbed the Handschu case after lead plaintiff Barbara Handschu, over how the NYPD spied on protesters and liberals during the Vietnam War era.

David Cohen, a former CIA executive who became NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence in 2002, said the old rules didn't apply to fighting against terrorism.

Cohen told the judge that mosques could be used "to shield the work of terrorists from law enforcement scrutiny by taking advantage of restrictions on the investigation of First Amendment activity." NYPD lawyers proposed a new tactic, the TEI, that allowed officers to monitor political or religious speech whenever the "facts or circumstances reasonably indicate" that groups of two or more people were involved in plotting terrorism or other violent crime. The judge rewrote the Handschu rules in 2003. In the first eight months under the new rules, the NYPD's Intelligence Division opened at least 15 secret terrorism enterprise investigations, documents show. At least 10 targeted mosques.

Doing so allowed police, in effect, to treat anyone who attends prayer services as a potential suspect. Sermons, ordinarily protected by the First Amendment, could be monitored and recorded.

Among the mosques targeted as early as 2003 was the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge.

"I have never felt free in the United States. The documents tell me I am right," Zein Rimawi, one of the Bay Ridge mosque's leaders, said after reviewing an NYPD document describing his mosque as a terrorist enterprise.

Rimawi, 59, came to the U.S. decades ago from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"Ray Kelly, shame on him," he said. "I am American."

It was not immediately clear whether the NYPD targeted mosques outside of New York City specifically using TEIs. The AP had previously reported that Masjid Omar in Paterson, N.J., was identified as a target for surveillance in a 2006 NYPD report.


The NYPD believed the tactics were necessary to keep the city safe, a view that sometimes put it at odds with the FBI.

In August 2003, Cohen asked the FBI to install eavesdropping equipment inside a mosque called Masjid al-Farooq, including its prayer room.

Al-Farooq had a long history of radical ties. Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian sheik who was convicted of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks, once preached briefly at Al-Farooq. Invited preachers raged against Israel, the United States and the Bush administration's war on terror.

One of Cohen's informants said an imam from another mosque had delivered $30,000 to an al-Farooq leader, and the NYPD suspected the money was for terrorism.

But Amy Jo Lyons, the FBI assistant special agent in charge for counterterrorism, refused to bug the mosque. She said the federal law wouldn't permit it.

The NYPD made other arrangements. Cohen's informants began to carry recording devices into mosques under investigation. They hid microphones in wristwatches and the electronic key fobs used to unlock car doors.

Even under a TEI, a prosecutor and a judge would have to approve bugging a mosque. But the informant taping was legal because New York law allows any party to record a conversation, even without consent from the others. Like the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, the NYPD never demonstrated in court that al-Farooq was a terrorist enterprise but that didn't stop the police from spying on the mosques for years.

And under the new Handschu guidelines, no one outside the NYPD could question the secret practice.

Martin Stolar, one of the lawyers in the Handschu case, said it's clear the NYPD used enterprise investigations to justify open-ended surveillance. The NYPD should only tape conversations about building bombs or plotting attacks, he said.

"Every Muslim is a potential terrorist? It is completely unacceptable," he said. "It really tarnishes all of us and tarnishes our system of values."


Al-Ansar Center, a windowless Sunni mosque, opened in Brooklyn several years ago, attracting young Arabs and South Asians. NYPD officers feared the mosque was a breeding ground for terrorists, so informants kept tabs on it.

One NYPD report noted that members were fixing up the basement, turning it into a gym.

"They also want to start Jiujitsu classes," it said.

The NYPD was particularly alarmed about Mohammad Elshinawy, 26, an Islamic teacher at several New York mosques, including Al-Ansar. Elshinawy was a Salafist — a follower of a puritanical Islamic movement — whose father was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, according to NYPD documents. The FBI also investigated whether Elshinawy recruited people to wage violent jihad overseas. But the two agencies investigated him very differently.

The FBI closed the case after many months without any charges. Federal investigators never infiltrated Al-Ansar.

"Nobody had any information the mosque was engaged in terrorism activities," a former federal law enforcement official recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the investigation.

The NYPD wasn't convinced. A 2008 surveillance document described Elshinawy as "a young spiritual leader (who) lectures and gives speeches at dozens of venues" and noted, "He has orchestrated camping trips and paintball trips."

The NYPD deemed him a threat in part because "he is so highly regarded by so many young and impressionable individuals." No part of Elshinawy's life was out of bounds. His mosque was the target of a TEI. The NYPD conducted surveillance at his wedding. An informant recorded the wedding, and police videotaped everyone who came and went.

"We have nothing on the lucky bride at this time but hopefully will learn about her at the service," one lieutenant wrote.

Four years later, the NYPD was still watching Elshinawy without charging him. He is now a plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, which was also filed by the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project at CUNY School of Law and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"These new NYPD spying disclosures confirm the experiences and worst fears of New York's Muslims," ACLU lawyer Hina Shamsi said. "From houses of worship to a wedding, there's no area of New York Muslim religious or personal life that the NYPD has not invaded through its bias-based surveillance policy."


Online: Documents TEI Discontinuance: http://apne.ws/146zqF9 Informant Profiles: http://apne.ws/1aNfuyH Elshinawy Surveillance: http://apne.ws/15fau4D Handschu Minutes: http://apne.ws/1cenpD6


AP's Washington investigative team can be reached at DCinvestigations@ap.org

Follow Goldman and Apuzzo at http://twitter.com/adamgoldmanap and http://twitter.com/mattapuzzo

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

How I Called the Cops and Almost Got Shot: the Politics of Being a "Threat"

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 13:41 By Arun Gupta, Truthout | Opinion

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/18589-how-i-called-the-cops-and-almost-got-shot-the-politics-of-being-a-threat

It was night. I was winding down, watching "Star Trek" in the living room when Irene yelled in panic from the back of our railroad flat in Brooklyn. A few seconds later, she emerged half-dressed and red-faced. "Some guy tried to climb into my bedroom from the fire escape. But I screamed, and he ran off," she panted in her Irish brogue.

Grabbing the phone, I dialed 911 and said a guy had tried to break into our apartment but had fled. "They're in your apartment?" the dispatcher asked. "No! It was an attempted break-in. They're gone." I emphasized, "Attempted, attempted. They are long gone." I walked toward Irene's bedroom and from her window adjoining the fire escape blue-and-red lights flashed in the dark as a police cruiser rounded the corner.

We shouted to the cops that someone tried to break in but hightailed out because of the commotion. They asked where the prowler was. "I don't know. They're probably nearby." The cops remained in the car, seemingly uninterested in searching for the suspect.

As Irene gave the cops more details, there was pounding on the front door. "I'll get it," I said, striding down the hall. Fists hammered on the door. "Who is it," I asked. "Police. Open up!" I peered through the eyehole, but the figures were obscured. "Step in front of the peephole," I said. "Open the fucking door," a male voice bellowed. Well, I figured, I was the one who called the cops, so who else could it be? I swung the door open and to my side was a black female cop with her gun drawn, pointed upward, and in front of me was a white male cop standing on the stairs in a two-handed shooting stance with his gun resting on the banister pointing directly at my head. As I stared down the barrel of his nickel-plated revolver, the warning from my friend Greg, a born-and-bred Texan, flashed in my head. "Always be wary of a cop who has a nickel-plated revolver. It means they spent $500 on their own gun, and they're eager to use it."

"Put your guns away," I blurted at the African-American cop. With a head shake, she shot back, "Don't tell me what to do." Meanwhile the male cop yelled, "Step out of the fucking apartment."

It dawned on me that they thought I was the suspect.

But they didn't consider that I was unarmed, barefoot and wearing only underwear and a T-shirt - or why an intruder would open the locked door when there were plenty of windows to escape from in the apartment. I hollered, "I was the one who called 911. I told them the guy fled." The male cop kept baying, "Get out of the fucking apartment," and I countered, "This is my fucking apartment."

At that point Irene entered the three-way fray and exclaimed, "What in Christ's name are you doing? He's my roommate." The cops lowered their guns, and as we continued yelling they looked at each other and then bolted.

"Jesus Christ, they thought you were the burglar," Irene said as we closed the door. I rolled my eyes, "Fucking pigs." This is the point in the story where I'm supposed to say I started shaking when I realized my brains were almost turned into modern art on the wall behind me. But I didn't because I was unscathed. I did figure they flew the coop quickly because they were about to execute some street justice on me and didn't want us to get their badge numbers.

I was pissed they assumed I was enough of a threat to warrant the possible use of deadly force. I was pissed that what saved my South Asian ass was my female Irish roommate. (And I was pissed I missed the end of "Star Trek.")

If the cops had killed me, it would have been the word of New York's finest against my corpse. The story would have been they were responding to a break-in. I was a suspect who was being uncooperative, belligerent, even threatening. In the unlikely event they were charged with a crime, the cops would have been acquitted because their perception was I was a threat. That perception was based mainly on the fact I'm a dark-skinned, broad-shouldered male. I would have been another Trayvon Martin or Amadou Diallo, who was plugged with 19 bullets in 1999 after four cops stopped him in his Bronx apartment building because he "looked like a suspect." Like Martin's, Diallo's killing spurred a movement against racial profiling, which led to acourt orderin 2003 forcing the NYPD to release data on stop-and-frisk practices every three months. But my death would have been a footnote, because it would have happened right before Rudy Giuliani became mayor in 1993 and aggressively expanded stop-and-frisks. Back then, few people were aware of the lax protocol for police stops. I was certainly clueless in 1990 when I felt the humiliation of a police stop in a subway station because they said I "looked like a suspect."

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

The problem with stop-and-frisk is the wide discretion given to cops' perception, cops whose views are shaped more by centuries of social prejudices than a few months in the police academy. Cops, soldiers, even armed vigilantes can get away with murder by claiming they felt threatened. The law takes stereotypes like black criminals, Mexican gangsters and Muslim terrorists and transforms them from subjective irrationality into objective criteria. George Zimmerman would never have been acquitted if he had gunned down a 17-year-old blonde cheerleader. That's why I could have been on the roll call that includes Diallo, Martin, Sean Bell, Ramerley Graham, Oscar Grant and hundreds of others.

Stop-and-frisks are known as "Terry stops," referring to the 1968 Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, which carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment. It was the first time "the Court allowed a criminal search and seizure without probable cause," and subsequent case law further loosened the standards for a stop. The court ruled police need only "reasonable suspicion" to stop someone, and the "sole justification" for a frisk is "to discover guns, knives, clubs, or other hidden instruments for the assault of the police officer."

Terry was shaped in an era of "social upheaval, violence in ghettos and disorder on campuses," and handed down right after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The liberal Warren Court was under attack from the right for "coddling criminals," and Richard Nixon's "law and order" presidential campaign fanned the flames to such a degree that " ‘Impeach Earl Warren' signs appeared along highways in most parts of the country."

The justices capitulated to the law-and-order climate by asserting police conduct involved the "necessarily swift action predicated upon the on-the-spot observations of the officer" drawing on "his experience." The high court made this explicit 12 years later in United States v. Cortez when it "directly instructed lower courts to defer to the judgment of police." Given the historical antagonism between an overwhelmingly white police force and ghettoized communities, it made racial fears central to policing. In Cortez, the justices also implied police actions were beyond public scrutiny: "A trained officer draws inferences and makes deductions … that might well elude an untrained person." So if the police decide inner-city blacks and Latinos are violent or prone to crime, then the courts should defer to the police as the most capable of making and acting on those judgments.

This is why it took 14 years to take a bite out of stop-and-frisk. Of the 4.8 million stops conducted by the NYPD in the past decade, five in six of those stopped were black or Latino. They were more likely to be frisked than whites but less likely to be found with a weapon. Digging into the 685,724 stops in 2011, theNew York Civil Liberties Union uncovered two astonishing facts: the "number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared with 158,406), and in six precincts where blacks and Latinos make up 14 percent of the population or less, they accounted for 70 percent of stops. Independent studies have determined "race predicts stop-and-frisk patterns even after controlling for variables like crime rates, social conditions and the allocation of police resources."

Since 2003, of the570,000 people arrested or given a summons, nearly 90 percent are black and Latino, creating a circular logic. It's reasonable for police to stop, frisk and arrest black men and Latinos because they are more likely to be involved in criminal activity because police are arresting so many of them.

That's the logic of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who claims cops "disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little." Because of Terry, Bloomberg and top cop Ray Kelly have to say they're taking guns off the streets to justify ratcheting up stop-and-frisks sevenfold since 2002. But cops have had to stop an average of 833 people in recent years to find one illegal gun, and stop-and-frisks are so inefficient that they produce fewer arrests than what police typically achieve atrandom checkpoints.

Bloomberg's attitude flows down the command chain and reinforces prejudices that blacks and Latinos are more prone to crime. It's also codified in the law where reasonable suspicion exists for anyone in a "high-crime area" and who moves away from police. In the 1.62 million stops from 2010 through June 2012, the three most cited factors lack individual specificity: high-crime area at 61 percent, "furtive movements" at 54 percent and time of day at 43 percent. (Multiple factors are usually cited, and the nebulous categories of "evasive response," "proximity to crime scene" and "changed direction" account for another 65 percent.) But expert analysis finds 86 percent of these stops can still be justified, an additional 10 percent could not be categorized and a mere 4 percent were "apparently unjustified." So with a few tweaks, the NYPD can still profile entire communities.

This does not detract from the dogged grassroots effort against stop-and-frisk in conjunction with the legal strategy pursued by the Center for Constitutional Rights since1999. It has won landmark victories like US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin's August 12 ruling that the NYPD is engaged in "indirect racial profiling," which the "city's highest officials have turned a blind eye to" in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments. Scheindlin appointed an independent monitor to "end the constitutional violations in the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices," and the City Council passed a bill authorizing "an outside inspector general with subpoena power to study and make policy recommendations to the department."

Bigger battles lie ahead beyond the hostility the NYPD likely will mount to many reforms. The next step is to wipe away the stained legacy of Terry, which is essential to the New Jim Crow that consigns many African-Americans to the bottom of the barrel. Since the 1963 March on Washington, the relative status of blacks compared with whites is virtually unchanged in terms of poverty, earnings, wealth and unemployment. When it comes to imprisonment, the rates are worse.

The drug war and an eightfold increase in the prison population since 1970 have forced millions of blacks and Latinos into a shadow workforce. I've encountered the results in Niles, Ohio, where striking steelworkers told me the factory owner was using ex-convicts as strike breakers, and in the Chicago warehouse industry, where workers say about half the workers have criminal records and are desperate for any employment, which allows management to force down wages and deny workers basic rights.

I know what it's like to be a problem. The police have stopped and interrogated me; cops pulled guns on me in my own apartment, and I regularly win the Homeland Security interrogation lottery when entering the United States. But in general my social status affords me protection.

My daily life is not defined by a system that conflates race with danger. My school was not patrolled by scowling cops packing heat. My job options were not limited to flipping burgers or slinging rock. My friends didn't cycle between prison and parole. My neighborhood isn't swarming with so many cops that kids lift their shirts to indicate, "There's no reason to stop and frisk me."

Yet that night in my apartment, my background didn't matter: The clichés about a clean record, a good background, an upstanding citizen. The cops didn't know that, but they knew I willingly opened the door, I was unarmed and in my underwear, I explained I called 911, but I was guilty. I got a nickel-plated taste of how policing reflects social prejudices.

Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama aside, there's a desperate need for a new Reconstruction today as much as there was 50 years ago, when the tide shifted against America-style Apartheid. The much-needed judicial and legislative victories against stop-and-frisk do not address how individual fears harden into iron bars of segregation. And while the race line has blurred into class, we are still two countries, separate and unequal.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33128) from Coon Rapids, MN 7 months ago

Why Should We All Be Considered "Equal"?

Why should we not?

[-] 0 points by DouglasAdams (107) 7 months ago

The opening facts 1% of the US population possess 34.6 percent of the wealth. And that 10% our population control 73.1 % of the wealth leaving the remaining 90% of population with 26.9% of the wealth should mean that 90% of us need to create more stuff. Not merely buy more stuff.

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, hinted in a recent interview that he wouldn’t mind having Central Park renamed after him. That is the whole essence. Instead of building an exact replica of Central Park in north Manhattan or in one of the other boroughs (which he could afford to do) he might settle for having the one and only Central Park renamed after him for possibly a nice donation to NYC Parks and Recreation Department.

The solution for the 90% is to start making more stuff rather than buy imports: smartphones, iphones, food imports, etc.

Peter Singer offers a more inclusive theory of moral status that exchanges the emphasis on "reasoning" for one emphasizing "sentience" and the basic condition of having "interests." This includes: "Avoiding pain, developing one's abilities, satisfying basic needs for food and shelter, enjoying warm personal relationships, freedom to pursue projects without interference." It is necessary for the 90% to reorganize around cooperation between labor and the middle class.

[-] -3 points by 150IQ (-3) 7 months ago

Salaries, whether you like it or not, are not a measure of how valuable your life is. It is a measure how useful you are to the organization. CEOs dont get million dollar salaries for their basic well being, similarly the average cashier does not need to be paid $100,000 for his or her "basic well being".

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

"Putting this into context, when morally-motivated critics decry multi-million-dollar companies' paying workers minimum wage pay on grounds it is unfair, they aren't saying that people working as cashiers necessarily have an equal talent for business as the CEO. What they're asserting is that the cashier's life is no more or less fundamentally valuable than the CEO's, and that her basic well-being, insofar as it is immediately affected by her job (pay, on-the-job treatment, etc.) ought to be as much a factor in budgetary considerations of a thriving business - that she is contributing her labor to - as the CEO's."

"Why should we accept the "commonsense" belief that if you're a "low-skill" fast-food worker, for instance, you don't deserve to be paid a "living wage"? Simply put, we shouldn't. They are just the latest versions of an irrational, inhumane and self-centered ideology seeking to obscure the moral equality we all deserve and can understand."

CEOs don't get multi-million dollar salaries well beyond their needs based upon their usefulness nor do cashiers get paid less than their needs based upon a lack of usefulness. Those in charge of the profits have the liberty to profit themselves the most by restricting the salaries of others. A cashier doesn't need to be paid anywhere near $100,000 for a living wage just as a CEO doesn't have to be paid anywhere near $100,000,000 for his "usefulness". The consideration of moral worth in equality means that the CEO and the cashier both deserve to be able to adequately live off the incomes that they work for regardless of the differences between them rather than having one income increased at expense to the other due to occupational considerations.

[-] 0 points by 150IQ (-3) 7 months ago

I am not against a living wage. In fact I think most wages at the lower end should go up (the fact that higher wages to low skilled workers would also increase inflation notwithstanding).

"Those in charge of the profits have the liberty to profit themselves the most by restricting the salaries of others". I dont really agree to this statement. The economics of demand and supply determines (to a large degree) salaries, not the whims of a CEO. Besides, CEO salaries hardly effect the salaries given to lower level employee. For every CEO there are a few thousand employees (particularly in people intensive industries like retail, hospitality etc). So even if you slashed a million dollars from the salary of the CEO, you would add say a hundred dollar (or less) to the salary of a lower level employee. If you want those people paid more, you have to inevitably raise prices

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

The Pay Is Too Damn Low

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2013/08/12/130812ta_talk_surowiecki

by James Surowiecki August 12, 2013

A few weeks ago, Washington, D.C., passed a living-wage bill designed to make Walmart pay its workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Then President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour). McDonald’s was widely derided for releasing a budget to help its employees plan financially, since that only underscored how brutally hard it is to live on a McDonald’s wage. And last week fast-food workers across the country staged walkouts, calling for an increase in their pay to fifteen dollars an hour. Low-wage earners have long been the hardest workers to organize and the easiest to ignore. Now they’re front-page news.

The workers’ grievances are simple: low wages, few (if any) benefits, and little full-time work. In inflation-adjusted terms, the minimum wage, though higher than it was a decade ago, is still well below its 1968 peak (when it was worth about $10.70 an hour in today’s dollars), and it’s still poverty-level pay. To make matters worse, most fast-food and retail work is part time, and the weak job market has eroded what little bargaining power low-wage workers had: their earnings actually fell between 2009 and last year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

The situation is the result of a tectonic shift in the American economy. In 1960, the country’s biggest employer, General Motors, was also its most profitable company and one of its best-paying. It had high profit margins and real pricing power, even as it was paying its workers union wages. And it was not alone: firms like Ford, Standard Oil, and Bethlehem Steel employed huge numbers of well-paid workers while earning big profits. Today, the country’s biggest employers are retailers and fast-food chains, almost all of which have built their businesses on low pay—they’ve striven to keep wages down and unions out—and low prices.

This complicates things, in part because of the nature of these businesses. They make plenty of money, but most have slim profit margins: Walmart and Target earn between three and four cents on the dollar; a typical McDonald’s franchise restaurant earns around six cents on the dollar before taxes, according to an analysis from Janney Capital Markets. In fact, the combined profits of all the major retailers, restaurant chains, and supermarkets in the Fortune 500 are smaller than the profits of Apple alone. Yet Apple employs just seventy-six thousand people, while the retailers, supermarkets, and restaurant chains employ 5.6 million. The grim truth of those numbers is that low wages are a big part of why these companies are able to stay profitable while offering low prices. Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years. That’s an increase that the companies can easily tolerate, and it would make a significant difference in the lives of low-wage workers. But that’s still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family. If you want to accomplish that, you have to change the entire way these companies do business. Above all, you have to get consumers to accept significantly higher, and steadily rising, prices. After decades in which we’ve grown used to cheap stuff, that won’t be easy.

Realistically, then, a higher minimum wage can be only part of the solution. We also need to expand the earned-income tax credit, and strengthen the social-insurance system, including child care and health care (the advent of Obamacare will help in this regard). Fast-food jobs in Germany and the Netherlands aren’t much better-paid than in the U.S., but a stronger safety net makes workers much better off. We also need many more of the “middle-class jobs” we’re always hearing about. A recent McKinsey report suggested that the government should invest almost a trillion dollars over the next five years in repairing and upgrading the national infrastructure, which seems like a good place to start. And we really need the economy as a whole to grow faster, because that would both increase the supply of good jobs and improve the bargaining power of low-wage workers. As Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me, “The best friend that low-wage workers have is a strong economy and a tight job market.” It isn’t enough to make bad jobs better. We need to create better jobs. ♦

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33128) from Coon Rapids, MN 7 months ago

A living wage - for an individual - is - no less than - $16.00 an hour.

A few weeks ago, Washington, D.C., passed a living-wage bill designed to make Walmart pay its workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour.

$12.50 is a joke it is not a living wage.

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[+] -4 points by Shayneh10 (-19) from Jersey City, NJ 7 months ago

There is too much to read here but I will comment - if this country was as screwed up as you would like everyone to think there would be mass protesting in the streets.

The only people protesting about the wealthy are those who won't get off their asses to attain wealth.

How many wealthy people do you know? How many wealthy people became "instantly wealthy"?

Anyone can become wealthy just like those 1% whom you think don't deserve what they have.

And this crap about "moral equality". Do I have to give my next door neighbour half of what I own because I have more then him and as a result he is entitled to it just because it makes me a "moral person"?

The vast majority of people who post on this site don't have a clue about how to become wealthy let alone even knowing how to start out to become wealthy.

The vast majority here don't even know how to operate or manage a business let alone own one.

You don't become wealthy just because you graduate from college and you don't have a job.

I am tired of listening to bullshit about the have and have nots. There are 2 million jobs out there in the construction and manufacturing industry and these companies can't find "qualified" personnel to fill the billet.

Hell they can't even find anyone who will pass a "drug test" and show up on time.

If more focus was placed on the individuals own desire to become successful everyone could be successful - but it isn't going to happen within this generation -

Everyone is being brainwashed to be "dumbed down' and instead of learning to be "independent" are being taught to be "dependent" and blame others for their failures.

Stupid is as stupid does.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4899) 7 months ago

If there's supposedly too much to read here, your comment is unqualified as it clearly misses the subject which has nothing to do with you giving up anything for your neighbor or anyone else.

If you think this country isn't screwed up with its domestic spying, bought off politicians, bailed out criminal bankers, monopolistic food supply corporations, etc, then it's no wonder there isn't mass protesting in the streets if the masses think like that.

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[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (33128) from Coon Rapids, MN 7 months ago

STINKLE - nice try at baiting a beatdown. Why don't you call in to Rushing Limpballs - you will be an instant star. Hell Rushing might even send you an autographed picture in gratitude - then you will have an actually signed piece of inspiration for when you go to the bathroom for entertainment.

OOOPs - forgot to add don't expect more comments on your BS from me.

[-] -3 points by Shayneh10 (-19) from Jersey City, NJ 7 months ago

Like your respond - has nothing of value to ad about what I posted. And what I posted is true - very true -

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (33128) from Coon Rapids, MN 7 months ago

I lied - just this one "response". ( well not a lie - as I told you not to expect )

Like your respond -

Stupid is as stupid does.

apparently aAHhahahahaha idiot hahahaheheeehe