Saturday, January 28

Rest in Peace John Butler, thank you

When I joined Home Start Hillingdon early last year, it was mainly from the perspective of having something nearby so that I can do something for the local community. As well as that, the idea that the charity is a bit public funded, quite a bit foundation and private funded, we have 40-50 volunteers and we touch up to 100 families every year is very good. When I joined, the charity was in deep financial trouble and if we didn't sort it out, the charity would have closed. This was just 1 month after I joined. Plus then we lost almost 60% of our trustees for a variety of reasons and we ended up with just two trustees, John and I. John was previously the treasurer and then he became the chair. I couldn't do it, I am already stretched with the other charities that I am involved in and refused to become the chair.

John worked his butt off to ensure we have a good financial foundation, he drove us getting good funding from the council and made the business case and ensured we are now in a sustainable element. We spoke to so many people, got stakeholders to buy in and we were successful. This was when John was unwell and he was in hospital pretty much the last quarter of last year. Very brave of him.

And then came the shocker in December, he resigned saying that he has to go back to hospital and then early this week, I heard the shocking news that he had passed on. I was seriously shocked, he was very healthy, about 38 years of age, a practising lawyer and he was finishing his MBA, writing his dissertation, very sporty and eating good food. He apparently had skin cancer and it became virulent and just in a matter of weeks he died.

We had a board meeting last week and I spoke about all what he had done for the charity. Frog in the throat time. Really  feel bad about his loss. But this is the amazing thing about people like John. They get about their jobs and do so much for the community, over and above what one would have expected. They do not get recognition, they do not get the kudo’s, they are not publicly welcomed or congratulated, but they spend hours on doing things that help others, they are passionate about the downtrodden, the sick, the disabled, the ill, the poor, the mentally disturbed of the society. That’s the power of this society, how people quietly go about helping others, without expecting any return.

But I felt I had to write about these quiet people today. My father is another one of this kind of people, I have been speaking to him frequently these couple of weeks ever since my aunt died, of cancer as well. He was sobbing on the phone, poor chap. He was very close to her. She was also one of those quiet helpful kinds. And she used to make some brilliant dishes. Its not a good feeling to hear your father cry but such is life. So this week has been a very difficult one indeed.

So here’s to you, John Butler, I am sure you will be recognised in heaven for all the wonderful work you have done on earth. Thank you for all your help and all the families in Hillingdon who have been helped and will be helped more in the coming years will be cognisant of your brilliant work for the charity.

Rest in Peace.

The Swedish Experiment–Financial Transaction Tax

France, Germany and and and are trying to launch a Financial Transaction Tax and David Cameron has promised to vote it. Good. Business will run away into American or Asian markets, is that what they want? Morons.

I don't have any thing further to say. Here’s a newspaper article on this seriously stupid idea.

As Europe debates whether to apply a tax on financial transactions, a former Swedish finance minister says Sweden's experience in the 1980s was so negative it repealed the tax as plunging trading volumes led to disappointing tax revenues.

"The Swedish experiences were negative, both from the point of view of the state's finances and from a general socioeconomic perspective," former finance minister Bo Lundgren, 64, told AFP.
In 1984, the
Social Democratic government introduced a tax of 0.5 percent on each purchase or sale of shares (a level that was doubled two years later) and 1.0 percent on options. The tax on bonds varied depending on the maturity, ranging from 0.03 to 0.001 percent.
The tax was levied on brokerage services.
The Swedish government later introduced a tax on currency transactions in 1989.
But the consequences of both taxes were considered so harmful to the markets that they were soon abolished: the one on currency transactions was removed after just 16 months, in 1990, and the other was removed after eight years, in 1991.
Lundgren, who had the tax on shares, options and bonds abolished when he was finance minister in a centre-right government, told AFP the effects of the currency transaction tax "were so dramatically negative that all currency trading basically moved from Stockholm to London, so the Social Democratic government (in power at the time) abolished the tax."
Meanwhile, the tax on shares, bonds and options "led to share trading moving abroad but the effects were not as dramatic as the currency transaction tax."
"The year we abolished it, in 1991, the tax revenue amounted to around three billion kronor", or about 375 million euros ($476 million) in today's currency.
"But on the other hand the tax had reduced share trades so much that once it was abolished, trading increased and that in turn led to an increase in brokerage fees which led to an increase in corporate tax (revenues) and other tax (revenues) increased."
"When the tax was abolished we estimated that there was no loss (of revenue) involved, because it led to such a sharp increase in trading."
In his proposal to parliament repealing the tax on shares, options and bonds, Lundgren said at the time that "activity on the Swedish stock market has decreased sharply in recent years which has resulted in a series of disadvantages for Swedish industry."
"The tax on shares and other securities has contributed to this development," he said.
He said Swedish companies suffered from reduced liquidity on the stock market and had a harder time raising risk capital.
Lundgren, who is now the head of Sweden's National Debt Office, and Sweden's current Finance Minister
Anders Borg -- both members of the conservative Moderate party -- have voiced opposition to the European Commission's proposal to tax financial transactions.
The Commission in September proposed a tax of 0.1 percent on stock and bond transactions and 0.01 percent on derivatives, aimed at pulling in up to 55 billion euros ($70.4 billion) annually.
France and Germany are in favour of the tax and have said the 17-member eurozone could adopt it on its own, while non-euro member Britain is fiercely opposed to it amid fears it could prove devastating to its global financial hub, the City of London.
Paris has gone so far as to say it could begin introducing the tax on its own if a broader agreement is not reached.

But the best part was from France. They are all gung ho about implementing this tax. So what are they going to do? They will impose this tax on shares and derivatives. oh! really? why not on bonds? Of course not, no question of levying a tax on bonds as you see, they have to sell bonds. They cannot conceivable have a tax on sovereign bonds as it will raise the cost for them, see? So as long as others pay the tax, its fine, but if its a question of the state paying the tax, god, its bad then.

Good lord, the hypocrisy is mindboggling and nose wrinkling smelly.

Friday, January 27

Now there’s courage for you

Michael O’Leary, the boss of a low cost airline in Ireland says what he thinks. That its basically the state in the form of politicians and bureaucrats who are the enemies of innovation. The sheer irony that the European Commission had to setup a conference to talk about innovation. The stupidity of these morons is breath taking, which is why I don't have much hope for Europe, its currency or its future. Its a shitehole.

Guess what? He is the CEO of Ryanair, but the EU cannot pay for low cost air fares. And this is why I am paying my taxes for? WTF?


Watch the entire thing, see why these dinosaurs of the European Commission are extinct, moron and stupid. That is a good thing, but the only problem is that they will end up spending a wodge of my hard earned cash.

Thursday, January 26

Another bookstore bites the dust–this time in SAfrica

Thanks to John for this link. What a sad state of affairs.

South Africa may have produced two Nobel laureates in literature but a famous bookshop in Johannesburg is nevertheless about to close, a victim of the country's poor reading culture.

The Boekehuis, whose Afrikaans name means "book house", is in an old four-bedroom house a stone's throw from the city's two main universities.

Its waxed parquet floors, moulded ceilings, garden and coffee shop became the book-lover's refuge. The shop's literary events where readers could interact with writers were especially popular.

"This is like a house, not only a bookshop. People come here to buy books, but not only. They come for the ambiance, to have a nice time. And especially for the talks," says shop manager Corina van der Spoel.

Boekehuis which opened in 2000 has been widely portrayed as independent, but it is in fact owned by Media24, the country's largest media company.

The giant multimedia group, which owns most of the country's magazines and major newspaper titles, announced in December that the Boekehuis would be closing its doors at the end of January.

Leading figures such as award-winning author Andre Brink, photographer David Goldblatt and internationally acclaimed painter William Kentridge were among those who signed a petition to try to get Media24 to change its mind.

But their arguments have failed to sway the executives at Media24: the store has recorded annual losses of around a million rand ($120,000).

"Various possible solutions, such as finding a buyer for it, were pursued without success," the company explained in a statement.

"No interested buyers could be found."

National figures on readership — and literacy — help explain the problem.

"Only about one percent of the population buy books," says Elitha van der Sandt, head of the South African Book Development Council (SABDC).

And although the country can boast Nobel prize-winning authors such as Nadine Gordimer (1991) and J.M. Coetzee (2003), their works are mostly read abroad.

Professionals and researchers give several reasons for the nation's lack of a reading culture: one problem is the price of books.

The cheapest start at 120 rands ($14, 11 euros) — a high price in a country where most of the 50 million people earn around 2,000 to 3,000 rands a month.

"While a few books sell very well, most books will sell only a thousand or so copies," says Beth le Roux of the University of Pretoria, a specialist in the publishing industry.

"This means that publishers have small print runs, which also keeps the costs (and the prices) high." A sales tax rate of 14 percent and transport costs for imported books only add to the problem, she adds.

"To make it onto the bestseller list, you only need to sell a few thousand copies of a book here."

Le Roux estimates the book industry's turnover at 3.5 billion rands ($420 million, 320 million euro): but two thirds of that are made up of school and university textbooks.

Another 20 percent comes from religious books, which does not leave much of a niche for general literature.

A more fundamental problem however, is illiteracy.

In South Africa 18 percent of adults over the age of 15 are unable to read, and many of those who can read still struggle.

These depressing statistics are a legacy of the apartheid system, which gave lower quality schooling to the non-white population.

But even among white South Africans, the reading culture is limited.

Many of them are descendants of Protestants who have no tradition of diverse reading beyond the Bible.

Or as one bookseller quipped: "It wasn't just the intellectuals who left Europe!"

Stationery shops in the countryside sell a few romance novels, biographies of European royalty, thrillers and sports books. And there is no shortage of religious bookshops.

South Africa's main cities offer a few bookshops selling a broader range of literature: mostly branches of Exclusive Books, the largest chain in South Africa.

Increasingly however, many book enthusiasts are turning to the Internet to get what they need, even if for years, the Boekehuis was seen as an exception to that trend, partly because of the literary events it hosted.

Just a few kilometers down the road meanwhile, the local branch of Exclusive Books is also struggling. The chain, which belongs to a rival media group, just reduced the floor space of its biggest shop.

Wednesday, January 25

Poverty in the USA

Dear Son,

We aren't poor. Actually, we are quite well off compared to earnings in the UK and much better off when you consider global incomes. But that wasnt always the case, when I was growing up, we were fairly poor and Dadu was even poorer, they came over from Bangladesh with literally the clothes on their back. I have done fairly well for a dirt poor and starving refugee's son, Dadu and Didu made sure that we were educated and fed and clothed as best as they could and its my duty to ensure that we do the best for you.

But never ever never assume that being rich or well off is given or you can take it for granted, son. I know you will do better than me and you will be much richer. But that doesnt mean that you dont take care of the possibility that you can become poor. This article below shows what happens to people who are poor in a rich country like USA. And you have to make sure you avoid this state, son. Being poor is soul destroying. It destroys your confidence, it destroys your love, your live, your family. It eats away inside you. As the quote goes, when poverty arrives at the door, love leaves by the window.
There are few ways you can do this.

1. Learn to save, mamma ensures that we save a shed load of our earnings. You should aim to save up to 1/3 of your earnings, that's the best possible target. If you can achieve this, then you will have the comfort that you have a backup pot of money, you have some dosh if any emergency comes up. I didnt save despite hearing entreaties from Dadu and even from your mamma, but I am now a convert. But we lost quite a lot of years. Still, better late than never son. But you can learn from my mistake, I know you are already saving and investing, that is good, keep doing it.

2. Always have a technical ability or skill son. It could be repairing cars, or planting or coding or welding, something technical. What do I mean by technical? I mean technical as in a skill for which somebody will pay you money even when you have become a manager or an entrepreneur. The skill depends upon what you like, but once you have this skill, then you will know that if your primary earning profession fails for whatever reason, you can always fall back on the skill. That is why i was asking you to understand coding. Ask yourself this question, if you do not have a job in your primary profession, how are you going to ensure that you get a regular source of income? And do NOT rely on benefits, that's not enough and as you can read below, you will be treated like shit if you have to go into welfare. I can think of alternative technical skills such as in the charity sector, writing articles, photography, project management, coding, academics, so make sure you are protected, son.

3. Never get too far away from poor people, son. The arrogance of the rich frequently means that they get disconnected from society and then the fall is bigger and faster. One of the richest men in the world, the Nizam of Hyderabad, had a poor room, where he would go and stay once a week or so. Wear cheap clothing and stuff. Just so that he would recognise and know that he can revert to poverty and to know his subjects. It could well be a myth, but that's one good thing to learn and follow. Be in touch with the poor people, try to help them, understand their pain. One of the things we do in the charities that we support is to help very poor people and being with them makes me know and appreciate what they are going through.

4. Reduce your spending, learn to do with less. I know, I spend a shed load but that's not good. There are so many things you can do which doesnt require money, every £ you save means that you have more savings. Plus you can retire earlier and use the money for a variety of purposes. This will also assist you in your savings. One quick way of doing this is to stop and ask yourself, do you really need it? Another way is to marry somebody like Mamma.

Well, hope this helps son,

in any case, read this article, its very interesting.



Tomgram: Barbara Ehrenreich, On Americans (Not) Getting By (Again) | TomDispatch

Tomgram: Barbara Ehrenreich, On Americans (Not) Getting By (Again)
Posted by
Barbara Ehrenreich at 7:05am, August 9, 2011.

It was at lunch with the editor of Harper’s Magazine that the subject came up: How does anyone actually live “on the wages available to the unskilled”?  And then Barbara Ehrenreich said something that altered her life and resulted, improbably enough, in a bestselling book with almost two million copies in print.  “Someone,” she commented, “ought to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism — you know go out there and try it for themselves.”  She meant, she hastened to point out on that book’s first page, “someone much younger than myself, some hungry neophyte journalist with time on her hands.”

That was 1998 and, somewhat to her surprise, Ehrenreich soon found herself beginning the first of a whirl of unskilled “careers” as a waitress at a “family restaurant” attached to a big discount chain hotel in Key West, Florida, at $2.43 an hour plus tips.  And the rest, of course, is history.  The now famous book that resulted, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, is just out in its tenth anniversary edition with a new afterword by Ehrenreich — perfectly timed for an American era in which the book’s subtitle might have to be changed to “On (Not) Getting a Job in America.”  TomDispatch takes special pride in offering Ehrenreich’s new afterword, adapted and shortened, for a book that, in its latest edition, deserves to sell another million copies.  Tom

Nickel and Dimed (2011 Version)
On Turning Poverty into an American Crime

Barbara Ehrenreich

I completed the manuscript for Nickel and Dimed in a time of seemingly boundless prosperity. Technology innovators and venture capitalists were acquiring sudden fortunes, buying up McMansions like the ones I had cleaned in Maine and much larger. Even secretaries in some hi-tech firms were striking it rich with their stock options. There was loose talk about a permanent conquest of the business cycle, and a sassy new spirit infecting American capitalism. In San Francisco, a billboard for an e-trading firm proclaimed, “Make love not war,” and then — down at the bottom — “Screw it, just make money.”

When Nickel and Dimed was published in May 2001, cracks were appearing in the dot-com bubble and the stock market had begun to falter, but the book still evidently came as a surprise, even a revelation, to many. Again and again, in that first year or two after publication, people came up to me and opened with the words, “I never thought…” or “I hadn’t realized…”

To my own amazement, Nickel and Dimed quickly ascended to the bestseller list and began winning awards. Criticisms, too, have accumulated over the years. But for the most part, the book has been far better received than I could have imagined it would be, with an impact extending well into the more comfortable classes. A Florida woman wrote to tell me that, before reading it, she’d always been annoyed at the poor for what she saw as their self-inflicted obesity. Now she understood that a healthy diet wasn’t always an option.  And if I had a quarter for every person who’s told me he or she now tipped more generously, I would be able to start my own foundation.

Even more gratifying to me, the book has been widely read among low-wage workers. In the last few years, hundreds of people have written to tell me their stories: the mother of a newborn infant whose electricity had just been turned off, the woman who had just been given a diagnosis of cancer and has no health insurance, the newly homeless man who writes from a library computer.

At the time I wrote Nickel and Dimed, I wasn’t sure how many people it directly applied to — only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty. But three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., issued a report entitled “Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families,” which found an astounding 29% of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a barebones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes — though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts. Twenty-nine percent is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.

The big question, 10 years later, is whether things have improved or worsened for those in the bottom third of the income distribution, the people who clean hotel rooms, work in warehouses, wash dishes in restaurants, care for the very young and very old, and keep the shelves stocked in our stores. The short answer is that things have gotten much worse, especially since the economic downturn that began in 2008.

Post-Meltdown Poverty

When you read about the hardships I found people enduring while I was researching my book — the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans — you should bear in mind that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful.

In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street. Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed“experiment,” had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job.

For the last couple of years, I have attempted to find out what was happening to the working poor in a declining economy — this time using conventional reporting techniques like interviewing. I started with my own extended family, which includes plenty of people without jobs or health insurance, and moved on to trying to track down a couple of the people I had met while working on Nickel and Dimed.

This wasn’t easy, because most of the addresses and phone numbers I had taken away with me had proved to be inoperative within a few months, probably due to moves and suspensions of telephone service. I had kept in touch with “Melissa” over the years, who was still working at Wal-Mart, where her wages had risen from $7 to $10 an hour, but in the meantime her husband had lost his job. “Caroline,” now in her 50s and partly disabled by diabetes and heart disease, had left her deadbeat husband and was subsisting on occasional cleaning and catering jobs. Neither seemed unduly afflicted by the recession, but only because they had already been living in what amounts to a permanent economic depression.

Media attention has focused, understandably enough, on the “nouveau poor” — formerly middle and even upper-middle class people who lost their jobs, their homes, and/or their investments in the financial crisis of 2008 and the economic downturn that followed it, but the brunt of the recession has been borne by the blue-collar working class, which had already been sliding downwards since de-industrialization began in the 1980s.

In 2008 and 2009, for example, blue-collar unemployment was increasing three times as fast as white-collar unemployment, and African American and Latino workers were three times as likely to be unemployed as white workers. Low-wage blue-collar workers, like the people I worked with in this book, were especially hard hit for the simple reason that they had so few assets and savings to fall back on as jobs disappeared.

How have the already-poor attempted to cope with their worsening economic situation? One obvious way is to cut back on health care. The New York Times reported in 2009 that one-third of Americans could no longer afford to comply with their prescriptions and that there had been a sizable drop in the use of medical care. Others, including members of my extended family, have given up their health insurance.

Food is another expenditure that has proved vulnerable to hard times, with the rural poor turning increasingly to “food auctions,” which offer items that may be past their sell-by dates. And for those who like their meat fresh, there’s the option of urban hunting. In Racine, Wisconsin, a 51-year-old laid-off mechanic told me he was supplementing his diet by “shooting squirrels and rabbits and eating them stewed, baked, and grilled.” In Detroit, where the wildlife population has mounted as the human population ebbs, a retired truck driver was doing a brisk business in raccoon carcasses, which he recommends marinating with vinegar and spices.

The most common coping strategy, though, is simply to increase the number of paying people per square foot of dwelling space — by doubling up or renting to couch-surfers.

It’s hard to get firm numbers on overcrowding, because no one likes to acknowledge it to census-takers, journalists, or anyone else who might be remotely connected to the authorities.

In Los Angeles, housing expert Peter Dreier says that “people who’ve lost their jobs, or at least their second jobs, cope by doubling or tripling up in overcrowded apartments, or by paying 50 or 60 or even 70 percent of their incomes in rent.” According to a community organizer in Alexandria, Virginia, the standard apartment in a complex occupied largely by day laborers has two bedrooms, each containing an entire family of up to five people, plus an additional person laying claim to the couch.

No one could call suicide a “coping strategy,” but it is one way some people have responded to job loss and debt. There are no national statistics linking suicide to economic hard times, but the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported more than a four-fold increase in call volume between 2007 and 2009, and regions with particularly high unemployment, like Elkhart, Indiana, have seen troubling spikes in their suicide rates. Foreclosure is often the trigger for suicide — or, worse, murder-suicides that destroy entire families.

“Torture and Abuse of Needy Families”

We do of course have a collective way of ameliorating the hardships of individuals and families — a government safety net that is meant to save the poor from spiraling down all the way to destitution. But its response to the economic emergency of the last few years has been spotty at best. The food stamp program has responded to the crisis fairly well, to the point where it now reaches about 37 million people, up about 30% from pre-recession levels. But welfare — the traditional last resort for the down-and-out until it was “reformed” in 1996 — only expanded by about 6% in the first two years of the recession.

The difference between the two programs? There is a right to food stamps. You go to the office and, if you meet the statutory definition of need, they help you. For welfare, the street-level bureaucrats can, pretty much at their own discretion, just say no.

Take the case of Kristen and Joe Parente, Delaware residents who had always imagined that people turned to the government for help only if “they didn’t want to work.” Their troubles began well before the recession, when Joe, a fourth-generation pipe-fitter, sustained a back injury that left him unfit for even light lifting. He fell into a profound depression for several months, then rallied to ace a state-sponsored retraining course in computer repairs — only to find that those skills are no longer in demand. The obvious fallback was disability benefits, but — catch-22 — when Joe applied he was told he could not qualify without presenting a recent MRI scan. This would cost $800 to $900, which the Parentes do not have; nor has Joe, unlike the rest of the family, been able to qualify for Medicaid.

When they married as teenagers, the plan had been for Kristen to stay home with the children. But with Joe out of action and three children to support by the middle of this decade, Kristen went out and got waitressing jobs, ending up, in 2008, in a “pretty fancy place on the water.” Then the recession struck and she was laid off.

Kristen is bright, pretty, and to judge from her command of her own small kitchen, probably capable of holding down a dozen tables with precision and grace. In the past she’d always been able to land a new job within days; now there was nothing. Like 44% of laid-off people at the time, she failed to meet the fiendishly complex and sometimes arbitrary eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. Their car started falling apart.

So the Parentes turned to what remains of welfare — TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. TANF does not offer straightforward cash support like Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which it replaced in 1996. It’s an income supplementation program for working parents, and it was based on the sunny assumption that there would always be plenty of jobs for those enterprising enough to get them.

After Kristen applied, nothing happened for six weeks — no money, no phone calls returned. At school, the Parentes’ seven-year-old’s class was asked to write out what wish they would present to a genie, should a genie appear. Brianna’s wish was for her mother to find a job because there was nothing to eat in the house, an aspiration that her teacher deemed too disturbing to be posted on the wall with the other children’s requests.

When the Parentes finally got into “the system” and began receiving food stamps and some cash assistance, they discovered why some recipients have taken to calling TANF “Torture and Abuse of Needy Families.” From the start, the TANF experience was “humiliating,” Kristen says. The caseworkers “treat you like a bum. They act like every dollar you get is coming out of their own paychecks.”

The Parentes discovered that they were each expected to apply for 40 jobs a week, although their car was on its last legs and no money was offered for gas, tolls, or babysitting. In addition, Kristen had to drive 35 miles a day to attend “job readiness” classes offered by a private company called Arbor, which, she says, were “frankly a joke.”

Nationally, according to Kaaryn Gustafson of the University of Connecticut Law School, “applying for welfare is a lot like being booked by the police.”  There may be a mug shot, fingerprinting, and lengthy interrogations as to one’s children’s true paternity. The ostensible goal is to prevent welfare fraud, but the psychological impact is to turn poverty itself into a kind of crime.

How the Safety Net Became a Dragnet

The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalized in America.

Perhaps the constant suspicions of drug use and theft that I encountered in low-wage workplaces should have alerted me to the fact that, when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation.

Most cities, for example, have ordinances designed to drive the destitute off the streets by outlawing such necessary activities of daily life as sitting, loitering, sleeping, or lying down. Urban officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about such laws: “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a St. Petersburg, Florida, city attorney stated in June 2009, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges…”

In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty. So concludes a recent study from the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the harassment of the poor for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering, or carrying an open container.

The report lists America’s ten “meanest” cities — the largest of which include Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Orlando — but new contestants are springing up every day. In Colorado, Grand Junction’s city council is considering a ban on begging; Tempe, Arizona, carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent at the end of June. And how do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, “an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.

That could be me before the blow-drying and eyeliner, and it’s definitely Al Szekeley at any time of day. A grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington, D.C. — the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Phu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972.

He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until December 2008, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants. It turned out that Szekeley, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs, or cuss in front of ladies, did indeed have one — for “criminal trespassing,” as sleeping on the streets is sometimes defined by the law. So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail.

“Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Szekeley. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelterfor being homeless?”

The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, leading to the arrests of several middle-aged white vegans.

One anti-sharing law was just overturned in Orlando, but the war on illicit generosity continues. Orlando is appealing the decision, and Middletown, Connecticut, is in the midst of a crackdown. More recently, Gainesville, Florida, began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day, and Phoenix, Arizona, has been using zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to homeless people.

For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalization, and one is debt. Anyone can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors’ prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can’t pay fines for things like expired inspection stickers may be made to “sit out their tickets” in jail.

More commonly, the path to prison begins when one of your creditors has a court summons issued for you, which you fail to honor for one reason or another, such as that your address has changed and you never received it. Okay, now you’re in “contempt of the court.”

Or suppose you miss a payment and your car insurance lapses, and then you’re stopped for something like a broken headlight (about $130 for the bulb alone). Now, depending on the state, you may have your car impounded and/or face a steep fine — again, exposing you to a possible court summons. “There’s just no end to it once the cycle starts,” says Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. “It just keeps accelerating.”

The second — and by far the most reliable — way to be criminalized by poverty is to have the wrong color skin. Indignation runs high when a celebrity professor succumbs to racial profiling, but whole communities are effectively “profiled” for the suspicious combination of being both dark-skinned and poor. Flick a cigarette and you’re “littering”; wear the wrong color T-shirt and you’re displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighborhood can mark you as a potential suspect. And don’t get grumpy about it or you could be “resisting arrest.”

In what has become a familiar pattern, the government defunds services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement.  Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Generate no public-sector jobs, then penalize people for falling into debt. The experience of the poor, and especially poor people of color, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks. And if you should try to escape this nightmare reality into a brief, drug-induced high, it’s “gotcha” all over again, because that of course is illegal too.

One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in the world.  Today, exactly the same number of Americans — 2.3 million — reside in prison as in public housing. And what public housing remains has become ever more prison-like, with random police sweeps and, in a growing number of cities, proposed drug tests for residents. The safety net, or what remains of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.

It is not clear whether economic hard times will finally force us to break the mad cycle of poverty and punishment. With even the official level of poverty increasing — to over 14% in 2010 — some states are beginning to ease up on the criminalization of poverty, using alternative sentencing methods, shortening probation, and reducing the number of people locked up for technical violations like missing court appointments. But others, diabolically enough, are tightening the screws: not only increasing the number of “crimes,” but charging prisoners for their room and board, guaranteeing they’ll be released with potentially criminalizing levels of debt.

So what is the solution to the poverty of so many of America’s working people? Ten years ago, when Nickel and Dimed first came out, I often responded with the standard liberal wish list — a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation, and all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.

Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: if we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.

Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets. Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can’t afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty — though I would argue otherwise. But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of a number of books, most recently Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. This essay is a shortened version of a new afterword to her bestselling book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, 10th Anniversary Edition, just released by Picador Books.

Excerpted from Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, 10th Anniversary Edition, published August 2nd by Picador USA. New afterword © 2011 by Barbara Ehrenreich. Excerpted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, January 24

Indians are incapable of History

While reading this research paper, I was constantly struck by the impact that colonialism has had on the historical development in the world. Whether we are talking about European Colonialism or Islamic Colonialism or American Colonialism or what have you, how you view history is dependent upon what colonisation you were faced with.

Some nations take up the colonisers ideology whole heartedly (look at the countries who have become Christian or Muslim due to the spread of that religion, or the Norman colonisation of UK, or the European colonisation of USA and and and) while some fight back.

Some sentences in the research paper made me think. I quote:

Ever since G.W.F. Hegel, Orientalist scholars had considered Indians to be incapable of history. India’s lack of historical consciousness,they reasoned, was a direct consequence of spiritual excesses. Indeed, the absence of historical consciousness could be directly attributed to the priestly caste’s need to control and to impose their religion on their naïve followers. As Theodore Goldstücker wrote in 1864, “When, by priestcraft and ignorance, a nation has lost itself so far as to look upon writings like these as divinely inspired, there is but one conclusion to be drawn: it has arrived at the turning-point of its destinies. Hinduism stands at this point…” (73). But all was not lost. “The causes of the gradual degeneracy of Hinduism,” Goldstücker reasoned, were no “different from those to which other religions are subject, when allowed to grow in the dark” (74). “In Europe, religious depravity received its check when the art of printing allowed the light of publicity to enter into the book whence her nations derive their faith” (74). So, too, “no other means” was capable of imposing a “check” on it “in India than the admission of the masses to that original book which is always on their lips, but which now is the monopoly of the infinitesimal fraction of the Brahminical caste able to understand its sense” (74).

As I said, perhaps its this excess of spirituality made India resist the colonisation of external parties, whether the religious kinds (Islam, Christianity) or the temporal kinds (British, French, Turkic)?

Besides this, the links between the silly Aryan Invasion theory and National Socialism hasn't really been explored in the public arena for the common man (Is this the reason behind the fascination Indians have for Mein Kampf?). There are some fascinating links between what Subash Chandra Bose did with the Nazi’s (he was a bit of a fascist himself), the linguistic arguments (Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit etc. are considered to be part of the Indo European Linguistic family)

Other than that, the article was discussing the German Indological academic framework and history. Might be a bit esoteric for most, but then academic debates are like that. I end with a quote:

“ACADEMIC politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” This observation is routinely attributed to former Harvard professor Henry Kissinger. Well before Kissinger got credit for that thought in the mid-1970s, however, Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt told a reporter, “Academic politics is much more vicious than real politics. We think it’s because the stakes are so small.” Others believe this quip originated with political scientist Wallace Sayre, Neustadt’s onetime colleague at Columbia University. A 1973 book gave as “Sayre’s Law,” “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue—that is why academic politics are so bitter.” Sayre’s colleague and coauthor Herbert Kaufman said his usual wording was “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.” In his 1979 book Peter’s People, Laurence Peter wrote, “Competition in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small.” He called this “Peter’s Theory of Entrepreneurial Aggressiveness in Higher Education.” Variations on that thought have also been attributed to scientist-author C. P. Snow, professor-politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and politician Jesse Unruh (among others). According to the onetime editor of Woodrow Wilson’s papers, however, long before any of them strode the academic-political scene, Wilson observed often that the intensity of academic squabbles he witnessed while president of Princeton University was a function of the “triviality” of the issues being considered.

Monday, January 23

Plant a tree to reduce crime

Now there’s a great idea.

The authors estimate the relationship between trees and three crime aggregates (all crime, violent crime, and property crime) and two individual crimes (burglary and vandalism) in Portland, Oregon. During the study period (2005-2007), 431 crimes were reported at the 2,813 single-family homes in our sample. In general, the authors find that trees in the public right of way are associated with lower crime rates. The relationship between crime and trees on a house’s lot is mixed. Smaller, view-obstructing trees are associated with increased crime, whereas larger trees are associated with reduced crime. The authors speculate that trees may reduce crime by signaling to potential criminals that a house is better cared for and, therefore, subject to more effective authority than a comparable house with fewer trees.

Source: "The Effect of Trees on Crime in Portland, Oregon" from Environment and Behavior

We need to plant more trees

Sunday, January 22

5047 Janitors in the USA with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees.


I quote:

Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.