Poison Pill Politics l Charles Blow NYT

OP-ED COLUMNIST

Poison Pill Politics

The deadline has passed. The sequester is in effect. And Congress is not in session.

By CHARLES M. BLOW
Published: March 1, 2013

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Charles M. Blow

We now know that our political system is broken beyond anything even remotely resembling a functional government.

The ridiculous bill was designed as a poison pill, but Republicans popped it like a Pez. Now the body politic — weak with battle fatigue, jerked from crisis to crisis and struggling to recover from a recession — has to wait to see how severe the damage will be.

(The director of the Congressional Budget Office estimatesthat the sequester could cost 750,000 jobs in 2013 alone.)

This is all because Republicans have refused to even consider new revenue as part of a deal. That includes revenue from closing tax loopholes, a move they supposedly support.

As Speaker John Boehner said after his Congressional leaders met with President Obama on Friday:

“Let’s make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over.”

Boehner’s intransigence during the talks drew “cheers,” according to a report in The New York Times, from his chronically intransigent colleagues. But their position is a twist of the truth that is coming dangerously close to becoming accepted wisdom by sheer volume of repetition. It must be battled back every time it is uttered.

Let’s make this clear: it is wrong to characterize the American Taxpayer Relief Act as a “tax hike.” In reality, much of what it did was allow 18 percent of the Bush tax cuts — mostly those affecting the wealthiest Americans — to expire while permanently locking in a whopping 82 percent of them.

But of course, that misrepresentation fit with the tired trope of Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals. It also completely ignores that it was Bush-era spending that dug the ditch we’re in.

Republicans have defined their position, regardless of how reckless: austerity or bust. However, as economists have warned, austerity generally precedes — and, in fact, can cause — bust. Just look at Europe.

But Republicans are so dizzy over the deficits and delighted to lick the boots of billionaires that they cannot — or will not — see it. They are still trying to sell cut-to-grow snake oil: cut spending and cut taxes, and the economy will grow because rich people will be happy, and when rich people are happy they hire poor people, and then everyone’s happy.

This is the vacuous talk of politicians trying to placate people with vacation homes, not a sensible solution for people trying to purchase, or simply retain, their first homes.

Now the president is trying to make the best of a bad situation and bring expectations in line with what is likely to happen.

When Gallup this week asked Americans to use one word to describe the sequester, negative words outnumbered good words four to one. The top three negative words or phrases were “bad,” “disaster” and “God help us.”

At a news conference after Friday’s meeting with Congressional leaders, the president tried to tamp down some of the most dire predictions about the sequester’s impact. He said:

“What’s important to understand is that not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. The pain, though, will be real.”

The president knows well that if the sequester’s effects are so diffused that the public — whose attention span is as narrow as a cat’s hair — doesn’t connect them to their source, people might think the administration cried wolf.

That’s why he said, and will most likely continue to say for months, “So every time that we get a piece of economic news over the next month, next two months, next six months, as long as the sequester’s in place we’ll know that that economic news could have been better if Congress had not failed to act.”

He must yoke this pain to the people who invited it. It’s not as though most Americans don’t already think poorly of Republicans anyway.

Pew Research Center report released this week found that most Americans think the Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, is out of touch with the American people and too extreme. And most Americans did not see Republicans as open to change or looking out for the country’s future as much as Democrats.

The president said Friday that “there is a caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill” that includes Congressional Republicans who “privately at least” were willing to close loopholes to prevent the sequester.

Those privately reasonable Republicans might want to be more public before their party goes over another cliff and takes the country with them.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me atchblow@nytimes.com.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 2, 2013, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Poison Pill Politics.
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Economic Mobility For African Americans May Be A Myth l Pew Report Finding

Economic Mobility For African Americans May Be A Myth, Pew Report Shows

The Huffington Post  |  By  Posted: 07/17/2012

Economic Mobility

The fine line between the American Dream and the African-American Dream is becoming more distinct, according to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit research organization.

The survey of economic mobility across generations compared the income and wealth of Americans with that of their parents at the same age, and it offered a promising outlook for most Americans — 84 percent to be exact — who were shown to have higher incomes than their parents, when adjusted for inflation.

African Americans, however, haven’t had the same success, with just 23 percent of blacks raised in the middle class surpassing their parents’ family wealth, compared to 56 percent of whites.

The study’s project manager, Erin Currier, said the results aren’t far off from what a simliar 2008 survey found. “With this newest update to the data, we can see that not much has changed with a few more years of data added in,” Currier told The Huffington Post. “Specifically, African Americans are much more likely than whites to be stuck at the bottom of the income ladder over a generation, and also at the bottom of the wealth ladder,” she said. They’re also more likely to fall from the middle.

Currier and her team analyzed income data over five years from the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a nationally representative sample of more than 18,000 individuals living in 5,000 families in the United States. During the years they chose — 1967, ’68, ’69, ’70 and ’71 for the parents; 2000, ’02, ’04, ’06 and ’08 for their kids — both groups were at a common age (in their early to mid 40s) and at similar positions of marriage, income parity and post-secondary education, Currier said.

“It is the case that African-American families manage to get to the middle class and they have some sense of economic security, but their ability to pass that on to their kids is not as high as the white families,” she said.

And while this particular study didn’t delve into specific reasons for this gap, Currier pointed to previous research showing the impact neighborhood poverty has had on maintaining wealth disparities over time. “Two thirds of African-American children born between 1985 and 2000 are being raised in high poverty neighborhoods,” compared to just six percent of white children, Currier noted, proportions that haven’t shifted much over the last 30 years. “It isn’t the case that two thirds of African-American families are poor, but a lot of even middle-class African-American families are living in high poverty neighborhoods and research shows that, that environment in childhood increases a person’s chance of downward mobility by 52 percent,” she added.

A study published in May by the National Bureau of Economic Research may have hinted at one of the barriers to moving out of those poverty-stricken neighborhoods, revealing that black and Hispanic homebuyers pay as much as 3 percent more for their homes, regardless of their income, wealth or credit profiles.

Pew research has also examined the roles that marital status andincarceration have played in the black-white economic mobility gap in recent years. Meanwhile, others have looked at the roles of higher education and even differences by region. (Those with a college degree and those who live in the Northeast U.S. have a higher chance of moving up, researchers say.)

Since 2006, Currier and her team have set out to examine the health and status of the American Dream, which she says is more than a cliche, but rather a part of our national fabric based on the notion that your children can do better than you did.

“Our research shows a pretty mixed view of the degree to which that’s true,” she said. “On one hand, there has been significant economic growth over the last generation, [wealth that] has been broadly, equally shared. But at the same time, we see some lack of movement on the ladder as a whole.” So even though Gen Xers may have greater incomes than their parents did within a certain income bracket, they may not make enough to move to the next bracket up, Currier explained.

That finding contradicts what is said to be the crux of the American Dream, that all Americans have equality of opportunity regardless of their economic status at birth.

“A defining factor of the American dream is that a person’s family background or income has no bearing on where he or she ends up, but the study shows otherwise,” Currier said in an interview with the Poughkeepsie Journal.

NEW IASP STUDY OFFERS NEW UNDERSTANDING OF FACTORS DRIVING RACIAL WEALTH GAP l THE HELLER SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL POLICY AND MANAGEMENT

 

The Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) develops strategies, processes, and policy alternatives that enable vulnerable populations to build resources and access opportunities to live securely and participate fully in all aspects of social and economic life.

NEW IASP STUDY OFFERS NEW UNDERSTANDING OF FACTORS DRIVING RACIAL WEALTH GAP 

The dramatic gap in household wealth that now exists along racial lines in the United States cannot be attributed to personal ambition and behavioral choices, but rather reflects policies and institutional practices that create different opportunities for whites and African-Americans, new research shows.

So powerful are these government policies and institutional practices that for typical families, a $1 increase in average income over the 25-year study period generates just $0.69 in additional wealth for an African-American household compared with $5.19 for a white household, in part because black households have  fewer opportunities to grow their savings beyond what’s needed for emergencies.

This groundbreaking study, The Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap: Explaining the Black-White Economic Divide, statistically validates five “fundamental factors” that together largely explain why white households accumulate wealth so much faster over time than African-American households.

On February 27, 2013 there was a webinar hosted by the Insight Center’s Closing the Racial Wealth Gap InitiativePolicyLink, and Tom Shapiro, Director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.  This webinar presented breakthrough research on what has been fueling our country’s growing racial wealth divide for the past 25 years.  Click here to listen to the playback.

As America continues to become more diverse, the nation’s ability to achieve sustained growth and prosperity hinges on how quickly we can erase lingering racial and class divides and fully apply everyone’s talents and creativity to building the next economy.

Featured Projects

IASP Partners with Compass Working Capital’s Financial Stability and Savings Program

Compass Working Capital, a small innovative CBO, was selected for funding by Strategic Grant Partners, Boston, MA, to implement an experimental asset-building approach to the HUD Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program for recipients of housing vouchers in Lynn, MA. IASP is developing and implementing the process and outcome evaluations and the preliminary cost/benefit analysis for this pilot FSS program. The multi-year evaluation focuses on how families use this opportunity to move toward economic stability, positive impacts sustained after program graduation, and the cost-effectiveness of taking the program to scale.

Senior Economic Security

Image of elderly woman

IASP examines the long-term economic stability and risk of senior citizens. The “Living Longer on Less” series, released in collaboration with Dēmos, includes:

Rising Economic Insecurity among Senior Single Women, October 2011 •  This most recent report in the series reveals that nearly half (47%) of all senior single women in America do not have adequate retirement resources to meet even their most basic needs for the remainder of their lives, and this number is rising.

The Crisis of Economic Insecurity for African-American and Latino Seniors, September 2011 •  This report reveals crisis levels of economic insecurity among current African-American and Latino seniors—52% of African-American and 56% of Latino seniors do not have adequate retirement resources to meet their basic needs throughout their expected life-spans. Driven by extremely low levels of asset wealth and high housing costs, most seniors of color are struggling financially during their elder years.

From Bad to Worse: Senior Economic Insecurity on the Rise, July 2011   The first in a series of four research briefs, this report shows a troublesome trend of increased economic insecurity among senior households in just four years (2004-2008). Economic insecurity among seniors increased by one-third during this period, from 27% to 36%.

Previous reports in the “Living Longer on Less” series include:

How the media tried to assassinate Chris Dorner Claims of ‘mental illness’ are in the mind of the beholder l Thandisizwe Chimurenga

How the media tried to assassinate Chris Dorner Claims of ‘mental illness’ are in the mind of the beholder

Published on Thursday, 21 February 2013 15:55

 Thandisizwe Chimurenga

LAWatts Time  Contributing Writer

 

 

Christopher Jordan Dorner is dead but his words and actions will continue to impact the Los Angeles area and beyond for quite some time. The former U.S. Navy lieutenant and Los Angeles police officer who is alleged to have shot and killed four people earlier this month was the subject of the largest manhunt in Southern California history.  Authorities say that manhunt ended on Feb. 12 with Dorner, surrounded by law enforcement in a cabin in the Big Bear area of San Bernadino, committing suicide as highly flammable tear gas canisters ignited the cabin and burned it to the ground.

Dorner’s ‘manifesto’, in which he declared war on the Los Angeles Police Department and his subsequent actions were horrifying to many.  In an effort to understand the reason behind his rage and actions, many mainstream media outlets posited that Dorner must have suffered from some sort of mental illness.

Appearing on “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Feb. 7 Dr. Xavier Amador, a regular commentator for CNN, said there was “absolutely no basis in reality for [Dorner’s] complaints that he was mistreated, that there was any kind of police corruption,” that Dorner had “clear signs of mental illness,” and that his ‘manifesto’ was “delusional.”

Amador’s analysis was based on a review of Dorner’s LAPD case file, he said.

According to Neon Tommy the online news site of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared that “Whatever problem [Dorner] has is mental,” while speaking at a press conference on proposed gun safety legislation. Villaraigosa’s comments were part of a Feb. 7 news article entitled “Christopher Dorner’s Navy Service Record And Mental Health Scrutinized.”

On Feb. 9, The Associated Press ran a news brief on Dorner’s unsuccessful attempt to obtain a restraining order in 2006 against his then-girlfriend Ariana Williams.  The story quotes court documents filed in the case that called Dorner “severely emotionally and mentally disturbed.”  The court documents also link Williams to a post about Dorner on a website that was signed anonymously, calling Dorner “twisted” and “super paranoid.”

Also on Feb. 9, The Christian Science Monitor, in “Christopher Dorner: Experts look for clues to alleged cop killer’s mental state,” quotes a retired FBI profiler who said Dorner’s actions were “completely over the top.” Dorner, who claimed in his manifesto that he simply wanted to “clear his name,” had a “personality disorder” according to Mary Ellen O’Toole.

While it can be considered normal to search for answers in a case such as this, attempting to make a mental health diagnosis of Christopher Dorner without ever having physically examined him is not.

“It is difficult to make a diagnostic conclusion given how little any of us know about Dorner’s mental health history, having no audio transcripts to review, no testing and assessment instruments to analyze, and no clinical interview data, said Thomas Parham, PhD.  Parham is past president of the national Association of Black Psychologists and a co-author of “Psychology of Blacks: Centering Our Perspectives in the African Consciousness.”

“All we have is a so-called “manifesto” (that I have not read) that is selectively presented in the media.  So, for the press and media to be making a statement in absence of that kind of information is just interesting, if not useless chatter,” he said.

Clive D. Kennedy, a clinical forensic psychologist and president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists, echoes Parham’s comments on evaluating Dorner’s mental state.  “I believe no professional has indicated he or she is aware of Mr. Dorner’s mental health status and therefore, we are unlikely to ever know, including those in the media who have been so forthcoming of his psychiatric condition,” he said.

Dorner claimed in his manifesto clearly and explicitly that not only was he a victim of racism but that his attempts to “blow the whistle” on the racism of the LAPD against him and other officers are why he believes he was fired.  According to Dorner retaliation against “snitching” on other police officers was one of several corrupt practices within the, department.  Despite this, much of the media coverage of Dorner’s mental state has conveniently left this fact out.

Are Charges of Racism Enough to Push One Over The Edge?

In her Feb. 9 Los Angeles Times op-ed, civil rights attorney Connie Rice recalls a conversation she had with former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Jesse Brewer. Describing him as “wise and classy,” Rice states that Brewer, the first African American president of the Los Angeles Police Commission that oversees the LAPD, “came to my law office in 1990. He described to me his own ordeals on the force, in which white officers illegally blocked his entrance to the Police Academy, tried to plant false evidence on him, blocked all of his promotions and set him up for ambush in the field. He also described how viciously the department retaliated against him and other officers who tried to stand up for fellow officers or civilians who suffered abuse from cops. The LAPD never did allow whistle-blowers of any kind to survive, no matter how righteous they were,” wrote Rice.

Chillingly, Rice goes on to write that Brewer told her that Black LAPD officers had to resort to accepting abuse from white police officers and  “outsmarting” them because, “If you let them get to you, you’ll become homicidal.”

In her 1995 work “Killing Rage, Ending Racism,” noted political and cultural critic bell hooks wrote: “the conditions of racism can ‘drive one mad.’

Referring to an outbreak of violence in New York City in which a Black man opened fire randomly on a subway train, hooks states that “ … most Black folks can recognize that it is ethically and morally wrong to kill folks even as we can also sympathize with mental illness that is either engendered or exacerbated by life in [the United States].”

Psychologist Thomas Parham echoed that sentiment.  “We must extend our prayers for those who lost their lives in this rampage (both victims and perpetrator) and for the families who are left to grieve. There is never a justification for the taking of innocent lives, no matter what the level of unfairness one believes has impacted their own life.  There is nothing more sacred in the African tradition than life, so to be so callous in the taking of innocent lives would seem to be the most fundamental violation of an African centered worldview.”

Parham continued, “Clearly, the actions Dorner engaged in are very “out of the ordinary,” and beyond the realm of most standards of normalcy and decency that society embraces. Yet, like all of us, he is a product of a social system that makes an implicit contract with its citizens that says if you work hard and play by the rules, including doing the right thing on your job, then success should be the reward for one’s hard work, dedication, and commitment … I suspect that if he embraced this implicit social contract with the rigidity of a very concrete thinker, and then believes that his life was ruined by some unfair and discriminatory treatment when he called himself trying to do the right thing and report abuse by a fellow officer, then the violation and betrayal he feels might evoke that type of anger, rage, and desire for retribution that we all witnessed…”

Paul Harris, a San Francisco-based attorney and author, says that “ … even in cases where the perpetrator of the crime is mentally ill, one must look at the concrete experiences of racism (and other environmental hardships) to understand the resulting behavior.”  Harris is the author of “Black Rage Confronts the Law,” a 1971 book based on a case in which Harris was successful in defending a young Black man accused of bank robbery.  “Too many people cry racism in explaining these crimes without combining the underlying mental problems, with the specific life experience with racism the person has suffered,” said Harris.

Joy DeGruy, author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” uttered similar  comments as Harris.  “I would think that any serious response would include consideration of the obvious and blatant differential treatment of African Americans by a dysfunctional justice system and the structural inequalities inherent in that system.”  DeGruy holds degrees in social work and clinical psychology and is an assistant professor at Portland State University.

More than 1,000 sightings of Christopher Dorner were reported to police during the manhunt to apprehend him.  The overwhelming majority of those tips were based on faulty identifications of Black men whose appearance was similar to Dorner.  What we do not know for sure is how many of those tips were from individuals that were simply Good Samaritans interested in assisting law enforcement, and how many were from individuals who were genuinely frightened that Dorner might attack them.

As we continue to ponder Dorner’s mental state we might also take into account the words of bell hooks:  “White supremacy is frightening.  It promotes mental illness and various dysfunctional behaviors on the part of whites and non-whites.  It is the real and present danger – not black rage.”

Read the LAWT Here

 

How Racism, Global Economics, and the New Jim Crow Fuel Black America’s Crippling Jobs Crisis

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Jobs

Posted: 07/05/11

 How Racism, Global Economics, and the New Jim Crow Fuel Black America’s Crippling Jobs Crisis

Andy Kroll, Staff writer, Mother Jones magazine

Tomdispatch.com 

Like the country it governs, Washington is a city of extremes. In a car, you can zip in bare moments from northwest District of Columbia, its streets lined with million-dollar homes and palatial embassies, its inhabitants sporting one of the nation’s lowest jobless rates, to Anacostia, a mostly forgotten neighborhood in southeastern D.C. with one of the highest unemployment rates anywhere in America. Or, if you happen to be jobless, upset about it, and living in that neighborhood, on a crisp morning in March you could have joined an angry band of protesters marching on the nearby 11th Street Bridge.

They weren’t looking for trouble. They were looking for work.

Those protesters, most of them black, chanted and hoisted signs that read “D.C. JOBS FOR D.C. RESIDENTS” and “JOBS OR ELSE.” The target of their outrage: contractors hired to replace the very bridge under their feet, a $300 million project that will be one of the largest in District history. The problem: few D.C. citizens, which means few African Americans, had so far been hired. “It’s deplorable,”insisted civil rights attorney Donald Temple, “that… you can find men from West Virginia to work in D.C. You can find men from Maryland to work in D.C. And you can find men from Virginia to work in D.C. But you can’t find men and women in D.C. to work in D.C.”

The 11th Street Bridge arches over the slow-flowing Anacostia River, connecting the poverty-stricken, largely black Anacostia neighborhood with the rest of the District. By foot the distance is small; in opportunity and wealth, it couldn’t be larger. At one end of the bridge the economy is booming even amid a halting recovery and jobs crisis. At the other end, hard times, always present, are worse than ever.

Live in Washington long enough and you’ll hear someone mention “east of the river. That’s D.C.’s version of “the other side of the tracks,” the place friends warn against visiting late at night or on your own. It’s home to District Wards 7 and 8, neighborhoods with a long, rich history. Once known as Uniontown, Anacostia was one of the District’s first suburbs; Frederick Douglass, nicknamed the “Sage of Anacostia,” once lived there, as did the poet Ezra Pound and singer Marvin Gaye. Today the area’s unemployment rate is officially nearly 20%. District-wide, it’s 9.8%, a figure that drops as low as 3.6% in the whiter, more affluent northwestern suburbs.

D.C.’s divide is America’s writ large. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for black workers at 16.2% is almost double the 9.1% rate for the rest of the population. And it’s twice the 8% white jobless rate.

The size of those numbers can, in part, be chalked up to the current jobs crisis in which black workers are being decimated. According to Duke University public policy expert William Darity, that means blacks are “the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there’s a downturn, they’re the first to be released.”

That may account for the soaring numbers of unemployed African Americans, but not the yawning chasm between the black and white employment rates, which is no artifact of the present moment. It’s a problem that spans generations, goes remarkably unnoticed, and condemns millions of black Americans to a life of scraping by. That unerring, unchanging gap between white and black employment figures goes back at least 60 years. It should be a scandal, but whether on Capitol Hill or in the media it gets remarkably little attention. Ever.

The 60-Year Scandal

The unemployment lines run through history like a pair of train tracks. Since the 1940s, the jobless rate for blacks in America has held remarkably, if grimly, steady at twice the rate for whites. The question of why has vexed and divided economists, historians, and sociologists for nearly as long.

For years the sharpest minds in academia pointed to upheaval in the American economy as the culprit. In his 1996 book When Work Disappears, the sociologist William Julius Wilson depicted the forces of globalization, a slumping manufacturing sector, and suburban flight at work in Chicago as the drivers of growing joblessness and poverty in America’s inner cities and among its black residents.

He pictured the process this way: as corporations outsourced jobs to China and India, American manufacturing began its slow fade, shedding jobs often held by black workers. What jobs remained were moved to sprawling offices and factories in outlying suburbs reachable only by freeway. Those jobs proved inaccessible to the mass of black workers who remained in the inner cities and relied on public transportation to get to work.

Time and research have, however, eaten away at the significance of Wilson’s work. The hollowing-out of America’s cities and the decline of domestic manufacturing no doubt played a part in black unemployment, but then chronic black joblessness existed long before the upheaval Wilson described. Even when employment in the manufacturing sector was at its height, black workers were still twice as likely to be out of work as their white counterparts.

Another commonly cited culprit for the tenaciousness of African-American unemployment has been education. Whites, so the argument goes, are generally better educated than blacks, and so more likely to land a job at a time when a college degree is ever more significant when it comes to jobs and higher earnings. In 2009, President Obama told reporters that education was the key to narrowing racial gaps in the US. “If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished,” he said.

Educational levels have, in fact, steadily climbed over the past 60 years for African Americans. In 1940, less than 1% of black men and less 2% of black women earned college degrees; jump to 2000, and the figures are 10% for black men and 15% for black women. Moreover, increased education has helped to narrow wage inequality between employed whites and blacks. What it hasn’t done is close the unemployment gap.

Algernon Austin, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., crunched data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that blacks with the same level of education as whites have consistently lower employment levels. It doesn’t matter whether you compare high-school dropouts or workers with graduate degrees, whites are still more likely to have a job than blacks. Degrees be damned.

Academics have thrown plenty of other explanations at the problem: declining wages, the embrace of crime as a way of life, increased competition with immigrants.  None of them have stuck. How could they? In recent decades, the wage gap has narrowed, crime rates have plummeted, and there’s scant evidence to suggest immigrants are stealing jobs that would otherwise be filled by African Americans.

Indeed, many top researchers in this field, including several I interviewed, are left scratching their heads when trying to explain why that staggering jobless gap between blacks and white won’t budge. “I don’t know if there’s anybody out there who can tell you why that ratio stays at two to one,” Darity says. “It’s a statistical regularity that we don’t have an explanation for.”

Behind Bars, the Invisible Unemployed

So what keeps blacks from cutting into those employment figures? Among the theories, one that deserves special attention points to the high incarceration rate among blacks — and especially black men.

In 2009, 7.2 million Americans — or 3.1% of all adults — were under the jurisdiction of the U.S. corrections system, including 1.6 million Americans incarcerated in a state or federal prison. Of that population, nearly 40% percent were black, even though blacks make up only 13% percent of the American population. Blacks were six times as likely to be in prison as whites, and three times as likely as Hispanics. For some perspective, consider what author of The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexanderwrote last year: “There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”

Incarceration amounts to a double whammy when it comes to African-American unemployment. Rarely mentioned in the usual drumbeat of media reports on jobs is the fact that the Labor Department doesn’t include prison populations in its official unemployment statistics. This automatically shrinks the pool of blacks capable of working and in the process lowers the black jobless rate.

In the mid-1990s, academics Bruce Western and Becky Pettit discovered that the American prison population lowered the jobless rate for black men by five percentage points, and for young black men by eight percentage points. (Of course, this applies to whites, Asians, and Hispanics as well, but the figures are particularly striking given the overrepresentation of blacks in the prison population.)

Even that vast incarcerated population pales, however, in comparison to the number of ex-cons who have rejoined the world beyond the prison walls. In 2008, there were 12 million to 14 million ex-offenders in the U.S. old enough to work, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). So many ex-cons represent a serious drag on our economy, according to CEPR, sucking from it $57 billion to $65 billion in output.

Of course, such research tells us how much, not why — as in, why are ex-cons so much more likely to be out of work? For an answer, it’s necessary to turn to an eye-opening and, in some circles, controversial field of study that may offer the best explanation for the 60-year scandal of black unemployment.

Twice as Hard, Half as Far

In 2001, a pair of black men and a pair of white men went hunting for work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Each was 23 years old, a local college student, bright and articulate. They looked alike and dressed alike, had identical educational backgrounds and remarkably similar past work experience. From June to December, they combed the Sunday classified pages in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and searched a state-run job site called “Jobnet,” applying for the same entry-level jobs as waiters, delivery-truck drivers, cooks, and cashiers. There was one obvious difference in each pair: one man was a former criminal and the other was not.

If this sounds like an experiment, that’s because it was. Watching the explosive growth of the criminal justice system, fueled largely by ill-conceived “tough on crime” policies, sociologist Devah Pager took a novel approach to how prison affected ever growing numbers of Americans after they’d done their time — a process all but ignored by politicians and the judicial system.

So Pager sent those two young black men and two young white men out into the world to apply for perfectly real jobs. Then she recorded who got callbacks and who didn’t. She soon discovered that a criminal history caused a massive drop-off in employer responses — not entirely surprising. But when Pager started separating out black applicants from white ones, she stumbled across the real news in her study, a discovery that shook our understanding of racial inequality and jobs to the core.

Pager’s white applicant without a criminal record had a 34% callback rate. That promptly sunk to 17% for her white applicant with a criminal record. The figures for black applicants were 14% and 5%. And yes, you read that right: in Pager’s experiment, white job applicants with a criminal history got more callbacks than black applicants without one. “I expected to find an effect with a criminal record and some with race,” Pager says. “I certainly was not expecting that result, and it was quite a surprise.”

Pager ran a larger version of this experiment in New York City in 2004, sending teams of young, educated, and identically credentialed men out into the Big Apple’s sprawling market for entry-level jobs — once again, with one applicant posing as an ex-con, the other with a clean record. (As she did in Milwaukee, Pager had the teams alternate who posed as the ex-con.) The results? Again Pager’s African-American applicants received fewer callbacks and job offers than the whites. The disparity was particularly striking for ex-criminals: a drop off of 9 percentage points for whites, but 15 percentage points for blacks. “Employers already reluctant to hire blacks,” Pager wrote, “appear particularly wary of blacks with known criminal histories.”

Other research has supported her findings. A 2001-2002 field experiment by academics from the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, uncovered a sizeable gap in employer callbacks for job applicants with white-sounding names (Emily and Greg) versus black-sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal). They also found that the benefits of a better resume were 30% greater for whites than blacks.

These findings proved a powerful antidote to the growing notion, mostly in conservative circles, that discrimination was an illusion and racism long eradicated. In The Content of Our Character (1991),Shelby Steele argued that racial discrimination no longer held black men or women back from the jobs they wanted; the problem was in their heads. Dinesh D’Souza, a first-generation immigrant of Indian descent, published The End of Racism in 1995, similarly claiming racial discrimination had little to do with the plight of black America.

Not so, insist Pager, Darity, Harvard’s Bruce Western, and other academics using real data with an unavoidable message: racism is alive and well. It leads to endemic, deeply embedded patterns of discrimination whose harmful impact has barely changed in 60 years. And it cannot be ignored. As the old African-American adage puts it, “You’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as a black person in white America.”

Is There a Solution for Black America?

Tracing black unemployment in America since World War II, there are two moments when, briefly, the gap between black and white joblessness narrowed ever so slightly — in the 1940s and again in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example in 1970, unemployment was at 5.8% for blacks and 3.3% for whites, a sizeable gap but significantly better than what followed in the Reagan era. Those are moments worth revisiting, if only to understand what began to go right.

According to University of Chicago professors William Sites and Virginia Parks, those periods were marked by a flurry of civil rights and anti-discrimination activity on the federal level. A series of actions ranging from the creation of the Fair Employment Practice Committee in 1941 to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which mandated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, write Sites and Parks, had “dramatic impacts on employment discrimination.”

But those gains of the 1970s were soon wiped out. The thinning of union membership and the dwindling power of organized labor didn’t help either, after decades of pressure on employers to end discrimination against workers of color.

Today, in terrible times, with the possibility of social legislation off the table in Washington, the question remains: What, if anything, can be done to close the jobless gap between blacks and whites? When I asked Devah Pager, she called this the “million-dollar question.” This form of discrimination, she pointed out, is especially difficult to deal with. As she noted in 2005, many employers who discriminate don’t even realize they’re doing so; they’re just going with “gut feelings.” “It’s not that these employers have decided that they are not going to hire workers from a particular group,” Pager told me.

What won’t work is relying on discrimination watchdogs to crack down more often. The way federal anti-discrimination law works, it’s up to the person who was discriminated against to raise an alarm. As Duke’s William Darity points out, that’s a near impossibility for a job applicant who must convincingly read the mind of a person he or she doesn’t know. Worse than that, the applicant who wants to lodge charges of discrimination also has to prove that the discrimination was intentional, which, as Pager’s experiments make clear, is no small feat. Under the circumstances, as Darity told me, perhaps no one should be surprised to discover that blacks “grossly underreport their exposure to discrimination and whites grossly overreport it.”

Of course, fixing a problem first requires acknowledging it — something the nation has yet to do, says the Economic Policy Institute’s Algernon Austin. To put blacks back to work, lawmakers should invest federal money directly in job creation, especially for black workers. Other avenues for putting people back to work, like a payroll tax credit won’t do the trick. “We’ve spent billions in trying to build jobs overseas” in war zones, Austin told me. “But if we invested that money here in our cities, we wouldn’t have this racial gap.”

But how likely is that at a moment when, in a Washington gripped by paralysis, any discussion of spending in Washington begins and ends at how much to cut? The painful reality of permanent crisis for black workers is here to stay. That’s how it seems to blacks in D.C., especially those who live east of the river. In April, another group of protesters took to the 11th Street Bridge to demand more D.C. hires, and the following month, the group D.C. Jobs or Else took their complaints to City Hall. But progress is slow. “We’re being pushed out economically,” said William Alston El, a 63-year-old unemployed resident who grew up in D.C. “They say it’s not racism, but the name of the game is they have the money. You can’t live [in] a place if you can’t pay the rent.”


Andy Kroll

, Staff writer, Mother Jones magazine

Andy Kroll is a reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine, and an associate editor at TomDispatch. He’s appeared on MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Current TV, and Democracy Now! to discuss the economy and its ills.

Original Creator of Matrix & Terminator Wins $2.5 Billion In Lawsuit

NOVEMBER 17, 2009

Original Creator of Matrix & Terminator Wins $2.5 Billion In Lawsuit

After a six year dispute, prolific writer and profound spiritualist, Sophia Stewart has received justice for copyright infringement and racketeering and will finally recover damages from the films, The Matrix I, II and III, as well as The Terminator and its sequels. Yes, you heard that correctly – the entire Matrix & Terminator franchises, and her suspected pay off is expected to be the highest in history – an estimated 2.5 billion.

Her case is a true landmark, and far too uncommon as countless creatives are exploited by the snake-like dealings of the movie industry. Here’s a recap of her triumphant journey by way of George2.0:

“Stewart filed her case in 1999, after viewing the Matrix, which she felt had been based on her manuscript, ‘The Third Eye,’ copyrighted in 1981. In the mid-eighties Stewart had submitted her manuscript to an ad placed by the Wachowski Brothers, requesting new sci-fi works.

According to court documentation, an FBI investigation discovered that more than thirty minutes had been edited from the original film, in an attempt to avoid penalties for copyright infringement. The investigation also stated that ‘credible witnesses employed at Warner Brothers came forward, claiming that the executives and lawyers had full knowledge that the work in question did not belong to the Wachowski Brothers.’ These witnesses claimed to have seen Stewart’s original work and that it had been ‘often used during preparation of the motion pictures.’ The defendants tried, on several occasions, to have Stewart’s case dismissed, without success.

Stewart has confronted skepticism on all sides, much of which comes from Matrix fans, who are strangely loyal to the Wachowski Brothers. One on-line forum, entitled Matrix Explained has an entire section devoted to Stewart. Some who have researched her history and writings are open to her story.”

Although it’s long overdue, and buried in large part by the media machine, Stewart has finally received official credit (and hopefully financial settlement by 2009) for her prodigious contributions to both Hollywood, and the world for her ground breaking sagas, both the Matrix & Terminator franchises. Let us hope that this landmark ruling provides a measure of hope for other ripped off screenwriters seeking justice even if only by way of public recognition.

To echo her 2004 victorious press release:

‘The Matrix & Terminator movie franchises have made world history and have ultimately changed the way people view movies and how Hollywood does business, yet the real truth about the creator and creation of these films continue to elude the masses because the hidden secret of the matter is that these films were created and written by a Black woman…a Black woman named Sophia Stewart. But Hollywood does not want you to know this fact simply because it would change history. Also it would encourage our Black children to realize a dream and that is…nothing is impossible for them to achieve!’

We’d like to believe that the justice she received was not in name only, and she is able to reap the benefits of her enormous creative contributions.

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave l Mother Jones

 

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I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave

My brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying, dildo-packing time inside the online-shipping machine.

—By 

Illustration by Mark MatchoIllustration by Mark Matcho

“DON’T TAKE ANYTHING that happens to you there personally,” the woman at the local chamber of commerce says when I tell her that tomorrow I start working at Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc. She winks at me. I stare at her for a second.

What?” I ask. “Why, is somebody going to be mean to me or something?”

She smiles. “Oh, yeah.” This town somewhere west of the Mississippi is not big; everyone knows someone or is someone who’s worked for Amalgamated. “But look at it from their perspective. They need you to work as fast as possible to push out as much as they can as fast as they can. So they’re gonna give you goals, and then you know what? If you make those goals, they’re gonna increase the goals. But they’ll be yelling at you all the time. It’s like the military. They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be. So they’re going to tell you, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough,’ to make you work harder. Don’t say, ‘This is the best I can do.’ Say, ‘I’ll try,’ even if you know you can’t do it. Because if you say, ‘This is the best I can do,’ they’ll let you go. They hire and fire constantly, every day. You’ll see people dropping all around you. But don’t take it personally and break down or start crying when they yell at you.”

Several months prior, I’d reported on an Ohio warehouse where workers shipped products for online retailers under conditions that were surprisingly demoralizing and dehumanizing, even to someone who’s spent a lot of time working in warehouses, which I have. And then my editors sat me down. “We want you to go work for Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc.,” they said. I’d have to give my real name and job history when I applied, and I couldn’t lie if asked for any specifics. (I wasn’t.) But I’d smudge identifying details of people and the company itself. Anyway, to do otherwise might give people the impression that these conditions apply only to one warehouse or one company. Which they don’t.

So I fretted about whether I’d have to abort the application process, like if someone asked me why I wanted the job. But no one did. And though I was kind of excited to trot out my warehouse experience, mainly all I needed to get hired was to confirm 20 or 30 times that I had not been to prison.

The application process took place at a staffing office in a run-down city, the kind where there are boarded-up businesses and broken windows downtown and billboards advertising things like “Foreclosure Fridays!” at a local law firm. Six or seven other people apply for jobs along with me. We answer questions at computers grouped in several stations. Have I ever been to prison? the system asks. No? Well, but have I ever been to prison for assault? Burglary? A felony? A misdemeanor? Raping someone? Murdering anybody? Am I sure? There’s no point in lying, the computer warns me, because criminal-background checks are run on employees. Additionally, I have to confirm at the next computer station that I can read, by taking a multiple-choice test in which I’m given pictures of several album covers, including Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and asked what the name of the Michael Jackson album is. At yet another set of computers I’m asked about my work history and character. How do I feel about dangerous activities? Would I say I’m not really into them? Or really into them?

Macduff Everton/CorbisMacduff Everton/CorbisIn the center of the room, a video plays loudly and continuously on a big screen. Even more than you are hurting the company, a voice-over intones as animated people do things like accidentally oversleep, you are hurting yourself when you are late because you will be penalized on a point system, and when you get too many points, you’re fired—unless you’re late at any point during your first week, in which case you are instantly fired. Also because when you’re late or sick you miss the opportunity to maximize your overtime pay. And working more than eight hours is mandatory. Stretching is also mandatory, since you will either be standing still at a conveyor line for most of your minimum 10-hour shift or walking on concrete or metal stairs. And be careful, because you could seriously hurt yourself. And watch out, because some of your coworkers will be the kind of monsters who will file false workers’ comp claims. If you know of someone doing this and you tell on him and he gets convicted, you will be rewarded with $500.

 

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