Category Archives: Poverty

Chart of the day II: Urban income disparity soars


From Alan Berube and Natalie Holmes of the Brookings Institution, and note that in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Obama years have seen annual income losses of $1,378 for those at the 20 percentile and gains of $52,100 for those at the 95th percentile:

Falling incomes at the bottom helped drive inequality increases in cities and metro areas

Falling incomes at the bottom helped drive inequality increases in cities and metro areas

More disorders in Greece, this time farmers


And bankster-imposed austerity as again the catalyst.

We begin with a video from Agence France Presse:

Greek farmers clash in mass protest over pension reform

Program notes:

Greek farmers bring their tractors and trucks to Syntagma Square for a mass demonstration over impeding pension reforms demanded by the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

More from eKathimerini:

After being blindsided by both the size and ferocity of Friday’s protest in central Athens by farmers who oppose social security reforms, the government has renewed its appeal to the protesters to come to the negotiating table.

>snip<

Labour Minister Giorgos Katrougalos issued a fresh appeal to the farmers to sit down and talk about their objections to increases in their social security contributions and taxes. He said that each side had to “look each other in the eyes.”

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is under pressure to finalize an agreement with Greece’s lenders over pension reforms that have to deliver a total of 1.8 billion euros in savings. He is expected to travel to Paris on Wednesday and then on to Brussels for a European Union leaders’ summit on Thursday and Friday.

From RT, close-up video as the protest turned violent:

RAW: Greek farmer protesters brutally attack police, storm Agriculture Ministry

Program notes:

Police in Athens have used tear gas to disperse a rally of farmers protesting pension austerity measures as they pelted the Agriculture Ministry with stones. A larger protest demonstration is due to start later Friday.

More from RT:

Police in Athens have used tear gas to disperse a rally of farmers protesting pension austerity measures as they pelted the Agriculture Ministry with stones. A larger protest demonstration is due to start later Friday.

>snip<

About 800 farmers from Crete “attempted to push the police in front of the [Agriculture] Ministry’s entrance. The police used tear gas to stop them,” a law enforcement official said.

They smashed windows with stones before the police pushed them away.

And still more from Deutsche Welle:

The government has banned the farmers from using tractors in the demonstration, but a deal was reached to allow a symbolic procession of 17 of the vehicles in the capital. Since mid-January, farmers have used their tractors to block dozens of highways.

Earlier this month the farmers began blockading border crossings to Bulgaria and Turkey. But, following an appeal from Bulgaria on Tuesday, they allowed trucks to pass for several hours a day at one crossing. The farmers threatened to further escalate the protest by blocking air- and seaports at the weekend.

“They fooled us,” Manolis Paterakis, head of one of Crete’s farmer blockades, said about the government. “They were telling us that they support us, that they are fighting for the survival of the farmers … that young people need to return to their villages and work their land.” Now, “the same people come and confirm the exact opposite: Whoever farms today, the only thing they will achieve is to have debts to the tax office,” he said.

More context, via teleSUR English:

Farmers face a tripling of their social security contributions and higher income tax should the new bills be passed by the Greek parliament.

Pension reforms are a key part of Greece’s bailout review after Tsipras was forced to accept a third bailout in July

Greece’s economy shows little sign of recovery. It entered a recession again after its economy shrunk in two consecutive quarters. In the third quarter of 2015 it fell by 1.4 percent while it decreased by 0.6 percent in last year’s fourth quarter.

And from ANA-MPA, protests continue:

Thousands of protesting farmers arrived in Syntagma Square late on Friday evening, ranging from the 20-odd tractors that led the march opposite Parliament, and bracing for a rally intended to last over the weekend.

There were more than 10,000 farmers and other protesters gathered in the square, according to initial police estimates, and more demonstrators were continuing to arrive as other groups lit bonfires in front of the monument to the Unknown Soldier.

A police presence at the rally was discreet.

Thousands of farmers had descended on Athens from numerous regions around Greece to protest against the government’s proposed pension and tax reforms. They staged a massive march to Parliament and set up tents to camp out in Syntagma Square. The march was headed by 20 tractors brought down from the Nikea roadblock in Larissa, central Greece

Launch of a new radical European political party


Yanis Varoufakis, the radical economist the banksters demanded be ousted as finance minister of the Greek Syriza-led government as a condition of further aid, and Croatian philosopher Srecko Horvat have launched a new European political party.

Rather than offer our own explanation, here’s the video of the formal announcement, issued this week, via From acTVism Munich:

Press Conference: Yanis Varoufakis & Democracy in Europe Movement 25

Program note:

On the 9th of February, 2016, Yanis Varoufakis & Srecko Horvat launched a movement called Democracy in Europe Movement 25 (DiEM25) in Berlin at Volksbühne.

And for more details, here’s the party’s manifesto.

From the Democracy In Europe Movement — DiEM25:

A MANIFESTO FOR DEMOCRATISING EUROPE

For all their concerns with global competitiveness, migration and terrorism, only one prospect truly terrifies the Powers of Europe: Democracy! They speak in democracy’s name but only to deny, exorcise and suppress it in practice. They seek to co-opt, evade, corrupt, mystify, usurp and manipulate democracy in order to break its energy and arrest its possibilities.

For rule by Europe’s peoples, government by the demos, is the shared nightmare of:

  • The Brussels bureaucracy (and its more than 10,000 lobbyists)
  • Its hit-squad inspectorates and the Troika they formed together with unelected ‘technocrats’ from other international and European institutions
  • The powerful Eurogroup that has no standing in law or treaty
  • Bailed out bankers, fund managers and resurgent oligarchies perpetually contemptuous of the multitudes and their organised expression
  • Political parties appealing to liberalism, democracy, freedom and solidarity to betray their most basic principles when in government
  • Governments that fuel cruel inequality by implementing self-defeating austerity
  • Media moguls who have turned fear-mongering into an art form, and a magnificent source of power and profit
  • Corporations in cahoots with secretive public agencies investing in the same fear to promote secrecy and a culture of surveillance that bend public opinion to their will.

The European Union was an exceptional achievement, bringing together in peace European peoples speaking different languages, submersed in different cultures, proving that it was possible to create a shared framework of human rights across a continent that was, not long ago, home to murderous chauvinism, racism and barbarity. The European Union could have been the proverbial Beacon on the Hill, showing the world how peace and solidarity may be snatched from the jaws of centuries-long conflict and bigotry.

Alas, today, a common bureaucracy and a common currency divide European peoples that were beginning to unite despite our different languages and cultures. A confederacy of myopic politicians, economically naïve officials and financially incompetent ‘experts’ submit slavishly to the edicts of financial and industrial conglomerates, alienating Europeans and stirring up a dangerous anti-European backlash. Proud peoples are being turned against each other. Nationalism, extremism and racism are being re-awakened.

At the heart of our disintegrating EU there lies a guilty deceit: A highly political, top-down, opaque decision-making process is presented as ‘apolitical’, ‘technical’, ‘procedural’ and ‘neutral’. Its purpose is to prevent Europeans from exercising democratic control over their money, finance, working conditions and environment. The price of this deceit is not merely the end of democracy but also poor economic policies:

  • The Eurozone economies are being marched off the cliff of competitive austerity, resulting in permanent recession in the weaker countries and low investment in the core countries
  • EU member-states outside the Eurozone are alienated, seeking inspiration and partners in suspect quarters where they are most likely to be greeted with opaque, coercive free trade deals that undermine their sovereignty.
  • Unprecedented inequality, declining hope and misanthropy flourish throughout Europe

Two dreadful options dominate:

  • Retreat into the cocoon of our nation-states
  • Or surrender to the Brussels democracy-free zone

There must be another course. And there is!

It is the one official ‘Europe’ resists with every sinew of its authoritarian mind-set:

A surge of democracy!

Our movement, DiEM25, seeks to call forth just such a surge.

One simple, radical idea is the motivating force behind DiEM25:

Democratise Europe! For the EU will either be democratised or it will disintegrate!

Our goal to democratise Europe is realistic. It is no more utopian than the initial construction of the European Union was. Indeed, it is less utopian than the attempt to keep alive the current, anti-democratic, fragmenting European Union.

Our goal to democratise Europe is terribly urgent, for without a swift start it may be impossible to chisel away at the institutionalised resistance in good time, before Europe goes past the point of no return. We give it a decade, by 2025.

There’s lots more after the jump. . .

Continue reading

Lethal private prisons for male border-crossers


They’re a legacy of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and the corporations running them were major campaign contribution bundlers for Hillary Clinton until their role was exposed by The Intercept in July.

Why Hillary? It’s not just out of loyalty to her spouse. Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, is an outspoken advocate for ending the nation’s mass incarceration program and has sponsored legislation to end corporate prisons in the federal justice system.

Clinton only formally backed off from the private prison lobby in October, when she tweeted “Protecting public safety. . .should never be outsourced or left to unaccountable corporations.”

But notice the weasel word unaccountable in her declaration, potentially leaving the door open for “accountable” corporations, whatever those might be.

Now, why that adjective “lethal” in the headline?

Because the subjective of this two-part interview for Democracy Now!, Seth Freed Wessler, is the author of “This Man Will Almost Certainly Die,” a major investigative report for the Nation on deaths in the corporate prisons used to house men whose only offense has been to cross the U.S. border without permission.

And where are these prisons? From the Nation, a map lays it out:

BLOG Prisons 2

And now for the interviews.

From Democracy Now!:

“This Man Will Almost Certainly Die”: The Secret Deaths of Dozens at Privatized Immigrant-Only Jails

From the transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Seth, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain the title, “This Man Will Almost Certainly Die.”

SETH FREED WESSLER: That title comes from a quote that was left in one of the medical files I obtained through an open records request. I obtained 9,000 pages of documents. And in those documents, from one of these prisons, there was a medical doctor who left his normal medical notes, but he also left a series of notes railing against the system that he had—he worked in, inside of one of these private federal prisons, private federal prisons used only to hold noncitizens convicted of federal crime—a sort of segregated system of prisons. In these files, he left a series of notes where he was railing against this prison system, basically saying that it wasn’t providing prisoners, or wasn’t allowing him to provide prisoners, the kind of care that as a medical doctor he believed he should be able to provide. These records tell the stories of 103 men who died inside this federal subsystem of prisons.

If you’re convicted of a crime in the United States, a federal crime, and you’re a noncitizen considered a low-security prisoner, you’re likely to be sent to a different prison from all of the rest of—from citizens. And those prisons are nearly the only prisons that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has privatized, has contracted out to private companies—GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation.

And what I found is that the federal government is applying a different and less stringent set of rules to these prisons. And that, in the context of medical care, is leading to stripped-down kinds of medical clinics with lower-trained, lesser-paid, less expensive workers. And in dozens of cases, prisoners held inside are facing medical neglect. In 25 cases I looked at, doctors who reviewed the files said these prisoners likely would have lived had they received adequate medical care.

And the second part:

Seth Freed Wessler on Uncovering the Deaths of Dozens at Privatized Immigrant-Only Jails

From the transcript:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the epic battle you had to get these records. How—what kind of resistance did you come up across? And when you say 103 deaths, what period of time are we talking about here?

SETH FREED WESSLER: So, I had filed an open records request, a Freedom of Information Act request, several years ago. And I thought that I was going to get documents from that request. I talked to people in the BOP’s FOIA office, and it seemed that it was moving. But a year passed and then two, and I realized that I wasn’t going to get any of these documents. I had asked for the medical records of people who had died. It took filing a lawsuit in federal court to compel the federal government to compel the Bureau of Prisons to move. And last year, I started to receive these files—which were later unredacted, in significant part—that told the stories of men who had died. The files also included the internal investigations and death reports for each of these men who died. And in many cases, the prisons themselves, the private contractors themselves, acknowledged in these reports that there had been failings.

In one case, the prison company, Management and Training Corporation, contracted to have a after-action report conducted, in anticipation of litigation. That litigation never happened. In fact, this family didn’t know that their—the mother, who’s in Mexico, didn’t know that her son had died for nearly a year. And when I called her, when I found her and I talked to her, she still didn’t know that her son had been locked up for illegal re-entry. That is, she said to me, “I thought he had done something terrible to land in a federal prison in the United States.” But, in fact, I told her why he was locked up.

This is a man who arrived at the prison very rapidly. It was very clear that he was entering into a state of real distress, hallucinating. He said that voices—he was hearing voices that told him to break a window. And he received no substantive mental healthcare, and then he killed himself in this prison, even after he wrote on an intake form that he had been taking drugs for mental illness, that he had committed—attempted suicide in the past, and a medical—a low-level provider saw that he had tried to cut himself previously.

Africa’s ‘Green Revolution’ helps only the richest


As for the poor, forget about it.

In reality, the set of practices endorsed by neoliberals in Washington and Europe, is a cover for driving the poorest farmers into debt as they are driven to buy fertilizers, seeds, herbicides, and pesticides from Big Agra companies in the North.

driven into debt and foreclosed when they can’t pay because of crops failures and poor yields, the only beneficiaries are large landholders.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Rather than alleviating poverty, a farming revolution aimed at increasing and modernising agricultural production in Africa could be harming the poorest, according to a new study.

The University of East Anglia research details how changes brought on by modernisation programmes disrupt subsistence practices, deepen poverty, impair local systems of trade and knowledge, and threaten land ownership.

The “green revolution” of the 1960s and 70s – when policies supporting new seeds for marketable crops, sold at guaranteed prices, helped many farmers and transformed economies in Asia – has also become increasingly popular in Africa where up to 90 percent of people in some countries are smallholder farmers.

In Rwanda, government, donors and development institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have hailed the strategy as a success for the economy and in reducing poverty.

But in interviews with villagers in Rwanda’s mountainous west the researchers found only a relatively wealthy minority had been able to keep up with modernisation, while the poorest cannot afford the risk of taking out credit for the seeds and fertilisers required for modernised agriculture.

Here’s the summary from the study from the report, Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications of Imposed Innovation for the Wellbeing of Rural Smallholders, which is available free in its entirety from the journal World Development, under a Creative Commons agreement sponsored by  Natural Environment Research Council:

Green Revolution policies are again being pursued to drive agricultural growth and reduce poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. However conditions have changed since the well-documented successes of the 1960s and 1970s benefitted smallholders in southern Asia and beyond. We argue that under contemporary constraints the mechanisms for achieving improvements in the lives of smallholder farmers through such policies are unclear and that both policy rationale and means of governing agricultural innovation are crucial for pro-poor impacts. To critically analyze Rwanda’s Green Revolution policies and impacts from a local perspective, a mixed methods, multidimensional wellbeing approach is applied in rural areas in mountainous western Rwanda. Here Malthusian policy framing has been used to justify imposed rather than “induced innovation”. The policies involve a substantial transformation for rural farmers from a traditional polyculture system supporting subsistence and local trade to the adoption of modern seed varieties, inputs, and credit in order to specialize in marketable crops and achieve increased production and income. Although policies have been deemed successful in raising yields and conventionally measured poverty rates have fallen over the same period, such trends were found to be quite incongruous with local experiences. Disaggregated results reveal that only a relatively wealthy minority were able to adhere to the enforced modernization and policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants. Negative impacts were evident for the majority of households as subsistence practices were disrupted, poverty exacerbated, local systems of knowledge, trade, and labor were impaired, and land tenure security and autonomy were curtailed. In order to mitigate the effects we recommend that inventive pro-poor forms of tenure and cooperation (none of which preclude improvements to input availability, market linkages, and infrastructure) may provide positive outcomes for rural people, and importantly in Rwanda, for those who have become landless in recent years. We conclude that policies promoting a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa should not all be considered to be pro-poor or even to be of a similar type, but rather should be the subject of rigorous impact assessment. Such assessment should be based not only on consistent, objective indicators but pay attention to localized impacts on land tenure, agricultural practices, and the wellbeing of socially differentiated people.

Quote of the day Ted Cruz in a nutshell [Nut’s hell?]


From journalist and author Gary Leech, writing for Counterpunch:

Perhaps nothing captures the imperialist arrogance of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz more succinctly than his campaign’s statement declaring, “What is best for America is best for the world.” In addition to the obvious fact that billions of people around the world might disagree with Cruz on this point is the fact that it is not at all clear that the Republican presidential candidate’s proposed policies are even best for most Americans. But given his victory this past week in the Iowa caucus, Cruz’s ultra-conservative views can no longer be ignored while mainstream and progressive pundits busy themselves dissecting the bombastic rhetoric of the far less scary Donald Trump.

In contrast to most candidates that run for president, Ted Cruz has a clear vision for the future of the country. The problem for many Americans is that it is a terrifying vision. It is a vision that is imperialist, racist, sexist, classist and homophobic. For instance, Cruz proposes building a giant wall across the US-Mexico border in addition to using high-tech measures to keep out “illegal” immigrants while allowing corporate labor needs to dictate the flow of “legal” immigrants into the country. In addition to strengthening the military to ensure US hegemony around the globe, he also vows to boost US military support for Israel and to withhold funding from the United Nations if it “continues its anti-Israel bias.”

On the domestic front, Cruz is calling for a flat tax that will benefit the rich and gut government social spending. He has also vowed to curtail women’s rights by stating that he will order the attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood on his first day as president. And he opposes same-sex marriage, declaring that “marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.” Finally, Cruz would not only fail to address climate change, which he views as a hoax, he would promote expanded oil and gas production. Given that these policy proposals make Cruz one of the most conservative presidential contenders in decades, it would behoove us to take a closer at them.

Class cleansing, history, race, and the Super Bowl


A short but notable segment from Democracy Now! how issues of the issues of class and race are integral to America’s most iconic sporting event.

No Super Bowl in recent decades has evoked their spectral present more than the game’s 50th extravaganza, held in San Francisco, the nation’s most expensive city to inhabit, yet a city haunted by the issues of race and class.

It was, after all, San Francisco that brought the nation its first drug law, created in 1875 to repress a hard-working Chinese population by banning the use of opium, the drug which helped numb the pain brought on by long hours of physical exertion.

The San Francisco ordinance, quickly adopted by most other California cities with large Asian populations, didn’t halt sales of the drug; instead driving it underground and causing the price to spike.

Nor, as any visitor to modern San Francisco can attest, did it succeed in driving out its Chinese residents.

[The nation’s prohibitions of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin were all based directly on overt racist hysteria, as noted here.]

The San Francisco Bay Area was also the birthplace of the most prominent African American militants of the mid-20th Century, the Black Panthers.

And it was the Panthers who were, remarkably, celebrated in Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show by one of the nation’s most popular singers.

But before the game was held, another cleansing of San Francisco took place, this time one based on class and not race.

And with that by way of preface, from Democracy Now!:

Beyoncé Wins the Super Bowl: Pop Legend Invokes Black Panthers, #BlackLivesMatter at Halftime Show

From the transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin joins us from Washington, D.C., sports columnist for The Nation. His latest article, “The Streets of San Francisco: ‘Super Bowl City’ Meets Tent City.”

Thanks so much. His books include The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, which he co-wrote with John Carlos. Your response to all that happened last night, Dave?

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, there’s on the field and off the field. I mean, on the field, you had the Denver Broncos exhibit one of the great defensive performances in Super Bowl history. Off the field, what you had was really an unprecedented sweep of the homeless before a Super Bowl contest. And, you know, every Super Bowl in the host city has a narrative that exists outside the game. In New Orleans, it was “How will the city recover after Hurricane Katrina?” In New York, if you remember—we discussed this, Amy—it was the sweep and harassment of sex workers before the big game that took place in the Meadowlands.

And in San Francisco, it’s the fact that you have this city of only 800,000 people that has a homeless population of 10,000. Sixty-one percent of the homeless in San Francisco were working at the time they lost their homes. And one-third of these 10,000 people are children. And yet, the response from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was: You better get off the street. You better get gone, because we’re about to have a party for the 1 percent. We’re about to have a Woodstock for the wealthy and celebrate the Super Bowl and celebrate our conspicuous consumption. There’s no greater symbol of this year’s Super Bowl, to me, than the fact you could go to the game and buy a delicious hot dog with real gold flakes sprinkled on top, so you could eat gold with your hot dog while people are literally hungry outside the most unequal and, by some metrics, the wealthiest city now in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what happened inside, at halftime, Dave Zirin? Can you talk about not only what Beyoncé—

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —did there with her song, the homage to the Black Panthers—

DAVE ZIRIN: It was too short.