Washington’s approach to the war on poverty endured a dramatic episode this week when Representative Paul Ryan made inflammatory remarks about the “culture” of America’s inner cities. The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee and House Budget Committee chairman told a conservative radio program that “we have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”
Representative Barbara Lee hit back quickly in a widely noted statement: “My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner-city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated,” Lee said. “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”
On Thursday, Lee revealed to a small group of reporters that she has spoken with Ryan about his remarks—and that the two plan to meet to discuss them soon. “I’ve talked to him. We’re going to get together about it. It was a good conversation,” Lee told the reporters, in the office of House minority whip Steny Hoyer. The two convened the briefing to push their anti-poverty message and their effort to get long-term unemployment insurance and a minimum wage increase passed through the House.
Lee said she hopes the controversy can spark a broader conversation about poverty in Congress. “At least the debate is beginning,” she said, noting that Ryan recently conducted a “poverty tour” through several states. “It’s a good debate, that should have happened twenty-five years ago.”
Hoyer agreed that Ryan’s remarks might end up serving a purpose. “Frankly, I think Ryan raising it is a positive. Because it puts it out there as an area of concern,” Hoyer said.
Conciliatory as the two might have sounded, they repeatedly and at length took issue with Ryan’s framing.
“I think part of the issue with a lot of members is, they just don’t get it,” said Lee. “They don’t understand when they make comments such as this that—race is a factor in America, regardless of what you think. And I think Paul Ryan does not quite understand that.”
Hoyer echoed those comments, and said that Ryan’s racial framing served to turn people off from really addressing the issue of poverty. “The majority of poverty is not in inner cities, and the majority of poverty is not minorities,” he said. “Some people don’t understand that, [and] they simplify. And as a result, it undermines the concern of some people because they think it’s not them.”
House Democrats are pushing discharge petitions on the minimum wage and extending long-term unemployment benefits. (The meeting occurred just before the Senate reportedly reached a deal to pass an unemployment benefit extension out of that chamber.)
The discharge petitions allow for a vote on each respective measure once there are 218 signees—the operating theory is that there may be enough votes to pass both bills, but House Speaker John Boehner won’t allow the votes to occur.
The prospect of either petition reaching 218 is slim, but Democrats feel it allows them to put Republican members who claim they’d support either of the measures on the spot, so they can no longer say they support say, a minimum wage increase, but just haven’t had the chance to vote on it.
The petitions are no doubt a last-ditch effort, but House Democrats are feeling desperate. Hoyer openly admitted that the body in which he serves has made poverty matters worse in the past three years. “There’s no doubt we’ve exacerbated it. By our negligence or by our refusal to act, we’ve made poverty worse,” he said. “We’ve made the status of families in America worse, and we’ve hurt our economy.”
Read Next: Eric Holder pushes for reduced drug sentences.
Last October, under pressure from a growing student campaign, Harvard President Drew Faust released a letter explaining why the university would not divest from fossil fuel companies. Her reasoning was questioned by both Harvard student Chloe Maxmin and former President of Reed College James Powell, among many others. Recently, Divest Harvard co-founder and StudentNation writer Alli Welton caught up to Faust and engaged her in a conversation, captured here on video, about her decision not to divest. By not divesting, Harvard is effectively using its “name to sanction the morally reprehensible acts of the fossil fuel industry,” Welton tells Faust. See how the president responds.
For more on the Divest Harvard movement, click here
Update: On March 10, President Faust sent a letter to Divest Harvard taking issue with the way the group was characterizing and contextualizing the conversation.
Read Next: UNC students advocate for garment workers’ rights.
In a recent post, Joshua told of our move from Upstate California to San Francisco. As newcomers to this metropolis, we needed jobs, and perhaps more importantly, we needed to fit in. Joshua decided to follow his muse, and join the poetry scene in North Beach (he will share his experiences in a future post). As for me, I decided to stay in the food business. I moved across the Bay to Berkeley to become a restaurateur, as I know how to spell that word and, moreover, I have a French accent.
Check out the menu I designed for my future restaurant!
We use no-cigar produce whenever possible.
Glutton-free and native-gear items available upon request.
LOX TALK AND BERYL bagel special
L’EMOTE eggs, theater style
BUILD-YOUR-OWN SCRAMBLE you choose the letters, we do the rest
I-GREC club sandwich
AUNT EM tuna melt with a dash
KALAMATA JANE olives
OLD MAN’S almonds
GENRES mixed greens
YOU CAN’T BEET this
SOUPE DU JOUR soup of the day
SOUPE DE JAVU soup of the day before
PEPPERONI kind of spray on individual’s face
RENT MONEY flatbread
OXYMORON jumbo shrimp
KITCHEN BASTER chicken breast
KEATS meat or fish, depending
BLEW PLAIT special
POOR LAWS cabbage
EPISCOPAL soft drink
OH, LOCAL! hard drink
MACHO strong coffee
HENRI Rhine wine
TSARINA cheese plate
In addition to this remarkable menu, I’d offer GUACK-A-MOLE, an avocado video game to keep the children entertained while the adults solve a puzzle or two while waiting for their food. At Chez Henri the “writing in the air” gesture, which in other restaurants means “the bill, please,” would mean “may I have a pencil?” To ask for the bill, customers would operate an air calculator, which makes a lot more sense, no?
What do you think of my business plan? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
And here are four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail
Attorney General Eric Holder backed a proposal that would reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug traffickers by about a year.
A US Sentencing Commission plan would reduce federal guidelines for sentencing drug dealers from sixty-two months to fifty-one months. Holder announced his support for that plan before the commission Thursday.
The plan would affect nearly 70 percent of drug trafficking offenders and trim the federal prisoner population by 6,550 inmates within five years, according to a Department of Justice analysis. Nearly half of the 216,000 federal inmates currently serving time in US prisons are incarcerated for drug-related offenses.
“As it stands—and as this Commission has recognized—certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for too long, and at times for no truly good public safety reason,” Holder said. “Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”
Holder focused on the financial benefits of reducing prison sentences, noting that state and federal governments spent about $80 billion a year on incarceration in 2010. He also cited a study suggesting that seventeen states diverting funds away from prisons to evidence-based diversion programs will save $4.6 billion over ten years.
Holder acknowledged that the proposal is “measured in scope.” Even if the seven-member commission approves the plan in April, as is expected, the United States will likely maintain the world’s largest prison population by a significant margin.
The announcement comes as Holder and members of Congress push a proposal to end mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders and to grant clemency for crack offenders serving disproportionate sentences.
Read Next: Carl Hart on how the myth of the “negro cocaine fiend” helped shape American drug policy
"Chile has but one great enemy, and its name is inequality. Only together can we take it on.”
With those words, Michelle Bachelet returned to the presidency of Chile this week. The Socialist leader has vowed to put inequality at the top of her agenda. In doing so, she is hardly alone among Latin American leaders.
Latin America has long been one of the most unequal areas of the globe. But during the past decade, the region has witnessed a remarkable turnaround. Economic populism has swept the continent, leading to the election of left-of-center political parties that have implemented anti-equality agendas. Their efforts have borne fruit. During a decade when economic inequality grew by leaps and bounds in the rest of the world, it declined significantly in Latin America.
Last year, the World Bank reported that the region’s Gini coefficient, a statistic that measures inequality, decreased from 58 in 1996 to 52 in 2011. During the 2000s, Gini coefficients declined in thirteen of seventeen individual Latin American countries as well. In that same decade, rate of extreme poverty (people surviving on less than $2.50 a day) was cut by 25 percent to 13 percent. Those at the bottom 40 percent of the income scale also made impressive gains—their average income rose by 5 percent, as opposed to 3 percent on average for the population as a whole.
What’s the secret of Latin America’s success? Partial credit is due to the healthy economic growth the region saw over the past decade—about 4 percent on average—spurred by a strong worldwide demand for the region’s commodities. But of course, just because growth occurs, there’s no guarantee it will be equitably shared. For example, in the US between 1975 and 2009, GDP per capita growth was 1.9 percent, but growth in median household incomes was only 0.5 percent. Moreover, there is mounting evidence that equality itself helps drive growth, and inequality puts the brakes on it.
More than growth, what’s really made the crucial difference have been politics and policy. This UN study of the regions’ economy, as well as this paper, which takes a close look at Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, point to some of the policies that have been particularly effective in fighting inequality. The findings include the following:
- Redistribution government transfers have been very important. Welfare cash transfer programs such as Bolsa Familia in Brazil, Opportunidades in Mexico, and similar programs in Argentina and Bolivia have lifted millions of people out of poverty.
- The expansion of educational opportunity has also been key. Some of the transfer programs, such as Bolsa Familia, pay a stipend to families who allow their children to stay in school. This has resulted in rising levels of educational attainment and skilled labor. Highly skilled labor has become more abundant relative to low skilled labor, reducing.the premium for high skilled workers and creating more equality.
- Labor market institutions have also played an important role, particularly in Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. Minimum wage hikes and stronger unions have increased the earnings of low-earning workers.
It’s well worth emphasizing that the anti-equality agenda these countries have adopted marks a sharp break with the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” of the 1980s and '90s: austerity, privatization, deregulation, and the like. In 2003, Argentina’s Kirchner and Brazil’s Lula even signed a document, the Buenos Aires Consensus, which explicitly rejects the policies of the Washington Consensus. In previous decades, neoliberal policies had been adopted throughout Latin America, but they brought recession and suffering rather than prosperity. The 1980s was a “lost decade” and the 1990s weren’t much better. Widespread popular discontent with the fruits of neoliberalism led to the elections of economically populist governments throughout Latin America beginning in the early 2000s.
Perhaps the most successful of these is the government led by Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Morales, ironically, has been among the Latin American leaders who has strayed furthest from the Washington Consensus. His government has nationalized major industries (the state now controls 34 percent of the economy) and closed its borders to some imports. Between 2002 and 2010, the Bolivia’s poverty rate was cut by a third, and in 2009, UNESCO declared the country illiteracy-free. Economic growth was over 5 percent last year and has averaged above 4.5 percent during Morales’ presidency.
Though great progress in the fight against inequality in Latin America has been made, serious challenges remain. Latin America is still, along with Africa, the most unequal region in the world. Many people living there suffer from desperate poverty, including some 80 million people living in extreme poverty. An economy that goes sour could open the door to right-wing challengers bent on reversing historic gains, as may be happening in Venezuela.
For now, though, Latin America’s egalitarian renaissance appears to be going strong. Countries like the US, where inequality continues to spiral, could do worse than to take a close look at the egalitarian policies that have worked for Latin America, and adopt them as their own.
Read Next: Kathy Geier on why tech-sector neoliberalism won't solve inequality in the US.
The fact that President Vladimir Putin hasn’t admitted what everyone else in the world knows, namely, that thousands of Russian troops have illegally seized control of Crimea, is a good thing, in one way: because Russia hasn’t owned up to occupying Crimea, it’s just a little bit easier easier for Putin to back down, to avoid annexing Crimea after the phony referendum on Sunday, and to seek a diplomatic solution. Had Putin admitted that Russia was occupying Crimea, he’d feel that much more pressure to defend it. So there’s a chance that, even if Sunday’s referendum on independence for Crimea is held, there still can be a diplomatic resolution of the crisis.
It’s not likely, but it’s possible. And yesterday, both President Obama and Ukraine’s new leader, the unelected Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, opened the door for that sort of solution. (You can read the entire text of the comments by Obama and Yatsenyuk at the White House’s website.) Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to London to meet Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in what could end up being a meeting that lasts two days or more.
Obama’s plan, essentially, calls for freezing everything in place until after Ukraine’s elections on May 25, after which Ukraine can negotiate a final status for Crimea with Russia. That might involve anything from Ukraine’s complete refusal to countenance any change in the status quo, to some sort of enhanced (read: pro-Russia) autonomy, to a decision to allow a real, well-organized referendum within Crimea to go forward. And Yatsenyuk said that, above all, Ukraine will continue to recognize and support Russia’s long-standing military facilities in Crimea, including its Black Sea naval base. Yatsenyuk said: “So much will depend on whether Russia…wants to have Ukraine as a partner or as a subordinate.”
Said Obama: “We hope that President Putin is willing to seize that path.”
Kerry, who appears more hawkish than Obama on various issues, including Ukraine, in testimony yesterday before a congressional committee said that even if the Sunday referendum is held, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be a diplomatic solution—as long as Russia doesn’t follow the phony vote by annexing the region. Reports The Wall Street Journal:
He also pointed to possible ways around a long-running standoff with Russia. For example, he said, the Russian parliament, or Duma, may avoid quick action to annex Crimea even if Sunday’s referendum is approved.
“There are a lot of variants here, which is why it is urgent that we have this conversation with the Russians and try to figure out a way forward,” Mr. Kerry said.
In fact, the takeover of Crimea may already be past fixing, and irreversible. That’s the expressly stated opinion of Robert Gates, and others. But, if Crimea does get absorbed into the Russian Federation, as seems likely—and especially if things get worse, say, if Russia continues its irredentist course toward “protecting” Russian-speaking inhabitants of eastern Ukraine—then the pressure on President Obama to make a major course correction on US policy toward Russia will be immense, and probably irresistible. And the crisis also would cause a deep and lasting rift in Russia’s relations with Europe, whose vast economic ties with Russia cause the continent to shudder over the idea of a confrontation that could involve sanctions. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is no doubt under enormous pressure to avoid a rupture in her country’s relations with Russia, but such pressure will be impossible to resist if Russia persists on its present course. Said Merkel yesterday:
Ladies and gentlemen, if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine. We would not only see it, also as neighbors of Russia, as a threat, and it would not only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia. No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.
Along with the United States, Germany and other members of the G-7, collectively known as “the West,” issued a statement strongly urging Russia to seek a diplomatic settlement. The statement said that none of the G-7 countries will recognize the results of Sunday’s referendum:
Any such referendum would have no legal effect. Given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force. For all these reasons, we would not recognize the outcome.
But, as The Wall Street Journal noted, the G-7 statement stopped short of threatening sanctions or other retaliatory actions. That’s all good, because—like Obama’s carefully worded offer in his meeting with Yatsenyuk—it creates an opportunity for Putin to back down with face-saving grace and agree to some solution.
Read Next: Conn Hallinan on the dark side of the Ukraine revolt
Among the very worst ideas for “reforming” the United States Postal Service are proposals to end Saturday delivery and to shift from at-the-door delivery of mail to a scheme that would force Americans to go to collect letters and packages from central delivery spots.
Both approaches would diminish the scope and character of the postal service while increasing the likelihood that private firms will move in to fill the void.
These are the sort of ideas that are peddled by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Darrell Issa, R-California, and others who target the USPS for deep cuts. Unfortunately, they’ve turned up in the Obama administration’s budget.
As The Hill reports:
Obama’s budget would allow USPS to scrap all Saturday delivery—even packages, one of the most rapidly growing parts of the Postal Service’s business. USPS in recent months has shown more interest in expanding when it delivers packages, with Sunday delivery now in limited areas.
The White House budget would also allow USPS to move away from door-to-door delivery to more centralized delivery areas, an idea also panned by Democrats. Plus, USPS could keep a recent temporary increase in the price of stamps—which large mailers loathe—beyond the scheduled two years.
According to the Obama administration, these reforms—along with a proposal to tinker with some of the immediate requirements for pre-funding retiree healthcare benefits seventy-five years into the future—“would set USPS on a sustainable business path, providing it with over $20 billion in cash relief, operational savings and revenue through 2016.”
But that’s not how the people who deliver the mail, and who have battled to preserve the postal service, see it.
American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein says the administration budget echoes “misguided policies…for severe cutbacks that will harm service, drive away business, and eliminate jobs.”
“The budget fails to eliminate the pre-funding requirement of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which is the fundamental cause of the Postal Service’s manufactured financial crisis,” says Dimondstein, who adds that “with the Postal Service posting operating profits in mail and package delivery, there is absolutely no justification to continue a strategy of austerity. Rather than damaging the infrastructure and network that is essential for providing service, the Postal Service must expand service.”
That’s a message that a new alliance of postal unions—the APWU, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association—wants to communicate to the president and his budget team. The unions offered this week to meet with the White House to discuss strategies for strengthening the postal service—from changes in shipping rules to the development of a postal banking system along lines proposed by US Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts.
But the first reform has to involve a realistic restructuring of that requirement to prefund retiree health benefits decades into the future.
“Our Postal Service is in need of true reform, not ill‐advised, counter‐productive attempts to slash service,” says National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association president Jeanette Dwyer. “By reworking the Postal Service’s funding of its retiree health benefits, an obligation which accounts for 80 percent of USPS losses over recent years and is forced on no other public or private entity, lawmakers could take the easiest and most sensible step toward getting this venerable institution back on the right page. Allowing the Postal Service to continue to innovate with same‐day parcel delivery and other services will provide a great opportunity to generate needed revenue and allow the USPS to remain a competitive player in the shipping and delivery industry. We need to grow our Postal Service not shrink it.”
Instead of borrowing ideas from members of Congress who want to downsize and dismantle the postal service, White House aides would be well to take the counsel of members who recognize the immense potential of the postal service.
Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, have introduced a smart fix, the Postal Service Protection Act, which has 174 co-sponsors in the House and twenty-seven in the Senate.
Sanders begins with the basic premise that, “first, prefunding must end. The future retiree health fund now has some $50 billion in it. That is enough. This step alone will restore the Postal Service to profitability.”
But Sanders does not stop there. The senator and his allies argue that the “Postal Service should have the flexibility to provide new consumer products and services—a flexibility that was banned by Congress in 2006. It is now against the law for workers in post offices to notarize or make copies of documents; to cash checks; to deliver wine or beer; or to engage in e-commerce activities [like scanning physical mail into a PDF and sending it through e-mail, selling non-postal products on the Internet or offering a non-commercial version of Gmail].”
And, along with Senator Warren, Sanders is making the case for postal banking:
A recent report from the Postal Service Inspector General suggests that almost $9 billion a year could be generated by providing financial services. At a time when more than 80 million lower-income Americans have no bank accounts or are forced to rely on rip-off check-cashing storefronts and payday lenders, these kinds of financial services would be of huge social benefit.
That’s the right reform. The White House should rewrite the sections of its budget proposal relating to the postal service, reject austerity and embrace an agenda that it good for the USPS and the communities it serves.
Read Next: Why we need a bank at the post office.
Late Wednesday afternoon, a White House pool reporter asked President Obama about the explosive allegations made by Senator Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday morning that the CIA was spying on, and removed documents from, congressional staffers who were investigating Bush-era torture.
The question came during a brief media availability at a White House event on women and families. Obama’s response, in full:
The first day I came into office, I ended the practices that are subject to the investigation by the Senate committee, and have been very clear that I believed they were contrary to our values as a country. Since that time, we have worked with the Senate committee so that the report that they are putting forward is well informed and what I have said is that I am absolutely committed to declassifying that report as soon as the report is completed. In fact, I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past and that can help guide us as we move forward.
With respect to the issues that are going back and forth between the Senate committee and the CIA, John Brennan has referred them to the appropriate authorities and they are looking into it and that’s not something that is an appropriate role for me and the White House to wade into at this point. But the one thing that I want to emphasize is that the substantive issue, which is how do we operate even when we are threatened, even when even gone through extraordinary trauma has to be consistent with the rule of law and our values. And I acted on that on the first day and that hasn’t changed.
About 95 percent of Obama’s remarks involve declassifying the 6,300-page Senate report on “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA, and he restates his desire to have the report be made public.
But the president’s one line on the CIA-Senate debate is deeply troubling: “With respect to the issues that are going back and forth between the Senate committee and the CIA, [Director] John Brennan has referred them to the appropriate authorities and they are looking into it and that’s not something that is an appropriate role for me and the White House to wade into at this point.”
Here’s the problem: Obama’s framing in that sentence very much wades into the debate.
The important context here is the Department of Justice is running two parallel investigations into the CIA’s removal of the so-called “Panetta review”—one into wrongdoing by the Intelligence Committee, and one into CIA wrongdoing.
The CIA claims that Senate staffers illegally obtained a copy of that review, which damns the CIA for it’s role in Bush-era interrogations and is at odds with public statements from the CIA.
But Feinstein strenuously, and at great length, contested that claim in her Senate floor speech on Tuesday. She explained how the Panetta review came into the committee’s possession: either by intentional or unintentional disclosure by the CIA while turning over the 6.2 million documents related to the interrogation program, or by a “whistle-blower” either at the agency or working for the private contracting firm that was vetting the documents. She went on to explain that the Senate Legal Counsel affirmed to her that these were not classified documents, and that the committee was permitted to have them.
Furthermore, Feinstein explicitly alleged that the CIA’s referral of a criminal report might have been an effort to intimidate Senate investigators.
So when Obama says that “John Brennan has referred [the matter] to the appropriate authorities,” it reads as an implicit rebuke of the intimidation charge. That he mentions only the allegation of Senate misconduct by Brennan and not the parallel investigation into CIA wrongdoing is also troubling.
Obama’s remarks came on the heels of a revelation by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney earlier on Wednesday that the White House was aware of the criminal complaint the CIA planned to file against Senate investigators, but did not intervene.
Feinstein’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Obama’s remarks from The Nation.
Read Next: Frederick Schwartz on why we need a new Church Committee
Three cheers and a glass of fair trade, organic bubbly for Moshe Z. Marvit for winning the March Sidney Award for his Nation article, “How Crowdworkers Became the Ghosts in the Digital Machine.” The Sidney is a monthly prize awarded by The Sidney Hillman Foundation to an “outstanding piece of socially conscious journalism.” In recognizing Marvit’s work Sidney Award judge and investigative journalist Lindsay Beyerstein said, “Marvit casts a light on a previously obscure, but profoundly exploited class of workers.”
Crowdworkers are the vast, invisible labor force who toil in the hidden cracks of the Internet—the spaces where digital ingenuity fails and human skill steps in. Working through online brokerages like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Crowdflower, these workers perform a range of monotonous “microtasks” (think brief surveys, tagging photos, identifying porn and other tasks a computer cannot do) for both large corporations, like Twitter, and random individuals who commission their labor. For this they are paid as little as $2 to $3 an hour, often less.
Among enthusiasts, crowdwork is often hailed as a kind of new labor ideal—a worker Xanadu where freedom, self-determination and flexibility reign. Yet most crowdwork, Marvit reveals, is little more than latter-day piecework draped in high-tech gloss. Working from home, crowd workers, who come from all over the world and are believed to number in the millions, enjoy little in the way of today’s labor protections: because they are classified as independent contractors, they do not qualify for basic employee protections; and because the technology is so new, and the system largely unmonitored, employers can engage in practices that are clearly not legal. The result, Marvit writes in his article: a vast and virtual free market that critics have called “the most unregulated labor marketplace that has ever existed.”
Marvit, who is an attorney focusing on labor and economic law, first came across crowdworking in graduate school. As he tells Beyerstein in an interview published on the Hillman Foundation site, he learned of it from colleagues who were using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to get survey answers. Curious, he began exploring. His research took him from the offices of Amazon, which brought Mechanical Turk online in 2005, to the eighteenth-century court of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, who commissioned the original Mechanical Turk, an automaton that audiences believed could play chess. It also took him into the worlds of actual workers, like Stephanie Costello, a full-time turker who has been known to stay up all night to try to find “good-paying” crowdwork. Her definition of good? One hundred and fifty dollars for sixty hours of work a week.
Yet, if the piece offers a devastating portrait of one of today’s more exploitative labor spheres, Marvit also sees it as a warning for potential dangers to come. As he tells Beyerstein, “Many conservatives have been pushing for greater deregulation of labor—such as lowering or eliminating the minimum wage, getting rid of child labor laws, dismantling protections for union organizing—and in Mechanical Turk we can see the world we’d be living in if such deregulation occurred.”
Or, to bring it home: in conservatives’ imagined deregulated dystopia, we are all Mechanical Turks.
(For Lindsay Beyerstein’s full Backstory interview with Moshe Marvit, check out the Hillman Foundation site, here. And for the full version of Marvit’s original article, “How Crowdworkers Became the Ghosts in the Digital Machine,” go here.)
California Representative Barbara Lee responded to Representative Paul Ryan’s Wednesday remarks lambasting “inner city” men for not “learning the value or culture of work.” Her message: we know whom you’re talking about, Mr. Ryan.
In a statement, Representative Lee called out the Wisconsincongressman for invoking dog-whistle politics to support work requirements for benefits. She did not hold back.
“My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated,” Lee said. “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”
Representative Lee added, “Instead of demonizing ‘culture,’ and blaming black men for their poverty, Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America. His uninformed policy proposals continue to increase poverty, not solve it.”
Representative Ryan made his controversial remarks on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio show. Responding to a question about the “fatherless problem” in poor neighborhoods, Ryan said, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on Paul Ryan’s “culture canard”