Public school teachers cheer outside the Chicago Board of Education district headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong)
Chicago is braced for a critical vote by the Board of Education this week to determine if fifty-four schools will be closed.
Last week, parents of three children, two who have disabilities and a third who is black, filed a lawsuit at the US District Court in Chicago alleging that the school closings violate the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
A second complaint, filed by the parents of three more children with disabilities, alleged the closings will occur too late in the year and don’t allow sufficient time for those children and their peers to transition to “unfamiliar” schools.
The parents sued on behalf of a proposed class of about 5,000 disabled students they say will be irreparably harmed by a transfer into new schools and for the 23 percent of the city’s black elementary-school children whose rights are allegedly being violated by the plan.…
“Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long, children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resourced schools,” CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said of the closings plan in a statement issued on March 21.
The announced closings spurred a weekend of protests in which activists claimed children’s lives will be put at risk when they are transferred to new schools, some of which are located in neighborhoods infamous for gun violence.
“There is no way [CPS] can keep people safe walking through this danger zone,” protester Jitu Brown shouted into a megaphone during a protest outside Overton Elementary School in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighbourhood—one of the schools slated for closure.
The Chicago Tribune reports, earlier this month, a man was fatally shot along the route that Overton students might take to their new schools.
The Tribune also found that, for children who aren’t eligible for busing, the average walk to a new school in the coming year will be almost twice as far as it is now, increasing from about a third of a mile to nearly six-tenths of a mile. Almost all the students—92 percent—at thirty-seven of the schools slated to be shut down currently have walks of four blocks or less. Sixty percent of that number walk two blocks or less.
CPS has claimed that 30,000 children will be affected by the school closings, but WBEZ fact-checked that claim and discovered the district’s plan will actually touch more than 46,000 children.
Additionally, WBEZ poked holes in officials’ claim that the City of Chicago lost 145,000 children in the past decade, making the soon-to-be-shuttered schools “under-utilized.” However, a drop in child population does not automatically mean a loss of students in CPS. In fact, WBEZ notes, between 2000 and 2013, actual enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has not decreased dramatically, and since 2000, the proportion of Chicago kids attending public schools has actually increased. For decades, the percent of city kids (ages 5–19) in CPS hovered around 65 percent, but in 2010, that jumped up significantly to 79.7 percent.
District officials calculate how under-used, overcrowded or “efficient” a school is by assuming every school should have thirty students in each homeroom. WBEZ reports that if you apply CPS’s own formula to the fifty-four schools proposed for closing, you find not all are “half-empty.” Fifteen have a utilization rate higher than 50 percent: Buckingham, Canter, Emmet, Ericson, Femi, Goodlow, Key, Mayo, Near North, Overton, Owens, Ryerson, Trumbull, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle.
Activists have challenged that formula. Rod Estvan, education policy analyst for disability advocacy group Access Living, says the utilization rates are “totally wrong” for schools like Trumbull and Lafayette because they have inordinately high proportions of special education students (30 and 28 percent, respectively).
CPS officials have admitted the formula does not take reduced special education class size requirements into account.
Furthermore, there is absolutely zero guarantee that children will be moving on to better schools, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s claim that the key reason to close schools is about getting children “trapped” in low performing schools to a better place.
In a 2009 study of school closings, the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that between 2001 and 2006, most students whose schools were closed by the district re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak. Consortium researchers found that most students lost academic ground in the year their school was slated for closure. And once they were in their new school, they continued on an academic trajectory that was just like the trajectory of the closed school.
The Tribune recently reported that Ericson Academy on the West Side was targeted for closure by officials who claim it would cost $9.6 million to fix the fifty-one-year-old building, but what they didn’t point out in materials provided to parents is that they planned to spend nearly as much on repairs to Sumner Elementary, where Ericson students are to be reassigned.
District officials also claimed Calhoun Elementary, another school slated for closure, was being shut down in part because of its lack of air conditioning in every classroom. Yet records that were not part of the district’s presentation on closings show the designated replacement school, Cather Elementary, would require the installation of thirty-three window units to bring cooling in every room, the Tribune reports.
After reviewing documents related to the closings, the Tribune concluded, “In many cases, the district appears to have selectively highlighted data to stress shortcomings at schools to be closed, while not pointing out what was lacking at the receiving schools. In fact, total renovations to several of the schools slated to take in students would cost millions of dollars more than the estimated cost of fixing up the buildings where those children are currently enrolled.”
Michelle Rose, the grandmother of three students at Ericson, was furious when CPS sent a flier home contending that the school lacked the science and computer labs like ones promised at Sumner. This summer’s work at Sumner is only a start; the district estimates complete renovations will run a total of $24.5 million.
“We have two computer labs, two mobile computer labs, we have a science lab, we have two pre-K classrooms, so I don’t know why no one saw this,” said Rose, a volunteer at the school.
Emanuel and company claim the closings must occur because of budgetary shortfalls, but closing fifty-four schools won’t reduce the $1 billion deficit because all of that cost saving (plus tens of millions of additional dollars adding up to around $233 million) will go straight into receiving schools.
“We’ve assumed that we’ll have to spend in this first year an investment that we’ll make back over time with the savings that we’ll realize both in operating savings and cost avoidance of capital investment at these closing schools. So that’s the way we’re looking at it,” Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley told reporters on a telephone briefing March 21. (Check out the full WBEZ factcheck list on CPS closings.)
Zenitra Hodges, 23, of West Englewood, is studying psychology at Kentucky State University. She learned about one of the anti-closings marches Sunday morning and decided to join.
“My parents instilled with me the importance of education, but there are tons of kids who go without that,” she said. “So I’m here to help change that.”
Think the situation in Chicago is bad? Check out Allison Kilkenny’s reports about Philadelphia.
AT&T Park in San Franscisco. (Flickr/CC, 2.0)
Picture AT&T Park, home of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Picture about as breathtaking a baseball stadium as exists in the United States with the San Francisco Bay, otherwise known as McCovey Cove, framing the outfield like a Norman Rockwell postcard as conceived by Leroy Neiman. Picture seats packed with people clad in their iconic orange and black reveling in the once hard-luck team that now defines the city and stands atop the game. What we don’t picture when we conjure images of this or any ballpark are the people actually doing the work to keep it all running.
As idyllic as the aesthetics of the park remain, those prepping the food and cleaning the toilets make $11,000 a year in a city where, due to yet another round of tech-bubble gentrification, they cannot afford to live. Concession workers at the park earn their $11,000 in a city where a one bedroom apartment runs $3,000 a month and people are spending near that much to live in laundry rooms and unventilated basements. These same workers, who commute as much as two hours each way to get to the park, have now gone three years without a pay increase. This despite the fact that the value of the team, according to Forbes, has increased 40 percent, ticket prices have spiked and the cost of a cup of beer has climbed to $10.25. This also despite the fact that, as packed sellouts become the norm, the stress and toil of the job has never been greater. Now, the 800 concession workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 2, have voted 97 percent to strike.
Team management, which subcontracted food services to a South Carolina outfit called Centerplate, claims no responsibility for the labor troubles, even though they receive 55 percent of every dollar spent by the Giants fans. I spoke with Billie Feliciano, who has been working at the park for over three decades. She said to me, “This is the first time in thirty-five years we’ve had to go to these extremes. Centerplate says talk to the Giants. The Giants say talk to Centerplate. If we stepped back for five minutes they’d figure it out after they started to lose all that money. All we are saying is we want a fair share.”
Getting their “fair share” from Giants owner 80-year-old multibillionaire Charles Johnson will not be easy. A child of Wall Street wealth whose fortune has grown exponentially with the expansion of the financial markets, he now heads the mutual fund Franklin Templeton started by his father. As he said to The San Francisco Chronicle, quoting the company’s namesake Ben Franklin, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” (It would be far more fitting if he quoted the Ben Franklin who said of money, “The more one has, the more one wants.”)
In a startling bit of symmetry, Johnson lives in the city’s Carolands Chateau, a 100 room, 65,000 square foot palace originally built a century ago for the daughter of railroad magnate George Pullman. That would be George Pullman, namesake of the bloody 1894 Pullman Railway Strike where the United States Army intervened to crush the nascent industrial workers organization known as the American Railway Union. Then, destroying the mere idea of an industrial union like the ARU was seen as a high priority. Today we are seeing service industry workers starting to organize, walk out and be heard, and a twenty-first-century Pullman is looking to halt the mere idea that the expansion of service unions will happen on his watch. This is why the struggle at AT&T Park is bigger than 800 concession workers and why everyone has a stake in offering solidarity and support. As legendary Bay Area KPFA Hardknock Radio host Davey D said, “There is a lot of talk about having a citywide fast food union in San Francisco. So if you can topple the union at AT&T Park, then you can topple that idea. And if you can topple [service] unions there, you can topple them anywhere and can stop that tide around the country.”
The workers are ready. Feliciano said to me, “We come there rain or shine. Are we striking? Not yet. But these workers are ready to strike.” The community, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the players on the Giants, from Buster Posey to Tim Lincecum to Sergio Romo, should support them as well.
As for the negotiations, they display all the arrogance of both Centerplate and Charles Johnson. During one session, while management scolded the union for thinking they were worth more than $11,000 a year, hedge fund honcho Mike Wilkins, a partner at $400 million Kingsford Capital Management, was on the field running the bases with 100 of his buddies, at a one-day rental cost of $500,000. This was described to the website Buzzfeed as an exercise in “grown up boys fantasy time.” Will San Francisco ever again be anything but a playground for the overgrown millionaire children of the tech sector? That’s the question. We’ll find out the answer in the weeks to come.
Go to thegiantzero.org for updates on the struggle.
This week, everything is falling apart: Syria; the Canadian environment; the Times’s coverage of Honduras and Venezuela; higher education as we know it. But if activists’ creative roasting of neo-philanthropic tycoon Carlos Slim is any indication, the best response may be laughter.
Alleen Brown focuses on education.
“The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform,” by Aaron Bady. The New Inquiry, May 15, 2013.
In a lengthy essay, Aaron Bady describes the speed at which higher education has been smacked by MOOCs. His piece hints at the ways the rhetoric of “innovation,” especially in education, masks practices that serve to reproduce hierarchy.
James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.
“Oaxacan Teachers Challenge the Test,” by David Bacon. Truthout, May 9, 2013.
Mexico’s education system is awash with the same neoliberal orthodoxies that rule the United States, and in both countries there are pockets of organized resistance and refusal. While this piece falls short in critical ways—it doesn’t implicate students as agents in Mexico’s political economy of education, and it says that “the national union in Mexico is an entrenched part of the power structure,” as if the United States is categorically different—it does highlight Mexican alternatives that should be taken seriously. The Program for the Transformation of Education in Oaxaca, for one, “sees a teacher as an agent of social change…someone who has roots in a community, is interested in all the problems of the children, is familiar with the culture of the people, who can promote education projects with parents. In other words, a teacher the ruling class doesn’t want.”
Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.
“Infographic: Africa’s natural resource wealth.” Al Jazeera, May 12, 2013.
The annual Africa Progress Report released on Friday highlights the dubious attitude and “unconscionable” practices of some foreign companies involved in the exploitation of natural resources in Africa. Indeed, as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan points out, “Some companies, often supported by dishonest officials, are using unethical tax avoidance, transfer pricing and anonymous company ownership to maximise their profits, while millions of Africans go without adequate nutrition, health and education.”
Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.
“What if people told European history like they told Native American history?” by Kai. An Indigenous History of North America, May 9, 2013.
If this counterfactual seems far-fetched, dig around for your high school textbook and look at the chapter titled “the Americas before 1492.” Little-known fact: the city of Cahokia, located near present-day St. Louis, had the same population as London and Paris in 1250.
Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.
“Is laughing the mic check of 2013?” by Laura Gottesdiener. Waging Nonviolence, May 14, 2013.
This, my last article of the week, is a call to up the ante. In the post-micro-credit business model era—which supposedly will save Africa and Africans—various business venturers with pseudo-altruistic hearts surfaced. In the same way that The Nation has published essays about how NGOs in Haiti have been undermining the state and ultimately the sovereignty of the nation, the magazine, thanks to people like Laura Gottesdiener and others reporting, can also assess critically neo-philanthropic yet for-profit business expansion projects extending not only into Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America but also into online education.
Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the United States and Islam.
“The Syrian Heartbreak,” by Peter Harling and Sarah Birke. Middle East Report Online, April 16, 2013.
Harling and Birke offer insight into the horrifying violence and suffering so vividly described in today’s front-page New York Times article. Arguing, ultimately, that the conflict is “the product of international standoff,” the authors refute sectarian explanations for the violence, in part by outlining the disintegration of a strong Syrian national identity.
Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.
“I Heart Syria,” by Gary Brecher. NSFWCorp, May 13, 2013.
Gary Brecher breaks down the video of the Syrian rebel cutting out his victim’s heart and taking a bite out of it. Rather than taking this as a smug affirmation of Western values in the face of the horror of the Middle East, we should see this for what it is, Brecher argues: a recruitment video aimed at recruiting 17-year-olds for an undermanned Al Qaeda–inspired brigade. And a PR boon for the Assad regime.
Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.
“Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform,” by David Kravets. Wired, May 10, 2013.
Wired looks at mission creep in the immigration bill that has privacy advocates up in arms.
Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.
“Ask Polly: Jesus, My Struggling Writer Friends Never Shut Up!” by Heather Havrilesky. The Awl, May 15, 2013.
This doesn’t fall so much into the Advice For Writers category as it does the Advice For People Who Have To Talk To Writers, Whether They Are Writers Themselves Or Something Else Altogether category. There’s a lot here worth keeping in mind, although—as ever—it all seems to boil down to this: “Calm down… and get back to work.”
Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.
“When drone strikes collide with stop-and-frisk,” by Natasha Lennard. Salon, May 11, 2013.
As a landmark trial challenging New York’s notorious stop-and-frisk policy begins, Lennard connects the criminalization of young black and brown men through policing and incarceration in the United States to the military targeting of the same demographic overseas.
Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.
“Noam Chomsky, Scholars Ask NY Times Public Editor to Investigate Bias on Honduras and Venezuela,” by Keane Bhatt. NACLA, May 14, 2013.
Keane Bhatt, a Washington-based activist who blogs for NACLA, is spearheading an effort to demand accountability and accuracy in the mainstream media’s often errant reporting about Latin America. For months he’s used social media and his platform at NACLA to call attention to inaccuracies in John Lee Anderson’s New Yorker article “Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez Wrought in Venezuela,” and has compelled the magazine to run two corrections (hopefully with a third forthcoming as pressure mounts). Now, expanding his critique from individual errors in a single article to habitual mischaracterizations in one of the country’s most widely read newspapers, Bhatt has brought together a group of experts who specialize in Latin America and media studies to sign an open letter objecting to The New York Times’s biased coverage of Honduras and Venezuela.
Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.
“B.C. election: Christy Clark pulls off an upset for the ages,” by Tim Harper. Toronto Star, May 15, 2013.
It was a disappointing Tuesday night for progressive voters in British Columbia. Center-right premier Christy Clark bucked the pollsters and their predictions to pull off a shocking victory—a majority government, no less—retaining the premiership, while losing her local race for member of Parliament. American environmentalists: take note. Clark’s re-election all but guarantees the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
With its Jay-Z soundtrack, bizarre 3-D effects and commitment of Nick Carraway to a mental institution, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has seemed to some critics insufficiently deferential to a precious cultural totem. But long before it won silver in Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels, writers in The Nation offered drastically different assessments on both the book’s meaning and its legitimate place in the literary pantheon.
Carl Van Vechten, a writer and photographer who later served as Gertrude Stein’s literary executor, reviewed The Great Gatsby for The Nation in the issue of May 20, 1925, just a month after the book’s publication:
Mr. Fitzgerald is a born story-teller…[H]is work is imbued with that rare and beneficent essence we hail as charm. He is by no means lacking in power, as several passages in the current opus abundantly testify, and he commands a quite uncanny gift for hitting off character or presenting a concept in a striking or memorable manner…
Up to date, Mr. Fitzgerald has occupied himself almost exclusively with the aspects and operations of the coeval flapper and cake-eater. No one else, perhaps, has delineated these mundane creatures quite as skillfully as he, and his achievement in this direction has been awarded authoritative recognition. He controls, moreover, the necessary magic to make his most vapid and rotterish characters interesting and even, on occasion, charming, in spite of (or possibly because of) the fact that they are almost invariably presented in advanced stages of intoxication…
In “The Great Gatsby,” there are several of Mr. Fitzgerald’s typical flappers who behave in the manner he has conceived as typical of contemporary flapperdom. There is again a gargantuan drinking-party, conceived in a rowdy, hilarious, and highly titillating spirit. There is also, in this novel…something else. There is the character of Gatsby…
But in a review the following year of a stage production of Gatsby, The Nation’s theater critic, Joseph Wood Krutch, mocked Fitzgerald’s blurring of the line between spectator and spectated, satirist and satirized. Almost ignoring the theatrical production entirely, Krutch instead skewered the book:
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born into the flapper age with exactly the qualities and defects which would enable him to become its accredited historian. Though granted just enough detachment to make him undertake the task of describing, he is by temperament too much a part of the things described to view them with any very penetratingly critical eye and he sees flappers, male and female, much as they see themselves. Sharing to a very considerable extent in their psychological processes, he romanticizes their puerilities in much the same fashion as they do; and when he pictures the manners of the fraternity house or the Long Island villa he pictures them less as they are than as their practitioners like to imagine them. He makes cocktails and kisses seem thrillingly wicked; he flatters the younger generation with the solemn warning that it is leading the world straight to the devil; and as a result he writes The Flapper’s Own History of Flapperism. Thus he becomes less the genuine historian of a phase of social development than one of the characteristic phenomena of that development itself, and his books are seen to be little more than documents for the study of the thing which they purport to treat.
The book, Krutch added, was “preposterously maudlin.”
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The Nation has had only distaste for both screen adaptations of Gatsby reviewed in its pages. Painter and film critic Manny Farber panned the 1949 Paramount adaptation as “a limp translation,” writing that the film’s purposefully antiquated style “takes on the heavy, washed-out, inaccurate dedication-to-the-past quality of a Radio City mural.” Farber also said that the actress Betty Field failed as Daisy because she was “no more marked by Southern aristocracy than a cheese blintz.”
“Respectful work and appalling” were the choice words Robert Hatch, a longtime executive editor of the magazine, had for the 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Sam Waterston as Nick and Mia Farrow as Daisy, with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola. “When it sticks to the original, it adds nothing; when it deviates, it puts a heavy foot into Fitzgerald’s magic,” Hatch wrote. “Overall, its most conspicuous weakness is that it cannot handle vulgarity or ostentation without becoming vulgar or ostentatious”—precisely the same complaint Krutch expressed about the book itself in The Nation almost fifty years earlier.
Other Nation articles about Fitzgerald include a 1945 essay by Lionel Trilling—putting him in the same category with Shakespeare, Dickens, Voltaire, Balzac and Goethe—and a 1996 appreciation by friend-of-the-magazine E.L. Doctorow, who wrote that “in its few pages” Gatsby “arcs the American continent and gives us a perfect structural allegory of our deadly class-ridden longings.” And as many have argued, the release of “Gatsby” should also be an occasion for renewed discussion of inequality in America.
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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
President Obama meets with Jan Brewer in the Oval Office, June 2010. (Wikimedia Commons/CC, 2.0)
President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memo late into last year’s election season, which allows certain undocumented immigrant youth to apply and obtain renewable two-year work permits. While some lawmakers responded favorably, others reacted with vitriol. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer made clear that DACA youth would not be eligible for driver’s licenses. A federal court has now ruled there’s no rational basis for her decision—but refused to issue an injunction as the case moved forward.
DACA isn’t all-encompassing for undocumented youth. Those who arrived in the United States before they were 16, have resided here without interruption since June 15, 2007, are in high school, have graduated or otherwise obtained an equivalent certificate of completion, or have served in the military with an honorable discharge are eligible for the program, which is administrated by the Department of Homeland Security. However, those who arrived in the United States as children but turned 31 before June 15, 2012, are not allowed to apply; the same applies for anyone who arrived in the United States after the age of 16. Those who have been convicted of felonies or even certain misdemeanors are also ineligible.
Still, nearly half a million youth have applied, and so far about 200,000 have been approved. Once DACA youth receive approval and work permits, many naturally look to obtain a driver’s license as well. Arizona Governor Brewer called the entire program a “backdoor amnesty,” while simultaneously drawing attention to the fact that because DACA doesn’t provide permanent relief, she would not allow DACA recipients to obtain Arizona driver’s licenses. DACA youth and their allies organized to challenge Brewer in federal court.
The plaintiffs demanded an injunction against what they say is Brewer’s discriminatory decision. In order to grant that, Judge David Campbell wanted attorneys to show evidence that there is irreparable damage being caused against those DACA youth who are unable to apply for licenses. In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Campbell stated that he hasn’t been persuaded that that kind of damage is being cause—but he also wasn’t convinced to throw the case out, as Arizona’s attorneys wanted. Further, he indicated that Brewer’s basis for denying driver’s licenses was simply her fundamental disagreement with Obama. The judge also chided Brewer for referring to DACA youth as “illegal people,” indicating that the plaintiffs’ broader arguments about discrimination may stand in the final ruling.
Dulce Matuz, a 28-year-old activist who’s organized against Brewer’s decision, respectfully disagreed with the judge’s ruling around irreparable damage—citing that her colleagues are being denied opportunities because they cannot obtain a license. But she’s confident that her side will emerge victorious over Brewer and her backers. “They wanted to dismiss our dreams—even our dream to have driver’s licenses,” she said. “But this lawsuit continues, and I’m confident that justice will prevail.”
The final decision on whether those driving dreams will soon become a reality will be handed down after a yet unscheduled hearing on the matter, which will likely be heard in the coming weeks.
Are millennials really lazy, tired narcissists? Read Emily Crockett’s analysis.
Karl Rove addresses the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. (Steve Helber)
Karl Rove is offering America a super-sized serving of political cynicism.
Since the controversy over the targeting of grassroots tea party groups for extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service arose, Rove has engaged in the sort of political sleight of hand that could only be practiced in a country where elite media have no skepticism—and no memory.
Just a few months ago, after the 2012 election, Rove was widely portrayed as having declared war on grassroots conservatives in general and the Tea Party movement in particular. The former White House political czar was frustrated: During the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Republicans had been positioned to win control of the US Senate. Yet, in each cycle, they fell short after the party’s grassroots activists upended the candidacies of relatively more moderate candidates in Republican primaries. The Tea Party favorites frequently proved to be weaker contenders and—in the cases of candidates such as Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell in 2010 and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock in 2012—were seen as having snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory.
Rove had enough of that. So in February of this year he declared his intent to use his gold-plated political operations to police the party. Specifically, the veteran operative who says his hero is “Gilded Age” political boss Mark Hanna, declared his intention to “avoid having stupid candidates who can’t win general elections. Who are undisciplined, can’t raise money, aren’t putting together the support necessary to win the general election campaign—because this money is too difficult to raise to be spending it on the behalf of candidates who have little chance winning in the general election.”
That stirred an outcry from Tea Party activists and their allies:
Fox News’ Sean Hannity described “a battle between conservatives and the GOP establishment.”
Conservative talk-radio host Mark Levin asked: “Who made Karl Rove queen for a day.”
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson said that Rove’s “American Crossroads is creating a new Super PAC to crush conservatives, destroy the tea party, and put a bunch of squishes in Republican leadership positions.”
Newt Gingrich wrote of Rove’s plan: “No one person is smart enough nor do they have the moral right to buy nominations across the country. That is the system of Tammany Hall and the Chicago machine. It should be repugnant to every conservative and every Republican.”
The Tea Party Patriots announced that “Karl Rove believes he can raise hundreds of millions of dollars, crush the Tea Party movement and protect the big-government status quo in Washington from millions of freedom loving Americans.”
What a difference three months makes.
Now Rove is racing from studio to studio to cry crocodile tears about the abuse of, well, the people he was determined to abuse. He decried “the IRS’s thuggish behavior” in a Wall Street Journal column. He told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, “This smacks of a greater, you know, sort of effort inside the IRS to punish conservative groups.”
You would have thought Karl Rove was a Tea Party Patriot himself.
But, of course, he’s the guy the patriots said was “out to crush the Tea Party movement.”
So what gives?
Rove is playing a particularly cynical game. He recognizes that there is going to be a Tea Party movement—and that it may actually be stronger as a result of the current controversy. And he knows that the grassroots groups that are seeking tax-exempt status are unlikely to be able to counter the financial and strategic might of his American Crossroads combine.
So Rove is joining the outcry on behalf of the little folks, recognizing that he can only benefit by being seen as an ally of conservative activists who, before they were enraged with the IRS, were enraged with Karl Rove.
But there is more going on than mere “The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend” positioning.
Rove understands something else. If the IRS is under attack for scrutinizing grassroots groups unfairly—and, make no mistake, it is unfair to target any group based on its ideology—that could create a climate of official caution where it becomes less likely that there will be scrutiny of what the Center for Responsible Politics describes as “the heavy hitters of the multicandidate outside spending groups”: Rove-tied groups such as Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)4 nonprofit “social welfare” corporation, and American Crossroads, a so-called “super PAC.”
This is where Rove’s shows his smarts.
He understands that the current wrangling over the IRS is going to result in changes, some of them structural, some of them relating to the focus and intensity of inquiries into alleged abuses by tax-exempt groups.
Everyone who has steered a 501(c)4 into the political fray— conservativesand liberals; Republicans like Rove and Democrats with close ties to President Obama—knows that the best possible circumstance for them is one where the rules governing political activity by supposedly “charitable” groups are weak and unclear. And it gets even better for Rove and his ilk if battered-and-bruised IRS agents are disinclined to challenge any individual or group that might accuse the agency of targeting them.
Rove recognizes that the real debate is not about whether discrimination based on political ideology will be aggressively addressed and appropriately constrained. That’s going to happen, as it should. The Congress and the White House will see to it; indeed, President Obama sounds every bit as ardent on the issue as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The question that remains is a bigger one.
Will Congress and the Federal Election Commission establish clear and unequivocal standards that IRS auditors can follow? Will we finally, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, and a host of other rulings, have some definition of the new political playing field? That definition would, necessarily, be fair to conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans. But it could still place limits on the ambitious activities of Mr. Rove and his compatriots on both sides of the political aisle.
Only the most naïve observer would imagine that Karl Rove is concerned with protecting the grassroots activists with whom he was so recently sparring. Every evidence suggests that it is Rove’s plan to thwart their activism in 2014 and beyond. What concerns Rove is taking advantage of a political moment. A master of gaming whatever opening occurs, Rove is busily attacking Democrats in the Senate and President Obama for having suggested that clear standards ought to be established.
“Hey, look, the president in some degree is responsible for some of these acts. Remember in September and October of 2010, he went out and denounced…conservative 501(c)(4) groups as enemies of democracy,” says Rove. “You can’t tell me some IRS bureaucrat in Cincinnati, Washington, California—all of which were conducting investigations of conservative groups—were not hardened by the president going out declaring the groups they were looking at quote, ‘enemies of democracy.’”
That’s not exactly an accurate characterization of what the president said. Obama’s remarks on money in politics, made in Philadelphia several months after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision knocked down barriers to corporate campaign giving, made no mention of grassroots conservative groups. Rather, what Obama said was:
[Thanks] to a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United, they are being helped along this year by special interest groups that are spending unlimited amounts of money on attack ads… just attacking people without ever disclosing who’s behind all these attack ads. You don’t know. It could be the oil industry. It could be the insurance industry. It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.
Now, that’s not just a threat to Democrats—that’s a threat to our democracy. Every American business and industry deserves a seat at the table, but they don’t get to a chance to buy every chair. We’ve seen what happens when they do. They put the entire economy at risk and every American might end up suffering.
So you can’t let it happen. Don’t let them hijack your agenda. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections. And you can’t stand by and let special interests drown out the voices of the American people.
Obama wasn’t telling the IRS to go after grassroots activists there. He was talking about the need for Congress to enact the mild reforms of the Disclose Act, which proposed to “amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit foreign influence in Federal elections, to prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections, and to establish additional disclosure requirements with respect to spending in such elections, and for other purposes.”
Just days before Obama spoke, in October, 2010, an effort to advance the legislation had failed by one vote in the Senate.
It is hard to imagine a better circumstance for Karl Rove than one in which any effort to control the flow of corporate money into the political process, and to assure at least a measure of transparency, is decried as somehow inappropriate.
Then, Rove would be a man without limits.
He could use his vast resources to beat the candidates favored by grassroots conservatives in Republican primaries and to secure November victories for his favored contenders.
Then the threat to democracy that the president described would be complete—as sincere activists on the right and the left would be shunted to the sidelines of a new political landscape where corporate cash decides the day and the boss is not a CEO but a cynical political operative named Karl Rove.
John Nichols is the author (with Robert w. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. Hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a fervent call to action for reformers,” it details how the collapse of journalism and the rise of big-money politics threatens to turn our democracy into a dollarocracy.
How long will Arizona deny driver’s licenses to immigrant youth? Read Aura Bogado’s take.
Students walk out on May 9. (Credit: @215studentunion)
Running a massive deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars, Philadelphia’s school system is planning to eliminate all sports, extracurricular activities, counselors and libraries—beyond which, for schools eviscerated by austerity politics, there’s not much left to lose. At noon today, May 17, thousands of students are expected to walk out of class and flood downtown.
“It’s time that the City Council and Governor Corbett started listening to students,” says Sharron Snyder, a junior at Benjamin Franklin High School and an organizer with the Philadelphia Student Union. “If they spent even one day in my school, they would know that already we don’t have the right resources to succeed.”
Walkout organizers state, “We are willing to break the stereotypes and expectations of urban youth, and are taking this opportunity to tell the world that urban school districts deserve funding, and it is your responsibility under the Commonwealth Charter to provide us with more than a ‘bare bones education.’”
Here are five backstories to #walkout215:
1. The pregame. On May 7 and 9, students staged two walkouts, the first with a few hundred students, the second with upwards of 1,000. The May 7 action was launched by an unaffiliated group, the Silenced Students Movement, over Facebook and Twitter. By Thursday, members of the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Youth United for Change (YUC), the city’s largest student organizing groups, were in on the call. This time, students have the support of PSU, YUC and the broader Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS). The coalition includes the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, both student groups and an array of community groups and other unions.
2. The school closing shell game. The citywide uprising goes hand-in-hand with the city’s unprecedented, Boston Consulting Group-inspired maneuver to shutter public schools. In December, the city announced that 41 schools would be closed or relocated—a total that has since dropped to 23. Over the spring, students, teachers and allies have disrupted SRC meetings, blocked traffic, marched endlessly and released their own survey-based plans to revamp the school system. The district hasn’t undertaken the school-by-school community needs assessment that PCAPS is demanding before any schools are closed. Putting aside the dubious logic of “facility underutilization,” any labor savings from closed schools portend disaster for students and workers alike. And the students who are affected are more likely to be black or Latino. A handful of PCAPS groups, including PSU and YUC, are part of the Journey for Justice, a growing national movement led by people of color. The coalition’s demands pivot on the racialized thrust of neoliberal education policy; in some cities, groups are pushing federal civil rights complaints against school closings and related overhauls.
3. Receivership. City students and state leaders don’t exactly agree on issues of school funding. In response to protests against Governor Tom Corbett’s planned commencement address at Millersville University, state Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said, “Unfortunately, those people believe the only support for education is shown by how many zeroes are on a check.” After a Corbett-proposed $1.2 billion in cuts to public education funding in 2011-2012, the state cut $860 million, or $410 per student. That year, Philadelphia lost 1,600 teachers and 2,100 other school staff. For their part, city spokespeople decry state underfunding—while, last year, bankrolling charter school expansion. Since 2001, the district has been run by the state-directed School Reform Commission (SRC). Hundreds of students walked out to protest the state takeover—enacted by the state legislature partly under the pretense of district budget woes.
4. School safety. When schools are closed, students risk crossing myriad social boundaries—including gang lines—to survive in their new environments. Through the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, Philadelphia students are pushing for student voice in school safety policy. After a series of actions last summer, the campaign won a new, less punitive discipline matrix and protections in the school dress code for gender-nonconforming students. More recently, students successfully advocated for pilot restorative justice programs in ten schools. This month’s mass actions aren’t some hormonal release, but flashpoints in years of organizing. The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools is a prime example.
5. History. On November 17, 1967, more than 3,500 students from at least twelve high schools walked out and marched to the Board of Education. In conjunction with the Black People’s Unity Movement, students demanded black representation on the city’s school board, black history taught by black teachers and the removal of police from schools. Despite clashes with 400 cops—and 57 arrests—the walkouts drove the administration to open dialogue with students and allies over curricular reforms and community voice in school policy.
Today’s protests, which land on the 59th anniversary of the Brown decision, recast the legacy of civil rights struggle.
A council controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will decide who can run for Iran’s presidency. (AP Photo/Hayat News Agency, Meisam Hosseini.)
This is the first in a series of posts about Iran’s crucial presidential election on June 14.
If Iran is a dictatorship, its politics is remarkably rough and tumble.
Not only does the coming presidential election look like it might well be wide open and contentious, but it could have a lot to do with whether or not talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers will be successful when they resume.
As I’ve been writing for more than a year now, the talks with Iran have been largely frozen because both the United States and Iran were engaged in crucial presidential votes. To be successful, both sides will have to make significant concessions to the other—and thus to pay a political price at home, where hardliners in both countries will oppose any deal that’s half-a-loaf. That’s still hard, but with both elections out of the way maybe the roadblocks can be bulldozed.
As the June 14 election draws closer, a vast array of would-be candidates has registered to run. In a few days, the Guardian Council—the body in Iran that vets candidates for, among other things, their commitment to Islamic piety and to the Islamic Republic itself—will decide which of those will be approved to run for president, giving the candidates just a few short weeks to make their case.
In one sense, of course, that’s hardly democratic, since the Guardian Council would instantly bar anyone who doesn’t fit its preconceived standards from running—and that almost certainly includes women, a number of whom have filed for candidacy, along with anyone who’d overtly challenge Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And, of course, Khamenei wields near-total power over the council, six of whose twelve members are appointed by Khamenei and the rest by Iran’s judicial authority, whose leader is also a Khamenei appointee.
Still, for a political system like Iran’s, the major candidates who’ve emerged so far represent a broad range of Iran’s establishment. One of them, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a top aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has carved out a position that leans more nationalist than Islamist, and he’s emerged as a favorite even for some of the Green Movement’s partisans because both he and Ahmadinejad have challenged the clergy’s power. Both Ahmadinejad and Mashaei appear to be seeking an independent political power base within Iran’s system, and there has been speculation that the two men might be trying to emulate Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev’s move in Russia, who repeatedly switched jobs as president. Ahmadinejad, who cannot run in 2013 for a third term, has fallen out of favor with Khamenei and the conservative clergy, including Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, who had been Ahmadinejad’s chief clerical backer and purported mentor in 2009.
It’s far from certain that Khamenei and the Guardian Council will allow Mashaei to run. Iranian conservatives frequently attack the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei group, several of whose allies have been either arrested or ousted from their government positions since 2009, as the “deviant current,” and they’ve been accused of witchcraft, sorcery and worse. One of the sins allegedly committed by Ahmadinejad and Mashaei has been to imply that they are in direct, spiritual communication with the Mahdi, a mystical descendant of the Prophet Mohammad who, many Shiites believe, went into “occultation” centuries ago. The political implications of Ahmadinejad’s link to the Mahdi is that he short-circuits the clergy itself, whose ayatollahs claim that mantle of mediator between their followers and the Mahdi. In any case, were Mashaei to be ruled ineligible to run, it could trigger a political crisis, especially if President Ahmadinejad sought in retaliation to postpone the election.
Another candidate—who also might be declared ineligible—is Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president (1989-1997). Like Mashaei, Rafsanjani didn’t register as a would-be candidate until the very last moment. He said that he wouldn’t announce his candidacy unless Ayatollah Khamenei gave permission, and although there is no overt sign that Khamenei did so, Rafsanjani’s family and others are hinting that the former president received a last-minute phone call from Khamenei giving him the okay.
In 2009, Rafsanjani strongly backed the reformist candidacy of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. In 2013, Rafsanjani has garnered an official endorsement from former President Mohammad Khatami, the godfather of the reformists. Rafsanjani is trying to cast his candidacy as a chief opposition both to the conservatives, of whom there are several candidates vying for Khamenei’s semi-official backing, and to the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei faction. Despite his complex and controversial past, both as a billionaire businessman and as the man who oversaw assassinations of dissidents in the 1990s, Rafsanjani presents himself as a practical and pragmatic doer who can restore relations with the United States and West, solve the Iranian nuclear dispute, and fix the economy. (As in the United States, the economy—not the nuclear issue!—is the No. 1 issue in the election.)
In different ways, both Ahmadinejad-Mashaei and Rafsanjani are relative “doves” on the nuclear issue, however. In early talks with the Obama administration in late 2009, Ahmadinejad seemed to endorse an interim deal over Iran’s 20-percent-enriched uranium that was later scuttled by his domestic political opposition, presumably with the backing of Khamenei. And Rafsanjani, who is closely allied with wealthy businessmen and the bazaar leaders who resent Western sanctions against Iran, would dearly like to get the nuclear issue out of the way so that the Iranian economy could be freed of the shackles imposed by the sanctions, which have badly hurt the Iranian oil and energy, high-tech, aviation, and automobile industries, among others.
But few if any Iranian politicians are willing to cave in during talks with the United States and the P5+1 over the nuclear issue. Perhaps the leading conservative candidate, who many observers suspect will garner Khamenei’s ultimate backing on June 14, is Saeed Jalili, who is the leader of Iran’s national security council and currently serves as Iran’s chief negotiator in the nuclear talks. Both as a candidate and as a negotiator, Jalili will stand firm in support of Iran’s fundamental right to enrich uranium, on its own soil. On May 16, following talks in Istanbul with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s representative in the negotiations, Jalili gave a clarifying interview to Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor in which he reiterated, once again, that so far the proposals from the United States and the P5+1 have been “unbalanced,” since they don’t recognize Iran’s enrichment right and because they’re asking Iran to make nearly all of the concessions. Said Jalili:
“Their proposals are unbalanced. The other party needs to appreciate that they need to table proposals that have the necessary balance. If they accept to do so, then we can engage in talks that will hopefully bring about that required balance. … As you might appreciate, the US is in no position at the moment to issue ultimatums. And this language, unfortunately, is the language—the words—that created so much headache for the US around the world. After everything is said and done, the Americans usually make such mistakes. And as each day passes, they seem to make fresh mistakes. These mistakes do not come cheap; they are very expensive.”
It’s almost inconceivable that Khamenei will make concessions to the United States and the P5+1 without getting major concessions in return, and so far the Obama administration has not been willing to offer those. In that sense, by supporting Jalili—who is well known to American officials and others—Khamenei could underline his refusal to sign off on any deal that doesn’t allow Iran to continue a carefully monitored civilian nuclear program, including enrichment of uranium. By the same token, none of the other candidates are likely to do so, either.
Finally, one interesting candidate—who, also, may or not be approved by the Guardian Council—is Hassan Rouhani, a long-time Iranian national security official. Like Jalili, Rouhani also was Iran’s chief negotiator on the nuclear issue, with Khamenei’s support, but under the regime of President Khatami. In addition, however, Rouhani is close to Rafsanjani, under whom he served on Iran’s national security council in the 1990s, and it’s possible that either Rouhani or Rafsanjani could step back and support the other’s candidacy. Indeed, Rafsanjani’s son and daughter prominently attended Rouhani’s announcement of his candidacy last month.
Rouhani, too, has been outspoken about improving relations with the United States. “It is not that Iran has to remain angry with the United States forever and have no relations with them,” he said. “Under appropriate conditions, where national interests are protected, this situation has to change.” To be sure, in a series of speeches, Ayatollah Khamenei too has declared that Iran might be willing to restore ties with the United States, and nearly all of the candidates have echoed that view. Still, Rouhani seems to be unafraid to make better relations with a West a key plank of his campaign, though he too focuses overwhelmingly on Iran’s economic problems:
“My government will be one of prudence and hope and my message is about saving the economy, reviving ethics and interaction with the world. Inflation is above 30 percent, the reduction in the value of the national currency, unemployment and zero economic growth are among the country’s problems.”
There’s a lot more to say about Iran’s election and its implications for U.S.-Iran relations, and there are plenty of other candidates—including powerful conservatives, such as the mayor of Tehran—who have thrown their hats and turbans into the ring.
But let it not be said that Iran doesn’t have a vibrant political debate. In 2009, that debate spilled over into the street following what many thought was the fraudulent reelection of Ahmadinejad. But if anything, there are more and greater contrasts today between those seeking to run for president than before.
Does it have meaning for the talks with the P5+1 over the nuclear issue? Yes. Not only do the potential candidates have differing approaches, I suspect, but the election itself might say something about Khamenei’s own views about Iran’s future relations with the West. We’ll see. If the Guardian Council bars Rafsanjani, Mashaei, Rouhani, and others and endorses only strict, “principlist” conservatives as candidates, it could signal that Khamenei won’t give an inch in the talks. If the council lets a hundred flowers bloom, or at least a handful or so—and there are hints that as many as ten candidates might win approval—then perhaps it’s a tea leaf signaling that Khamenei will have a little more give later this year when talks resume in earnest.
To be continued.
Read Bob Dreyfuss on the latest possibilities for peace talks on Syria.
A shot from The Great Gatsby. (AP Photo)
There is one thing that Baz Luhrmann gets right about The Great Gatsby, and I think it’s unintentional. It has to do with the way that, turned at a certain angle, lit in a certain way, Leonardo DiCaprio again looks like the boy everyone I knew (I’m that age) grew up loving. The rest of the time, well, he’s still handsome, but he’s aged in such a way that it makes the features of his youthful beauty look a little ridiculous, in retrospect. The worry lines and stubble seem to be telling us that the beauty of that face was only a temporary, fleeting thing. I guess you could say he looks like a ruin of a movie star—a gorgeous ruin, but a ruin nonetheless. And ruin, I always thought, was what Gatsby was all about. Everything in the book is ruined: the old mansion he lives in, the love he has for his perfect woman, the business he runs, Tom Buchanan’s mistress and, more broadly, in the way your tenth grade English teacher taught it to you, the American Dream.
Luhrmann clearly disagrees that rot has any place in the story; he sparkles and spangles his Gatsby to the hilt. But then his interpretation seems to be the dominant one. Kathryn Schulz, in a well-argued piece in New York, pointed out that Scott Fitzgerald was always a bit of a hypocrite about class. In spite of himself, he sort of liked the rich, and she argued that Gatsby suffers from that. “As readers, we revel in the glamorous dissipation of the rich, and then we revel in the cheap satisfaction of seeing them fall,” she wrote. “At no point are we made to feel uncomfortable about either pleasure, let alone their conjunction.”
For this heresy, Schulz received some entertaining blowback: A.O. Scott, in The New York Times, called her a “showboating critical contrarian,” and Joyce Carol Oates tweeted, in apparent reaction, that “Hating ‘The Great Gatsby’ [the novel] is like spitting into the Grand Canyon. It will not be going away anytime soon, but you will be.” But in fact Schulz’s position has been around as long as Gatsby has. Here in The Nation, in a review of a 1926 stage adaptation of the novel, a critic began with a rant about Fitzgerald’s worldview,
Though granted just enough detachment to make him undertake the task of description, he is by temperament too much a part of the things described to view them with any penetratingly critical eye and he sees flappers, male and female, much as they see themselves. Sharing to a very considerable extent in their psychological processes, he romanticizes their puerilities in much the same fashion as they do…
I guess I just don’t know precisely what would separate Fitzgerald from Danielle Steel if this perspective were 100 percent true. Call me naïve, but I feel certain that prose style alone doesn’t bridge that gulf. There’s some other difference at work, here. When most people write about flappers qua flappers—these days, it’d be more like celebrities qua celebrities—it’s not quite Fitzgerald-esque. When Gatsby first appeared, in 1925, the reviewer for The Nation, Carl Van Vechten, said it was the character of Gatsby himself that embodied a new and bolder art for Fitzgerald than merely chronicling the activities of flappers.
The figure of Jay Gatsby, who invented an entirely fictitious career for himself out of the material of inferior romances, emerges life-sized and life-like. His doglike fidelity not only to his ideal but to his fictions, his incredibly cheap and curiously imitative imagination, awaken for him not only our interest and suffrage, but a certain liking, as they awaken it in the narrator Nick Carraway.
I confess I’ve always wondered about the last half of that common interpretation. Gatsby sympathetic? I think he evokes pathos, because he is the kind of person who cannot see how ridiculous it is, when Nick asks him where in the Middle West he’s from, to answer “San Francisco.” Because he thinks Daisy is some kind of grand romantic heroine when she’s just someone who, like everyone else in the novel, isn’t sure what she wants. Because he thinks he’s fooling anyone with all those big parties, the sign of someone with something to prove. But liking him? I’ve always been more in the interest and suffrage camp. Identifying with Gatsby would involve me wanting him to get what he wants. Instead, I just want him to want something else.
Schulz argued that a higher-minded reading doesn’t map with Fitzgerald’s authorial intent, though I think one statement of his not considering the psychology of his characters is not a total guide. No one can say for sure, but I suspect it isn’t an accident that that “beautiful little fools” line really is nonsense, just as one example. It was, in real life, something Scott borrowed from his wife Zelda, who said it coming out of anesthesia after the birth of their daughter. The lush romanticism notwithstanding, there’s something about using that drugged fragment from a dream, the sheer unreality of it, that suggests on some level that Fitzgerald knows all his characters are caught in a set-up, deeply vulnerable to the incursions of a messier reality.
Another way to put this is that the thinness of the tragedy in Gatsby—all that deception not quite getting him the really-quite-imaginary girl—should be, for modern audiences, exactly the point. Of course you can’t have something that doesn’t exist. Which, I thought anyway until very recently, was what we all agreed about the “American Dream” he represented. That it was silly, and in the end a kind of hurtful delusion. That there was very little to admire in it when it manifested itself, as in Gatsby’s case, as a kind of greed that can only be supported by gangsters. But then, I guess, we live in a world right now where the gangsterism is forgivable, and the indulgences of the rich are things we want for ourselves. Some things, I suppose, really haven’t changed.
Why do big chain retailers get to decide on their own safety standards for supply-chain workers? Read Elizabeth Cline’s analysis.
(Photo: Press Association via AP Images)
This year, I’ve been focused on how anti-poverty activists can move from a defensive battle defined by trying to save what needs to be saved during these budget debates, to an offensive one, laying out a vision that inspires ongoing, unified action and builds a vibrant movement that connects with people in their communities.
I offered one modest proposal for an “anti-poverty contract”—five issues that impact both low-income and middle class people—around which activists and groups could organize. The Western Center on Law & Poverty and a handful of other national and local groups are trying to build an effort around that idea.
However, when you consider the scale of the problems we face—and what inspires people to take action—clearly much, much more is needed. As I wrote previously, to build a new anti-poverty movement will require the kind of organizing and actions that are as creative, visible and gripping as the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Enter Stephen Lerner.
Lerner is a labor and community organizer who has spent more than three decades organizing hundreds of thousands of janitors, farm workers, garment workers and other low-wage workers into unions. These efforts resulted in increased wages, first-time health benefits, paid sick days and other improvements on the job. The architect of the historic Justice for Janitors campaign, he is currently working with unions and community groups across the country to break Wall Street’s anti-democratic grip on our politics and our economy.
Lerner lays out a powerful case about the intersection between poverty and Wall Street accountability—and how a Wall Street accountability movement can transform an economy that offers so few pathways out of poverty, and so many ways to keep people impoverished.
Here is our conversation:
Greg Kaufmann: Why is the Wall Street accountability movement now the focus of your work, and what is the potential you see there?
Stephen Lerner: One of the challenges is that there are so many things wrong right now—that you can be involved in any of a thousand causes. The problem is if they are disconnected it doesn’t add up to anything. So, people who are opposed to poverty have a dozen different things they’d like to move on the Hill, none of which are likely to pass at this time.
So the focus on Wall Street is: How do you connect all of these different battles? And, in fact, are there core things in common that drive them together?
If you look at some of the biggest issues of the day—whether it’s the loss of wealth in communities of color, the housing crisis, the student debt crisis, local and state governments cutting jobs and services because of debt—you can connect all of these issues to the original economic crisis of 2008, and the growing and continued dominance of the Wall Street big banks.
The majority of people in this country are either impacted by student debt, the ongoing housing crisis or the crisis of the public sector. And you can trace so much of it to Wall Street. This means instead of having twenty separate campaigns, you can have one campaign, that says how do we rebalance and reorganize the economy so that it benefits everybody—not just a teeny elite at the top.
How does the effort to address these three issues intersect with the fight against poverty in particular?
Let’s start with housing. In this country, for many workers and people of color, wealth isn’t in the stock market, or the Cayman Islands—it’s in a home. And the banks first preyed on folks through subprime loans pre-crisis, making enormous profits while putting people in danger. Then when the bubble burst, millions of people lost their homes, and those who didn’t have had outrageous payments because the subprime loans exploded. Now you still have 13 million families that are underwater—owing more on their loans than their homes are worth.
In Latino communities, 66 percent of their wealth was lost, half as a result of housing. In the African-American community, it was 53 percent. Fifty years of the gains of the civil rights movement and the expansion of the economy were wiped out overnight, pushing millions into poverty. If you add to that the people who are unemployed as a result of the crashed economy—we just have this strange thing that happened: the banks created a disaster, and economists and politicians said, “That’s terrible for the economy, let’s give them trillions.” And then the folks who were actually hit the hardest were forced into poverty.
On student debt: funding to public education was dramatically cut, which obviously hurts poor people and workers the most. As it was cut, people had to take out loans. So 37 million people have now run up a trillion dollars in student debt. It’s a burden no matter what, but if you come from a family that doesn’t have means, you now graduate from school with a crushing debt burden, and then there aren’t jobs available. And there’s a vicious cycle: you cut the budget of public universities, to give tax breaks to banks and big companies, who respond by creating toxic loan packages for students that they make a profit on. And because public funding of universities has been cut—the schools need to borrow more money in order to operate and build, so the banks get a piece of that action, too. And now university endowments are investing in Sallie Mae—the largest private student loan lender—so students have to take out loans to go to school, and the university endowment profits off those loans.
There are much better ways to fund education—like by [publicly] funding education so people can actually afford it, instead of creating these twenty layers that let Wall Street suck money out at every step.
So individuals and families are getting crushed by housing and education debt, and then you say public debt completes a sort of perfect storm?
That’s right, what we call predatory public loans. So three things have happened: Wall Street has taken advantage of the desperation of cities and municipalities since the crisis; the deals are so complex that public entities don’t know what they are getting into; and third is that Wall Street gets its money at a subsidized, Too Big to Fail rate, and in the case of the discount window, almost for free. Banks get money at .075 percent interest from the Federal Reserve, and they then create all sorts of ways to make more and more money off the spread, from the public sector.
Take interest rate swaps, for example. On the surface it sounds like not a bad idea—a bank says they will protect a city from a fluctuating interest rate by locking it in at, say, 4 percent. If it goes higher, they eat it. And if it goes lower, they make money. But they then add so many different formulas and traps, that all of a sudden when the whole thing blew up during the crisis and a city is hemorrhaging money, and they want to get out of it, it turns out that they have an exit fee that’s extraordinary and they can’t afford it. In Detroit, the city had to pay around $470 million on a series of bond and interrelated swap deals gone bad at the same time they were laying off police and firemen. So then you end up in fights like, “Do we help the poor, or do we take workers that are middle class and cut their wages so they’ll be poor?”
Describe what this movement looks like—what are some of the asks and how do you see it potentially playing out?
There are multiple levels of how Wall Street is impoverishing the country, and so different people can engage in different ways.
On housing, in Atlanta, Minneapolis, all over California—one piece is the Home Defenders League and Occupy Our Homes. This involves physical encampments, blockading the police and saying you’re not going to take my home, or my neighbor’s home. It’s incredibly vibrant, street-level resistance—and it’s often successful. And as folks are successful, it grows. This is all nonviolent, and involves people who are willing to go to jail.
If you take it up a level, there is a simple policy demand, which is that banks should reduce principal on homes to current market value. That means if you’re paying a $300,000 mortgage on a home that’s worth $200,000, the bank should rewrite it to that value. If we did that, it would save $700 billion to $1 trillion—that’s how much people are underwater—and generate $101 billion in economic activity, create 1.5 million jobs, and the average underwater homeowner would save $7,700 a year.
There are cities all over the country that are now exploring using eminent domain to seize these underwater mortgages and rewrite them with principal reductions. For years eminent domain was the tool to take advantage of poor people—tear up a neighborhood, build a highway, build a stadium and tell people they will be paid what their homes are worth on the open market. They said it was for the public good, even as it devastated once stable neighborhoods. We’re saying let’s flip that on it’s head—for the public good, let’s seize these mortgages and rewrite them at current market value so people can stay in their homes.
On student debt, there is a gamut of activity ranging from student activism on campuses, to state and local legislation, to sit-ins at the Sallie Mae shareholders meeting, to challenging the Education Department on why they have as contractors like Sallie Mae that are profiting off this disaster. The movement includes Senator Elizabeth Warren’s brilliant bill to give students loans at the same rate we give to banks. Why should banks get money cheap and student loans be more expensive? And it includes people on their college campuses—a movement around Big Banks Off Campus—because the banks shouldn’t be allowed to come on campus and sell their credit cards and figure out new ways to indebt students.
Finally, on public debt, people are fighting back. In the case of Oregon, SEIU Local 503 calculated that the state lost $110 million because of the LIBOR manipulations. So here’s what happens: the SEIU public sector union goes in to negotiate with the state representing public employees, and the state says we want to cut all of these services for poor people. And the workers themselves are often poor—homecare workers who haven’t had a raise in six years. The state says there is no money. And how do you argue if there’s no money? Except that the money was stolen! And so the movement is changing the debate. This is not about: Are public employees overpaid? Are their too many benefits for poor people? Should we have pre-K or not? There are incredible sums of money out there, but we’ve devised a system that drains it from the bottom to the top. Why don’t we cut out the middleman? Like let’s have an infrastructure bank and loan the money at cost. Let’s figure out a way so banks can’t make more than a certain amount of money on the spread. And I know that gives the free-market people heart attacks, because this is intervening in the market, but there is no market. Because five banks control it, and where they get their money is from taxpayers. It’s our money.
To what extent are these three threads—on student debt, housing debt and public debt—coalescing into a movement so they aren’t the kind of independent, divided struggles that you suggest hold us back from big victories?
As the campaigns develop, the overlap happens more and more. For example, people are seeing the relationship between housing debt and student debt—needing to take out student loans because your family’s house isn’t worth anything anymore so you can’t help finance an education through a second mortgage like you might have in the past. At the Wells Fargo meeting at Salt Lake City, folks campaigning about student debt showed up, and so did people campaigning on housing, and so did people about the environment. So, on an organic level on the street, people are seeing it more and more.
After I covered the actions at the Wells Fargo shareholders meeting, a progressive friend and writer told me, “The activists seem to think banks can’t ignore their message, that being heard is equivalent to making change.” How do you think a movement like this actually could make principal reduction, for example, a reality?
First, the enemy of change is the notion that if you are not winning at that moment then you are losing. These things never have an even flow. It’s not like you start one day, you have steady escalation—they go up and down. In Taylor Branch’s book At Canaan’s Edge, you read these transcripts of FBI wiretaps on civil rights leaders and it’s them saying, “We’re losing”… or “so and so was killed”… or “we have in-fighting, how will we win?” But when we look back at that period now, we see that the civil rights bill was going to pass, it was all going to happen. I think when you are in the middle of the battle, under siege, you can’t see the forest for the trees.
But your friend’s critique is fair in that we’ve been screaming about the banks for years, and they are more powerful than ever—the top six banks now control 73 percent of the total assets in the US banking sector. However, we’ve started to identify some levers that we think begin to level the playing field. Eminent domain is one example—if you’re not willing to reduce principal, then we’ll use the power of the city to force you to do it. On LIBOR, city after city is investigating whether they can sue to get their money back. Many are exploring, and some have passed, bills that say if banks don’t meet certain standards the cities won’t deal with them anymore. Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have all passed responsible banking ordinances recently.
Also, the banks’ greed and hubris is so great that [there are] new avenues to go after them. So if you look at the litigation that California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed: this is where the banks essentially did the same thing with credit card loans that they did with mortgages—they moved to litigation without accurate documentation to even show that people owed them money. We are seeing more opportunities for growing protest, more litigation and more public policy changes. You even now have Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter working together on a bill to break up the big banks.
Is there a role in this movement for people and organizations that are focused on the Hill?
Petitions can raise important issues and get people involved. Lobbying can be important—but I think what we need to do is connect all of this to an analysis of who the villains are and why the economy is unbalanced. This is not a problem of lack of policy—we have unlimited great policy ideas. This is not a problem of lack of money to fund anti-poverty programs. This is a problem of power. I think people need to accept that there is no real significant economic and political change as long as the finance sector is so dominant. The DC-centric stuff will be far more effective if there is something out there in the rest of the country brewing. If this is just an intellectual policy debate about who has the best idea and who has the best statistics, we’re doomed.
To win—to really make the kinds of structural changes you are talking about—does the public protest need to be as constant and visible, engaging and creative, as Occupy Wall Street?
Yes, we need to get to that. And there is an interesting myth about Occupy that somehow it just emerged out of nowhere. But many of the people who were engaged in it were part of other battles before Occupy Wall Street. The month before Occupy, community groups were doing rallies and sit-ins at banks all over the country. So you never know when things are going to take off. Why did the Vietnam protests take off when they did? Or the civil rights protests? You never know what triggers something to go from dedicated souls to a mass movement.
But your key point is right—the system is currently working for the banks and super-rich. And as long as they feel it’s working we won’t really achieve change. And so some combination of mass disruptive protest—nonviolent—of all sorts of local legislative activity; of a growing change in the narrative. Some mix and match of that has to put the kind of heat on them that makes them feel they have to negotiate over these issues—that they need, for example, to fix mortgages because the alternative is worse. We need to have a better system on student loans, because the alternative is worse. I think that’s really our challenge.
In a recent piece, you suggest that anger is insufficient to sustain a movement—that what keeps people going is love. Can you describe what you mean by that?
There are four things currently that are self-defeating for progressives and labor folks: one, the mantra of progressives is built on “we’re losing, there’s no hope, we’re getting clobbered.” That leads to the slogan of much of the progressive movement, which is “Let’s fight for small, incremental, not particularly important change now.” So what we largely talk about isn’t very inspiring. We talk about stopping cuts—stopping bad—not how we win good things.
The great movements—take the story of Exodus—they didn’t say, “Can the Egyptians whip us less often?” They said, “We’re leaving. We’re outta here. We’re gonna form a new country, a place where we can be free.” Gandhi, South Africa, the civil rights movement—all of these movements were based on this idea that there is something profoundly better that we can fight for. And I think for many of us in America we’ve lost that ability to say we’re engaged in this—not just because we care about principal reduction but because we believe in the richest country on earth we can transform society and redistribute wealth and power. So, we need to have a vision that’s inspiring and not be afraid to be called a little utopian.
Second, we need an analysis, a narrative, of who the bad guys are that are concentrating wealth and power. All of the organizing I was involved with—with the garment workers, the farmworkers and the janitors—they all had an analysis of who really had the power and could fix things, and I think we’ve forgotten how to do that.
Third, we need to think about the strategy and tactics that give us leverage, so this is not simply yelling and screaming. And fourth is about love—which is that people are involved both out of self-interest because they want to make their lives better; but also because they realize their life is better if they help make other lives better.
If you look at the great movements that’s what happens—some combination of vision, analysis, strategy and this deep, deep feeling that by supporting and sacrificing for others—in the labor movement we call it solidarity—you not only transform your own life, but you transform the lives of people around you and in doing that transform how society operates. That’s the roots of how we build what we have to build.
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End “Too Big to Jail”: May 18–23, Washington, DC
If you think what Lerner has to say makes sense, here’s an immediate opportunity to get involved. Next week, families on the front lines of the foreclosure crisis are traveling from across the country to the nation’s capital to make their voices heard.
Their message is simple: five years into the financial crisis, Wall Street has still not been held accountable, and communities are still suffering. In fact, a new report from Alliance for a Just Society, the New Bottom Line and Home Defenders League shows that $192.6 billion in wealth was lost due to the foreclosure crisis in 2012, and this year another 13 million homes are at risk of foreclosure with $221 billion in wealth on the line. (See “Studies/Briefs” below for more information on this report.)
It’s long past time for the administration to prosecute those who violated the law and for the banks to repay individuals, families and communities that continue to suffer losses—beginning with reducing their mortgages to fair market value.
“We can’t have two systems of justice in this country: one for the rich and powerful, where Wall Street criminals are actually rewarded with bailouts and huge bonuses, and another for the rest of us,” said Vivian Richardson, who will be in DC next week after successfully defending her home from foreclosure with the help of members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. “These Wall Street banksters stole many homes, and are still committing crimes. It is time for them to be held accountable.”
There will be home-defense and nonviolent, civil disobedience trainings on May 18–19 and a rally and march to the Department of Justice on Monday, May 20. The activists will attempt to meet with Attorney General Eric Holder and are prepared to take direct action if that doesn’t happen—blocking entrances, setting up an Occupy-style encampment, getting arrested and staying in jail.
Democratizing Wealth and a Sustainable Future—A Conversation with Gar Alperovitz (Wednesday, May 22, 12:15 pm–1:15 pm, New America Foundation, 1899 L Street NW Suite 400, Washington, DC). In his new book, Gar Alperovitz presents a case for democratizing wealth as a foundation for a new and sustainable economy. He offers specific policy ideas for how we might start with a transformation of the banking industry and health care sector. Join the New America Foundation’s Asset Building Program for a vibrant discussion, RSVP here.
DC Housing Authority and People with Disabilities
Jacqueline Young and Latheda Wilson both receive housing vouchers from the DC Housing Authority. Ms. Young’s apartment is too small for her to live with her child, and Ms. Wilson is in an apartment that she says is in substandard condition with mold- and insect-infestation.
Both women have hearing impairments and rely on American Sign Language to communicate—they have limited comprehension of written English. Unfortunately, they say, for years the DC Housing Authority failed to provide sign language interpreters at meetings where critical information regarding rules, regulations and requirements for the rental assistance program was provided, leaving the two women in their current predicaments.
A lawsuit was filed on their behalf by Relman, Dane & Colfax, which litigates civil rights cases in the areas of housing, lending, employment, public accommodations, education and police accountability, and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Deaf-REACH, a DC nonprofit advocacy organization, is also a plaintiff.
The complaint alleges that the Housing Authority engaged for years in a pattern of discrimination—promising but not providing interpreters, and canceling appointments due to a lack of interpreters or other effective means of communication.
“The law is very clear and well-established on this issue,” said attorney Megan Cacace of Relman, Dane & Colfax. “Entities like the DC Housing Authority must make their services and programs accessible to people with disabilities and provide sign language interpreters.”
Cacace said Young and Wilson were forced to sit through meetings or presentations without any way of understanding what was being said—or even were denied the opportunity to attend meetings at all—and that they were expected “to communicate through notes and gestures” despite repeated requests for interpreters.
“It’s appalling and unacceptable,” said Cacace.
Richard White, director of Public Affairs and Communications for the Housing Authority, wrote in an e-mail: “As a matter of policy, I’m not going to comment on active litigation. What I will tell you is that DCHA takes its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act very seriously. We have policies and procedures in place to accommodate the needs of the disabled in all our operations. We will investigate the claims made and respond to the litigation, through our General Counsel office.”
I look forward to learning about the response and hope that it’s quick, thorough and just. This is the twenty-first century and our nation’s capital, after all. It’s bad enough that we are among the cities with the worst wealth inequality and highest child poverty rates in the country. Can we at least provide basic services for people with disabilities?
“Equality for people with disabilities is an important civil rights issue,” said Cacace. “People like Ms. Young and Ms. Wilson are entitled to, and deserve, equal treatment and respect. This lawsuit seeks to vindicate those rights.”
National Community Action Month
Community Action Agencies (CAAs) are nonprofit private and public organizations with their fingers on the pulse of poverty. They provide direct support for nearly 35 million of the 46.2 million people living in poverty in the United States today.
Each CAA is governed locally and offers programs and services designed to meet a community’s specific needs, including: emergency aid like food pantries and domestic violence counseling, education programs like Head Start and youth mentoring, daycare and job training programs, community economic development, services to military veterans, income management and housing assistance, healthcare clinics, WIC and more.
May is National Community Action Month, a public awareness campaign created by the Community Action Partnership in 1997 to highlight the agencies’ effectiveness in helping America’s low-income people and communities achieve economic security. The CAAs and the people they serve are currently getting hit by sequestration, budget cuts and rising hunger and unemployment, and will hold events to call attention to poverty and economic inequality, and to advocate for their programs as a way to help address these issues.
“While policymakers and hedge fund managers are trying to decide what to do with their Enron refrigerator magnets and their Merrill Lynch shot glasses, Community Action is approaching its fiftieth year of providing bona fide opportunities and economic security for millions of people and families,” said Don Mathis, president and CEO of the Community Action Partnership.
CAAs across the country are hosting poverty symposiums, town hall meetings and other events to raise awareness about poverty-related problems and solutions. Here are just a few of the events:
Arizona Community Action Association and Community Action of Northeast Indiana are hosting screenings of A Place at the Table.
TRI-CAP in Jasper, Indiana, is hosting a poverty simulation.
North Hudson Community Action Corporation in Union City, New Jersey, is hosting a health fair with free dental, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes screenings, along with nutrition and health information.
“Our network of more than 1,000 CAAs is focusing on the devastating effects that the severe income and wealth gaps are having on everyone in America, not just the poor,” said Mathis.
Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)
“Class Size & Funding Inequity in NY State & NY City,” Bruce Baker
“Fast Food Strikes Hitting Fifth City: Milwaukee,” Josh Eidelson
“Mother’s Day Edition: Challenges Give Strength,” Equal Voice
“Unemployment From a Child’s Perspective,” Julia Isaacs
“Unions to Banks: Pay Up,” Sarah Jaffe
“The Link Between Mass Incarceration and Voter Turnout,” John Light
“Parents to Lawmakers: Protect Child Care, Social Services,” Michael Mello and Brad Wong
“Mending factory conditions after Bangladesh,” Harold Meyerson
“Welfare fraud investigations perpetuate fraudulent stereotypes,” Monica Peabody
“Lift the Millstone of Student Debt That’s Slowing the Economy,” Isaiah J. Poole
“The Facts on SNAP: SNAP Is Efficient,” Dottie Rosenbaum
“In D.C., parents miss work, lose jobs trying to get child-care subsidy,” Brigid Schulte
“Racism Remains Alive and Well,” Patricia Williams
“Leaning in With Child Care: A Discussion on Childcare Jobs and the Need for Quality, Affordable Care,” Workforce Strategies Initiative, Aspen Institute [VIDEO]
“Congress is Ready to Fight Over Deep Food Stamp Cuts,” George Zornick
Studies/Briefs (summaries written by James Cersonsky)
“Enhancing GED Instruction to Prepare Students for College and Careers,” Vanessa Martin and Joseph Broadus, MDRC. In many large cities, students face dropout/pushout rates upwards of 50 percent. Many who drop out pursue the GED, or General Educational Development credential, but too few pass the GED test, and even fewer are prepared to step into college or the workforce. This study assesses an initiative at LaGuardia Community College, the GED Bridge to Health and Business Program, which is designed to help students pass the GED while simultaneously preparing for college and careers. Students in the program receive intensive advising and spend more hours in class than typical GED students. In a randomized evaluation, MDRC finds encouraging results: compared with students who went through traditional GED prep, Bridge students were twice as likely to complete the semester of classes, more than twice as likely to pass the exam and more than three times as likely to enroll in a CUNY school.
“Wasted Wealth: How the Wall Street Crash Continues to Stall Economic Recovery and Deepen Racial Inequity in America,” Ben Henry, Jill Reese and Angel Torres, Alliance for a Just Society. The Great Recession took a racially uneven toll: whereas white median net worth fell by 16 percent between 2005 and 2009, net worth for Latinos dropped 66 percent and blacks 52 percent. As 2012 foreclosure data reveals, the foreclosure crisis has far from abated—particularly for people of color. Overall, foreclosures caused a $192.6 million aggregate drop in wealth in 2012—an average of $1,679 per household—and more than 13 million homes remain underwater and vulnerable to foreclosure. In zip codes with proportions of people of color above the national average (16 percent), the average lost wealth per household was $2,008, and in zip codes with majority people of color, the loss was $2,198. Why the ongoing crisis? While banks have received $8 trillion in federal bailouts and loans, the feds haven’t acted on principal reduction—which would save underwater homeowners an average of $7,710 and stimulate the economy to the tune of 1.5 million jobs. The report offers a slate of proposals for government and banks, including: ensuring that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac prioritize keeping families in foreclosed homes through rental and buy-back programs; full legal accountability for Wall Street executive and bankers; legislation like the California Homeowner Bill of Rights that protects homeowners from abusive mortgage servicing; local foreclosure mediation programs; and public reporting from mortgage servicers on foreclosures, short sales and principal reductions by race and income.
“A Strategic Road-Map,” Academic Pediatric Association, Taskforce on Childhood Poverty. While there’s no vaccine to end child poverty, the APA says, there are clear strategies for combating its causes and effects. The APA’s road map focuses on four categories: raising children out of poverty through raising the minimum wage, increasing access to quality jobs and improving income and work supports such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit; high-quality childcare and early childhood programs for low-income families; “place-based” initiatives, recognizing that poverty, crime, housing characteristics and lack of employment opportunities can all have negative impacts on poor children’s health and well-being; and a White House Conference on Children and Youth to elevate children’s needs and build public support for investments.
US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent.
Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children. Poorest age group in country.
Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.
People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million (program kept 21.4 million people out of poverty).
People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.
Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans.
Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.
Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.
Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.
Percentage of individuals and family members in poverty who either worked or lived with a working family member, 2011: 57 percent.
Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.
Percentage of entitlement benefits going to elderly, disabled, or working households: over 90 percent.
Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.
Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.
Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.
Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.
Quote of the Week
“There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. Money has to serve, not to rule.”
James Cersonsky wrote the “Studies/Briefs” and co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” sections in this blog.