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New Report Exposes World Labor Standards

8:58 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

Around 2,000 protesters marched outside McDonald’s headquarters during their shareholders meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois to demand better pay and living standards for employees. The demonstration featured the Fight for 15 demands raised in cities like Seattle and the right to form a union.

Fight For 15 written in lighted signs at a protest

A new labor report shows US workers face systematic abuses of their rights.

Oak Brook police arrested 149 people in total, despite it being a peaceful demonstration. Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union, applauded the efforts of the police even though she was among those who protested.

While the protest forced executives from McDonald’s to vacate their headquarters, CEO Don Thompson said the following day to shareholders McDonald’s workers were offered not only “real careers” but also “competitive wages.”

A new report by the International Trade Union Confederation highlighted such harsh labor standards not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world. From a scale of 1, which means “irregular violations of rights,” to 5+, which means “no guarantee of rights due to the breakdown of the rule of law,” the ITUC uncovered how labor is treated in both developed and developing countries.

The ITUC was founded in 2006 after a merger between the World Confederation of Labor and the International Conference of Free Trade Union. It represents millions of workers worldwide and, as they state, they primarily aim to promote and defend “workers’ rights and interests, through international cooperation between trade unions, global campaigning and advocacy within the major global institutions.” Its headquarters operates in Brussels, Belgium.

The report was titled the “Global Rights Index” and its purpose is to put “abusive governments and companies on notice that the international trade union movement stands in solidarity with workers who are denied fundamental rights.”

The worst places in the world for workers to work will be exposed and the ITUC will demand change, demand decent jobs. Global solidarity in support of countries where here are no rights, inadequate laws or effective labour market institutions will garner the support of trade unions around the world to rectify this situation. Governments and business that allow or perpetrate oppression of workers cannot hide.

The report, conducted over the course of a year, found the most frequent violation of worker rights was when workers participated in strike. Joining unions and calling for a strike were also problems in numerous countries with different standards applied.

In total, eight countries received a 5+ rating with a few notable countries like Syria, Ukraine, Palestine, Libya and South Sudan.

The United States received a rating of 4, which means there are “systemic violations of rights.” Other countries that received a 4 include Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, Yemen, Iran and Argentina. Countries with a lower rating include Brazil and the United Kingdom at 3, Switzerland and Spain at 2 and South Africa and Germany at 1.

Russia, framed as public enemy number one in mainstream outlets, received a 2. This does not mean Russia is a better place for workers as 60 workers died in constructing for the Sochi Olympics, but it is not as bad as in the United States.

Recently, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, won the first-ever ITUC World’s Worst Boss poll. Other American CEOs nominated in the poll included JPMorgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon, Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Wal-Mart CEO C. Douglas McMillon. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, explained the significance of this vote:

Jeff Bezos represents the inhumanity of employers who are promoting the American corporate model. The message to big business is back off, you are not going to mistreat workers, Burrow said.

For a company that patented pictures with a white backdrop, Amazon is no stranger to labor disputes with its workers. The Supreme Court recently took up Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Buck which primarily deals with overtime pay not given to Amazon workers. The Supreme Court will make its decision next year, but other companies are alarmed by this push-back by workers as In These Times journalist Bruce Vail cited it may have repercussions beyond Amazon:

The case has attracted the attention of pro-business lobby groups, which often fight interpretations of the FLSA that would lead to an expansion of overtime pay. The Retail Litigation Center, the Society for Human Resources Management, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers filed a joint amicus brief in the case in favor of denying additional wage payments to the workers.

But this is an issue beyond the corporate sphere with the federal government also to blame. Michael Grabell of ProPublica provided excellent coverage of the weakness of temporary worker protection laws. Moreover, he references “permatemp,” which means  ”hiring a temp for years to do the same job permanent employees do, but without the benefits and protections.”

The easy abuse of temp workers by companies looking to reduce costs surely was a factor contributing to the rating.

Yet critics would call the U.S. a haven for workers to work in. Forbes contributor Jeffrey Dorfman stated, due to higher labor productivity and average wage, the U.S. is a friendlier place for workers than in Europe. He elaborated what this data holds for workers in the U.S.:

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Remembering Bill Hicks

8:11 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

Just 20 years ago, to this day, American comedian Bill Hicks passed away at the age of 32. A fierce social critic often mentioned in circles like George Carlin and Lenny Bruce, Hicks was popular throughout his stand-up career.

Portait of Bill Hicks against a text background

Remembering comedian Bill Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994)

Born on Dec. 16, 1961, Hicks grew up in Houston, Texas when he was seven years old after moving a bit in his life. While in Houston, he didn’t enjoy the conditions there as he told John Lahr:

When I was about eleven, it dawned on me that I didn’t like where I was.

Hicks then discovered the work of Woody Allen, Richard Pryor and Johnny Carson to name a few. Hicks remarked to Lahr that Carson was “the only comic in the world, because I never stayed up later.”

He copied jokes of other comedians he watched, along with writing his own comedic routines too that he used in class. He teamed with friend Dwight Slade and went as far as to sneak out at night to perform comedy at a Jerry Lewis Telethon from 2 a.m. to 2:45 a.m. at one point.

Slade then moved to Portland, Oregon, leaving Hicks alone to form his future as a stand-up comedian.

He continued to perform in different comedy clubs and started to develop an addiction to different drugs early in his adult life. The documentary, American: The Bill Hicks Story, does a fabulous job of going into more detail on this dark period of his life, especially with Hicks drinking anything the audience would give him during his routines.

Thankfully, he decided to take a stand and stop his dependence on alcohol and other drugs. After that, his career took off with numerous specials and appearances in the U.K. and throughout the U.S., though the latter wasn’t as impressive as the former.

Then in 1993, after his popularity continued to rise with numerous specials, he starting feeling sick for months on end and decided to go to the doctor to investigate. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As his manager and girlfriend Colleen McCarr placed it in American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story:

There was no crying. There was no going nuts…It was really, really calm…He’d known for awhile, I’m sure, that something was wrong. I mean people have indigestion for six months.

After deciding to spend his last days on Earth with his friends and his family, he passed away in their comfort on Feb. 26, 1994.

He has been praised by numerous comedians, figures and artists. Infamously, Denis Leary plagiarized jokes of Hicks, something well-known among comedians.

On the 10th anniversary of his death Hicks was even honored in the House of Commons (Feb. 2004) by Stephen Pound, a Labour MP (who voted for the Iraq War, but I digress),  and given a great tribute with surprising comments from Pound:

That this house notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on February 26th, 1994, at the age of 32; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of the one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worthy of inclusion with Lenny Bruce in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers.

He was in the news two years ago on Late Night with David Letterman when his mother was on Letterman’s show to reveal the Oct. 1, 1993 routine of his show that was censored by CBS and the Late Night show. Letterman apologized for the decision to not show it on television.


Brendon Burns wrote a piece on Bill Hicks on Feb. 19 of this year in The Guardian, where he discussed two myths about Hicks. He argued Hicks wasn’t an activist or an atheist. It’s true Hicks never stated he was an atheist, but the first myth is actually a fact as his routines can be considered activism. Burns writes in response to the myth:

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After SNAP Cuts, More New York City Residents Appearing at Emergency Food Programs

2:01 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

There was an increase of people at emergency food programs in New York City due to the Nov. 1 Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program cuts, according to a latest research brief from the Food Bank of New York City.

There is a need, a real need.

As the brief mentions, this took place as the number of soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City fell by 25 percent under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg during 2007 to 2012. Meanwhile, Congress decided to let five billion dollars in SNAP benefits expire, which were extended under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, expire on Nov. 1, leaving the 47 million Americans relying on SNAP $121 (for a household of one) to $396 (for a household of four) short.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3,185,000 New Yorkers in Fiscal Year 2014 were on SNAP benefits.  Additionally, the state is expected to lose $332 million as a result of SNAP cuts from Nov. 2013 to Sept. 2014. According to Food Bank, out of the more than 8.3 million New York City residents, nearly one in five rely on the program.

The findings of the brief have been shocking and indicate there are major problems still occurring in New York City as nearly one-third of civilians “struggle to afford food.” Three-fourths of food pantries and soup kitchens reported an increase in visitors in Nov. 2013 compared to the previous two months. Just 16 percent of those interviewed stated they had more than 50 percent in visitor traffic than before.

Even worse, compared to Nov. 2012, 85 percent remarked they had an increase of people visiting for food. Just, 20 percent said they had more than 50 percent in difference from the year before. As the organization noted, this was “not attributable to seasonal variation related to the fact that November is a holiday month.”

There was the additional issue of running out of food or almost running out of it for some providers. Nearly one-half said this occurred to them and 26 percent had to turn people away due to this issue. It also affected the size of meals served with 23 percent of those interviewed stating they had to reduce “the number of meals their pantry bag provided.”

It’s significant this brief came out as President Obama is set to make his speech next week for his State of the Union address. Rather than talk about the major income inequality recently highlighted in an Oxfam International report, Obama has decided to talk about the opportunities for low and middle-income Americans that can help them climb the economic ladder. It would be very difficult to imagine him speak about this recent report, let alone the struggle of Americans trying to escape food insecurity.

Still, the White House is using their previous attempts of doing nothing radical to remark it’s not normal for them to talk about income inequality as the Associated Press noted:

The modification in language does not represent a shift from Obama’s underlying economic message, which White House officials note has been a consistent and prominent theme of his political life.

Meanwhile, Congress doesn’t seem to be interested in restoring SNAP and would rather compromise on a bill with austerity. As Maggie Dickinson of The Indypedent wrote in her Jan. 21 piece, just three days before the Food Bank brief, Democrats would accept austerity as necessary in the newest version of the Farm Bill despite the numerous drawbacks millions of Americans would face:

Now lawmakers are fighting over how much more to cut from the program, as the House and Senate attempt to reconcile their separate versions of the farm bill. The Senate’s version contains a $4 billion cut to SNAP, while the House has proposed cutting $40 billion. Recent negotiations haven’t yet produced a compromise, but Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, has reportedly signaled that the Senate could live with a $9 billion cut in order to pass the legislation.

It’s almost shocking to hear Democrats would accept such a proposal with Republicans to decide the fate of the 47 million of Americans who barely have a say into their lives. However, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) stated the Farm Bill with the SNAP cuts will pass “with some Democratic support.” It seems the Democrats aren’t happy with the cuts, but would gladly accept it to pass the overall Farm Bill.

The House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), meanwhile, rejected the $40 billion SNAP cuts proposed by House Republicans, but seemed open to the $9 billion compromise:

“I look forward to seeing it and how they arrive at that figure and what their timetable is on it,” she told reporters. “I think it is very important that we get a farm bill. I’ve been very concerned about the food stamp and nutrition cuts that are in the bill, but as you know, that’s been closely held.”

Barely any concern is registered with a member of Congress, a place where more than half are millionaires. Pelosi was reported by the Center for Responsive Politics for having an average net worth of $87,997,030 making her the 10th richest person in Congress.

If what’s occurring in New York City is getting worse, then it’s troubling to imagine what’s happening across the nation due to the SNAP cuts. Ohio—where 18 percent or 1,847,000 residents are SNAP recipients—had more than 10,000 people cut off food stamps. They had their benefits cut because they failed to follow the state’s “enforced work requirements.” These work requirements are for adults without children and include “at least 20 hours working, attending class or job training, or volunteering each week” for them to get SNAP benefits.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, believes it can provide benefits to SNAP recipients as his spokesman told The Columbia Dispatch ”Ohio’s economy is improving.”

The program is no stranger to New York City as Bloomberg pushed for it when he was in charge as Dickinson notes in her piece. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio “has signaled that he will accept the USDA’s waiver for unemployed, childless adults, essentially waiving the work requirement for the 76,000 city residents who currently have to work for their SNAP benefits.” Still, it doesn’t solve the issue of increased hunger and worries on food security in New York City.

One in six residents in New York City were found to be “food insecure,” according to a Nov. 2013 report from New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Moreover, they found one in five children were also facing the same conditions. Throughout the state, the number is one in eight residents, which is more troubling.

Dickinson notes this increase isn’t isolated in New York City as she uses the same source to show “food insecurity rose from 10.7 percent of all U.S. households in 2001 to 14.9 percent in 2011.” Typically, the burden rests heavily upon single-parent households compared to two-parent households. A Gallup poll last year found 31 percent of single-parent households with at least one child reported struggling within the past year to purchase food compared to 19 percent of two-parent households.

This isn’t to say two-parent households do an easier job or have it better. It’s shameful for both households to have that in their lives as their representatives barely commit to produce change as millionaires.

With these reports calling for reforms by Congress to fix SNAP or to stop these austerity cuts, it doesn’t seem likely both parties will listen. With midterms close for Democrats and Republicans, they prefer to play it safe and use populist rhetoric where needed to keep them elected.

The reality can be found in what Jon Favreau, Obama’s former speech writer from Jan. 2009 to Feb. 2013, said to the Associated Press in reference to Obama’s shift to focusing on mobility rather than income inequality:

“Any capitalist country has inequality and that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing,” Favreau said. “What most concerned him is mobility.”

It’s a travesty the excuse of capitalism should be used to justify inequality in the U.S., but it’s true capitalism does drives inequality. In fact, economist Richard Wolff discusses this further on his podcast “Economic Update” last week when speaking on global inequality:

From the industrial revolution, 18th century, through to World War II, global inequality worsened. That means the gap in the world between rich countries and poor countries got worse. … The industrial revolution was also the beginning of the dominance of capitalism first in Western Europe and spreading to the rest of the world. In other words, the spread of capitalism was also the spread of global inequality. Capitalism and inequality go together, contrary to the propaganda that sometimes wants us to believe that capitalism is some sort of equalizer.

Wolff also noted this in a Dec. 18, 2013 article on the contradiction between capitalism and democracy:

The lessons of recent history include this: To secure democratic decision-making and the kind of society most Americans want requires moving beyond capitalism. Capitalism’s difficulties (including its crises and inequalities) and its control of government responses to those difficulties keep teaching that lesson. The widening gap between democratic needs and impulses and the imperatives of capitalism is becoming clear to millions in the United States but also in other countries.

To ensure people deserve food stability and don’t need emergency food programs, a transition away from capitalism is needed. The power for that change is not in the hands of Congressional millionaires, but of the public, which have been the recipients of brutal austerity. There is no democracy if even the speechwriter of President Obama admits capitalism produces such inequality that drives people to go to food services only to be turned away. Read the rest of this entry →

A Nation Fails Its Youth When Millions Go to College Presidents, Not Students

12:52 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

A recent report by The Chronicle for Higher Education has found 42 private college presidents made over $1 million in executive pay, up from last year’s figure of 36 millionaire presidents. The list was based on 2011 federal tax data from institutions receiving endowments.

Broken piggy bank with IOU note inside

What hope for tomorrow’s debt-ridden, unemployed college students?

University of Chicago president Robert J. Zimmer was first on the list with $3,358,723 in total compensation. This is an increase compared to former New School president Bob Kerrey’s total compensation of $3,047,703 when he was first last year.  Last year, Zimmer was ninth on the list with $1,597,918 as compensation.

To place the salary in context, the University of Chicago, for the 2011-12 year, had its tuition and fees as $43,780. The average debt of students, in 2012, was $22,663 and 34 percent of students graduated with debt that same year, according to Project on Student Debt.

Last year, when The New York Times reported on the list, Jack Stripling commented on issue that has grown since last year — inflated pay:

‘There’s no indication in these data that boards are retracting in term of presidential pay,’ said Jack Stripling, a senior reporter at The Chronicle. ‘Over the long run, we’re still seeing more presidents who are paid at an elite level.’

One major problem associated with the pay is the focus of universities to attract the best talent for the betterment of the university, despite a major crisis sitting directly in their faces with two out of five college graduates stating their full-time job doesn’t need a degree in the first place.

In fact, student debt has also been a major issue with a recent report by the Project on Student Debt stating seven in 10 college students graduated with debt in 2012 with the average being $29,400 or. As they wrote:

The national share of seniors graduating with loans rose in recent years, from 68 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012, while their debt at graduation increased by an average of six percent per year. Even though the financial crisis caused a substantial decline in private education lending while these borrowers were in school, about one-fifth (20%) of their debt is comprised of private loans, which are typically more costly and provide fewer consumer protections and repayment options than safer federal loans.

The situation is worsening so much that even The Onion joked on the crisis with a story titled “30-Year-Old Has Earned $11 More Than He Would Have Without College Education.” Yet, the response by the board of trustees at these private colleges (and even in public colleges) is surprise at the thought of their president making less, rather than students facing a future of crisis. As Stripling wrote in a recent article over the matter:

College presidents tend to cringe when their compensation makes headlines, but in some cases trustees are disappointed that their leaders do not rank higher on the national pay scale. Such was the case at the University of Pennsylvania, where board members, in 2010, were surprised to see Amy Gutmann trailing 14 other presidents in The Chronicle’s compensation analysis.

This is occurring when, according to a recent Gallup poll, 93 percent of Americans view college as “important.” Moreover, 73 percent specifically cite college as “very important.” Is the point of college to inflate pay of presidents, while students face a bleak future where one in 10 jobs are retail for example?

Journalist Jeff Madrick penned a piece titled “The Real Lost Generation” in the December edition of Harper’s Magazine that explored the prospect of jobs for youths. In the article, he explored an alarming segment of our society— threat of unemployment:

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Why is Alex Berezow Allowed to Write on Economics?

8:50 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

In my daily trek of researching the news, a friend posted up a piece by Forbes contributor Alex Berezow over Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant in a Seattle City Council election and her credentials as a teacher of economics. I can assure you my friend found the piece humorous and so did I.

Forbes logo

Why Forbes’ Alex Berezow is wrong.

But I am curious, why is Alex Berezow, a person listed to write on “science, science policy, and a dash of European affairs,” allowed to write on a subject he did little to no research about? In fact, has he read anything aside from Gregory Mankiw?

Perhaps an analysis of his post can allow us understanding of why an individual can write over economics with such terrible insight.

Berezow is right to state economics is not a science usually considered “traditionally,” though that is the only part where he is right. He moves on to say:

Still, economics can provide powerful insights on market behavior. Indeed, economists from various ideological backgrounds have managed to reach a consensus on several major issues, and from that vantage point, we can say the field has developed something resembling scientific knowledge.

Economics has not reached consensus on major issues since there many schools of thought. Additionally, the issue of terrible reporting on economics has been talked on by economist Dean Baker, for instance, and the issue of problems within the economic paradigm as it works within a neoclassical model. That is why books like The Economics Anti-Textbook by economists Rod Hills and Tonny Myatt exist, to counter-act such thoughts bias in the field and rejection of alternative theories.

Yet, as I read the entire piece, it starts with the age-old idea of incentive for people to work:

One of those insights is that people respond to incentives. If I offer a teenager $50 to mow my lawn — and an extra $25 if he trims the bushes — then I can expect to shell out $75. I just offered my little helper a handsome incentive, and there’s a very good chance he’ll respond to it.

Here I admit defeat as my socialist convictions cannot respond to such logic of paying a teenager $75 to mow the lawn and trim the bushes. I thought capitalism was exploiting others, but it seems this teenager (whoever it is) is a genius who is taking an easy $75 to do errands for Alex Berezow who is too busy writing on things he knows nothing about.

He mentions how socialists, like me, never admit to the idea of incentive in our framework despite our work proving him wrong. But the best part of the entire post is found within one line:

Yet, shockingly, socialists can regularly be found on college campuses.

Yes, we’re here on campuses preparing events to teach the public on special causes. We can be found in your cafeteria, your classrooms, your libraries, your buses, your trains, your lanes and even your sidewalks (yes we can walk). Perhaps most shocking of all, we’re human beings that can critically think and engage with other people while hoping for a change in the future.

He then proceeds to call out Sawant by saying she “openly endorses socialism” and might win her Seattle City Council race as she currently has 49.5 percent of the vote.

Two years ago, it was found by Pew Research Center those aged 18 to 29 view “socialism” favorably at 49 percent to 43 percent. It’s not a dirty word anymore.

Berezow flat-out deceives the reader to fit into his agenda of what is right and wrong. For instance, he criticizes Sawant for her support of rent control by stating:

If Dr. Sawant’s embrace of socialism isn’t bad enough, she also endorses a terribly destructive policy called “rent control.” This policy can take various forms, but basically, landlords are not allowed to charge market rates for apartments. That might sound like a nice thing if you’re a renter, but Dr. Mankiw — citing a 1992 paper in American Economic Review — states that 93% of economists reject rent control because it “reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.”

One major problem with this argument is the lack of a definition with rent control. Yes,  the statistic of 93 percent of economists rejecting rent control is all fine, but what specific rent control are we speaking about? Here is the question he either refuses to answer or does not know much about.

In the Economics Anti-Textbook by Rod Hills and Tonny Myatt, they do talk about the neoclassical idea of rent control, but give an alternative view as well. They write:

But knowing the extent to which the ceiling rent is binding over time is very tricky. It’s complicated by the fact that we cannot observe the equilibrium rent. A second complication is that the type of rent control prevalent nowadays is very different from the type assumed in textbooks — a rigid rent freeze.

What Berezow is saying is that “first-generation rent control” is rejected by many economists. For those unaware, it is, as stated above, “a rigid rent freeze.” However, “second-generation” rent control is more flexible as it can allow “automatic rent increases geared to increasing costs, excludes luxury high-rent buildings and new buildings, restricts conversions, decontrols between tenants, and provides incentives for landlords to maintain or improve quality.”

In the same manner my introduction to microeconomics textbook (coincidentally written by Gregory Mankiw) failed to address this, so does Berezow fail to distinguish to difference between the two.

But the biggest problem is thinking that housing units aren’t assets, when, in reality, they are. Again, the two economists state there are more factors such as “interest rates, inflation, profit opportunities elsewhere, the local real estate cycle, government housing and tax policies, and current and expected future changes in all relevant variables.”

Nowhere, in a business site named Forbes, is the discussion of any of these factors raised. Rather, a reporter with time on his hands decided to write an article on a subject he did not research thoroughly.

Richard Arnott, economist at the University of California — Riverside, spoke on the impact of such factors. He wrote, in “Time for Revisionism in Rent Control?“:

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Analyzing NYC’s Mayoral Elections: Joseph Lhota (Part III of V)

1:17 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

This is an on-going series analyzing New York City’s mayoral race. To read the introduction, click here. To read on Independent candidate Adolfo Carrion Jr, click here.

Joseph Lhota

Joseph Lhota – Republican candidate

We move on to Joseph Lhota, the former Chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from January 9th, 2012 to December 31st. He is the Republican candidate in this election and has experience in numerous offices under major names like Rudy Giuliani.

Lhota echoes a sentiment of being a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, which is a theme all three major candidates build upon.

A few Republican (clueless if I might add) individuals I know of have found de Blasio to be so revolting that Lhota would be the instant candidate for their needs. However, Lhota, currently at 23 percent according to Siena, has failed to do anything of a push against de Blasio’s strategies. In fact, he is the epitome of the New York Republican Party — delusional.

Interestingly, Lhota has appeal based on fear of de Blasio’s policies, rather than of what he is doing. It is a grave mistake Lhota is making and indicative of a campaign fully knowing it has nothing up its sleeves to counter-act de Blasio’s genius run.

In fact, it is comical Joseph Lhota stated de Blasio “is using his family because he has no policies,” despite using his family in the New York Post since “he has no policies.”

To be fair to Lhota, he does have policies, but here is one:

For years, New York has relied heavily on the finance and related industries for job growth. While financial services produce vast wealth and tax revenues, they can also subject the city economy and government to painful contractions when markets fall.  To give New Yorkers access to well-paid jobs and more of them we must welcome and attract new business from a variety of industries.

For an individual who celebrates his time on Wall Street, it brings numerous concerns as to what his agenda might be. If New York will gain jobs, at what point will such jobs go to Wall Street? Are we to expect public works projects by an individual who was an investment banker?

Moreover, an attack-ad by Lhota was, as The Nation’s Leslie Savan points out, filled with mistakes and errors that, once again, represent delusional politics at play.

His support of stop-and-frisk is connected to the fear-based politics, which he believes would work to his favor if elected. He writes in his “Policy Book” his answer regarding stop-and-frisk:

The Supreme Court of the United States held in the landmark case of Terry v. Ohio that police have the ability to stop people upon reasonable suspicion. This technique is used by police departments around the country. Terry stops are an important tool in the prevention of crime, especially gun violence. Police, however, should be free to go into high crime neighborhoods and prevent crimes, including quality of life crimes.

He tries his very best not to say low-income people should be frequently checked and frisked by police, but ends up implying that through statements like these.

He echoed the time when New York was filled with crime and compared it to a de Blasio administration if elected. “We are one bad mayor away from unsafe streets, failing schools and fiscal chaos” he remarks in a new campaign video.

It is as if Lhota did not stop and look at what “fiscal chaos” in this country is already.

He is famous for working in public administrations under Republican Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani is famous for being called “America’s Mayor” after the Sept. 11th attacks.

The reality is he was at the right place at the right time as journalist Rebecca Solnit writes in Paradise Built in Hell:

The spiteful, self-serving, scandal-ridden figure was gone, and in his place was brave, empathetic, inexhaustible, and omnipresent. But the old Giuliani came back soon enough to try to advance his own career on his performance and dismiss or suppress inconvenient facts about that day and his decisions before and after. He often lauded his own preparedness in creating an Emergency Operations Center, though that center was located in 7 World Trade Center and was quickly evacuated on September 11th. The space was leased from a landlord who afterward became a major campaign donor to the mayor. Years earlier, his own advisers had his plan to locate the center at what even then they called Ground Zero.

His time in the MTA has been praised and even used by newspapers to indicate his experience if elected as a mayor. In their endorsement of Lhota, Newsday wrote:

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Defending the 1 Percent

12:07 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

I support the 1 percent.

It is time in the United States they become a part of our “radical revolution of values.”

Woman panhandling in front of fashion store.

Speaking up for the suffering of our poorest.

I am talking of course of the bottom 1 percent of Americans who live on less than $2 a day. In a world where a list of the top 400 richest Americans can be considered newsworthy, it is high time to give more time to the poorest of Americans who have to suffer as their wealth is stolen by those at top. They cannot be ignored.

This group of Americans, who live on income that is difficult for many people to imagine, is in “extreme poverty.” In 1996, they were just 1.7 percent of all households. In mid-2011, the number rose to 4 percent or a growth rate of 159 percent.

A study conducted by the National Poverty Center, specifically researchers Kathyrn Edin and Luke Shaefer, earlier this year on the other 1 percent stated “1.65 million households with 3.55 million children were living in extreme poverty in a given month.” One disturbing part of the study was how the “Great Recession” affected those in extreme poverty:

[A] rise in the number of households experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment may have also led to a rise in the number of households surviving on virtually nothing. (Emphasis mine)

Let’s briefly pause at this moment to reflect on what we understand so far. When we hear the words “virtually nothing”, what comes to mind?

Surely, we, as a society, have to reach a point where we must criticize what our system so much that it must be abolished. Existence of “bullshit jobs,” as London School of Economics anthropology professor David Graeber placed it, is directly connected to the problem of such individuals in our society living with “virtually nothing.” But let’s return to the study.

The report notes “assistant programs” for those in poverty has slowed down the overall rate, though notes the rise of poverty highlights how weak the social safety net is for Americans.

It is clear that our current major safety-net programs are playing a vital role at the very bottom, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and are blunting some of the hardship that these households would otherwise face. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the U.S. safety net is strong, or even adequate, when the number and proportion of households with children surviving on less than $2 per day has risen so dramatically over the past 15 years, even after accounting for means-tested transfers

The authors note a major turning point in the 1990s was the signing of the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996″ or the “welfare reform” law as the authors placed it. It changed the system from a “need-based” program to a “block grant” program that was easily manipulated by states for their own use. As they elaborated:

[C]ash assistance caseloads have fallen from 12.3 million recipients per month in 1996 to 4.5 million in December 2011, and only 1.1 million of these beneficiaries are adults. Even during the current period of continued high unemployment, the cash assistance rolls have increased only slightly. ‘Welfare’, in the form of cash assistance, is a shell of its former self.

The signing of the 1996 law was not the fault of Republicans only, but of the Democrats as well. Historian Howard Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States:

The aim of the welfare cuts was to save $50 billion over a five-year period (less than the cost of a planned new generation of fighter planes). Even the New York Times, a supporter of Clinton during the election, said that the provisions of the new law “have nothing to do with creating work but everything to do with balancing the budget by cutting programs for the poor.”

Last year, a New York Times/CBS News poll found “two-thirds of registered voters” viewed him favorably while a whopping 91 percent of Democrats have a “favorable” view of him. This was an individual who remarked the “era of big government was over“, so it is peculiar Democrats would support an individual like Clinton.

There is a section in this study that speaks volumes about the issue of “extreme poverty.” Indeed, the study reports there is an increase of “disconnected” mothers — those with “neither earnings nor welfare” — and experience “multiple barriers to work such as learning disabilities, physical limitations, few work skills, and mental health problems.” The researchers found:

Read the rest of this entry →

50 Years Later: Why Dreams Still Matter

9:43 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

Where do we go from here? First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amidst a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. – Doctor Martin Luther King Junior 

President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington.

Today, thousands from across the country (and perhaps the globe) will venture in Washington D.C. on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King´s ¨March on Washington¨ that had 250,000 people in attendance. One might ask themselves, if they are unaware of the significance of this event, why marching still matters. It is indeed a question that is relevant and should be discussed.

When King marched in the 1960s, he marched with the idea of changing society and breaking down barriers (originally racial, but it became structural as he lived on). With protests, speeches, organizing, and other bold acts, the spirit of the 1960s was not of legislative change, but of those in the streets that drive such acts to be done.

Fifty years later, such spirit lives on in our society as our problems persist in old and new fashions.

When the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (the removal which is necessary to rally against), which gives power to the federal government to crack down on states that make ¨tests or devices¨for voters, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that:

Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,

Yes, the United States has changed since 1963, but not in the way that Roberts envisions.When Martin Luther King Junior made this statement on the Lincoln Memorial, his words were as relevant as ever:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement´s report, Operation Ghetto Storm, 313 black individuals were killed mostly by police in 2012 or one every 28 hours. Sixty six percent of those killed were between the age of 2 to 31. Moreover, only 13% of those killed were found by police to firing a weapon at them, appearing threatening was the main reason at 47%.

The entire case around Trayvon Martin and acquitting George Zimmerman without penalty is perhaps the best example (and alarming coincidental) that many will rally around today. It is a tragic case that cannot be given justice through words, but best exemplified by pictures of rallies that have happened before and will today.

But the racial discrimination does not end there. Yes, stop and frisk has been ruled ¨unconstitutional¨but the war is still not over. Remember, freedom is never given on a plate, it is fought for by the oppressed against the oppressor.

Take, for instance, calls for NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to be appointed as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. A known psychopath – who believes that stop and frisk worksspying on Muslims is okay, and thinks it is right to go after minorities to ¨instill fear¨ in them – should not be appointed nor be told be an ¨outstanding¨ candidate by a President that is as distrusting as Kelly is.

The reality is that the United States has changed since 1963 as a country into a more oppressed society where it is obvious that change is needed. As King placed it:

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.

Today is a moment that continues from 1963′s urgency. We are at a time where a myriad number of events go beyond the idea of racism that King would agree to act upon.

Wealth in the United States is at a point that rivals that of the Gilded Age where the rich in society do absolutely nothing while gaining significant wealth at the expense of the lower classes. Features of such inequality are a permanent feature of a system that allows a group to profit at the expense of the majority of the population. The top 1%, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, have gained 121% since 2009!

And for those who are not among the rich, the thought of part-time is not a choice, but forced upon them. A 2013 Gallup poll showed one in five American workers working in part-time. With minimum wage so low, it is no wonder why workers in the fast-food industry, for instance, call for more strikes and a real change to their livelihoods. These are actions committed by individuals to preserve their lives and fight for their rights as people with problems that cannot be solved through charity.

For these few examples, it is no surprise that we see striking parallels of then and now. What is important is that we keep marching on as civil liberties are under the same attack as they were during King and, another pioneer, Malcolm X´s time.

Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years, while officials who have committed war crimes, lied to the public, killed Americans for their own riches are free in society to gain plenty and more. We now have a perfect example of believing our government protects our freedom, while, in reality, they attack the courage and bravery of a whistleblower who acted in good faith for the public. As King once remarked:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

We now know, because of Manning, myriad number of what governments around the world, especially the United States government, are doing against their people in the name of more power.

Edward Snowden, additionally, has shaken up the establishment so much so that the UK government, for instance, has been leaking documents to newspapers and detaining family members of journalists to almost charge them with terrorism. It is no surprise that much of what we see is a form of civil disobedience that the establishment always hated: whistleblowing. We must be reminded of the words by Malcolm X, a legendary and phenomenal human rights advocate in the 1960s:

I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.

Today, when we march, we invoke what King, X, all the others who were there had when the faced their struggles at the time. They had enough of the propaganda that said everything in America was great, that people should be obedient and never become a non-conformist.

With environment catastrophe, we are facing the same thing in our society. Scientists are doing their best to say that we should act now in order to stop it. They are right, we must act now as our future will be in grave crisis.

The Keystone XL pipeline, essentially a pipeline that goes through America while raising our gas prices, has ties that make it another bourgeois attempt to profit at the expense of us. Yet, we have failed to go against it as 67 percent of  Americans support the pipeline’s construction. Here are King’s words that make us ponder on what will happen if nothing is done:

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

There is more that I have forgotten to speak about such as the numerous abortion laws introduced restricting rights of women (and it doesn’t end there for women), services helping those who are mentally ill getting worse with cuts, and having our food be as unhealthy and common than before.  Yet, it is indicative of what our system is and what we must do. As King once remarked, “there is something wrong with capitalism” and it is our job to address it.

And what do we expect from today? We expect people angry, people with energy, people that demand change. A President who ran on a platform of change should not be trusted with anything as his record shows how much he defends the status quo.

But we should be careful of what is happening down there too. When King marched in 1963, he was not as radical with his words as he was when spoke up against the Vietnam War years later. Indeed, Malcolm X stated that while it was a ¨grassroots¨movement and a “revolution” when he went, he felt it was hijacked by ¨national Negro leaders¨ to cool off the movement on behalf of the national government:

This is what they did with the march on Washington. They joined it… became part of it, took it over. And as they took it over, it lost its militancy. It ceased to be angry, it ceased to be hot, it ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all. . .

We have much to learn from Malcolm as we do from King. We are not protesting in hope that Barack Obama and Congress gives the A-O.K. to change America, we are not protesting in hope that one good bill will make us feel better, we are protesting because it is time for change with or without those who want it.

Mistakes are being made among groups who emphasize only one issue or confusing what we need, as evident through the 40,000 environmentalists who marched earlier this year on Washington in hope that Obama will reject the Keystone XL pipeline. This is a waste of time and energy that could be geared to give people a real chance at having their voice heard.

It is important to act because as noted by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese there is a change happening in America and we need it to go against the current system we have in place. We are re-gaining our spirit from the 1960s in an important time of our lives. By sticking with both parties, we accept their failures and commit to inaction that we often fail to see.

Now, King and Malcolm are gone and we cannot continue to live in the past. We should not hope for a new King, a new Malcolm, a new leader to look up to. The reason is because we are the change we are expecting and it is time to act upon it.

Things are different now from then, but does that matter? We still have such feeling in our society that is shunned as the establishment tries to control our voice. We rallied together, with stark differences, in hope that we can make a dream happen for all of us.

It is important to say that dreams still matter. Indeed, those words that have inspired us through speeches, words, actions, photos and more can be defined in a few short sentences by poet Langston Hughes with the title “Harlem” (Alternatively “Lenox Avenue Mural”) :

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over- 
like a syrupy sweet? 

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. 

Or does it explode?

Should we wait until our world explodes along with our dreams? From today’s rally, you will be sure to say there it won’t happen as we move forward. Read the rest of this entry →