SYNDICATED COLUMN: 50%+ of Americans Have Been Poor, and Capitalism Thinks That’s Awesome

Odds are, you are poor. Or you’ve been poor.

Conventional wisdom — i.e., what the media says, not what most people think — repeatedly implies that poverty is a permanent state that chronically afflicts a relatively small number of Americans, while the rest of us thrive in a vast, if besieged, middle class. In fact, most Americans between age 25 and 75 have spent at least one year living under the poverty line.

“One of the biggest myths about poverty in the United States is that a relatively small segment of the population is poor, and that this represents a more or less permanent underclass,” Columbia University economist and social work professor Irwin Garfinkel tells Columbia magazine. “But poverty is quite dynamic. Lots of people move in and out of poverty over the course of their lives. And it doesn’t take much for people at the edge to lose their footing: a reduction in work hours, an inability to find affordable day care, a family breakup, or an illness — any of these can be disastrous.”

Even if you bounce back, the effects of these financial setbacks linger. For young adults, attending cheaper colleges or passing up higher education — or being unable to afford to take a low-paid internship — burdens them with opportunity costs that hobble them the remainder of their lives (which will likelier end sooner). Debts accrue with compound interest and must be repaid; damaged credit ratings block qualified buyers from purchasing homes. Diseases go undetected and untreated during periods without healthcare. Gaps on resumes are a red flag for employers.

Americans pay a price for the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism. To find out exactly how high the cost is, Professor Garfinkel and his colleagues at Columbia have created the Poverty Tracker, dubbed “one of the most richly detailed studies of poverty ever undertaken in the United States.” The Poverty Tracker is “a meticulous long-term survey of 2,300 New York households across all income levels…for at least two years” that aims “to create a much more intimate and precise portrait of economic distress than has ever been conducted in any US city.”

Initial findings were distressing: “While the city’s official poverty rate is 21%, the Columbia researchers found that 37% of New Yorkers, or about 3 million people, went through an extended period in 2012 when money was so tight that they lost their home, had their utilities shut off, neglected to seek medical treatment for an illness, went hungry, or experienced another ‘severe material hardship,’ as the researchers define such extreme consequences.”

Wait, it’s even worse than that:

“Even the 37% figure understates the number of New Yorkers who endured tough times in 2012. The researchers estimate that two million more endured what they call ‘moderate material hardship,’ which, as opposed to, say, losing one’s home or having the lights shut off, might involve merely falling behind on the rent or utility bills for a couple of months. Many others were in poor health. Indeed, the researchers found that if you add together all of those who were in poverty, suffered severe material hardship, or had a serious health problem, this represented more than half of all New Yorkers [emphasis is mine].”

The researchers hope that “they will have enough data to begin helping public authorities, legislators, foundations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and private charities address the underlying problems that affect the city’s poor” by the end of 2014.

Nationally, more than 35% of all Americans are currently ducking calls from collection agencies over unpaid debts.

What can be done?

Under this system? Not much. Democrats, who haven’t even proposed a major anti-poverty program since the 1960s, aren’t meaningfully better on poverty than Republicans.

As things stand, the best we can hope for from the political classes are crumbs: a few teeny-weeny proposals for wee reforms.

Like expanding day-care programs. More school lunches. Housing subsidies. “Additional investments in food programs.”

A drop in the bucket in an ocean of misery.

The Poverty Tracker shows that poverty is a huge problem in the United States. Unfortunately its authors, who draw their salaries from an institution intimately intertwined with monied elites, dare not openly suggest what they know to be true, that the key to eliminating poverty is to get rid of its root cause: capitalism.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: iDeasy

iDeasy

It sounded like a great idea at the time: L.A. would give students a boost into the 21st century by putting tech directly into their hands. The city’s United School District would buy 700,000 iPads from Apple, each loaded with educational software supplied by Pearson, the major textbook publisher.

“In June 2013, the [Los Angeles] Board of Education approved a deal with the Apple/Pearson team after senior staff assured members that its proposal was both the least expensive and highest in quality, Pearson provided curriculum; Apple was to supply iPads,” Howard Blume writes in the Times.

Apple’s sleek tablets appeared in 47 Los Angeles public schools during the 2013-14 academic year. Right out of the gate, however, it became clear that there were problems with the $1 billion contract. At a time of drastic budget cuts and brutal teacher layoffs, Apple charged L.A. more per device than other districts had paid. Pearson’s software was glitchy and incomplete. Schools weren’t set up to deal with security concerns — protecting the hardware, and blocking students from viewing inappropriate Internet content proved difficult. The district bought iPads at full cost even though their model was about to be replaced by a newer version. “Students at three campuses, for example, deleted security filters so they could browse the Internet — prompting officials to prohibit the use of the devices outside school. At times, officials also provided conflicting or incorrect answers about the project to a technology committee headed by school board member Monica Ratliff.”

When government bureaucracies wind up paying too much money to private contractors for goods and services that fall short — especially when the deal gets cut quickly — it’s reasonable to wonder whether the bidding process was open and transparent. Based on a series of emails disclosed at the request of the Times under the California Public Records Act, communications between L.A. schools superintendent and executives at Pearson and Apple, and the complaints of rivals who tried to land the district’s business, appear to indicate that an arm’s-length approach gave way to a level of institutional coziness that verges on outright political corruption.

“It looked like Apple was positioned to be the choice,” Chiara Tellini of Irvine-based Mind Research Institute, groused to Blume.

From Blume’s report:

In one email, from May 24, 2012, then-Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino seems to strategize with higher-ups from Pearson, an international education-services company, on how to ensure that it got the job.

“I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one,” wrote Aquino, who was an executive with a Pearson affiliate before joining L.A. Unified.

Deasy was one of the last to participate in that email exchange and made his comments after Aquino’s, which covered several topics.

“Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly,” Deasy wrote. “I want to not loose [sic] an amazing opportunity and fully recognize our current limits.”

Charming.

(More from Blume: “On Sunday, Deasy said that the conversations were only about a ‘pilot program we did at several schools months before we decided to do a large-scale implementation. We did work closely on this pilot.’”)

Under fire and possibly facing an ethics probe, L.A. Unified has suspended the Apple/Pearson deal.

“You should make every bidder think they have a slim chance of getting the job,” Stuart Magruder, a school bond oversight committee member who questioned the deal at the time and got fired over it only to be later reinstated, told Times columnist Steve Lopez. Deasy “didn’t do that.” Lopez is not alone in wondering aloud whether Deasy’s days at L.A. Unified are numbered.

If not, they ought to be. In politics as in business, there’s little effective difference between the appearance of impropriety and outright corruption. Taxpayers have the right not to have to wonder whether their money is being safeguarded — and students have the right not to know they’re being shortchanged by a regime heavy on high tech and low on actual teaching.

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“After We Kill You” Dates: Decatur Book Festival, Strand NYC, SF, Chicago and more

Tomorrow I’m flying to Atlanta for the annual AJC Decatur Book Festival, so if you’re planning to attend, I’d love to meet you! I’ll be speaking and showing work from “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” this Sunday, August 31st at 2:30 pm at the Decatur Recreation Center Gym.

Next week, I’ll be back in NYC:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
7:00 PM

The Strand
828 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Here are some more upcoming dates, for San Francisco and Chicago. I’m also thrilled to be able to confirm my first-ever appearance at Powell’s Books in Portland, which is without a doubt one of the best, if not the best, book store in the United States.

For a full schedule, check out rall.com/events. I keep it updated.

Monday, September 22, 2014
6:00 PM
Book Passage
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111

Saturday, September 27, 2014
9:00 PM
The Seminary Co-op Bookstores
5751 S Woodlawn Ave
Chicago, IL 60637

If you don’t see your city on the list, please get in touch with your local bookstore, university or political group about arranging an appearance this fall.

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Last Night’s DGR Panel

Thanks to everyone who came out for last night’s panel discussion, “Creating Strategies for Revolution,” sponsored by Deep Green Resistance to discuss the relationship between the environment and Revolution. It was an interesting and worthwhile discussion, and I enjoyed debating with Chris Hedges, whom I met for the first time, but the takeaway for me was: how are we going to overthrow the government when we can’t even define basic terms that are in the dictionary?

Even people on the Left can’t seem to understand basics like:

Revolution is the violent overthrow of one class by another.

An independence struggle, like India, is not a Revolution.

An anti-racism struggle, like South Africa under apartheid, is not a Revolution.

A Revolution has not occurred unless society is radically transformed socially, culturally, economically and politically.

A Revolution is both a process and an achievement.

Identity politics divide those who would fight for Revolution, and thus supports the oppression of the ruling class.

It is imperative to identify, and hate, enemies to be defeated.

The Left has a LOT of work to do to get its shit together.

 

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Ted Rall with Chris Hedges

I’ll be speaking tomorrow night at 7 pm in NYC:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
7PM – 9PM

Creating Strategies for Revolution
Project Reach Community Center
39 Eldridge Street
4th Floor
New York NY 10002
A panel discussion with Chris Hedges, members of Autonomous Indigenous Movement, People’s Survival Program, OWS Zapatista, One Struggle and Deep Green Resistance.

Note: address has changed.

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Al Sharpton’s Sellout

NYT: ““We are not here to cause riots; we are here because violence was caused,” Mr. Sharpton said at a rally after the march, adding, “an illegal chokehold is violence.” But, he said, “we are not against the police.””

I am. Against the police, that is.

If you’re for the police, you’re for racism and state oppression. Because that’s what they do.

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