• Time to Get Back to Work

    May 8, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    If America has a fast forward button on it someone should push it ahead to November. We won’t be done with the virus until we’ve done with the election. Between prudence and overreaction lies politics.

    We bleat about wanting decisions based on science. Then we do the same dumb red-blue thing, even counting the corona dead differently (nothing left certain but taxes now) to make the numbers seem better or worse depending on the shifty politics of better or worse. Something that should not be about Trump at all is All About Trump.

    There is no other country in the world so driven by politics so devoid of science. It’s killing us. Other countries have good leaders, some not so good. But look at us. Our nation is held hostage to protests and counter-protests, lockdowns and open bowling alleys. There is no other nation where so many are convinced their leader is actively trying to kill them with his virus response, even imagining he wants them to drink bleach.

     

    The MSM portrays protesters against government restrictions as dangerous, Trump death cultists who’d rather end up in an ICU that skip a haircut. It is an echo of the things that lost 2016 for the Democrats. The people don’t want haircuts. Such flippancy insults the righteous anger over lost livelihoods. They want to feed their families. They want thought-out targeted restrictions instead of politically driven over-reaction and fear mongering. It’s about deep emotional waters, sense of self, a whole lot more than just how the economy will help Trump win or lose. Many also are concerned that their lives, including the right to assemble, to worship, and to protest, are being controlled by leaders they don’t trust while a media they abandoned years ago mocks them. Beaches open in a red state are #FloridaMorons; in a blue state it’s #SurfsUp.

    But they see this time the Brooklyn elites are going a step further, beyond the deplorable label, to wishing them to catch the virus, figuring the infection will teach them a lesson before they vote wrong again. Wishing death on people you disagree with. It’s almost like cheering for a guy who drives his car into a crowd of BLM protesters.

     

    Elsewhere, medical professionals say the protestors have no right to put others’ lives at risk, and think it is just more than OK to physically stop the rallies. That’s called “the heckler’s veto” by the Supreme Court and is not allowed under the 1A, even if you’re a hero ER nurse or just an abortion protester blocking the door to a clinic. Stopping someone from protesting by shouting them down, driving a car into their crowd, or otherwise trying to stop them from exercising their rights (including the right to hold a dumb opinion or one you disagree with) is disdainfully unconstitutional.

    The medical professionals and their Muppet chorus of journalists sound like some soldiers who felt their sacrifice was made cheap by people who protested the war. Thank you for your service. It does not however allow you to choose which people can exercise their rights. When you choose to serve you serve those you define as worthy and those you don’t. It’s bigger than you, doc.

    Government is not supposed to be able to take away freedoms, even if it’s for “our own good.” Governments always invoke safety and security when they are taking away rights (see the Patriot Act.) The invoke the majority over the minority. It’s an old playbook, joined in this century by our 1A nannies on social media, who electronically block efforts to organize. If you’re screeching about how rights don’t matter when lives are at stake, the same old safety vs. liberty argument people always use, you’ve got company. The KKK used that argument to block blacks from marching, claiming it was a safety issue.

    Protesting against the government taking away your right to assemble is about as fundamental a civil right as you can get. The argument restrictions are needed to keep us safe (“we’ll get the virus!”) are about as fundamentally wrong as you can get. Yet authorities in California will no longer issue permits for anti-lockdown protests at any state properties, including the Capitol.

    Agree? Just remember what you’re saying now about these redneck inbreeding gun nuts the next time someone claims a march permit can’t be issued in the interest of public safety to a group you support. Hint: It’s the same thing. Rights are rights. Because you know what else can spread rapidly if “left unchecked?” Tyranny. Justice Louis Brandeis held free speech is not an abstract virtue but a key element of a democratic society. He ruled even speech likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” In braver times when Americans challenged the safety vs. liberty argument, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in favor of free speech, reminding us democracy comes with risk. But that was another world ago, before we measured human worth in RTs.

     

    There is science which should be informing decisions. The irony is that while claiming a small rally in Denver will cost lives, or Florida will kill people by opening its beaches, the same voices remain silent as NYC keeps its subway running 24/7. The timing of the public beach versus public transportation debate came as a new study detailed NYC’s “multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator — if not the principal transmission vehicle — of coronavirus infection,” “seeding” the virus throughout the city. Without a superspreader like the subway it can be contained locally. It is tragic when the virus rips through a nursing home or meatpacking plant (it is a virus after all, it will go viral), but all of those together barely touch a week’s body count in New York. Shut down mass transport.

    We can put most people back to work with limited risk; the protesters are right. The virus kills a very specific patient. About half the dead are over age 65. Less than one percent of deaths were under age 44. Almost 94 percent of the dead in any age group had serious underlying medical issues (about half had hypertension and/or were obese, a third had lung problems.) The death toll in NYC under total lockdown: 22,000. Death toll in much more densely populated Tokyo with “smart” lockdown: 93.

    About 22 percent of New Yorkers already have the virus antibody and thus expected immunity. A logical conclusion — large numbers already have or had the virus, and that it is harmless to them — is simply ignored. Quarantine/social distancing is for those most vulnerable so we can stop wrecking all of society with cruder measures. Hospitals should separate patients by age. No need to keep kids from school, especially if that means isolating them inside a multigenerational household. Let them wear soggy paper masks to class, even tin foil on their heads, if it makes things easier. Online classes are lame and America doesn’t need a new generation dumber than the current one.

    The New York-New Jersey area, with roughly half the dead for the entire nation, practices full-on social distancing while Georgia was one of the last states to implement a weaker stay-at-home policy. Yet as Georgia re-opens, the NY/NJ death count is over 27,000. Georgia is 892. NY continues adding around 500 bodies to the pile every day, even with its bowling alleys closed.

    We judge risk versus gain for every other cause of death. We wear condoms. We watch our diets. Time to do the same for the virus. As for lockdowns, we may not even be judging them accurately. Some 22 states have had fewer than 100 deaths. Only 15 states had total deaths for the entire duration of the crisis higher than NYC’s current 500 a day. The original goal of lockdowns, to buy time for the health care system (and most resources were never needed due to over-estimates of the viral impact), has passed. If the new goal is Virus Zero it will never come. If the real goal is harm Trump we’ll have to put up with this without serious discussion until November.

    A Stanford doctor nails it: “Strictly protect the known vulnerable, self-isolate the mildly sick and open most workplaces with some prudent large-group precautions. This would allow the essential socializing to generate immunity among those with minimal risk of serious consequence, while saving lives, preventing overcrowding of hospitals, and limiting the enormous harms compounded by continued total isolation.”

    We are fretting and frittering away our national muscle watching TV about a bigamous tiger keeper. There are too many who want this isolation to continue indefinitely, a pathetic nation whose primary industries for its young people are camming and GoFundMe. We focus on the virus deaths, but the Reaper keeps a more accurate tally: deaths from despair, from hunger (two million new people became food insecure in NYC since the virus), financial losses (26 million Americans have filed for unemployment), mental health issues, and abuse (domestic murders during the viral months in NYC  outstripped the total from 2019.) In some ultimate irony, parents are postponing vaccinations for fear of bringing their kids to medical facilities.

    It is the reaction to the pandemic that exhausts us, not the pandemic itself. So when someone claims it is Money vs. Life they miss the answer: It’s both. It should not be taboo to discuss this. The debate needs to be about human life in full.

     
     

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy

    Navigating the Homeless and Mentally Ill

    February 24, 2020 // 12 Comments »

     

    New York, America’s richest city and Ground Zero in how economic inequality is reshaping every day of our lives.
     
    NYC is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. One apartment building alone, 740 Park Avenue, is home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the United States. Yet living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the highest homeless population of any American metropolis, close to 80,000 and growing. The homeless numbered 24,000 during Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration some twenty years ago. Three years after that the homeless population swelled to almost 38,000 under Michael Bloomberg. The number of homeless single adults today is 142 percent higher than it was ten years ago, the highest level since the Great Depression.
     
    The city shelters about 64,000 on any given night. Another 3,000 people make their full-time home in the subway system. Their belongings and their defecation crowd out morning commuters on the platforms. In the winter many never emerge above ground. A visitor from outer space would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t even human, recognizable as just a head emerging from a urine-soaked bundle of clothing, not living really, just waiting. The ones who prefer to ride the trains 20 hours a day or more are like one-celled amoebas that react to heat or light by moving out of the way, in the specific case a transit employee whose inquiry causes some physical shift but no sign of sentient action.

    Don’t be offended — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most New Yorkers the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created.

    Navigating income inequality is not a problem for the rich. Public transportation, once the great melting pot, is less so as Uber plays a bigger role. The new super apartments, with their city-required handful of “affordable” units, have separate entrances based on wealth. A someone goes and gets the coffee, does the shopping, delivers the food. Armored cars for personal use are seeing a boom in sales. NYC’s newest mega-development, Hudson Yards, (Jeff Bezos is a fan) has been dubbed the Forbidden City, a mean snub as it is self-contained, literally walled off from the environment around it (there are “service” entrances for workers, and the stores have their primary doors opening into the gated courtyard, not on to Tenth Avenue.) NYC helps its wealthy pay for all this with a generous 40 percent incentive tax break. The city also built Hudson Yards its own subway line and park network for a total expenditure of six billion (the city spends only half that total on the homeless.) Elsewhere private restaurants, private clubs, private entrances, members only-everythings and VIP sections at public events keep the homeless beyond arm’s reach.
     
    For the rest, stuck between middle class and the abyss, navigating the world of economic inequality is more of a contact sport.

    Public libraries are in various degrees off limits, at best shared, with the well-behaved homeless. They are among the tens of thousands who live in the gulag archipelago of NYC’s vast shelter system. Most of the shelters (there some exceptions for women with small children) are only open at night, leaving the residents to find somewhere to physically exist between 7am and 11pm, after which the city cares about them again. There is no daytime plan for this population, so in bad weather they take over the libraries. Regular patrons are on their own if the staff don’t manage it well; the signature main library with the stone lions has guards to send the homeless across the street to a branch, where the homeless are more or less curated like the oversize books on to one particular floor. At the 96th street branch, the library serves no other purpose than homeless daycare, except for a brief period after school when bodies are moved around for an hour or two to accommodate story time.

    How do the non-homeless navigate this? They buy books on Amazon. They buy quiet workspace and WiFi at coffee shops. They buy their way around the homeless same as others buy their way around via ride sharing services.

    Economic inequality is part of life for many New Yorkers. Not homeless but damn poor, 400,000 reside in taxpayer-paid permanent (permanent as in multi-generational, grandmas passing squatter’s rights to grandkids) public housing. Conditions are literally toxic in these “projects,” as well as crime-ridden and just plain Third World crumbling. And yes, New York’s public housing authority is the world’s largest. There are probably fewer no-go zones than in the dark times of the 1970s, but maybe more “why would you want to go there anyway” places.

    Housing prices for who can pay their own way are such that 40 percent of adult renters live with a roommate. The city even has a program to help elderly renters share their homes. Hanging on to the middle in times of economic inequality means shared or public housing, juggling multiple jobs which often pay less than minimum wage (Taskrabbit, Fiverr, who background check their employees and then send them into anonymous homes), living with life-crippling debt, skating on the edges of no healthcare, and snubbing your nose at people who aren’t living that Big Apple dream.

    In a society constantly creating more poor people and depleting its middle class, spending more money on shelters won’t work. Look to Honolulu. It has been overwhelmed with some 7,000 people who became newly homeless in 2019. That number erased the 616 homeless people per month, on average, who were placed into “permanent housing.” They’ll really not ever stop building until, in theory, shelters house about 99 percent of everyone.

    To lighten things up, New York loves irony. Many of the cheaper apartments for young Millenials are in the same parts of town which once housed new immigrants in the early 20th century, that now golden-hued era of open borders celebrated as a democratic ideal when a more accurate vision would realize it was just a massive labor pool for the wealthy to exploit. That’s also a reminder that modern immigrants, particularly from Central America, form the exploitable, discardable labor pool that undergirds New York’s food service and day labor industries, and staffs car repair shops, butcher and delivery businesses.

    Hey, businesses, too, still have to navigate, especially around the homeless. I used to work at a Barnes and Noble near the bus stop out to the main homeless shelters on Randall’s Island. The B&N was open late and in bad weather the homeless came in to wait for their ride. There was actually a store policy created, and the regulars were trained: don’t interfere with commerce, no bathing in the restrooms, no sleeping, use the electrical outlets in the back to charge phones, don’t panhandle in the coffee shop and you can stay. A kind of Darwinian process kept some warm inside while security moved others out into the weather.

    An ecosystem in balance, same as at most Starbucks. People here sometimes refer to the place as a public toilet which also happens to sell coffee because, following charges of discrimination, the chain now claims its space and toilets are open to all, not just customers. Of course in some marginal parts of town those toilets are forever closed to all “under repair,” but in most places the homeless are trained to navigate us, staying out of the way, taking a cup out of the trash to set on the table and pretend they are buying something. Being seen as being nice is important to Starbucks’ customers as they mentally navigate their own place being able to afford expensive coffee alongside those who have less. Awkward!

    As a woke company catering to woke customers who want nice things without guilt, Starbucks has a whole corporate page up about how kind they are to the homeless. Something similar at the new food court at Essex Market (called the “anti-Hudson Yards”), which has full-time staff assigned to monitor the public toilets, allowing the homeless in and nudging them into the boundaries the Market deems acceptable. Essex market, like Starbucks, seems to see faux-humanitarian gestures towards the homeless as part of its marketing plan to Millenials who don’t want to see bag ladies dragged into the street whilst sipping artisanal Tibetan tea. It’s pretty much all just undergrad-level socialist theatre. Different rules and rougher play at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, where the more delicate suburban ladies and fragile tourists still shop pretending like it is 1968. At the end of the day, however, the homeless are still homeless at each place and night comes the same for all.
     
    The urban stories above are only about one part of the homeless population. There are two overlapping populations: those outside capacity of existing systems who depend on businesses and us to navigate, and those so far whacked and gone nothing exists to help them.

    It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids (I was in line behind a homeless guy in liquor store paying with sock full of coins. He was 67 cents short for a bottle of no-name gin. What’s the right thing to do? I probably drink as much as he does most nights but it’s OK because I work for my money instead of begging? There are moral hurdles to navigate as well) are the severely mentally ill. These people exist outside the vast shelter system. They live outside, discarded, driven out of the overnights and the daytime Starbucks by violent or paranoid delusions. Even the recent killing of four homeless men by a fifth mentally ill homeless man failed to shock anyone into action.

    Navigating these people requires something more than a benign balancing of company profits and makeshift humanitarian gestures. At the Fulton Center subway station, problems with the mentally ill homeless reached a point where wire rope was installed alongside a made-up “no sitting” law to eliminate places to rest. A team of angry rent-a-cops make the homeless stand, wandering through the space waking up those who tumble, and chase away the worst. The sole working men’s room remains a kind of demilitarized zone, and it is not uncommon to see one man washing his clothes in the sink while another talks to himself as a third vocally struggles with his defecation. Most of the city’s such privately owned public spaces employ guards not against crime per se, but to enforce rules about how much baggage the homeless can bring in, whether they can sit, sleep, or have to pretend to buy something, and act as not gentle referees when a tourist snaps an unwanted photo and angers someone, or a homeless person otherwise becomes too aggressive with himself or another homeless person.

    There are of course other, more profitable, ways to navigate. San Diego created a “toolkit” to help businesses benignly wrangle the homeless without needing to involve the cops. NYC stores are told to invest in barbed grates that homeless can’t lay on comfortably (the hostile architecture of bars, protrusions and spikes that make it impossible to lie down on a park bench or wall are pretty much sculpted into the architecture of the city, markers of the struggle for public space. The idea even has its own Instagram account.) A private security firm offers more comprehensive solutions: advice about restricting access to sidewalk overhangs, alcoves, or other areas protected from inclement weather, remove handles from water spigots, and keep trash dumpsters locked when not being filled or emptied. If things get too bad, the company, for a price, will deploy “remote cameras integrated with military-grade algorithms capable of detecting people in areas they shouldn’t be in.” There are other ways to make money off the homeless, of course. Many of the shelters in NYC are contracted through private companies (fraud criss-crosses the system) , who charge the city about $80 per adult per night for an SRO room without its own indoor plumbing. Food stamps are distributed via Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT (some recipients claim the acronym really means “Eat Better Tonight.”) JPMorgan Chase holds the contracts in half the United States to handle the transactions. In New York that’s worth more than $112 million. But hey, Amazon now accepts EBT online in New York and you don’t even need Prime!

    A concise fable of what economic inequality has done to this city lies in canning, a nice term invented to describe the underground economy of returning aluminum cans for the five cents deposit. What was started in 1982 in hope the deposit would encourage consumer recycling alongside kids picking up cans to supplement their allowances, has become way to make a sort of living for an estimated 8,000 human beings. As the value of a nickel to many faded over the years, the need for a few bucks among the city’s growing homeless population grew. They started picking up cans for the money wealthier people set out as trash. The recycling centers in most food stores, however, hoping for return shoppers, did not want the homeless in their stores. Most set $12 daily redemption limits, often broken up in per can lots that forced the homeless to return two or three times. Streetside automated drop off points devolved into social centers for the homeless, including the infamous Pathway site at 125th Street that was renown as a drug market and dumping spot for the near-dead until it was closed down.
     
    Unable to redeem their cans, the homeless moved on, replaced by highly exploitive canning crews which buy cans in bulk from elderly pickers (many are retired or on disability) for about a $30 nightly haul per person, and who then deal directly with the bulk metal recyclers uptown. A five cent can might be worth only three cents on the street; competition among the people living off my garbage is sharp, where on a late night dog walk just before the bulk trucks arrive can crews run by Chinese organized crime (rumor is those who can’t work off human smuggling fees otherwise work the can routes) tussle with individuals for turf. The cops are uninterested and some local doormen try and intervene but often tire of the guff. It’s not a proud thing to witness.

    We’re a society built around economic inequality. We’ll all just have to learn to navigate our way through.
      

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy

    Bernie and Reality of Economic Inequality

    February 16, 2020 // 23 Comments »


     
    It is a good thing candidates like Bernie Sanders make economic inequality a campaign issue in 2020. But with apologies to the Bernieverse, he is well-meaning but like everyone else has no practical solutions. Bernie, et al, imagine there exists some means to redistribute wealth, most likely, following the economist Thomas Piketty, via a progressive tax on the wealthy. Just talking about that may be enough to scare the wealthy into putsching a corporate Democrat in place of Bernie once again despite the human shield of green-haired pierced volunteers, but even if he were to win he could not be enough to change America. It’s a reality problem.

    The reality of wealth is the gap between most Americans and those who sit atop our economy continues to grow. This is nothing new. For two decades after 1960, real incomes of the top five percent and the remaining 95 percent increased at almost the same rate, about four percent a year. But incomes diverged between 1980 and 2007, with those at the bottom seeing annual increases only half of that of those at the top. Then it got worse.

    Lower savings and hyper-available credit (remember fraudulent Countrywide mortgages, ARMs, and usurous re-fi’s?) put the middle and bottom portions of society on an unsustainable financial path that increased spending until it crashed into the Great Recession of 2008. Meanwhile, America’s top earners’ wealth grew; the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009 as the markets recovered, while the bottom ninety percent became poorer as their missing homes did not. Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision, wealth in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century. How did the rich pull this off?

    The reality of possession. They own stock and real estate, not just personal homes to live in. Less than half of Americans do not own any stock while the wealthiest of Americans own over 80 percent of all stock, and 40 percent of America’s land. It is worse on an international scale. Only 85 human beings own half of all the world’s stuff. Markets over time go up and those who own parts of them do well. People who do not own homes have to rent them from those that do own. Owners can raise rents as they think they can get away with. A rising tide lifts all yachts, as historian Morris Berman observed. It can be hard to understand this level of wealth; a few years ago the real estate site Redfin figured out Bill Gates could buy all of the real estate in Boston. Candidate Michael Bloomberg could pick up Anaheim. Google’s Larry Page is able to buy Boca Raton. Never mind yachts, they can buy whole cities.

     

    It is the reality of the system. Walmart associates make minimum wage. Most associates are nowhere near full-time, so their take home pay is well below the poverty threshold. Employer-paid Obamacare, such as it is, only kicks in after one works 20 hours a week or more, so following the implementation of that policy most employees were cut to less than 20 hours, meaning they had to juggle multiple jobs to live and still did not have healthcare. They might be working 60 hours a week at three different places but that did not qualify them for healthcare as the qualifying hours are not cumulative.

    In return for paying below-poverty wages, Walmart enjoys taxpayer subsidies of $5,815 per worker in the form of food stamps paid by the government to keep the workers nearer the poverty line than below it, and tax breaks given to “create jobs.” On their side of the ledger, a few years ago the top four members of the Walmart family made a combined $28.9 billion from their investments. Less than a third of that would have given every U.S. Walmart worker a $3.00 raise, enough to end the public subsidy, though the four Walmart scions would have to make due with only $20 billion a year. Essentially the interests of the 99 percent are in direct conflict with those of the one percent.

    But the real money from economic inequality is made in much bigger bites. Walmart can pay low wages, creating a new status known as working poor, without having to see workers literally starve on the job because their employees receive $2.66 billion in government poverty assistance each year. That works out to about $5,815 per worker, or about $420,000 per store. Food stamps, a generic term for food assistance, are a key part of navigating in and profiting from, income inequality. In one year under study nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts received more than $33 million in food stamp dollars spent at their stores, a fair amount by their own workers. In two years, Walmart received about half of the one billion dollars in food stamp expenditures in Oklahoma. Overall, 18 percent of all food benefits money nationwide is spent at Walmart. That’s about $14 billion.

     

    The reality of the system protects those who make massive amounts of money by owning things, as opposed to working for wages. So let’s Robin Hood those wealthy bastards, Bernie and Elizabeth and others say. Jeff Bezos’ net worth is $109 billion. But that’s everything he has, not just the six percent tax Elizabeth Warren wants him to pay. The net worth of the entire Forbes 400 is under three trillion dollars. That’s everything they all own, as if we killed them and took it. The reforms Elizabeth Warren proposed to address economic inequality will cost some $20 trillion. It does not exist.

    But you have to start somewhere, right?  Given that America’s largest companies already pay little to no tax, it is  unclear how such a system would ever be enforced in the long run before the wealthy offshore their money. Taxes still leave in place other factors driving economic inequality, including a system of higher taxes on wages than capital gains, inheritance laws (Money is immortal. The children of rich people are born rich and unless they get really into hookers and blow, will inevitably get richer. They almost can’t help it), and the ability of the wealthy to control wages and the availability of jobs. Unions are increasingly a thing of the past and automation threaten more jobs daily. The rich decide when to pull the trigger on touch screens in fast food restaurants and deep six cashier jobs, never mind the mass extinction driverless delivery vehicles will bring on, and the one after that when advances in AI crush entry-level coding jobs.

     

    The single most significant factor is that financial growth via capital ownership (what the rich do for money) always outstrips wage growth (what the rest of us do to get money.) Getting richer by owning stuff is always a better deal than trying to get rich by working for wages from the people who own stuff. Even if a magic wand reset society somehow, the nature of capitalism would soon set things back on the path to income inequality. This was French economist Thomas Piketty‘s significant finding. Rich people know about this even if poor people don’t. Rich people get money through capital gains, basically assets they buy cheaply becoming worth more over time (until slavery was replaced with the minimum wage, human beings were also considered as a form of capital asset. Seriously, check with human “resources” where you work.) That’s why a short-term downturn is bad for you, ultimately good for most of them. It’s why stock market trouble uninformed people wish for will not make Trump go away. Math!

    The only hope lies in the reality of politics, right? Over large swaths of the earth, there are no elections. In some of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East and Asia there is not even the pretext of anyone choosing a government. Most governments are controlled by family ascension, not unlike the Middle Ages or in more modern places corruption and manipulation. Power and wealth work together.

    Such is the case now in the United States. According to the once-prescient Lawrence Lessing (who has since lost his mind to Twitter and TDS), with the concentration of wealth, 132 people in the U.S. essentially control elections. They do so by donating, just that handful of people, over 60 percent of the SuperPac money. Those 132 people represent 0.000042 percent of the total number of voters; most other contributions to candidates are small, many below $200. It sounds nice when a candidate talks about it but it diffuses power even as you he owes you something now. It is impossible under such circumstances for government to create laws again the interests of the wealthy; after all, they work for them.

    The reality is there is no answer, no solution. That’s because things are working more or less as they are supposed to. From a certain perspective, income inequality means things are going according to the rigged rules. The system is designed to squeeze wealth up into a smaller and smaller group of hands. A by product is the creation of more and more poor and eventually homeless at the bottom. It is the inevitable end point for a society set up to fund the wealthy via capital appreciation by paying low or stagnant wages to everyone else.

    To say it can’t be is to ignore the last time in history when it sort of was, one king in one castle sustained by tens of thousands of serfs living in sloven conditions. The world has seen this before, for the West, during the Middle Ages, when feudalism was the dominant force. A very, very few owned most everything of value. The 99.999 percent majority — serfs then, valued Target associates now — worked for whatever the feudal lords allowed them to have.

    Of course this is all very wrong. It’s very American to believe there are always answers, that there are not forces stronger than change at work, especially in an election year. If you’re still looking for those answers — solutions — well, you’ve gotten to the end of the article.

      

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    Victim Shaming, Yasmin Seweid, and the Critical Need for Skepticism in a Volatile Time

    December 5, 2016 // 46 Comments »

    yasmin-seweid



    BREAKING: Police now say Yasmin made the whole thing up. Everyone who wrote hate mail to me and posted hateful things on my Twitter and Facebook can apologize now.



    UPDATE: On December 9, Yasmin’s parent’s reported her missing. No additional details of her alleged attackers have been released since the original story, and no details of her missing status have been released.

    UPDATE: Yasmin has been found safe. No details have been released.



    Did you hear? A female Trump supporter was assaulted. They called her a facist b*tch, ripped the strap off her Sarah Palin bag, threatened her — “You saw what we did to the Nazis last war.” Three-on-one against the 18-year-old, they tried but failed to tear the Make America Great Hat off her head. She was on the subway here in New York. She was paralyzed by fear, stating she screamed at her attackers and tried to use her phone, but the battery was dead.


    She stayed on the subway for three full stops worth of this before getting off the train and reporting it. Nobody — not one person — on the train pulled the emergency cord, called 911 or intervened in any way. Even new people who got on the train at each stop did nothing to intervene. The subways cars are long enough that you could easily call 911 or hit the emergency call from one end away from the attack. None of this made it to any surveillance or even cell phone video. Unfortunately, she couldn’t provide a description of her attackers beyond they were Black and drunk. Despite extensive media coverage and anonymous reporting hotlines in NY, not a single witness has come forward to date. The only “witness” was the woman attacked.


    Victim Shamer

    Admit it. You have some reservations. You have some questions. Maybe in some dark place you even think she deserved it, some payback to the racist haters who support Trump.

    You are a victim shamer. Or, if you have no doubt, you have stopped thinking and just accept whatever you read online as the whole truth because it matches your own preconceived notions.

    Yasmin Seweid

    Which brings us to the story of Yasmin Seweid. She has written about her situation on her Facebook page, with her photo and other personal details and left comments open, so I am not “outing” anyone.

    Yasmin claimed while on the subway platform in New York three drunk white men (she provided no other description according to the media) yelled “Donald Trump” and made comments about her being a Muslim terrorist, and then boarded the same subway car. On the car they pulled her bag hard enough to break the strap. They continued the verbal assault, and tried but failed to pull off her headscarf. She did not say how many others were on the train (I use the same 6 line, and at 10pm on weeknight it is typically reasonably peopled with late commuters.)

    Yasmin stated not a single person on the train intervened, pulled the emergency alarm, videoed the incident, tried 911 or otherwise assisted her. “It breaks my heart that so many individuals chose to be bystanders while watching me get harassed verbally and physically by these disgusting pigs,” wrote Yasmin on Facebook.

    Yasmin stayed on the train for three more stops. Those stops were in midtown stations in “safe” areas and generally have a reasonable number of people on the platforms. All stations have employees present and live video monitors. At the third stop she got off the train and reported the incident to the police. They had her review surveillance video of people entering her departure station and she did not identify her attackers. Platforms and some trains in NYC have surveillance cameras. No information on any of those recordings.

    Wrote a commenter on Facebook: “Everyone of you who claims this is fake news is in denial of the hate that has been incited. It is clear that you’re probably a Trump supporter. Perhaps someone will come forward with a video or at least verify her story.”

    So far, no one has.


    You See Where I’m Going

    The Internet and media reacted as you would expect them to react. A hate crime. Society is breaking down. The worst of us are now cut loose to do terrible things. Anyone questioning what happens is either a hate criminal too, or blaming the victim. Claiming this is a hoax is deplorable. Only a man, a white man, would question a victim.

    I was not there and neither were any of the others commenting. So the questions raised are just that, questions, but they are questions currently without answers. I think they need to be answered, because there are hate crimes, and there are hoaxes and exaggerated acts, and in volatile times those need to be sorted out.

    By putting her story on Facebook, and using potentially explosive language herself there about what she calls “Trump’s America,” Yasmin made this a national political statement, and that opens the door to talking about it as a national political issue. The media is certainly treating it as such.

    If everything Yasmin said is 100% accurate, we are in very deep sh*t — no one helped during an egregious assault in plain view in America’s most diverse city, a city that voted 58% Clinton, on a “safe” subway line? The line, as in NYC itself, would have very likely had people riding of color, men and women, perhaps including LGBTQ and Muslim people. Yasmin is 18, barely an adult, a woman riding alone. On the whole, New Yorkers are not shy people. And nobody did anything?

    If her story is not 100% accurate, people will scream hoax (here’s a list of post-election hoaxes) and use it as a dangerous example for every other hate crime that happens. That is very, very bad and can cause direct harm to other women.

    In a world of fake news and exaggerations, believing what we want to believe because it matches our politics, means the media drives the agenda. Skepticism expressed places a burden on them to source, to verify their stories, and perhaps ask themselves how to handle a story responsibly. The media many of us depend on, from the New York Times to progressive blogs, failed us. For the next four years, they must do us better. If they fear hard questions, what they write will often be crap.


    A Different Story

    It is not “evidence,” but an example. I have not been able to find any reports related to hate crimes where random, unconnected, New Yorkers as a group have stood by watching it happen and did nothing.

    I did find a story where NYC subway riders stood up for a pair of Muslim women after they were harassed by a man who called them “terrorist foreigners.”

    The news stated “Everyone on the train ‘erupted in anger.’ …Several people, including a man who said he was a Romanian immigrant, a black man and a gay man, challenged the man’s stances. Eventually, another straphanger got the man to stop his rant by saying, ‘This is New York City. The most diverse place in the world. And in New York, we protect our own and we don’t give a f*ck what anyone looks like or who they love, or any of those things. It’s time for you to leave these women alone, Sir.'”

    The one felony-level crime I have seen on the subway in the last three years was a fight among a handful of young men who, by the things they were shouting at each other, appeared to know each other. Someone pushed the emergency call button and several people had their cameras out to record what happened. Cops were waiting at the next station.

    There are always explanation, plausible and outside the box for why things happen/not happen. But for all of this story about Yasmin to be true it seems like we need a lot of answers to a lot of questions to all add up about the same way. So let’s hear some answers. The media who are blasting the original story around the world should follow-up.


    So What Happened?

    I know and am sympathetic about victim shaming/blaming, but it does us no good to assume the opposite, either, that every accusation must be true. That option faded when this morphed into a political event, by the victim’s choosing. She asked to be viewed as an example of what is happening in America. Asking tough questions are necessary because these are very important issues that sadly extend beyond what happened to an individual.

    As I write this, the story as stated by Yasmin is proliferating across the web. I have not been able to find any follow-up reporting other than a boilerplate NYPD statement that no arrests have been made and an investigation is ongoing.

    So what happened to Yasmin? What is happening in America?



    UPDATE: Since all of the above, as of December 6, two other violent anti-Muslim incidents occurred. A quick arrest was made in one case, a passerby intervened in the other. There have been no updates and no physical descriptions of the alleged attackers in Yasmin’s case, though the media continue to bundle her story into the other two.







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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy