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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Democracy Hollowed Out Part 34 - The Day The Internet Died

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in order to reclaim our birthright, we Americans must resolve to repair the systemic decay of the public forum and create new ways to engage in a genuine and not manipulative conversation about our future.

The greatest source of hope for reestablishing a vigorous and accessible marketplace for ideas is the Internet.

We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Worldwide Web.

We must ensure by all means possible that this medium of democracy’s future develops in the mold of the open and free marketplace of ideas that our Founders knew was essential to the health and survival of freedom.
- Al Gore, 2005

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Net Neutrality keeps the internet free and open enabling anyone to share and access information of their choosing without interference.

But on Dec. 14, 2017, the FCC voted along party lines to pass Chairman Pai’s plan to dismantle the Net Neutrality rules.

Without these rules, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be able to block or slow down any online content including political speech they disagree with. This will disproportionately harm people of color and other marginalized communities who use the internet to fight systemic discrimination and share their stories.

Net Neutrality is essential to education, economic opportunity, innovation, social movements and dissent. Without Net Neutrality there’s no way to organize for justice or power the resistance.
- Save The Internet, December 14,2017

If you think DNS ABUSE, DPI, SNOOPING, PROJECT RIALTO, NEBUAD, SOPA, CISPA, THREE STRIKES, ETC, were CHALLENGES for privacy and freedom on the -nternet - they were. They are.

But last week the biggest nail yet was driven into America’s Internet coffin.

It’s about TITLE II of the TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT OF 1934.

And GLOBAL censorship of the VOICES of the people.

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Net Neutrality Is Officially Dead

Mashable
December 17, 2017

Companies now control the internet, and there’s no way to stop them.

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to eliminate its power to ensure net neutrality, effectively paving the way for internet providers to begin charging companies and consumers for faster internet access.

These kinds of arrangements, commonly called “fast lanes,” will inevitably favor big companies and hurt innovation, net neutrality advocates have warned.

The FCC isn’t just making it so internet providers don’t have to follow the rules. The order voted on Thursday almost entirely removes the FCC from any responsibility when it comes to keeping an eye on how the internet runs. Instead, the Federal Trade Commission will be tasked with going after companies if they are deemed to have made deals that hurt consumers or competition a move that few outside of anti-regulation advocates believe will be good for the internet.

Nothing will change immediately for consumers, but internet providers have already shown signs that they’re ready and willing to begin creating fast lanes - such as Comcast, which has already begun to change its framing on how it will handle internet traffic. That could mean Netflix has to pay Comcast so that its videos stream efficiently, a cost that would almost inevitably be passed on to subscribers. It also means that the next great internet idea might not have the money to pay for that fast lane, effectively killing it before the idea had a chance.

Chairman Ajit Pai led the charge for the proposal, ignoring public outcry and even some Republicans in Congress who advocated for the FCC to keep the rules in place.

“If our rules deter the massive infrastructure investment that we need, eventually we’ll pay the price in terms of less innovation,” Pai said.

“It is not going to end the internet as we know it. It is not going to kill democracy. It is not going to stifle free expression online,” Pai added.

The FCC voted along its usual 3-2 party line, with the three Republican commissioners voting for the proposal to remove net neutrality regulations. The two Democratic commissioners voted against the proposal.

The meeting was not without its drama. A bomb threat reportedly called into the meeting as Pai spoke forced the chairman to pause the meeting and briefly clear the room.

The vote marks a drastic reversal for net neutrality. Open internet advocates celebrated in 2015 when the FCC, then under Obama-appointee Chairman Tom Wheeler, voted to classify internet providers as “common carriers” a legal term that allowed the regulator to keep a closer watch on internet providers in the same way utilities like electricity are regulated.

At the time, Pai, a Republican commissioner appointed by Obama, had voiced strong opposition to the move. Two years later, President Donald Trump appointed Pai as chairman. Pai then immediately signaled that he would move to reverse the 2015 vote.

On Thursday, he succeeded, and then some.

The two Democratic commissioners issued strong dissents on the ruling, which will inevitably be challenged by lawsuits. Those lawsuits remain one of the few remaining hopes for net neutrality in the near term.

“I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules. I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “And I dissent from the contempt this agency has shown our citizens in pursuing this path today. This decision put the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also dissented.

“I dissent from this fiercely-spun, legally-lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order,” she said.

Clyburn closed her statements by reading off part of Pai’s dissent from the 2015 vote.

“As I close my eulogy of our 2015 net neutrality rules, carefully crafted rules that struck an appropriate balance in providing consumer protections and enabling opportunities and investment, I take ironic comfort in the words of then Commissioner Pai from 2015, because I believe this will ring true about this Destroying Internet Freedom Order. ‘I am optimistic, that we will look back on todays vote as an aberration, a temporary deviation from the bipartisan path, that has served us so well. I don’t know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered,’” Clyburn said. “Amen to that, Mr. Chairman. Amen to that.”

SOURCE

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The FCC just killed net neutrality
Its over

By Jacob Kastrenakes
The Verge
December 14, 2017

Net neutrality is dead - at least for now. In a 3-2 vote today, the Federal Communications Commission approved a measure to remove the tough net neutrality rules it put in place just two years ago. Those rules prevented internet providers from blocking and throttling traffic and offering paid fast lanes. They also classified internet providers as Title II common carriers in order to give the measure strong legal backing.

TodayҒs vote undoes all of that. It removes the Title II designation, preventing the FCC from putting tough net neutrality rules in place even if it wanted to. And, it turns out, the Republicans now in charge of the FCC really don’t want to. The new rules largely don’t prevent internet providers from doing anything. They can block, throttle, and prioritize content if they wish to. The only real rule is that they have to publicly state that they’re going to do it.

Opponents of net neutrality argue that the rules were never needed in the first place, because the internet has been doing just fine. “The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We were not living in some digital dystopia,” commission chairman Ajit Pai said today. “The main problem consumers have with the internet is not and has never been that their internet provider is blocking access to content. It’s been that they don’t have access at all.”

While that may broadly be true, it’s false to say that all of the harms these rules were preventing are imagined: even with the rules in place, we saw companies block their customers from accessing competing apps, and we saw companies implement policies that clearly advantage some internet services over others. Without any rules in place, they’ll have free rein to do that to an even greater extent.

Supporters of net neutrality have long argued that, without these rules, internet providers will be able to control traffic in all kinds of anti-competitive ways. Many internet providers now own content companies (see Comcast and NBCUniversal), and they may seek to advantage their own content in order to get more eyes on it, ultimately making it more valuable. Meanwhile, existing behaviors like zero-rating (where certain services don’t count toward your data cap) already encourage usage of some programs over others. If during the early days of Netflix, you were free to stream your phone carrier’s movie service instead, we might not have the transformational TV and movie company its turned into today.

One of the two Democrats on the commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, called today’s vote a “rash decision that puts the FCC on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.” “This vote,” Rosenworcel says, gives internet providers the green light to go ahead and discriminate and MANIPULATE YOUR INTERNET TRAFFIC,” something she says they have a business incentive to do.

“This is not good,” Rosenworcel says. “Not good for consumers. Not good for businesses. Not good for anyone who connects and creates online.”

Commissioner Clyburn, the other Democrat, said the implications of today’s vote are “particularly damning” ... for marginalized groups, like communities of color, that rely on platforms like the internet to communicate. No one will be able to stop internet providers if they allow the social media services these groups rely on to slow down, blocking the dissemination of information, Clyburn said.

Both Rosenworcel and Clyburn also criticized the FCC’s HANDLINK OF PUBLIC COMMENT period that proceeded this vote, saying that the administration acted inappropriately in ignoring millions of voices in support of net neutrality. It is abundantly clear why we see so much bad process with this item: :because the fix was already in,” Clyburn said. Rosenworcel said the commission showed a “cavalier disregard” for the public and a :contempt” for citizens speaking up.

The vote comes after a contentious and messy public comment period. After opening the proposal up for feedback earlier this year, the commission received a record-breaking 22 million comments. But many of those comments were spam 7.5 million, according to the commission - and the FCC has refused to help REFUSED TO HELP INVESTIGATIONS into what happened. The commission was also quiet about website problems that caused its comment form to crash briefly in May.

Those comments are likely to play a role in whatever lawsuit hits following this vote. Net neutrality supporters are almost certain to sue the commission in an attempt to invalidate this proceeding and restore the 2015 net neutrality rules. While the commission is allowed to change its mind, it isn’t allowed to change rules for “arbitrary and capricious reasons.” In court, the FCC will have to prove that enough has changed since 2015, and that there’s enough evidence in the record of comments, to back up the conclusion that it ought to revoke net neutrality.

Since the beginning of this proceeding, the commission has made it very clear that it isnt really interested in most public comments either, despite a requirement to accept and consider them. The commission has stated time and again that it only values legal arguments, so we may see complaints that millions of consumer comments were ignored. Even if they don’t include the spam, the net neutrality proceeding was still the most commented ever at the commission.

This is the first time in more than a decade that the FCC has actually been opposed to net neutrality. The FCC has been promoting open internet rules since the mid-2000s, though it wasn’t until 2010 that they were turned into formal regulations. In 2014, those were overturned in court after the FCC was sued by Verizon. The court said that the FCC could try again using Title II, and so it did that in 2015. Those rules, which have been in place for two years, are the ones getting overturned today.

The vote ran over over an hour, with extensive speeches from the five commissioners, particularly from the two dissenting Democrats. In a highly unusual moment, the commission’s meeting room was evacuated briefly on advice of security. Cameras that remained on and streaming showed dogs being brought in to search the room.

Now that the vote is over, the commission will take a few weeks to make final adjustments to the rules. Theyll then be filed with the Federal Register and appear there in a few months. At that point, net neutrality will officially be off the books, and these new rules (or really, the absence of any) will take effect.

So what can you expect to change now that net neutrality is over? Not all that much - not overnight, at least. Rather than large swaths of the internet suddenly becoming unavailable or only offered for a fee, internet providers will likely continue to explore subtler methods of advantaging themselves and their partners, like offering data to use certain services for free or speeding up delivery of their own content.

These are things that may initially sound good. But in the long run, they disadvantage upstarts that don’t have the money to pay up. The problem is that, eventually, we may not know what products and services we missed out on because they never made it through the mess.

SOURCE

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Goodbye internet: How regional divides upended the world wide web
Governments have broken the world wide web.

By Mark Scott
Politico Europe
December 15, 2017

So, there you have it: 2017 was the year that finally broke the internet.

From Europes aggressive (some would say fanatical) expansion of digital privacy and hate speech rules to the rollback on December 14 of the United States’ net neutrality provisions, this year marks the end of an era.

Gone is the internet where people from Philadelphia to Paris pretty much had access to the same digital services. That basic tenet (the world in the world wide web) is what made the internet the lifeblood coursing through our daily lives. Its what was making countriesҒ borders increasingly meaningless and connecting people (for good and bad) in ways that seemed like science fiction just a few years ago.

The common global internet is now dead. In its place is something all together different: a “Balkanized splinternet,” where your experience online is determined by local regulation.

In 2018, the forces dividing the internet along regional or national borders are only likely to gain momentum, as governments worldwide reassert their control over digital forces that threatened to turn policymakers and politicians into bit players in a tech-centric world run by the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook.

That Balkanization should worry anyone who (like me) believes that when harnessed correctly, the global digital revolution - like previous epochal shifts such as the Industrial Revolution - offers both new economic opportunities and a chance for people to become more engaged in public life.

In part, governments efforts to reclaim control over the internet is only natural. But without better cross-border coordination between policymakers from across the globe җ including China, where draconian internet laws still limit free speech and other fundamental rights this mad dash to regulate could have the opposite effect than whatגs intended.

Instead of reining in the (many) excesses of the online world, while protecting the underlying global structure of the internet, regional digital rule-making threatens to derail the economic, societal and political advances of the internet age.

Take net neutrality the concept that all internet traffic should be treated equally, no matter if itגs a Google search, Netflix movie or Twitter rant.

On December 14, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission rolled back such provisions, in essence allowing telecom operators to charge digital companies for improved access to their telecom networks. Supporters of the changes say it wont hamper innovation, even though critics (including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web) say it’ll end the internet as we know it.

No matter the outcome, its going to alter AmericansҒ internet experience for the good or bad, depending on your view.

By changing its stance on net neutrality, the U.S. is also setting itself apart from Europe, whose own net neutrality regulations still (mostly) insist that all internet traffic should be treated equally.

In the coming months, this diverging approach by arguably the worldגs two largest digital markets (excluding China) about one of the underlying principles of the internet will start to bite.

A new service marketed to U.S. consumers, for example, may fall afoul of EU rules. Or a European could be offered a different version of a product sold to an American, solely because of each regions contrasting approach to net neutrality. The result will be a regionalized internet experience that is fundamentally different to what is currently on offer worldwide.

Such online Balkanization isn’t just limited to changes in Washington, D.C.

In October, Germany passed some of the worlds most onerous online hate speech rules, including fines of up to Ҁ50 million for the likes of Facebook and Twitter if they consistently fail to remove illegal content from their digital platforms within 24 hours.

Other EU countries, notably France and Britain, also are mulling similar changes to force Big Tech to take greater responsibility for harmful or illegal material that appears on their sites.

Many on both sides of the Atlantic (including inside the tech companies) favor such a revamp. But Europe has gone significantly further to limit what can be posted online than in the U.S., where the First Amendments freedom of speech protections makes unilateral takedowns of content an impossibility.

This too is causing the day-to-day online experiences of Europeans and Americans to diverge, as content available in California may fail to make it through to others living in Catalonia. ItҒs hard to see how such digital splintering helps to spread ideas and foster debate between people around the globe.

And its not just the U.S. and EU җ two of the worlds strongest (albeit, somewhat dysfunctional) democratic regions җ that are pushing ahead with greater control of the internet.

Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and a growing list of other authoritarian regimes, as well as China and its existing Great Firewall,Ӕ are similarly demanding their own versions of the internet. That includes forcing tech companies to store data held on local citizens in servers located inside these countries to strong-arming social networks to censor content critical of national leaders.

This is the current state of the digital world at the end of 2017.

Without a significant (and fast) reassessment of how the internet is governed worldwide, the coming year will likely lead to more of the same: greater national controls over an online realm whose global reach is quickly becoming a relic of the past.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/17/17 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy • Section Dying America
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What The Bible Says About The Poor

image: greedy executive

First some words on what The Bible may be saying about present day corporatism:

12 The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast.. 16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until Gods words are fulfilled.
- Revelation 17:12-13, 16-17

Translation: “The Lord will keep our top ten corporations here making them give their economic strength to America.  However, they in fact hate our government and will eventually take their economic base and related jobs overseas.  Thereby will they consume Americas pride, and destroy our financial reputation… Whereas He has put it in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree to give their economic strength to America, but only until His Prophecies are fulfilled.
- Vince Diehl 1990

Here’s what the Bible actually says about taxing the rich to help the poor

By Mathew Schmalz
The Conversation
December 10, 2017

The new tax reform bill has led to an intense debate over whether it would HELP OR HURT THE POOR. Tax reform in general raises critical issues about whether the government should redistribute income and promote equality in the first place.

Jews and Christians look to the Bible for guidance about these questions. And while the Bible is clear about aiding the poor, it does not provide easy answers about taxing the rich. But even so, over the centuries biblical principles have provided an understanding on how to help the needy.

The Hebrew Bible and the poor

The Hebrew Bible has extensive regulations that require the wealthy to set aside for the poor a portion of the crops that they grow.

The Bible’s Book of LEVITICUS states that the needy have a right to the “leftovers of the harvest.” Farmers are also prohibited from REAPING THE CORNERS OF THEIR FIELDS so that the poor can access and use for their own food the crops grown there.

In DEUTERONOMY, the fifth book of the Bible, there is the requirement that every three years, 10 percent of a person’s produce should be given to “foreigners, the fatherless and widows.”

Helping the poor is a way of paying “rent” to God, who is understood to actually own all property and who provides the rain and sun needed to grow crops. In fact, every seventh year, during the SABBATICAL year, all debts are forgiven and everything that grows in the land is made available freely to all people. Then, in the great JUBILEE, celebrated every 50 years, property returns to its original owner. This means that, in the biblical model, no one can permanently hold onto something that finally belongs to God.

Christians and taxes

In the GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus thus joins respect for the poor with respect for God. In the Gospel of Mark, JESUS ALSO STATES “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” which is often interpreted as requiring Christians to pay taxes.

Throughout Christian history, taxation has been considered an essential government responsibility.

The Protestant reformers MARTIN LUTHER and JOHN CALVIN drew upon PSALM 72 to argue that a “righteous” government helps the poor.

In 16th-century England, ”POOR LAWS” were passed to aid the deserving poor and unemployed. The “deserving poor” were children, the old and the sick. By contrast, the “undeserving poor” were beggars and criminals and they were usually put in prison. These laws also shaped EARLY AMERICAN approaches to social welfare.

The common good

Over the last two centuries, new economic realities have raised new challenges in applying biblical principles to economic life. Approaches not foreseen in biblical times emerged in an attempt to respond to new situations.

In the 19th century, organizations like the SALVATION ARMY believed that Christians should go out of the churches and into the streets to care for the destitute. During this period, the United States also saw the rise of the SOCIAL GOSPEL MOVEMENT that emphasized biblical ideals of justice and equality. Poverty was considered a social problem that required a comprehensive - social - and governmental - response.

The idea that government has an important role to play in human flourishing was made by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical RERUM ONOVARUM. In it, the pope argued that governments should promote THE COMMON GOOD. Catholicism DEFINES the common good as the"conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”

While human fulfillment is not just about material comfort, the Catholic Church has always maintained that citizens should have access to food, housing and health care. As the Catholic Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church makes clear, taxation is necessary because government should HARMONIZE society in a just way.

And when it comes to taxes, no one should pay more or less than they are able. As POPE JOHN XXIII wrote IN 1961, taxation must “be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.”

In other words, believing that helping the poor is simply an individual or private responsibility ignores the scope and complexity of the world we live in.

Mercy, not the market

Human life has become more interconnected. In toda’’s globalized economy, decisions made in the heartland of China impact the American Midwest. But even with this deepening interdependence, by some measures, inequality has risen worldwide. In the United States alone, the top 1 percent possess an increasingly larger share of national income.

When it comes to helping the poor in these current times, some argue that cutting taxes on individuals and corporations will stimulate economic growth and create jobs called the “trickle-down effect,” in which money flows from those at the top of the social pyramid down to lower levels.

Pope Francis, however, argues that “trickle-down economics” places a “crude and naive trust” in those wielding economic power. In the pope’s view, an ethics of mercy, not the market, should shape society.

But given the Jewish and Christian commitment to the poor, the question is perhaps a factual one: What social policy does the most good?

In the GOSPEL OF LUKE, Jesus taught:

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full.”

The Conversation At the very least, this means that people should never be afraid to offer up what they have in order to help those in need.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/13/17 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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Monday, December 11, 2017

A Poverty Of Understanding III

image: poor

Why the UN is investigating extreme poverty in America, the world’s richest nation

By Ed Pilkington
The Guardian
December 1, 2017

The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the worlds richest nation - and its president - to account for the hardships endured by America’s most vulnerable citizens.

The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions - from homelessness in California, to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.

With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law - a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.

The US is no stranger to Alston’s withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality.

Now Alston has set off on his sixth, and arguably most sensitive, visit as UN monitor on extreme poverty since he took up the position in June 2014. At the heart of his fact-finding tour will be a question that is causing increasing anxiety at a troubled time: is it possible, in one of the world’s leading democracies, to enjoy fundamental human rights such as political participation or voting rights if you are unable to meet basic living standards, let alone engage, as Thomas Jefferson put it, in the pursuit of happiness?

Despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality,” Alston said in remarks released before the start of the visit. The rapporteur said he intended to focus on the detrimental effects of poverty on the civil and political rights of Americans, given the United State’ consistent emphasis on the importance it attaches to these rights in its foreign policy, and given that it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Poverty experts are watching the UN tour closely in the hope that it might draw public attention to a largely neglected but critical aspect of US society.

David Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, said the visit had the potential to hold a mirror up to the country at a moment when globalization combined with a host of domestic policies have generated a vast gulf between rich and poor.

The US has an extraordinary ability to naturalize and accept the extreme poverty that exists even in the context of such extreme wealth,” he said.

Grusky added that the US reaction to Alston’s visit could go either way. It has the potential to ”open our eyes to what an outlier the US has become compared with the rest of the world, or it could precipitate an adverse reaction towards an outsider who has no legitimacy telling us what to do about internal US affairs.”

Alston’s findings will be announced in preliminary form in Washington on 15 December, and then presented as a full report to the UN human rights council in Geneva next June. An especially unpredictable element of the fallout will be how Trump himself receives the final report, given the president’s habit of lashing out at anyone perceived to criticize him or his administration.

Trump has also shown open disdain towards the world body. In the course of the 2016 presidential campaign he griped that we get nothing out of the United Nations other than “good real-estate prices.”

On the other hand, observers have been surprised that the White House has honored the invitation to host Alston after the initial offer was extended by Barack Obama. US diplomats on more than one occasion since Trump’s inauguration have said they welcomed the UN party.

Alston himself is reserving his comments until the end of the tour. But his published work suggests that he is likely to be a formidable critic of the new president. In a lecture he gave last year on the challenges posed by Trump and other modern populist leaders, he warned that their agenda was avowedly nationalistic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and explicitly antagonistic to all or much of the human rights agenda.”

Alston concluded the speech by saying: “These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime. The response is really up to us.”

The UN poverty tour falls at a singularly tense moment for the US. In its 2016 state of the nation review, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality placed the US rank at the bottom of the league table of 10 well-off countries, in terms of the extent of its income and wealth inequality.

It also found that the US hit rock bottom in terms of the SAFETY NET it offers struggling families, and is one of the worst offenders in terms of the ability of low-income families to lift themselves out of poverty - a stark contrast to the much-vaunted myth of the American dream.

To some extent, Trump’s focus on “making America great again” - a political jingo that in itself contains an element of criticism of the state of the nation - chimes with the UN’s concern about extreme poverty. His call for greater prosperity for white working Americans in declining manufacturing areas that proved so vital to his election victory will be echoed in Alstons visit to the depressed coal-producing state of West Virginia, which backed Trump in 2016 by a resounding 69%.

In many other ways, though, the Trump administration in its first year has taken a radically hostile approach towards communities in need. He has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to abolish Obamacare in a move that would deprive millions of low-income families of healthcare insurance, was widely criticized for his lackluster response to the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico that has left thousands homeless and without power, and is currently pushing a tax reform that would benefit one group above all others: the super rich.

The US poses an especially challenging subject for the UN special rapporteur because unlike all other industrialized nations, it fails to recognize fundamental social and economic rights such as the right to healthcare, a roof over your head or food to keep hunger at bay. The federal government has consistently refused to sign up to the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights - arguing that these matters are best left to individual states.

Such an emphasis on states rights has spawned a patchwork of provision for low-income families across the country. Republican-controlled states in the Deep South provide relatively little help to those struggling from unemployment and lack of ready cash, while more assistance is likely to be forthcoming in bigger coastal cities.

By contrast, raging house prices and gentrification is fueling a homelessness crisis in liberal cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco Ӓ the first stop next week of the UN tour.

Martha Davis, a law professor specializing in US human rights at Northeastern University, said that such vast regional variations present the UN monitor with a huge opportunity. Unlike other international officials, he has the ability to move freely at both federal and state levels and be equally critical of both.

“There’s a lot that Philip Alston can say about basic inequality that goes to the heart of the rights that he is reviewing,” Davis said.

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A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America
The UNs Philip Alston is an expert on deprivation Җ and he wants to know why 41m Americans are living in poverty. The Guardian joined him on a special two-week mission into the dark heart of the worlds richest nation

By Ed Pilkington
The Guardian
December 15, 2017

“You got a choice to make, man. You could go straight on to heaven. Or you could turn right, into that.”

We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America;s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.

The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.

Heaven.

Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LAs downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.

Alston turns right.

So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington.

His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.

Of those, nine million have zero cash income - they do not receive a cent in sustenance.

Alston’s epic journey has taken him from coast to coast, deprivation to deprivation. Starting in LA and San Francisco, sweeping through the Deep South, traveling on to the colonial stain of Puerto Rico then back to the stricken coal country of West Virginia, he has explored the collateral damage of America’s reliance on private enterprise to the exclusion of public help.

The Guardian had unprecedented access to the UN envoy, following him as he crossed the country, attending all his main stops and witnessing the extreme poverty he is investigating firsthand.

“Think of it as payback time.” As the UN special rapporteur himself put it: “Washington is very keen for me to point out the poverty and human rights failings in other countries. This time I’m in the US.”

The tour comes at a critical moment for America and the world. It began on the day that Republicans in the US Senate voted for sweeping tax cuts that will deliver a bonanza for the super wealthy while in time raising taxes on many lower-income families. The changes will exacerbate wealth inequality that is already the most extreme in any industrialized nation, with three men - BILL GATES, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet - owning as much as half of the entire American people.

A few days into the UN visit, Republican leaders took a giant leap further. They announced plans to slash key social programs in what amounts to an assault on the already threadbare welfare state.

“Look up! Look at those banks, the cranes, the luxury condos going up,” exclaimed General Dogon, who used to be homeless on Skid Row and now works as a local activist with Lacan. “Down here, there’s nothing. You see the tents back to back, there’s no place for folks to go.”

California made a suitable starting point for the UN visit. It epitomizes both the vast wealth generated in the tech boom for the 0.001%, and the resulting surge in housing costs that has sent homelessness soaring. Los Angeles, the city with by far the largest population of street dwellers in the country, is grappling with crisis numbers that increased 25% this past year to 55,000.

Ressy Finley, 41, was busy sterilizing the white bucket she uses to slop out in her tent in which she has lived on and off for more than a decade. She keeps her living area, a mass of worn mattresses and blankets and a few motley possessions, as clean as she can in a losing battle against rats and cockroaches. She also endures waves of bed bugs, and has large welts on her shoulder to prove it.

She receives no formal income, and what she makes on recycling bottles and cans is no way enough to afford the average rents of $1,400 a month for a tiny one-bedroom. A friend brings her food every couple of days, the rest of the time she relies on nearby missions.

She cried twice in the course of our short conversation, once when she recalled how her infant son was taken from her arms by social workers because of her drug habit (he is now 14; she has never seen him again). The second time was when she alluded to the sexual abuse that set her as a child on the path towards drugs and homelessness.

Given all that, it’s remarkable how positive Finley remains. What does she think of the American Dream, the idea that everyone can make it if they try hard enough? She replies instantly: I know I’m going to make it.

A 41-year-old woman living on the sidewalk in Skid Row going to make it?

“Sure I will, so long as I keep the faith.:

What does “making it” mean to her?

“I want to be a writer, a poet, an entrepreneur, a therapist.”

Robert Chambers occupies the next patch of sidewalk along from Finley’s. Hes created an area around his tent out of wooden pallets, what passes in Skid Row for a cottage garden.

He has a sign up saying ғHomeless Writers Coalition, the name of a group he runs to give homeless people dignity against what he calls the ԓanimalistic aspects of their lives. HeԒs referring not least to the lack of public bathrooms that forces people to relieve themselves on the streets.

LA authorities have promised to provide more access to toilets, a critical issue given the deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A that began in San Diego and is spreading on the west coast claiming 21 lives mainly through lack of sanitation in homeless encampments. At night local parks and amenities are closed specifically to keep homeless people out.

Skid Row has had the use of nine toilets at night for 1,800 street-faring people. Thats a ratio well below that mandated by the UN in its camps for Syrian refugees.

It’s inhuman actually, and eventually in the end you will acquire animalistic psychology,” Chambers said.

He has been living on the streets for almost a year, having violated his parole terms for drug possession and in turn being turfed out of his low-cost apartment. Theres no help for him now, he said, no question of ғmaking it.

“The safety net? It has too many holes in it for me.”

Of all the people who crossed paths with the UN monitor, Chambers was the most dismissive of the American Dream. “People don’t realize - it’s never getting better, there’s no recovery for people like us. “I’m 67, I have a heart condition, I shouldn’t be out here. I might not be too much longer.”

That was a lot of bad karma to absorb on day one, and it rattled even as seasoned a student of hardship as Alston. As UN special rapporteur, he’s reported on dire poverty and its impact on human rights in Saudi Arabia and China among other places. But Skid Row?

“I was feeling pretty depressed,” he told the Guardian later. The endless drumbeat of horror stories. “At a certain point you do wonder what can anyone do about this, let alone me.”

And then he took a flight up to San Francisco, to the Tenderloin district where homeless people congregate, and walked into St Boniface church.

What he saw there was an analgesic for his soul.

About 70 homeless people were quietly sleeping in pews at the back of the church, as they are allowed to do every weekday morning, with worshippers praying harmoniously in front of them. The church welcomes them in as part of the Catholic concept of extending the helping hand.

I found the church surprisingly uplifting,Ӕ Alston said. It was such a simple scene and such an obvious idea. It struck me Ӗ Christianity, what the hell is it about if its not this?Ҕ

It was a rare drop of altruism on the west coast, competing against a sea of hostility. More than 500 anti-homeless laws have been passed in Californian cities in recent years. At a federal level, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who Donald Trump appointed US housing secretary, is decimating government spending on affordable housing.

Perhaps the most telling detail: apart from St Boniface and its sister church, no other place of worship in San Francisco welcomes homeless people. In fact, many have begun, even at this season of goodwill, to lock their doors to all comers simply so as to exclude homeless people.

As Tiny Gray-Garcia, herself on the streets, described it to Alston, there is a prevailing attitude that she and her peers have to contend with every day. She called it “the violence of looking away.”

That cruel streak the violence of looking away ֖ has been a feature of American life since the nations founding. The casting off the yoke of overweening government (the British monarchy) came to be equated in the minds of many Americans with statesҒ rights and the individualistic idea of making it on your own a view that is fine for those fortunate enough to do so, less happy if you֒re born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Countering that has been the conviction that society must protect its own against the vagaries of hunger or unemployment that informed Franklin Roosevelts New Deal and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. But in recent times the prevailing winds have blown strongly in the ғyoure on your own, buddyҔ direction. Ronald Reagan set the trend with his 1980s tax cuts, followed by Bill Clinton, whose 1996 decision to scrap welfare payments for low-income families is still punishing millions of Americans.

The cumulative attack has left struggling families, including the 15 million children who are officially in poverty, with dramatically less support than in any other industrialized economy. Now they face perhaps the greatest threat of all.

As Alston himself has written in an essay on Trumps populism and the aggressive challenge it poses to human rights: ғThese are extraordinarily dangerous times. Almost anything seems possible.

rumpԒs undermining of human rights, combined with the Republican threat to pare back welfare programs next year in order to pay for some of the tax cuts for the rich they are rushing through Congress, will hurt African Americans disproportionately.

Black people are 13% of the US population, but 23% of those officially in poverty and 39% of the homeless.

The racial element of Americas poverty crisis is seen nowhere more clearly than in the Deep South, where the open wounds of slavery continue to bleed. The UN special rapporteur chose as his next stop the ғBlack Belt, the term that originally referred to the rich dark soil that exists in a band across Alabama but over time came to describe its majority African American population.

The link between soil type and demographics was not coincidental. Cotton was found to thrive in this fertile land, and that in turn spawned a trade in slaves to pick the crop. Their descendants still live in the Black Belt, still mired in poverty among the worst in the union.

You can trace the history of AmericaԒs shame, from slave times to the present day, in a set of simple graphs. The first shows the cotton-friendly soil of the Black Belt, then the slave population, followed by modern black residence and todays extreme poverty Җ they all occupy the exact same half-moon across Alabama.

There are numerous ways you could parse the present parlous state of Alabama’s black community. Perhaps the starkest is the fact that in the Black Belt so many families still have no access to sanitation. Thousands of people continue to live among open sewers of the sort normally associated with the developing world.

The crisis was revealed by the Guardian earlier this year to have led to an ongoing endemic of hookworm, an intestinal parasite that is transmitted through human waste. It is found in Africa and South Asia, but had been assumed eradicated in the US years ago.

Yet here the worm still is, sucking the blood of poor people, in the home state of Trump’s US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

A disease of the developing world thriving in the worlds richest country.

The open sewerage problem is especially acute in Lowndes County, a majority black community that was an epicenter of the civil rights movement having been the setting of Martin Luther King’s Selma to Montgomery voting rights march in 1965.

Despite its proud history, Catherine Flowers estimates that 70% of households in the area either “straight pipe” their waste directly onto open ground, or have defective septic tanks incapable of dealing with heavy rains.

When her group, Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (Acre), pressed local authorities to do something about it, officials invested $6m in extending waste treatment systems to primarily white-owned businesses while bypassing overwhelmingly black households.

ThatӒs a glaring example of injustice, Flowers said. ԓPeople who cannot afford their own systems are left to their own devices while businesses who do have the money are given public services.

Walter, a Lowndes County resident who asked not to give his last name for fear that his water supply would be cut off as a reprisal for speaking out, lives with the daily consequences of such public neglect. “You get a good hard rain and it backs up into the house.”

That’s a polite way of saying that sewerage gurgles up into his kitchen sink, hand basin and bath, filling the house with a sickly-sweet stench.

Given these circumstances, what does he think of the ideology that anyone can make it if they try?

“I suppose they could if they had the chance,” Walter said. He paused, then added: “Folks aren’t given the chance.”

Had he been born white, would his sewerage problems have been fixed by now?

After another pause, he said: “Not being racist, but yeah, they would.”

Round the back of Walter’s house the true iniquity of the situation reveals itself. The yard is laced with small channels running from neighboring houses along which dark liquid flows. It congregates in viscous pools directly underneath the mobile home in which Walters son, daughter-in-law and 16-year-old granddaughter live.

It is the ultimate image of the lot of Alabama’s impoverished rural black community. As American citizens they are as fully entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Its just that they are surrounded by pools of excrement.

This week, the Black Belt bit back. On Tuesday a new line was added to that simple graphic, showing exactly the same half-moon across Alabama except this time it was not black but blue.

It depicted the army of African American voters who turned out against the odds to send Doug Jones to the US Senate, the first Democrat from Alabama to do so in a generation. It delivered a bloody nose to his opponent, the alleged child molester Roy Moore, and his puppetmasters Steve Bannon and Donald Trump.

It was arguably the most important expression of black political muscle in the region since King’s 1965 march. If the previous entries in the graphic could be labeled soil, slavery, and poverty, this one should be captioned “empowerment.”

So how does Alston view the role of UN rapporteur and his visit? His full report on the US will be released next May before being presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva.

Nobody expects much to come of that: the world body has no teeth with which to enforce good behavior on recalcitrant governments. But Alston hopes that his visit will have an impact by shaming the US into reflecting on its values.

“My role is to hold governments to account,” he said. If the US administration doesn’t want to talk about the right to housing, healthcare or food, then there are still basic human rights standards that have to be met. Its my job to point that out.”

Alston’s previous investigations into extreme poverty in places like Mauritania pulled no punches. We can expect the same tough love when it comes to his analysis of Puerto Rico, the next stop on his journey into America’s dark side.

Three months after Maria, the devastation wrought by the hurricane has been well documented. It tore 70,000 homes to shreds, brought industry to a standstill and caused a total blackout of the island that continues to cause havoc.

But Puerto Ricos plight long predates Maria, rooted in the indifference with which it has been regarded since being acquired as a spoil of war in 1898. Almost half of Americans have no idea that the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans on the island are US citizens, which adds insult to the injury of the territory having no representation in Congress while its fiscal policies are dictated by an oversight board imposed by Washington. What was that about casting off the yoke of overweening government?

Nor do most people appreciate that the island has twice the proportion of people in poverty (44%) than the lowliest US state, including Alabama (19%). And that was before the hurricane, which some estimates suggest has pushed the poverty rate up to 60%.

“Puerto Rico is a sacrifice zone,” said Ruth Santiago, a community rights lawyer. “We are ruled by the United States but we are never consulted we have no influence, we’re just their plaything.”

The UN monitor was given a sense of what being a plaything of the US means in practice when he travelled south to Guayama, a town of 42,000 close to where Maria made landfall. Devastation was everywhere - houses mangled, roofs missing, power lines drooping alarmingly overhead.

Looming over the community is a coal-fired power plant built by the Puerto Rican branch of AES Corporation, a Virginia-headquartered multinational. The plants smoke stack dominates the horizon, as does a huge mound of residue from the combusted coal that rises to at least 70ft like a giant sandcastle.

The mound is exposed to the elements and local people complain that toxins from it leach into the sea, destroying the livelihoods of fishermen through mercury poisoning. They also fear that dust coming off the pile causes health problems, a concern shared by local doctors who told the UN monitor that they see a high incidence of respiratory disease and cancer.

“It kills the leaves of my mango tree,” said Flora Picar Cruz, 82. She was lying in bed at midday, breathing with difficulty through an oxygen mask.

Studies of the pile have found perilous levels of toxic substances including arsenic, boron, chloride and chromium. Even so, the Trump administration is in the process of easing the relatively lax regulations on monitoring dangerous effluents from it.

AES Puerto Rico told the Guardian that there was nothing to worry about, as the plant was one of the cleanest in the US having been purpose built to avoid any run-off into air or sea. That’s not what the people of Guayama think. They fear that the age-old pattern of being taken for granted by the US colonizer is about to rise to the next level.

When such attitudes are replicated across the island it helps explain why so many Puerto Ricans are voting with their feet: almost 200,000 have packed their bags and quit for Florida, New York and Pennsylvania since the hurricane, adding to the more than 5m who were already on the US mainland. Which gives a whole new meaning to the American Dream anyone can make it, so long as they abandon their families, their homes, and their culture and head off into a strange and forbidding land.

“You’re an amazing people! We’re going to take care of a lot of years of horrible abuse, OK? You can count on it 100%.”

Donald Trump’s promise to the white voters of West Virginia was made just as he was securing the Republican presidential nomination in May 2016. Six months later, his audience handsomely repaid him with a landslide victory.

It is not surprising that white families in West Virginia should have responded positively to Trump’s charm offensive, given that he offered them the world - “We’re going to put the miners back to work!” After all, numerically a majority of all those living in poverty nationwide - 27 million people are white.

In West Virginia in particular, white families have a lot to feel sore about. Mechanization and the decline of coal mining have decimated the state, leading to high unemployment and stagnant wages. The transfer of jobs from the mines and steel mills to Walmart has led to male workers earning on average $3.50 an hour less today than they did in 1979.

What is surprising is that so many proud working folk should have entrusted their dreams to a (supposed) billionaire who built his real estate empire on the back of handouts from his father.

Before he ran for the presidency, Trump showed scant interest in the struggles of low-income families, white or otherwise. After almost a year in the Oval Office, there is similarly little sign of those campaign promises being kept.

Quite the contrary. When the UN rapporteur decamped in Charleston, West Virginia on Wednesday as the final stop in his tour, he was inundated with evidence that the president is turning the screws on the very people who elected him.

That same day, Republicans in the Senate and House were fusing their plans for tax cuts ahead of a final vote next week. Many West Virginians will be lulled into believing that the changes are designed to help them, as initially everybody in the state will pay less tax.

But come 2027 when deficit-saving changes kick in, the bottom 80% of the population will pay more, while the top 1% will continue to enjoy a $21,000 bonanza.

“Trump’s policies will exacerbate inequality, suppress wages and make it harder for low-income families to seek assistance,” said Ted Boettner, executive director of the non-partisan West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

If sewerage is the abiding image of the burden of the Black Belt, then a mouthful of rotting teeth is West Virginias.

Doctors at Health Right, a volunteer-based medical center in Charleston that treats 21,000 low-income working people free of charge, presented the UN monitor with a photograph of one of its dentistry clients.

The man is only 32, but when he opened his mouth he turned into one of Macbeth’s witches. His few remaining rotting teeth and greenish-blue gums looked like the festering broth in their burning cauldrons.

Adult dentistry is uncovered by Medicaid unless it is an emergency, and so people do the logical thing they do nothing until their abscesses erupt and they have to go to ER. One woman seen by the center’s mobile dentistry clinic was found to have nothing but 30 roots in her mouth, all of which needed surgery.

In other briefings, Alston was given a picture of life under siege for West Virginia’s low-income families. If Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty, then Trump is waging a war on the poor.

People are jailed for years because they cannot afford bail awaiting trial; private detectives are used to snoop on disability benefit claimants; mandatory minimum drug sentences are back in fashion; Jeff Sessions is scrapping federal rehabilitation schemes for those released from prison; tenants in subsidized housing are living in fear that they will be evicted for the slightest infraction - the list goes on and on.

“And the result of this relentless drubbing? People end up fighting each other,” said Eli Baumwell, policy director of the ACLU in West Virginia. “You become so obsessed with what you’ve got and what your neighbor has got that you become resentful. That’s what Trump is doing - turning one against the other.”

And so it was that Philip Alston boarded one last plane and headed for Washington, carrying with him the distilled torment of the American people.

At one point in the trip Alston revealed that he had had a sleepless night, reflecting on the lost souls we had met in Skid Row.

He wondered about how a person in his position - I’m old, male, white, rich and I live very well” - would react to one of those homeless people. He would look at him and see someone who is dirty, who doesn’t wash, who he doesn’t want to be around.”

Then Alston had an epiphany.

“I realized that’s how government sees them. But what I see is the failure of society. I see a society that let that happen, that is not doing what it should. And its very sad.”

The UN special rapporteurs tour was done.

SOURCE

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Boomers Burned By Recession Part 8

image: american dream is over

Broke baby boomers, its time to face reality

By Elizabeth White
PBS
Jan 19, 2017

Editor’s Note: “Friends wonder privately how someone so well educated could be in economic free fall.” Elizabeth White wrote in a column for PBS Next Avenue. “At fifty-five, she has learned how to fake cheeriness and to appear to be engaged, but her phone doesn’t ring with opportunities anymore.”

The article about the growing number of women facing retirement and struggling to make ends meet hit a nerve, receiving thousands of likes and comments on Facebook. People resonated with the reality White faced herself. She had had a comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle and a good-paying job, but after a failed entrepreneurial endeavor and the Great Recession, she was facing a stark reality. She was broke.

In Fifty-Five, Unemployed, and Faking Normal,” White offers advice to those baby boomers who, instead of facing cushy retirements in Florida, are facing financial ruin and the shame that comes with it. The following is an excerpt from her book. For more on the topic, tune in to tonights Making Sen$e segment, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour.
- Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor

I have been fortunate. I have been poor for quite a long time now, so Im pretty good at it. The simple no-frills life is fine by me.
- Debie

Millions of us are trying to wrap our brains around futures that look nothing like the ones we imagined. How do we walk up that hill? Its about letting go of what used to be and figuring out what we need to do and to change now so that we can have a shot at a more satisfying life in our fourth quarter.

You may not like all of the things that I invite you to consider and take on in the chapters ahead. Adaptation is hard at any age, but it’s especially hard now, as all of the rules changed just as we baby boomers are planning our end games. It would be so much easier to just do what we’ve always done.

But we can’t. We’re anxious, uncertain about the future and just scraping by for the next 30 years is just not going to cut it. Nor is being mired in some old stuck story or feeling mad, bitter and crotchety. All of those “wouldas, couldas and shouldas” are just a waste of precious time at this point.

The bottom line is that we are where we are. And its from here that we start. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges were facing, there is much we can learn from our peers who are experimenting with unconventional approaches and innovative ways of relating to others, consuming goods and working to find security and happiness.

If weҒre in denial, resistant to change or unwilling to consider anything new or outside of our comfort zones, we might as well close up shop now. How we start this exploration matters. Staying open and hanging loose are important.

The cavalry aint coming

Where we start is by recognizing that the cavalry is not coming to rescue us. There is no national bailout - no prince charming on a white horse.

In the short to medium term, were going to have to save ourselves and one another.

Why? Well, with few exceptions, our politicians are not offering comprehensive solutions to the retirement-income crisis. Most are focused on Social Security as though it were the answer and the magic bullet. But what if youҒre one of the millions of boomers under the full-retirement age, of between 65 or 67 depending on when you were born? Then for now, youre out. Receiving the full Social Security benefit isnҒt even an option.

And even when you are eligible for it, the full benefit will only replace about 40 percent of your preretirement income, if that. Most financial advisors say youll need 70 to 80 percent of it to maintain your standard of living. For tens of millions of Americans, that small Social Security check is the only money coming in. Our lawmakers can pretend all they want that that’s enough to live on. Give me a break.

And while we welcome the recent talk in Washington about increasing the Social Security benefit, we also know that the wheels of change turn slowly. Were living in the meantime.

And exhorting us to simply save more without telling us how to do it doesn’t help us either. I went with my sister to one of those financial-planning seminars and had to leave the room a few times because I was so upset by what I was hearing. It was just so sobering. I have no savings. The planner kept talking about putting 30 percent of your assets into this or that thing. Well, 30 percent of zero is zero.  Chris

The truth is that Americans are saving less, not more.

It will take years for our government and institutions to find and scale solutions to the myriad of problems that underlie the retirement-income crisis. And as those most affected by the crisis, part of our job is pressuring them to do more and to do it faster.

But in the meantime, with no big interventions in the works, our immediate focus should be on what we can do for ourselves.

Saying goodbye to magical thinking

So where do we start? We start by dismantling the belief that if we just tough it out, things will return to normal. The truth is that weҒre not going back. The normal we knew is gone.

In normal land,Ӕ we could zig and zag, move, change jobs or spouses, try new things and still recover from our mistakes. We had time. Now, in our late 50s, 60s and beyond, we dont have that time anymore.

ғNormal was when we had money and did not have to weigh our every decision against its affordability.

Normal was before we knew anyone trapped in their homes, unable to move because their mortgage was underwater.

It was before we were outsourced, merged downsized, rifted and surplused.

In normal land, the ԓsharing economy had mostly not been invented yet. Instead, there were good IRS W-2 jobs with pensions and benefits.

In normal land, we measured our worth by our incomes, props and credentials. For some of us, working hard assured a nice retirement ԓdessert of travel and kicked back living.

Normal was when we werenԒt worried about our childrens futures. As one friend put it, we figured weҒd done our jobs if our adult children were employed and could afford their own therapy.

Normal land had material perks too. There was stuff and more stuff. Back in those days, designer labels mattered more than the factory workers who made those labels.

Before marketers coined the term HENRY, or high earners not rich yet,Ӕ there were yuppies and buppies. A good life of achievement and acquisition was what most of us aspired to and sought.

Magical thinking is believing that the old normal is coming back.

The new normal of financial vulnerability

Right now, depending on your work situation or bank account, you may feel like a tourist in the land of the poor people. At this stage, your main goal is to avoid getting trapped and having to take up permanent residency there. It is a paralyzing thought. I know.

This happened to me in my 40s, and it took me a good 10 years to get back to a normal wage. It took periods of working three jobs at crummy wages and doing whatever I had to do to keep going. The truth is, your friends dont notice the struggle, because they fear it will happen to them. Decide who your genuine friends are, and come clean to them. If nothing else, it will help to talk about it and frees you up from pretending. This is more widespread than most people think. җ Linda

You see friends who used to be at or near the top of the food chain off ramped with no clear path back to normal. You see it in their faces. Its like they have dematerialized.

Most of the women (and men) I worked with who suffered a similar fate never seemed to quite get back to where they were even though they worked as hard as I did and even in the booming tech market. And I pretty much expect every day that this could happen to me again, no matter how hard I work or how many points I put on the board. The worst part is the isolation. This is the first time I have ever let on how bad it was (is), and it still feels extremely risky to do so in a valley rife with swagger. җ J

And you know that if it happened to others, it could happen to you. No longer in denial now, you actually begin to contemplate what would happen if the bottom totally fell out. What would you do? How would you survive?

And millions of us arent contemplating itҗwere living it.

I am at the 15-year mark of my uphill climb out of my hole. I am living tiny, but it is mine, and I am able to live within my means. җ Lesa</i

Many of us wont be making the money weҒre used to making. For the first time, we will be facing the prospect of significant downward mobility, with our accustomed earnings cut by 20, 30, 40 percentor more.

<i>I never had to resort to food stamps but was headed that way and am still rattled to the core by that. ח Linda

And the truth is that if we lose our jobs in our 50s and 60s, were unlikely to be reemployed at the same salaries we had before. This is even true for those whose career choice privilege has, until now, firmly established them in the high five- or six-figure salary range.

Sure, a few of us will manage to find traditional W-2 jobs paying that long bread like before. But many more of us can expect months or even years of unemployment that deplete our savings and shake our confidence.

And when we do work again, weҒll likely do contract work in the gig economy or some part-time jobs in new professions.

I am single, 64, getting Social Security and working whatever jobs I can find that pay the bills. Im finally in a job I like now, but it has taken years to get to this place. During those years, I worked in factories, in retail and at a gas station, and I did home care. You name it, and IҒve done it. Im tired of job hopping to survive. җ Anita

I drive a school bus, have a class B CDL with a passenger/school-bus endorsement and feel lucky to have a job. I was a music-ed teacher. You gotta lose your pride and get out there and start somewhere. I am 57 and was married to a doctor for 20 years, and I got divorced 16 years ago. Pull up your big-girl pants, and take whatever job(s) you can find.  Mary

Some people start entrepreneurial ventures to try to make ends meet. Whatever we do, weגre looking at a lot less money to live on at least in the short termand maybe forever.

Thatגs why a big first step in securing our futures is adopting live-low-to-the-ground mind-set which means that we have to drastically cut our expenses to fit our new income realities.

I know, I know that sounds easy peasy. YouŒre thinking, how hard could it really be to live within your new means?

Its true that reality forces most people to make the needed changes eventually. But that click down from the standard of living that you assumed youҒd always have to one that is much more modest is well, itŒs an adjustment. And its a big adjustment if you were living large and are now scrambling just to cover the basic necessities.

The real question is can we cut way back and still have good quality of life, still find ways to be connected to who and what we love?

But a downgrade in lifestyle is not hard only for the people who were doing well; its hard for everybody. The truth is that most folks just donҒt have that much of a cushion. A recent Pew Charitable Trust Survey of American Family Finances found that the median household does not have enough in liquid savingsӗmoney held in checking and savings accounts, unused balances on prepaid cards, and cash saved at home to replace one month of income.ה

And the average family in the lowest income quintile is even worse off, with less than two weeks of financial reservesor, to be exact, enough to cover about nine daysג worth of expenses.

So as we look into the future, the key question will not be how to tighten our belts or live within our means in the conventional sense. In the new normal of financial insecurity, a lot of us are already doing that.

The real question is can we cut way back and still have good quality of life, still find ways to be connected to who and what we love?

I believe that the short answer is yes. But to have a shot at something other than being old and poor in America, we can’t just do what we’ve always done and be what we’ve always been. The world as we knew it has changed forever. And if we want better futures, we’re going to have to change too.

SOURCE

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Unemployed, 55, and Faking Normal
You may recognize these women, hiding in plain sight

By Elizabeth White
May 16, 2016

She is in your friendship circle, hidden in plain sight.

She is 55, broke and tired of trying to keep up appearances. Faking normal is wearing her out.

To look at her, you wouldn’t know that her electricity was cut off last week for non-payment or that she meets the eligibility requirements for food stamps. Her clothes are still impeccable, bought in the good times when she was still making money.

A Grace Note of Panic

But if you paid attention, you would see the sadness in her eyes, hear that grace note of panic in her otherwise commanding voice.

These days, she buys the $1.99 10-ounce “trial size” jug of Tide to make ends meet. You didn’t know laundry detergent came in that size.

You invite her to the same expensive restaurants the two of you have always enjoyed, but she orders mineral water with a twist of lemon, instead of the $12 glass of Chardonnay. She is frugal in her menu choices, meticulous, counting every penny in her head. She demurs dividing the table bill evenly to cover desserts, designer coffees and the second and third glasses of wine she didn’t drink.

Nest Egg: Gone Long Ago

She lives without cable, a gym membership and nail appointments. She’s discovered she can do her own hair.

There are no retirement savings, no nest egg; she exhausted that long ago. There is no expensive condo from which to draw equity and no husband to back her up.

Months of slow pay and no pay have decimated her credit. Bill collectors call constantly, reading verbatim from a script, expressing polite sympathy for her plight before demanding payment arrangements that she canגt possibly meet.

When the Phone Stops Ringing

Friends wonder privately how someone so well-educated could be in economic free fall. After all, she is still as talented as ever and smart as a whip. But work is sketchy now, mostly on-and-off consulting gigs. You can’t remember when she had a real job. She has learned how to appear engaged, but her phone doesn’t ring with opportunities anymore.

She doesn’t remember exactly when it stopped.

But she has entered the uncertain world of formerly and used to be and isn’t sure anymore where she belongs.

What she does know is that dozens of online job applications shes filled out seem to have disappeared into a black hole. SheҒs convinced that employers have set their online job recruitment algorithms to reject anyone who graduated before 1995.

She wonders what is to become of her. So far, her health has held up, but her body aches. Or is it her spirit?

Homeless women use to be invisible to her, but she appraises them now, with curious eyes, wondering if their stories started like hers.

Time to Stop Faking Normal

Even if you are not poor, exactly, you may still be facing downward mobility and feeling ashamed and embarrased about it. If so, come on out. Stop faking normal. There are millions of women like us and there is strength in our numbers.

Women nearing retirement are particularly hard hit by Americas retirement income-security crisis. The gender wage disparity gap costs women $431,360 over the course of their lives, according to the Center for American Progress. Add to this shortfall another $304,000 that women forfeit for time off from paid work to tend to parents (according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP) and hundreds of thousands more to care for children and the consequences of spending a life of economic disadvantage becomes clear in lost wages, reduced pension and Social Security benefits.

The prospect is even worse if you are a woman of color: Today, three in 10 single black women over 65 and early 4 in 10 older single Hispanic women live in poverty, a rate more than twice that of white women, according to the WomenҒs Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER).

But if we are hiding or in denial about our financial insecurity, were not taking the active role we need to navigate this phase of our lives. One action I took that really helped me and gave me both perspective and peace of mind was picking a friend to talk to and totally come clean about my situation. Turns out, she was broke, too, and was as worried about her future as I was about mine. It was such a burden off me to just speak my truth.

For all of us, there are hard choices to make about where we are going to live and how. The good news is that the market is beginning to respond with many more innovative and affordable senior housing and co-housing options to help boomers stay engaged and lead meaningful lives. I expect manufacturers to follow suit with value-engineered products geared to retirees with lower incomes.

So while our new living quarters may be a rental and the size of a postage stamp, it beats being confined to a dim lit room in some drab building with a weird hospital smell and institutionalized food.

Welcome to the new normal.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/10/17 •
Section Dying America
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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Bad Moon Rising Part 70 - The End Of Empire 2

image: dying america

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
- John Adams

American Calamity Get Ready for the Day of Reckoning

By Phil Butler
New Eastern Outlook
December 3, 2017

The America we once knew is gone forever. The 21st century has dawned just as the true light of liberty fades into shadow. The sooner the world recognizes this, the better off humankind will be. RussiaGate, Bill and Hillary Clinton revelations, Donald Trumps quasi-populist misdirect, and a great nation turned amoral, this and much more forewarn of a cataclysm.

Ill tell you about the instant I gave up on America ever being great again. When my oldest friend failed to reach me on Skype a few weeks back, a strange reconnect on his device put me in the position of a fly on the wall with he and two other high school friends. At first, I thought my old friend and I were connected as per usual, on a conference call. Then, when I realized I could hear them without the trio hearing me, the real American tragedy unfolded. The realization struck me hard, I’ll tell you. Listening to old pals discuss my new book that debunks many RussiaGate lies, Putin’s Praetorians met with nasty and harsh criticism without my chums having even read what is inside. Their obtuse and unfair criticism made me finally realized Vladimir Putin and the Russian people have no chance whatsoever - no chance of ever being friends with the United States of America. Three intelligence college graduates, professional men, demonstrated the utter ignorance of a people. Some of my closest friends shouted in my ears that day; the propaganda worked - CNN has already won.I know this is a harsh reality for many of you to accept. Losing hope is not something to take lightly. But get ready, the war will come eventually.

When Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election the hopeful among us considered his victory a successful populist revolt against the Washington swamp of globalists. Trump swore to us he would take on the technocrats and the elites in favor of the “forgotten of America” and the new president sold himself as a man of the people. However, billionaires are not ordinary people, and we should all have remembered this. Many of us voted Trump just to keep a certified psychopath from winning, but Trump and Clinton are nothing more than symptoms of a far more WIDESPREAD CONTAGION. Now let me describe the infectious host my country has become, and a bit on how Lady Liberty will finally succumb.

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is the modern and digitalized Rome. Just why we we’re not taught this in grade school, it escapes me. After all, we always believed our teachers and trusted them to tell us the truth. The unarguable fact that Americans have been the most privileged people on Earth since World War II. But we were told for decades that our privilege was due to our industriousness, our intelligence, and because God had blessed us. In the 1950s and early 1960֒s this may have really been true. For those who recall that we made stuff back then, and that we conformed more often to our religious convictions, my meaning here is clear to you. We Americans benefitted largely because of our hard work back then, and not sometimes because of brilliant industrialists too.  Then the two Kennedy brothers were shot and killed, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were assassinated, and Lyndon Baines Johnson and his boys carried us into Vietnam. In the meantime, those of us too young (or chicken) to fight in southeast Asia, we got our fill of Woodstock, a popular anti-war movement and the hippie revolution, and decades of drug culture that nobody talks about much these days. But this component of the American metamorphosis is far too important and massively deep to discuss here. It should suffice those from that era to know, that Iғ know what you know. This was the moment the American people dipped themselves in the narcotic of too much self-love and when we began to exceed and excel in moral promiscuity. Today an entire nation is drowning in a sea of vanity that originated back then. We saw this moral lasciviousness when the last President, Barack Obama spat out our exceptionalismԓ right in the worlds face. Let’s now take a candid look at this how collectively extraordinary we Americans have been.

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage . . . . Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elite, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I’ll not even attempt to describe the rise of consumerism in America following WW II, nor can anyone explain in such limited space how the average American benefitted from our role in that war. As the only major nation untouched (literally) by the massive destructive force of the world war, the United States quickly became a nation blessed with a giant middle class. And with this burgeoning middle class came a youth culture that will absolutely melt down when the next big crisis comes. This foreboding moment can be understood if we look at American society’s rise to affluence in the 60s, 70’s, and even the 1980s, as compared to the disenfranchised in the country today. But I said I would not delve too deeply into this part of Americanism. What makes the United States even an unique country in modern times is how the world lost while America consumed. Make no mistake about it, the real American exceptionalism cost every man, woman, and child on Earth an incalculable price. Citizens of my country have used fully one-fourth of every resource utilized since World War II, and the ongoing wars and corporate shenanigans perpetuated the damage. Up until the 21st century, the curve of American gluttony rose sharply in between 1900 and 1995. A PAPER (PDF) entitled; “Consumption of Materials in the United States, 1900-9950”, from the USGS by Grecia Matos and Lorie Wagner discusses this in depth. Here is the short version from the paper on materials use:

“During this century, the quantity of materials consumed has grown, from 161 million metric tons in 1900 to 2.8 billion metric tons by 1995, an equivalent of 10 metric tons per person per year.”

The report details our consumption from many directions including environmental impacts, and so on. Nowhere is our exceptional appetite for world resources more prevalent than in our energy use. THIS REPORT from 2011 shows how America went stark raving mad using coal, natural gas, petroleum nd nuclear energy after WW II. For comparative purposes, Americans used about 10 quadrillion btus of petroleum in 1945, as compared to just over 40 quadrillion btuᒒs at the peak in 2005-2006. On energy, its fair to assert here that all those energy wars the so-called conspiracy theorists writeabout are real news stories, rather than fake concoctions. But let’s forget about American politicians opening up North America for a toxic fracking future for the moment. This Scientific American STORY points to Americans as the least sustainable society on Earth. From the article Sierra Clubs Dave Tilford tells us:

“The average American will drain as many resources as 35 natives of India and consume 53 times more goods and services than someone from China.”

The final take here is telling. The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses more than 25% of the world’s fossil fuel resources, by burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the worlds natural gas. Another way of looking at our “exceptional self-destructiveness” is to think how many “worlds” it would take to support humanity, if everyone consumed like we do. But this my point is the fact that our addictive and suicidal behavior costs all of humanity. America’s unique exceptionalism will very soon lead to a horrific cataclysm for out sick culture. I’ll frame for you now:

Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named - but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot. Robert A. Heinlein, Friday

Drugged on the self-aggrandizing drugs of excess, lude and lascivious lifestyles, and utter godlessness, the United States is all set for an apocalypse few in my country see. Before I describe how this cataclysm will likely play out, let me introduce an economic surety. Debt and constricted growth are about to cause a gigantic bubble to burst.

Most readers may not know that the worlds central banks are about to be decimated. The balance sheets of most of these banks have gone from an indebtedness of $6 trillion in 2007 to over $21 trillion today. To make matters worse, the rate of debt expansion exceeds a pace of $200 billion every month. In the UK, the Bank of England prints money on a pace to equal that of the European Central Bank (ECB) and even the Bank of Japan in a hopeless effort of Quantitative Easing (QE) that involves buying the bonds - or debts of governments and investment grade companies. Subsequently, bond prices have shot sky high, while yields are now at record lows. A further indication is contained in a rather innocent PRESS RELEASE about UBS Wealth Management’s UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index 2017. According to this news San Francisco and other real estate markets are ripe for a second devastating housing bubble catastrophe. Also included in the report are; Amsterdam, Stockholm, Munich, Vancouver, Sydney, Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. I could go on and on presenting indicators such as the massive $750 billion dollar trade deficit America runs. But pointing out the reality of Americas $20 trillion dollar national debt is useless for swaying even one typical consumption addict to pay attention. Like my pals who refused to even crack open a book before condemning a friend, most Americans are simply too ignorant and self-involved to give facts a glance. When the lie of CNN or Bloomberg will do, as long as the cheap gas flows, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again (MAGA)” slogan is a fairytale. America has not been great in a very long time, and she never will be great again. Now let me show you who knows this.

Like Rome, the heyday of Americas empire was been based on expansion and growth. Propped up with militarism and the legendary military industrial complex, Washington has played Wall Street’s gambit for many decades. The recent villainizing of Russia and her president Vladimir Putin is not about the spread of democracy, it’s about Putin standing in the way of privatizing like that which occurred under Yeltsin. Putin is in a fight against the American supported liberal world order bent on gobbling up Russia’s massive resources to fuel further American (plus EU & British) addictions. Without new markets and resources America will very soon be out of gas literally. So, assuming I am correct here, what happens when a land of consumer zombies runs out of gas (or food)? This Fortune Magazine ARTICLE speaks of an education economics bubble about to destroy lives and dreams on a scale never witnessed. The foreboding article touches on but one facet of a fractured American society - the society presidents, senators, and congresspersons swore would benefit from high tech jobs and new age technologies. Now that I’ve painted a small portrait of dread, insert all the twenty-something and thirty-something smart phones you saw in use yesterday in town! You forty-something and fifty-something readers, can you sense the domino effect when the entitled youth cannot get cell service or buy a cappuccino? For further reading on this catastrophe, see Zero Hedge and read RON PAUL’S ASSESSMENT of the imminent doomsday. My conclusion here is pretty short and sweet:

“Of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now.” Arnold Joseph Toynbee

Vladimir Putin is the barometer everyone should watch. And Vladimir Putin has all but given up on reconciliation with the west. This report from World Socialist Web outlines reports that suggest Putin is ramping up in preparations for the coming war. At the recent Sochi meetup, the Russian president had this to offer on Russias economy being prepared:

“The ability of our economy to increase military production and services at a given time is one of the most important aspects of military security. To this end, all strategic and simply large-scale enterprise should be ready, regardless of ownership.”

Putin’s recent moves, his ongoing pragmatism during these new crises, and the “all or nothing” approaches of western governments toward Russia tell us all we need to know here. Putin is admittedly testing the capability of Russia’s economy to defend in an all-out war with the west. Read Alex Lantier’s article above, then correlate everything you can find on global defense in the last few months. Putin is only following suit after NATO recently discussed improving infrastructure for war-making. In Moscow the thinkers know once the petro-yuan replaces the dollar, that general chaos will rein in America. And the American globalists know this too. Now imagine a dollar being worth ten cents. Imagine store shelves empty and several million more foreclosures. Imagine Apple not selling iPhones for two months. Visualize what happens in America if another big recession hits now. The kid who was 12 when 2008 rolled around, is now 21 with a college degree and a mountain of student loan debt, working at McDonalds to pay for an $800 dollar smart phone. Fox News just reported on the 5 dead and 20 wounded in Chicago over the Thanksgiving weekend, and Trump’s policies have been a shot in the arm for Wall Street. If the big bubble bursts the disenfranchised will turn to cannibalism. Putin and the Washington swamp knows this too.

So, when America does finally succumb to the death throes we’ve seen happening the last thirty years or more They’ll push the button, you bet they will. Zombies could care less about Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Palestine, Syria and Yemen. You unplug the intravenous joy and it’s over. And this is the truth of an America since 1955. Find yourself a cave here on Crete, fort up and get ready. Its coming.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 12/05/17 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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