Friday :: Jul 14, 2006

Happy Bastille Day, America


by pessimist

Today, July 14, is celebrated around the world as the second day when the inate rights of man were proclaimed through the overthrow of tyrannical rule by despots (the first being our July 4th).

The Storming of the Bastille

[T]he people of Paris stormed the Bastille, a prison where people were jailed by arbitrary decision of the King (lettre de cachet). The Bastille was, in particular, known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government. Thus the Bastille was a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy.

The storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than a practical act of defiance [as] the storming of the Bastille, which housed only a handful of common prisoners, was actually done to raid the prison's supply of arms and ammunition against a false rumor that the king's troops were moving on Paris from Versailles.

Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was proclaimed.

Such a Declaration is now one of those 'quaint' documents from the past that need not be heeded by those modern despots who would usurp the power - and treasure - of a king. It isn't being heard in Baghdad, where the people are fleeing the incipient flashes of the coming civil war explosion ignited by the rash actions of ignorant oil tyrants. The unlucky ones are going to be caught up in it:

All Iraqi homes are awash with guns for self-defence in these merciless times. Together they would shoot it out with the gunmen — one of a dozen unsung Alamos now being fought nightly on Iraq’s blacked-out streets. We phoned the US military trainer attached to Iraqi security forces in the area. He said there was nothing to be done...

In fact the US military generally responds only to request for support from Iraqi security forces. But as many of those forces are at best turning a blind eye to the Shia death squads, and at worst colluding with them, calling the Americans is literally the last thing they do.

There are many other Baghdads in the world - some of them right here in King George's United Corporate States of Amerika.

I won't go into the ones you have heard about - Mogadishu, Darfur, etc. I'm just going to look at the new ones - ones which symbolically match that image of the storming of the Bastille and aren't getting the media coverage.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, gangs are destroying the city under orders from their incarcerated leaders.

The organized crime group known as the First Command of the Capital -- which unleashed Sao Paulo's worst wave of violence two months ago -- is responsible for 106 attacks around the state during the past two nights, officials said. The renewed unrest has raised questions about the government's ability to control prisons, where incarcerated gang leaders use smuggled cell phones to tell subordinates on the outside to cause mayhem.

Overnight, criminals fired submachine guns at a subway station and threw grenades at a police post and a gas station in the city. Nine banks were also sprayed with bullets. Facing criticism for having failed to prevent a second round of attacks, police insist they are working hard to restore order. "We aren't inert in the face of this situation," said state military police commander Col. Elizeu Eclair.

This is a lie. A political lie. The obvious solution to the uprising was offered, but was rejected for political reasons - to accept would mean weaker popular support numbers for the coming election:

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is up for re-election in October, has offered to send federal troops to quell the violence. But the state's governor, Claudio Lembo, who hails from a rival political party, has declined the offer.

Lembo's former boss is Geraldo Alckmin, who relinquished his post as governor in March to run for the presidency. Alckmin suffered in opinion polls after the May unrest.

Why is there such unrest? Why is this criminal gang so powerful in a nation which is relatively prosperous?

The recent violence in Sao Paulo has highlighted the deep social problems afflicting Brazil, a country with one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the world.

Sao Paulo state alone has 140,000 prisoners. Former federal security chief Col. Jose Vicente Da Silva said an average jail, designed to house 870 prisoners, already higher than the recommended capacity of 300-500 in most countries, had in fact about 1,200 inmates. Riots flare up almost weekly.

Take heed, America - Sao Paulo is what our future looks like!

Think I'm exaggerating? Look at San Bernardino, California - no, not the fires. They aren't affecting the city. Other crises afflict it:

* Young boys murdered in broad daylight while playing basketball

* Pools are closed in over-100 degree heat because the lifeguards fear gang violence

* The people are marching in the streets to raise awareness of the numbers of those who oppose gangs in an effort to get other people to join anti-gang efforts.

Paul Krugman illustrates our critical economic condition:

Many observers, even if they acknowledge the growing concentration of income in the hands of the few, find it hard to believe that this concentration could be proceeding so rapidly as to deny most Americans any gains from economic growth.
Yet newly available data [from 2004] show that that’s exactly what happened.
Why talk about 2004, rather than more recent experience? Unfortunately, data on the distribution of income arrive with a substantial lag; the full story of what happened in 2004 has only just become available, and we won’t be able to tell the full story of what’s happening right now until the last year of the Bush administration. But it’s reasonably clear that what’s happening now is the same as what happened then: growth in the economy as a whole is mainly benefiting a small elite, while bypassing most families.

Here’s what happened in 2004. The U.S. economy grew 4.2 percent, a very good number. Yet last August the Census Bureau reported that real median family income — the purchasing power of the typical family — actually fell. Meanwhile, poverty increased, as did the number of Americans without health insurance. So where did the growth go?

The answer comes from the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, whose long-term estimates of income equality have become the gold standard for research on this topic, and who have recently updated their estimates to include 2004. They show that even if you exclude capital gains from a rising stock market, in 2004 the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans surged by almost 12.5 percent. Meanwhile, the average real income of the bottom 99 percent of the population rose only 1.5 percent.

In other words, a relative handful of people received most of the benefits of growth.

And they are hanging on to it, not using it to invest in America as King George once bragged would be the result of giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy.

Take minority teen employment. The fact that there are so few jobs for minority teen males is a prime reason why gangs are so large and violent.

Teens generally are having a tough time finding work. During the summer of 2004, less than 42% of American teens found jobs (This number included white teens for all you bigots out there. It would be much worse if white kids had been excluded.), tying the summer of 2003 with the lowest teen employment rate over the time statistics have been gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Three million teens were without work or not finding enough of it.

The authors of the 2004 Northeastern University report claimed that of these, had it been the summer of 2000 instead of 2004, as many as 1.7 million of these un- and under-employed teens would have been working.

What's especially frightening is this observation of the study:

"The employment rates of teens during the past summer
were nearly identical for men and women..."

In other words, age isn't the determining factor in deriving the reason for un- and under-employment. It is hitting every age group almost equally. One of the study's co-authors desribed the reasons as being more closely aligned with whether the family's major breadwinner had a middle-class income:

The combination of race, household income, and geographic location of the teen’s residence had a very powerful influence on their employment rates,” said Ishwar Khatiwada co-author of the report. “Only 22 of every 100 Black teens living in a low income family in a central city were employed during the past summer versus 31 of every 100 Black teens living in a central city family with an income between $40,000 and $60,000 and 63 of every 100 White teens living in a family outside of a metropolitan area with an income of $100,000 or more.

All the more reason why the loss of the American middle-class is such a tragedy. As Paul Krugman notes:

[G]rowth didn’t just bypass the poor and the lower middle class, it bypassed the upper middle class too.

Even people at the 95th percentile of the income distribution — that is, people richer than 19 out of 20 Americans — gained only modestly. The big increases went only to people who were already in the economic stratosphere.

These are the very people who drink the kool-aid [from Krugman]:

Bush supporter: “Why doesn’t President Bush get credit for a great economy? I blame liberal media bias.”

Informed economist: “But it’s not a great economy for most Americans. Many families are actually losing ground, and only a very few affluent people are doing really well.”

Bush supporter: “Why doesn’t President Bush get credit for a great economy? I blame liberal media bias.”

To a large extent, this dialogue of the deaf reflects Upton Sinclair’s principle:
it’s difficult to get a man to understand something
when his salary depends on his not understanding it
.

Such people - the ones who would pay more to provide private security services for their homes when paying less in taxes would accomplish the same thing - are also willfully deaf when it comes to hearing of the employment plight of the very teens they fear:

CeaseFire Rockford [a violence prevention organization] originally applied for $50,000 in community assistance funding from the City of Rockford. Aldermen Linda McNeely (D-13) and Jeff Holt (D-11) had previously requested a $7,892 award be reduced again. CeaseFire was then slated to receive nearly $5,000, according to a community assistance program award summary. CeaseFire Rockford Violence Prevention Coordinator Ralph Hawthorne said the money would have been used to hire two outreach workers to deal with growing Hispanic gang activity in southeast Rockford.
Those cuts were floated
to give Patriots’ Gateway Teen Reach more than $20,500
and Let’s Talk It Out $18,000.

Patriot's Gateway is an interesting organization. It smells very corporatist. This is the proscenium of their 'community center':


Hiding behind this facade is, among many other things, a golf course. Based at this golf course - something that definitly appeals to young Hispanic residents of the Rockford 'hood - is an organization known as The First Tee, whose mission is "To impact the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf."

Do they think every Rockford Hispanic teen male aspires to be Tiger Woods?

The First Tee of Rockford is located at the Patriots Gateway Community Center Corporation (PGCCC).
The PGCCC includes a driving range, short game area, putting green and clubhouse. The overall plan calls for batting cages, making it a multi-purpose facility. The current facility houses classrooms, computer labs and a gymnasium.

Such a facility might have attracted corporate scions Harris and Klebold, but I can't see it attracting Hispanics in Rockford, Illinois! But to allow futbol on those fairways would increase the amount of funding the strapped city council of Rockford would have to provide to repair the greens!

Horrors!

As for award co-winner Let's Talk It Out, they only provide an email address for more information, so I can't say much about them. But considering that they are favored over more hands-on (and less-beneficial to elite children) activities, they have to be considered suspect until proven innocent.

After all, even more traditional organizations didn't get as much as Patriot's Gate and Let's Talk It Out did:

The Boys and Girls Club wasn’t awarded the nearly $21,550 it requested to help finance expansion of their Project Learn and Club Tech programs.

Thus, the plight of the young in America continues to decay. Georgia slipped from 39th place to 44th in the 2006 Kids Count Data Book, an annual report by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The study is based on 2003 and 2004 information, the latest available for a nationwide comparison.

This year, New Hampshire scored the best on the annual report. Mississippi brought up the rear.

Georgia has consistently scored
among the 10 worst states in the nation
during the 17 years of the study.

And that's why it's so necessary to stifle the non-corporo-fascist voter!

But I digress.

Poverty contributes to several of the major problems for children, the report said. Some 21 percent of Georgia children lived in poverty in 2004, up from 19 percent in 2003. In addition, 35 percent of Georgia children lived in households in which no parent had a full-time, year-round job in 2004, up 3 percentage points from the year 2000.

If parents can't find full-time work, what chance do teens have? Thank you very much, Red State 'Family Values'!

But the Red States aren't the only places where teens have it rough. This next article comes from Milwaukee - a city firmly entrenched in the corrosion of the Rust Belt:


Jobs are elusive for teens who need them most
by Tannette Johnson-Elie
June 27, 2006

Jerrail Moore badly needs and wants to work this summer. While he wants to earn money for teenage indulgences like clothes and music, he also feels pressure to help his unemployed mother, who is rearing him and his seven siblings. He applied half-heartedly for jobs at retail chains and fast-food restaurants near his home, but didn't have any luck.

Summer unemployment is a sad reality for Moore and other African-American teenagers in Milwaukee. "I feel like I'm wasting time when I could be working," says Moore, 17, a sophomore at the CITIES Project High School, an alternative school of Milwaukee Public Schools.

That coveted summer job. For many kids, it represents their first foray into the working world. The skills gained and lessons learned can be building blocks to success in the business world and in life.

Summer jobs are critical for low-income black kids from the central city not just because they bring in money, but because they also pull them from the streets, where hard work and earning an honest living are not exactly embraced.
Some economists blame chronic black teen unemployment on discrimination, particularly in an entry-level job market in which employers hire more on the basis of word-of-mouth vs. an open-application process. Discrimination may well be a factor, but a closer look in Milwaukee reveals a tangled web of complex social issues, including lack of life skills and job preparedness, lack of basic reading and math skills and lack of access to transportation to get to places like shopping malls where teenagers often work.

The most crippling hurdle to unemployment for black teens in Milwaukee: Lack of a valid driver's license. Only 26% of black men and women ages 18 to 24 in the city have driver's licenses, compared with 59% of white men and women of the same age, according to an analysis by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment & Training Institute of data from the state Department of Transportation.

"The driver's license is used as proxy for a good employee. As you get older and you don't have a driver's license, it raises a red flag for employers," says John Pawasarat, the Employment & Training Institute's director. "It becomes a screening device sort of like having a high school diploma."

While teenagers must shoulder some of the blame for their predicament - I'm big on personal responsibility - this is a problem that requires a communitywide approach.

There's a frustration and restlessness
that young people in tough urban environments experience
in summer when they don't have work,
particularly black males susceptible to the thug culture.
The underground city economy is alive and well with help from unemployed young people looking for easy money and an economic way out, says Gerard Randall, president and CEO of the Private Industry Council.

"Without work, you just go outside. When you can't get no jobs, you only got one thing to do - hustle on the street," says Karl Logan, 16, a ninth-grader at St. Charles Youth and Family Services, a program that transitions young offenders into the Milwaukee Public Schools system.

How paying taxes in an amount less than what personal security services cost provides a greater benefit:

This is why it's so vital to have the kind of job initiatives like those offered by the Private Industry Council of Milwaukee County and the mayor's office that give kids the guidance and support that they need to connect to jobs. This summer, some 700 young people in the city have gotten employment through the PIC. Moore just completed his orientation. In addition, 450 youth will be employed this summer as part of Mayor Barrett's program.

Tramell Williams, 15, a sophomore at Bay View High School, is one of 40 Milwaukee teens employed through a newly launched conservation program. The program is designed to engage city high school students in work focused on environmental stewardship and conservation. It is sponsored by Johnson Controls Inc. in conjunction with the Student Conservation Association and the PIC.

"A lot of black teenagers come from a harder part of the community. It's good to have experience that can help you in the future," says Williams, who makes $7.50 an hour.

Would you rather pay this kid $7.50/hr to do community cleanup work in his community, or would you rather pay the cleanup, conviction, and incarceration costs when he and his friends come to trash yours? Is there not a more cost-effective way to deal with this looming danger?


More Jobs for Young Black Men: What Will It Take?
by Harry J. Holzer, Center for American Progress
September 2, 2004

Low employment among young black men is very costly – to themselves, to their families and children, and to the nation as a whole. For instance, low employment among men is strongly associated with crime, and at the national level, crime and prisons cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

We now have two million people locked up on any given day in the U.S. – over two-thirds of whom are minority men. By some estimates, nearly 30 percent of all young black men have already been in prison at some point.

When they leave prison, their job problems are generally worse than when they were first locked up. On top of their poor skills, low work experience and substance abuse histories, most employers are now reluctant to hire former offenders – especially black offenders. State laws prohibit them from holding many kinds of jobs or even drivers' licenses. And the young men themselves have very little interest in jobs that offer them nothing but low wages, few benefits or chances for promotion.

Efforts to increase employment and prevent crime among young men must begin with school reforms to improve basic skills. In the high school years, we should link them to the job market through apprenticeships, internships, and the like. Their access to training in community colleges needs to be improved. And job training programs with proven records for out-of-school youth – such as the Job Corps and the Youth Service Corps – should be expanded.

While these policies will cost some public (and private) resources, doing nothing costs far more. We were willing to invest billions in the employment of low-income women in the 1990s. It is time to do the same for low-income young men.

While I've looked at two Midwestern cities - Rockford, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin - and one Southern State - Georgia - this is a national problem - as San Bernardino, California testifies. The entire nation is facing this crisis as our jobs leave the country for foreign nations where the wages are so much less.

But nothing is being done. As the Northeastern University Report summarizes:

[T]he extraordinary deterioration in the employment situation of the nation’s teens has not been addressed by the Bush administration, the U.S. Congress, or either national political party.

It's such a pressing issue that even Neo-Confidence Man Extraordinaire - Paul Wolfowitz, head of the World Bank - said in a letter to G8 leaders:

We can work to lift millions from poverty, boost developing country income, improve global market access and reduce taxpayer and consumer costs for all – or allow the whole effort to collapse, with harm to everyone.”

'Everyone' is defined as those receiving US government farming subsidies, few of which are the much-vaunted family farmer.

Wolfie continues:

The world’s poorest people, the 1.2 billion living on less than $1 a day, are counting on your good intentions being transformed into decisive action... with time running out, our collective efforts can make the difference.”

Only to protect the already wealthy. Paul Krugman sees the possibilities - and the eventual 'realistic' outcome:

Can anything be done to spread the benefits of a growing economy more widely? Of course. A good start would be to increase the minimum wage, which in real terms is at its lowest level in half a century.
But don’t expect this administration or this Congress
to do anything to limit the growing concentration of income.
Sometimes I even feel sorry for these people and their apologists, who are prevented from acknowledging that inequality is a problem by both their political philosophy and their dependence on financial support from the wealthy. That leaves them no choice but to keep insisting that ordinary Americans — who have, in fact, been bypassed by economic growth — just don’t understand how well they’re doing.

And that would include our wrong-wing friends on this blog.

There used to be an automotive ad which said, "Pay me now - or pay me later!" Such a statement screams at the world's wealthy as they march blindly with faces averted, deaf to all but the the anthem of personal greed. But they should think about this for a moment - once they are settled within the walls of their domestic castles, who is going to protect them when the poor come to collect their due?

Only then will they learn the lessons that the French Monarchy learned, and in the same manner - the hard way, when the walls come tum'blin' down.

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