Twenty-five years ago, the term “gentrification” was largely unfamiliar to the average American. Today, you can’t talk about cities, race, rent or overpriced coffee without bringing it up. It’s a hard phenomenon to measure, yet most agree its harbingers include the rapid influx of young, well-to-do white people into once low-income neighborhoods, often in the inner city, usually populated by people of color. The rest is history. Said people show up, the area is flooded with resources, property value goes up and many former residents are forced to move out. We’ve seen such systems before, those which literally move poor people around, in and out of their homes, at the behest of the wealthy. It’s usually called “colonialism.” And it’s not an inaccurate comparison. This dynamic came to a head last week when a group of Dropbox employees in San Francisco’s notoriously gentrifying Mission District tried to kick a group of local kids off a soccer field they had reserved.
What is it like to be a billionaire in the United States? According to billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins, wealth is a burden made “unbearable” by people of lesser incomes when they demand equality. That was the narrative published by the corporate news machine at the Wall Street Journal. Taking time away from maintaining the world’s largest luxury yacht, Perkins compared progressive movements seeking social and economic justice to the horrific persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany. Sensible people were quick to denounce such ludicrous comparisons with the Holocaust. But Perkins’s fellow oligarchs continue endorsing the narrative of a “hard-working” class of wealthy people “under siege” by a “lazy” class of poor people. According to billionaires like Sam Zell and Wilbur Ross, they are being targeted by poor people jealous of what they have and incapable of working as hard as they do.
For me, this story began at Lake Superior, a place that is sacred to the Anishinaabeg, the source of a fifth of the world’s fresh water. I rode my horse with my family, my community and our allies, from that place, Rice Lake Refuge, to Rice Lake, on my own reservation. Those two lakes are the mother lode of the world’s wild rice. Those two lakes—in fact, the entire region—are threatened by a newly proposed pipeline of fracked oil from what is known as the Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota, from the homeland of those Arikara people. The pipeline proposed is called the Sandpiper. We rode, but we did not stop. Driven to go to the source, we traveled to North Dakota. That is this story. Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara territory lies along the northern Missouri River, a land of gentle rolling hills, immense prairie diversity and the memory of 50 million buffalo.
The World Food Prize is being awarded this week at a glitzy event that draws international dignitaries to Iowa and showcases Norman Borlaug, the Iowa native who founded the Green Revolution. Also being awarded are the Food Sovereignty Prize and Strong Feisty Woman Award, which honor grassroots efforts to fight hunger. These other awards also challenge the premise of the World Food Prize, with its reliance on high-yield, genetically modified seeds. These groups, which include Occupy the World Food Prize, say the GMO model can actually increase hunger, and the goal should be to make it easier for people to produce food. The difference in approaches is well illustrated by the people being honored.
As part of the Our Land Our Business campaign to abolish the exploitative Doing Business Rankings, actions to protest the World Bank were held around the world on October 10. In some places where the security state is harsh such as in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and DRCongo, the actions revolved around social media and teach-ins. In London, England and India, protesters held signs outside of World Bank offices. A large protest was held in Washington, DC close to the World Bank Headquarters where the annual meeting was being held. About 75 protesters gathered at Rawlins Park for a spirited rally which was emceed by Kymone Freeman of Washington’s We Act Radio.
Activists impersonating the World Bank released a fraudulent press release yesterday announcing a plan to abolish the institution by 2030, in line with goals to end extreme poverty. This claim is entirely false and in no way represents the views, policies, or intentions of the World Bank Group. “This sort of childish prank helps no-one,” said Pedro Alba, Vice President for Budget, Strategic Planning & Performance Review. “The World Bank Group has a proud history of fostering the economic growth of nations over many decades. We needn’t tie our own jobs to amorphous global goals to prove our commitment to eradicating the poorest of the poor. We encourage all media outlets to ignore this attempt to discredit us.” The fake announcement targets the #EndPoverty2030 campaign, a hopeful and pragmatic vision designed to engage the public that is in no way meant to suggest a binding commitment.
The World Bank is a ‘development’ organization that distributes money it makes from Wall Street investments and grants from wealthy nations to less-wealthy nations. In order to get these loans, nations have to score well on the Bank’s Doing Business rankings. Scoring well usually means making their legal and economic environments as friendly as possible to multinational corporations (i.e., loosening regulations). These loans end up incentivizing unethical/environmentally-destructive policies and undermine the ability of smaller, local producers to survive. Call in to the numbers above tomorrow and demand answers from the World Bank’s representatives. Together, we will expose the Doing Business ratings system as the threat to families, farms, communities.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was working towards a guaranteed basic income for all when he was killed. Wealth inequality, neoliberalism, the actions of the Federal Reserve, along with the greed and theft of the global elite have made the call for a guaranteed basic income for all even more urgent in 2014 than in the 1960s. David DeGraw, interviewed here by Dennis Trainor, Jr. of Acronym TV claims the alternative is a violent revolution. In his new book, The Economics of Revolution, DeGraw writes: “Having that much wealth consolidated within a mere 1% of the population, while a record number of people toil in poverty and debt, is a crime against humanity. For example, it would only cost 0.5% of the 1%’s wealth to eliminate poverty nationwide. Also consider that at least 40% of the 1%’s accounted for wealth is sitting idle. That’s an astonishing $13 trillion in wealth hoarded away, unused.”
On October 10th, join arms with us in a global stand for our future. We will turn our furious love on the World Bank; that critical link in the chain between Wall Street and the “developing world”. All over the world, from Dakar to Washington DC, from Mexico City to Delhi, we will be gathering, demonstrating, speaking, writing, exposing. We will do everything in our considerable power to stand against the World Bank’s insane, suicidal prescription for development that puts the growth of corporate power above all else; that ignores the truth of how the world is fed by ordinary people on small farms, not corporations; and that denies the science of how our fields, our rivers, and even our bodies are being poisoned by industrial farming whose only true beneficiaries are the 1%.
Income inequality isn’t the only gap the U.S. needs to mind these days; the country is amassing a sad and expensive discrepancy between what its poor and rich eat. America’s wealthiest people are eating better, while its poorest are eating worse, concludes a new study published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, which measured the quality of diets among American adults between 1999 and 2010. “Socioeconomic status was associated strongly with dietary quality, and the gaps in dietary quality between higher and lower SES [socioeconomic status] widened over time.” the study said. On the one hand, the analysis found that the American diet, on the whole, improved during the observed period. “Our study suggests that the overall dietary quality of the U.S. population steadily improved from 1999 through 2010,” the study said, suggesting that Americans are likely responding to recent nutrition education efforts. That’s consistent with a number of macroeconomic food trends, including America’s shift away from soda.
In Orange County, Calif., the probation department’s “supervised electronic confinement program,” which monitors the movements of low-risk offenders, has been outsourced to a private company, Sentinel Offender Services. The company, by its own account, oversees case management, including breath alcohol and drug-testing services, “all at no cost to county taxpayers.” Sentinel makes its money by getting the offenders on probation to pay for the company’s services. Charges can range from $35 to $100 a month. The company boasts of having contracts with more than 200 government agencies, and it takes pride in the “development of offender funded programs where any of our services can be provided at no cost to the agency.” Sentinel is a part of the expanding universe of poverty capitalism. In this unique sector of the economy, costs of essential government services are shifted to the poor.
Traditional public housing is out of favor and substantially out of funds. It’s bureaucratic, concentrates the very poor, and is literally crumbling due to a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Yet despite real catastrophes—such as Chicago’s bleak, crime-ridden Robert Taylor Homes, dynamited over a decade ago—public housing provides low-rent apartments to some 2.2 million people, and much of it is reasonably well run by local authorities. For half a century, presidents, legislators and housing developers have sought alternatives, involving supposedly more efficient private market incentives. However, these alternatives, too, have been far from scandal-free. The Johnson-era Section 236 program (named for part of the housing code) gave private developers tax benefits and direct payments to build low-rent housing, underwritten by subsidized thirty-year mortgages. But then, as the mortgages started being paid off in the 1990s, many developers kicked out poor tenants and converted the buildings to middle-class and even luxury apartments—taking low-rent units that had been built and maintained with taxpayer money and removing them from the pool of affordable housing.
Many of us who work in the criminal justice system have come to understand the profound connection between poverty and mass incarceration. Put simply, individuals with criminal histories – even minor ones – find it exceedingly difficult to enter the workforce and provide for their families. One pragmatic response to this problem is to incarcerate fewer people, particularly in local jails. While much of the public debate and academic discourse focuses on the challenges of reducing federal and state prison enrollments, mass incarceration is a problem with a significant local dimension too. As of June 30, 2013, an estimated 731,208 persons in the U.S. were confined in local jails; a much larger total of 11.7 million persons were imprisoned in local jails at some point over the preceding year. More than 6 out of 10 of those jailed in the U.S. have yet to be convicted of any crime. Indeed, many of those held in pretrial detention are actually eligible for release yet they cannot afford to post bail – often nominal amounts of money. And contrary to popular thinking, the overwhelming majority of criminal prosecutions concern relatively minor offenses. In New York City, three out of four cases that make it to criminal court are misdemeanors – a total of more than 235,000 cases in 2012.
On the surface, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., was about local police using deadly force on an unarmed young man. But on a deeper level, it reflected the increasing poverty and economic decline that affects ethnic communities all over America. Despite rosy reports in the media about the end of the national foreclosure crisis and the recession that followed, all is not well in our inner cities and suburbs with largely minority populations, like Ferguson. The foreclosure crisis was hard on many Americans, but it was a disaster for communities of color, including the citizens of Ferguson. Half of Ferguson Homes Underwater In the zip code that encompasses Ferguson, half (49 percent) of homes were underwater in 2013, meaning the home’s market value was below the mortgage’s outstanding balance. This condition (also called “negative equity”) is often a first step toward loan default or foreclosure, according to the recent report, “Underwater America,” from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley.