Poverty & Wealth

Georgia's War over Charter Schools Heads to the Ballot

(Flickr/knittymarie)
For months, the Georgia Legislature has served as a key battleground for the charter-schools debate. Now the fight goes to the voters, who will ultimately decide the fate of a constitutional amendment to allow "state-chartered" schools over the objection of local school boards. The measure, which creates a state charter-school commission to approve charters rejected by local school boards, became a major focal point of the legislative session. Wausau Daily Herald broke down the thousands of dollars that lobbyists spent on meals and gifts to woo state lawmakers to their side, which verge on the ridiculous. For instance, the American Federation for Children, advocating for the measure, "paid $75 for frames for photos of state lawmakers with former Braves pitcher John Smoltz." The House passed the measure in March, but it stalled in the Senate. It was only on Monday that four Democrats chose to support the measure , giving it more than the two-thirds it needed. Now advocates and...

Texans Fight Back Against Cuts

(Flickr/WeNews)
It's hard to overstate just how dire the situation is around women's health care in Texas. The state has the third highest rate of cervical cancer in the country and one in four women are uninsured. After cutting family-planning funding by around two-thirds last legislative session, conservative lawmakers are now standing by their decision to cut off Planned Parenthood from the state's Women's Health Program, a move that ended $35 million in federal funding. (Here's a timeline of the fight .) Governor Rick Perry, who bragged about the decision at the recent CPAC conference, has said he'll find the money to keep the program—while still barring Planned Parenthood. No one seems to know exactly where he'll find the money, given that the state has already underfunded Medicaid by $4 billion last session. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood, which serves 40 percent of the 130,000 who rely on the Women's Health Program, has already had to shut down more than a dozen clinics . Non-Planned...

Wall Street Agonistes

(Flickr/Matthew Knott)
So the op-ed of the day is "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs" in The New York Times , by an executive named Greg Smith, explaining that he's leaving the firm after 12 years because its culture—which previously "revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients"—has devolved into a single-minded focus on (gasp!) making money . Who would have imagined? After all, we're talking about the firm Matt Taibbi memorably called "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." This comes on the heels of yesterday's blog post of the day, called "Why I Left Google," by James Whittaker, saying much the same thing, that all that "Don't Be Evil" stuff has left Google, which since Eric Schmidt departed as CEO in favor of co-founder Larry Page has become nothing more than a firm that wants to (gasp again!) make money. The first (and perhaps correct) response to this is to...

Are You Eating Fish Caught By Slaves?

(Flickr/sarahalaskaphotographs)
According to sociologist Kevin Bales, who founded and directs the new abolition group Free the Slaves , an estimated 27 million people are enslaved around the world today—more than were ever enslaved at any single time in history. The United Nation's International Labour Organization estimates are a more modest 12.3 million —which is still a shocking number of people forced to labor against their will, unable to walk away, for no compensation. Much of the reporting on this phenomenon has been on women forced to work in the sex trades. But the U.S. State Department reports that many more people are enslaved in far more ordinary endeavors: mining coltrane, growing cotton, domestic servitude, and fishing in the south Pacific. Ben Skinner , whom I'm honored to call my colleague at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, is the foremost reporter on the particulars of this horror. His book A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face With Modern Slavery , offered an in-depth look at both...

Occupy's Return From Hibernation

The movement will next take on foreclosures.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
As winter fades, the Occupy Wall Street movement is heating up again. But don’t expect the same focus on physical encampments and rowdy protests. While the blood of the 99 percent is still boiling at the injustice of growing inequality, in organizing meetings and workgroups, cooler heads are prevailing. This is Occupy 2.0—the mainstreaming of momentum. From my conversations with Occupy organizers and supporters, my sense is that the main thrust of organizing energy and attention will go toward Occupy Our Homes — a coalition of Occupy activists joining with existing grassroots groups to support families that are facing foreclosure or have been evicted by big banks. Prioritizing Occupy Our Homes is great choice for two reasons. First, the foreclosure crisis is immense and growing. Despite the recent mortgage settlement with state attorneys general that will grant 750,000 foreclosed-upon families a whopping $2,000 each (!), 4.2 million families have already been foreclosed upon during...

Where Was the Outrage Over Texas's Sonogram Law?

(AP Photo/Richmond Times Dispatch/Bob Brown)
Pro-choice advocates around the country cheered Wednesday, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew support for a pre-abortion sonogram bill . The bill had risen to national attention, even earning a spot on The Daily Show. Critics focused on a particularly disturbing detail of the measure—most women having abortions have them early in the pregnancy, too early for the usual "jelly on the belly" ultrasound. So the bill mandated transvaginal sonograms, in which a probe would be stuck inside a woman's vagina and she would be offered a chance to see the fetus before she could terminate the pregnancy. "During the entire wand-forcibly-inserted-in-your-most-private-area experience, you still have complete and total control over which way your head is turned," The Daily Show's Jon Stewart told his guests. The focus from national media, social media, and bloggers all likely helped to force McDonnell into changing his position. At the same time many protested the Virginia effort, Texas this...

Bare Minimum Wage

Big business lobbyists work to prevent any rise in workers' paychecks.

(Flickr/wbeem)
The federal minimum for an hourly wage was $3.35 in 1982 and now it’s $7.25, up 120 percent. Inflation, meanwhile, has climbed during that period by 135 percent. Eight states, including New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, are considering legislation to boost the base wage. Advocates say that such state measures are fair and make good economic sense: Putting more money in the hands of workers means more demand—good news for small businesses struggling to overcome poor sales . Then there’s politics. More than two-thirds of Americans favor raising the hourly wage to at least $10. You’d think it would be a win-win for state officials, but it’s not. While truly small businesses like restaurants and retail shops have said in the past that raising the wage will have little or no effect on labor costs , large corporations that pay minimum wage, like fast-food chains, have enormous incentive to propagandize against any increase. One of the most active in the propaganda industry has been the...

The New Freedom Riders

A multiracial group of young people are fighting to end the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program.

(Flickr/Tim Drivas)
Two things struck William Rivera about the 30 protesters who, after an hour of chanting and speechifying to cameras, cops, and the curious, were now marching deeper into the Bronx on an overcast January afternoon. The first was that somebody was finally speaking out against the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, a tactic in which officers pat down and question people on the street without a warrant. The second was that a lot of those somebodies were white. “Hell, yeah, I’m surprised that white people come out here fighting for us,” says Rivera, 24. Police, he says, stop him three or four times a week, and he now automatically assumes the “shirt up” position whenever officers cross his path. “I know it’s not normal or right that I accept that, but it’s how we have to live,” Rivera says of his South Bronx neighborhood, where talking back to cops, he adds, is not an option. “Maybe if the government or the police see their own people helping out, maybe they’ll pull back...

Republican Haves and Have Nots

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Republicans have reached their 1984. I don’t mean this in the Orwellian sense, though Republicans have more than their share of Orwellian impulses. Rather, I mean that the kind of divisions that have characterized Democratic presidential primaries since the 1984 contest between Walter Mondale and Gary Hart have now popped up in GOP primaries as well: This year, Republicans are dividing along lines of class. According to data compiled by the Wall Street Journal , in all the states that have voted thus far, Mitt Romney has won 46 percent of the counties with incomes higher than the statewide median , and just 15 percent of those with incomes beneath the statewide median. Rick Santorum, by contrast, has won 39 percent of the counties with higher income, and 46 percent of those with lower income. These numbers—a product of the kind of residential-sorting-by-class that Charles Murray documents in his new book, “ Coming Apart ”—reinforce exit polling that shows Romney’s strongest supporters...

No Such Thing as an Arizona Free Lunch

(Flickr/USDAgov)
Subsidized school lunches always seemed like a government program most people could get behind. The federal program gives food to low-income children. Giving food to children who live in poverty—hard to argue with that idea. In 2010, I was covering a state legislative race out in East Texas. A Tea Party candidate explained to me that free school lunches are bad for society, because were it not for the government program, parents would provide food for their kids on their own. If the kids still couldn't get food, then he believed churches and charities should pick up the slack, rather than the government. But sadly for my Tea Party friend, in Texas, free lunches may be one of the few federal programs that hasn't stirred up too much controversy. Nationally, however, there's been no shortage of criticism of the program, particularly last year as Congress considered a proposal that would make meals more nutritious. The legislative fight soon became about which agriculture sectors had the...

Hidden Gems in the Mortgage Deal

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
In the end, as at the start, Thursday’s deal between five big banks, the Department of Justice, and the attorneys general of 49 states came down to New York, the center of mortgage securitization and securities misrepresentation, and California, the center of mortgage mis-origination. Those states’ attorneys general—New York’s Eric Schneiderman and California’s Kamala Harris, both progressive Democrats elected in 2010—weren’t about the give the banks a pass. Which is why it wasn’t until two a.m. Thursday that the deal was finalized. Schneiderman’s chief concern was to preserve and enhance his and other law enforcement agencies’ ability to investigate the banks. Harris’s foremost interest was to secure the best deal for the hundreds of thousands of California homeowners who were struggling to make the payments on their devalued homes. Together, they compelled the banks and the Obama administration to come up with a better deal than the one that the banks and the Justice Department had...

Greece's Desperate Measures

A budget agreement reduces the minimum wage and cuts pensions.

(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
After days of intense negotiations during which its membership in the eurozone seemed to hang by a thread, Greece finally reached an agreement today on the measures that will accompany the new loan package from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund. The measures agreed on are draconian. They include a 22 percent cut in the monthly minimum wage, reducing earnings from 751 euros to 586 euros per month. For people under 25, it will be even lower, down to 511 euros, and any increase before 2016 is ruled out. In addition, further reductions to the minimum wage may take place in July. Meanwhile, all automatic wage increases that are included in collective-bargaining agreements will be frozen until unemployment falls below 10 percent (it is currently at 20.9 percent). Employers are also considerably strengthened in their bargaining position vis-à-vis the unions through changes in arbitration regulations and a contraction of the time period (from six to three months)...

Sam Brownback's Anti-Poor Agenda

Flickr/VictoryNH
The GOP presidential primary has offered some odd debates on who cares about the "very poor" and whether there should be a "safety net" or a "trampoline" to help people get out of poverty. Meanwhile, in Kansas, it seems Governor Sam Brownback is hoping to dig a bigger hole for the poor fall into. Between his tax plans and his approaches to school funding, Brownback's agenda overtly boosts the wealthy and makes things harder for the poor. While many liberals speculate this to be a secret goal, Brownback is hardly making a secret of his agenda. Currently, the Kansas Legislature is examining Brownback's plan to redesign education funding. The plan removes extra dollars for students who are more expensive to educate —those who must learn English or come from challenging backgrounds. Instead of providing funding based on the actual costs of education, Kansas would allow counties to raise property taxes and keep the revenue. That's great for wealthy districts with high property values and...

What It Feels Like to Be Poor

Katherine Boo chronicles the intimate realities of poverty in an Indian slum.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. By Katherine Boo, Random House, 256 pages, $27.00 I n 2004, shortly after winning a MacArthur genius grant for her reporting on poverty as a New Yorker staff writer, an audibly nervous Katherine Boo told an NPR interviewer, “If I have any gifts at all, one of them is invisibility.” She was talking about a quality of her work: the way she strives to witness her subjects’ lives so intimately it can seem as if the subjects don’t know she’s observing them. Boo’s byline itself hasn’t appeared in the magazine since 2009. From November 2007 until last March, she was in Annawadi, a slum near the Mumbai airport. Her tightly woven first book about a core of that neighborhood’s struggling residents, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity , offers a rebuke to official reports and dry statistics on the global poor. “Annawadi sat two hundred yards off the Sahar Airport Road,” Boo writes...

Mitt Romney: Liberal Economist

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Say you’re a presidential candidate shifting to the general election after your place as the party's nominee seems firmly settled. The entire logic of your candidacy has been built on business experience as the answer to an economic downturn, and you plan to assail the community-organizer president for not understanding how the private sector works. A high rate of unemployment is your friend. Voters will be dissatisfied enough with the general state of their lives that you should easily waltz past the incumbent president without having to do the tricky work of laying out your own vision for the country. Except, after a year of laying the groundwork for this sort of campaign, the economy slowly begins to recover. Things are certainly not in good shape, but the trend lines are beginning to move in the right direction and people are once again hopeful. That's the unenviable situation Mitt Romney has found himself. He is on the verge of dismissing his Republican opponents, and a string of...

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