Poverty & Wealth

Thanks, But No Thanksgiving

Employees and consumers fight back against "Black Friday," which increasingly starts on the holiday itself.

It may feel as traditional as leftover turkey, but it’s only been since the 1960s that retailers have named the day after Thanksgiving, when bargain shoppers hunt for discount goods like big game, "Black Friday." But this year, black could just refer to the pall cast on store employees’ holidays, which have been increasingly cut short in an effort to start the sales earlier and earlier. In Nebraska, rumors of a Thanksgiving midnight opening at the Omaha North Target store where Anthony Hardwick has worked for the past three years first circulated on Facebook. By the time store managers confirmed that employees were scheduled to start their shifts at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, the part-time parking attendant had taken matters into his own hands. “There was a sense of inevitability about the whole thing,” Hardwick said. “Initially, I thought I’d like to start a petition to give to corporate to show how many team members and customers are against this.” Hardwick argued that all hourly and...

Ivy League Brain Drain

At Yale, OWS-inspired protesters target recruiters for the country's major finance firms.

Joseph Breen Student protesters and attendees—both from Yale—at a Morgan Stanley recruiting event. S he was tall, blond, standing in the lobby of a swanky hotel in downtown New Haven. She came for the recruitment seminar by Morgan Stanley, the banking and investment firm. Like the other Yale University students who attended, she came to learn more about starting a lucrative career on Wall Street. And like most of the people I interviewed that evening, she seemed afraid. "Thanks for talking with me, Ally," I said. "Can I have your last name?” "I don't know if I can say," she said. "I'll be right back." She never returned. Perhaps it was all the noise outside. To get to the hotel, Ally and dozens of other would-be recruits had to get by a phalanx of demonstrators, also from Yale, who were protesting the Morgan Stanley event. They were raising awareness of what they call the "brain drain" of American society. While Yale graduates who become entrepreneurs, artists, teachers, and...

Lies, Damn Lies, and Adoption

Over the past two months, I’ve posted a few items about fraud and corruption in international adoption, a subject I’ve reported on extensively . Of the many articles I wrote on the topic, one story in particular broke my heart—and illuminated how such frauds occur. I’ve just heard, again, from one of the principals in the situation, and I’d like to post his letter. Before I do so, here’s a summary of—and links to—the articles that offer background. In brief: In 1998, Americans adopted 29 children from a town in Sierra Leone whose birth families now say they were stolen. At the time, the Americans believed they were saving desperate orphans from a brutal civil war. But the birth families have now testified that they were offered a free education for their children and were never told that those children would leave the country—much less that the children would be permanently taken away by foreigners. In reporting that story, I ended up talking to people at every stage of the adoption...

Now What?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
E arly Tuesday morning, surprised by a violent police raid on Zuccotti Park, dozens of Occupy Wall Street activists stayed and accepted arrest, a few chained themselves to a tree (which was cut down by police), and others fled, though not all fast enough to escape tear gas. Later that morning, protesters returned expecting the city would yield to a temporary restraining order allowing their camp, but police ignored the order. Tuesday evening, defeated in court, occupiers returned to Liberty Plaza, filing in one or two at a time past watchful police. There were new signs (“Curfew 10 PM”), new rules (no lying down), and a newly urgent question: What’s next? For the two months since its birth, Occupy Wall Street -- and the international movement it’s inspired -- has been defined and driven forward through confrontations. Just as earlier threats to its existence helped make “Liberty Plaza” a teeming village and a household name, the latest attack could galvanize and inspire –- and keep...

Why We Need Occupy Wall Street

AP Photo/John Minchillo
Today—the same day that New York’s Mayor Bloomberg had his cops clear Zuccotti Park—Richard Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, called for breaking up America’s biggest banks, calling them “too dangerous to permit.” Also today, Warren Buffett, in an interview posted on the Business Wire of Berkshire Hathaway, his company, continued his criticism of American plutocracy. “Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won,” Buffett said. “It’s been a rout. You have seen a period where American workers generally have gone no place, and where the really super rich as a group increased their incomes five for one in this rarified atmosphere.” All of which suggests that Occupy Wall Street has already been a stunning success in changing the nation’s public discourse. Not that Fisher and Buffett hadn’t criticized our economic policies well before OWS set up shop in Zuccotti Park, but they are now not just rich and powerful voices crying out...

Exit Berlusconi, Enter Uncertainty

AP Photo
It was a busy weekend in Italian politics. The Chamber of Deputies passed the latest round of austerity measures, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned, and President Giorgio Napolitano mandated Mario Monti, a respected economist and former EU commissioner, to form of a new government of national unity. The backdrop to all this frenzied activity was the country’s growing liquidity crisis: As Italy, the world’s third largest bond market, saw its borrowing costs rise to unsustainable levels in recent weeks, the rest of the planet could only watch in numb horror, as if observing a slow-motion car crash. On Monday, as Monti was in talks with the political parties for the formation of the new cabinet—made up almost exclusively of unelected technocrats—the main index of the Milan stock exchange opened with a 1 percent jump. By the end of the session, though, it was down 2 percent as were the main indices in Spain (-2.2 percent), Germany (-1.2 percent), and France (-1.3 percent). The...

Generation Y Bother

Young adults entering the workforce today think they'll be worse off than their parents—they're not wrong.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The recession officially ended nearly two and a half years ago, in June 2009, but for the generation of young adults who’ve been trying to take their first steps into adulthood, its effects could shape the future for decades to come. Why is this recession different from other sharp downturns? The standard economic indicators fail to tell the whole story. Yes, unemployment rates for young people remain at the record-high levels they hit at the Great Recession’s peak in 2007, but this is typical for young workers, who tend to be the last group that recovers after a recession—and tend to feel its effects far after the economy has rebounded. The young baby boomers who bore the brunt of the 1981-1982 recession had lower earnings even 15 years after the economy recovered, and during that downturn, the economy only lost half as many jobs as during the Great Recession. For youth entering the workforce today, not only has the sour economy delayed their careers; they are entering a workforce...

Are They Orphans?

Beware of overseas orphanages seeking donations. If you're not careful, you may become the victim of an orphanage scam—in which a savvy entrepreneur in a poor country hustles up some children so that he or she can ask developed-world humanitarians for money for the children's support. In some of the notorious cases , the orphanage director pockets the money while the children are left to starve or sold for sex. Few people know that they may be underwriting kidnapping or other modes of defrauding local families out of their children. In other cases, the traffickers put the children—who are neither abandoned nor orphaned—up for international adoption, which can bring in astonishing fees. One version of the orphanage scam has just been uncovered in India by the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation. Several years ago, a now-infamous child-trafficker traveled through Nepal's Humla province, asking families to pay him to take their children to boarding schools in Kathmandu. Instead,...

Bunga Bunga and the Bond Market

It’s clear that the markets don’t want Silvio Berlusconi to continue as Italy’s prime minister. They were cheered yesterday, briefly, when word got around that Berlusconi was stepping down, then subsided into their accustomed grumpiness when he denied it. (We know this by following the interest rates on Italy’s bonds, which are soaring, save during the brief moment when it was thought Berlusconi’s departure was nigh.) But the markets’ moment may be at hand. The leaders of two of Europe’s Mediterranean governments are either hanging by a thread (Berlusconi) or have already gone (Greece’s George Papandreou), unable to reconcile the demands of their people not to have their lives decimated by austerity with the markets’ demands for precisely such austerity. Such a moment marks a triumph of the market over democracy, queasy as I am to identify Berlusconi with democracy. After all, it was Berlusconi who brought the logic of the market, and of marketing, into Italian politics, controlling...

The Kids Aren't All Right

Don’t miss The Washington Monthly ’s article Taxing the Kindness of Strangers , in which a couple of bleeding-heart, middle-class liberals take in a foster care child—and discover the exhaustion and humiliations of trying to get the services the child needs. In a way that we never really anticipated, welcoming Sophia into our home led us into the wilderness of red tape and frustration navigated every day by low-income parents who struggle to raise children with the critical help of government programs … It’s a major bureaucratic process to remove a child from her home and family. The state insures the child, pays for daycare, investigates the claims of abuse, and retains legal custody, but it cannot actually put a baby to bed at night. And so, on the other side of this most intimate public-private partnership are usually people like us, left alone with a stranger’s child and a garbage bag full of clothes and wondering what’s going to happen next. And what happens next depends, to a...

One Big Question

Last Thursday, I attended a conclave, sponsored by the Frederich Ebert Foundation, of about 20 American liberals (chiefly economists and union representatives) and 20 German social democrats (economists, unionists, Social Democratic Party officials, and a couple of stray businessmen) to see what we could learn from each country’s respective economic, social, and political arrangements. Early on, one German friend posed a question to us Americans: “Where’s your [i.e., America’s] learning curve?” What he meant was that Germany and much of continental Europe had relearned certain key lessons after the financial meltdown of 2008 and its calamitous aftermath that America had apparently failed to process—chiefly, the need for an active and resourceful government capable of regulating markets and boosting the economy when the private sector is flat on its back. To be sure, with Northern Europe (Germany in the lead) currently promoting austerity to Southern Europe (Greece above all), it’s not...

Q&A: Justice for Black Farmers

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
On October 27, after a 15-year fight, a federal judge approved a $1.25 billion settlement to black farmers discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 1997, hundreds of farmers filed a class-action suit, in the case Pigford v. Glickman , alleging pervasive discrimination of black farmers by the USDA between 1981 and 1997. For decades, the department, which regularly gives loans to farmers to keep their business afloat, had refused loans to black farmers while awarding greater loans to white farmers of equal standing. Because of an inability to receive loans, many black farmers were forced to forfeit their farms or operate on a smaller scale. In 1999, the judge demanded a settlement for those with claims. More than 40,000 farmers with documented claims joined the suit following the first decision, necessitating a revisiting of the case approved in the 2008 farm bill, which ultimately awarded $100 million toward the settlement. In November 2010,...

A Model of Health

http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/6127242068/sizes/l/
I n 2005, when Local 6 won its first union contract at the boutique Time Hotel on West 49th Street, Angel Aybar, then a 21-year-old room attendant responsible for checking, cleaning, and restocking minibars, not only got a raise from $10 to $16.50 an hour; he became a member of a uniquely effective health plan. The New York hotel workers’ plan provides comprehensive coverage at its own health centers, including full dental and optical care, with no deductibles or co-pays and a core philosophy that emphasizes primary care, wellness, and prevention. Aybar even credits the health plan for his marriage. “My wife and I had been sweethearts since junior high,” Aybar says. “She was working, and they were taking over $100 a month out of her paycheck for her health insurance. I guess it’s not very romantic of me to say this, but it was the union health plan that pushed us over the edge to get married. She was getting chronic headaches. They kept telling her it was just stress. Her first visit...

Union Busters Going Down

Polls for a referendum on an anti-union law in Ohio indicate repeal.

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Tomorrow, Ohioans will vote on Issue 2, a referendum to repeal an anti-union law that threatens to destroy public-sector unions in the state. Last spring, the governor and majority-Republican legislature passed Senate Bill 5, restricting public unions' ability to strike, collectively bargain with employers, and collect dues. In response, state Democrats and unions put the law on the ballot. Going into tomorrow's vote, it looks like labor will pull it off. A new survey from Public Policy Polling shows 59 percent of voters plan to reject SB 5 on Tuesday, while only 36 percent of voters will vote to approve it. It would be an immediate victory for workers' wages and job stability. As a crucial swing state, the win for labor also bodes well for Democrats in the 2012 elections. The Latest Ohio Set to Vote Big Against Kasich's Anti-Union Bill Talking Points Memo Democrats hatch new jobs bill plan Politico Greek Leaders Reach Deal to Form a New Government The New York Times As crisis spreads...

A Sign for OWS

We learn from Samuel Brittan’s column in the Financial Times today that when Winston Churchill was the U.K.’s chancellor of the exchequer in 1925, he wrote in a letter to a British Treasury official that he’d like to see “finance less proud and industry more secure.”

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