Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finally a published author

For the academic, peer-review publication is one of the primary badges of honor, as well as a fundamental way we contribute to knowledge. Very different from regular publishing, we don't get paid for the labor, and it is very hard work, since experts in the field (our "peers") rigorously scour the document for errors. The final product is believed to be the best contribution to scientific knowledge that we can create, and thus gets the label of "peer-reviewed."

Later this month I will have my first peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of Biblical Literature. (Townsley, Jeramy. 2011. “Paul, the Goddess Religions, and Queer Sects: Romans 1:23-28.” Journal of Biblical Literature 130(4): 707-728). I knew the creation process would be arduous--it took me 15 years to create the document, and was rejected probably 8 times by various journals, each time suggesting major revisions. After each revision the paper was stronger, and Journal of Biblical Literature is typically considered the top journal in the field, so the time was well spent. However, I wasn't aware how long the process would take once the article was accepted--almost 2 years from the time I originally submitted the article to them, and 15 months from the time the article was officially accepted!! Both articles are unique in that they approach a an analysis of Romans 1 through the lens of sociology, specifically, findings of the field of "sociology of sexuality."

In the process of doing the research for this article, I collected enough data to create a 2nd article as well, which has tentatively been accepted by the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, again, the top journal of the field. It is a more 'generalist' journal rather than specifically 'Biblical Studies,' which is what JBL does. The process of being accepted by JAAR also appears to be a very long process, since it has been over a year between the time I first submitted the article and its tentative acceptance. If my experience with JBL is instructive, it may be another 2 years before the "part 2" article appears in JAAR. Whereas "part 2" is a review of the history up until Paul wrote Romans and the social context at the time of Paul's writing, including a linguistic analysis, "part 2" is a review of the history of the usage of Romans 1 by the church after Paul through the 1st millennium.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Distributed Leadership: The Orpheus Process

The model below I have copy/pasted from Seifter at http://www.pfdf.org/knowledgecenter/journal.aspx?ArticleID=110 . It describes a model of distributed leadership as developed by the NYC Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

1. Put power in the hands of the people doing the work.

In recent years, company leaders have heard a common refrain: organizations that empower their workers with true authority and responsibility can expect better products and services, more satisfied customers, and increased revenue and profits. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that many managers have been slow to give up power, in many cases withholding it altogether. According to a Gallup poll of 1,200 U.S. workers, while 66 percent of respondents reported that their managers asked them to get involved in decision making within their organizations, only 14 percent of these same workers reported that they felt they had actually been given real authority.

According to double-bass player Don Palma, a member since the group's founding in 1972, the difference between working in Orpheus and working in a traditional orchestra is dramatic. Says Palma, "I took one year off from Orpheus at the very beginning and went to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I just hated it. I didn't like to be told what to do all the time, being treated like I wasn't really worth anything other than to be a good soldier and just sit there and do as I was told. I felt powerless to affect things, particularly when they were not going well. I felt frustrated, and there was nothing I could seem to do to help make things better. Orpheus keeps me involved. I have some measure of participation in the direction the music is going to take. I think that's why a lot of us have stayed involved for so long."

Unlike most orchestras, whose conductors wield full and unquestioned authority over the musicians playing under their baton, Orpheus musicians decide for themselves who will lead the group, how a piece of music will be played, who will be invited to join their ranks, and who will represent them on the board of trustees and within management. The group's administrators do not impose their vision on the musicians, and disagreements that cannot be resolved through Orpheus's regular process of discussion and consensus-building are ultimately settled by a vote of all of the members of the orchestra.

2. Encourage individual responsibility for product and quality.

Because Orpheus has no conductor and therefore no single person to take responsibility for the quality of its performances, each member of the orchestra feels a very real and personal responsibility for the group's outcomes. Orpheus gives every individual the opportunity to lead, but it also creates an imperative that everyone pull together. Instead of focusing solely on perfecting their own approach to performance, each musician takes a personal interest in perfecting the performances of their colleagues and the overall sound of the orchestra. It is therefore not uncommon for a violinist to comment on the playing of a flutist, or the timpani player to comment on a cellist's approach to phrasing or bowing. In a regular, conducted orchestra, not only would such crossing of organizational lines be unwelcome, it would be unthinkable.

3. Create clarity of roles.

While leadership within Orpheus is not fixed with any one particular person or position, the organization's members have clear roles in addition to their jobs as musicians, administrators, or members of the board of trustees. For each piece of music, for example, the musicians elect one person to serve as concertmaster, the person appointed to lead the group in rehearsal and performance. Some members of the orchestra serve on the board, others represent the musicians within the group's administration, and still others participate in formal and informal teams. All roles are communicated widely throughout the organization.

4. Foster horizontal teamwork.

Says Peter Drucker, "No knowledge ranks higher than another; each is judged by its contribution to the common task rather than by any inherent superiority or inferiority. Therefore, the modern organization cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team."

Because no one person has all the answers to every question that may arise within the orchestra, Orpheus relies on horizontal teams -- both formal and informal -- to tap the expertise of all of its members. These teams are horizontal because members are not artificially limited to focusing their attention on only very narrow issues or opportunities; members of teams within Orpheus naturally reach across organizational boundaries to obtain input, act on opportunities, solve problems, or make decisions. Says violinist Martha Caplin, "We're all specialists, that's the beginning of the discussion. When I talk to another performer or another musician in the group, it's on an equal level. It's absolutely crucial that we all have that attitude."

Not every team is an effective team.

Leaders should be aware that not every team is an effective team, and they must work to ensure that the members of teams take positive steps to ensure their own effectiveness. John Lubans, deputy university librarian at Duke University, has studied Orpheus's workings, and in a report published in the Duke University Libraries Information Bulletin in 1997, he cites a variety of reasons for why teamwork is effective within the group. He notes that the purpose and mission for the team are clear and understood by each team member; members' team roles are stated, agreed upon, and understood; all members work an equal amount doing real work in the team; members pay attention to how they work together; outcomes drive the purpose of the team; deadlines are stated and respected; teams receive demonstrable support; teams are accountable to the organization and its leaders; and each team knows its interdependence with other teams and does everything to support those other teams. These rules are valid for any team, not just those within Orpheus.

5. Share and rotate leadership

In most organizations leadership is fixed, that is, leadership authority is formally vested in certain positions and not in others. Managers are by definition leaders and workers are expected to be followers. The higher up the organization chart an individual's position resides, the more power he or she wields. Fixing leadership in positions rather than in people wastes the leadership potential within employees whose positions are not a part of the organization's formal leadership hierarchy. This potential is often ignored or discarded, and occasionally punished.

Sharing and rotating leadership among all the orchestra's musicians is the heart and soul of the Orpheus Process. While most orchestras fix leadership authority within one particular position, the conductor, Orpheus takes a different approach. Whenever the orchestra decides to take on a new piece of music, the group appoints one of its members to lead the development of the piece. The leader is selected on the basis of what skills and knowledge he or she brings to the piece -- someone who is expert in baroque music will be selected to lead a Handel selection, someone who is particularly knowledgeable about twentieth century composers will take on a Stravinsky piece. In this way, leadership is shared and rotated among the different members of the group, and the strengths of individual members of the group are brought to the fore.

6. Learn to listen, learn to talk.

The members of Orpheus know the power of communication, and it is the lifeblood of the organization. Not only are members expected to listen to one another's views and opinions, and to respect what is said and the person who said it -- whether or not they agree with what is being said -- members are also expected to talk. But there is a right time and a wrong time to talk. According to Orpheus violinist Eriko Sato, "Fundamentally, I don't think everybody's opinion should be addressed at all times. There are certain places and times for certain things to be said -- the appropriate moment. Everybody knows what's wrong, everybody can feel what's wrong -- but do you have a solution? Do you know how to solve a problem?"

No topic is considered out of bounds for the members of the group, and constructive criticism is always welcome. This freedom of expression is surprising when one realizes that orchestral musicians are trained from an early age specifically not to offer their opinions to the group and instead to defer to the direction of the conductor. Few conductors welcome the suggestions of the musicians working under their baton, most actively discourage them. In Orpheus, two-way communication is expected, fostered, and reinforced almost constantly.

7. Seek consensus (and build creative systems that favor consensus).

As an increasing number and variety of employees become involved in their organizations' decision-making processes, and as organizations become less autocratic and more democratic, achieving consensus on decisions becomes more important. Consensus, which derives from the Latin word for "shared thought," requires a high level of participation and trust among the members of an organization. Employees must be willing to listen to the views of others and to be flexible and willing to compromise on their own positions.

Traditionally, as the importance of a decision increases, the number of people involved in it decreases in direct proportion. An organization's most important decisions are most often made by its top management team, usually without input from line workers. This is most certainly not the case in Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. In Orpheus, the more important the decision to the organization, the more people are involved in it. But involving more people in the process doesn't dilute the final result, it strengthens it. Violinist Ronnie Bauch is quoted in Christopher Hoenig's The Problem Solving Journey saying, "What you get isn't a watered-down, middle-of-the-road kind of interpretation which you could easily imagine -- you know, General Motors decides to interpret music -- but you get interpretations of extraordinary originality."

In an organization such as Orpheus where positional power is minimal, and where leadership is not fixed, the ability of leaders to build consensus and to convince others to support their opinions is paramount. Without consensus, little can be accomplished in the organization.

8. Dedicate passionately to your mission.

Passion is the spark that can make an ordinary organization great -- and a great organization truly exceptional. When employees are passionate about the jobs they do, the organizations they work for, and the customers they serve, there is little that they cannot accomplish.

This passion, however, sometimes boils over, causing more than a few arguments and heated exchanges. According to violist Nardo Poy in The Problem Solving Journey, "There are times in rehearsal, because of the way we work, the intensity, the directness, often we do get pretty emotional, angry at each other. And yet, when our rehearsal is over, that's pretty much it, for the most part it's over. Either right after rehearsal or the next day, you're still friends." Because musicians in Orpheus feel free to express themselves with one another, resentments and feuds rarely have an opportunity to develop. This results in an environment where all the members of the organization are focused on one thing: producing the very best product possible.

A measure of the passion that Orpheus's members feel for their organization is the fact that although the majority of them also play for other groups, including the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, and teach at schools such as Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, they consider playing for Orpheus to be their most fulfilling musical experience.

By removing the position of conductor from the organization, New York City-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has unleashed an incredible amount of leadership from its members. While the organization and its structures keep evolving, this Grammy-award-winning group continues to perform at the top of its game -- a level of excellence that few other orchestras can approach. And, as long as Orpheus relies on its own members to guide and energize the group, it's likely that this will be the case for many years to come.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Did the NYC Occupy Wall Street protests happen overnight?

A Brief History of Occupy Wall Street (stories are linked, so click it to read more)

Jan 31:
2 City Council members and 22 citizens arrested to protest closing of schools in favor of charters

Feb 2:
Adbusters floats the idea of a million man march on Wall Street—organized and strategized—as a US equivalent to the protests that had been occurring in North Africa

Mar 2:
15 arrested in Albany protesting Cuomo’s budget cuts for the poor

April 3:
Over 1,000 “Bail out the People” movement protest against Wall Street. 4 arrested

May 12:
Over 20,000 protesters in NYC against the budget cuts and preferential treatment of Wall Street. Several arrested.

May 24:
33 demonstrators arrested for Cuomo’s budget cuts for schools

June 6:
Flashmob to protest Wall Street, “The Other 98%”

June 14: (from an interview with David DeGraw, organizer from OWS on 11-6-11 from Los Angeles livestream conference)
First attempt at an occupation of Zucotti park, but less than 20 people showed up. Later that night they met up with the people camping in "Bloombergville" (see below, June 14), and the merger of these two groups became the first NYC GA.

June 14:
Bloombergville! The first actual occupation!

June 29:
13 arrested to protest NYC budget cuts by Bloomberg. Camped for 2 weeks in “Bloombergville” in lower Manhattan

July 13:
Adbusters announces the Occupy Wall Street for Sept 17. The U.S. equivalent to Tahrir Square

Aug 2:
3 arrested in “naked” Wall Street protest

Sept 1:
Test run to literally occupy Wall Street, by camping. 9 protesters arrested. Plans are rearranged to occupy/camp elsewhere.

Sept 17: Zucotti Park Gets Occupied.

Oct 8: Indianapolis Gets Occupied
Over 1,000 protesters arrive at Veteran’s Memorial Plaza for a day of Occupation. About 100 break off to occupy the Statehouse lawn for the night.

Origin of this Brief History
The Indianapolis Occupation has been plagued with self-doubt arising from the perceived uniqueness of challenges we have faced. I had a conversation with one of the OWS organizers who helped me understand that Indianapolis is on the same trajectory that NYC faced. Their experiments in occupying public spaces started as early as June, and people have been getting arrested in mass Wall Street protests since at least April. The city this year has had multiple large-scale protests against government budget cuts to the poor and to schools, while bailing out banks. Adbusters has publicly floated the idea of the Wall Street protests since February, and officially announced the campaign in July. We aren’t a failure because we haven’t been able to “Occupy” Indianapolis in 2 days. We skipped the planning, organizing, and preparation phases, yet expected to be another Occupy Wall Street New York. It has been a 9 month project for New York, with starts and fits just like we had, and numerous protest/occupy experiments before the Sept 17th date to get them ready.

We are doing fine. We need to press forward. We are the 99%

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What I want for the Occupy Movement

I was recently asked 3 questions related to how I want for the Occupy movement:

Top 5 issues:
1. Public-only financing of campaigns
2. Incentivizing businesses to keep manufacturing here
3. Full funding for education and essential healthcare
4. Independent media
5. Tax reform--progressive, simplified

How do we get there?
1. Organizing: leadership development; create communication network; create infrastructure; recruit workers with specific job skills
2. Resources: finances; volunteers; political leverage
3. Framing messages in ways that a) make sense to people, b) generate excitement, c) create solidarity, d)empower people to act

Where do we see this going?
Since the French Revolution that brought us out of aristocratic hegemony, there have been two great, global, ground-up revolutions--1848 and 1968--that challenged fundamental socio-political orders, transforming worldviews and planting important seeds. This is the third—let’s make it count.

2011's Occupy Wall Street: 1968 Revisited?

I have been thinking about the relationship between the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other historical social movements (since social movements is one of my primary areas of research). This year will go down in history as another one of those where the globe seems to achieve a unified consciousness of revolution--first the Arab Spring, now Occupy Wall Street. Wallerstein, et al, wrote their classic "Anti-systemic Movements" back in 1989 (another great year for revolution), which describes movements just such as these. I haven't quite formalized my thoughts about the revolutions of 2011, but in the meantime, I am republishing an article written in 2008 to commemorate the the 40th anniversary of the 1968 global revolutions. To some degree, the similarities we see in 1848, 1968, and now today, we are reminded of what we read in Ecclesiastes: "there is nothing new under the sun."


“There have only been two world revolutions. One took place in 1848. The second took place in 1968. Both were historical failures. Both transformed the world.” Wallerstein (Anti-systemic Movements, 1989)

1968: The Year the World Caught Fire, by Chris Harman, May 2008

The events of 1968 inspired a generation and shaped struggles around the world for years to come. Chris Harman, a student activist at the time, looks back at this tumultuous year

Occasionally one year can cast a spell over the decades that follow. 1968 was such a year. Supporters of capitalism still bemoan its impact 40 years on. Nicolas Sarkozy on the eve of his election declared he aimed to eradicate the "harm" that it had done. Before him it had been Tony Blair who blamed "the 1960s" for what he sees as the ills of society today.

Yet you would have great difficulty understanding why the year was so significant from most of the media coverage. It has been dominated by renegades from the left who have turned into right wing fogies, with the likes of Martin Kettle and David Aaronovitch regretting their youthful folly. Interspersed with them has been the occasional ageing hippy recalling with nostalgia overindulgence in drugs and sex. At best what happened is presented as a euphoric student rebellion against conservative social mores: a time of dropping out, dropping acid and, perhaps, challenging old sexual stereotypes.

There are very different reasons for commemorating 1968. It was one of those moments in history when it suddenly seemed that the coming together of many different acts of revolt could overturn an exploitative and oppressive society in its totality.

The year began with a devastating blow to US imperialism's attempt to crush opposition to its puppet regime in the southern half of Vietnam. There were armed risings against US troops in every city in the country, the brief seizure of part of the US embassy in Saigon, and a battle for Hue, the country's former capital, that lasted for weeks. Television screens across the world featured a US general admitting of one town, "We had to destroy it in order to retake it."

Blown apart was the arrogant assumption of the US ruling class that it could crush resistance anywhere in the huge chunk of the world it dominated. The consequences fed back into the heart of US society. The Democrat president, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), had looked forward only a few days before to a triumphant re-election; the Tet Offensive meant that an anti-war candidate, Gene McCarthy, enjoyed unexpected success in the New Hampshire primary in March while Johnson declared that he would not be standing again.

While this was happening, the rival imperialist power in Moscow was also taking a hammering. The Stalinist regime that had ruled Czechoslovakia since the Second World War split apart, allowing students, intellectuals and workers to organise freely and discuss genuinely socialist ideas for the first time, while across the border in Poland students occupied the universities and fought back against police attacks in the streets.

When we demonstrated against the Vietnam War on 17 March in London, there was not just revulsion at the barbarity of US imperialism - with the chant, "Hey, Hey LBJ, How many kids have you killed today?" - there was also the feeling that we could fight and win amid a world in turmoil. It was the most militant demonstration anyone could remember as tens of thousands of us tried to break through the police lines outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square.

Just two and a half weeks later came the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis. People rose up in every black neighbourhood in the US, attacking symbols of authority, with young African-Americans turning away from the civil rights movement's goal of peaceful integration into existing US society towards the overtly revolutionary ideas of the Black Panthers. A week after this there was a similar eruption of angry militancy among West Germany's students at the attempted assassination of one of their leaders, Rudi Dutschke, after a hate campaign by the right wing Springer media empire. Tens of thousands took to the streets with red flags in an attempt to close down its newspapers.

May was the most amazing month. What began as a small group of activists defending themselves against a police attack outside Paris's Sorbonne university escalated into a "night of barricades" involving tens of thousands of students who drove the police from the area and caused trade unions to call a one day stoppage and demonstration in solidarity. That then showed millions of workers their potential power. Strikes and occupations spread, closing down radio, television, airports and cutting petrol supplies, until the whole country was paralysed by a general strike of up to ten million workers that had grown from the bottom up.

France's President de Gaulle had ruled with dictatorial powers for ten years, brought to power by parliament panicking in the face of the threat of a military coup. Now he was visibly humiliated. People in their millions laughed at his speeches denouncing the movement. The strikes made it impossible for him to implement a referendum that was meant to bring it to an end. The world's media talked of "France's May revolution".

In June it was the turn of the students of Yugoslavia to precipitate their country's biggest political crisis for 20 years as they battled with police in Belgrade to chants of "Down with the Red bourgeoisie."

Defiant salute

August saw the Brezhnev regime in Russia set out to crush the ferment in eastern Europe by sending its tanks into Czechoslovakia and kidnapping the country's leaders - and get a shock as it met massive passive resistance from virtually the whole population. Meanwhile, anyone who believed in "American democracy" got a sharp lesson as thousands of police viciously attacked anti-war demonstrators outside the Democratic Party convention in Chicago as it chose the pro-war nominee, Hubert Humphrey, as its candidate despite him not winning in a single primary.

The Olympic Games were in Mexico City in October. They were the occasion of a massacre much worse than any we have yet seen this year in Tibet. Police cornered a demonstration of tens of thousands of students in a square away from the city centre and opened fire from surrounding buildings, killing hundreds. They forbade the press from reporting what had happened. The world's media and politicians chose to ignore the blood flowing in the streets. Instead they reserved their condemnations for victorious black US athletes who gave defiant clenched fist black power salutes on the podium - and were immediately banned from sport.

That month also saw an event whose consequences were to ricochet through British politics for the next 30 years. The armed Northern Ireland police force viciously attacked demonstrators from the nationalist ghetto of the Bogside in Derry who demanded civil rights. Inspired by the rebellions elsewhere in the world demonstrators fought back - the beginning of a great revolt against the sectarian statelet Britain had established when it partitioned the island in 1921.

But there was more to the year than just a series of exciting events. Each upsurge of struggle inspired those involved in the next, creating the sense of an international movement. People who otherwise might have regarded their struggles as over particular grievances saw they had much more general significance.

As with any great upsurge of revolt, no one expected it. The 1950s and early 1960s had been one of those periods in history in which the structures of existing society seemed frozen. The ruling powers had contained and rolled back the rebelliousness and ferment of the inter-war and wartime years. The US and the USSR had divided the world between themselves, not only geographically but also ideologically. If you did not accept the inhuman behaviour and dogmatic utterances of one you were expected to line up with the inhuman behaviour and dogmatic utterances of the other. Russian dissidents were thrown into labour camps or psychiatric hospitals, US dissidents were driven from their jobs by the Un-American Activities Committee, imprisoned like Dashiell Hammett, expelled from the country like Charlie Chaplin or deprived of their passports like Paul Robeson.

The time when the CIO unions in the US had been a radical force was long since past; the union movements in France and Italy had been divided and their power apparently broken; Britain's union leaders were the bastions of the pro-US and pro-nuclear weapons right wing inside the Labour Party; the National Union of Students was part of a CIA international front.

A stultifying conformity pervaded social life. The family was taken to mean the man working while the woman toiled in the home waiting on him with complete responsibility for childcare. Women were expected to kowtow to men, young people to look up to their elders, black people to be thankful when occasionally they were not discriminated against. In the Southern part of the US, black people were still subject to the separate and unequal "Jim Crow" status which denied them voting rights and any redress against racist thugs and police.

Liberal and Labour apologists for the system claimed its remaining ills could be cured by peaceful and patient endeavour for small reforms within existing structures. They spoke of an "affluent society" that was delivering rising living standards, of an "end of ideology" and the demise of the working class as it embraced "middle class" consumerism. It was a message which even influenced adamant opponents of the system like the German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse. He portrayed a "one-dimensional" society of people so enmeshed in the ideology of "consumerism" as to rule out any revolt in its advanced industrial heartlands.

Hardly noticed by anyone were changes beneath the surface of society that were undermining the existing structures and ideologies which justified them.

These were bound to find expression first among young people. At all times in any society they are more likely to kick back against oppressive and exploitative conditions than their elders, worn down from bearing the weight of the past. Such kicking back grows in magnitude the greater the contrast between the official conformism and the conditions in which people live. And students are especially sensitive to the contrast in present day capitalism. They are herded together in their thousands and expected to become proficient practitioners of ruling ideologies that make little sense. They also find it much easier to argue out and give organised expression to their feelings than do workers, even young workers, since they are not bound to machines or office routines eight hours or more a day.

So it was students who were the first to move in 1968, giving the impression that expressions of more general social crises were a specifically student issue - the impression that so much media coverage of 1968 seeks to perpetuate.

Already the early 1960s had seen some dissent. There had been mass demonstrations against nuclear weapons in Britain; thousands of black and white students had taken part in the civil rights movement in the US; French students had resisted the Algerian War. There was a new flourishing of such activity in 1966 and 1967, with the first protests against the Vietnam War in the US and Britain, the radicalisaton of German students after the police killed a demonstrator on a Berlin protest, the adoption of the concepts of black power and armed self-defence by African-American student activists, revolts against professorial authoritarianism and appalling conditions on the Italian campuses. The impact of 1968 was to gel these different movements together.

The Tet Offensive brought the sudden realisation that those who ruled over us were not all-powerful. So it was that in the first months of 1968 there was a rash of protests in Britain, mainly by students, against Labour ministers for supporting the Vietnam War and against Conservative politicians like Enoch Powell, Duncan Sandys and Patrick Wall for their racism. These were initially minority protests of perhaps a couple of hundred students. But a couple of years earlier they would not have been bigger than a couple of dozen. When the authorities tried to discipline protesters, hard arguing and insistent agitation by these minorities were able to swing previously liberal "moderates" - and even some outright Tories - into supporting the radical position.

In the early months of 1968 the student movements in Germany and Italy were much bigger than anything happening in France. French activists complained to one of our comrades that they did not have a movement like ours in Britain. The language of the movements was increasingly revolutionary but usually in terms of "student power" and students as "the new revolutionary class."

Those who were more radical looked to the notions spread by Che Guevara (who had been murdered by the CIA only months before) that revolution would come from armed actions in the most remote areas of Third World countries and that Western workers were "bought off" by "consumerism". This could divert them from making connections with wider numbers of people here.

This began to change with the May events in France. People suddenly saw the possibility of revolutionary change much nearer home and one which came from below, involving the mass of people. The media concentrated on the student battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris. But by the third week of May the spectacle of the working class holding to ransom the government of a major capitalist country had an impact on those fighting back against the system everywhere.

Great revolts cause a fantastic widening of people's horizons. Those who would have laughed at the idea of revolution in 1966 - or at least deemed it impossible - were taking it seriously in the summer of 1968. When Britain had its biggest Vietnam demonstration, in October 1968, the most popular slogan alongside "Victory to the NLF" (the Vietnamese liberation movement) was "We will fight, we will win, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin"; the most popular placard was of a clenched fist with a spanner and the words "Workers' Control".

Only a small minority within the student movement anywhere became committed revolutionary activists - but that minority was many times bigger than that of only six months before. The ideas of a much wider number of people were turned upside down by the experiences of the year. They began to listen, argue and discuss, and to read Marxist texts which had been all but excised from university syllabuses. The forms of social conformism that had underpinned the old ideas were also challenged.

Some of the changes were superficial but symbolically important, as when male students gave up wearing suits and shaving for jeans, beards and long hair.

There had been a very small counterculture on the margins of mainstream society in the late 1950s and early 1960s, characterised by a mixing together of those into hallucinatory drugs, left wing or pacifist ideas, avant-garde theatre or poetry, folk music and eastern religions. This counterculture had begun to find a wider audience with the "summer of love" in 1967 and the rise of the hippies. Its audience grew much greater because of the events of 1968, but also more political. It even began to influence the western world's dream factory in Hollywood, with a new wave of directors and actors producing films previously unimaginable. But in the process it was easy for people to confuse changing their own lifestyles with the revolution.

Wave of occupations

There were more profound challenges to the old conformism, even if often mixed up with the lifestyle approach. It was in 1968 that the Women's Liberation Movement was born as women activists began to challenge the sexist assumptions which the young men who had been radicalised brought with them into the new movements. The next year saw the first open organisation of gay people.

Very important for the future was the way activists drew lessons from the French events, lessons which led them to take up revolutionary Marxist ideas which had only been held by handfuls of people previously. They saw that it was not just "the people" in general that had shaken French society, but the workers.

The new student revolutionists of Italy (a fair number converts from the Catholic student organisations) turned to the factories and played an important role in the workers' strikes which swept the country in its "hot autumn" of 1969 (sometimes called its "May in slow motion"). The slogan of Students for a Democratic Society in the US had been "Half the way with LBJ" in 1964; at the end of 1968 its activists declared themselves to be "Marxist-Leninists". In Britain students went from occupations and demonstrations to leaflet the docks and the factories.

Such efforts were to be immensely important in the years that followed 1968. The French slogan after May had been "Ce n'est qu'un d├ębut" - it's only the beginning. And across the world as a whole it was only the beginning. 1969 saw student demonstrations transformed into a mighty rising of car workers in the Argentinian city of Cordoba and an autumn wave of occupations and strikes in Italy. 1970 saw the biggest yet wave of student protests in the US after Nixon and Kissinger extended the Vietnam War to Cambodia and the national guard shot students dead at Kent State University, Ohio. 1972 saw a great upsurge of popular struggle in Chile and, at the end of 1973, an occupation by Athens students which turned into a huge popular uprising that caused the Greek military dictatorship to collapse six months later. 1974 saw a coup which overthrew the 40 year old fascist regime in Portugal and opened up 18 months of ferment with revolutionary characteristics. 1975 saw a rising tide of struggle against Spanish dictator Franco that caused his heirs to begin to dismantle his fascist regime within months of his death. And in Britain we went through the biggest wave of industrial struggle for half a century, culminating in the fall of the Tory government of Edward Heath.

Students who had been radicalised by the events of 1968 were able in these years to find common cause with a layer of workers and together create networks of activists committed to social revolution in the factories, mines, docks, offices and schools.

The importance of such networks was one other lesson of the May events in France. For, if de Gaulle was helpless in the face of the rebellion from below through most of May, at the end of the month he finally found a way to bring it to an end. He relied on the cowardly willingness to compromise of those who dominated the official structures of the working class movement. Union leaders were prepared to end the general strike by getting workers back to work, one section at a time, in return for partial concessions. And the political leaders were so thrilled by the prospect of a general election that they urged an end to the strikes, even though by doing so they broke the momentum of the movement and enabled de Gaulle to win the election.

That pattern too was repeated elsewhere in the years that followed, culminating in agreements by official leaders of the workers' movements in 1975 and 1976 to campaign against strikes in the interests of "partnership" and social peace with the "social contract" in Britain, the "historic compromise" in Italy, and the "Pact of Moncloa" in Spain. Employers were not slow in seizing the opportunity to begin rooting out socialist activists and inflicting severe defeats on workers' movements that had once threatened them.

As the workers' movement went down, so did the other movements born of 1968. By the 1980s capitalism in crisis was taking bitter revenge on the hopes of that year, and by the 1990s a new conformism seemed all dominant, embodied in Blairism and neoliberalism.

There are differences with old conformism of the 1950s and early 1960s. The old suppressed open discussion of sexuality; the new extols its transformation into a commodity. The old confined women to the home; the new witchhunts mothers who will not work for poverty wages. The old believed in the right of white Western governments to use bombs and tanks to subdue vast areas of the world; the new preaches using them for mass killings in the interests of "humanitarian intervention". The old believed in deference to the upper classes; the new in the divine rights of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Just as there was pessimism among much of the left in the 1950s and 1960s, so there is today. Neoliberalism had its shadow in postmodernism, with its claim that any total challenge to the system is both impossible and dangerous. Its stranglehold has loosened in recent years, but its paralysing effects still linger on. And some of the older generation contrast their own rebellious years with the supposed complacency of today's younger generation. They forget that the millions who marched against the Iraq war are many times greater in number than those who marched against the Vietnam War. They forget how confused and sometimes demoralised the left was before the French May. Above all they ignore the way the very dynamic of capitalism itself, with its continual transformation of economic relations, forces masses of people to rebel against it, even when they themselves least expect to.

1968 showed a generation how such revolts can erupt, interact with each other and enable millions to see the possibility of a new world. That's something hated by the likes of Sarkozy and Blair. It is something the rest of us should rejoice in.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Who are the 99%? It may be 47% instead...

Part II of my analysis from yesterday's blog, “Occupy Indianapolis"—Who are the 99%?

According to “Occupy” chants, it is 99% vs 1% -- 1% of the wealthiest in the U.S. have abused their wealth and power by exploiting the 99% for their own profit. Given how profoundly the wealth and income of the top 1% has skyrocketed since 1980, compared to the stagnancy of wages, and decline of wealth for especially the bottom 60%, it is an intuitive argument to make. However, does the public believe it is 99% against 1%? I believe most do not, if I may take interpretive liberties with a recent Gallup Poll: What Good is Wall Street?.

What we see in this poll is that the country is fairly split on whether Wall Street is helping or hurting us, with 45% saying Wall Street hurts us more than they help, and 36% helps us more than they hurt us. When you look at specific groups, like Libertarians, well over half believe Wall Street is more helpful than harmful. Even among “hard-pressed democrats,” the most anti-Wall Streeters in the poll, could only get 2/3 to say Wall Street is more harmful than helpful.

When it comes to who is actually exploiting whom, the question is far from decided in the minds of the U.S. public. While, in the minds of the protesters, it seems clear that 99% of us are being exploited by the wealthiest 1%, at most 45% of their fellow citizens believe this, while over 1/3 of the sample believe that the 1% are being exploited by the 99%, mooching off of welfare and unemployment benefits, complaining about not having jobs, instead of going out and getting one. Take Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s recent statement affirming that exact sentiment. While Cain may or may not represent Republicans’ perspectives about those Occupying Wall Street (and now many other cities in the U.S.), he does not seem to represent Republican sentiment about whether Wall Street is more helpful than harmful. The “Main Street Republicans” who feel Wall Street is more harmful than helpful (45%), outweigh those who think Wall Street is more helpful (36%). Cain may represent those Gallup calls “Staunch Conservatives,” 48% of whom feel Wall Street is more helpful than harmful.

It seems to me, then, that those Occupying Wall Street have some serious marketing to do, if they want to create a cultural and political shift. If 38% of the public feel that Wall Street is doing just great, then it is not just the wealthy 1% that the 99% have to convince to shape up their act. Rather, the 47% who lean towards the anti-Wall Street sentiment will have to convince that other 38%, as well as the other 15% just aren't sure. And in the process, overcome the wealth and power of that top 1% they are opposing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Indianapolis: Who are the 99%?

This weekend, protesters from all over Indiana descended on various cities to highlight the egregious abuses of power and wealth in corporate America and by the two-party system politicians. Indianapolis had well over 1,000 protesters at Veterans Memorial Plaza on Saturday, many of whom became an occupying force at the State House. The occupation is intended to be indefinite, contingent on on-going consensus decisions.

But what do they want? What is the problem these citizens are highlighting? Many of their chants and signs claim they are the 99%, signifying the bottom 99% of the population whose life chances are far different from the top 1%. Many of these individuals are disenfranchised youth who followed the expected pattern of the American Dream—they worked hard, got good grades, stayed out of trouble, went to college, many of them for advanced degrees, but there is no work. Some of their heart-breaking stories can be found in snippets at We are the 99%, and those self-submitted stories have been multiplying rapidly since the site began last month.

The problem of wealth inequality in the U.S. is not representative of other industrialized countries. In fact, of all of the top OECD countries, the U.S. has the highest rates of poverty, as well as the worst GINI score (GINI is a measure of the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest), as can be seen in Table 1. Historically speaking, this is a relatively new problem, with a dramatic difference between the wealthy and poorest in the last 30 years when you look at real income (income that takes cost of living into account), as can be seen in Table 2. When you look at the Occupy Indianapolis’ message, they are focusing on the 99%/1% split. These differences are also stark, as can be seen in Table 3.

Table 1:

Table 2:

Table 3:

The cross-cultural data points to strong economies that do not have this wealth-gap, with these rates of poverty, so this is not simply a matter of normalcy for advanced economies, nor is it a matter of a large group of lazy people who “prefer handouts to work.” Many of these individuals worked very hard, but there simply are no jobs, whether in manufacturing, or professional sectors—here in Indiana, unemployment is near 10%, and according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “full unemployment” is almost 17%. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, and professional jobs often come only with new business creation. However, creating a new business requires loans, which require good credit. As can be seen in the “We are the 99%” posts, a large chunk of these jobless or underemployed are well-educated, but have incredible debt from student loans, so do not qualify for business loans. The only form of debt that is currently increasing is student loan debt, which is, coincidentally, and fortunate for the financial industry, the only form of debt that cannot be voided through bankruptcy (see Table 4). Even if one of these individuals could get a business loan, in the current recession, there is no money for consumers to buy their products.

Table 4:

Why don’t they just vote in new representatives, one might ask? Because the representatives who get on the ballot do not represent the 99%, but rather, they represent the 1%. Given current campaign finance laws, money is buying candidates, and money is paying for winners. Political science tells us that federal representative elections can be predicted 90% of the time by who has the most money. Further, the candidates themselves do not come from the 99%, but from the wealthy 1% (see Table 5). Voting for the choice of Rich Elephant #1, or Rich Donkey #2 does not seem like much of an option. Given the “Hope and Change” that many of these youth voted for in the last presidential election, it is not surprising that they became disillusioned, when they ended up with a president who has received the most Wall Street donations as any candidate, and who, perhaps not coincidentally, gave those same contributors huge bailouts. What did he do for those youth who voted for him? He introduced a law to start charging graduate students interest on their student loans, and expanded the war in Afghanistan. For whom will these youth vote this time? Perhaps they will do what the disaffected and disenfranchised typically do—stay at home, recognizing that the two-party choice is not a choice at all, since there are no true Progressive candidates.

Table 5:

What then, are these protesters trying to accomplish? Justice, opportunity, and democracy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Is Leftist Intolerance of Intolerance, Hypocrisy?

If you can get passed the obfuscation of the title of this essay, the question is essentially this: Leftists (“Liberals”) call for people to be tolerant of diversity, yet when groups (like Fred Phelps’ clan, racists, etc) express their beliefs regarding the inferiority or sinful status of other groups, is it hypocritical for those same Leftists to be intolerant of those other views? Here is an example I read today (10-1-11) on CNN’s comments about an article where Obama is going to give a speech to gay activists (copy/pasted verbatim, no alterations or omissions)

shockerwhoa3: The Bible says love thy neighbor, yet religious folk bash their neighbors beliefs. Priests and fathers say let God be the judge, yet they are judgemental about people's every day lives and their beliefs. Christianity is a bunch of hypocrites.

Osambo2: The bible also mentions ABOMINATION, terd tamper.

Regents85: you know whats funny about that is. Idiots like you preach tolerance and acceptance for gays but whenever somebody doesn't agree with the lifestyle idiots like you call them bigots and hatemongers. Respect others opinions. Don't be a hypocrite.

So is Regents85 (perhaps a graduate of conservative Christian Regent University?) correct in calling shockerwhoa3 hypocritical? In a mathematically logical sense, perhaps yes, but in an ethical and social sense, absolutely not. Mathematical logic implies basic concepts we learned in high school algebra and geometry when we learned proofs: a=b, b=1, therefore a=1. Following that same procedure, shocerwhoa3 does commit a mathematical inconsistency: intolerance=bad, I call your gay-hate= evil, therefore, I’m intolerant=I’m a hypocrite.

However, the social world is more complex than mathematical logic. In fact, most of what we say is “logical” is no more than common sense, or more specifically, what your culture believes we should all know and accept as true. The problem is that this kind of cultural-specific logic/common sense is only logical and common-sensical if you accept all of the assumptions that you personally were raised with, and there are as many different kinds of “common senses” as there are people alive. When enough of us start to agree on what is common sense, we get this synergistic energy and we all start to believe that my own personal beliefs are really true, and that everybody believes it, and if you don’t, you’re wrong.

Here is where I diverge from Regents: while perhaps shocker committed a mathematically-logical fallacy, in terms of ethics, Regents is ignoring the fact that there are profoundly different consequences for each of these types of intolerance. Regents’ and Osambo2’s intolerance leads to stripping of fundamental human rights of large groups of people, just as racists and sexists were content to disenfranchise, if not egregiously oppress, racial minorities and women. Shocker’s intolerance may limit Regents’ freedom to legislate his personal morality, and may violate his religious conscience, but it doesn’t strip him of any fundamental rights. Shocker’s position doesn’t even limit Regents’ freedom of speech (although some countries are going this route, legislating punishment for “hate speech”), but even if it did, we already agree socially that the good of the whole outweighs the exercise of some of our freedoms—take the classic example of the prohibition of falsely yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Similarly, even if the extreme situation were to occur in the U.S., if gay-hate speech is made into an actual crime, the social goods have to be weighed—restricting your right to call other people “terd [sic] tampers” vs. denying housing or job security to an entire class of people simply because they have same-sex attractions. The situation is made even more critical when the abuse of same-sex attracted people is put into historical context—just as Jews were burned in the Nazi ovens, so were gays, blacks, and other non-Aryans. Just as Jews and “witches” were burned on pyres in the middle ages, so were gays. Today in the U.S., FBI tracked hate-crimes against gays are #2, right after race-related hate-crimes (mostly against Blacks). Youth bullying and suicide because of gay-related taunting has been a national epidemic for decades, although it has only recently been in the news. Recall Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd, two high-profile gay hate-crime related murders, which represent just a small part of gay-related hate crimes.

While Regents85 and Osambo2 may or may not affirm the validity of the murder-torture of gay people just because they are gay, the issue of free speech rights brings us back to the reality of the world in which we live: free speech is important, but demonizing entire classes of people based on arbitrary and personal moral ideas, has led humanity to very dark places throughout our species history, and if you think we are getting better, just look at the 1900s…

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What do Conservative and Liberal Mean in the U.S. Today? (or, Is the U.S. Structured like an Aristocratic System?)

What do conservative and liberal mean in the U.S. today? It depends on whether you are talking about capital or small “C” and “L”. Small letters refer to ideas, capitals refer to ideologies. Still unclear? Let’s go back to the French Revolution, which wasn’t just a trivial civil war 220 years ago. It is the tipping point for Western society, where we first got a taste of democracy. We typically tell ourselves that Athens was the origination of democracy in the West, and one can make a reasonable case for that, although modern democracy took a more extensive form. The change that occurred was profound on many levels, and represented the culmination of several revolutions: religious, scientific, industrial, and clearly political. The “liberals” of the time wanted something astounding and dramatic—political, religious and economic control away from the aristocracy and into the hands of the people. They got this for a little while, until the Empires conquered Napoleon, and Europe lived under the rule of aristocracy for another century.

Classically, “conservative” and “liberal” (small letters) meant those who wanted to “conserve” the traditions of the Church and the aristocracy, versus the liberals who wanted popular control of these institutions. Over time, these meanings have changed, since what we consider “traditions” have themselves changed. Today, most of who we call Liberals and Conservatives are both classical liberals, since both groups derive fundamental political, economic and religious assumptions about The Good Society from French Revolution ideals (think about the term “liberal arts education”). These early debates about how a country filled with distinct individuals should “do” this new society shaped our views about private property, rule of law, and the social contract. Both Conservatives and Liberals (capital C and L) typically agree on these fundamentals.

So what does conservative mean today, and what does liberal mean? In terms of parties, our culture associates Republicans with conservatism, and Democrats with liberalism, however, to a large degree the terms have lost much of their original meaning due to a divergence in political and economic logic in our society. Understanding the complexity of our system requires that we create a 4-quadrant graph, with the Y-direction being politics, and the X-direction being economics (see Graph 1, which I have modified from Political Compass, clarifying the labels, and putting myself on the graph). The dichotomy for both politics and economics is liberty vs. social oversight. For example, we associate a high level of political oversight with conservatism, in the sense that the government (i.e., society, since our government is, to some degree, "by the people") has greater control over our social lives—sexuality, reproductive rights, drug laws, morality, etc. This dichotomy is intuitive for our culture.

However, it is economics where our definitions become reversed. Specifically, economic conservatism refers again to greater social oversight—consider the government involvement needed for any kind of socialist state, with large-scale redistribution of wealth, and public control over the means of production. Intuitively, in our culture, we would call this “liberalism”, and it is “classic” liberalism, since it takes control of the means of production out of the hands of a powerful few and into the hands of the society as a whole. However, on this graph, the more social oversight required is technically “conservative.” In this framework, the economic “liberal” would represent most capitalists, granting liberty to individuals to do whatever they want from a production and consumption perspective—i.e., keeping business profits, while we as consumers can buy whatever we want. Culturally, we associate capitalism with Conservatism and socialism with Liberalism, and while technically this is reversed from our graph, it is part of the unique construction of U.S. social life.

So, to review, U.S. Conservatives today, Republicans, according to our graph, are politically conservative, but economically liberal. But here’s the surprise—as you can see from the graph, Democrats, the U.S. Liberals, are mostly in the same quadrant of the graph, just closer to the center. From a philosophical perspective, it is only minority parties that are in other quadrants. Socialists face this same divergence between economic and political ideas, but in the reverse direction—they tend to prefer conservative economics, but liberal politics. Two groups have a “purity” of conservatism vs. liberalism: Communists and Libertarians, both in opposite directions. Historically, Communists (more specifically, Stalinists) desired conservative economics, wanting government oversight over the economy, and political conservatism, wanting tight control over citizen social life (contemporary Communists typically do not share this purity of vision, tending towards the same quadrant as the Socialists). Libertarians desire the opposite—economic and personal liberty, envisioning a Hobbes-style society where each person is responsible completely for herself, and government’s job is primarily to protect us from foreign invaders.

What does this mean? The two surprises to most U.S. readers is that conservatism and liberalism are not U.S. Conservatism and Liberalism, and that in U.S. politics, both party Conservatives and Liberals are roughly after the same goals when it comes to the larger philosophy of politics and economics. Specifically, Democrats are by no means Socialists, although clearly they trend closer than Republicans. U.S. politics itself has become mired in something that looks very much like the ancient monarchy, which had centralized political control, fundamentally ruled by plutocracy—ruled by the wealthy. Further, economically speaking, the same pattern exists—the economy is not in the hands of the masses, but has been concentrated in the hands of the same cluster that is in charge of the political structure. This generates the third surprise—that the upper right quadrant is the quadrant of the middle ages monarchy, with conservative politics, since social behavior was tightly controlled, but at the same time, an economic system that had no oversight of the masses. Technically, peasants could work their way out of debt-bondage to the noble, on whose land they worked, but practically speaking, this almost never happened because the system was rigged against him. All of the money the peasant earned went to the wealthy land-owner, and the blood-line of aristocracy controlled the government. Neither land, business, wealth, nor politics had popular-level oversight, but was in the hands of whomever could consolidate it and keep it, and government policy affirmed that right, facilitating the process of the wealthy becoming wealthier, and the wealthy becoming more politically powerful. The former has analogies to the neoliberalism found in many Republicans today, and the latter looks like the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations the ability donate as much as they like to political campaigns.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

City Council Forums--Indianapolis, via Indianapolis League of Women Voters

The Indianapolis League of Women's Voters facilitated two city-council candidate forums. I attended and took notes on both--below is a report. I tried to limit my personal commentary, although I cannot guarantee accuracy of these notes.

City-Council Forum, 9/8/11-Marquette Manor:

Jose Evans, D; Susan Blair, R; Angela Mansfield, D; Sam Goldstein, L; Anthony Simons, R; Len Farber, D; Ryan Vaugn, R; Kostas Poulakidas, D

Goldstein—Rep & Dem spend money on sports that can’t pay for crime, sidewalks, public health. The only party that reps small govt
Simons: “want to make sure everybody’s views are heard”
Farber: “not your regular candidate”; biomed researcher, PhD in pharm; “scientists always look at the whole picture” “I believe in neighborhoods”
Vaughn: crime, infrastructure, alleviate tax burden
Poulakidas: Family heritage, personal contact with audience member

Working with neighborhood issues vs. abandoned houses

  1. Blair-ID houses that are abandoned; homeowners/neighbors should know and “rectify it”
  2. Mansfield-ppl aren’t taking care of property—call MAC/Health Hosp
  3. Goldstein, Simons—partner with NA to resolve problem
  4. Farber—open communication with neighborhoods and between councilors; deal with all stakeholders—bank, NA, neighbors
  5. Poulakidas “interesting question…starbucks everywhere…level abandoned houses to make a pocket park…. Play with my kids in these local parks…work with at large candidates”—introduced connection with at-large-candidates in audience
  6. Evans-personally collecting data and giving that to code enforcement

Audience Q—does council have gun control regulation and how can it be addressed

  1. Mansfield—ridiculous new law that allows guns in public meetings and public parks; we should advocate gen assemb for “home rule”
  2. Goldstein—illegal guns vs. legal guns; ppl who carry illegal guns won’t care about the laws anyway;
  3. Farber-old westerns all had guns, civilization came with the sheriff; guns are the responsibility of police
  4. Vaughn—CC can’t control guns, but can regulate “discharge” of guns
  5. Poul—CCC are bridge between govt and “us”—we can work with gov office; supports “home rule” (Mansfield)
  6. Blair—would support gun amnesty; “supports 2nd amendment”

Transportation—how do you envision public transportation in Indianapolis

  1. Goldstein—some cities spend billions and they run empty. We really need improved highways
  2. Simons—cost-benefit analysis. Supports looking at everything on the table.
  3. Farber—“problems do not stop at political boundaries”. “benefits of a booming economy accrue to all” “we have to think regionally and work with surrounding counties because it will benefit all of us.” Funding—public/private partnerships. Bring this to the public for approval
  4. Vaughn—it’s going to referendum, so what I believe doesn’t matter. It’s a public decision. Funded by sales tax
  5. Poul—70% of indygo riders are PT dependent—without the busses they can’t get to work. Cut routes mean workers can be late and get fired, hurting those communities even more.
  6. Evans—Govt Magazine—of the top 25 cities, we are 25th for transportation. What is the ridership, how will we pay for it?
  7. Blair—the most cost effective is light rail and bus; decided through referendum

Many cultural organizations are struggling. Your position on funding libraries, arts, etc, and would you support referendum.

  1. Farber-“a city without the arts are barely a city”; public libraries provide internet to those who can’t afford them.
  2. Vaughn—strongly favors referendum for large capital projects.
  3. Poul—concerned as economic development attorney when elected official say we can either raise taxes or cut services. There is a 3rd option, which is to invest so that revenue can be raised without taxes. Increasing quality of neighborhoods and value goes up, so revenue goes up without “raising taxes”
  4. Blair—referendum is GA, not council. Too much waste in govt, and we look to govt to solve too many of our problem. We pay enough taxes. We need to look for efficiencies.
  5. Mansfield—we have to first determine our priorities. I would not fund sports so much, redirect those to libraries, therefore don’t need referendums. That can be confusing and time-consuming, like CA, which has propositions for everything.
  6. Goldstein—arts should fund themselves

Personal/political philosophy of function of local government.

  1. Farber—people can exist in vacuums and it’s not a very good life. People come to cities because of the amenities we associate with cities—arts, small business, etc. it is the function of government to pool resources for the public good that the private sector cannot or will not do.
  2. Vaughn—take the least amount of tax dollars to provide the core of public needs. Most money should be on crime.
  3. Poul—to make the lives of everyday people a little simpler and better. I saved businesses and taxpayers $8.5M a year by eliminating useless fees under Bayh.
  4. Evans—ramble about his family—purpose of local govt is so families can live their dream
  5. Blair-use tax $ efficiently. Govt is too large. Govt exists b/c services that private sector cannot/will not do.
  6. Mansfield—provide adequate services and infrastructure to create safety and livability. Not a fan of privatization, mostly which lines ppls pockets, like the parking meter deal. City sold off utilities—that $$ is now going out of state, whereas it should be staying here.
  7. Goldstein—perhaps library; public safety; publicly funding sports isn’t a good idea
  8. Simons—strong fiscal conservative; will look at every single budget with fine-tooth comb and make sure we can afford it. Quoted Reagan—govt is not the solution, it’s the problem. We shouldn’t waste money

What would you do to make Indianapolis a more environmentally sustainable city.

  1. Vaughn—Ballard is first to create a sustainability office. Planted 50K trees over last 4 years. Many infrastructure projects are designed to improve sewage system. EPA cost Indpls lots of $$ by deeming it environmentally unsafe.
  2. Poul-promote ability to enjoy the environment, like pocket parks; think creatively as they pertain to all issues.
  3. Blair—trees provide oxygen and clean air. We have been planting tree. Local oil company was diluting oil with acid and putting into sewers—my organization helped stop that.
  4. Mansfield—curbside recycling. Build sidewalks to encourage ppl to walk to parks, businesses.
  5. Goldstein-Sewers keep backing up into ppls homes when it rains b/c of combined system. State and Fed govt need to be involved in helping fix this. That’s the biggest nonsustainability issues
  6. Simons—bike lanes; incentives for businesses (rebates); sidewalks
  7. Farber—pocket parks, trees, curbside recycling; indoor environment—smoking ban in all public places

Closing remarks

  1. Poul-govt is important. IBJ will be publishing article I wrote on these issues. “work hard and do good things”. Toxicity in DC is spilling to local level. We need to work together. CCC is “public service”, working with people, doing the tasks in front of us.
  2. Evans: Has led an opposition to get rid of a bad situation. With democratic council and mayor will have greater leverage to take care of my district.
  3. Blair: I’ve won many awards for public service, and sit on many boards. I understand housing code.
  4. Mansfield: My top 3 things—comprehensive smoke-free ordinance; sidewalks; curbside recycling
  5. Goldstein: bring a firm philosophy of small, less intrusive, more tolerant government. Will allow citizens to be responsible for our own well-being and not govt dependent. I am not beholden to special interest groups—I am funding my own campaign as a small business owner.
  6. Simons: A lot of energy and passion. Will hold regular town-hall forums. Keep district safe and strong. Sidewalks on Michigan
  7. Farber: Come with a different background and a different level of analysis. Come from grass-roots. Dem party didn’t ask me to run, but neighbors did. Parking meter shenanigans…
  8. Vaughn: Govern for the next generation of families. Recognizes Les Duvall in audience who is a former Senator.

At large candidate forum, 9/24/11, library, Indy League of Women Voters

Adamson-D, Barth-D, Hickman-D, Levin-L, Kalscheur -R , Malone-R, Rivera-R, Robinson-D

Barth-pub trans is critical; indyconnect needs supported; multi-modal pub trans approach; expand indigo, biking/walking, light rail; user fees, fed support, hopefully Gen Assemb
*Hickman-pub trans allows low income people to get to jobs, so needs greater funding
Kalscheur-$2B funding to expand funding
Levin-funding for pub trans has to be funded privately, not public for people who won’t use it. Can tax Marijuana to get transportation funding
*Malone-Indygo is inconvenient; spent first 23 years reliant on Indygo for transportation b/c no car in household. Hasn’t yet resolved this issue—needs to be expanded, but where is the support?
Rivera-Indy income is $500M, so where to come up with $2B? Technology is moving so fast, that trains may not be the best option
Robinson—Indyconnect; if Noblesville will benefit, they should help support it.
*Adamson—embarassment that 13th largest city is 100th; no transport means ppl can’t spend, therefore inhibits economic growth; “hub and spokes” model currently isn’t great—should connect local areas better

Abandoned Housing
Hickman-No house should be razed without neighborhood support. Can we rehab the house and put people in there. Sexual assault in field that was a razed apartment.
Kalscheur-10K houses deemed inhospitable; we have received funding to raze 2k of those; need to determine which ones we can rehab vs raze;
Levin—can we get the homeless into the abandoned houses; make the razed house fields into gardens; fields cost city money to cut the grass
Malone—Neighborhood stabilization fund for demolition of Keystone Towers; houses that are abandoned are uninhabitable;

Rivera—urban garden plots are in high demand, not abandoned houses.
Robinson—must first work with neighbors to see what they want done; jobs can be constructed by rehabbing; former prisoners can take those jobs
*Adamson—the 2K houses that have been put on the raze list are NOT the worst—it was a political decision and neighbors were not consulted
Barth-neighborhoods have not had enough attention; rebalance council priorities to focus on supporting neighborhoods; house govt employees near the communities they serve

Police leadership
Kalscheur-make sure they have the tools to get the job done
Levin-indy police is one of best in nation, but have bad press. Root of police problem is alcohol. Putting breathalyzer in every single police car—treat them like they treat us.
Malone-build on what we currently have in place; classes for leadership and training
Rivera-same as malone
*Robinson- has endorsement of FOP; rid position of public safety director and have chief of police; include officers in decision-making process to increase morale
Adamson-housing for rookie officers to get them involved in their communities, putting them into abandoned houses; force is 300 officers short of what it needs to be for a city of this size
Barth-is endorsed by FOP; create program to encourage officers to buy abandoned homes in the communities where they work
Hickman-lowest morale in this police force for a long time; police should be run by the person in charge of it—mayor

Where to invest energy money from Citizens Gas sale
Levin—save since things could get worse; invest what we can, but give preference to saving
Malone-gas sale was a good idea; mayor’s office has very little to do with education, so that’s not an option
Rivera—infrastructure investment is what we said we would do b/c it’s what citizens wanted; Indy has a $1.5B deficit to bring infrastructure up to “fair”; current matching funds available will make that investment money worth more
Robinson—invest in human capital, like education
*Adamson—street investment has shelf-life of 10 years; early childhood education has much longer investment life
Barth—this is a 1-time transfer of money; invest in both infrastructure and human capital—Kennedy’s vision—early childhood education, literacy, crime prevention
Hickman—citizens weren’t asked what this money was to be for, but were told. Part of money should be saved so we can get interest; should also invest in the future in terms of early childhood education
Kelscheur—early education helps kids to read earlier, but by 4th grade, ISTEP scores flatten for early vs regular educated children.

*Malone-getting federal funds from EPA to address it; finding previous owners and holding them responsible is next to impossible; without fed funding, council is limited; redevelopment is ideal but reclamation costs are prohibitive
Rivera-city incentivization to private contractors who want to redevelop it
Adamson—engage with community to find grant possibilities for reclamation
Barth—Fed gov is the primary reclaimer of brownfields; council needs to investigate that for Indy advocacy; nonprofits are already taking action and leveraging funds---we can facilitate those groups
Hickman—expensive, but there is a way to do it, we’re not doing it—why not; pocket parks
Kalscheur—expensive, but the money is there; I have overseen in Perry Township getting brownfield reclamation funds from Feds
*Levin—contamination comes from oil companies—get them to clean up their mess. 1000s of underground tanks contaminating the soil

Public vs Private partnerships—parking meters
Rivera—voted for parking meter deal; brought in top experts in the world; high quality meters and technicians; generate revenue for city infrastructure;
Robinson-supports private/public partnerships; current 50-yr deal is too long; we had the means to do it, but we sold it for 50 years
*Adamson—horrible deal; testified before the council, obtained 81 small business signature petition to oppose it; money is going out of state--$1.6B total, $1.2B is going to Texas—we are getting 0.4B instead of $1.6
Barth—looking through the lens of public policy analysis, rather than doing what we are able and should be doing ourselves, we outsourced it to Texas for 50-years
Hickman—make citizen lives simpler and more comfortable with tax dollars; if the street gets closed for repair, we still have to pay the company for the loss of revenue!!! The TX company proposed the 100 year deal. With the new parking meter deal all we got was higher prices and loss of revenue
Kalscheur—how many administrations did we go through that did nothing; we finally got something done; we can build a parking garage in broad ripple now
*Levin—one of the worst deals the city has ever signed; we can’t audit the TX books—we will give them all the money and give us back whatever they “claim” we get; that is unconscionable
Malone—10 year renewable option to get out of 50-year deal; 100year deal was never proposed; unaudited books is false

Smoking Ban—do you support comprehensive smoke-free ban?
Robinson, Adamson, Barth, Hickman—Yes
*Hickman—2nd hand smoke is #3 killer in the US. We are the largest city with no smoking ban; some companies won’t come here b/c of the lack of a ban
Kalscheur—Never. shouldn’t go into private businesses and tell them what to do
Levin—Never. Don’t want his friends fired b/c that bar shouldn’t have smoking; ppl can choose not to go into bars
*Malone—YES; huge tobacco cities like Louisville and Lexington have bans
Rivera—likes the current policy; doesn’t need govt to protect me from myself

Adamson—Kennedy has an ambitious plan—Ballard does not; #1 impediment to graduation is poverty; creating a more economically stable climate is the best thing we can do
Barth—it’s not good enough to say “it’s not our job so it goes to the state”—mayor can take a strong stand and exert leadership;
*Hickman—Mayor should be engaged; make sure charter schools are transparent; I taught multiple-handicapped preschool kids; we have lost an entire generation with No Child Left Behind—how many kids dropped out b/c they knew they couldn’t pass the test
Kalscheur—home-school; my kids are home-schooled; my wife knows she can teach her kids better than public schools; every parent should be able to make that choice—wherever they want to send their kids; on-line
Levin—charter schools;
*Malone—Hasn’t seen any plan from Kennedy; city isn’t who deals with education; could look at consolidating all schools in the county—we have 10 public school systems in Marion County and so only half of our tax base is IPS
Rivera—Mayors plan with charters and competition is good; has made traditional schools better by encouraging magnet schools; single-gender education
Robinson—as school board member and administrator; Ballard has ignored education for 3.5 years; kennedy wants to fund early childhood education; Mayor and council is the city executive branch should be strong advocates for education

Changing name of Georgia St. b/c of the Superbowl so visitors won’t be confused
Barth, Hickman, Malone, Robinson—ridiculous
Kalscheur—mountain out of molehill
Levin—has nothing to do with Georgia b/c of the song Georgia on our Minds
*Rivera—who cares, I’m open minded-what is the business evidence to support change?
Adamson—does not support; concerned that this change is to “market” this quadrant—a name change is no way to market anything

Economic Development—growing local business vs. bringing in larger businesses?
*Hickman—if you don’t get kids through schools, companies won’t move here, neither will small businesses survive. You therefore can’t get tax revenue to do any of the above things
Kalscheur—95% of businesses have less than 20 employees. The best thing you can do is have a stable, flat tax base and little red tape.
*Levin—we should legalize MJ—growing and possession; this would create cash flow
Malone—develop comprehensive tax increment finance program; support minority and women-owned businesses; need comprehensive economic development plan for the city
Rivera—code enforcement has streamlined the process of getting permits; keep tax rates low and predictable; be open to ideas and out of the box plans
Adamson—wouldn’t focus on Fortune 500, but 500 of his neighbors; what prohibits development of small businesses? Establish incubator system to develop small businesses; develop chamber of commerce processes that are expensive and prohibitive to businesses—I also have other ideas
Barth—Small businesses create 85% of jobs. Hire economic job specialist that goes into communities to facilitate jobs. As neighborhood association, they canvassed neighborhood businesses and asked—what can we do to help you—unanimously they said “get rid of parking meters”—which they did.

Closing Remarks
Kalscheur—ideas won’t come from top down, but come from the community
Levin—“are you better now than you were 10 years ago. Are the red and blue making you black and blue? If not go for the gold, vote Libertarian”
Rivera—contact me to tell me what you want—gives e-mail and phone; property taxes are now lower by 1/3, budget is balanced, murder is down
Robinson—“ Councilor—what city are you talking about?” looking at Rivera; “Those are debatable statements.” also gave contact information; need Kennedy as mayor; failed to support his critique of Rivera
Adamson—plugged all of the Democrats on the ticket and mayor
Barth—plugged all D’s and Kennedy—vote for us; neighborhoods should be the council’s priority
Hickman—is running in place of J Sanders who couldn’t run again; plugged the entire D team and Kennedy; budget isn’t really balanced, b/c it was shored up by a large sale fund derived from other administrations

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Poverty and Unemployment in Indiana

The Governor continues to defend his economic record in Indiana. In an interview today (9-18) from CBS online, Daniels’ primary claim is the title of the article: “Americans Ought to be Scared.” His belief is that the American Dream will be destroyed if we don’t “change things,” that no longer will we be able to “start with nothing and rise to the top.” I take issue with Daniels on two counts—that his methods will lead us back to the American Dream, and his faulty belief in the likelihood of the American Dream, which hasn’t ever been how the majority of U.S. residents experienced life.

First, Daniels does not seem to be performing at a rate comparable to our neighbors. My analysis of BLS unemployment rates since 2009 indicate that our employment rates have declined at a slightly faster rate than the Midwestern average, generally a good sign (this is the "rate of decline"). Despite this, the unemployment rate itself remains above the national and Midwestern averages (see Table 1), topped only by Kentucky and Michigan.

Unfortunately, broader poverty and inequality measures show a far worse pattern. The first, childhood poverty, is nothing less than shocking—26.3% of Hoosiers under 17 are in poverty. The Midwest average is 20% and the national average is 22%. Indiana rates, like those around the country, have increased, but our rates have increased more than 2x Midwestern rates since Daniels took office in 2005 (see Table 2). In an similar trend, Hoosier elderly poverty rates have increased since Daniels’ tenure, even though both national and Midwestern averages have decreased (see Table 3)! One might ask how rates of unemployment are declining, while poverty rates are increasing? The answer is the same reason why unemployment in the South has trended low, but poverty trends very high—corporate incentivization policies have not been attracting high-paying professional jobs. Rather, the jobs Daniels is attracting are low-paying jobs that cannot sustain a family. The data indicates that Daniels’ privatization agenda continues to fail Hoosiers.

To my second claim, a critique of the “American Dream,” it is a consistent finding in the social sciences that it is incredibly difficult to move out of the socio-economic condition into which you are born. Each class—poor, working, middle, upper—are far more likely to remain where they are than move up or down. The middle class has the most “social mobility.” Specifically, the middle class has the best chance of moving either up or down. On the other hand, around 2/3 of those born into poverty will remain in poverty, and 2/3 of those born into wealth will remain wealthy. Only about 7% of children born into poverty make it to “the top” (specifically, 7% of white males—females and racial minorities are far less likely to move up). Clearly, that means upward mobility can happen—just look at Brittney Spears. However, it also indicates those are extreme and isolated circumstances—not simply a matter of “any” child deciding to work hard and make it. Structural forces create significant barriers that seem to prevent mobility, regardless of internal motivation and aptitude.

Daniels is right about one thing—we should be scared. Not of the capacity of Hoosier families to pull out of troubled times, but of Daniels’ neoliberal agenda of privatizing public goods and attracting low-paying jobs…

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Black/White Inequality in the U.S. Today

Most (White) citizens believe we solved White/Black inequality in the 60s, by passing such sweeping regulations as the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Act (1965), and the Fair Housing Act (1968). All of these were a great first step, and remedied egregious acts of discrimination across the country. The problem, is that by the time these laws were passed, the course of Black citizens in the U.S. was largely set, and the profound inequalities that were found in society by that point could not be remedied by simply making discrimination illegal—not to mention that many of these laws didn’t abruptly end such practices, but were resisted for decades by state governments and local communities. The long-term effects of the original discrimination, and the continued violation of federal anti-discrimination law, are still seen today, measurable by differences between Black-White poverty rates and unconscionably high incarceration of racial minorities.

We are almost 150 years passed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ideally put Black residents in the U.S. on a path to citizenship, together with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments (all were measures in the 1860s). However, these Reconstruction Era gains were subverted by state and local resistance, such as the sharecropping system and Jim Crow laws that limited Black economic self-sufficiency and voting rights. To a large degree it should be unsurprising that Blacks in the South failed to make significant economic or political progress as a group, until a century later, which culminated in the violence and chaos of the Civil Rights Movement. A more difficult question is the lack of improvement for the majority of Blacks in the North, since many of these impediments were never part of an institutionalized northern history, particularly in the large industrialized cities. The fact remains that Blacks in the North today remain far poorer and far less politically mobilized than their White counterparts. The “American Dream” narrative, along with our belief in meritocracy, suggests that individuals succeed or fail on their own hard work, or lack thereof. The data indicates otherwise, that group disenfranchisement plays a striking role in perpetuating the inequalities between Blacks and Whites in the U.S. The preceding history sets the stage for these patterns.

There were several large northern migrations of poor farm workers from the South, most of whom were disenfranchised Blacks, motivated to leave their homes by a lack of work and basic civil rights, deplorable living conditions, and lynchings. The motivation to move often came in the form of better opportunities in the growing northern cities where factories promised good jobs. The migration process transitioned U.S. Black demographics from 90% in South in 1900, to 50% by 1970 (see Table 1), and most of the northern migrants lived in large cities. This trend only shifted after the 1973 collapse, when northern cities faced mass unemployment. The migration pattern itself was structured by the need to be located near work, since most of these poor farmers had no transportation, so focused the migrants into urban central cores. Not only proximity to work, but several specific practices led to racial concentration and thus segregation, such as blockbusting, restrictive covenants, redlining and refusal to rent to minorities. Blockbusting was the trend whereby a real estate agent would move a poor black farm family into an urban, white neighborhood, then warn white residents that the “neighborhood is changing” and offer them a home in the growing suburb, access to which is made easy by the rapid construction of urban highway and interstate systems from the 1950s-1970s. Within just a few years, neighborhoods could transition from entirely White to entirely Black. Restrictive covenants were legally enforceable neighborhood documents preventing a homeowner from selling a house to a racial minority. Redlining, while not intentionally racially discriminatory, had racial repercussions, since most of the poor Black southern farmers moved into poor neighborhoods, which were “redlined” by banks and mortgage companies, indicating that they were high risk borrowers, therefore could not get home loans, or were charged high interest.

All of these practices created profound segregation in northern U.S. cities. In fact, by comparison, both Asian and Hispanic segregation levels in the US are in approximately the 30%-50% ranges (dissimilarity index; see Denton and Massey, American Apartheid, 1993), Black segregation in the North averages 75%, and in Chicago is an unbelievable 90%. These rates are not getting better as we enter the 2000s, and in fact in many cases are getting worse. My own studies of race in Indianapolis, from the 2000 census, indicate segregation in Center Township of 72%, and Marion County as a whole at 75%, compared with Asian and Hispanic segregation around 50%.

However, the persistence of urban segregation, created by discrimination in the North, is only part of the larger puzzle, and does not directly answer the question of the increasing poverty gap between White and Black. The more intractable problem is that contemporary discrimination is not nearly so much “bias” discrimination that we normally think about, where one person, organization or business intentionally refuses service to racial minorities because of skin color. Today’s discrimination is rooted in class patterns that were solidified by the segregation history. William Julius Wilson calls this the “concentration of poverty”, which he describes in When Work Disappears (1997). The explanation goes back to the fact that most of the migrants from the South to the North were poor farmers, so came with few assets or job skills. They came for the jobs available in the factories in the cities. The migration began to successfully build an early Black middle class in the North. However, within a few decades of migration, industrialization began to slow, and the booming northern cities quickly became the “Rust Belt,” as technology put many laborers out of work, and foreign outsourcing displaced the few remaining factory workers. This, along with the intersection of several economic crises, led to the 1970s collapse of many northern city economies. All workers were affected, but those most vulnerable were those who had little wealth “buffer” to ride out the changes and transition to new kinds of work.

Specifically, one source of economic buffer were those who had the generational benefits of home ownership from long-time community residence—most northern Blacks were recent residents whose families had been poor farmers. A second source of buffering was educational benefits from the GI Bill most of which went to White veterans--by 1973, almost 50% of White veterans had been able to utilize their benefits, compared to only 25% of Black veterans. Much of this can be understood in terms of the greater ability for White veterans to afford to be able to quit their jobs to go back to work, and to subsidize the remainder of their tuition left unpaid by the GI Bill. Both of these buffers, education and home-ownership, were stalwarts of the middle and upper classes, both of whom were able to flee the declining 1970s urban central cores, which many refer to as “White flight,” since most of those urban-to-suburban transitions were by middle class Whites, but middle class Blacks also moved if they were able. Wilson refers to this as “concentration of poverty,” since the only remaining urban residents were those who were financially unable to move, leaving predominantly low-skill, low-asset residents in areas where city governments had decided they could no longer afford to maintain. Thus, many northern cities saw the rapid decline in infrastructure in their urban cores, with a subsequent large-scale declines in education and health, together with rising unemployment, drug use/selling, and violent crime.

All of these changes can be seen as the confluence of both race and class. Originally, race played an overt role, since bias discrimination was legal and rampant. However, as bias discrimination was made illegal during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, class and segregation effects became powerful constraints on equality. Previous racist housing, hiring and voting practices created geographic, economic and skill disenfranchisement, which froze future opportunities for any resident trapped in these poor areas. By the 1970s those primarily found in impoverished central cities were the first and second generation descendants of the poor farm migrants who came north for jobs, only to find those jobs quickly disappear, and few viable opportunities for either work or education. A recent Ohio case highlights the desperation of mothers whose children are in dangerous and substandard schools—Kelley Williams-Bolar was recently found guilty of two felony counts for using her children’s father’s address to get them into a better school. While the question remains whether this case is overtly about race, it is clearly part of the “concentration of poverty” that disproportionately affects Blacks in northern cities. It is also part of the racist legacy of political institutions preferencing middle and upper class families (predominantly White), while allowing the continued devolution of poor neighborhoods (disproportionately Black), even to the extent of imprisoning a parent for trying to create a better life for her children.

The final pieces of this history bring us to the current day, since explanations rooted in slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and the collapse of northern city economies take us only to the 1980s. The situation today is partly a continuation of the same patterns of segregation and concentration of poverty post-WWII, patterns that we failed to remedy by more aggressive legislation to increase neighborhood race and class diversity and quality of life. However, the other part of the contemporary explanation of the profound difference between black/white poverty, is that not only have we created new patterns of racial discrimination, but we have exacerbated unfair patterns of generational wealth accumulation typically associated with the “American Dream.” For the latter case, current inheritance laws allow the wealthy to continue to consolidate wealth. In fact, the legal affirmation of inheritance patterns violates our fundamental belief in meritocracy, and is one of our few exceptions to our cultural value that “you get what you earn,” since parents often give significant resources to their children in life, and then everything else in death, regardless of the productivity or laziness of the child. Poor families, by contrast, can offer very little in terms of inheritance, thus leaving children born into poor families with solely their own capacities to survive. These patterns, as documented by Shapiro (Hidden Cost of Being African American, 2004) demonstrate the continued disenfranchisement of poor families, primarily black families, as a result of our cultural desire to keep all wealth “in the family,” even after death. As of 1999, Shapiro found that median White inheritance is around $10,000, while the median Black inheritance is $800. Analysis of recent census data indicates this disparity has grown significantly from 2000-2010, rather than getting better, as we might hope if Whites and Blacks operated on a level-playing field. In fact, the lack of a “buffer” for the poor, disproportionately Black, has created a devastating situation during the recession—while both Black and White median household income has been generally increasing since Pew first began collecting wealth data in 1984, both groups saw wealth declines since 2004, when the percent of Black wealth compared to White wealth plummeted from 10% to 5% (see Table 2).

As for the other piece of the contemporary inequality explanation, new patterns of racial discrimination, there are multiple sub-parts. First, we are facing the mass incarceration of young Black men across the U.S. (see Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 2011). Much of this can be tied back to Wilson’s concentration of poverty thesis. There are typically no legitimate job opportunities in poor communities, and poor public transportation out of such communities to where jobs are. Even if an individual can get transportation to a suburban fast-food job to fill out an application, employers often engage in hiring discrimination based on the zip code origin. Applicants from poor communities, often high-crime areas where residents have poor access to education, are assumed to similarly have unreliable transportation to work, a greater likelihood to be a criminal, or to have a poor education making him/her unsuitable as an employee. While any of these may or may not be reasonable assumptions, the outcome is the same—no work, even for those residents of poor neighborhoods who take the initiative to apply to jobs in the suburbs.

With no available work, few opportunities exist to feed one’s family, other than illegal work, like drug-selling. Unemployed fathers often discover that intact families are not eligible for welfare benefits, so both mother and father may decide not to marry or live together since the best chance for food security for their children is food stamps. This creates a disadvantageous situation for children in poor, segregated communities, depleting their social and family resources. The current emphasis of national discourse about welfare is to protect the system from “welfare cheats” (a group of mothers whose existence is difficult to prove, and available data indicates they constitute at most 5-10% of welfare recipients). However, the negative consequence of restrictive welfare availability is that it incentivizes families to remain broken, and since the total of welfare benefits is typically 1/3 of the poverty line, it never creates a path towards self-sufficiency.

Further the education and health of children in poor communities is compromised by the massive funding of prisons in the U.S. We are, by far, the world’s largest jailer, surpassing Russia, and almost triple South Africa. Europe, Canada, and Australia all imprison approximately 1/1000 citizens, while we imprison at 8x that rate (as of 2006), much of which is racially skewed. Studies indicate that 96% of drug-related defendants are racial minorities, whereas drug users themselves are 88% white. Drug laws themselves, as well as enforcement patterns, have led many to question whether the “War on Drugs” is actually a “War on Blacks,” given decades of consistent and specific racial effects. The NAACP this year published a report, Misplaced Priorities, which documents the link between the concentration of poverty, poor educational opportunities, and crime, all of which disproportionately affects Black citizens, including a specific study on Indianapolis. Solutions exist for these patterns, such as changing drug laws and sentencing to reflect medical and legal reasonableness, diverting funding from prisons to drug rehabilitation programs (found to be both cheaper and more effective), and funding education for children and job-training for adults, paid for by downsizing prisons so that non-violent offenders can be reincorporated into society, rather than warehoused with violent offenders. While perhaps in inflammatory analogy, it could be argued that while, during slavery, we extracted Black men from their homes and families in Africa to enslave them as workers on sugar and cotton farms, today we extract Black men from their homes and families here in the U.S. to warehouse them, not as productive slaves, but as unproductive prisoners.

Indianapolis itself has been in the midst of tumultuous debates about our public schools. But with data indicating that poverty, segregation, and lack of neighborhood resources (including male role models who are imprisoned rather than allowed to be fathers and mentors) are the predictor for poor performance of students, the resolutions to these issues will not be found by closing schools that fail to pass standardized tests, or by giving those schools to profiteers as a business venture. The problem is with impoverished communities, and unprepared students, not teacher unions, or the public school system itself, although few would disagree that both teachers and schools could always be improved. Further, the problem of impoverished communities is not one of individual laziness or moral incapacity, since history determines much of our life course, especially when the previous and current generations face(d) such profound economic disenfranchisement, not to mention political inequalities. Sociologists are in agreement that the vast majority of poverty is created by institutional and historic disadvantages, and that individual free-will accounts for very little possible upward social mobility (See Table 3). With this as a framework, it is unreasonable to expect poor communities to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and fix themselves. Rather what is needed is a renewed sense of national unity and shared sacrifice that will create a social and economic climate whereby all benefit, not just Whites, and not just the wealthy. While the current generation did not create this pattern of inequality and there is far less bias discrimination than 50 years ago, generational benefit still accrues by those born into middle and upper class families to the profound disadvantage to those children born into an impoverished community, and a rigged system.