New Issue!

by Chris Sturr | January 22, 2015



New Issue!  Our Jan/Feb 2015 issue is (finally) out–or at least it is ready to be sent to the printers tomorrow. (E-subscribers will get their pdf by email tomorrow also.)  We posted John Miller’s “Up Against the Wall Street Journal” column today: Another Gift for Corporations–Lower Tax Rates, timely because of Obama’s discussion of tax reform in the State of the Union (more on the SOTU when I get a chance to post some links that have been accumulating on my desk).  There is lots else to enjoy in this issue.  Here is our p. 2 editors’ note:

Why Must It Be So? 

Almost by definition, those who are battling the wealthy and powerful are normally going to be on the defensive. Being the wealthy and powerful is like holding the high ground in a battle. It makes it easier to repel any challenges. And it means that you must have won battles in the past, or you wouldn’t still have the high ground.

Seeking to understand and explain why society is how it is—what we try to do at Dollars & Sense—means confronting, over and over, why the other side is winning, how they occupy the high ground. But it’s a task that can give rise not only to despair, but also to hope: Ask “why is the world how it is?” and you’re liable to end up asking “well, why isn’t it different?”
In this issue, Deborah M. Figart and Thomas Barr look at the growing world of check-cashing outlets (CCOs). With a mostly low-income clientele not well-served by regular banks, check-cashing is an industry rife with the possibility of predatory practices and extortionate fees. So why isn’t that always the case? Figart explains that the story varies a great deal from one state to another, and that the difference is effective (and effectively enforced) regulation.

Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg takes a look back at the mass upsurge of the Great Depression era—the labor struggles that created large industrial unions and the lesser-known movements of the unemployed—and why we haven’t seen anything on a comparable scale during our Great Recession. She argues that the underlying conditions of the present era, while not as severe as the 1930s, were enough to create a much larger upsurge than actually happened. The missing ingredients have been even modestly supportive government policies and cohesive, ideologically committed groups of organizers.

Robin Broad shows us an example to emulate—the 1964 “Tokyo No,” in which 19 lower-income countries opposed a World Bank proposal to create a tribunal where investors could sue governments, sidestepping national courts. While the tribunal system still went through, this is no mere nostalgia for past defiance. The issue of “investor-stage dispute settlement” is ever more pressing, as such institutions have grown in power, and is provoking renewed defiance today.

Economist Jayati Ghosh points to the obstacles standing in the way of economic development and labor solidarity, and yet offers an optimistic and ambitious vision of the world that could be: where “your life chances are not fundamentally different because of accidents of birth. So if you are born as a girl of a minority ethnic group in a rural area of a poor region, you would still have access to minimum conditions of life and opportunities for developing your capabilities that are not too different from a boy born in a well-off household of a dominant social group in an affluent society.”

So, how do we get there from here? We do not have mass movements in the United States today at the scale of the 1930s. To give but one example, in 1934 and again in 1937, the percentage of all employed workers involved in a work stoppage was over 7%, a figure exceeded for only three years in the next half century. There are, however, nascent movements impacting U.S. political life in important ways. The Occupy Movement sounded a battle cry over the growing abyss of income and wealth inequality—giving us a new lexicon of the “1%” and the “99%.” Movements like Our Walmart and the Fight for 15 are showing that workers in low-wage industries like fast food and retail will not take low pay and abusive working conditions lying down. The Black Lives Matter movement is fighting back against the racist and repressive face of the state. (We should note, too, hopeful developments on the world scene: Leftist parties like SYRIZA in Greece and Podemos (We Can) in Spain, for example, are on the rise, offering alternatives not only to business neoliberalism and right-wing populism, but also to center-left parties that have done the dirty work of austerity.)
The movements of today are, perhaps, less akin to those of the Depression era than to those that persisted between the Red Scare and the Great Crash—that, even under assault by employers and the state, laid the groundwork for mass risings of the next decade. The challenge, now, is to build these movements, as Goldberg describes, into mass movements of millions, and to imbue them, as Ghosh proposes, with the vision of a new society that only they can make.

Links on SOTU, Black Lives Matter, the economics profession, the Van Hollen plan, and other stuff soon!

–Chris Sturr


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Support the Homelessness Marathon, Feb 17-18

by Chris Sturr | January 09, 2015

I heard from my old friend in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, Jeremy Alderson, about the upcoming 17th Homelessness Marathon, happening this coming Tuesday and Wednesday [CORRECTION–it’s on Tuesday, Feb. 17 and Wednesday Feb. 18th]. This is an annual, 14-hour, overnight radio broadcast focusing on homelessness, broadcast from the streets of a different city each year, airing the voices of the homeless themselves, and homeless advocates.

The program often originates from a cold northern city–I remember volunteering for it when it happened in Cambridge, MA more than ten years ago now–but this year’s program originates in Sarasota, FL–Jeremy tells me that Florida is “arguably, the very worst state in its treatment of the homeless.”)

It’s an amazing program, the most sustained broadcast in the country focusing on poverty (I remember that when I volunteered for the marathon when it was in Cambridge, part of my job was to line up public and community stations to air it, and it was pitiful and shameful how many “public” radio stations couldn’t see fit to do so, but wonderful how many stations across the country did), and it is truly remarkable to hear homeless people tell their own stories live on the radio.

I urge you to tune in, and also to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign that will fund this year’s program. Details below.

17th Homelessness Marathon

We tell it like it is.

The Homelessness Marathon is the one place where homeless people get to tell their stories, not as poor unfortunates appealing to the mercy of their betters, but as Americans talking to their fellow citizens about the conditions they face and what, from their perspective, they see happening in our country.

The broadcast runs for 14 hours overnight.  It is almost entirely live,  We gather homeless people in a central location and talk with them all night, while taking calls from around the country and talking to experts, advocates, and politicians, among others.  The next broadcast is slated to originate from Sarasota, Florida, starting at7 p.m., eastern time, on Tuesday, February 17th and ending at 9 a.m., eastern, on Wednesday, February 18th.  It will air on dozens of radio stations coast-to-coast, and ten hours of it will be carried on Free Speech TV, which has channels on Dish Network, DirecTV and online.

Homeless people love the broadcast, because it gives them the dignity of feeling like human beings whose concerns are being taken seriously.

                      “When I was listening to the show… I was reminded that there’s safety in numbers, and that working together, we can help each other get back on our feet.  I thought the Marathon was great.”  Jeff Roderick, a resident of Seattle’s Tent City.

                       “What it did was bring a lot of people together.”  Big Sue, a homeless woman in Fresno, CA. 

                       “It was a special event, almost a party, but people showed great respect for each other.  There was a lot of talk amongst the guests about issues of homelessness.  It was a wonderful environment… I have a section 8 voucher and will now try harder to get out of the shelter and into housing.  This night has given me some perspective on my situation… I still have a problem, but I feel more empowered…” Charles Swenson, homeless paper vendor with multiple sclerosis in Cambridge, MA.

“I was BLOWN AWAY to hear it on the radio. You have no idea… to really hear myself represented in such an honest way was like a re-birth of some kind. I felt validated as a human being, and that’s something that occurs very seldom among the homeless. Again, THANK YOU.”  Carrie, living in her car at freeway rest stops in California.

                       “Homelessness, it’s not for nobody.  Like, it’s too much out here.  Like, and then theys people out here with their children, like babies, and older people out here that they should be taken care of.  And it’s not for nobody.  It’s enough to make somebody cry, like seriously.”  Gwen, homeless participant in Detroit, who was four days from her baby’s due date.

This will be our 17th broadcast.  We’ve originated from Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, post-Katrina Mississippi, and lots of other places over the years.  We chose Sarasota for the site of our 17th broadcast because we are partnering with the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) to highlight some of the worst conditions for homeless people in the country.   According to the NCH, many of our nation’s cruelest cities are in Florida, and  Sarasota, itself, was one year named the cruelest city of all.

We’ll be hosted in Sarasota by community radio station WSLR, which is located in the heart of an area frequented by homeless people.  WSLR has a large outdoor patio where we can conduct the broadcast and welcome many guests.  Part of our plan is to bring delegations from some of the other Florida cities that the NCH has criticized and hold a Homeless People’s Convention to demand change and give free advice.  The “free advice” part is important, because Sarasota is a city that paid more than $150,000 to a consultant, whose very limited advice — e.g. to build another shelter — they didn’t take anyway.  Instead they’ve come up with a plan to give homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town.

Homeless people aren’t the only ones who think the Homelessness Marathon is an important broadcast.

                        “Several people have brought you up in different meetings. A new awareness has emerged in our community about homelessness.” Roberta Avilla, director Mississippi Interfaith Disaster Task Force.

                       “This is as real as anything I’ve ever been a part of…This is a great thing. This has brought focus.”  Fresno Mayor Alan Autry                       “Appearing on the Homelessness Marathon was a true learning experience for me. People walked up to the mic and explained in plain language why they were homeless, and most of it had to do with losing a job and being unable to pay the rent, which can happen to any of us. The Marathon put a human face on something that too many turn their backs on as an aberration.” Laughlin McDonald, Director ACLU Voting Rights Project                       “This was a pretty incredible experience for us at Columbus house, staff and guests alike. I believe that the folks who were on the air with you stretched beyond their immediate experience of the shelter to speak on the larger issues, which was profound for them, and for me.” Alison Cunningham, director, Columbus House, New Haven, CT                       “The Marathon generated more interest and conversation than I would ever have imagined. I think that it got folks thinking about the issue in renewed ways…. Blessings on your work.” Sister Donna Hawk, director Transitional Housing, Inc., Cleveland, OHEveryone who works on the Homelessness Marathon is a volunteer.  100% of the money you donate (except for Indiegogo’s fee and the cost of premiums) will go to the nuts and bolts of the broadcast, transporting staff, buying satellite time, installing telephone lines, etc.  If we don’t reach our funding goal, we’ll still put on the broadcast, as best we can.  It won’t be the first one we’ve jury-rigged and still made it through.

This isn’t easy work, because attitudes that denigrate and isolate homeless people are now deeply entrenched in our culture and political system.  That’s why we need your help.  Please help us show what the poorest of the poor in our country really face, and please help us, too, to encourage America onto a better path.

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