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Forum Post: Prison Profiteers Are Neo-Slaveholders and Solitary Is Their Weapon of Choice

Posted 11 years ago on March 18, 2013, 11:50 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Prison Profiteers Are Neo-Slaveholders and Solitary Is Their Weapon of Choice

Monday, 18 March 2013 10:56 By Chris Hedges, Truthdig | Op-Ed


If, as Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons” then we are a nation of barbarians. Our vast network of federal and state prisons, with some 2.3 million inmates, rivals the gulags of totalitarian states. Once you disappear behind prison walls you become prey. Rape. Torture. Beatings. Prolonged isolation. Sensory deprivation. Racial profiling. Chain gangs. Forced labor. Rancid food. Children imprisoned as adults. Prisoners forced to take medications to induce lethargy. Inadequate heating and ventilation. Poor health care. Draconian sentences for nonviolent crimes. Endemic violence.

Bonnie Kerness and Ojore Lutalo, both of whom I met in Newark, N.J., a few days ago at the office of American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch, have fought longer and harder than perhaps any others in the country against the expanding abuse of prisoners, especially the use of solitary confinement. Lutalo, once a member of the Black Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Black Panthers, first wrote Kerness in 1986 while he was a prisoner at Trenton State Prison, now called New Jersey State Prison. He described to her the bleak and degrading world of solitary confinement, the world of the prisoners like him held in the so-called management control unit, which he called “a prison within a prison.” Before being released in 2009, Lutalo was in the management control unit for 22 of the 28 years he served for the second of two convictions—the first for a bank robbery and the second for a gun battle with a drug dealer. He kept his sanity, he told me, by following a strict regime of exercising in his tiny cell, writing, meditating and tearing up newspapers to make collages that portrayed his prison conditions.

“The guards in riot gear would suddenly wake you up at 1 a.m., force you to strip and make you grab all your things and move you to another cell just to harass you,” he said when we spoke in Newark. “They had attack dogs with them that were trained to go for your genitals. You spent 24 hours alone one day in your cell and 22 the next. If you do not have a strong sense of purpose you don’t survive psychologically. Isolation is designed to defeat prisoners mentally, and I saw a lot of prisoners defeated.”

Lutalo’s letter was Kerness’ first indication that the U.S. prison system was creating something new—special detention facilities that under international law are a form of torture. He wrote to her: “How does one go about articulating desperation to another who is not desperate? How does one go about articulating the psychological stress of knowing that people are waiting for me to self-destruct?” The techniques of sensory deprivation and prolonged isolation were pioneered by the Central Intelligence Agency to break prisoners during the Cold War. Alfred McCoy, the author of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror,” wrote in his book that “interrogators had found that mere physical pain, no matter how extreme, often produced heightened resistance.” So the intelligence agency turned to the more effective mechanisms of “sensory disorientation” and “self-inflicted pain,” McCoy noted. [One example of causing self-inflicted pain is to force a prisoner to stand without moving or to hold some other stressful bodily position for a long period.] The combination, government psychologists argued, would cause victims to feel responsible for their own suffering and accelerate psychological disintegration. Sensory disorientation combines extreme sensory overload with extreme sensory deprivation. Prolonged isolation is followed by intense interrogation. Extreme heat is followed by extreme cold. Glaring light is followed by total darkness. Loud and sustained noise is followed by silence. “The fusion of these two techniques, sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain, creates a synergy of physical and psychological trauma whose sum is a hammer-blow to the existential platforms of personal identity,” McCoy wrote.

After hearing from Lutalo, Kerness became a fierce advocate for him and other prisoners held in isolation units. She published through her office a survivor’s manual for those held in isolation as well as a booklettitled “Torture in United States Prisons.” And she began to collect the stories of prisoners held in isolation.

“My food trays have been sprayed with mace or cleaning agents, … human feces and urine put into them by guards who deliver trays to my breakfast, lunch, and dinner… ,” a prisoner in isolation in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility at Carlisle, Ind., was quoted as saying in “Torture in United States Prisons.” “I have witnessed sane men of character become self-mutilators, suffer paranoia, panic attacks, hostile fantasies about revenge. One prisoner would swallow packs of AA batteries, and stick a pencil in his penis. They would cut on themselves to gain contact with staff nurses or just to draw attention to themselves. These men made slinging human feces ‘body waste’ daily like it was a recognized sport. Some would eat it or rub it all over themselves as if it was body lotion. ... Prisoncrats use a form of restraint, a bed crafted to strap men in four point Velcro straps. Both hands to the wrist and both feet to the ankles and secured. Prisoners have been kept like this for 3-6 hours at a time. Most times they would remove all their clothes. The Special Confinement Unit used [water hoses] on these men also. ... When prisons become overcrowded, prisoncrats will do forced double bunking. Over-crowding issues present an assortment of problems many of which results in violence. ... Prisoncrats will purposely house a ‘sex offender’ in a cell with prisoners with sole intentions of having him beaten up or even killed.”

In 1913 Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, discontinued its isolation cages. Prisoners within the U.S. prison system would not be held in isolation again in large numbers until the turmoil of the 1960s and the rise of the anti-war and civil rights movements along with the emergence of radical groups such as the Black Panthers. Trenton State Prison established a management control unit, or isolation unit, in 1975 for political prisoners, mostly black radicals such as Lutalo whom the state wanted to segregate from the wider prison population. Those held in the isolation unit were rarely there because they had violated prison rules; they were there because of their revolutionary beliefs—beliefs the prison authorities feared might resonate with other prisoners. In 1983 the federal prison in Marion, Ill., instituted a permanent lockdown, creating, in essence, a prisonwide “control unit.” By 1994 the Federal Bureau of Prisons, using the Marion model, built its maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo. The use of prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation exploded. “Special housing units” were formed for the mentally ill. “Security threat group management units” were formed for those accused of gang activity. “Communications management units” were formed to isolate Muslims labeled as terrorists. Voluntary and involuntary protective custody units were formed. Administrative segregation punishment units were formed to isolate prisoners said to be psychologically troubled. All were established in open violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Kerness calls it “the war at home.” And she says it is only the latest variation of the long assault on the poor, especially people of color.



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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 years ago

“There are no former Jim Crow systems,” Kerness said. “The transition from slavery to Black Codes to convict leasing to the Jim Crow laws to the wars on poverty, veterans, youth and political activism in the 1960s has been a seamless evolution of political and social incapacitation of poor people of color. The sophisticated fascism of the practices of stop and frisk, charging people in inner cities with ‘wandering,’ driving and walking while black, ZIP code racism—these and many other de facto practices all serve to keep our prisons full. In a system where 60 percent of those who are imprisoned are people of color, where students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, where 58 percent of African [American] youth … are sent to adult prisons, where women of color are 69 percent more likely to be imprisoned and where offenders of color receive longer sentences, the concept of colorblindness doesn’t exist. The racism around me is palpable.” “The 1960s, when the last of the Jim Crow laws were reversed, this whole new set of practices accepted by law enforcement was designed to continue to feed the money-generating prison system, which has neo-slavery at its core,” she said. “Until we deeply recognize that the system’s bottom line is social control and creating a business from bodies of color and the poor, nothing can change.” She noted that more than half of those in the prison system have never physically harmed another person but that “just about all of these people have been harmed themselves.” And not only does the criminal justice sweep up the poor and people of color, but slavery within the prison system is permitted by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …” This, Kerness said, “is at the core how the labor of slaves was transformed into what people in prison call neo-slavery.” Neo-slavery is an integral part of the prison industrial complex, in which hundreds of thousands of the nation’s prisoners, primarily people of color, are forced to work at involuntary labor for a dollar or less an hour. “If you call the New Jersey Bureau of Tourism you are most likely talking to a prisoner at the Edna Mahan Correctional Institution for Women who is earning 23 cents an hour who has no ability to negotiate working hours or working conditions,” she said.

The bodies of poor, unemployed youths are worth little on the streets but become valuable commodities once they are behind bars. “People have said to me that the criminal justice system doesn’t work,” Kerness said. “I’ve come to believe exactly the opposite—that it works perfectly, just as slavery did, as a matter of economic and political policy. How is it that a 15-year-old in Newark who the country labels worthless to the economy, who has no hope of getting a job or affording college, can suddenly generate 20,000 to 30,000 dollars a year once trapped in the criminal justice system? The expansion of prisons, parole, probation, the court and police systems has resulted in an enormous bureaucracy which has been a boon to everyone from architects to food vendors—all with one thing in common, a paycheck earned by keeping human beings in cages. The criminalization of poverty is a lucrative business, and we have replaced the social safety net with a dragnet.”

Prisons are at once hugely expensive—the country has spent some $300 billion on them since 1980—and, as Kerness pointed out, hugely profitable. Prisons function in the same way the military-industrial complex functions. The money is public and the profits are private. “Privatization in the prison industrial complex includes companies, which run prisons for profit while at the same time gleaning profits from forced labor,” she said. “In the state of New Jersey, food and medical services are provided by corporations, which have a profit motive. One recent explosion of private industry is the partnering of Corrections Corporation of America with the federal government to detain close to 1 million undocumented people. Using public monies to enrich private citizens is the history of capitalism at its most exploitive.”

Those released from prison are woefully unprepared for re-entry. They carry with them the years of trauma they endured. They often suffer from the endemic health problems that come with long incarceration, including hepatitis C, tuberculosis and HIV. They often do not have access to medications upon release to treat their physical and mental illnesses. Finding work is difficult. They feel alienated and are often estranged from friends and family. More than 60 percent end up back in prison.

“How do you teach someone to rid themselves of degradation?” Kerness asked. “How long does it take to teach people to feel safe, a sense of empowerment in a world where they often come home emotionally and physically damaged and unemployable? There are many reasons that ex-prisoners do not make it—paramount among them is that they are not supposed to succeed.”

Kerness has long been a crusader. In 1961 at the age of 19 she left New York to work for a decade in Tennessee in the civil rights struggle, including a year at Tennessee’s Highlander Research and Education Center, where Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. trained. By the 1970s she was involved in housing campaigns for the poor in New Jersey. She kept running into families that included incarcerated members. This led her to found Prison Watch. The letters that pour into her office are disturbing. Female prisoners routinely complain of being sexually abused by guards. One prisoner wrote to her office: “That was not part of my sentence to perform oral sex with officers.” Other prisoners write on behalf of the mentally ill who have been left to deteriorate in the prison system. One California prisoner told of a mentally ill man spreading feces over himself and the guards then dumping him into a scalding bath that took skin off 30 percent of his body.

[-] 1 points by shoozTroll (17632) 11 years ago

Jim Crow, lives on in Detroit.

What’s Behind the Emergency Management of Detroit? Michigan Governor Imposes Corporate Rule Bankruptcy lawyer vows to restructure city government to pay the banks By Abayomi Azikiwe Global Research, March 18, 2013 Pan-African News Wire Region: USA Theme: Global Economy 34 9 0

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On March 14, multi-millionaire Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr as an “emergency manager’ over the city of Detroit. Detroit becomes the latest city in a string of other majority African American municipalities in Michigan to fall under the dictatorship of the state who are serving as agents of the banks who claim that the people owe approximately $16.9 billion in long term debt.

Orr, who was involved in the Chrysler bankruptcy re-structuring in 2009, immediately warned the city unions that they would be a target of his efforts. He said “Don’t make me go to the bankruptcy court. You won’t enjoy it.” (autopsies.com, March 18)

The emergency manager went on to say that “Bankruptcy’s been my stock and trade. I’m very comfortable in bankruptcy courts. You can do everything by consent…When I say consensual, I mean…let’s get at it and work together because we can resolve this.”

Orr previously worked for the international Jones Day law firm which ostensibly specializes in “turnarounds” for private corporations. The bankruptcy process with Chrysler Corporation led to massive layoffs in the tens of thousands, the freezing of wages and the institutionalization of a two-tier wage structure.

In Detroit, municipal employees have been forced to take up to 20 percent pay cuts and the erosion of healthcare and pension benefits. Since the corporate-oriented Mayor Dave Bing took office in 2009, some 4,000 city employment positions have been eliminated.

At present the city is facing a monumental economic crisis. Public transportation is in an abysmal state, lighting is out in large sections of city and streets are in gross disrepair.

Although the City Council filed an unsuccessful appeal in the state capital of Lansing on March 12 against the state takeover, Snyder announced two days later that he was moving forward with the seizure. He introduced Orr at a press conference at the state office building in the New Center area while demonstrators picketed outside condemning the move as an act of dictatorship and a total abrogation of the democratic rights of voters who just in November, had voted down the emergency manager law in a statewide ballot initiative.

What’s Behind the Emergency Management of Detroit

The emergency manager guarantees that debt-service be paid to the banks. All existing labor contracts and other measures can be thrown out based upon the interests of capital. Jerome Goldberg of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition spoke to the crowd outside the state office building on March 14 saying that the appointment of Orr is designed to enrich the financial institutions. He was met with great applause with people chanting “make the banks pay.”

In response to the declaration of a “financial emergency” by Snyder on March 1, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition issued a statement and press release opposing such actions and pointing out that it was the banks and corporations that were responsible for the economic and political crisis in the city. The statement was widely circulated online and prompted an interview by Bloomberg News.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition statement read in part that “Snyder along with the corporate media is blaming the people of Detroit for their current plight, yet the situation in existence in the city is a direct result of racist and exploitative practices of the financial institutions and the corporations. Over the last decade more than 237,000 people were forced out of the city due to home foreclosures, utility shut-offs and the elimination of jobs.”

This same statement continues noting “Piled on top of this massive loss of employment and fraudulent mortgage lending, the city government was forced into credit default swaps (cds) and other questionable municipal loans which have rendered the people to indebtedness that can never be paid off. In addition, the bond rating agencies such as Moody’s, Standard & Poor and Fitch have continued to lower the creditworthiness of the city and therefore driving up interest and penalties where the banks can now claim all tax revenues that should be utilized to pay for municipal services and education.”

In Bloomberg News, David Sole, an organizer for the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and a recently-retired municipal employee with the Department of Water and Sewerage told the publication that “We have no lights, no buses, poor streets and now we’re paying millions of dollars a year on our debt. The banks said they need to be paid first. But there is no money.” (March 14)

Another article in Bloomberg on March 15 approaches the crisis from the standpoint of the denial of voting rights to nearly half of the African American residents of Michigan who are under emergency management. It is true that the emergency manager, or dictator law, harkens back to the Jim Crow era, nevertheless, so does the use of banks in targeting African American households and communities as source of avaricious profit-making and usury.

The existing political structures in Detroit and other cities with majority African American populations in Michigan are being strangled by the banks and corporations. The threat of bankruptcy by Kevyn Orr and Rick Snyder is designed to force even greater austerity measures upon the people of Detroit.

These putative solutions by Orr and Snyder will not work because the entire capitalist system is in crisis across the country and the world. In Washington they have taken $85 billion out of the federal budget which was signed by Barack Obama.

The Need for United Action in the Struggle Against Emergency Management

In the statement issued by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition the organization calls for “an immediate halt to all debt-service payments to the banks which would immediately provide enough revenue to operate the city. The banks must then be held accountable for their robbery and consequent destruction of Detroit.”

According to the data compiled by Bloomberg, “Banks including UBS, AG, Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have enabled about $3.7 billion of bond issues to cover deficits, pension shortfalls and debt payments since 2005. Liabilities rose to almost $15 billion, including money owed retirees. These figures were taken from a state-appointed Financial Review Team report in 2012.

The Financial Review Team’s report led to the appointment of a so-called Financial Advisory Board (FAB) that has veto power over all decisions made by the City Council and Mayor’s Office. The FAB was put in place through an illegal Financial Stability Agreement (FSA) that was authorized by a narrow 5-4 decision by the City Council on April 4, 2012.

Yet despite the imposition of a FSA some ten month later the Governor announced that it was not enough and went on to declare a financial emergency and appoint an emergency manager. This was done under the new emergency manager law which was passed hastily in a lame duck session in December.

Other legislation was passed during this period including a right-to-work bill, the abolition of personal property taxes on businesses and other draconian measures. All of these bills will further impoverish the working class and the nationally oppressed in the state of Michigan.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition in its statement called for “mass demonstrations, rallies, press conferences to protest and denounce the actions of Snyder and his collaborators. These protests should “expose the criminal nature of the banks and the corporations who are at the root of the financial crisis in Detroit and throughout the state of Michigan.”

Meanwhile, the first batch of some 2,700 documents has been released to Moratorium NOW! as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed earlier in the year. The organization is setting up a people’s review board to analyze the documents to expose that the existing crisis is a direct result of the banks.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 years ago

Kerness said the letters she receives from prisoners collectively present a litany of “inhumane conditions including cold, filth, callous medical care, extended isolation often lasting years, use of devices of torture, harassment, brutality and racism.” Prisoners send her drawings of “four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, tethers, and waist and leg chains.” But the worst torment, prisoners tell her, is the psychological pain caused by “no touch torture” that included “humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, extreme light or dark, extreme cold or heat” and “extended solitary confinement.” These techniques, she said, are consciously designed to carry out “a systematic attack on all human stimuli.”

The use of sensory deprivation was applied by the government to imprisoned radicals in the 1960s including members of the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, the Puerto Rican independence movement and the American Indian Movement, along with environmentalists, anti-imperialists and civil rights activists. It is now used extensively against Islamic militants, jailhouse lawyers and political prisoners. Many of those political prisoners were part of radical black underground movements in the 1960s that advocated violence. A few, such as Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, are well known, but most have little public visibility—among them Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Imam Jamil Al-Amin (known as H. Rap Brown when in the 1960s he was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Jalil Bottom, Sekou Odinga, Abdul Majid, Tom Manning and Bill Dunne.

Those within the system who attempt to resist the abuse and mistreatment are dealt with severely. Prisoners in the overcrowded Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Lucasville, Ohio, staged a revolt in 1993 after years of routine beatings, degrading rituals of public humiliation and the alleged murders of prisoners by guards. The some 450 prisoners, who were able to unite antagonistic prison factions including the Aryan Brotherhood and the black Gangster Disciples, held out for 11 days. It was one of the longest prison rebellions in U.S. history. Nine prisoners and a guard were killed by the prisoners during the revolt. The state responded with characteristic fury. It singled out some 40 prisoners and eventually shipped them to Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), a supermax facility outside Youngstown that was constructed in 1998. There prisoners are held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in 7-by-11-foot cells. Prisoners at OSP almost never see the sun or have human contact. Those charged with participating in the uprising have, in some cases, been held in these punitive conditions at OSP or other facilities since the 1993 revolt. Five prisoners—Bomani Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb, George Skatzes and Namir Abdul Mateen—involved in the uprising were charged with murder. They are being held in isolation on death row. Kerness says the for-profit prison companies have created an entrepreneurial class like that of the Southern slaveholders, one “dependent on the poor, and on bodies of color as a source for income,” and she describes federal and state departments of corrections as “a state of mind.” This state of mind, she said in the interview, “led to Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo and what is going on in U.S. prisons right this moment.”

As long as profit remains an incentive to incarcerate human beings and our corporate state abounds in surplus, redundant labor, there is little chance that the prison system will be reformed. It is making our corporate overlords wealthy. Our prisons serve the engine of corporate capitalism, transferring state money to private corporations. These corporations will continue to stymie rational prison reform because the system, however inhumane and unjust, feeds corporate bank accounts. At its bottom the problem is not race—although race plays a huge part in incarceration rates—nor is it finally poverty; it is the predatory nature of corporate capitalism itself. And until we slay the beast of corporate capitalism, until we wrest power back from corporations, until we build social institutions and a system of governance designed not to profit the few but foster the common good, our prison industry and the horror it perpetuates will only expand.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 years ago

Failed "Welfare" Programs and the Web of Poverty

Monday, 18 March 2013 00:00 By Max Eternity, Truthout | News Analysis


Whether by default or conscious implementation, a variety of institutional policies contribute to ongoing poverty. These include federal policies around poverty assistance and student debt, institutional barriers to upward social mobility and criminalization of poverty.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted, "An edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring." However, though "beggars" are constantly being "produced" in every corner of the country, it is sometimes difficult to determine what the specific edifices that produce them look like, and where they lie. The politics and policies that create paradigms of poverty are often remote and administered with a hidden hand.

Facts and figures on the subject of poverty must be parsed: There are "beggars" living paycheck-to-paycheck, a step away from slipping into poverty. There are "beggars" mired in deep poverty, handed down generationally. And there are those in even deeper poverty, faced with homelessness and starvation.

In 2011, according to a US Census Bureau report, the official poverty rate in the United States was 15 percent, amounting to 46.2 million people in poverty. The poverty rate for children under 18 was even more sobering, with more than one in five kids living in poverty. Further, the numbers indicate that things have gotten worse over the past decade: Poverty hit a 17-year high in 2010, and remained at that rate in 2011. Rates are substantially worse for blacks and Latinos, more than a quarter of whom live in poverty.

It's clear that the edifice - the socioeconomic and political framework that drives these trends - has failed. But what would a true restructuring look like?

Federal Poverty Programs Do Not Lift the Poor out of Poverty Across the US government, most programs intended to eradicate poverty have served only to perpetuate it.

Sixteen years ago, President Clinton signed off on a piece of welfare reform legislation called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWOR), which bore the colloquial nomenclature "welfare to work." The Department of Health and Human Services web site states that PRWOR welfare recipients were required to "work in exchange for time-limited assistance." Clinton's welfare-to-work program also included "comprehensive child support enforcement" that claimed to be "the most sweeping crackdown on non-paying parents in history." Clinton's PRWOR welfare-to-work program is now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

For a short while in the late 1990s, the program did appear to reduce poverty. Whatever successes may have been achieved, however, were short-lived, according to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):

Over the last 16 years, the national TANF caseload has declined by 60 percent, even as poverty and deep poverty have worsened. While the official poverty rate among families declined in the early years of welfare reform, when the economy was booming and unemployment was extremely low, it started increasing in 2000 and now exceeds its 1996 level.

These opposing trends - TANF caseloads going down while poverty is going up - mean that a much smaller share of poor families receive cash assistance from TANF than they did prior to welfare reform.

According to Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at CBPP, TANF has hastened a restructuring that ultimately exacerbated conditions for the poorest people. "It was about cutting different groups of people; for example, immigrants were cut from food stamps," he told Truthout.

Sherman noted that "welfare to work" programs have, in some cases, helped folks living just below the poverty line to climb above it. However, he said, the change in structure "very much created a sink-or-swim world."

"The number of children and parents who fell below (the poverty line) increased by more than a million in the ensuing decade, and that is very directly tied to the weakening of the safety net for families who happened to be without work," Sherman said, adding that the programs proved to be "a real weakening of the safety net for those at the bottom, in deep poverty."

He added that the difficult economic climate of recent years has compounded these effects: When there's little work available, the "welfare-to-work" approach falls flat.

Though changes could likely be made to make TANF more just, the underlying principle of the welfare-to-work approach inevitably tosses some of the neediest people to the sidelines: Making aid contingent on a particular (sometimes impossible) involvement with the work force means that many people for whom that specific participation is not viable (many of them single mothers) simply "fall" off the rolls. In a piece in In These Times, reporter Michelle Chen attributes worsening poverty to the "cruel" welfare-to-work policies of both Republicans and Democrats.

"[B]oth parties have gutted the welfare system as a whole to conduct a cruel social experiment on impoverished families," she states, adding that welfare "reform" amounts to a "punitive approach to poverty [that] has driven poor mothers of color further to the margins of the economy, making them even more politically invisible."

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 years ago

There Are No Policies to Increase Social Mobility

The ideal of "the American dream" has been slipping away quickly, even for those who aren't living in poverty. According to a recent Federal Reserve survey cited in The New York Times, "The median American family's net worth dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2010 - from $126,400 to $77,300 - wiping out 18 years' worth of accumulated wealth." Perhaps it is this kind of data that led even financial self-help guru Suze Orman to declare in a 2010 Forbes magazine article, "The American dream is dead."

In an October 2012 story in Der Spiegel, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz echoed Orman, saying, "The American dream has become a myth." Stiglitz, former chief economist to the World Bank, continued:

There has been no improvement in well-being for the typical American family for 20 years. On the other side, the top one percent of the population gets 40% more in one week than the bottom fifth receive in a full year. In short, we have become a divided society. America has created a marvelous economic machine, but most of the benefits have gone to the top.

The ongoing loss of the middle class in inner cities further evidences the fact that current policies favor a wealthy few, resulting in the return of once-modestly-integrated cities to near apartheid-like economic segregation. In the San Francisco Chronicle, Tyche Hendricks wrote in 2006, "The gentrification of San Francisco's neighborhoods reflects one facet of a national trend: the decline of middle-income neighborhoods in metropolitan America."

The acceleration of economic inequity and social immobilization is not an artifact of nature or natural forces; like poverty itself, it stems from the powerful "edifice" King describes.

Changes in tax policies have allowed an elite few to escape the forces of gravity in terms of wealth and income, permitting large corporations to escape taxes almost altogether. A parallel trend is also seen in trade policy, where a failure to enforce antitrust laws and unregulated finance has promulgated business models that undermine the viability of the independent small- to medium-size businesses that were once the bedrock of communal prosperity across America. These conjoined policies have also resulted in the creation of lower paying "McJobs", increasing the ranks of the working poor.

Changes in bankruptcy laws over the last 20 years have made it harder to declare personal bankruptcy and to escape certain kinds of debts - discouraging entrepreneurs and students, and condemning many people to perpetual debt servitude. This punitive personal debt, in fact, is a crucial, often downplayed issue in the landscape of economic injustice, according to economist Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center For Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) and regular Truthout contributor.

"[T]here were never very many people who made a successful run with a small business," Baker told Truthout. "The vast majority fail…. The bigger issue here is the new [Bush administration] bankruptcy laws, which leave many people in debt for decades."

Other government policies that reduce access to education - once the great driver of social mobility - make the prospect of escaping from poverty even more difficult.

A case in point: The University of California (UC), California State University (CSU) and California Community Colleges (CCC) are the primary systems that constitute the (public) higher education system for the State of California. These systems used to receive far more state funding than did correctional facilities (prisons). However, higher education now receives slightly less funding than California's prison system.

This shift in both state and federal policies is traceable through the shift in budgetary priorities. Instead of providing the poor with an opportunity to learn their way out of poverty, the poor are being offered to the prison-industrial complex as commodities: When it comes to education funding in impoverished neighborhoods, "security" measures often take precedence over teaching and learning.

"From metal detectors to drug tests, from increased policing to all-seeing electronic surveillance, the public school of the twenty-first century reflects a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence," Annette Fuentes wrote in her book, Lockdown High: When The Schoolhouse Becomes A Jailhouse, published last year. In an interview with me last year, Fuentes commented on how the current public education system is failing America's youth - especially kids of color - in achieving a better life:

It's clear that kids from certain demographics, including income, background, race and ethnicity, that we can look at that and predict how good the schools are, and rate of racial suspensions and zero tolerance policies. Part of that demographic is income, so when you look at that indicator that means that all those kids that come from the poverty level, generally speaking, can determine a kid's prospects in school; determine dropout rates and incidents with the criminal justice system. We know that African-American students will face a disproportionate experience with zero tolerance policies. These kids are more likely to drop out. It's like a daisy chain of circumstances that relate to a kid's background.

The problem of educational access overlaps with the personal debt debacle: As the need for student loans has steadily increased, so has the number of borrowers who have fallen behind on making payments. According to The New York Times, "Nearly one in every six borrowers with a loan balance is in default." This is a number "greater than the yearly tuition bill for all students at public two- and four-year colleges and universities."

More and more loans have become necessary to finance a higher education, as Pell grants and other government sources of funding for lower-income students have decreased - and as states, including California where the public higher education system was once a public pride and glory - have significantly reduced funding to universities. Meanwhile, debt relief options are increasingly scarce: Dean Baker pointed to "the tightening of rules on relieving student loan debt" as one of the most important factors contributing to the widespread personal debt dilemma.

Break the Chains of Poverty

When viewed exclusively through a capitalistic lens, poverty may seem an individual failing instead of a systemic ill: Capitalists have long promulgated the idea that the poor are undeserving, lazy, morally inadequate. The governmental policies we've deconstructed - policies that assure the continuation and proliferation of poverty - tacitly (or, sometimes, straightforwardly) endorse this view. However, as we critique these policies, we must also highlight the many efforts directed toward true economic justice that have sprung up around the country in recent years: Grassroots organizations are finding alternative ways to combat poverty outside of the politics of lobbying the government. One inspiring example is the Ella Baker Center (EBC) in Oakland, California.

The Center, named for Ella Jo Baker, an "unsung hero of the civil rights movement," works through service and advocacy to combat poverty and confront the unjust "justice" system that criminalizes poor people.

According to EBC's website, California's Division of Juvenile Justice has "an 81 percent recidivism rate and a cost of over $200,000 per youth, per year." I asked Jennifer Kim, EBC's senior policy analyst, how the funds could be better spent on poor, disenfranchised youth, in ways that might have a long-lasting impact.

"When the state spends $200,000 to lock up a youth in a broken system, it's a divestment away from creating opportunities and lifting up impoverished communities," Kim said, speaking specifically of California. "Other states have provided real rehabilitation programs that not only improve youth outcomes but they do it at a fraction of the cost."

When the costs of incarceration are so high, reducing the corrections budget and reinvesting significantly in rehabilitation programs can still save states considerable money, making it an attractive option for all groups involved, according to Kim.

"In a time where we have to tighten our budgets and figure out innovative ways to serve communities, it's helpful to know that other states are doing it, and they are doing it well," Kim said. "Instead of cutting health and human services or education that provide vital services, we should look at our bloated corrections budget, figure out what's not working, cut it out or close it down, and invest in alternatives that enhance public safety, improve outcomes - all at a savings."

Innovative advocacy groups are increasingly questioning - and pushing back against - the "welfare" programs that have entrenched the cycle of poverty. It remains to be seen whether, over the coming years, policymakers will begin to see the writing on the wall.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 years ago

The True Cost of Food: Immigration and Agriculture Workers

Monday, 18 March 2013 14:00 By Brad Wong, Equal Voice News | Report


When Modesto Hernandez, 35, walks these days, he grips the curved handle of a brown metal cane to steady himself.

In 2008, Hernandez was pruning rows of raspberry canes in Whatcom County along the northern border. Red raspberries, as a commodity, are valued at $44 million in Washington state. The fields that day were covered with shin-high snow, and Hernandez was wearing rubber boots.

After he complained of losing feeling in his feet, the farmer he was working for provided no real or long-term assistance, he said. A week later, a doctor removed half of both of Hernandez’s feet.

At one point, as thoughts of survival swirled in his head, he told one person: “If you cut your feet off, I’ll put your feet in mine and I’ll go work.”

In 2008, Hernandez was one of an estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants who planted, pruned and picked crops in the United States. He helped ensure that U.S. agriculture – worth $297.2 billion as an industry – made it to homes worldwide. But Hernandez had little, if any, health and worker protection.

For more than 25 years, the United States has not addressed immigration policy, at least comprehensively, and the people that policy affects. But this year could bring significant change to a system that many dub as “broken.”

President Obama and federal lawmakers are considering various aspects of immigration policy, including U.S.-Mexico border security and a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in the country.

Guest Worker Program

As lawmakers study policy changes, U.S. farmers and ranchers are pushing for a new agriculture guest worker program.

The current guest worker program, which traces its roots to the bracero (day laborer) program initiated during World War II, enables U.S. farmers to recruit people in other countries for temporary or seasonal agriculture work if they can show a domestic labor scarcity. Farmers say their new labor proposal would offer stable access to a legal workforce for the agriculture industry as well as flexibility and employment freedom for at least some guest workers. For undocumented agriculture workers already in the country, it could mean permanent legal residency.

The American Farm Bureau Federation says the proposal could replace the H-2A program, which the federation of 6.2 million farmers and ranchers calls rigid and bureaucratic. The H-2A program is the current policy for international agriculture workers in the country. For the federation, a new guest worker program is one of two top issues for 2013, said Kristi Boswell, the organization’s congressional relations director.

“It’s absolutely critical for agriculture and our food supply that we have a solution this year,” she said.

Boswell added that a comprehensive immigration bill might not succeed if it excludes a program for farmers to recruit in other countries.

“This is a huge issue for our members,” she said. “They have stress. They don’t know if they are going to be in business next year.”

In late February, Bob Stallman, the group’s president, testified before Congress in support of a revised program. He talked about the federation’s members’ need to be certain they have an available labor force, competitive costs and offering workers protection. Rosalinda Guillen, a farmworker advocate in Washington state, however, questions whether such a program is needed at all.

“Farmers have said that they have a skilled and stable labor force — that has been on their farms for 10 years — that they want to see legalized,” she said.

There are enough people in the country, Guillen added, to do the agriculture work, especially if immigration reform provides legal status for the undocumented.

Guillen is executive director of Community to Community Development, a Bellingham, Wash.-based group devoted to supporting farmworkers, immigrants and food quality.

Farmworker and civil rights groups specifically point to documented cases of abuse, safety problems and wage theft in the guest worker program and agriculture industry.

This year, the Southern Poverty Law Center updated its 2007 report, “Close to Slavery,” which is a critical look at the country’s H-2 guest worker program.

The report found that guest workers from other countries end up being sources of inexpensive labor. In many cases, critics say, they become expendable.

“Congress should look before it leaps,” the report reads. “It harms the interests of U.S. workers … by undercutting wages and working conditions for those who labor at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.”

One conclusion of the report: The current guest worker program should neither be duplicated nor expanded.

Agriculture Workforce

The categories of international guest workers and farm workers already in the United States can mix easily.

Farmers in the country need more than 1 million agriculture workers each year, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Boswell said, but they have “low access” to a stable domestic workforce. “We have come to rely on an immigrant labor force,” she said.

In fiscal 2012, the federal government issued 65,345 H-2A visas for workers, the U.S. State Department reported. Nearly 96 percent of those visas were handed out in North America.

Ten years ago, in fiscal 2002, 31,538 H-2A visas were granted. In fiscal 1997, the number of H-2A visas issued was 16,011.

The United Farm Workers Union has told Congress that there are more than 1 million undocumented people in the country’s agriculture industry.

Some lawmakers estimate that noncitizens perform from 50 percent to 80 percent of the work in U.S. agriculture.

Seasonal agriculture work is hard and labor intensive. It can take place in remote areas.

Boswell expressed the farmers’ federation’s concern that undocumented farmworkers already in the country would leave the industry should they gain legal status in a comprehensive immigration law.

She noted that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 gave legal status to undocumented immigrants, and that, by the 1990s, farmers had difficulty finding field workers.

Although some parts of the country, such as California and the Southwest, might have enough people for seasonal work, other areas, such as upstate New York, might not, Boswell said. A guest worker program, she said, makes sense.

Last month, the Washington Farm Labor Association confirmed it had started recruiting 3,000 guest workers from Mexico.

The association, which serves as a human resources agency for Pacific Northwest farmers, said growers brought in 4,000 guest workers to Washington state in 2012, according to the Yakima Herald.

Efforts to reach Dan Fazio, the labor association director, for comment were unsuccessful.

But Bellingham farmworker advocate Rosalinda Guillen asked: “Why are the farmers recruiting in Mexico? What is going to happen to the legalized work force or those who are going to be legalized? It’s like intellectual capital that you’re losing.”

And in an opinion piece for New America Media, Rick Mines and Ed Kissam contend that, after the 1986 immigration law offered legal status to undocumented immigrants, farmworkers who left the industry did so because of low wages and the seasonal nature of agriculture work — which made it difficult to support a family.

Cindy Hahamovitch, whose book, “No Man’s Land,” examines guest workers and deportable labor, pointed to a potential conflict between legalization for undocumented immigrants, including a path to citizenship, and a new guest worker program.

“You’d hate to deny legal status to 11 million people because of this issue,” she said.

“During the debate that led up to the 1986 immigration reform, there was a compromise between those who advocated legalization and those who wanted a bigger, less-regulated guest worker program,” she said. “Legalization occurred but the guest worker program grew dramatically.”

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 years ago

On the Ground

Inside a two-bedroom apartment in Whatcom County, Modesto Hernandez reclines on a faded blue couch.

He wears a gray baseball cap with the word “BULL DOG” on it. Often, during the conversation, his soft eyes gaze into the distance. Even to this day, he does not know the name of the farmer for whom he worked in 2008. “Every door was closed,” he says, describing his feelings, through an interpreter.

Whenever possible, Hernandez talks with workers about safety and dealing with farmers who might just be “bad actors.”

Hernandez has found support among other workers and community organizations. He lives with relatives and roommates, several of whom are from his home state of Guerrero in Mexico.

In Whatcom County, the average farm worker earns about $10,000 per year, according to advocate Rosalinda Guillen.

Hernandez said he receives about $100 each month in assistance from the Washington state government. That money helps pay for the $600 monthly rent for the apartment he shares with five adults and a two-year-old girl.

With legal status or citizenship possible, he thinks about how immigration reform might affect him.

One wish, he says, is to be able to return to Mexico and visit his family in Guerrero. He lacks documents to travel. He also lacks a driver’s license.

“Maybe I’ll never be able to go back to Mexico to see my family,” he says.

Marcos Hernandez, a 34-year-old relative and roommate, sits on a couch on the other side of the room. His jeans are wet up to his knees. He had just returned from pruning berry fields.

He talks about a farmer not paying him and about his fear that if he speaks up, the police or U.S. Border Patrol might show up.

“We don’t want to say anything. We’re on his property. I don’t want to get in trouble,” he says, through an interpreter.

One farmer, he says, promised to pay him 33 cents for each berry bush that he pruned. But sometimes, the actual amount drops to 23 cents per bush.

Marcos Hernandez also thinks about immigration reform and gaining a social security card so he can have freedom to apply for jobs. “Maybe this can change my life,” he says, referring to immigration reform.

For Modesto Hernandez, who is wearing a pair of sturdy boots, there are other concerns.

Splotchy patches of mold have formed on the walls near his bed, which sits in the living room.

He asks about the best way to remove the mold, which can cause asthma. Water damage is apparent in parts of the apartment ceiling. He also is concerned about the health of his nephew, who lives in the apartment.

Later at her office, Guillen describes Modesto Hernandez as an intelligent, persistent man. Her comments paint a vivid picture — he is a survivor.

Guillen says it pains her to look at raspberries for sale on market shelves.

“How much did it cost to raise those raspberries?” says Guillen, a former farmworker herself.

“How much did Modesto’s feet cost?”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 years ago

Rise of Latino population blurs US racial lines

By HOPE YEN | Associated Press – 6 hrs ago


WASHINGTON (AP) — Welcome to the new off-white America.

A historic decline in the number of U.S. whites and the fast growth of Latinos are blurring traditional black-white color lines, testing the limits of civil rights laws and reshaping political alliances as "whiteness" begins to lose its numerical dominance.

Long in coming, the demographic shift was most vividly illustrated in last November's re-election of President Barack Obama, the first black president, despite a historically low percentage of white supporters.

It's now a potent backdrop to the immigration issue being debated in Congress that could offer a path to citizenship for 11 million mostly Hispanic illegal immigrants. Also, the Supreme Court is deciding cases this term on affirmative action and voting rights that could redefine race and equality in the U.S.

The latest census data and polling from The Associated Press highlight the historic change in a nation in which non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority in the next generation, somewhere around the year 2043.

Despite being a nation of immigrants, America's tip to a white minority has never occurred in its 237-year history and will be a first among the world's major post-industrial societies. Brazil, a developing nation, has crossed the threshold to "majority-minority" status; a few cities in France and England are near, if not past that point.

The international experience and recent U.S. events point to an uncertain future for American race relations.

In Brazil, where multiracialism is celebrated, social mobility remains among the world's lowest for blacks while wealth is concentrated among whites at the top. In France, race is not recorded on government census forms and people share a unified Gallic identity, yet high levels of racial discrimination persist.

"The American experience has always been a story of color. In the 20th century it was a story of the black-white line. In the 21st century we are moving into a new off-white moment," says Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a global expert on immigration and dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.

"Numerically, the U.S. is being transformed. The question now is whether our institutions are being transformed," he said.

The shift is being driven by the modern wave of U.S. newcomers from Latin America and Asia. Their annual inflow of 650,000 people since 1965, at a rate that's grown in recent years, surpasses the pace of the last great immigration wave a century ago. That influx, from 1820 to 1920, brought in Irish, Germans, Italians and Jews from Europe and made the gateway of Ellis Island, N.Y., an immigrant landmark, symbolizing freedom, liberty and the American dream.

An equal factor is today's aging white population, mostly baby boomers, whose coming wave of retirements will create a need for first- and second-generation immigrants to help take their place in the workforce.

The numbers already demonstrate that being white is fading as a test of American-ness:

—More U.S. babies are now born to minorities than whites, a milestone reached last year.

—More than 45 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade are minorities. The Census Bureau projects that in five years the number of nonwhite children will surpass 50 percent.

—The District of Columbia, Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas have minority populations greater than 50 percent. By 2020, eight more states are projected to join the list: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey and New York. Latinos already outnumber whites in New Mexico; California will tip to a Latino plurality next year.

—By 2039, racial and ethnic minorities will make up a majority of the U.S. working-age population, helping to support a disproportionately elderly white population through Social Security and other payroll taxes. More than 1 in 4 people ages 18-64 will be Latino.

—The white population, now at 197.8 million, is projected to peak at 200 million in 2024, before entering a steady decline in absolute numbers. Currently 63 percent of the U.S. population, the white share is expected to drop below 50 percent by 2043, when racial and ethnic minorities will collectively become a U.S. majority. Hispanics will drive most of the minority growth, due mostly to high birth rates, jumping in share from 17 percent to 26 percent.

The pace of assimilation for today's Latinos and Asian-Americans is often compared with that of the Poles, Irish, Italians and Jews who arrived around the turn of the 20th century and eventually merged into an American white mainstream.

There was a backlash. By the 1930s, an immigrant-weary America had imposed strict quotas and closed its borders. Those newly arrived were pushed to conform and blend in with a white mainstream, benefiting from New Deal economic programs that generally excluded blacks. The immigration quotas also cut off the supply of new workers to ethnic enclaves and reduced social and economic contacts between immigrants and their countries of origin. "America of the Melting Pot comes to End," read a 1924 opinion headline in The New York Times. The author, a U.S. senator, pledged that strict new immigration quotas would "preserve racial type as it exists here today."

Today, data show that Latinos are embracing U.S. life but also maintaining strong ties to their heritage, aided by a new stream of foreign-born immigrants who arrive each year. Hispanics, officially an ethnic group, strive to learn English and 1 in 4 intermarry, taking a white spouse.

Nowadays, immigrants face less pressure to conform than did their counterparts from a century ago. Latinos are protected as a minority, benefiting from the 1950s civil rights movement pioneered by blacks. Nearly 40 percent of Latinos now resist a white identity on census forms, checking a box indicating "some other race" to establish a Hispanic race identity.

While growing diversity is often a step toward a post-racial U.S., sociologists caution that the politics of racial diversity could just as easily become more magnified.

A first-of-its-kind AP poll conducted in 2011 found that a slight majority of whites expressed racial bias against Hispanics and that their attitudes were similar to or even greater than the bias they held toward blacks. Hispanics also remained somewhat residentially segregated from whites in lower-income neighborhoods, hurt in part by the disappearance of good-paying, midskill manufacturing jobs that helped white ethnics rise into the middle class during most of the 20th century.

The AP survey was conducted with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the University of Chicago.

Harvard economist George Borjas projects that by 2030, the children of today's immigrants will earn on average 10 percent to 15 percent less than nonimmigrant Americans, based on past trends, and that Latinos will particularly struggle because of high rates of poverty, lack of citizenship and lower rates of education. In 1940, the children of early 20th-century white ethnics fared much better on average, earning 21.4 percent more than nonimmigrants.

About 35 percent of Hispanic babies are currently born into poverty, compared with 41 percent of blacks and 20 percent for whites. "How America responds now to the new challenges of racial and ethnic diversity will determine whether it becomes a more open and inclusive society in the future — one that provides equal opportunities and justice for all," said Daniel Lichter, a Cornell sociologist and past president of the Population Association of America.

The demographic shift has spurred debate as to whether some civil-rights era programs, such as affirmative action in college admissions, should begin to focus on income level rather than race or ethnicity. The Supreme Court will rule on the issue by late June.

Following a racially lopsided re-election, Obama has spoken broadly about promoting social and economic opportunity. In his State of the Union speech, he said that rebuilding the middle class is "our generation's task." Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a rising star of a mostly white Republican party now eager to attract Latino voters, is courting supporters in both English and Spanish in part by pledging programs that would boost "social mobility."

Left unclear is how much of a role government can or should play in lifting the disadvantaged, in an era of strapped federal budgets and rising debt.

The Latino immigrants include Irma Guereque, 60, of Las Vegas, who says enjoying a middle-class life is what's most important to her. Things turned bad for the Mexico native in the recent recession after her work hours as a food server were cut at the Texas Station casino off the Strip. As a result, she couldn't make the mortgage payments on a spacious house she purchased and was forced to move into an apartment with her grandchildren.

While she's getting almost full-time hours now, money is often on her mind. Her finances mean retirement is hardly an option, even though she's got diabetes and is getting older.

Many politicians are "only thinking of the rich, and not the poor, and that's not right," Guereque said in Spanish. "We need opportunities for everyone."

Associated Press writers Elaine Ganley in Montfermeil, France, Jenny Barchfield in Rio de Janeiro and Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Online: Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov

EDITOR'S NOTE _ "America at the Tipping Point: The Changing Face of a Nation" is an occasional series examining the changing cultural mosaic of the U.S. and its historic shift to a majority-minority nation.

[-] 0 points by Theeighthpieceuv8 (-32) from Seven Sisters, Wales 11 years ago

"Just people, shooting people..." OK, I'm feelin' man, I'm really feelin' it.

A prison is a fortress under siege from an enemy within. Admin seg is a product of the courts; the intent is to limit violence.