Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 11, 2021

Nomadland

Filed under: aging,Film,financial crisis,housing,poverty,Travel — louisproyect @ 11:56 pm

Generally, I try to read as little as possible about a film before I watch a screener in order to avoid the possibility that I might be influenced by other critics. All I knew about “Nomadland” is that it starred Frances McDormand as a sixtyish woman, who after losing everything in the 2008 financial crisis, becomes a “nomad”. This means that she travels around the country in a van taking menial jobs like in an Amazon warehouse or scrubbing toilets. With this in mind, I wondered if I was about to see a “Grapes of Wrath” updated for our epoch.

The film begins with a Steinbeckian touch. We see Fern (McDormand) loading her van with her belongings after the only employer in Empire, Nevada—a sheetrock factory—has closed for good. Like the Joads in “Grapes of Wrath” being foreclosed, she is forced by economic circumstances to look for salvation elsewhere. Like the Joads with their loaded jalopy, her road to a better life is filled with potholes. Her first job is working in an Amazon warehouse, where we expect her to end up either injured or too exhausted to keep up with the pace. To my surprise, she and other elderly women lugging cartons onto conveyor belts appear to be holding their own. After work, she retires to her van, eats a rudimentary meal, and prepares for the next day. So, I wondered when was the clash with the capitalist class going to begin.

It turns out that the film had less in common with “Grapes of Wrath” than it does with road movies like “Easy Rider” or “Five Easy Pieces”. The nomads in “Nomadland” are men and women who travel around the country in RVs or vans rather than motorcycles but with the same sense of wanderlust. Since many of you are probably not familiar with “Five Easy Pieces,” this stars Jack Nicholson (who was also in “Easy Rider” as a companion to the two motorcycle road warriors) as a man working on oil rigs in the southwest, who lives in cheap motels, and hangs out in tawdry roadhouses just like other roughnecks. It turns out, however, that this is just an appearance. In reality, Nicholson is from a wealthy family and a trained classical pianist running away from his past.

Shortly, I will explain how this connects with McDormand’s character but first I will point out that director Chloé Zhao never had the slightest interest in agitprop. In a note attached to my DVD screener, she revealed her intentions:

Having grown up in big cities in China and England, I’ve always been deeply drawn to the open road — an idea I find to be quintessentially American — the endless search for what’s beyond the horizon. It’s filled with stories of hardship, perseverance and co-existence — people helping each other, working together to survive when they disagree on almost everything. It was the spirit of the Old West and it’s still the spirit of the road today.

The open road? That’s what Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s characters sought in “Easy Rider”. Instead of horses, they rode Harleys. Likewise, the elderly men and women wandering around the country for dead-end jobs have their own steeds: vans, trailers, and RV’s. In “Easy Rider”, the two heroes stop at a hippie commune to enjoy drugs and sex. As for Zhao’s nomads, including Fern, they end up at a rent-free trailer park where communal meals are shared. No drugs, no sex, but the old folks get by drinking beer and making small talk.

As for the comparison with “Five Easy Pieces”, we learn (spoiler alert) that Fern has a wealthy sister who has invited her numerous times to come live with her. But Fern prefers to live in a tiny van without running water and heat. The closest the film comes to depicting the miseries of being homeless (the nomads like to describe themselves as houseless), we see Fern with an onset of diarrhea that she relieves by crapping into a bucket in her van.

The film is based on a nonfiction work of the same name written by Jessica Bruder in 2017. I have no idea whether Bruder downplayed the miseries of the people she interviewed, but a NY Times review by Arlie Russell Hochschild cannot help but question the lack of a class perspective. Hochschild is the author of a book titled “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” that tried to get to the bottom of why people in Louisiana voted for rightwing politicians despite being screwed by them through low-paying jobs and exposure to toxic chemicals. Like Bruder, she lived among the people she interviewed and tried to bond with them. This was her perceptive take on something that was missing in the book and, more egregiously so, in the film (the Linda mentioned in the excerpt is a character a lot like Fern):

What forces set these nomads in motion? Here I wish Bruder had given us a view from beyond the driver’s seat. For years, stockholders have taken the lion’s share of rising corporate profits, leaving a shrinking share to the middle- and working-class worker. The current administration and Congress aim to cut the nation’s safety net and to loosen regulations on banks, stirring fears of another devastating crash. The stage seems set to leave Americans on their own to travel a potentially bumpy economic road, a scene that would seem to fly in the face of the picket-fence stability and localism bandied about in conservative rhetoric. Republicans like to talk about “freedom,” but the tax reform they’re currently proposing would most likely widen the gap between rich and poor even further, reducing Linda’s freedom to stay put if she wanted to.

As for our own nomads, I recommend Marxmailer Michael Yates’s “Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue”. After retiring from decades of teaching economics, Michael and his wife Karen became nomads for many of the same reasons as the film’s subjects. They enjoyed being footloose and were open to taking low-paying jobs that were often the only kind available in the rugged back country they hoped to see in their peregrinations. Also, they always stayed indoors even if it was in a cheap motel! At Michael’s blog, titled the same as his book, you can read a chapter. From what I’ve read in this book, it would have made for a much more interesting film:

Again in Flagstaff, we were enjoying the exhibits in the Museum of Northern Arizona. We ended our visit with a stop at the museum’s bookstore. We were admiring the Indian-made works of art for sale when an Indian artist came in and showed the manager some of his jewelry and asked if the museum was interested in buying his pieces. Apparently the craftsmanship was good, but the Indian had been drinking and was known to the manager. The manager and his assistant treated this man as if he were a pathetic drunk unworthy of their time. He kept lowering his price, giving up whatever pride he had to these white people with money. A few minutes later, he was dismissed. After he left, the two museum staffers mocked him. The assistant, not realizing her ignorance, said that perhaps it was time for the Indian to join AA. We left the museum with heavy hearts. It was as if the history of white oppression of Indians had been reenacted in microcosm before our eyes.

In Estes Park, people smugly said about a group of shabby riverside shacks not far from our cabin, “Oh, that’s where the Mexicans live.” The local peace group didn’t bother to solicit support from local Mexicans because “They probably wouldn’t be interested. They have to work too hard and wouldn’t have time.” We were talking to a jewelry store owner who, after remarking on how much safer (often a code word for “whiter”) Estes Park was than his former home in Memphis, Tennessee, said that the Estes Park crime report was pretty small and those arrested always had names you couldn’t pronounce. (Those damned Mexicans again.) In the laundromat we met a woman from the Bayview section of Brooklyn, and she said that she had moved here because you couldn’t recognize her Brooklyn neighborhood anymore. She told us, without I think realizing how racist she sounded, that there were so many Arabs there now that locals call it “Bay Root.” “Get it?,” she said, “Bay Root.”

May 29, 2018

The Fate Of Millions – Unequal Trade, Debt, Poverty, Starvation and Death

Filed under: Brian A. Mitchell,imperialism/globalization,poverty — louisproyect @ 8:36 pm

Käthe Kollwitz, “Poverty” (1897)

(A guest post by Brian A. Mitchell)

The power and importance of original quotes cannot be stressed enough. It is most revealing and undeniable, especially to the incredulous, to let Presidents, Prime Ministers and military leaders speak for themselves. If enough people in power say much the same thing, you can be sure that there is a policy in there somewhare. Through tutoring, speaking, articles, debates and general argument, I have always found that original quoted statements have the most powerful impact; far more than any dialogue from me or any journalist or academic could ever have; and were an integral part of my political education. Some of these quotes are chosen not necessarily because of who said them but how true and educating they are. Although some of the quotes may be dated, the ideology of capitalism remains more inhuman, predatory, warlike, not only murderous but more genocidal every day. Many of these quotes are not widely known, some not at all. So spread them as widely as possible so that many more people can know what really goes on in this troubled world in our name.

Ever wondered how is it that after more than some 200 years of modern capitalism, the vast majority of humanity in this overwhelmingly rich and abundant world is still in massive poverty and debt of some hundreds of billions of dollars to the rich world? This “debt” is absolutely unpayable. It is such that the rich world owns the national wealth of these countries in perpetuum. Otherwise how is it that they are still so poor after so long? They are only so poor because we are so rich. There is no other way of looking at it. Especially for us British, who have plundered the world’s raw materials and cheap labour for centuries. And under imperialism, the rich capitalist world of the US, Britain, and the rest of the wealthy world still take everything from them every day.


“Don’t forget, there are two hundred million of us in a world of three billion. They want what we’ve got, and we’re not going to give it to them!”

(US President Johnson.)


“Before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.”

(US Senator Hubert Humphrey.)


“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword and the other is by debt.”

(US President John Adams, in the 1800s.)


“There are two ways of conquering a foreign nation. One is to gain control of its people by force of arms; the other is to gain control of its economy by financial means.”

(US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in the 1950s.)


“We get a five to one return on investment in Africa, through our trade, investment, finance and aid. … We’re not aiding Africa by sending them aid. Africa’s aiding us.”

(US Representative to the United Nations Andrew Young, February 1995.)


“American capitalism, based as it is on exploitation of the poor, with its fundamental motivation in personal greed, simply cannot survive without force, without a secret police force. Now, more than ever, each of us is forced to make a conscious choice whether to support the system of minority comfort and privilege with all its security apparatus and repression, or whether to struggle for real equality of opportunity and fair distribution of benefits for all of society, in the domestic as well as the international order. … A considerable proportion of the developed world’s prosperity rests on paying the lowest possible prices for the poor countries’ primary products and on exporting high-cost capital and finished goods to those countries. Continuation of this kind of prosperity requires continuation of the relative gap between developed and underdeveloped countries – it means keeping poor people poor. Increasingly, the impoverished masses are understanding that the prosperity of the developed countries and of the privileged minorities in their own countries is founded on their poverty.”

(Former CIA officer Philip Agee, in his book CIA Diary.)


“The per capita income gap between the developed and the developing countries is increasing, in large part the result of higher birth rates in the poorer countries… how should we tackle these problems?… It is quite clear that one of the major challenges of the 1970s … will be to curb the world’s fertility.”

(US President George Bush.)


“Depopulation should be the highest priority of foreign policy towards the Third World.”

(US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.)


“Our responsibility as Christians makes us tremble. The northern hemisphere, the developed area of the world, the 20% who possess 80% of the world’s resources, are of Christian origin. What impression can our African and Asian brethren and the masses in Latin America have of Christianity, if the tree is to be judged by its fruits? For we Christians are largely responsible for the unjust world in which we live.”

(Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara.)


“The ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illness, poverty or hunger…”

(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)


“I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. That they design and want. That they fight and work for. And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the ‘haves’ refuse to share with the ‘have-nots’ by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don’t want…”

(General David Shoup, Commander of the US Marine Corps, 1966.)


“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.”

(A Marxist? No; US President Abraham Lincoln.)


“Our so-called foreign aid program, which is not really foreign aid because it isn’t to foreigners but aid to us, is an indispensable factor in carrying out our foreign policy.”

(US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in a rare moment of honesty, October 25 1956.)


“The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

(First Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru.)


“In its 46 years of existence the UN has been used more often than not as a tool for Western – shall we say US – foreign policy goals. UN ineffectiveness over the years cannot be blamed entirely on Cold War divisions. An overwhelming majority of the US Security Council resolutions were vetoed by the US and Britain. Most had little or nothing to do with the Cold War, but were supporting anti colonial struggles in the Third World.”

(India Quarterly, Delhi, October 1992. [Note: The use of the word “western” or the “west,” almost always means the capitalist and imperialist world.])


“Food aid is a fertiliser which grows a rich crop called hunger. It is a contradiction in terms.”

(African leader Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia.)


“This is a huge, colossal battle against imperialism, because what we are proposing is that the enormous, unpayable debt of the Third World be repudiated… it isn’t $700 billion; it’s more like $900 billion, and, in 20 years we’ll have to pay $3 trillion, that is, $3 million million. They want to take $3 trillion from this hungry, starving to death world in 20 years, gentlemen! It’s impossible, of course; the first thing we should realise is that it is quite impossible. This is the battle for all of the Third World countries, for more than 100 countries. It is enormously important. This is the battle for this hemisphere’s independence… This is the battle for the lives and future of 4 billion poor and hungry people. … That’s why we say that payment of that debt is an economic impossibility, a political impossibility. You practically have to kill the people to force them to make the sacrifices required to pay that debt.”

(Fidel Castro, to Latin American Federation of Journalists, July 6 1985.)


“We hold that man cannot exercise his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without the ownership of the land and the tools with which to work. Deprived of these, his life, his liberty and his fate fall into the hands of the class that owns those essentials for work and production. This ownership is today held by the minority in society, the capitalist class, exercising through this ownership and control an economic despotism without parallel in history.”

(US Socialist Labour Party.)


“The top 400 people own more wealth now than the bottom 185 million Americans taken together. That is a medieval structure.”

(US political economist Gar Alperovitz.)


“Three-fourths (one may say nine-tenths) of the people of the world are poor… but the miserably poor want to turn the world upside down … They regard the United States as basically in favour of the status quo. All rich people are supposed to be that way. More significant, perhaps, is the fact that Moscow [Soviet Union] is regarded by most of the poor people around the world as the friend of the poor and of the rebel… In a nation motivated by revolutionary fervour, including countries which have recently become independent and those undergoing rapid social change, there is great enthusiasm for planning for the future. Five, seven, and even ten-year plans are popular. People are told to sacrifice present living for future benefits to the nation and to their children. Emphasis on consumer goods for the present generation seems disloyal, unpatriotic, and even immoral… Russians, who are pictured as sacrificing themselves today for the benefit of their children of tomorrow, are somehow regarded as more admirable than profligate Americans.”

(US Information Agency Director George Allen.)


“A modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

(Canadian economist John Galbraith.)


“The question to be asked is not what we should give to the poor but when will we stop taking from the poor.”

(Jim Wallace, Sojourners, USA.)


“Indeed, there is freedom in the capitalist countries, but for whom? Of course not for the working people, who are forced to hire themselves out to the capitalists on any conditions just to avoid finding themselves in the ranks of the huge army of people who are “free from work”. …”Freedom” in capitalist countries exists only for those who possess money and who consequently hold power.”

(Soviet President Nikita Kruschev.)


“In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”

(Karl Marx and Frederick Engels”The Communist Manifesto.”)


“…the 200 richest people have more assets than the 2 billion poorest.”

(US economist and internationalist David Korten,)


“A criminal is a person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation.”

(Howard Scott.)


“The foreign policy that monopolistic capital imposes is a ruinous one for the people of the United States. The United States had some thirty billion dollars in gold in its reserves at the end of the Second World War; in twenty years it had used up more than half of these reserves. What has it been used for? With what benefit to the people of the United States? Does the United States perhaps have more friends now than before?

In the United States many people proclaim that they are defending liberty in other countries. But what kind of liberty is it that they are defending, that nobody is grateful to them, that nobody appreciates this alleged defence of their liberties? What has happened in Korea, in Formosa [Taiwan], in Vietnam? What country has prospered and has achieved peace and political stability under that protection from the United States? What solutions has it found for the great problems of the world? The United States has spent fabulous resources pursuing that policy; it will be able to spend less and less, because its gold reserves are being exhausted.

Perhaps the influence of the United States is greater now than it was twenty years ago when the war ended? Nobody could say so. It is a certainty that for twenty years, under the pretext of the struggle against Communism, the United States has been carrying out a repressive and reactionary policy in the international field, without having solved the problems of a single underdeveloped country in the world… The United States wants to “liberate” Cuba from Communism, but in reality Cuba doesn’t want to be “liberated” from Communism.”

(Fidel Castro, quoted by US journalist Lee Lockwood, May 1965.)


“The world can support its population and more. You have to think of who owns the means of production of life’s means of subsistence. When you understand that you will know the one true reason for poverty and starvation in this very rich and abundant world; where some 40,000 children below the age of one will die tonight from lack of the simple basic things like food, clean water, education, doctors and medicines to make them well when they become ill – things that we in the rich neo-colonial or imperialist world not only take for granted, but take from them every day of our rich lives without even thinking about it. It is as if we rip open the stomach of an already starving child and consume the contents. All because we in the imperialist world have historically grabbed most of the production of humanity’s very means of subsistence of life itself. Isn’t that how we got so rich and they are still so poor?”

(Respondent to British TV discussion program The Wright Stuff.)


“Those who know the normal life of the poor… will realise well enough that, without economic security, liberty is not worth having.”

(British economist and politician Harold Laski.)


“The IMF consistently demands that its pupils make drastic reductions in civil spending, but arms budgets remain untouched. When asked about this anomaly, Fund personnel recoil and explain in pained tones that such measures would be ‘interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign nations’ (which is exactly what the Fund does every working day).”

(Susan George, in her excellent book on the world debt crisis, “A Fate Worse Than Debt.”)


“Either we free ourselves of the foreign debt burden, acquired without benefit to us or solution to our problems, or we doom three-quarters of humankind to a future without hope… millions of human beings who, along with a right to be born, have an obligation to pay… This means the debt is devouring humankind, devouring peoples and nation states that no matter what they do… find the debt grows and is, therefore, absolutely unpayable.”

(Carlos Serrate, Bolivian delegate, Latin American and Caribbean foreign debt conference, Havana, Cuba, 1985)


“The huge effort of the past two years resulted in an export surplus of a billion dollars a month. Yet this money served only to pay the interest on the debt. It’s impossible to go on this way; we have already taken everything the people had to eat, even though two thirds of them are already going hungry. When we borrowed, interest rates were 4 per cent; they’re 8 per cent now and at one point they even went as high as 21 per cent. Even worse, these loans were contracted by the military, mostly for military ends – $40 billion were swallowed by six nuclear plants, none of which is working today. The people are now expected to pay off these debts in low salaries and hunger. But we have already reimbursed the debt, considering the interest paid. We must stop giving the blood and the misery of our people to pay the First World.”

(Archbishop of Sao Paulo Brazil, Cardinal Paulo Arns, 1985.)


“When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like: “Don’t think, don’t politicise, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!””

(Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek.)


“Capitalism has neither the capacity, nor the morality, nor the ethics to solve the problems of poverty.”

(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)


“Capital eschews no profit… just as Nature was formally said to abhor a vacuum… A certain ten percent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20% will produce eagerness; 50%, positive audacity; 100% will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300% and there is not a crime it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even the chance of its owner being hanged.”

(British economist T.J.Dunning, quoted by Karl Marx.)


“We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism.”

(Martin Luther King.)


“Why should the labour of the many become the capital of the few?”

(English economist and historian Michael Briant.)


“The meek may inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights.”

(US billionaire industrialist John Paul Getty.)


“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

(Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara.)


“Does it sound outrageous to you that military spending for fiscal year 2000 will be almost $290 billion and all other domestic discretionary spending, such as education, job training, housing, Amtrak, medical research, environment, Head Start and many other worthwhile programs will total $246 billion, the biggest disparity in modern times?”

(US Senator Dale Bumpers.)


“What sort of world will we hand over to our children? What sort of life lies ahead for those five billion mouths that we will have to feed in our underdeveloped world, those five billion bodies that have to be clothed, shod and sheltered, those five billion minds that will strive for knowledge, those five billion human beings that will struggle for a decent life, worthy of the human condition. What will their quality of life be like?

The Executive Director of UNICEF has said that in 1981 the life of a child would be worth less than $100. If such a sum were judiciously spent on every one of the five hundred million poorest children of the world, it would cover basic health assistance, elementary education, care during pregnancy and dietary improvement, and would ensure hygienic conditions and a water supply. In practice it has turned out too high a price for the world community. That is why, in 1981, every two seconds a child paid that price with its life.

…In the face of nuclear war threatening us, the drama of underdevelopment and exploitation that oppresses us, and the economic and social crisis that plagues us, there is no place for resignation of accommodation. The only solutiomn in keeping with man’s stature is to struggle.

And this is the message I bring in my capacity as Chairman of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. To struggle tirelessly for peace, improved international relations, a halt to the arms race and a drastic reduction in military spending and that a considerable part of those funds be dedicated to developing the Third World.”

(Fidel Castro, Speech at the 7th Non Aligned Summit.)


“How far, O rich, do you extend your senseless avarice? Do you intend to be the sole inhabitants of the earth? Why do you drive out the fellow sharers of nature, and claim it all for yourselves. The earth was made for all, rich and poor, in common. Why do you rich claim it as your exclusive right?”

(St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.)


“Weary men, what reap ye? Golden corn for the stranger. What sow ye? Human corpses that await for the avenger. Fainting forms, all hunger-stricken, what see you in the offing? Stately ships to bear our food away amid the stranger’s scoffing. There’s a proud array of soldiers what do they round your door? They guard our master’s granaries from the thin hands of the poor.”

(English poet Jane Francesca Wilde.)


“Capital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorise itself [maximise profits for its owner], to create surplus-value [profits], to make its constant part, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour. Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”

(Karl Marx, Capital Vol 1.)


“What is a bank robbery compared to the setting up of a bank?”

(Gernam playwright, author and activist Berthold Brecht.)


“the United States is slipping into a category of countries – among them Brazil, Britain, and Guatemala – where the gap [between rich and poor] is the worst around the globe.”

(United Nations Human Development Report, 1966.)


“We need a Nuremberg to put on trial the economic order that they have imposed on us, that every three years kills more men, women and children by hunger and preventable or curable diseases than the death toll in six years of the second world war.”

(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)


“I am a servant of the hungry, the exploited and the oppressed. Before giving them – if I can do this – the treasures of my spirit, I am obliged to give them bread, justice and freedom. Precisely by participating in the privileges of the intelligentsia, I acquire the means and, consequently, the obligations to actively support society, illuminating its political and social road, stigmatizing those who deceive it and indicating it, as far as possible, the true road and cautioning it against perils.”

(French writer Romain Rolland.)


“Famine and hunger are not inevitable, but are caused by identifiable forces within the province of rational human control. I have tried to identify some of the forces. You are part of humanity; you can be part of that control.”

(Susan George in her excellent book “How the Other Half Die.”)


“How noble the law, in its majestic equality, that both rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges, and stealing bread!”

(French philosopher, author, poet and journalist Anatole France.)


“The social system in which a man, willing to work, is compelled to starve, is a blasphemy, an anarchy, and no system.”

(Irish writer Thomas Devin Reilly.)


“The law doth punish man or woman That steals the goose from off the common, But lets the greater felon loose, That steals the common from the goose.”

(Anonymous 1764, during the English land enclosures, where land in common was privatised.)


“Our trade with the Western world is insignificant; 85% of our trade is with the other socialist countries. This crisis affects only 15% of our trade; we’re the ones least affected. This is why we can be the standard-bearers of this cause and speak with complete freedom. …we can feel secure because, fortunately, we depend very little on the Western world, and we don’t depend at all on economic relations with the United States. I wonder how many other countries in the world can say the same.”

(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)


“Was the earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?”

(Gerrard Winstanley, The New Law of Righteousness, 1649, some 200 years before Marx.)


“We have a single system, and in that system the only question is the price at which the proletariat is to be bought and sold, the bread and circuses… From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud, all of us know it… all of us are consenting parties to it.”

(US historian and journalist Henry Brooks Adams.)


“The dirty truth is that the rich are the great cause of poverty.”

(US political economist, social scientist and author Michael Parenti.)


“If Latin America were to abstain from borrowing any further money and would pay these ten percent of export earnings for twenty years – at stable world market prices – toward foreign interest charges of 6 percent, these interest payments would amount to almost 430 billion dollars by the year 2005 while total debt would increase to about 445 billion dollars.”

(Philippine Currents, Aug 1987.)


“Countries such as the U.S. and Britain have taken it upon themselves to decide for us in the developing world, even to interfere in our domestic affairs and to bring about what they call regime change.”

(Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe.)


“Esteemed Chairman; Distinguished Representatives of the World Community. I have not come here to talk about Cuba. I have not come to denounce in this Assembly the attacks to which our small but worthy country has been subjected for twenty years. Nor have I come to use unnecessary adjectives to wound a powerful neighbour in his own house…
The first fundamental objective in our struggle consists in reducing and finally eliminating the unequal exchange that prevails today and that makes international trade a vehicle for the further plundering of our wealth. Today, the product of one hour’s work in the developed countries is exchanged for the product of ten hour’s work in the underdeveloped countries… …a historic and moral obligation of those who benefited from the plunder of our wealth and the exploitation of our men and women for decades and for centuries…

Mr Chairman and distinguished representatives, frequent mention is made of human rights, but mention should be made of the rights of mankind. Why should some people go barefoot so that others may ride in expensive cars? Why should some live only 35 years so that others may live to 70? Why should some be miserably poor so that others may be exaggeratedly rich?

I speak on behalf of the World’s children who do not even have a piece of bread (Applause); I speak on behalf of the sick who have no medicine; I speak on behalf of those who have been denied the right to life and human dignity… (Applause)

You cannot speak of peace on behalf of the tens of millions of human beings all over the world who are starving to death or dying of curable diseases. You cannot speak of peace on behalf of nine hundred million illiterates…

Enough of words! We need deeds. (Applause.) Enough of abstraction! We need concrete action. Enough of speaking a speculative new international economic order which nobody understands! (Laughter and applause). We must speak about a real, objective order which everybody understands.”

(Fidel Castro, speech to United Nations, Oct 12 1979.)


“Wherever possible we should try to shape our aid programme to fit more appropriately the pattern of our trade and investment interests in different countries.”

(British Foreign Office, January 26 1968. By the 1990s, for every £1 of this “aid” to poor countries, more than £4.60 came back in profits from those same poor countries. How else could it be that we are so enormously rich and these peoples remain so devastatingly poor?)


“Of what use is political liberty to those who have no bread? It is of value only to ambitious theorists and politicians.”

(French revolutionary leader Jean Paul Marat, 1790.)


“And so, what did the Director of UNICEF say? That if the countries of Latin America had the health levels of Cuba, the lives of 800,000 children would be saved every year. Eight hundred thousand! And if the Director of UNICEF, an agency of United Nations, says that, I ask: Who is it that kills those 800,000 children under one year of age every year? Who is it that kills countless other millions of children between one and fifteen years? Who is it that reduces life expectancy to 40, 45, 50 years in so many places, throughout the centuries? This has happened and goes on happening, to the shame of all of us. The answer is exploitation, colonialism yesterday, imperialism now. And what about those lives, don’t they count? And as to the millions who are growing up mentally retarded or physically disabled, who is causing all of that, who is the guilty party, who is responsible for it?”

(Fidel Castro, at the Meeting on the Foreign Debt of Latin America and the Caribbean, Havana, Aug 3 1985.)


“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.”

(Nelson Mandela.)


“All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us.”

(Michael Jackson, singing about the poor in Brazil.)

May 23, 2016

Living on $2 per day

Filed under: poverty,racism — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

In the latest NY Review of Books, there’s a review of Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer’s “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” by one Christopher Jencks, a name I am familiar with even though I know next to nothing about his ideas or what he stands for. After reading the review titled “Why the Very Poor Have Become Poorer”, I decided to have a closer look.

“$2.00 a Day” has been hailed by most reviewers. For example, William Julius Wilson concluded his NY Times review with this:

This essential book is a call to action, and one hopes it will accomplish what Michael Harrington’s “The Other America” achieved in the 1960s — arousing both the nation’s consciousness and conscience about the plight of a growing number of invisible citizens.

Jencks does appear in places to side with the authors, but in a highly qualified way. Last year he wrote an article in the NY Review claiming that “official” poverty statistics were misleading since they neglected to include food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that can yield a refund for the lower-income families that qualify. For Jencks, this has led to “roughly half the families now counted as officially poor” having “a higher standard of living than families with incomes at the poverty line had in 1969.”

But after reading Edin and Shaefer, Jencks is forced to admit that “the poorest of the poor are also worse off today than they were in 1969.” So, what accounts for the discrepancy?

Much of “$2.00 a Day” is devoted to reporting on the problems faced by poor women with children who used to depend on AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) that was abolished by President Clinton in 1996 as part of a “welfare reform” that Hillary Clinton supported at the time and still supports.

AFDC was replaced by something called TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) that allowed states to shaft indigent mothers through a variety of methods, especially the right to reallocate TANF funds to financial aid for college students, etc. Many women give up on TANF because the application process is so discouraging, intentionally so. Jencks recounts what one woman had to put up with:

[Modonna] Harris looked for new jobs, without success. After her unemployment benefits ran out, a friend noticed that Harris had no food in her apartment for herself or her child and persuaded her to apply for TANF. The welfare office opened at 8:30 AM, so Harris showed up at 8:00. At least on that particular day, however, there were only enough appointment slots for applicants who had joined the line in the rain outside the welfare office before 7:30. After waiting most of the day, Harris left without having been given a chance to apply, convinced that TANF would never help her.

This is obviously related to the “discouraged workers” syndrome that led many men and women with good jobs all their life to remain permanently unemployed after losing jobs when they were in their fifties. It was just too demoralizing and pointless to apply for positions that they had no chance of nailing down. As it happens, such people are not considered to be unemployed by government agencies.

Jencks ultimately returns to his food stamp/EITC arguments in order to demonstrate that despite all the difficulties, Modonna Harris was not that bad off since the authors leave that out of the equation. There is another criticism I found positively chilling:

Another concern about Edin and Shaefer’s estimates of extreme poverty in $2.00 a Day is that they include families whose income fell below $2 a day per person for even one month. If a single mother loses her job, has no relatives, no close friends, no romantic partner, and no assets she can sell or borrow against, one month without income can be catastrophic now that TANF is so hard to get. However, a single mother who has just lost her job often has some of those assets, as $2.00 a Day shows. When that is the case, her first month without income does not always mean that her family will go hungry, much less that they will all be put out on the street for not paying the rent. The longer she goes without income, however, the more likely she is to exhaust her relatives’ sympathy, her boyfriend’s willingness to bring over pizza for dinner, or the cash she had left from her EITC refund for her work during the previous year. There is no “one-size-fits-all” rule for deciding how long a family can survive without income, but for some, at least, one month need not be disastrous.

I lingered for a minute on this sentence realizing that Jencks was trying to minimize the impact of trying to live on $2 per day for a month. This is a Harvard professor who has no idea what kind of suffering that entails. Plus the business about the “romantic partner” and “her boyfriend’s willingness to bring over pizza for dinner” smacks of the welfare investigator’s mentality that was embodied in the Clinton administration’s “welfare reform”.

Wikipedia indicates that Jencks is hardly the sort of person a “liberal” magazine like the NY Review should be calling upon to review such a book:

Jencks was on the dissertation committee of former member of The Heritage Foundation Jason Richwine, who completed his Ph.D. thesis, “I.Q. and Immigration Policy,” at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Widely discredited for the way it linked race to I.Q. levels, the thesis lost Richwine his job at the Foundation. Asked to pass comment on his involvement in what journalist and historian Jon Wiener calls a “travesty,” Jencks replied “Nope. But thanks for asking.”

The dissertation chair was one George Borjas, a conservative economist who writes about immigration for National Review and The Wall Street Journal according to Wiener but he had trouble understanding why Jencks would vote with Borjas on approving a dissertation whose last sentence was: “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”

This perplexed Wiener who described Jencks as “a leading figure among liberals who did serious research on inequality—a contributor to The New York Review of Books, the author of important books, including Inequality: Who Gets Ahead?, The Homeless and The Black White Test Score Gap.”

In 2004, Jencks co-authored an article with Scott Winship for Harvard Magazine titled “Understanding Welfare Reform”. ()  Winship was a Harvard grad student when he wrote this neoliberal article but he continued rightward until he finally settled into a position at the toxic Manhattan Institute where he writes articles like “Inequality Does Not Reduce Prosperity”. Nice.

Winship and Jencks argue that the Clinton abolition of AFDC was not so bad because of the provision of food stamps, EITC and Medicaid. In fact, poor people probably benefited from the changes:

Fast-forward to 2002, when the welfare legislation was set to expire. That year the welfare rolls were less than half their size in 1996. Female-headed families with children were less likely to receive welfare benefits than at any point in at least 40 years. The magnitude of the change surpassed everyone’s predictions. Even more remarkably, however, the official poverty rate among female-headed families with children — based on $14,500 for a woman with two children in 2002 — had fallen from 42 percent to 34 percent during this period. At no time between 1959 (when the Census Bureau first began tabulating such data) and 1996 had this figure dropped below 40 percent. Welfare reform is now widely viewed as one of the greatest successes of contemporary social policy. [emphasis added]

I have to give credit to people like Barbara Ehrenreich and Charles Platt who took minimum wage jobs to be able to write about what life is like when you are poor. This is something that Christopher Jencks obviously would never consider. Let him try to live on $2 for “only a month” and see what it is like.

Although I never did this myself, I got insights on what this meant when I worked for the Department of Welfare in Harlem back in 1968. This and the war in Vietnam was enough to turn me into a revolutionary. Here’s an excerpt from my memoir that is covered under fair usage law that covers this shattering experience:

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May 29, 2015

Acting for Your Life on LA’s Skid Row

Filed under: Counterpunch,poverty,real estate,theater — louisproyect @ 5:28 pm
Humanizing the Lower Depths

Acting for Your Life on LA’s Skid Row

by LOUIS PROYECT

James McEnteer’s “Acting Like it Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty Department”  is a complex study of an acting company made up mostly of L.A.’s Skid Row residents. With the company serving as the book’s hub, there are spokes radiating outwards to the political and social structures that put this remarkable story into context. If William Blake saw the World in a Grain of Sand, James McEnteer sees the broader problems of gentrification, police state harassment of the poor, CIA complicity with illegal drug trafficking, and the crisis of the health system as topics worthy of dramatizing by those who are its victims, the dwellers of one of the United States’ most infamous “left out” neighborhoods, but a place that despite its sorry appearance was a real estate investor’s dream.

As a New Yorker, I could not help but notice the resonances with my own city where the poor and the homeless confront the same daunting odds. McEnteer mentions in passing that Henrietta Brouwers, the companion and artistic partner of John Malpede, studied under Augusto Boal, the Brazilian director who founded the Theater of the Oppressed. As it turns out, Boal was a permanent fixture of the Brecht Forum in New York until his death. It was there that he operated “a rehearsal theater designed for people who want to learn ways of fighting back against oppression in their daily lives” in the same way that Malpede’s LAPD functioned in Los Angeles. Just six years after Boal’s passing, the Brecht Forum shut down because it could no longer afford to pay the exorbitant rents that the real estate market dictated.

read full article

March 31, 2014

Hometown news

Filed under: Catskills,poverty,racism — louisproyect @ 8:55 pm

Chances are that if you grew up in a small town like me, you keep up with online versions of the local newspapers. For me that means bookmarking the Middletown Times Herald-Record and the Sullivan County Democrat. Back in the 1950s such papers were running stories on the front page about the opening of the county fair or some local hotel hosting Fourth of July fireworks. Some of you might recall that I grew up in Woodridge, a town celebrated in the pages of leftie NYC newspaper PM back in 1947 as a “utopia in the Catskills”. Now it is much more of a dystopia with items like this from the Middletown Times Herald-Record:

Heroin dealers busted at 53 Maple Avenue; I grew up at 66 Maple Avenue

In a related story, the Sullivan County Democrat reported about heroin turning up at my old high school:

Sullivan County Democrat, Mar. 31 2014

Fallsburg police replacing school resource officer

By Dan Hust – staff writer

FALLSBURG — The Town of Fallsburg Police Department has reassigned Martin Gonzalez from his duties as Fallsburg Central School District’s School Resource Officer (SRO).

Gonzalez, who found heroin inside a men’s bathroom at the Benjamin Cosor Elementary School in Fallsburg last month, remains a police officer with the department. A previous NYS Medal of Valor awardee for a 2011 rescue effort in Liberty, Gonzalez is not accused of any wrongdoing and is not under investigation, said Fallsburg Police Chief Simmie Williams.

Calling it “the toughest decision of my life,” Williams said Gonzalez is being replaced for the sake of the SRO program.

At Monday’s Fallsburg Town Board meeting, a group of teachers told town officials that they no longer trust Gonzalez and criticized the way the police had handled the heroin investigation, which focused on more than half a dozen faculty who had accessed the bathroom prior to the drug discovery.

That’s the school I graduated from in June 1961 at the tender age of 16. Back then the only thing we knew about heroin was what we saw in movies like “A Hatful of Rain” or “The Man with the Golden Arm” that were set in the slums of New York City and Chicago respectively. By 1975 most of Sullivan County had turned into a rural slum, mostly the result of the Borscht Belt hotel industry hollowing out.

In 2012, the median family income for New York State was $52,095, for Sullivan County it was $43,458. Most of the jobs are in the public or nonprofit sector, like working as a prison guard or as a hospital orderly. Back in the 1950s, many people who decided to remain in the area rather than moving to New York City opened small businesses or went to work for their parents. With the collapse of the tourist industry, that possibility no longer exists.

On October 21, 2013 a Monticello lawyer (the Borscht Belt town, not Thomas Jefferson’s plantation locale) named Steven Kurlander blogged in the Huffington Post about the need for casino gambling to revive the Catskills. After 35 years of wrangling, it looks like it might finally be coming. Here’s how he described the once thriving Monticello:

It’s not just that Sullivan County has had the highest unemployment rate, the worst health care outcomes, and the highest percentage of poverty in upstate New York for years.

Just walk down Broadway, the main street of Monticello, and the answer is clear.

Broadway, once a thoroughfare famed for being the epicenter of a booming Borscht Belt, is now basically an abandoned main street devoid of businesses, its storefronts empty and failing into disrepair.

The lights on this Broadway have been turned off for decades and Monticello’s business district is a ghost town.

Gangs and drug abuse run rampant in Monticello and prey on its poor residents living in subsidized projects and crumbling neighborhoods abandoned by a fleeing middle class and taken over by absentee Section 8 landlords.

Last summer I went upstate to do some video recording about my hometown and the surrounding environs. A major part of the film will involve interviews with Herman Goldfarb, a retired physician who has been involved with progressive politics for decades. I plan to work on getting that film together in the next few weeks but in the meantime here are his observations on the streets of Monticello’s Broadway:

Just around the time that the tourist industry began dying, Sullivan County began becoming more African-American and Latino. I am not sure what explains the demographic change since the region was not generating new jobs. One of the big employers for Latino workers is Murray’s poultry, a supplier of “organic” chickens and turkeys to NY grocery stores. Mrs. Murray Bresky was a woman named Ellen that was in my class back at Fallsburgh High School. I doubt that I spent more than five minutes in conversation with her my entire time there.

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Despite his concerns about the health and well-being of his customers, Murray appears to care little about his largely Latino workforce:

Washington Post, April 25, 2013

At chicken plants, chemicals blamed for health ailments are poised to proliferate

By Kimberly Kindy

When Jose Navarro landed a job as a federal poultry inspector in 2006, he moved his wife and newborn son to a rural town in Upstate New York near the processing plant, believing it was a steppingstone to a better life.

Five years later, Navarro was dead. The 37-year-old’s lungs had bled out.

His death triggered a federal investigation that raised questions about the health risks associated with a rise in the use of toxic, bacteria-killing chemicals in poultry plants. Agriculture Department health inspectors say processing plants are turning to the chemicals to remove contaminants that escape notice as processing line speeds have accelerated, in part to meet growing consumer demand for chicken and turkey.

At the end of each workday at Murray’s Chicken, Jose Navarro would climb into his Ford station wagon, drive by the Holy Ghost and Fire Church, and pass a single stoplight to reach his rented home in South Fallsburg, N.Y.

His wife, Nicole Byrne Navarro, said he would give “lengthy, detailed reports” each evening about his concerns about the plant, which often focused on the chemicals used to disinfect both equipment and birds.

“Some themes that were constant were poor ventilation and overuse and mishandling of chemicals which constantly irritated his lungs,” Byrne Navarro said. “Sometimes he would hold his hand over his chest and talk about the chlorine reaching intolerable levels that day.”

Several months before he died, he coughed up blood, but it “self-resolved,” according to the autopsy report. Then on Nov. 19, 2011, he began coughing up blood and went to the hospital, where his lungs continued to hemorrhage. He died a week later after his lungs and kidneys failed, the autopsy report said.

At the time of Navarro’s death, Murray’s Chicken was using chlorine and peracetic acid to treat the birds, according to federal records and interviews with company officials.

Chlorine and peracetic acid are two of the most commonly used chemicals in plants, according to OSHA inspection documents and interviews with USDA inspectors and poultry plant workers.

At plants where line speeds have been increased, inspectors and plant workers say chemical use is on the rise and that the exposure time to the chemicals has been extended. Sometimes a third chemical is added, but that practice varies from plant to plant.

Back in 2008 Monticello elected its first Black mayor, a former prison guard who now ran a shoe store on the town’s decaying Broadway. While by no means a big a deal as Obama’s election, it was news enough to make the NY Times:

NY Times, March 27, 2008

Our Towns

A Lesson in Politics as Unusual

By PETER APPLEBOME

Gordon Jenkins outside his store in Monticello, N.Y. “You look at the heyday of this place, and it was beautiful,” he says.

You might think Gordon Jenkins would be excited.

He just made history, elected on Tuesday as the first black mayor of this faded resort town. And a day later, people filter nonstop into his G-Man shop, a beauty supply, hip-hop clothing and footwear store on Broadway, to shake his hand, give him a hug. Drivers honk at him on the street, and passers-by give him the thumbs-up and shout, “Jenkins for mayor!” They bring him free coffee from the bagel store next door. Big-shot lawyers wander in looking for jobs.

Not all politics is about race. Was it a factor? Sure. The town’s population is about 55 percent white, 30 percent black and 23 percent Hispanic. But Mr. Jenkins isn’t all that big on having a national or local conversation about race. “I hate racial issues; that’s not what this was ever about,” he said as some of his new constituents stopped by to talk about the flooding on their streets or how they were managing their diabetes. “It just brings up old wounds. We’d all get along a lot better if we could just get past it.”

Things went downhill rapidly after Jenkins took office, especially—surprise, surprise—when it came to the local cops who probably were not used to seeing a Black man in a position of authority. His first run-in occurred in February 2012 when police were summoned to his store to eject a 300-pound man who was trying to pick a fight with Jenkins. In the ensuing melee Jenkins accidentally hit one of the cops. That was not extenuating enough for him to be convicted of a misdemeanor last month.

His next run-in occurred on November 16, 2013 when he showed up at a major auto accident not far from his home, something he saw as his responsibility. Unfortunately, he had some alcohol on his breath and the cops ordered him to take a Breathalyzer test. Upon failing it, they took him to jail where he threw a tantrum while in custody. Carmen Rue, a Republican on the Town Board who has been spearheading a drive to remove Jenkins, made the tape of Jenkins available to the news media that played up the story as Monticello’s Rob Ford.

Michael Sussman, Jenkins’s attorney who specializes in civil rights cases, went on CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1311/26/ijvm.01.html) to discuss the incident. The exchange reflects the state of race relations in the USA:

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST: Tonight, the latest mayor gone wild. Yet another politician behaving badly. And once again, it`s all caught on tape.

Good evening. I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell coming to you live.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charged with drunk driving, busted by his own cops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not a good example. He (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

GORDON JENKINS, MAYOR OF MONTICELLO, NEW YORK: And trying to do the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Straight out to the attorney representing this guy, caught on tape, Mayor Jenkins. Now, you`re reported as saying that the mayor`s base has suffered indignities at the hands of the local cops, and they understand what he was saying. Well, please translate, because I don`t really understand what he`s saying.

MICHAEL SUSSMAN, ATTORNEY FOR MAYOR GORDON JENKINS: I don`t think any of your guests understand. Listening to you, it`s a very ignorant group, honestly. Let`s start…

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, why don`t you educate us as to what this gentleman that you represent is talking about?

SUSSMAN: Let`s start with this, please. The mayor was at a social engagement Saturday night. The mayor understood there was a serious accident in his community, and he drove over to give assistance at the accident.

If any police person at the scene thought the mayor was in any way intoxicated, what a reasonable police officer would do is go up to the mayor and say to the mayor, “Do you need a hand? Do you need a ride anywhere?”

Instead, an individual who had been passed over for police chief has testified in his sworn statement that he waited for the mayor to get into a vehicle, thereby endangering the public if he was really drunk, waited for the mayor to drive away, and then picked up the mayor. He then brought the mayor back to the police station and chained the mayor to a wall for approaching nine hours. When the mayor asked to have his lawyer called they essentially laughed at him and never called me.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Hold on one second, sir. You`ve said something…

SUSSMAN: All of you have such strong opinions, but none of you know what occurred.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: His words are his words. He`s calling people names that I cannot repeat here.

SUSSMAN: Let me try to respond to what you`re all saying for a moment. OK?

It`s one thing if you have no life experience like Gordon Jenkins, 29 years a correction officer in New York state, an honorably discharged Army veteran, in the city government in Monticello as mayor for five years, on the board for nine years. If you have no track record and you have no experience and you don`t understand who you are dealing with, it`s one thing. What Gordon Jenkins did is…

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, that`s — all of that is even more of a reason why he shouldn`t do that. He should have known better.

SUSSMAN: Let me speak for a moment. You have five guests who have one opinion. Let me explain the situation, please.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK. Go for it. Because we`re running out of time.

SUSSMAN: You have — you have people on this force who have been engaged in — against Gordon for a number of years. Rather than do what any reasonable police officer would do, if they thought he was drunk, which is to go to — if it was a white mayor you mean to tell me that they wouldn`t have gone up to the man and said, “We think you`re drunk, Mayor. Can we give you a ride home?”

That goes across the board, obviously. Blacks get long sentences for selling or possessing crack cocaine while white professionals get a slap on the wrist for using powdered cocaine, a recreational drug. It doesn’t matter that Jenkins was once a law enforcement employee. Once he got on the wrong side of the Town Board, he would end up under a microscope.

What’s the lesson in all this? Fifty years ago I never would have imagined that my home town could end up looking like it does today, with heroin busts, vendettas against a Black mayor, and rural squalor. But then again I never would have imagined back then that the USA as whole would be as bad off as it is today, with cities like Detroit writing large what is happening in my old home town.

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