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Census data: Half of U.S. poor or low income December 16, 2011


December 15, 2011

by legitgov

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Census data: Half of U.S. poor or low income 15 Dec 2011 Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans – nearly 1 in 2 – have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income. The latest census data depict a middle class that’s shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays [thanks to the GOP, Obusha, and sycophantic DemocRATs]. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

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The school of Jay-Z studies | Mychal Denzel Smith December 14, 2011

Judging by the amount of fuss he caused, one would think Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson had floated the idea of abolishing child labor laws. In reality, all he had done was announce that this semester he would be teaching a course entitled “Sociology of Hip-Hop – Urban Theodicy of Jay-Z.” And it was Glastonbury all over again.

The outrage flew from all directions. A SPIN headline referred to “Georgetown’s Semi-Ridiculous Jay-Z Class”, while the main article nonchalantly mentions that tuition at the university is $40,920, attaching the price to a particularly inarticulate quote from a college sophomore. Gawker was still more ruthless in its takedown, declaring: “One notable thing about Michael Eric Dyson is that although he is very good at being an academic celebrity, he doesn’t know shit about hip-hop.”

Perhaps the most incisive and disparaging critique came from Stephen Wu, a junior at Georgetown, who, writing for the Hoya student newspaper, said, “The proposition that Jay-Z is in the same galaxy as – much less the heir to – the preeminent epic poet [Homer] of human history represents a basic misapprehension of either Jay-Z’s importance or the development of western thought and literature over 2,500 years.” Ouch.

But a controversy isn’t a controversy without at least two diverging points of view. Zack O’Malley Greenburg, author of Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office took to Forbes to defend the class that had invited him to be a guest speaker. Responding directly to Wu’s argument, Greenburg counters, “I’m not disputing Homer’s impact on western civilisation, but this sort of small-minded statement ignores the entire body of socially conscious hip-hop (yes, parts of it contributed by Jay-Z), not to mention some of the most prominent themes present throughout Homer’s works.”

Point well received. But the notion that this class needs to be defended is preposterous on its face. Jay-Z doesn’t need to be Homer. Or Shakespeare. Or Mark Twain, Beethoven or Wagner. He’s Jay-Z: arguably, the most important figure to come out of the biggest cultural movement of the past 30 years. The merits of the case – for serious intellectual course work focused on the man and his lyrics – stand on their own, without feeble comparisons to more “respectable” members of the academic canon.

In the 30 years since 20/20 aired its special report that declared “rap is likely to influence popular music for years to come … it has tremendous staying power,” hip-hop hasn’t only fulfilled that prophecy; it has surpassed it in ways not imagined at the time. It is such an integral and ubiquitous part of American culture that hip-hop is used to sell everything from light beer to digital cameras, while influencing electoral politics and agitating presidents. There is no denying the cultural legitimacy of hip-hop.

And try as some might, there is little denying Jay-Z’s position as hip-hop’s preeminent voice. Over the course of his 15-year career, Jay-Z has proven himself to be not only one of the most prolific artists that the culture has produced, but a quintessential American businessman (or business, man).

His particular genius lies in his ability to take the misunderstood worldview of a dispossessed group and make it palatable to a diverse audience. Through him, people from all different backgrounds have access to the unique and sometimes flawed philosophies of black men in the post-civil rights/black power generation. He perfectly embodies both the brilliant potential and unfortunate consequences of hip-hop’s global reach.

Jay’s life and music are fertile ground for investigating issues of poverty, criminalisation, misogyny, performances of black masculinity, capitalism, linguistics, black political identity and much more. “Hip-hop basically is simply this starting point for these broader questions about life and philosophy and worldview,” says Mark Anthony Neal, professor of black popular culture at Duke University. Neal visited the class earlier this year to discuss his own work on Jay-Z, and engaged the students on a range of issues, from intellectual property law to cosmopolitan identity. This goes far beyond a study of “big pimpin'” or “swag”. Courses such as these produce the type of critical thinking needed to fuel real societal change.

This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, class on hip-hop to make its way into the halls of higher education (there are over 300, in any case). It is conceivable that, one day, major universities will award major degrees in the study of hip-hop. No, it isn’t organic chemistry or engineering, but that doesn’t diminish its value.

The critics will find themselves on the wrong side of history. Everyone else will brush their shoulders off.

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Russians Look Ahead to Mass Protest, Presidential Election December 13, 2011

Is Russia’s middle class on the march? People are angry, and are speaking out for clean elections and democracy.

Two days after Russia’s largest democracy demonstration in a generation, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded with a few lines in Facebook.

He wrote, “I agree neither with the slogans, nor the statements voiced at the protests.”

Within minutes, readers demanded, which slogans? Did he object to the central one, “Clean elections?”

Within 24 hours, more than 12,000 Russians put their names on the line with such comments as, “Shame” and “Pathetic.”

Suddenly, middle class Russians are saying they are fed up, in public.

Mikhail Morozov, a sales manager, is one of them. He said last week’s voting was a waste of time because the Kremlin had decided the results in advance.

Last weekend, protests were held in 95 cities across Russia.

Evgeniya Chesnikova, a 30-year-old chess teacher, came to Moscow’s protest with flowers, symbolizing her hope the protest movement will remain peaceful. “I came here today because this autocratic regime of Putin, it can’t stay anymore. It’s all of criminals and corruption,” he said.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to extend his rule of Russia for six more years by winning the presidential election in March.

On Monday, a planned Constitution Day rally next to the Kremlin walls was turned into a pro-Putin pep rally for several thousand supporters.

A few blocks away, Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s third richest man and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team in the U.S., held a press conference.

The billionaire bachelor announced he is running for president.

Masha Lipman, an analyst at Carnegie Center Moscow, says Mr. Putin could be in trouble. His popularity has been dropping since he announced a job switch with President Dmitry Medvedev three months ago. “The trend is negative for Putin. People are angry and in the same time are invigorated by the success of their collective action. Putin’s rating is on decline, has been on decline for quite some time now,” he said.

Lipman says Mr. Putin is gambling on riding out the protest storm until Christmas and New Year’s, when Russians take a two-week winter break. “Maybe the calculation of the government is let them let off steam. Soon, we are going to have a long holiday in Russia,” he said.

But with new presidential candidates positioning themselves, Russia’s powerful church chiding the Kremlin to hold clean elections, and Internet activists working to organize a new wave of protests for December 24, Russia’s political future is now clouded by a large question mark.

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David Montgomery obituary December 12, 2011

David Montgomery, who has died aged 84 of a brain haemorrhage, was one of the most prominent historians in the US and the model of a scholar-activist. Along with the late Herbert Gutman, he was the most influential practitioner of the “new labour history“, which moved the study of workers away from the institutional history of unions to the workplace struggles, political ideologies and cultural values of the diverse groups who make up the American working class. Before entering academia, he spent several years as a shop-floor organiser for the Communist party, working with the United Electrical Workers, International Association of Machinists and Teamsters union, an experience rare among modern academics.

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Montgomery served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the second world war, including a stint at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bomb was developed. After leaving the army he attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. In the 1950s, Montgomery devoted himself to factory organising. Hounded by the FBI, he was dismissed from several industrial jobs. He left the Communist party in 1957 in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and, as he later recalled in an interview with the Radical History Review, because of the party’s “stifling” intellectual atmosphere.

But he remained deeply influenced by two aspects of his communist experience – Marxist analysis and a commitment to racial equality. Class remained his key category of historical analysis, although he was keenly aware of the multiracial, multi-ethnic nature of the American labour force. He saw class consciousness not as adherence to a particular ideology but as workers’ day-to-day activities in opposition to their employers. Unions, whatever their political outlook, were for Montgomery places of human solidarity, their very existence a rebuke and challenge to the dog-eat-dog competitiveness of market society.

What he witnessed on the shop floor convinced him that “most of what was written in academic literature about the inherent conservatism of American workers … was simply untrue.” He decided to set the record straight. Montgomery received his doctorate in history from the University of Minnesota in 1962. He taught labour history for 14 years at the University of Pittsburgh, then moved to Yale University as the professor of history. A powerful, charismatic speaker, he attracted legions of students to his classes.

Montgomery’s writings reconceptualised the history of American workers during the 19th and early 20th centuries. His first book, Beyond Equality (1967), altered historians’ understanding of the era of reconstruction that followed the American civil war by focusing on the labour question in the northern states rather than the fate of the emancipated slaves. The war, a disaster for northern workers because of rampant inflation, spawned the emergence of the nation’s first mass-labour movement, whose demands challenged the adequacy of the ideal of legal equality promoted by the radical republicans.

The book’s title suggested that beyond legal equality – a momentous achievement for the former slaves – lay issues of economic justice that the political system proved incapable of addressing. On the submerged rock of class conflict, he argued, the radical project foundered.

Montgomery then turned his attention to the rise and fall of labour militancy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Workers’ Control in America (1979), he highlighted how groups of skilled industrial workers – iron puddlers, miners, and others – “controlled” the nature and pace of work, and how their shopfloor power was eventually eroded by mechanisation and the introduction of bureaucratised systems of factory management.

The Fall of the House of Labor (1987) expanded his compass to include not only these privileged workers, but machine operatives in factories and the unskilled manual labourers who built the era’s railroads, subways and sewer systems. In the early 20th century, management, with the assistance of the national state, launched a ferocious assault on workers’ prerogatives. By the 1920s, Montgomery wrote, “modern America had been created over its workers’ protests”.

The theme of political repression was further pursued in Citizen Worker (1993), which addressed the paradox that 19th-century American workers enjoyed extensive democratic rights, yet confronted a national state that acted “to police the people for the free market”.

Montgomery was the opposite of the ivory-tower academic. At Yale, he organised faculty support for clerical workers who engaged in a bitter strike against the university demanding union recognition. When the workers at the Colt firearms company in New Haven (where Yale is located) launched a prolonged strike, Montgomery joined the picket line. In 2000, as president of the Organisation of American Historians, he moved the sessions of the annual meeting in St Louis from the headquarters hotel to a local university, as an act of solidarity with black litigants who were suing the hotel chain for discriminatory practices.

Montgomery had a longstanding connection with Britain. From 1967 until 1969, he taught at the University of Warwick, where, with EP Thompson, he helped to establish the Centre for the Study of Social History, and from 1986 until 1987 was professor of American history at Oxford University.

In his interview with the Radical History Review, Montgomery remarked: “Although my speciality is working-class history, the subject I am trying to get at is the history of capitalism.” In all his works, he tried to describe workers’ experiences within the broadest political and economic context. Today in the US, labour history has become a much more marginal field than in Montgomery’s heyday – a reflection of shifting intellectual interests and the decline of the labour movement itself. Those interested in labour now study it as part of a newly prominent paradigm – the history of American capitalism. In other words, they are coming back to David Montgomery.

He is survived by his wife, Martel (when they wed in 1952, their interracial marriage was illegal in many US states), two sons, Edward and Claude, and five grandchildren.

David Montgomery, historian, born 1 December 1927; died 2 December 2011

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Obama speech declares ‘make-or-break moment for the middle class’ December 7, 2011


Barack Obama’s Kansas speech targets ‘fend for yourself’ stance of Republicans and corporations. Link to this video

Barack Obama blasted his Republican foes and Wall Street as he portrayed himself as a champion of the middle class and laid out in the starkest terms yet the populist themes of his 2012 re-election bid.

In a speech meant to echo a historic address given by the former US president Theodore Roosevelt in the same Kansas town more than 100 years ago, Obama railed against “gaping” economic inequality and pressed the case for policies he insisted would help ordinary Americans get through hard times.

He seized the opportunity to step up pressure on congressional Republicans to extend payroll tax cuts that independent economists say are vital to economic recovery, and vowed new legislation to punish Wall Street fraud.

But Obama’s broader message was a sweeping call for the working class to get a “fair shot” and a “fair share” as he pushed for wealthier Americans to pay higher taxes and demanded that big corporate interests play by the rules.

“This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” Obama told a cheering crowd in a high school gymnasium in Osawatomie, Kansas.

“At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement.”

With the election due in 11 months, Obama’s speech was part of a strategy to cast the Republicans as the party beholden to the rich and blame them for obstructing his efforts to boost the fragile economy and slash high unemployment – issues considered crucial to his re-election chances.

“Their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. Well, I’m here to say they are wrong,” he said.

Republicans said it was another attempt to distract from what they see as Obama’s failed economic record. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, accused the president and his fellow Democrats of resorting to “cheap political theatre”.

The Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, in an interview on CNBC, said Obama’s policies made him the “finest food stamp president in American history” because more people would end up getting government aid than new jobs.

Obama’s attempt to lay out the ideological foundations of his re-election campaign marked a shift from recent speeches that have concentrated on small-scale executive actions or campaign-style harangues against Republicans to stop stalling his $447bn jobs plan.

This time Obama sought to channel Roosevelt, a Republican who provoked deep anger within his party with his landmark “new nationalism” speech in 1910 that hailed the government’s role in promoting social justice and warned against abuses by rich business interests. Roosevelt lost the 1912 presidential election running as a third-party candidate.

Obama sharpened his tone against Wall Street, reflecting what aides see as a message that increasingly resonates with working-class voters whose taxes have gone to business bailouts while their own incomes have flatlined. He was also seeking to revitalise his liberal base amid fears that an “enthusiasm gap” could cut into Democratic turnout and cost him a second term.

Obama sounded themes of economic inequality and corporate greed that have driven the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, which was spawned in New York and has spread to other major cities and countries.

“President Obama is attempting to energise Democrats for the campaign, define himself as something more than a passive president and take populism back from the Tea Party,” said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University political historian.

The risk for Obama is that tougher rhetoric against big business could turn off some of the centrist voters he needs to win re-election. After his Democrats suffered major losses in the November 2010 congressional elections, he launched an outreach to the business community to try to mend fences.

Obama used his speech to accuse Republicans of suffering from “collective amnesia” about the recent financial crisis, and he strongly defended his Wall Street regulatory overhaul that many Republicans opposed and want to roll back.

He said he would call for legislation to toughen penalties against Wall Street companies that break anti-fraud rules.

“Too often we’ve seen Wall Street firms violating major anti-fraud laws because the penalties are too weak and there’s no price for being a repeat offender. No more,” Obama said.

He again prodded Republican lawmakers to extend the expiring payroll tax cut beyond this year.

Many Republican lawmakers are sceptical that it will spur job creation, but party leaders, fearing a possible backlash from voters in 2012, have expressed a willingness to find a way to prevent the tax cut from lapsing. They remain at odds with Democrats on how to fund it.

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