Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Life In the Underclass

Only days after my multimillionaire developer of a landlord slapped me with another rent increase demand (bringing the three year total to a more than 50 percent hike), my apartment flooded.  Repair work on a blocked sewer line had forced wastewater up to a corroded kitchen pipe in my own unit, bursting it and turning half my apartment into a little lake. Fortunately, the crew had a wet-dry vacuum on site and were able to suck up most of the water. Unfortunately, they were running late for their other gigs and second or third jobs, so it took another day to get another crew on site to finish repairing the line and giving me permission to turn on my kitchen faucet. It took still another day (today) for management to finally send over a cleanup crew to remove the rest of the water and shampoo the carpeting, which is more than 20 years old. Actual carpet replacement in these tough times is not an option.

True, I am luckier than many of America's renters, untold millions of whom are so underwater that will be evicted when the national moratorium expires in just a few days. I can still inhabit my apartment for at least another few months, because my state's rent laws require adequate notice on increases. I still have the luxury of writing this post in my dry little office alcove in the rear of the unit. I have managed to keep up with my already-exorbitant rent payments throughout the pandemic, thanks mainly to the three "stimulus" checks which, pundits like Paul Krugman would have us believe, are being saved rather than spent.

Meanwhile, along with more than 100,000 other New Yorkers, I am still awaiting word on my application, for a few months' worth of future rent, to the state's Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). Although these federal funds for "vulnerable" tenants who pay most of their income on rent were approved in April, it took New York until June 1st to finally open its glitch-ridden internet portal. Jumping through hoops does not even begin to describe the hell of this process, which is just one more way to tax the time of the poor and working class.

 Did I mention that our still-governing Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded the multimillion-dollar, no-bid contract for running ERAP to one of his former advisers, who coincidentally left government to start his own private consulting firm right before he won the contract?

As of last week, only a tiny fraction of "test" awards out of the multibillion-dollar fund had been sent to landlords. Senator Chuck Schumer was so incensed about the delays and incompetence that he wrote a sternly worded letter to Cuomo, warning him that unless the money is disbursed, it will revert back to the US Treasury. Cuomo then promised to "streamline" the program by bringing in an army of "volunteers" to do the work his crony could not, and get the money out by August 31: the expiration of New York's own eviction moratorium. 

That's yet another cruel way of stressing out desperate people. First, you dangle a sliver of relief in front of them and praise yourself to the skies while doing so. Then, you not only make them beg for it, you make it impossible for them even to beg for it. Finally, you make them wait in suspense until the very last minute for it. To prove how much you care, you advise them to practice mindfulness if they can't sleep at night.

As for me, I am throwing all caution to the wind even as I am throwing out my entire stock of the soaked contaminated old towels I'd used as ineffectual mops to clean up my interior lake. I've mindfully made up my mind not to pay one penny more in rent for my decaying living space.  Ergo, I  may end up in eviction court myself sooner rather than later. For the first time in my long-ish life, I am facing the very real possibility of homelessness. I can't even move, because the apartment vacancy rate in my area is effectively Zero.  I can't even live in my car, mainly because I don't have a car.

Much of the local housing stock had been converted to short-term Airbnb-type rentals. And then there's gentrification, which itself has been intensified by the influx of wealthy New York City residents who began arriving up here even before the pandemic. The gentry have not only artificially inflated the rents, they've also balked at more low-income housing getting built in their own new back yards. (NIMBYism on steroids.)

It's gotten so bad up here that even the New York Times is noticing the local housing crisis... mostly from the point of view of employers who, poor things, are having so much trouble these days finding enough minimum-wage help to serve the burgeoning plutocratic refugee class clientele. "What Happens When Your Waiter Can't Afford Rent?" the Paper of Record plaintively asks in its headline.

The article showcases Tom Smiley, the hereditary owner of the Mohonk Mountain House, a palatial resort in New Paltz whose most recent claim to fame was its use as luxurious retreat by Hillary Clinton in the aftermath of her crushing 2016 loss to Donald Trump. It's a very sad story of Smiley being forced to cut his workforce from 760 to 630 since the pandemic began. His quest for federal subsidies to house his workers has, thus far, been tragically unsuccessful. 

For the first time since his family started the business in 1869, Mr. Smiley asked his marketing director to focus on staff recruitment, and not on guest promotions. He spent extra money to advertise available jobs on the radio and billboard space on Route 299 in New Paltz.

Some employees were able to secure cheap lodging at the hotel’s worker dorms, but the number of rooms was cut to 45 from about 180, since the pandemic made it necessary to provide private bathrooms instead of shared facilities.

Heaven forbid that wealthy paying guests be forced from their rooms or have to enter a waiting list simply to get on a reservation waiting list, just as poor and working class people seeking affordable housing in America have been forced to do for decades. Tellingly, the lord of this particular manor apparently hasn't lobbied local, state and federal officials to enact rent control laws for the prevention of unconscionable evictions, let alone offered to pay a living wage of at least $25 an hour to his seasonal cleaning and wait-staff to supplement a signing bonus that doesn't even cover a week's rent in this area.

Not for nothing does local legend have it that horror writer Stephen King modeled the gruesome haunted hotel in "The Shining" directly on Mohonk Mountain House, which he is said to use as a regular writing retreat (complete with one of those scarce private bathrooms, I reckon.)

What with both the local and national crisis of unsustainable neo-feudal serfdom, I just can't get the picture out of my head of millions of worker-corpses floating in private bathtubs all across this plague-ridden American landscape.

The tubs are overflowing so badly that the privacy and comfort of their wealthy clientele should be the least of these overlords' worries. The dam is already bursting, all over this plague-ridden, flood-ravaged, world of ours. The victims of extreme capitalism can no longer be hidden away or even cynically used as props in their spectacles.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Pathologizing the Unvaccinated

Forget the Covid-19 pandemic. The top public health official in the United States has just announced that the real disease is people: specifically, the estimated 47 percent of the population that, for whatever reason, remains unvaccinated. 

"This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who nonetheless calls for the reopening of all public schools this fall despite the fact that children under the age of 12 are still not allowed to receive the shots. Does this mean that she also considers kids to be a disease?

Even if one were to dismiss Walensky's appalling statement as merely a poor choice of words, the fact remains that words do matter. Pathologizing minorities and oppressed groups of people is a hallmark of cruel, totalitarian regimes. The Nazis in Germany referred to Jews as viruses and vermin before eradicating six million of them in death camps. The Hutus called the Tutsis cockroaches before the Rwanda genocide. Closer to home, it was common and socially acceptable little more than a century ago to label native Americans and Black people as subhuman, the better to kill, displace, and enslave them. And only few years ago, in a pre-woke New York Times article about mass immigration from France to England, Muslim refugees fleeing from American forever-wars were likened to rats trying to force their way through tunnels. They were a "festering" problem migrating from "squalid" unsanitary camps in order, the reader might infer, to infest cleaner climes. Even after Yours Truly wrote a critical comment and the Times revised the piece, they still used the term "illegal migrants" to describe the refugees. They still called human beings illegal, thus dehumanizing them. And the liberal reader commentariat dutifully followed suit.

For his own part, President Biden is strategically accusing the data-thieving Facebook monopoly of "killing people" by allowing misinformation about the Covid vaccines to be published on its platform. This is at the very same time that the White House admits flagging posts it doesn't like so that Facebook, its erstwhile partner in oligarchic governance, can patriotically remove them. Censorship, even if for a putative "good cause," is still censorship. The suppression of Covid public discourse is just a gateway drug, leading to even more censorship. 

Now, about those 150 million-plus Americans who remain unvaccinated or only partly vaccinated. Contrary to liberal urban legend, they aren't all white anti-mask Red state Trump supporters thumbing their noses at Science just to be ornery.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Black and Hispanic people have consistently lower vaccination rates across all 50 states, leaving them at massively elevated risk for severe illness and death, especially with the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant. This is in keeping with the historical lack of health care services to these communities. It's also keeping with the structural racism now finally being acknowledged by the Newly Woke. The CDC's own  recommendations for more racial and ethnic equity as regards vaccine availability make Dr. Wolensky's characterization of the unvaccinated as a walking pandemic in their own right sound all the more cruel.

The CDC reports demographic characteristics, including race/ethnicity, of people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at the national level. As of July 4, 2021, CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for 58% of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among this group, nearly two thirds were White (59%), 9% were Black, 16% were Hispanic, 6% were Asian, 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and <1% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, while 8% reported multiple or other race. However, CDC data also show that recent vaccinations are reaching larger shares of Hispanic, Asian, and Black populations. Thirty-four percent of vaccines administered in the past 14 days have gone to Hispanic people, 6% to Asian people, and 12% to Black people These recent trends suggest a narrowing of racial gaps in vaccinations at the national level, particularly for Hispanic people, who have recently received a larger share of vaccinations compared to their share of the total population (34% vs. 17%).  While these data provide helpful insights at a national level, to date, CDC is not publicly reporting state-level data on the racial/ethnic composition of people vaccinated.

In California, for example, 29 percent of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people, who account for 63 percent of cases, 48 percent of deaths and 40 percent of the population in the state. In New York, Black people have accounted for only 12 percent of vaccinations and 21 percent of Covid deaths.

Across the 40 states that provided racial and ethnic statistics, according to the KFF article, "the percent of White people who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose (47%) was roughly 1.4 times higher than the rate for Black people (34%) and 1.2 times higher than the rate for Hispanic people (39%) as of July 6, 2021." (their bold.) As of July 6, less than half of Black and Hispanic people in the 40 reporting states had received even one dose of vaccine.

Shaming the unvaccinated or the inadequately vaccinated on social media or elsewhere will likely only make the politically-motivated holdouts all that more stubborn and more resentful than they already are when liberal "elites" lecture them and call them names.

Meanwhile, crushing poverty, the lack of transportation to get to a vaccine site, the inability to get time off from work, chronic health issues such as allergies, the logical assumption that previous infection with Covid grants them at least partial immunity are just some of the myriad reasons why millions of people have not gotten the shots.

Rather than shame or even pathologize the unvaccinated, as Dr. Walensky cluelessly has, why not give people the benefit of the doubt? Why not show a bit of empathy for a change? Why not ramp up community outreach, both at homes and workplaces? Why not just give people money rather than cut them off from their unemployment benefits and arbitrarily discontinue the national eviction moratorium?

As bad and irresponsible an actor that Facebook is, it is not, as Joe Biden claims, literally killing people. It's our profit-motivated, ever more consolidated health care "industry" and its structurally racist, classist, unequal delivery system that's literally killing people. Not for nothing do economists Anne Case and Angus Deacon (Deaths of Despair) call this industry "a cancer that has metastasized throughout the economy."

It should come as no surprise, then, that drug overdose deaths in the United States increased by 30 percent in 2020, the first pandemic year, making it the largest increase ever recorded

 Medicare For All might be cruelly off the table, and if you're poor you're bound to die a lot younger. But Uncle Joe wants you to know that the only thing you have to fear is Facebook disinformation and China beating America in the war for global oligarchic supremacy.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

People's Party Seeks Skilled People To Work Without Pay

Whenever an organization claims that one its core missions is to achieve a living wage and economic justice for all, but it then proceeds to advertise a whole slew of time-consuming, unsalaried professional jobs in media and graphic design, you can pretty much assume that it's the same old neoliberal bullshit dressed up in the usual shiny progressive veneer. As long as you're "passionate" about social and economic justice, the stilted pitch implies, the need to eat and pay rent becomes superfluous.

Such is the disillusioning case with Nick Brana's "Movement for a People's Party" PAC, which burst upon the scene last summer to much fanfare and special appearances and endorsements by the usual YouTube celebrities and everybody who's anybody on the progressive scene. Yours truly, usually a tad on the cynical side, was initially so impressed by all the earnest enthusiasm that I posted their entire five-hour streamed inaugural marathon right here on these pages, and also signed up for their email list.

 At first quite sporadic, these emails have begun arriving in my inbox at a faster clip in the past few weeks. All of them ask for a 10 dollar donation through a fundraising app. A reader of this blog was getting the same emails, so he emailed me, asking if I'd look into the group. 

My advice: donor beware. First of all, this is not a political party. It was incorporated in 2017 in the State of Michigan as a non-profit political action group called People For a Working Democracy. According to the most recent IRS filing available online, in 2020 it collected $75,000 in small donations in the last two months of the year. The group spent the bulk of this money on trademarked merchandise, legal fees, web services, a donation processing app, logo design, video conferencing fees and other business-related services. No donations were used for candidate recruitment and training, which was the stated goal and purpose of the People's Party PAC. To be fair, they were still setting up shop at the time. The real tell won't come until the 2022 filings, with donations and media presence largely expanded and when details like salaries and expenditures for candidates and local campaigns must be reported under law.

Let's talk more about the money. The recent MPP emails mostly come from Zeynab Day, just hired by Brana to be his PAC's executive director. Until this past February, Ms. Day had been employed by a different PAC called Brand New Congress (BNC), itself an offshoot of the Justice Democrats PAC, which is most famous for recruiting and training Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of The Squad.

According to a post on her Twitter account, Day was fired as BNC's communications director because of the abuse, inequity and rampant miscommunication among its Board of Directors, salaried workers and unpaid volunteers. She wanted to be transparent about it, but she didn't really communicate whether or not these nonspecific workplace issues and anonymous staff complaints had anything to do with conflicts between the salaried employees and the unpaid volunteers.

Before herself becoming a top salaried internal employee of Brand New Congress, Ms. Day had been listed by the Open Secrets website, which exposes the money in politics, as the group's top "vendor/recipient," collecting $96,693 for her consulting work for the PAC in 2020.

Anyway, let's get back to the job listings at the MPP PAC. Before you can even apply for an unpaid position, you must first read the section about being a good person who is always kind to her fellow workplace "beings."

Without the People's Party sternly admonishing its worker-peeps to "avoid perpetrating violence against one another, whether it be physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual," who knows what mayhem might otherwise ensue in the paid/unpaid workforce? Most potential bosses, after all, only brag that they are equal opportunity employers, not the referees in a boxing ring or wardens in a prison on the verge of an inmate riot.  I wonder if mass mayhem has been a problem in the past, or whether the MPP PAC staffers are only paranoid about being viewed as either bullying Bernie Bros, or their Bro-victims in waiting. Could they really be so terrified of having their very souls sucked out of their bodies by spiritual abusers? 

So just in case you do volunteer, only to later feel like the soul is getting sucked out of you so hard that you want to assault the "being" in the next cubicle, you will be duly and cordially invited to appear before the People's Party "Regenerative Culture Circle." This mental health opportunity applies to suckers and suckees alike.  You will have the free choice of offering testimony in front of the Full Circle, or you may engage privately with one special counselor in order to reach specific goals, ranging from Support to Prevention to Intervention to Redress to.... Transformation

If you want even more cult in your culture, let it also be known that the People's Party PAC will tolerate no criticism either of itself or of its paid or unpaid workers to people outside of the Circle of the organization. Job applicants are also admonished never to bring any of their violent tendencies outside of the healing safety of the cult party.

As we strive to grow the movement, we also look to minimize the risk of government repression. In a nonviolent and open setting like ours, it is unacceptable and unsafe to discuss or engage in actions that involve violence or property destruction. Governments have a long history of heightened repression to those actions.

To that end, the People's Party takes a tip from the same neoconservative US surveillance state which it purports to despise, and adds this nugget to its Volunteer Manifesto:

We affirm the need to balance transparency and security. Anyone bringing another individual to a demonstration or other action should provide the details necessary for risk assessment (tactic, tone, etc). However, it should be remembered that this is a public organizing space, that our ability to vet participants is limited, and that actions can be and have been compromised by excessive transparency.

Now that we've all gone perfectly clear, can we please, please, please finally check out those unsalaried jobs and their stringent requirements?

Your wish is my command, but let's keep this inside info just between us for now, okay? They want to get the word out, but not to get it out to the wrong people.

 Position title

Social Media Contributor - Twitter

The People's Party is looking to recruit passionate people with significant social media experience who would like to contribute their time on a volunteer basis to build a new major political party.

About Us

Our aim is to represent the interests of the wide majority of the people and create a system to sustainably maximize well-being for ALL.

We believe we all deserve a system that honors everyone for the content of their character, not the color of their skin, the land where they happened to be born, or the numbers in their bank account. One that brings powerful law-breakers to justice. One that makes sure the planet and it's (sic) magnificent beings are cared for before any corporation exec’s profit margins. One where the power of our nation’s wealth serves all of us, not just failed banks or masters of war.

It is our goal to change hearts and minds, unify around a revolutionary progressive platform, and activate people to build a mass movement by organizing around progressive issues and initiatives with allied groups to network our movement, unions, and organizations into a coalition.

We are creating a culture of care, respect and healthy collaboration and teamwork. We embrace diversity and avoid perpetrating violence against one another, whether it be physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. We aim to foster a compassionate environment that supports and uplifts people. With these principles and goals in mind, we commit ourselves to our community guidelines.

We are currently building the party state by state and working on our first slate of candidates.

  • Attend bi-weekly Media & Messaging Working Group meetings
  • Attend Twitter Circle meetings
  • Create social media posts
  • Curate content
  • Research
  • Write social media plans
  • Manage social media accounts
  • Work with the Creative Arts Working Group to create visual content
  • Respond to social media messages
  • You are passionate about building a major new political party
  • You recognize that the current two party duopoly cannot be reformed from within
  • You have significant social media admin experience, either from a volunteer or paid position
  • You have experience as a Instagram admin of or contributor to a large account
  • You have experience working on a team
  • You're a quick learner
  • You think outside the box
  • You agree to our community guidelines

The positions described here are volunteer positions, to be performed on a purely voluntary basis, with no payment or expectation of payment from the People’s Party or anyone else. Volunteers selected for these positions are not employees of or independent contractors with the People’s Party.

Apply Now
Other pay-less media jobs in the Passionate Peeps PAC are similarly pitched, with the same grandstanding, virtue-signaling, collective passion-generating rhetoric to get candidates all fired up and ready to volunteer for the ephemeral cause. Think outside the box even as you remain strictly confined within the Circle!    
If art is your shtick, but you don't think you have the talent of a Hunter Biden in order to justify selling your paintings for as much as $500,000 apiece to anonymous buyers, then you might as well work against The Man by joining the Peeps. Salivate over this opportunity if you dare, but please remember to drool nonviolently:
  • Attend Creative Arts Working Group meetings
  • Help dream up and create graphics for our website, emails, social media, advertising, and more
  • Work in a team environment
  • You are passionate about building a major new political party
  • You recognize that the current two party duopoly cannot be reformed from within
  • You have graphic design experience
  • You can provide examples of your relevant work
  • You have the necessary software for the positive (for example Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, etc.)
  • You have experience working on a team
  • You're a quick learner
  • You think outside the box
  • You agree to our community guidelines
MPP, in its no-pay job postings, effectively acknowledges the truth that it is not - at least not yet - a real political party in any sense of the word, with no bylaws or formal platform beyond the nearly identical talking points and sloganeering of the Squad, the Democratic Socialists of America, the Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress and any number of other PACs,  progressive Democratic veal pens and the echo chamber microphones of hundreds of YouTube celebrities. Its creation of a top-down "mass movement" betrays its modeling and direct evolution from Nick Brana's Our Revolution fundraising PAC.
 Brana, the national outreach director of Sanders's first primary campaign, had found himself out of a job when his "Draft Bernie" campaign to lead a new party flopped after Hillary Clinton won the 2016 nomination - and Bernie not only stayed with the Democrats, he ignored Brana.  MPP seems to aspire for parity with the larger, much older and more established Working Families Party, which itself is also not an independent third party. It functions mainly to put progressive pressure on Democratic candidates before endorsing them in local, state and federal elections, thus giving liberal politicians the opportunity to appear on a second ballot line on Election Day. Politicians openly drool over these endorsements The most notorious recent example is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who courted the WFP endorsement in 2014 when progressive anti-corruption candidate Zephyr Teachout was threatening him with such a strong primary challenge that even the staid New York Times backed her upstart candidacy.
 Once Cuomo nonetheless shockingly won the WFP endorsement by gaslighting the Families party before going on to win the Democratic primary, he promptly thumbed his nose at the "third" party by suddenly losing all of his newfound progressivism. He made it a giant middle finger, just in case, by also launching his very own fourth party, which he cynically named The Women's Party. In the next election, when the WFP endorsed Cynthia Nixon over Cuomo in the primary, they still granted Cuomo the ballot line in the general in the interests of their own continuing viability.
The Trotskyites over at the World Socialist Website had the "pseudo-left" MPP pegged as "unserious" as soon as it streamed its inaugural convention, aptly noting that Brana had invited the libertarian former Minnesota governor, Jesse Ventura, to be a featured speaker. Ventura ostentatiously wore a Navy SEAL pin during his endorsement of the People's Party, perhaps to hammer home the point that anti-war activism is not, to put it charitably, high on their bucket list.
In fact, most of the featured speakers urged a nose-holding vote for Joe Biden, if only to defeat the unfriendlier Trumpian style of fascism. Only journalist Chris Hedges denounced both establishment parties and criticized Bernie Sanders as a sheepdog herding disaffected citizens into the Democratic fold. Another keynote speaker, firebrand Nina Turner, is now running for a House seat on the Democratic primary ticket. There is no more talk from her about forming a third party, of the People or otherwise.
Here's my take. The People's Party PAC is just one small moving part in the dysfunction, finger-pointing and backbiting currently roiling what Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs once derisively called "the professional left." If you tune in to one of the many progressive YouTube channels, you're more likely to hear endless discussions about the ugly feud between The Young Turks and journalist Aaron Mate than you are to learn about such policy matters as Medicare For All and the increasingly prevalent wildcat strikes which are getting far less attention than they deserve. Maybe it's because they're not properly registered as PACs or are otherwise drawing outside the lines of electoral politics.
As a former MPP volunteer described it last month on the "Rising" program, her experience with Brana's organization was not only depressing, it was chaotic. Instead of plotting direct actions or recruiting candidates, she said that staffers in her particular New York group ended up debating about whether white people should be allowed to use the N word. Apparently, the issue was considered rectified when, she asserted, all the black volunteers were summarily purged by PAC leaders from the group before they ever had a chance to appear before one of those creepy Circle tribunals.
    Notwithstanding the conservative-leaning "Rising's" own possible motives in airing the dirty linen in Brana's PAC, racial tensions among liberals and progressives do exist. So do class tensions. That's the secret that they don't want leaked out, especially to their enemies on the professional right, who will have an absolute field day with it. So the racism and racialism component in all the recent in-fighting in progressive groups should be openly discussed, not euphemized or suppressed. Above all, the race and "woke" angle's purpose and provenance should be recognized for what they are: a very powerful divide-and-conquer, gaslighting, guilt-inducing means of control by the ruling elites over the rest of us. This has been going on in America since at least the late 17th century, when the very concept of race was first manufactured, to become an article of faith and so very, very lucrative for the owning classes down through the generations.
It's capitalism itself which ultimately survives and thrives on the elites' controlling and exploitative ''divisiveness" narrative. It's reached the point that progressive groups find themselves conducting internal witch hunts and using authoritarian measures just to avoid being labeled as racists or sexists.
The gaslit end up becoming the gaslighters, huddling within their repressive circles and conducting secretive purges from within their own ranks to retain what little power they still have left.