This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Insurance Stocks Soar after Lieberman Promises to Block Public Option

(If you're from the Nutmeg State, call or write Joe and tell him you'd prefer he represent the people, rather than the insurance companies)


Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that he would be including a version of the public option (with a state opt-out provision) in the Senate’s final health care bill. Although all of the details of the public plan are yet to be determined, progressives cheered the move. As Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) admitted, without all the pressure that progressives in and out of Congress put on legislators, it is unlikely there would have been a public option included in Reid’s final bill.

Yet this afternoon, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) broke with the Democratic caucus that he is a member of and vowed to join a Republican-led filibuster if the public option is not removed from the bill. In response, insurance company stocks — which plummeted Monday as Reid made his announcement — shot up after Lieberman made his announcement around 1:30 pm:

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Lieberman’s opposition to the public option puts him completely out of step with Connecticut voters. As this polling from 538.com’s Nate Silver shows, voters in every single one of Connecticut’s congressional districts favor the inclusion of a public option in health care legislation by wide margins. The stated reason for Lieberman’s opposition to the public option — that it would increase the debt and create another entitlement — is misplaced. As ThinkProgress has noted before, the public option would be self-sustaining and would cut the deficit.

Insurance giant Aetna, represented by the blue line above, fared the best among all of the health insurance companies. Aetna is based in Hartford, CT. It is also the tenth largest single private contributor to Lieberman’s re-election committee.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Turn Off the Lights

AlterNet

The Enormous Environmental Consequences of Artificially Lighting Up the Night

By Judith Stock, Miller-McCune.com
Posted on October 13, 2009, Printed on October 14, 2009
http://www.alternet.org/story/143258/

Plants, animals and humans developed with an internal clock — the circadian rhythm. It's a 24-hour cycle that affects physiological, biochemical and behavioral processes in almost all organisms.

Civilization brought with it artificial light to homes in every village, town and city across the world, and as more buildings and factories came online, industrialization increased and the population continued to expand, our nighttime sky looked a lot like the day, changing our deep, dark sleep patterns and altering that 24-hour internal timekeeper.

With that, all living creatures' lives changed in ways only now becoming clear to us.

Dawns the light
To understand light pollution, it's important to know there are two different types: First, there is astronomical light pollution that obscures the view of the night sky, and the second kind is ecological light pollution, which alters natural light systems in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

"Light pollution started to be identified in the 1800s when we realized that birds flew into the sides of lighthouses and consequently died," says Travis Longcore, science director of the Urban Wildlands Group, research associate professor at the USC geography department and a lecturer at the UCLA Institute of the Environment in Los Angeles. (Beginning in the 1940s, radio and television towers become "the spiral of death for birds that regrettably hit the guy-wires," he added.)

Twenty years later, it was discovered that artificial coastal lighting in Florida was disorienting and disrupting the rhythm of sea turtles that bury their eggs in the sand. When the eggs hatch, the hatchlings must go toward the water and beachside nests for their survival, but the babies were being distracted by the light and diverted from their natural course, often ending up facing dehydration, being eaten by predators or even wandering along the highway.

As more animals encountered night lighting, it became evident that while night light might benefit people, it wasn't helping wildlife.

Light pollution has had disastrous effects on migrating birds, resulting in millions dying each year, and that figure increases with the combination of outdoor light and fog. Birds use the light at the horizon to migrate at night. When the birds see a brightly lit building, they become confused and fly around and around — in essence becoming trapped in the light — eventually dropping dead from exhaustion.

The term photopollution — artificial light that has adverse effects on wildlife — was coined in a watershed paper by Dutch ecologist F.J. Verheijen in 1985. In the paper, Verheijen says that many nocturnally active animals need a natural light field between sunset and sunrise as a requirement for survival.

"When we think about the night and the extent of light pollution in the last 20 years, it's growing far faster than the human population and has changed the environment significantly," explained Longcore.

But light pollution's harmful effects aren't restricted to animals.

"Women who work at night, change shifts often or don't get proper sleep at night suppress their melatonin production and have higher rates of breast cancer," explained Dr. Mario Motta, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society and associate at the North Shore Cardiovascular Associates. "It's a fact. The exact cause is speculative, but we think it's because of the changes in the melatonin production due to disruption of their circadian rhythm."

Disrupting the circadian rhythm can cause insomnia, depression and increase the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Fallout from the disruption of your circadian rhythm can be harsh medicine to swallow, but so can simply living in the glare of the night's lights. Straining to see at night in the face of glare from oncoming traffic or streetlights that shine over the landscape can be irritating and uncomfortable, but it also can be dangerous.

"If I shined a light on your eyes in a dark room you wouldn't be able to see the rest of the room," Motta observed. "Every time you pass a bright light on the highway or the street your pupils constrict," causing decreased nighttime visibility.

Adults between the ages of 40 to 50 start to notice glare more, when the lens of the human eye begins to harden and calcify. Cataracts may develop, which can exacerbate the glare, and require surgery to remove.

Citing energy efficiency and glare reduction, the American Medical Association in June officially approved a resolution advocating light pollution control. Dr. Motto introduced the resolution saying, "This is just what the doctor ordered."


Transforming the Night
"The one thing most responsible for our nighttime sky looking like the middle of the day is there's an unwarranted volume of streetlights that aren't necessary for our safety," said Leo Smith, the northeast regional director of the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit focused on preserving the night sky through smarter outdoor lighting. "In many cases, we don't need streetlights, but streetlight manufacturers are pushing their products."

"In Connecticut," said Smith, a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and a roadway lighting committee member in Suffield, "we have sections where the road is 30 miles long and is continually illuminated. There's a tremendous amount of energy loss from unneeded streetlights and ones that don't need to be on when there's no traffic."

In comparison, Interstate 20 in Atlanta has no overhead roadway lights outside the beltway, with five lanes of traffic in each direction, but it does have is a 4-foot median barrier that blocks the glare from oncoming headlights.

When it comes to dusk-to-dawn outdoor lighting, one solution that's been offered is to light streets only until 10 p.m. After that time, programmable photocell lights would turn off. Also, it is suggested that private residences use only fully shielded lighting fixtures for porches or driveways.

Smith also pointed to a solution that helps those migrating birds: "Eventually, we will have motion-sensor controls, so when you're in the building and using it, lights will be on and when the building isn't in use, the lights will be off."

He estimates that more than 100 cities in the United States have ordinances on the books regarding outdoor lighting. One such a town is Stowe, Vt.

The Stowe City Council passed standards for outdoor lighting in 1998. The regulations require outdoor lighting be cutoff fixtures, as they direct light downward where it is needed, not sideways or upward. "We do have height restrictions of 16 feet for parking lot lighting," said Stowe Zoning Director Rich Baker, "and we don't allow sodium vapor lights or internally illuminated signage.

"This is a tourist area. People come here for outdoor recreation and for the aesthetics. We needed to cut down bright outside lighting."

New on the energy horizon and ready to take the bite out of squandered light is the federal government's new planned matrix for Energy Star qualification or fitted target efficiency. The old Energy Star qualification system factored how much energy would you get out of a light bulb. Soon, it will factor how much energy is going to the target, reducing squandered light energy.

The Dark-Sky Association estimates that wasted light squanders the equivalent of 32 million barrels of oil or 9 million tons of coal each year in the United States alone. Some other industrialized nations might point the way toward improvement: Longcore said much of Europe is ahead of the U.S. on confronting this issue, particularly the Czech Republic, which has a nationwide light pollution law on the books.

"Lighting the night is a purely manmade condition," Motta says. "We can't do anything about the sun, but we can do something about the nighttime lighting situation."

Of all the complex environmental problems that so desperately need our attention and a solution, light pollution is the most easily remedied.

Judith Stock is a Los Angeles-based environmental journalist. Her articles have appeared in USA Weekend, National Wildlife, Cooking Light, HGTV and Preservation Online.

© 2009 Miller-McCune.com All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/143258/

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Too Poor to Make the News

The New York Times
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June 14, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor


THE human side of the recession, in the new media genre that’s been called “recession porn,” is the story of an incremental descent from excess to frugality, from ease to austerity. The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

But the outlook is not so cozy when we look at the effects of the recession on a group generally omitted from all the vivid narratives of downward mobility — the already poor, the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times. This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction.

This spring, I tracked down a couple of the people I had met while working on my 2001 book, “Nickel and Dimed,” in which I worked in low-wage jobs like waitressing and housecleaning, and I found them no more gripped by the recession than by “American Idol”; things were pretty much “same old.” The woman I called Melissa in the book was still working at Wal-Mart, though in nine years, her wages had risen to $10 an hour from $7. “Caroline,” who is increasingly disabled by diabetes and heart disease, now lives with a grown son and subsists on occasional cleaning and catering jobs. We chatted about grandchildren and church, without any mention of exceptional hardship.

As with Denise Smith, whom I recently met through the Virginia Organizing Project and whose bachelor’s degree in history qualifies her for seasonal $10-an-hour work at a tourist site, the recession is largely an abstraction. “We were poor,” Ms. Smith told me cheerfully, “and we’re still poor.”

But then, at least if you inhabit a large, multiclass extended family like my own, there comes that e-mail message with the subject line “Need your help,” and you realize that bad is often just the stage before worse. The note was from one of my nephews, and it reported that his mother-in-law, Peg, was, like several million other Americans, about to lose her home to foreclosure.

It was the back story that got to me: Peg, who is 55 and lives in rural Missouri, had been working three part-time jobs to support her disabled daughter and two grandchildren, who had moved in with her. Then, last winter, she had a heart attack, missed work and fell behind in her mortgage payments. If I couldn’t help, all four would have to move into the cramped apartment in Minneapolis already occupied by my nephew and his wife.

Only after I’d sent the money did I learn that the mortgage was not a subprime one and the home was not a house but a dilapidated single-wide trailer that, as a “used vehicle,” commands a 12-percent mortgage interest rate. You could argue, without any shortage of compassion, that “Low-Wage Worker Loses Job, Home” is nobody’s idea of news.

In late May I traveled to Los Angeles — where the real unemployment rate, including underemployed people and those who have given up on looking for a job, is estimated at 20 percent — to meet with a half-dozen community organizers. They are members of a profession, derided last summer by Sarah Palin, that helps low-income people renegotiate mortgages, deal with eviction when their landlords are foreclosed and, when necessary, organize to confront landlords and bosses.

The question I put to this rainbow group was: “Has the recession made a significant difference in the low-income communities where you work, or are things pretty much the same?” My informants — from Koreatown, South Central, Maywood, Artesia and the area around Skid Row — took pains to explain that things were already bad before the recession, and in ways that are disconnected from the larger economy. One of them told me, for example, that the boom of the ’90s and early 2000s had been “basically devastating” for the urban poor. Rents skyrocketed; public housing disappeared to make way for gentrification.

But yes, the recession has made things palpably worse, largely because of job losses. With no paychecks coming in, people fall behind on their rent and, since there can be as long as a six-year wait for federal housing subsidies, they often have no alternative but to move in with relatives. “People are calling me all the time,” said Preeti Sharma of the South Asian Network, “They think I have some sort of magic.”

The organizers even expressed a certain impatience with the Nouveau Poor, once I introduced the phrase. If there’s a symbol for the recession in Los Angeles, Davin Corona of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy said, it’s “the policeman facing foreclosure in the suburbs.” The already poor, he said — the undocumented immigrants, the sweatshop workers, the janitors, maids and security guards — had all but “disappeared” from both the news media and public policy discussions.

Disappearing with them is what may be the most distinctive and compelling story of this recession. When I got back home, I started calling up experts, like Sharon Parrott, a policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who told me, “There’s rising unemployment among all demographic groups, but vastly more among the so-called unskilled.”

How much more? Larry Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, offers data showing that blue-collar unemployment is increasing three times as fast as white-collar unemployment. The last two recessions — in the early ’90s and in 2001 — produced mass white-collar layoffs, and while the current one has seen plenty of downsized real-estate agents and financial analysts, the brunt is being borne by the blue-collar working class, which has been sliding downward since deindustrialization began in the ’80s.

When I called food banks and homeless shelters around the country, most staff members and directors seemed poised to offer press-pleasing tales of formerly middle-class families brought low. But some, like Toni Muhammad at Gateway Homeless Services in St. Louis, admitted that mostly they see “the long-term poor,” who become even poorer when they lose the kind of low-wage jobs that had been so easy for me to find from 1998 to 2000. As Candy Hill, a vice president of Catholic Charities U.S.A., put it, “All the focus is on the middle class — on Wall Street and Main Street — but it’s the people on the back streets who are really suffering.”

What are the stations between poverty and destitution? Like the Nouveau Poor, the already poor descend through a series of deprivations, though these are less likely to involve forgone vacations than missed meals and medications. The Times reported earlier this month that one-third of Americans can no longer afford to comply with their prescriptions.

There are other, less life-threatening, ways to try to make ends meet. The Associated Press has reported that more women from all social classes are resorting to stripping, although “gentlemen’s clubs,” too, have been hard-hit by the recession. The rural poor are turning increasingly to “food auctions,” which offer items that may be past their sell-by dates.

And for those who like their meat fresh, there’s the option of urban hunting. In Racine, Wis., a 51-year-old laid-off mechanic told me he’s supplementing his diet by “shooting squirrels and rabbits and eating them stewed, baked and grilled.” In Detroit, where the wildlife population has mounted as the human population ebbs, a retired truck driver is doing a brisk business in raccoon carcasses, which he recommends marinating with vinegar and spices.

The most common coping strategy, though, is simply to increase the number of paying people per square foot of dwelling space — by doubling up or renting to couch-surfers. It’s hard to get firm numbers on overcrowding, because no one likes to acknowledge it to census-takers, journalists or anyone else who might be remotely connected to the authorities. At the legal level, this includes Peg taking in her daughter and two grandchildren in a trailer with barely room for two, or my nephew and his wife preparing to squeeze all four of them into what is essentially a one-bedroom apartment. But stories of Dickensian living arrangements abound.

In Los Angeles, Prof. Peter Dreier, a housing policy expert at Occidental College, says that “people who’ve lost their jobs, or at least their second jobs, cope by doubling or tripling up in overcrowded apartments, or by paying 50 or 60 or even 70 percent of their incomes in rent.” Thelmy Perez, an organizer with Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, is trying to help an elderly couple who could no longer afford the $600 a month rent on their two-bedroom apartment, so they took in six unrelated subtenants and are now facing eviction. According to a community organizer in my own city, Alexandria, Va., the standard apartment in a complex occupied largely by day laborers contains two bedrooms, each housing a family of up to five people, plus an additional person laying claim to the couch.

Overcrowding — rural, suburban and urban — renders the mounting numbers of the poor invisible, especially when the perpetrators have no telltale cars to park on the street. But if this is sometimes a crime against zoning laws, it’s not exactly a victimless one. At best, it leads to interrupted sleep and long waits for the bathroom; at worst, to explosions of violence. Catholic Charities is reporting a spike in domestic violence in many parts of the country, which Candy Hill attributes to the combination of unemployment and overcrowding.

And doubling up is seldom a stable solution. According to Toni Muhammad, about 70 percent of the people seeking emergency shelter in St. Louis report they had been living with relatives “but the place was too small.” When I asked Peg what it was like to share her trailer with her daughter’s family, she said bleakly, “I just stay in my bedroom.”

The deprivations of the formerly affluent Nouveau Poor are real enough, but the situation of the already poor suggests that they do not necessarily presage a greener, more harmonious future with a flatter distribution of wealth. There are no data yet on the effects of the recession on measures of inequality, but historically the effect of downturns is to increase, not decrease, class polarization.

The recession of the ’80s transformed the working class into the working poor, as manufacturing jobs fled to the third world, forcing American workers into the low-paying service and retail sector. The current recession is knocking the working poor down another notch — from low-wage employment and inadequate housing toward erratic employment and no housing at all. Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing.

Maybe “the economy,” as depicted on CNBC, will revive again, restoring the kinds of jobs that sustained the working poor, however inadequately, before the recession. Chances are, though, that they still won’t pay enough to live on, at least not at any level of safety and dignity. In fact, hourly wage growth, which had been running at about 4 percent a year, has undergone what the Economic Policy Institute calls a “dramatic collapse” in the last six months alone. In good times and grim ones, the misery at the bottom just keeps piling up, like a bad debt that will eventually come due.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author, most recently, of “This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation.”

The Recession's Racial Divide

The New York Times
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September 13, 2009
Op-Ed Contributors


WHAT do you get when you combine the worst economic downturn since the Depression with the first black president? A surge of white racial resentment, loosely disguised as a populist revolt. An article on the Fox News Web site has put forth the theory that health reform is a stealth version of reparations for slavery: whites will foot the bill and, by some undisclosed mechanism, blacks will get all the care. President Obama, in such fantasies, is a dictator and, in one image circulated among the anti-tax, anti-health reform “tea parties,” he is depicted as a befeathered African witch doctor with little tusks coming out of his nostrils. When you’re going down, as the white middle class has been doing for several years now, it’s all too easy to imagine that it’s because someone else is climbing up over your back.

Despite the sense of white grievance, though, blacks are the ones who are taking the brunt of the recession, with disproportionately high levels of foreclosures and unemployment. And they weren’t doing so well to begin with. At the start of the recession, 33 percent of the black middle class was already in danger of falling to a lower economic level, according to a study by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University and Demos, a nonpartisan public policy research organization.

In fact, you could say that for African-Americans the recession is over. It occurred from 2000 to 2007, as black employment decreased by 2.4 percent and incomes declined by 2.9 percent. During those seven years, one-third of black children lived in poverty, and black unemployment — even among college graduates — consistently ran at about twice the level of white unemployment.

That was the black recession. What’s happening now is more like a depression. Nauvata and James, a middle-aged African American couple living in Prince Georges County, Md., who asked that their last name not be published, had never recovered from the first recession of the ’00s when the second one came along. In 2003 Nauvata was laid off from a $25-an-hour administrative job at Aetna, and in 2007 she wound up in $10.50-an-hour job at a car rental company. James has had a steady union job as a building equipment operator, but the two couldn’t earn enough to save themselves from predatory lending schemes.

They were paying off a $524 dining set bought on credit from the furniture store Levitz when it went out of business, and their debt swelled inexplicably as it was sold from one creditor to another. The couple ultimately spent a total of $3,800 to both pay it off and hire a lawyer to clear their credit rating. But to do this they had to refinance their home — not once, but with a series of mortgage lenders. Now they face foreclosure.

Nauvata, who is 47, has since seen her blood pressure soar, and James, 56, has developed heart palpitations. “There is no middle class anymore,” he told us, “just a top and a bottom.”

Plenty of formerly middle- or working-class whites have followed similar paths to ruin: the layoff or reduced hours, the credit traps and ever-rising debts, the lost home. But one thing distinguishes hard-pressed African-Americans as a group: Thanks to a legacy of a discrimination in both hiring and lending, they’re less likely than whites to be cushioned against the blows by wealthy relatives or well-stocked savings accounts. In 2008, on the cusp of the recession, the typical African-American family had only a dime for every dollar of wealth possessed by the typical white family. Only 18 percent of blacks and Latinos had retirement accounts, compared with 43.4 percent of whites.

Racial asymmetry was stamped on this recession from the beginning. Wall Street’s reckless infatuation with subprime mortgages led to the global financial crash of 2007, which depleted home values and 401(k)’s across the racial spectrum. People of all races got sucked into subprime and adjustable-rate mortgages, but even high-income blacks were almost twice as likely to end up with subprime home-purchase loans as low-income whites — even when they qualified for prime mortgages, even when they offered down payments.

According to a 2008 report by United for a Fair Economy, a research and advocacy group, from 1998 to 2006 (before the subprime crisis), blacks lost $71 billion to $93 billion in home-value wealth from subprime loans. The researchers called this family net-worth catastrophe the “greatest loss of wealth in recent history for people of color.” And the worst was yet to come.

In a new documentary film about the subprime crisis, “American Casino,” solid black citizens — a high school social studies teacher, a psychotherapist, a minister — relate how they lost their homes when their monthly mortgage payments exploded. Watching the parts of the film set in Baltimore is a little like watching the TV series “The Wire,” except that the bad guys don’t live in the projects; they hover over computer screens on Wall Street.

It’s not easy to get people to talk about their subprime experiences. There’s the humiliation of having been “played” by distant, mysterious forces. “I don’t feel very good about myself,” says the teacher in “American Casino.” “I kind of feel like a failure.”

Even people who know better tend to blame themselves — like Melonie Griffith, a 40-year-old African-American who works with the Boston group City Life/La Vida Urbana helping other people avoid foreclosure and eviction. She criticizes herself for having been “naïve” enough to trust the mortgage lender who, in 2004, told her not to worry about the high monthly payments she was signing on for because the mortgage would be refinanced in “a couple of months.” The lender then disappeared, leaving Ms. Griffith in foreclosure, with “nowhere for my kids and me to go.” Only when she went public with her story did she find that she wasn’t the only one. “There is a consistent pattern here,” she told us.

Mortgage lenders like Countrywide and Wells Fargo sought out minority homebuyers for the heartbreakingly simple reason that, for decades, blacks had been denied mortgages on racial grounds, and were thus a ready-made market for the gonzo mortgage products of the mid-’00s. Banks replaced the old racist practice of redlining with “reverse redlining” — intensive marketing aimed at black neighborhoods in the name of extending home ownership to the historically excluded. Countrywide, which prided itself on being a dream factory for previously disadvantaged homebuyers, rolled out commercials showing canny black women talking their husbands into signing mortgages.

At Wells Fargo, Elizabeth Jacobson, a former loan officer at the company, recently revealed — in an affidavit in a lawsuit by the City of Baltimore — that salesmen were encouraged to try to persuade black preachers to hold “wealth-building seminars” in their churches. For every loan that resulted from these seminars, whether to buy a new home or refinance one, Wells Fargo promised to donate $350 to the customer’s favorite charity, usually the church. (Wells Fargo denied any effort to market subprime loans specifically to blacks.) Another former loan officer, Tony Paschal, reported that at the same time cynicism was rampant within Wells Fargo, with some employees referring to subprimes as “ghetto loans” and to minority customers as “mud people.”

If any cultural factor predisposed blacks to fall for risky loans, it was one widely shared with whites — a penchant for “positive thinking” and unwarranted optimism, which takes the theological form of the “prosperity gospel.” Since “God wants to prosper you,” all you have to do to get something is “name it and claim it.” A 2000 DVD from the black evangelist Creflo Dollar featured African-American parishioners shouting, “I want my stuff — right now!”

Joel Osteen, the white megachurch pastor who draws 40,000 worshippers each Sunday, about two-thirds of them black and Latino, likes to relate how he himself succumbed to God’s urgings — conveyed by his wife — to upgrade to a larger house. According to Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California at Riverside, pastors like Mr. Osteen reassured people about subprime mortgages by getting them to believe that “God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and bless me with my first house.” If African-Americans made any collective mistake in the mid-’00s, it was to embrace white culture too enthusiastically, and substitute the individual wish-fulfillment promoted by Norman Vincent Peale for the collective-action message of Martin Luther King.

But you didn’t need a dodgy mortgage to be wiped out by the subprime crisis and ensuing recession. Black unemployment is now at 15.1 percent, compared with 8.9 percent for whites. In New York City, black unemployment has been rising four times as fast as that of whites. By 2010, according to Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, 40 percent of African-Americans nationwide will have endured patches of unemployment or underemployment.

One result is that blacks are being hit by a second wave of foreclosures caused by unemployment. Willett Thomas, a neat, wiry 47-year-old in Washington who describes herself as a “fiscal conservative,” told us that until a year ago she thought she’d “figured out a way to live my dream.” Not only did she have a job and a house, but she had a rental property in Gainesville, Fla., leaving her with the flexibility to pursue a part-time writing career.

Then she became ill, lost her job and fell behind on the fixed-rate mortgage on her home. The tenants in Florida had financial problems of their own and stopped paying rent. Now, although she manages to have an interview a week and regularly upgrades her résumé, Ms. Thomas cannot find a new job. The house she lives in is in foreclosure.

Mulugeta Yimer of Alexandria, Va., still has his taxi-driving job, but it no longer pays enough to live on. A thin, tall man with worry written all over his face, Mr. Yimer came to this country in 1981 as a refugee from Ethiopia, firmly believing in the American dream. In 2003, when Wells Fargo offered him an adjustable-rate mortgage, he calculated that he’d be able to deal with the higher interest rate when it kicked in. But the recession delivered a near-mortal blow to the taxi industry, even in the still relatively affluent Washington suburbs. He’s now putting in 19-hour days, with occasional naps in his taxi, while his wife works 32 hours a week at a convenience store, but they still don’t earn enough to cover expenses: $400 a month for health insurance, $800 for child care and $1,700 for the mortgage. What will Mr. Yimer do if he ends up losing his house? “We’ll go to a shelter, I guess,” he said, throwing open his hands, “if we can find one.”

So despite the right-wing perception of black power grabs, this recession is on track to leave blacks even more economically disadvantaged than they were. Does a black president who is inclined toward bipartisanship dare address this destruction of the black middle class? Probably not. But if Americans of all races don’t get some economic relief soon, the pain will only increase and with it, perversely, the unfounded sense of white racial grievance.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of the forthcoming “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” Dedrick Muhammad is a senior organizer and research associate at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Another Mountain Lion Sighting in New England

This is a printer-friendly version of an article from the Concord Monitor at http://www.concordmonitor.com.

Article published on September 19, 2009

Barnstead
Fish and Game worker spies mountain lion
Physical evidence remains elusive


September 19, 2009

There's been another mountain lion sighting in New Hampshire. And this time, it was a Fish and Game employee who spotted the big, tawny cat.

Further inspection found no physical evidence that the state has its first confirmed cougar in 140 years, but officials are taking the report seriously.

The sighting occurred late Wednesday in Barnstead, as the staff member for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department was following up on a citizen's reported sighting, said Mark Ellingwood, a wildlife biologist with the department. The staff member was walking on a trail and spotted the mountain lion about 30 yards away. It was in sight for about 10 seconds.

"The animal slipped away, and that was the end of the encounter," Ellingwood said.

The sighting appears credible, he said. But like the 100 or so mountain lion reports each year, this one failed to yield any tracks, hair or scat that would convince scientists a mountain lion had definitely passed that way.

If the Barnstead cat was indeed a mountain lion, it's likely a captive animal someone brought into the state and then released, Ellingwood said.

The last known mountain lion in New Hampshire was killed in 1868 in Lee, said Eric Orff, who recently retired after 30 years as the furbearer biologist at Fish and Game. The cats were not common in northern New England even in colonial times, and scientists believe they were wiped out from the area in the 19th century, Orff said.

"They are a mysterious animal," he said. "Even when they occur, they're never so abundant that you see them regularly."

Mountain lions live in established populations in the western third of the United States. The easternmost established ranges are in the Dakotas, except for populations in southern Florida, according to The Cougar Network. The nonprofit research organization reports four confirmed sightings of mountain lions in the northeastern United States since 1990: one in northern Massachusetts, two in Maine and one in New York.

Still, Fish and Game receives regular reports of mountain lions, an animal Ellingwood said is hard to misidentify at close quarters. Orff said he frequently spoke with people who claimed seeing one.

"They would describe a mountain lion to the T over the phone," he said. "But we would go and look for evidence - tracks, places they defecated, hair - and over the 30 years I observed and two years since, there has been no physical documentation that mountain lions occur."

When physical evidence was offered, it usually belonged to a bobcat or a coyote, Ellingwood said.

A grown mountain lion weighs more than 100 pounds, as big as a German shepherd, and has a long, ropelike tail and tawny hair, he said.

"They're unmistakable," said Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a writer who studied mountain lions in Colorado in preparation for her book The Tribe of Tiger: Cats and Their Culture. "There isn't anything else that looks like a mountain lion."

Thomas said she spotted a mountain lion in 1992 in the field of her Peterborough home and that her son saw one in recent weeks. A friend saw one lying dead by the road, she said, but the carcass was gone by the time he returned.

"Fish and Game is very reluctant to acknowledge they're here and have been for years," she said. "You don't need to be a scientist to know it's a mountain lion."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

New Documentary Paints Searing Portrait of Afghan War

AlterNet

The Human Cost of War: The Images the Corporate Media Doesn't Want You to See

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet
Posted on October 5, 2009, Printed on October 6, 2009
http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/www.alternet.org/143097/

This past weekend, AlterNet had the privilege of hosting a screening of Robert Greenwald's important new documentary, Rethink Afghanistan, in New York City. It was just one of several screenings to kick off an impressive nationwide campaign by Brave New Films to spread a crucial message about the war in Afghanistan: This is not the "good war" as we have been told by so many for so long. This is a losing battle, and it is costing us dearly: in billions of dollars, in thousands of lives, and in the eyes of the rest of the world.

And of course, it is costing the people of Afghanistan more than anyone. Perhaps one of the most jolting things about watching the film is seeing image after terrible image of civilian suffering: desperate families mired in refugee camps, pain-stricken schoolgirls attacked with acid by the resurgent Taliban, countless injured men, women and children who are the "collateral damage" from errant U.S. bomb strikes. It is a punch-to-the-gut reminder of just how sanitized this war -- which Obama has always called the "right front" of the so-called war on terror -- has been.

Of course, if you're the New York Times, these very images, which have the power to awaken people to the human cost of war, are actually proof of a slanted agenda on the part of the filmmaker. "At an almost breathless pace that leaves little room for reflection, Mr. Greenwald presents a flurry of sights, voices and figures, many of them compelling but all reflecting his point of view," writes NYT film reviewer Andy Webster in a dismissive 250-word review today.

"Mr. Greenwald's documentary has no time to approach an opposing view with sympathy or understanding for its concerns," he concludes.

Webster misunderstands -- or else purposely distorts -- Greenwald's purpose in making his film. This is not a Times-style war report that feigns "objectivity" by peddling administration spin. This is a critical educational and organizing tool for Americans and their Congressional representatives, who must confront hard questions -- and horrible images -- about this deadly war that has no end in sight. This is what is being done in our names, with our tax dollars. It is time people saw what it looks like.

For Jeremy Scahill's take on Rethink Afghanistan -- and the New York Times review -- go here.

Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet's Rights and Liberties and World Special Coverage.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/www.alternet.org/143097/