On Tuesday morning, Twitter user auntie crissle (@crissles) posed the following question to her followers: ‘Do you think people currently on govt assistance (welfare, food stamps, section 8, TANF, etc) should be allowed to have additional children?…Meaning if you are receiving services and choose to have another baby, the gov’t will reduce or eliminate the aid you receive.’ She was rewarded with a flood of comments in response to her provocative statement, and tried to cover her tracks with another Tweet: ‘I don’t know why people are arguing with me like I expressed an opinion one way or the other about it.’
Apparently the 80s are back in vogue, again. With a Tory government sitting in Parliament–or rather, holidaying in Tuscany as David Cameron was–rioting is again occurring on the streets of London. It is hard not to wonder the connection between his Thatcher remix attacks on social services and the riots over the weekend.
The riots began on Saturday night with a protest, a five hour vigil at the Tottenham police station in response to the shooting death of Mark Duggan that ended with two police cars being set alight. But the widespread unrest has had little to do with the sparking event; the violence has spread virally over networks like BlackBerry Messenger (see this google map of verified affected areas of London) across London, to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and more.
Images of hooded and masked young men have filled the screens, scenes of looting stores and setting cars, buses and buildings on fire, throwing projectiles at police and media.
One of the most under-reported factors behind the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt was the rise in food prices in the Middle East over the last year. It’s simple, really: hungry people become desperate very quickly, yet governments and markets forget this simple lesson all too frequently. A new report from Oxfam details the looming crisis, predicting even greater unrest for the future. They estimate that worldwide water demand will increase 30% by 2030, and by 2050, “there will be 9 billion people on the planet and demand for food will have increased by 70 per cent.”
In February, the President of the World Bank Robert Zoellick said on Bloomberg television, that “there’s no doubt that we’re seeing rising food prices just as we saw a couple of years ago and it puts stress on the most vulnerable. People often in developing countries spend half or three quarters of their income in food, so they’ve got little margin.” For people in wealthy countries, the rise in food prices may be more easily absorbed. Yet even in those, there may be significant food insecurity–the United States reported a record 14.6% of households experienced some form of food insecurity in 2008.
With each passing day, the Mississippi River nears or sets new flood records. This spring’s titanic rainfall in Missouri, Arkansas, and other states of the Mississippi Valley has threatened thousands of people’s homes and lives. While Memphis managed to survive the worst of the flooding, the river slowly flows on, toward Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and the rest of Louisiana, all still recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. On Saturday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway, flooding a large section of southern Louisiana, hoping to save the cities downriver.
People call this flood, as they call other natural disasters, an “Act of God.” This line of reasoning argues that tornadoes, hurricanes, naturally-caused fires, earthquakes, floods, and other disasters are uncontrolled by humans. Thus we bear no responsibility for the disaster.
Certainly this assumption is not entirely incorrect. Human beings hardly caused the Japanese earthquake. Despite the realities of climate change, we can’t say humans hold responsibility for any one hurricane, flood, or tornado. But natural disasters also put human inequality into sharp focus. Humans choose who bears the brunt of a given disaster, choices that often reflect long histories of race and class bias . The Japanese government invested in sophisticated technology to protect Tokyo buildings from destruction. It also placed nuclear power plants near earthquake fault lines.
I have been following the American election keenly and what has most drawn my attention is what has not been said.
Obama and McCain are clearly pandering to the middle class in their election bids, which is based on the assumption that the largest percentage of the population fits within that class designation. While the middle class constitutes the largest voting bloc, this targeted approach ignores the working and underclass.
The working and underclass are invisible bodies in a society that bases value on the ability to consume. If wealth equals power, both groups make up the most economically marginalized group in American society.
This is evidenced by the fact that neither candidate deems it important to address any of their specific needs. Continue reading