Tag: poor people

Big Guns

No doubt, you’ve heard about Trump’s proposed budget, which includes things like billions for a border wall that will never be constructed and, presumably, a million or two for hush money to porn stars and/or Russian operatives.

But setting aside the minor facts that this budget would completely fuck over poor people and, maybe, destroy the planet, there is something else that caught my attention.

Defense spending would rise by 10 percent.

This is not a huge surprise, of course, as Republicans have a bizarre fascination with warfare, and members of the GOP are constantly threatening to invade one country or another, even while distancing themselves from the last disastrous war (a campaign that was, of course, all their idea in the first place). Hell, Republicans are happy to spend $30 million on a damn parade just to show off our super-awesome military hardware.

But a fair question is whether all this military spending is making us any safer.

After all, we already spend more cash on the military than any other nation on Earth — by far, actually. In fact, we spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.

So when we will it be enough? Should we spend more than the next ten nations combined, or the next twenty? Should we spend more than the rest of the planet put together?

Because if it’s true — as Republicans have often said — that our military is in disrepair and needs to be rebuilt, I would ask, “Why can’t we get something decent for the 16 percent of our budget that we spend on defense?”

I mean, if the US military still sucks after all the hundreds of billions that have been thrown at it, maybe we should call off this whole defense idea and go the way of Costa Rica, a country that has no army. Incidentally, Costa Rica is never the target of terrorist cells and doesn’t get threatened by nutjobs with nuclear weapons.

Of course, that’s a bit of apples to oranges. But stay with me on this point.

You see, it appears that the more we spend on defense, the more likely we are to go to war. All those tanks and bombers and missiles apparently will themselves to be used.

Perhaps it is the same principle behind the fact that the states with the most firearms have the highest gun-death rates.

Just as having a gun in your house makes you more likely to get shot, maybe having more soldiers makes it more likely for a country to get into a war.

I don’t know whether than is true or not. But I do know this: We are the most fearful and paranoid nation in the industrialized world. No matter how much we spend on bombs and bullets, it will never make us feel safer.

 


2+2= KKK

As a writer, I am supposed to despise math.

Look at it, looking all smug with its cosines and discontinuous divisors and irrational numerators.

It’s just so absolutely certain about the world. I must hate it.

math2f

But I don’t. Although I’ve always been drawn to words, I’ve never been intimidated by numbers. I did pretty well in math in school, although I never went past pre-calculus.

So I’ve never understood people who freak out about math, or panic at the mere sight of an equation. This fear, I believe, turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and soon people are insisting that they can’t do basic addition and throwing up their hands at polling data or stiffing the waiter because they don’t dare try to figure out the tip.

But maybe these mathphobes are on to something. Because to my great disappointment, it turns out that math is a big old bigot.

Yes, a recent book argues that “math is essentially being used for evil,” in that “algorithms and big data are targeting the poor, reinforcing racism and amplifying inequality.”

Now, inflammatory (and completely misleading) claims about math being “racist” aside, the point is clear. Numbers are only as good as the humans who input them. As such, “any algorithm can — and often does — simply reproduce the biases inherent in its creator, in the data it’s using, or in society at large.”

For example, “nearly half of U.S. employers ask potential hires for their credit report, equating a good credit score with responsibility or trustworthiness.” This is despite the fact that the reliability of these reports “has remained in doubt for more than a quarter century.”

But because of our faith in data — or our fear of numbers — we continue to think an equation is “superior to human judgment — never questioning the assumptions that get baked in.”

This is a flawed assumption, and it not only helps reinforce inequality, it taps directly into that most vile of human drives: racial prejudice.

It turns out that numbers are not as culturally neutral and objective as we would like. Again, this is not because the numeral “3” somehow dislikes Latinos or the figure “864” really hates blacks. It is because “while algorithms might work with data alone, it’s always human beings that decide what factors they weigh.”

So what can be done about this issue? To begin with, simple acknowledgement is necessary, combined with the awareness that one can prove just about anything with the right set of figures.

And then we can get the world’s mathematicians to work on creating a formula that will rid the world of bigotry. That will be one truly great equation, and it will, of course, most likely equal 42.


Movin’ On Up?

Sometimes you take good news where you can.

So here’s your positive tidbit for the day: The nation’s poverty rate dropped significantly last year for the first time since 2006.

celebrate

Yes, well, hip-hip hooray and all that.

The overall rate dipped from 15% to 14.5% (still pretty damn high).

That rate was pushed down primarily thanks to the efforts of Hispanics, who showed the most improvement. The rate for Latinos fell from 25.6% to 23.5%.

So instead of “over one-quarter of Hispanics live in poverty,” we can now say, “just under one-quarter of Hispanics live in poverty.”

Hey, I warned you that the good news was limited.

Among the reasons for the decline in Latinos’ poverty rate are the improved job market and the fact that more U.S.-born Latinos are entering the workforce. And remember that U.S.-born Latinos “tend to have more education [and] tend to be English-speaking,” which often leads to higher earnings.

Latinos were the only ethnic group to see a noticeable change in their poverty rate last year, but even with that, the percentage of destitute Hispanics is still substantially higher than it is for whites or Asians.

And while Latinos make up 17% of the American population, they constitute 28.1% of poor people.

Do you still feel like celebrating?

 


Stranglehold

I’ve written before about the asphyxiating grasp that rich people have on the American Dream. As we know, the concept of social mobility is, at best, a faded myth that may never be relevant again. At worst, it is delusional pabulum served up to the masses to prevent them from revolting.

torch-and-pitchfork

 

But just in case you thought you could get ahead by sheer hard work and a can-do attitude, consider the following fact: According to one study, your degree of social mobility depends to a large degree upon where you live.

So for those of you who are poor in, say, Georgia, the odds are pretty good that your children are not going to swing the middle-class lifestyle. But don’t worry, “the chances that affluent children grow up to be affluent are broadly similar across metropolitan areas.” So again, the rich are going to be ok.

But wait — isn’t education the great equalizer? Well, nabbing a college degree is indeed one of the best ways to increase your income. Unfortunately, many kids are being priced out by tuitions that can only be called obscene. Again, however, you don’t have to fret over the wealthy. Because “college students have a better chance of getting financial aid if they come from affluent backgrounds than if they are lower on the income scale.” Yes, once again, the wealthy get a break denied to others, even if — as in this case — they don’t need it nearly as much as people on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale.

Of course, Hispanic kids are less likely to be rich in the first place. And thanks to backward cultural priorities, the odds are good that their children and grandchildren won’t be financially secure either.

Well, at least it won’t be awkward at Thanksgiving dinner, because we won’t have to endure about those rich relatives flaunting their wealth. Because everybody will be broke.

 


What? Me, Worry?

A year ago, I wrote about how the Great Recession hit Latinos hard. At the time, I was hopeful that the worst was behind us. Perhaps that was my natural Hispanic tendency to be optimistic.

After all, Latinos “are worse off, but they are still more positive about where the country is going” compared to most Americans. In particular, “Latino small-business owners are among the fastest growing and most upbeat [groups] in the nation,” and they “worry less about job security and are more positive and humble.”

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Remember, Envy Is a Deadly Sin

“There’s class warfare, alright. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war. And we’re winning.”

—Warren Buffett

Eat the rich!

—Aerosmith

In Manlio’s Argueta’s gripping novel, One Day of Life, soldiers of a repressive Central American government beat and abuse poor villagers. The peasants’ crime, as one militaristic thug puts it, is that “they don’t love the rich.”

It’s a rather harsh reaction to expressing displeasure with the ruling class. We haven’t come to that in the United States, at least not yet.

Still, the concept of class warfare, invoked primarily by right-wing politicians, holds that middle-class and poor people are simply jealous of rich individuals, or that they are being riled up to hate the wealthy.

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