Friday, November 25, 2011

The Precariat

"...Falling into the precariat could happen to most of us, if
accidents occurred or a shock wiped out the trappings of security many
have come to rely on..."
I was finishing a chapter of The Precariat: The New Dangerous
Class by Guy Standing, author of the above quote. I checked my
email. I saw a petition requesting Target to scale back its black
Friday opening from midnight to 5:00 a.m. Doesn't this capture it in
a nutshell? Despite lip service to the sanctity of Thanksgiving,
retailers deprive their workers of the chance to celebrate it in their
unbridled pursuit of wealth. And they can. Anyone who objects can be
so easily replaced...
I never before have been stumped on how to how to review a
book. I read The Precariat cover to cover. It puts all my worst
fears (and many of yours, I'm sure) into black and white, portrays an
inferno that gives Dante pretty stiff competition.
We all know intuitively, from the laid off Maine paper mill
worker to the Florida retiree surviving on Social Security, that our
neo-liberal global economy has its dark side. Increasingly the vast
majority of us (excluding the elite who benefit from the system) live
more precariously. This book delineates the many ways.
Commodification is at the heart of this transformation. All
entities become commodities to further enrich the wealthy. Human
beings become easily replaceable cogs. Families and communities hold
no value since they fail to produce income. Education at all levels
goes from growth of the mind to training for wage labor. Companies
are subjected to hostile takeovers. Nonprofits become more like
firms. Entitlements morph into help given only to the "deserving".
This shouldn't make sense. The people being sacrificed and
endangered vastly outnumber those profiting from their losses. But
the elite are great at divide and conquer games. The young are set
against their grandparents. Native born are told that immigrants will
take their jobs. Workers bagging groceries and flipping burgers are
given descriptions of welfare queens living lives of comparative luxury.
Maine's governor, Paul LePage, notorious for playing hide and
seek with a labor mural and telling the president to go to Hell, gave
us a relevant example recently. Because of lost revenue, he
instructed that deep cuts be made in welfare. Otherwise he'd have to
take it out of education.
It's enough to fill a progressive with despair. Giving up,
however, is not an option. Fortunately, after a chapter aptly titled
"A Politics Of Inferno" Standing devotes the rest of his book to
delineating a new progressive vision. We need to achieve it. The
precariat is a class-in-making, a rapidly growing potential class.
And if they suffer too much for too long they could fall for the siren
song of a neofascist, demogogue, or maverick. Sarah Palin anyone?
Although The Precariat was very tough to read, I'm really glad I
did not give up. I recommend this book to anyone with the courage to
face reality.
On a personal note: I have discovered that attending a four hour
contract negotiations meeting right after donating blood is not a good
A big shout out goes out to all my comrades around the world in the
occupy movement. We are the 99%! We must persevere so our children
will inherit a fairer world.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Lockdown High

Caveat: Although I am a member of RSU 26's board of directors, the
thoughts expressed in this review are purely mine as a private citizen
and do not speak for any bigger entity.
Quite frankly, as a parent, the reactions in the educational
world to Columbine and similar events scared me a lot more than the
initial acts of violence. I read accounts of kids being diverted into
the juvenile justice system for saying and doing things that would
have earned them detention when I was in school. Heck, I hear mature
adults say things that wouldn't pass the zero tolerance test.
At some point I went from scared to angry. I felt that many
schools were allowing or pressuring their administrators to abnegate
their in loco parentis responsibility. And innocent kids were paying
for this...with their futures.
When I connected zero tolerance to No Child Left Behind and Race
To The Top I went from angry to over-the-top irate. Schools are
pressured to reach increasingly unrealistic standardized test scores.
A lot of kids being expelled and/or shunted into the juvenile justice
system are students whose scores might depress their schools'
averages. The expression "low hanging fruit" came to mind.
Then I read Lockdown High: When The Schoolhouse Becomes A
Jailhouse by Annette Fuentes. I learned that I wasn't paranoid. In
fact I had only glimpsed the tip of the iceburg.
Fientes claims that violence in schools is falling. In fact,
for most of our kids, school is one of the safer places to be. So why
do many people feel that our children are in constant danger of being
gunned down in algebra?
Not surprisingly, the very rare events like the Columbine
shootings are given extensive media coverage. "If it bleeds, it
leads" is rule number one in journalism. But it's not just the
media. A wide range of sources influence people's fears. If a police
department offers free live shooter training, for example, it can lead
teachers and parents to see this rare event as imminent. And when
elected officials react to perceived fear with draconian measures, the
measures are seemingly vindicated.
Things happen for reasons. As Fuentes points out, many people
keeping the climate of fear alive are in it for the money. There is a
lot of money to be made in the selling of products ranging from high
tech security devices to drug testing kits. And these goods are
pushed with evangelic fervor to school boards and administrators.
Ironically all the purchases in the name of safety do not make
students more secure. In heavily policed schools arrests rise.
Minority students and students with disabilities are especially at
risk for being funneled into a school-to-prison pipeline.
Some of what is described in the book is truly horrific.
Commando style raids with police throwing, pushing, and handcuffing
students take place. School security officers are advised to walk
around " complete tactical equipment, with semi-automatic weapons
and five rounds of ammo.". It's enough to make a parent despair.
Fortunately Fuentes offers a glimmer of hope in a chapter entitled,
"Busting Out Of Lockdown High: Alternative Paths To Safe Schools."
On a more personal note: I had a fantastic Halloween, handing out
candy dressed as a witch with Joey cat playing the role of my familiar
and eating candy and watching X Files episodes with my son.
A big shout goes out to all the school administrators and school
boards who are resisting the pressure to turn their schools into
lockdown highs.

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