Friday 7th of October 2022

sleeping rough in a ruthless economy…...

Statistics lie. Some lie more than others. The ones regarding unemployment lie brazenly and have done so for years, erasing the very existence of the long-term unemployed by simply deleting them from the regular tally. Statistics about homelessness lie. But they have an excuse: the homeless are hard to keep track of. So we’re told that roughly half a million Americans have no home.


by Eve Ottenberg


But that statistic is belied by one from the National Center on Family Homelessness, which says 2.5 million children are now homeless each year in America. Add those two numbers together and you get three million homeless Americans. But even that statistic probably undercounts the number of people sleeping in tents, cars, subways, cheap hotels, on friends’ couches or just out on concrete under the stars. So estimate, conservatively, that one percent of Americans are homeless. That percentage only moves in one direction: up.

As the average American single-family dwelling price stays stratospheric despite the cratering real estate market (one of the miracles of modern finance) and rents skyrocket, millions of people stare into the abyss of homelessness. “The cost of living is going up so quickly,” Johns Hopkins University professor Meredith Greif told the Washington Post July 3, “—through the price of gas and food and rent – that more people can’t afford a place to live anymore. Everywhere you turn, prices are rising, but wages aren’t keeping up.” If you think this is some fluke, some mistake, you need seriously to reconsider your take on our economy. The game is rigged, and it’s been rigged like this longer than you’ve been alive.

In 2019, before the covid cash stimulus briefly and refreshingly altered the picture, 40 percent of Americans were unable to cough up $400 in an emergency. So for them, eviction often means sleeping in a car, tent or on the sidewalk. These people are modern-day landless serfs. And what’s happening to the rental market they depend on resembles enclosure: just as, centuries ago, English peasants were barred from farming what previously had been common land, nowadays many tenants are no longer allowed to sleep under a roof, because more and more of those single-family roofs are owned by big private companies who charge exorbitant rents, while apartments are reserved for those able to shell out thousands of dollars a month, a challenge even if you earn the supposedly princely sum of $15 per hour. The main difference between the English peasants and twenty-first century American tenants is that enclosure stole what had been a commons in England, while modern evictees had previously paid most of their meager earnings for a roof and a bed.

“Shelter officials in 15 states all reported a dramatic increase in the number of people, particularly single mothers, seeking services this year,” the Post reported. “In some cases, waitlists have doubled or tripled in a matter of months.” The New York Times tells us on July 15 that the problem is not enough affordable housing. Well, yes. But that’s the real estate development racket – it abhors affordable housing, because it is, well, affordable.

Invisible People, the group that publicizes the dreadful reality of homelessness, puts it starkly: “Spangled flags wave from the tents of homeless veterans. Vegas residents are relegated to sewers like rodents. New York City’s shelters fill with families torn, not by faults but by circumstances. Children’s last belongings are tossed callously into garbage receptacles [by] police…Millennials fearing poverty never leave home.” According to this organization, gentrification and vacation rental companies fuel homelessness. No surprise there. Those two markets cater to the rich, and as far as they are concerned, housing is a privilege, not a right, reserved for the wealthy.

“Inside the lawless tunnel network below the Las Vegas strip, where thousands of homeless people live in fear of being washed away,” headlined an Insider summary back on September 11, 2019. The story sensationalized the crime and drug abuse of those living in “a network of sewage tunnels.” Youtube’s “Wonders of the World” even featured a clip on the “civilization of the homeless in the tunnels under Las Vegas.” They may indeed have a civilization, as perhaps do those who have inhabited New York City’s subway tunnels for decades, but one word describes a society that drives people to such desperation: barbaric.

It’s been that way a long time. Years ago, as the lone housing reporter in Manhattan for the Village Voice, my first column described a Greek immigrant, whose corpse had been found, his face eaten by rats, in a dilapidated Hell’s Kitchen tenement unheated in winter and in every way sedulously neglected by its landlord. At least that owner did not evict his low-income and elderly tenants at gunpoint, as did some landlords, salivating at the prospect of cashing in on the real estate boom. Their crimes, viewed up close, provided quite an education on the class war, indeed gave new meaning to the term.

So it’s no surprise the destitute take to the sewers. On the street, police roust and pummel them. Their presence in public is criminalized, with laws against sleeping on benches, loitering or eating food handed out by the kind-hearted. City police routinely destroy their encampments and trash their meager possessions. Why? Because their existence offends the affluent, who find their misery unsightly, who believe they should not be reminded that in order for the extreme capitalism that serves them so well to function, millions nationally, billions globally, have been dispossessed. In this business of stealing homeless peoples’ tents, clothes, medicines and other few possessions, the Los Angeles police have been absolutely and resoundingly trend-setting.

“As politicians look to build public support for homeless encampment sweeps,” reported Jonny Coleman for The Appeal on May 26, “they’re using tactics popularized in L.A. – the site of one of the nation’s most intense battles over the unhoused.” According to Coleman, “in March 2021, more than 400 militarized LAPD officers descended on Echo Park Lake to destroy a large encampment.” Police arrested or detained over 180 people, Coleman wrote, “and brutalized many more, including members of the media and random bystanders.” The city displaced over 183 people at a policing cost of over $2 million.

Coleman cited three tactics in these displacements: 1) Misleading rhetoric to portray raids as good for the homeless; 2) Fearmongering by conflating homelessness with substance abuse and mental illness; 3) Solutions directed to nonprofits that perpetuate the status quo. Who uses these tactics? Everybody. The NYPD swept away a homeless encampment near Tompkins Square Park in April, arresting eight. “Late last year in San Francisco,” the mayor ignited “a series of encampment sweeps” in the Tenderloin district, while “in Chicago, Fireman’s Park has become a frequent target for homeless removal.”

This is not primarily a mental health problem or a drug abuse problem. It is an economic problem, created by a monstrous economic system that renders millions of people redundant, disposable, deprives them of shelter, then of a living and then unleashes its militarized police, or, if you will, its Gestapo, on them. That chaotic, decaying and lethal system, late capitalism, devoted to one thing and one thing only, namely serving and enriching a billionaire oligarchy, is the same one destroying the biosphere, for those same financial titans. Whatever it touches, it ruins. It is a death cult. Whether it’s the environment or ordinary people or dying species, this economic arrangement withers everything that lives. In this, if nothing else, it is hideously consistent. The wretched of the earth, les miserables, live desperately and often die on our city and suburban streets. This has been the case for decades, but there are many more of them now, as monopolies jack up prices and average people go broke.

To repeat: there’s only one way these numbers move, and that’s up.



Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Hope Deferred. She can be reached at her website.








charity, charity, all is a private scam…..

Private Charity Has Become Just Another Scam for the 1 Percent

We were told that the generosity of the rich would make up for cuts to government services. But those at the top are increasingly using dubious “charitable” ventures as vehicles for profit and influence.


Everything feels like a scam for the rich these days, so why should private charity be any different? While lower-income Americans have tended to be disproportionately generous when giving away what they earn, a new report sounds the alarm about charity becoming more and more of a rich person’s game — and, worse than that, an investment vehicle that only strengthens the position of the very wealthiest.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies’ (IPS) report Gilded Giving 2022: How Wealth Inequality Distorts Philanthropy and Imperils Democracy, charitable giving is more dominated than ever by those at the top of the income and wealth pyramid. While households making $200,000 or more were responsible for just 23 percent of itemized contributions in 1993, twenty-six years later, this figure had climbed to 67 percent. Over the same period, households earning more than $1 million, the top 1 percent of income earners, saw their share of giving grow from 10 to 40 percent.

As a result, donations tend to be bigger now, too. While gifts of $1 million or more from individual donors totaled only $2.3 billion in 2011, states the report, ten years later that had gone up nearly fivefold to $10 billion. In fact, wealth inequality had climbed to such an extent over this period that even the threshold of how Giving USA, a foundation devoted to scrutinizing charitable giving, defined what counts as megadonations had skyrocketed: from $30 million to $450 million.

If you were hoping that at least all this charitable megagiving sloshing around might make up for the steady erosion of tax revenue from the very top, you’ll be disappointed. Drawing on data from the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 2022 list of the fifty top US philanthropists, IPS concluded that just shy of 80 percent of the $25 billion worth of donations over $1 million among that cohort went not to working charities — the institutions we usually think when we talk about charities, like the SPCA or Salvation Army — but to their own private foundations and donor-advised funds (DAFs).

But both of these entities are little more than vehicles for their donors’ influence and enrichment. The report points out that the foundations donors set up allows them to appoint themselves and anyone they know as trustees, a status that allows them to dip into the foundation’s “charitable” funds to take out loans or be compensated to the tune of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, compensation that counts as charitable disbursements — all while enjoying the tax benefits of charitable giving.

DAFs, meanwhile, have swiftly become among the most popular places to stash extreme wealth, effectively serving as charitable bank accounts that let a donor park their assets and even grow their value over time. Among their benefits are the ability to evade capital gains and other taxes as these assets accrue, a lack of transparency, and no legal requirement that any of the donated money actually get paid out, which is why investment banks like Morgan Stanley hawk it to their clients as a clever wealth management strategy.

It’s little wonder that each has ballooned in popularity over the past decades. From 1990 to 2020, the number of private foundations nearly quadrupled to 127,595, with much of that growth coming in the last ten years alone, states the report, while the value of assets they hold has jumped nearly 700 percent to an unimaginable $1.2 trillion. DAFs, meanwhile, grew fivefold between 2010 and 2020 to more than a million, while the donations that flowed to them grew more than 400 percent, to the point that they now control more than $160 billion in assets.

It’s not just that this is an enormous tax evasion scheme, and a massive hoard of wealth that the US public is deprived of as its physical and human infrastructure falls apart around it — though it is that. Annual payout rates for private foundations are little more than the 5 percent they’re legally forced to pay every year, and for the biggest ones it tends to hover around this floor. A variety of figures exist for DAFs, ranging from a median of 3.1 percent in 2018, to nearly a third of DAFs paying out nothing at all, as cited in the report.

But the other, potentially more serious dilemma, as the authors point out, is the power and wealth this style of supposedly charitable giving bestows on its donors. The report points to the examples of the Walton Family Foundation, which has showered a variety of free-market, pro-tax-cutting think tanks with its riches, as well as Carl Icahn, the onetime billionaire Trump advisor who borrowed $119 million from his own foundation as part of an investment strategy, then poured his returns back into it.

We might also think of the pernicious work of billionaire “charitable” institutions like the Sarah Scaife and Bradley Foundations, which have given copious amounts of money to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant entities over the years. Or we might think of the way that Bill and Melinda Gates have used what is meant to be a “charitable” foundation to push for school privatization and pharmaceutical interests while also sneakily enriching themselves.

Dispiritingly, it’s not just that the ultrarich have more and more turned to dubious charitable giving to grow their wealth and power; it’s that those at the bottom of the pyramid have scaled back their donations. The share of US households giving to charity fell below 50 percent for the first time in the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study’s twenty-year history, states the report, while individual donations as a share of disposable income had fallen to a twenty-six-year low in 2021.

According to the report, a drop in donations correlated with both the rate of labor force participation and home ownership, suggesting that rising economic hardship may be to blame. That’s bad news for working charities, which are not only still reeling like the rest of us from the ongoing economic disruptions the world’s experienced the past few years, but are more and more reliant on wealthy donors to keep the lights on, with the risk of falling under their sway and seeing their missions subverted.

The idea that the private philanthropy of the very richest will step in and make up for a systematically defunded public sector has always been a neoliberal myth. But as the IPS report shows, not only is the generosity of the 1 percent not enough to replace precious public services — it’s become just another way for them to grow their wealth and power.








generous government contracts……….



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