The Visual Du Jour – Eat Your Veggies! (They’re Cheaper Than Junk Food)

At least according to Mark Bittman in this New York Times article:

From the article:

“THE “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli …” or “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.”

This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)”

And it is nice to have an article actually point out some structural / cultural / social factors:

“There are, of course, the so-called food deserts, places where it’s hard to find food: the Department of Agriculture says that more than two million Americans in low-income rural areas live 10 miles or more from a supermarket, and more than five million households without access to cars live more than a half mile from a supermarket.

(…)

The ubiquity, convenience and habit-forming appeal of hyperprocessed foods have largely drowned out the alternatives: there are five fast-food restaurants for every supermarket in the United States; in recent decades the adjusted for inflation price of fresh produce has increased by 40 percent while the price of soda and processed food has decreased by as much as 30 percent; and nearly inconceivable resources go into encouraging consumption in restaurants: fast-food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009.

Furthermore, the engineering behind hyperprocessed food makes it virtually addictive. A 2009 study by the Scripps Research Institute indicates that overconsumption of fast food “triggers addiction-like neuroaddictive responses” in the brain, making it harder to trigger the release of dopamine. In other words the more fast food we eat, the more we need to give us pleasure; thus the report suggests that the same mechanisms underlie drug addiction and obesity.”

My Life As A Feminist – Man-Caves

Ugh… Video here:

“Throughout history men have always created personal spaces where they retreat to be amongst friends. Lately, these places, called “man caves”, have become a boom industry, with often more than $50,000 (£31,772) being spent on furnishing a single “cave”.

Jeff Wilser, co-author of “The Man Cave Book”, talks to the BBC about the forces behind these hideaways, why men are so protective of them, and why the variety of such caves is so immense.

“It’s basically about finding what your one passion is, what your hobby is, and building a space that does that passion justice,” says Mr Wilser.”

Because women don’t have hobbies and passions.

Because women don’t have tough days at work.

So, a man deserves his leisure space. Every other room in the house involves women’s work (housework, childcare) whereas the man-cave belongs to the man only. There are no woman-caves because a woman’s time is not seen as exclusively hers. A woman’s time is always possible to interrupt with domestic and child stuff. It is assumed that whatever a woman is doing, she must be available to domestic demands at all times.

It makes me laugh – and by “laugh”, I mean “barf” – when these guys say that the rest of the house belongs to the woman because that is the way patriarchy wants it: the wife, in the domestic sphere, fulfilling the expressive role, and the husband, in the social sphere, fulfilling the instrumental role (thanks due to Talcott Parsons giving some sociological luster to that little piece of patriarchal BS and naturalizing so thoroughly that it won’t go away).

This goes back to the idea that men are oppressed by domesticity and should be therefore exempt from its demands and be able to retreat from it. The very fact of calling it a “cave” sounds like this is where doodz get to get in touch with their inner, natural, and oh-so repressed caveman, in all its raw, somewhat childish, and undomesticated masculinity.

And let’s not forget that the man-cave also has to do with the growth in size of the average American house, at the same time that family size shrunk. So, children have their bedrooms (and less and less do we have siblings sharing bedrooms, it is more and more individualized); fathers can get their man-cave. The only person not having an individual space is actually the wife / mother. Her space is either shared (bedroom) or a collective space (living room / kitchen) but the whole house is her space, right? So it’s all good. Because still to this day, a woman is a first and foremost a social being whose existence is not individualized and whose fulfillment is supposed to come through dedication to others whereas other members of the household are entitled to their privacy and individuality.

Also, the man-cave from hell:

“A man in China has been detained on suspicion of keeping six women as sex slaves in underground rooms for two years and killing two of them, a state-owned newspaper has reported.

The Southern Metropolis Daily said that over the past two years, Li Hao allegedly kidnapped women who worked as hostesses in karaoke bars and locked them in two small rooms he had dug beneath a rented basement in Luoyang city in Henan province.

The secret rooms were located in a residential complex away from his home, where his wife and son lived unaware of the alleged kidnappings, the report said, citing unnamed police sources.

A publicity official for the city’s police department confirmed that a man named Li Hao who works for the city’s technological supervision bureau had been taken into custody. The official declined to provide further details, citing an ongoing investigation.

The newspaper reported that Li was a former firefighter and it claimed he regularly raped the women and would give them food only once every two days to keep them physically weak. It described the rooms the women ate, slept and defecated in as dank and smelly.

Over time, some of the captives started competing with one another for his attention, the report said, and two of them ended up fighting. Li allegedly killed one of them with the help of another woman, the paper said.

He also allegedly killed one of the other women who was said to have been “disobedient”, the report said, adding that he buried both bodies in the corner of one of the rooms.”

How is that for passion and hobby? See? It’s the same: he probably saw the home as the place for his wife and son and needed his own space to truly express his masculine nature away from domestic demands.

Durkheim Would Have Predicted That One

Geez, who could have guessed?

Well, let’s see:

“But after two rescue packages worth ¤210bn, and belt-tightening that has seen the income of the average household drop by 50%, the appetite of Greeks for more measures is clearly running out.

Greece’s great economic crisis has been a gradual war of attrition. Massive job losses, tax increases and galloping inflation have sapped the nation’s energy and, increasingly, Greeks no longer believe what their politicians say. With cuts instead being blamed for slashing consumption, deepening recession and missing deficit-reducing goals, austerity is seen as a pointless exercise that far from exiting the country from crisis has exacerbated its plight.

On the street the view is hardening that the medicine prescribed to rescue Greece’s economy is simply not viable.

“The belt is now at the eighth notch, it’s become so tight there are only two more left, but nothing has improved,” said Georgios Valsamis, a young taxi driver who joined a barrage of strikes that brought public transport to a halt last week. “People in power, MPs, they’re like robots, they do whatever those foreigners [the EU, ECB and IMF] say. We are no longer willing to be a laboratory for failed policies. Low-income earners, those who have been really hit, can’t endure much more.”

That ordinary Greeks, among Europe’s lowest wage earners before the crisis erupted, are being stretched to breaking point is too obvious to ignore. When austerity was first introduced, after the newly elected socialist government discovered the budget deficit to be three times higher than the outgoing conservatives claimed, families took the blow by reining in spending and tucking into savings.

But for pensioners forced to survive on less than ¤500 a month and families hit by unemployment that has reached a record 16%, there is no more room for manoeuvre. The death of faith in the future is the biggest fear.

“The worst part is perhaps psychological because there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no source of hope,” said Dr Thanos Dokos who directs Eliamep, a thinktank in Athens. “When you make sacrifices and you know they will come to something you don’t mind. But that is not the case.”

With the economy set to contract for a fourth year in 2012, Greece is not only mired in a recession not seen since the second world war but has become increasingly unhinged by the crisis. Athens, already strained by a mass influx of immigrants and home to half of the country’s 11 million-strong population, has been the worst hit amid soaring crime and lawlessness.

A new underclass has appeared: in the homeless and hungry who roam the streets; in the spiralling number of drug addicts; in the psychiatric patients ejected from institutions that can no longer offer them a place; in the thousands of shop owners forced to close and board up businesses; in those who forage through municipal rubbish bins at night; and in the pensioners who make do with rejects at fruit and vegetable markets. Suicides have also risen, with help lines reporting a deluge of calls – 5,000 in the first eight months of 2011 compared with 2,500 for all of last year. The announcement this month of a flurry of new taxes, including a draconian duty on real estate, has come as a further shock.

With the prospect of austerity for years to come, a growing number of young Greeks are either returning to their rural roots or fleeing to countries that can offer them a job in what is described as the biggest emigration wave since the 1960s.

“The measures are the blood price Greeks have to pay so that countries like Germany can convince their own constituents they are being punished for years of reckless spending,” said Dokos. “The government’s failure to implement reforms has made the situation worse, but the measures are also counter-productive. The negative impact on the economy is higher than the cash-flow the country needs.”

With desperation has come a collective sense of guilt and depression – more dangerous, say analysts, than even the social tensions that threaten to tear the country apart.

And yet, regional and transnational institutions behave like medieval doctors, prescribing yet more bloodletting or more leeches, focused as they are on a few economic indicators and no obvious concern for the real-life effects of their failed policy prescriptions. And as the Greek society collapses, the witch doctors keep on going “more cuts! more cuts!”.

The state, having been hollowed of its policy-making functions by larger institutions, is now simply administering the toxic medicine to the patient even though it is clear that patient is not responding. As Atrios notes almost daily, we are governed by idiots who do not seem to know what they are doing and are therefore just following the familiar script of neoliberal prescription that they have been imposing on the developing countries. The results will be, surprisingly, the same: developing countries had their lost decade in the 1980s, Western countries are getting theirs now.

In addition, and that is a major ideological giveaway, all this is couched in moral terms: failing countries and their people are accused of sloth, and in need of puritan belt-tightening and lesson in humility and frugality.

In the meantime, “more shields!”:

At least Captain Picard had the good sense of trying something different when the usual prescription kept producing worse effects.

Talk About Being Late To The Party…

Better late than never, I guess:

How long have feminists argued such a thing, which is rather obvious:

“Gender equality is shrewd economics as well as a human right, the World Bank has said in a report that showed countries with better opportunities for women and girls can boost productivity and development.

The most glaring disparity is the rate at which girls and women die relative to men in developing countries, according to The World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development.

“Blocking women and girls from getting the skills and earnings to succeed in a globalised world is not only wrong, but also economically harmful,” said Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank chief economist.

“Sharing the fruits of growth and globalisation equally between men and women is essential to meeting key development goals.”

Monday’s report cited the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s estimates that equal access to resources for female farmers could increase agricultural output in poorer countries by up to four per cent.

It also said eliminating barriers preventing women working in certain occupations would cut the productivity gap between male and female workers by a third to a half, and increase output per worker by three to 25 per cent in some countries.

“We need to achieve gender equality,” said World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

Zoellick said that over the past five years, the bank has provided funds to support girls’ education, women’s health, and women’s access to credit, land, agricultural services, jobs and infrastructure.

“This has been important work, but it has not been enough or central enough to what we do,” he said.

“Going forward, the World Bank Group will mainstream our gender work and find other ways to move the agenda forward to capture the full potential of half the world’s population.””

Specifically, the World Bank recommends:

“• addressing human capital issues, like the higher mortality of girls and women, through investment in clean water and maternal care and persistent disadvantages in education through targeted programs;

• closing the earning and productivity gaps between women and men — by improving access to productive resources; water and electricity, and childcare;

• increasing participation by women in decisions made within households and societies; and

• limiting gender inequality across generations, by investing in the health and education of adolescent boys and girls, creating opportunities to improve their lives and offering family planning information.

We have seen that focused policy attention can make a difference. Sustainable solutions are best grounded in partnerships including families, the private sector, governments, development agencies and religious and civil society groups.”

Which is all nice and everything but none of this will happen without full reproductive rights including access to safe abortions and the World Bank just tap dances around that issue without directly addressing it beyond the lame “offering family planning information.”

Why I Keep Harping on Inequalities

Because it is THE issue facing many societies today, with negative effects across the board, and yet, it is largely ignored:

“The incomes of the richest sections of society are soaring in the UK, China and India, and in most other countries as well. The poorest groups are seeing slow improvements at best, and often decline. Recent estimates indicate that at the current rate it will take more than 800 years for the bottom billion of the world population to achieve 10% of global income.

The UN general assembly began its 66th session last week. Many of the heads of state attending will no doubt report on their country’s progress towards the millennium development goals. They’re also likely to discuss the targets that will succeed the MDGs after 2015. However, there will almost certainly be a looming gap in these presentations: the rising inequalities between and within countries.

A year ago, coinciding with the UN MDG summit, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the MDG Achievement Fund released a report showing that the MDG targets largely overlooked inequality. Even in countries where there has been progress towards the MDGs, inequalities have grown. A Unicef study shows that only a third of the countries that have reduced national rates of child mortality have succeeded in reducing the gap between mortality rates in the richest and poorest households.

Inequality matters not just for those at the bottom. Highly unequal countries tend to grow more slowly, are more prone to conflict and have weaker civil societies. The much-cited study The Spirit Level found that across developed countries, crime, disease and environmental problems were exacerbated by inequality. Such ill effects in society made everyone worse off, even the middle classes.”

And yet, reducing poverty is essential to development and healthier societies:

“The meeting examined successful inequality reduction policies, sharing the lessons of a handful of countries that have defied the global trend. Thirteen countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, have narrowed the gap between the incomes of the poorest and wealthiest groups over the last decade. Similar positive trends have been seen in Malaysia, Thailand and in several African nations.

How was progress possible in these countries? Inequalities fell when governments expanded social protection programmes like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia. Minimum wage legislation and policies allowing more people to access secondary and higher education also contributed to success. Successful countries used progressive taxation or channelled mining and oil revenues to fund inequality-reducing programmes.”

These programs have been discussed at length in Just Give Money to the Poor.

The Visual Du Jour – It’s Lonely At… The Bottom??

Via.

I know, I know, everybody hates the GINI coefficient… but everybody uses the GINI coefficient. No index is perfect and this one is still pretty decent, so, here goes:

Obviously, the US ranks in the bottom half, along with countries such as Mexico, China, Madagascar and Mozambique. From the article:

“The U.S., in purple with a Gini coefficient of 0.450, ranks near the extreme end of the inequality scale. Looking for the other countries marked in purple gives you a quick sense of countries with comparable income inequality, and it’s an unflattering list: Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, Ecuador. A number are currently embroiled in or just emerging from deeply destabilizing conflicts, some of them linked to income inequality: Mexico, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Serbia.

Perhaps most damning is China, significantly more equal than the U.S. with a Gini coefficient of 0.415, where the severe income gap has been a source of worsening political instability for almost 20 years. Leagues ahead of the U.S. on income inequality is India, Gini coefficient 0.368, where outrage over corruption and income inequality recently inspired a protest movement that shook the world’s largest democracy. (The data for India is from 2004, however; income inequality has likely worsened since then.) Russia, which has seen three popular revolutions in the last century against the caviar-shoveling oligarchs who still run everything, is also less unequal than the U.S., at 0.422 Gini.”

But here is another view:

Oy.

“Income inequality is more severe in the U.S. than it is in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. We’re on par with some of the world’s most troubled countries, and not far from the perpetual conflict zones of Latin American and Sub-Saharan Africa. Our income gap is also getting worse, having widened both in absolute and relative terms since the 1980s. It’s not a problem that the “Buffett rule” would solve on its own, but at least the U.S. political system is starting to acknowledge how serious things have become.”

And since we have all read The Spirit Level, we all know how bad inequalities are for society as a whole, on a variety of indicators of population well-being and health.

The Power of Status Imposition And Fundamentalist Religion

Early in my introduction class, I use a short film on the torture and murder of child designated as witches by Pentecostal priests in Nigeria. This is a perfect illustration of the way assigning statuses is a source of power as such statuses can involve stigmatization and marginalization. The latest issue of Al-Jazeera’s People and Power shows that a similar issue is present in Benin:

The root of this is the belief, perpetuated by religious leaders of all kinds, in the supernatural. This belief is based on the idea that natural events always have supernatural explanations. Natural causes are not considered.

The question is, of course, how is this different from this?

Fundamentalist Christianity is of the same nature as the belief in witchcraft (replace gays with witches and you have the preferred scapegoat): supernatural causes explain everything, especially adverse events. Some of the scenes of the video above are no different that faith healers shows and rituals.

The Precariat as Denizens 2.0

This is another installment in a series of posts (hereherehere and here) I intend to write as I work my way through Guy Standing‘s The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. In this section, the main topic is about another major component of the precariat: migrants. Migrants are both a cause of the growth of the precariat and its main victims as well:

“Having dipped in the mid-twentieth century, when economies were more closed, the mobility of people around the world has soared with globalisation. One billion people cross national borders every year, and the number is rising. According to the International Organisation for Migration, there were 214 million international migrants in the world in 2010, there per cent of the global population. That is probably an underestimate, as undocumented migrants are obviously hard to count. In addition, perhaps 740 million are ‘internal’ migrants, including the 200 million rural migrants to China’s industrial cities who share many of the characteristics of international migrants (House 2009).” (90)

Standing distinguishes between different categories of migrants tied to global transformations and the growth of the precariat:

(1) the growing share of undocumented migrants that constitute the shadow reserve army of labor:

“Undocumented workers provide cheap labour and can be fired and deported if necessary or if the prove recalcitrant. They do not appear on the payrolls of firms and households, and fade into the nooks and crannies of society when recession hits. Productivity appears to rise wonderfully in a boom, as more are recuited without appearing in the statistics, and unemployment mysteriously drops less than the drop in output and demand in recessions.” (91)

(2) Circulants moving to take temporary jobs and who usually send back remittance to their families and often move back and forth.

(3) Women: the feminization of migration is a known topic. Women occupy a greater share of international and internal migrants. Documented migrants may become nannies and maids or fill up the ranks of nursing home personnel in the US. But this category also includes victims of sex trafficking, more or less forced labor and modern slavery.

(4) Students: the mobility of the student population has increased significantly over time, but since 9/11 the share of such students coming to the US has gone down.

(5) Migrants within transnational corporations, oftentimes, executives living between global cities.

(6) Refugees whose number are increasing dramatically: 15 million refugees, 27 million internally displaced peoples. Many of them are stuck in squalor whether in tent cities, camps of various kinds or anywhere they can be stuck and forgotten or assisted, sometimes for decades, depending on whether they got there through a stealth conflict or a chosen conflict (my addition):

“Somalia is now suffering its worst drought in 60 years. A quarter of the population has fled famine and conflict, heading west into Kenya. More than 1,300 people a day stream into the complex of refugee camps at Dadaab, Kenya, which is now housing more than 430,000 people in camps designed for 90,000. Many Somalis arrive near death after journeys of weeks with little food. Large numbers of them are children, often without parents.

At Dadaab they receive food, medical care, basic shelter — the emergency relief they need. But they will probably spend years in that desolate grid of white tents, eating gruel that gets thinner toward the end of the month. The camp lacks the money to provide even subsistence rations. In exchange, the refugees give up their rights to move freely and to work.

The history of refugee camps tells us that they are likely to suffer cholera and other diseases and that rape and domestic violence are widespread. Refugees in Dadaab face lives of enforced idleness and dependency; children born there may grow up there. This is what we have come to expect for refugees: a place one step removed from hell.

Contrast Dadaab with the situation of the roughly 1.6 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Instead of living in camps, they live in Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut and Amman. They get help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with an A.T.M. card that allows them to withdraw money every month. Some can work legally, but others work in the informal economy, as do locals.

They buy their own food and rent their own apartments. They use the local schools and health clinics. In areas where Iraqi refugees are concentrated enough to strain those services, the refugee agency spends money to refurbish and supply them, helping both the refugees and their neighbors.

Most Iraqi refugees are educated and middle class. They fled to relatively prosperous cities, and they get an unusually large amount of aid because of donations from the United States. They are in a very different position than the destitute Somali farmers.”

(7) Environmental refugees, which is pretty self-explanatory, but more of them can be expected in the near future.

And Standing also mentions another category: the deterritorialized migrants: those who look like migrants and get treated as such  with their national borders (think the immigration bill in Arizona where every brown person is immediately suspected of being undocumented migrant).

For him, these varieties of migrants warrant the recycling of the concept of denizen:

“In the Middles Ages, in England and other European countries, a denizen was an alien who was discretionarily granted by the monarch or ruler some – but not all – rights that were automatically bestowed to citizens. Thus, in return for payment, an alien would be granted ‘letters patent’, enabling him to buy land or practice a trade.” (93)

By definition, all migrants are denizens to a smaller or greater extent. At the worst-off end of the spectrum are the asylum seekers who have practically no rights at all.  Then the undocumented migrants who have some civil rights, but no social, political or economic rights. Visa-holders have their rights restricted based on the type of visa they hold. Permanent residents have all except, mainly, political rights and some social rights.

“Denizenship has grown most in China, where 200 million rural migrants have lost rights in moving to the cities and industrial workshops that serve the world. They are denied the hukou, the residence passbook that would give them resident rights and the right to receive benefits and be employed legally in their own country.” (96)

Even more crucially,

“Unlike in the early twentieth century, much of today’s migration is not assimilation to new citizenship but is more of a de-citizenship process. Instead of being settlers, many migrants are denied several forms of citizenship – rights held by local national, rights of citizenship from where they come and rights that come with legal status. Many also lack occupational citizenship, with the right to practise their occupation denied. They are also not on a trajectory to gain these rights initially denied to them, making them super-exploitable. And they are not becoming part of a proletariat, a working class of stabilised labourers. They are disposable, with no access to state and enterprise benefits.

This highlights the fragmented labour process in which varieties of the precariat have different entitlements and a different structure of social income. It feeds through into the issue of identity. Natives can display multiple identities, legal migrants can focus on the identity that gives them most security and illegals must not display, for fear of being exposed.” (96)

These characteristics make them more vulnerable to fall into the precariat but it also turns migrants into a kind of “floating” precariat, the ultimate deterritorialized, flexible and liquid workforce. Their presence increases inequalities within the host society and resentment among the working class, both of which can be profitably exploited economically and politically. At the same time, in low-population-growth societies (think Western Europe), they are the indispensable workforce.

In developing countries, the supposed economic miracles of the Asian tigers was built on a precariat composed of young rural women:

“Global capitalism has been built on migrant labour, first in what used to be called the NICs (newly industrialised countries). In the 1980s, I recall many visits to the export processing zones of Malaysia to factories run by some of the great names of global capital, such as Motorola, Honda and Hewlett Packard. It was not a proletariat being formed but a temporary precarious labour force. Thousands of young women from the kampongs (villages) were housed in shabby hostels, labouring for incredibly long workweeks and then expected to leave after several years, once their health and capacities had deteriorated. Many left with poor eyesight and chronic back problems. Global capitalism was built on their backs.” (106)

And China is a leader of that pack even now moving to an export labor regime where it buys depressed industrial assets in Europe (thanks to the financial crisis and favorable foreign exchange), and uses them as Chinese firms, using Chinese labor. this has been especially the case in Italy and Greece. From then, these firms compete and often outbid European firms for public infrastructure contracts.

In this context then, sovereignty then is used a disciplining tool to decide who can live and work where and under what conditions. The mechanisms of the nation-state are policing entities, managing the masses of flexible, deterritorialized and precarized labor pushing and pulling migrants according to the needs of global capitalism.