Frithjof Bergmann on New Work, the Economy, and the Future 5-13-14
Frithjof Bergmann on New Work, the Economy, and the Future 5-13-14
Landlord-tenant laws and housing market conditions vary widely, and evictions are not surging everywhere. And a court filing does not necessarily result in eviction; some cases are resolved through payment plans or other agreements. But from 2010 to 2013, Maine experienced a 21 percent increase in eviction filings, Massachusetts 11 percent and Kentucky 8 percent. In the fiscal year that ended in June, New Jersey, which has some of the strongest tenant protections in the country, had one eviction filing for every six renter households. In Georgia, where court statistics do not differentiate between tenants evicted by a landlord and homeowners evicted after foreclosure, filings soared to almost 270,000 last year, a 9 percent jump since 2010. Over the same period, according to the research firm CoreLogic, the number of foreclosures dropped by half.
Perhaps the simplest explanation for the rise in evictions is a severe shortage of rental housing caused by a lack of new construction during the recession and the wave of foreclosures that turned homeowners into renters and occupied housing into abandoned blight.
A vast majority of renters live in cities, but evictions are not limited to urban settings. Rural areas like western Oklahoma, where an oil and gas boom has increased demand for housing, have also seen an increase in eviction filings.
The rising demand for, and tight supply of, apartments means landlords can now afford to be more exacting in their standards, if not outright aggressive in replacing renters with those who can pay more. In the second quarter of this year, the rental vacancy rate sunk to its lowest in almost 20 years, while rents, in inflation-adjusted dollars, remained close to their peak. Some advocates for tenants said that court filings were just the tip of the iceberg — many renters have been displaced by rising rents, threatening letters, one-time payoffs and condo conversions, without ever going to court.
The rental shortage has made the most vulnerable tenants susceptible to eviction. “So many of our clients are people of color, people with disabilities, people who have suffered extreme health crises or a long-term chronic illness,” said Christine Donahoe, a staff attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin.
Grape vines march across wires strung along rolling hills, their little trunks improbably supporting heavy black fruit. Cindy Steinbeck’s family has been farming this land since 1920. They grow Zinfandel, Viognier, Cabernet, Merlot, and Petite Syrah grapes but are best known in this area of Central California for a blend called The Crash, named after a remarkable incident in 1956, when a B-26 crash-landed 200 yards from the family home. Four of the five Air Force men aboard survived, bailing out in the nearby fields.
Now a new crash threatens, as groundwater levels beneath the vineyards plummet. California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables, according to the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture. It is in the midst of one of the worst droughts ever recorded, with more than 80 percent of the state in extreme or exceptional drought. But so far, the Steinbeck Vineyards’ 520 acres of grapes are growing well under the hot August sun, thanks to the family’s access to all the groundwater they need: up to two acre-feet per acre per season. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to flood an acre of land one foot deep—about 326,000 gallons. The Steinbecks’ sole source of irrigation is groundwater.
However, groundwater and surface water—rivers, lakes, streams—are part of the same hydrological system. Excessive groundwater pumping can overdraft aquifers, emptying them faster than natural systems can replenish them; dry up nearby wells; allow saltwater intrusion; and draw down surface water supplies. Taking so much water out of the soil can cause the dirt to compact and the land to sink, an action called subsidence. Because land can subside as much as a foot a year in the face of aggressive pumping, it can destroy infrastructure such as irrigation canals, building foundations, roads, bridges, and pipelines.
The Internet might be a useful tool for activists and organizers, in episodes from the Arab Spring to the Ice Bucket Challenge. But over all, it has diminished rather than enhanced political participation, according to new data.
Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, has the effect of tamping down diversity of opinion and stifling debate about public affairs. It makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends, according to a report published Tuesday by researchers at Pew Research Center and Rutgers University.
The researchers also found that those who use social media regularly are more reluctant to express dissenting views in the offline world.
The Internet, it seems, is contributing to the polarization of America, as people surround themselves with people who think like them and hesitate to say anything different. Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us.
The leap taken by value from the body of the commodity, into the body of the gold, is, as I have elsewhere called it, the salto mortale of the commodity. If it falls short, then, although the commodity itself is not harmed, its owner decidedly is.”
The same white liberals who inveigh against corporations for destroying local communities are aghast when rioters take their critique to its actual material conclusion.”In Defense of Looting (via ninjabikeslut)
A lot of Americans work all kinds of crazy hours these days to pay the bills. Doctors do. Lawyers can. Maybe you do. It can make for a stressful life. Especially if the hours are irregular. All over the map. And especially if the work is low-wage. A doctor might hire a nanny. A stock clerk, a barrista, a Wal-Mart associate – not likely. But last-minute, all-over-the-clock-and-week shift assignments have become common. You can’t plan. You don’t know. And then there’s freelance work. This hour On Point: hanging on, making do in the makeshift, all-over-the-clock economy.
Study: Western US drought caused Earth to rise 0.16 inches
Los Angeles Times: The ongoing drought in the western United States has caused the earth to lift up about 0.16 inches over the last 18 months, a new study found.
Researchers found an estimated 63 trillion gallons of groundwater was lost since the start of 2013.
Photo: A section of Lake Oroville is seen nearly dry in Oroville, Calif., on Aug. 19, 2014 (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
While homelessness is rampant worldwide, the production of empty spaces is a regular feature of contemporary society. When buildings sit empty for a long time while homelessness persists, it is clear that in these cases markets and states fail to fulfill their expected role as effective allocators of space.”
Miguel Martínez, Gianni Piazza and Hans Pruijt - 'Introduction'
to ‘Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Stuggles’ by Squatting Europe Kollective(via sociology-of-space)
It’s a new day in the neighbourhood all across the Western world. More than 30 per cent of Canadians now say they feel disconnected from their neighbours, while half of Americans admit they don’t know the names of theirs. An Australian sociologist investigating community responses in the wake of the 2011 floods in Queensland found relations in “a precarious balance”; neighbours were hesitant to intrude even in emergencies—leading the scholar to conclude that “we are less likely than ever to know” our neighbours. Quite right, too: A recent poll of 2,000 Britons found a third declaring they couldn’t pick their near neighbours out of a police lineup.
Yet it’s hardly surprising, given how lengthy working days, long commutes and having both parents in the labour force have combined with the way we raise our children to create suburban neighbourhoods that are empty more than half the day, with scarcely a neighbour to encounter, let alone recognize, trust or befriend. But, however powerful the economic and social forces behind the disappearing neighbour—and however positive many of its results—according to reams of new research, the transformation is also poisoning our politics and, quite literally, killing us.
- Excerpted from The end of neighbours. Read the full story at macleans.ca.
Photo illustration by Levi Nicholson.
The idea of programming a robot to have a specific personality might sound like science fiction; in a world where true artificial intelligence has yet to be achieved, a personality—an individual’s distinct mixture of emotional response, attitude, and motivation—seems even more subtle and complex. But for computer scientists interested in social robotics, it has become a surprisingly immediate goal. As machines become more sophisticated, and integrated in new ways into human society, researchers have begun to realize that their effectiveness depends on how easily we relate to them.
“With technology that is genuinely going to live with us in an embedded way…and is going to be interacting with us in complex ways, personality is extremely important, the same way it is when you’re dealing with people,” said computer scientist Peter McOwan, the coordinator of a major European research effort on social robotics that ran from 2008 until 2012.
What researchers are finding is that it’s not enough for a machine to have an agreeable personality—it needs the right personality. A robot designed to serve as a motivational exercise coach, for instance, might benefit from being more intense than a teacher-robot that plays chess with kids. A museum tour guide robot might need to be less indulgent than a personal assistant robot that’s supposed to help out around the house.
A growing body of research is starting to reveal what works and what doesn’t. And although building truly human-like robots will probably remain technologically impossible for a long time to come, researchers say that imbuing machines with personalities we can understand doesn’t require them to be “human-like” at all. To hear them describe the future is to imagine a world—one coming soon—in which we interact and even form long-term relationships with socially gifted devices that are designed to communicate with us on our terms. And what the ideal machine personalities turn out to be may expose needs and prejudices that we’re not even aware we have.
California over the last century has issued water rights that amount to roughly five times the state’s average annual runoff, according to new research that underscores a chronic imbalance between supply and demand.
That there are more rights than water in most years is not news. But UC researchers say their study is the most comprehensive review to date of the enormous gap between natural surface flows and allocations.
Of 27 major California rivers, rights on 16 of them exceed natural runoff. Among the most over-allocated are the San Joaquin, Kern and Stanislaus rivers in the San Joaquin Valley and the Santa Ynez River in Southern California.
In theory, that difference is not necessarily a problem. It gives water agencies and irrigation districts with junior rights access to additional supplies during wet years, when runoff is above average and there is plenty to go around. But in reality, study co-author Joshua Viers said, it fosters unrealistic expectations for water that is often not available.
“It gives the public a false sense of water security,” said Viers, a UC Merced professor of water resources. For the most junior rights holders, he added, “It’s kind of like standing in line to get into a concert and they give you a ticket when they’re already at capacity. But you don’t know that you’ll never actually get in to see the show.”
From jobs to schools to demographic transitions, Ferguson and its neighbouring towns, where many protesters live, have undergone sweeping changes in recent years. Some places have become pockets of poverty, comparable to the poorest spots in St Louis, once a hub for corporations such as Anheuser-Busch and Ralston-Purina, which drew generations of immigrant labourers.
Some towns, like Ferguson, are economically mixed, with middle-class subdivisions alongside run-down streets and big apartment complexes like the one where Brown lived. Either way, Swanstrom said, the area highlighted the growing challenge of the “suburbanisation” of poverty.
"This was a catalyst for something much deeper, the lack of economic opportunities and representation people have," said Etefia Umana, an educator and board member of a group called Better Family Life. "A lot of the issues are boiling up."
It’s been boiling for decades. St Louis’ jumble of suburbs - 91 municipalities exist in a county of about one million people ringing the city - has long been sharply segregated. Until the late 1940s, restrictive covenants blocked blacks from buying homes in many towns.
Well into the 1970s, tight zoning restrictions and other rules, especially in places near the city’s mostly black north side, kept many areas largely white, said Colin Gordon, a University of Iowa professor who’s studied housing in St Louis.
That began to change by the 1980s, when middle- and working-class white families began leaving the area around Ferguson for newer, roomier housing in more distant suburbs. In their place came a flood of black families from St Louis in search of better housing and schools.
"When black flight out of the city began, this was the logical frontier," Gordon said. "It became what the city had been, a zone of racial transition."
In Ferguson, the change happened fast. In a generation - from 1990 to today - the population changed from three-quarters white to two-thirds black. Even as the area’s demographics shifted, solid blue-collar jobs sustained many of these towns, said Lara Granich, a community organiser.
After a month of fierce fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants that killed more than 1,900 Gaza residents, the extension of a temporary cease-fire through Monday was a great relief. But with an estimated 11,000 homes destroyed and many more severely damaged, Gaza’s housing and humanitarian crises are just beginning, and the uncertainty over the timing and terms for a more durable truce makes recovery planning elusive.
“Our fate at the end will be in the street,” lamented Alia Kamal Elaf, a 35-year-old mother of eight who has been staying at a school since fleeing the Shejaiya neighborhood in east Gaza City at the onset of Israel’s ground incursion on July 17.
The destruction has been far more severe than in previous rounds of Israeli attacks, especially in Shejaiya, the northern border town of Beit Hanoun and the southeastern village of Khuza’a, where little at all is left. Palestinian leaders plan to ask international donors for $6 billion at a conference scheduled for September, but there are many challenges money cannot solve.
The Hamas-run government that ruled Gaza since 2007 resigned in June, but the Palestinian Authority has yet to take control of its ministries. So who will assess damage or coordinate reconstruction?
Israel currently bans the import of construction materials for private projects, citing security concerns. In any case, several of Gaza’s cement-mixing plants and other factories that make doors, windows and floor tiles have been reduced to rubble.
The social and economic reality of St. Louis is pretty simple. Prosperity is white, and poverty is black. It has been this way for decades, and the contours of this reality has become self-reinforcing. White residents have built their own affluent enclaves farther and farther from the city’s core, in suburbs like Chesterfield, some 30 miles from downtown, where brand-new, dueling outlet malls have opened for business. Black residents live in a belt of communities along the northern side of the city in townships like Ferguson, or Baden that were abandoned by white residents, where the quaint strip malls of yesteryear are largely abandoned and storefront windows are covered with plywood.
The black community in urban and inner-suburban St. Louis has suffered within the confines of this system. Missouri had the nation’s highest black homicide rate in 2010 and the second-highest in 2011, according to Violence Policy Center. When a black teenager is murdered, it can rate no more than a 300 word story in the local newspaper. The city’s school system is largely composed of dysfunctional barracks where kids are kept for the day. In 2011, The high school graduation rate for St. Louis city was about 50 percent (in the largely white and affluent suburb of Clayton, by contrast, it is 98.5 percent), according to a tally in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Cops throughout St. Louis and its suburbs have the unenviable task of policing this social order. Lower-middle-class police officers patrol the gutted city neighborhoods that other white St. Louis residents avoid. The officers get shot at, yelled at, and in return they use unnecessary violence to make their presence felt. The cycle of mistrust, resentment and hostility between police and the black residents of St. Louis has been building for decades, and now it is boiling over. When a police officer gunned down Brown, black witnesses nearby described the scene as murder—a young man with his arms up, compliant, shot in the face and chest. It was the catalyst to rise up against the tectonic inequalities of St. Louis.