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Americans may be almost evenly divided about why a few people get so rich. But when it comes to why people are poor, there’s a general consensus: If people are poor, it’s their own damned fault!
This belief comes to us from British attitudes. Debtor prisons had a long tradition across the world, but England taught us that poverty was a moral failing. People were poor because they were sinful or impious or wastrels, so nothing could be done about it, and nothing should be done. Most Americans hold a similar view to this day, which is why the old “Welfare Queen” trope works so well for politicians.
Reality is less exotic. Real institutional systems make people poor and keep them there. Take wages. Despite California’s above-the-national-average minimum wage, no one can raise a family on it. Yet 65 percent of minimum-wage employees are the sole support of their family, on an income of only $16,640 a year.
On and off for two years – between 1988 and 1993 – I worked at the law firm of Latham and Watkins, representing some of the most powerful developers and corporations in Los Angeles. I vividly remember going down to the council chambers in City Hall, standing at the rope separating the public from council members and watching my colleagues pull lawmakers over to lay out what needed to be done in support of a development proposal or a big city contract. I would look around the council chambers and – unless there was some rare public controversy that brought a lot of people down to City Hall – I would see only white lawyers and lobbyists dressed in fancy suits who essentially owned the place.
When I left Latham and Watkins and helped to start LAANE in 1993, I resolved to bring the knowledge of developer lobbyists into our work and get thousands of real people from all stripes down to City Hall.
The skirmish of words in El Segundo over its city manager’s proposal to raise local taxes on that city’s largest business, Chevron Oil, has suddenly become a full-fledged legal war, with the official making explosive accusations against both El Segundo’s government and Chevron. The story, which Donald Cohen has been following for Frying Pan News, began with Doug Willmore’s efforts to bring the giant refinery’s taxes in line with the taxes paid by other California oil companies. Willmore was subsequently fired on February 9 by El Segundo’s city council.
In response, the ousted city manager has filed a governmental claim against El Segundo, a forerunner to a lawsuit. In it, Willmore claims that:
February 13 was a big day for those who want Los Angeles to lead the way in greening our cities. After a contentious all-day hearing, the L.A. City Board of Public Works unanimously approved the Bureau of Sanitation’s recommendation to transform trash collection from businesses and large apartment buildings.
Under the new system, which must still be approved by the City Council, haulers will operate under an exclusive franchise system with environmental standards and accountability. This means, finally, that our city will know who is picking up trash where, when and how — and that only responsible haulers, committed to playing by the rules, will be picking up and processing our trash.
One of the themes heard repeatedly during public testimony at last week’s board hearing was that an exclusive system is going to raise costs. And there was a magic number to go along with the cry: 33 percent!
(Note: This post first appeared on Grist.com.)
By Christopher Mims
Maybe you’ve heard that we’re now using more trees for toilet paper than for newsprint. (Not least because the newspaper industry is even more in the toilet than toilet paper.) But did you know that because of Americans’ demand for super-soft TP for our bungholes, 98 percent of the pulp used to make the stuff comes from virgin wood?
“Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution,” Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council, told the Guardian.
More toilet paper used to be made out of recycled office paper,