The environmental impact of the Koch family is not entirely an abstract question. Koch Industries is the second-largest private company in the country, and its holdings include oil refineries, oil-services companies and one of the nation’s biggest fertilizer manufacturers. Another Koch property is the paper-goods producer Georgia-Pacific, whose plant in Palatka, Fla. — at the end of the narrow Rice Creek tributary of the St. Johns River — is seen by Scott opponents as an object lesson in how political donations can materially affect the planet.
Feminists who have long demanded that government stay out of the bedroom are now inviting it into the dorm room.
Once, government and university officials hunted down suspected communists and communist sympathizers on campus. Today, they’re targeting campus sexual predators — alleged harassers and rapists — with similar disregard for civil liberty. California’s affirmative consent bill facilitates guilty findings by mandating a minimal, “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof, (advocated by the Obama administration) in campus sexual misconduct cases.
Affirmative consent requirements and the conviction bias that shapes new rules governing these cases practically ensure that students accused of sexual assault will be found guilty of it. In part, the drive to deny due process to those accused of assault is an overreaction to instances of denying redress to assault victims. In part it reflects a “progressive” ideological commitment to assuming that a self-identified victim’s recollection of a sexual encounter is absolutely, objectively true.
In an art context, to aestheticize the things of the present means to discover their dysfunctional, absurd, unworkable character—everything that makes them nonusable, inefficient, obsolete. To aestheticize the present means to turn it into the dead past. In other words, artistic aestheticization is the opposite of aestheticization by means of design. The goal of design is to aesthetically improve the status quo—to make it more attractive. Art also accepts the status quo—but it accepts it as a corpse, after its transformation into a mere representation. In this sense, art sees contemporaneity not merely from the revolutionary, but rather, the postrevolutionary perspective. One can say: modern and contemporary art sees modernity and contemporaneity as the French revolutionaries saw the design of the Old Regime—as already obsolete, reducible to pure form, already a corpse.
But despite the fact that the pan-democrats’ terminology is the lingua franca of the movement, it’s clear that the movement itself is, for many people, hardly about liberal “democracy.” In fact, most discussions of what protestors actually want quickly jump into entirely different terrain. When asked what their goals are, many will respond with the parroted list of demands—this is incredibly consistent across social strata and different age groups. But when pressed about why they want these things, most protestors then immediately jump to economic, rather than purely political, problems.
People bemoan skyrocketing rents, the inhuman levels of inequality, inflation in the price of food and public transport, and the governments’ tendency to simply ignore the vast swaths of people sitting at the bottom of society. One speaker at an open mic made the common—if simply wrong—argument: “Why is Hong Kong just a couple of rich people and so many poor people?! Because we have no democracy!” Many claim—with abysmally poor awareness of how liberal democracies actually function in places like Greece or the United States—that once they are able to “choose” their own leaders these leaders will be able to fix widespread problems of inflation, poverty and financial speculation. Democracy has thereby come to designate less the practical application of a popular voting system and more a sort of elusive panacea, capable of somehow curing all social ills.
A new study conducted at Harvard Business School found that Americans believe CEOs make roughly 30 times what the average worker makes in the U.S., when in actuality they are making more than 350 times the average worker. "Americans drastically underestimated the gap in actual incomes between CEOs and unskilled workers," the study says.
But that underestimation isn't merely drastic—it is also unmatched in the world. The gap between Americans' perception and reality is the most among any of the 16 countries for which the researchers measured both the perceived and actual pay inequality.
These opportunities, the report says, require new policies in three key areas:
1. An end to fossil fuel subsidies, imposition of new taxes on carbon and the adoption of new rules to encourage the growth of renewable energy, such as wind and solar.
2. Financial innovations to encourage governments and the private sector to invest in badly needed upgrades of public infrastructure, which are likely to be more energy-efficient. And
3. More support for low-carbon innovators, including strong patent protections and more public spending on research and development.
The commission found that some $90 trillion is likely to be spent over the coming 15 years on new infrastructure around the world. The big challenge for governments is to adopt rules and send stronger market signals that redirect much of that investment toward low-emission options, the report found.
“This is a massive amount of investment firepower that could be geared toward building better cities, and better infrastructure for energy and agriculture,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, who led the research for the report.
While the commission found that the requisite steps may make economic sense, that does not mean they will be politically easy, the report says. For instance, the group will recommend that countries eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels, which cost about $600 billion a year but are vigorously defended by vested interests.
It will urge nations to take a fresh look at the potential of renewable energy, whose costs are plummeting, and also recommend the adoption of initiatives to halt destruction of forests, use land more efficiently and limit wasteful urban sprawl, among many other steps.
The claim that the side benefits, such as better air quality, could potentially offset the costs is likely to be controversial.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body, found in a report earlier this year that these side benefits are real, but it declined to attach a specific value to them because the methodology for doing so is difficult and uncertain. The exercise requires, for instance, defining the economic worth of improved human health.
Ottmar G. Edenhofer, a German climate economist who helped lead that earlier effort, said in an interview Monday that he was doubtful about the precise values for the side benefits cited in the new report. He served as an adviser to the global commission, but is not an author of the final document.
“The assumption and the argument that this can be done for free, that’s from my point of view overly optimistic,” Dr. Edenhofer said. “Yes, you rescue some lives, but to assign monetary values to this is particularly complicated.”
But it is Koch’s prominent place within the controlling entities behind the nation’s two high-profile natural history museums that creates what many say is an unforgivable conflict of interest.
“There’s a contradiction there between the ideals of the institution and its practice,” Not An Alternative’s Beka Economopoulos told VICE in an interview. “Why would one of the biggest funders of groups that deny or misrepresent climate science and biggest contributors to climate pollution be sitting on the board of a museum whose mission is to celebrate nature?”
While the Koch brothers’ financial backing of the conservative Tea Party movement has been well documented, revelations of their massive funding of climate change-denying organizations is less so. In 2012, Greenpeace reported that the Kochs had funneled over $61 million into a variety of scientific front groups. The next year, a Drexel University study found that of the $558 million in funding provided to climate denial groups between 2003 and 2010, the biggest donors were ExxonMobil and—you guessed it—Koch Industries.
VICE reached to out Koch Industries for comment but did not receive a response. The Smithsonian and AMNH didn’t get back to us either.
"You have more of these donors from the 1 percent who are embedding themselves in our cultural institutions and yet turning around and lobbying for the sequester and budget cuts for those same institutions," Economopoulos said.
Museums and other arts institutions are constantly battling the twin demons of a lack of state funding and ethically-compromising corporate sponsorship, and the economic stress has only increased since the financial crisis. Elizabeth Merritt, director of the American Alliance of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums, explained that in the eyes of the public, there’s a fine line between receiving corporate gifts and taking hush money.
“If significantly wealthy individuals are the source of money museums rely on, are they relying on the interests of the public?” Merritt asked.
“If a major executive of a tobacco company offered to serve on the board of a children’s museum,” Merritt continued, “wouldn’t that be a mismatch between the mission of serving the health of children and that company’s mission?”
The progressive shift from “defined benefit,” or traditional pensions, which were once the norm, to “defined contribution,” or 401(k)-like schemes, has been unfolding for decades in the private sector. By 2011, only 35 percent of Fortune 1000 corporations had active defined benefit plans, while most public workers still had such plans. However, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, 45 percent of working-age households own no retirement account assets of any kind.
A recent report by Moody’s indicates that public pension funds have significantly higher “risks” than those of private corporations. In other words, governments lag behind corporations in their assault on worker pensions, a process known as “derisking,” i.e., shifting retirement costs entirely to the workers.
The Center for American Progress concludes that, “the typical 401(k) fees—adding up to a modest-sounding 1 percent a year—would erase $70,000 from an average worker’s account over a four-decade career compared with lower-cost options.”
The cumulative effect of derisking by private employers and increasingly by public employers will be a return to conditions similar to those of the 19th century, when workers had little or no economic security in their old age. According to the Center for Retirement Research, half of all US households will be unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement.
The US Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances, released last Thursday, documents a devastating decline in economic conditions for a large majority of the population during the so-called economic recovery.
The report reveals that between 2007 and 2013, the income of a typical US household fell 12 percent. The median American household now earns $6,400 less per year than it did in 2007.
Much of the decline occurred during the “recovery” presided over by the Obama administration. In the three years between 2010 and 2013, the annual income of a typical household fell by an additional 5 percent.
The report also shows that wealth has become even more concentrated in the topmost economic layers. The wealth share of the top 3 percent climbed from 44.8 percent in 1989 to 54.4 percent in 2013. The share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33.2 percent in 1989 to 24.7 percent in 2013.
Disparities in income have increased along with the growing monopolization of wealth. While the annual income of a typical household plunged 5 percent between 2010 and 2013, the income of the top tenth of income earners grew by 10 percent, with even bigger gains for the wealthiest households.
The report presents other indicators of social regression. It notes that the percentage of the population that owns homes fell from 67.3 percent to 65.2 percent between 2010 and 2013.
Between 2001 and 2013, the share of young families burdened by education debt nearly doubled, from 22.4 percent to 38.8 percent. Over the same years, the percentage of these families with more than $100,000 in debt grew nearly tenfold, from 0.6 percent to 5.6 percent.
The Fed report irrefutably demonstrates that the claims of a broad economic recovery are fraudulent. Wall Street and the financial aristocracy, it is true, have never had it so good. But the conditions of most working people continue to worsen
From the Washington Post:
An American University professor accused of breaking into a strip of stores below his apartment near campus and setting several small fires was put on leave Friday and ordered by a judge to remain in jail until a preliminary hearing next week.
David W. Pitts, 37, who chairs the school’s Department of Public Administration and Policy and holds a doctoral degree, was arrested Thursday and charged with burglary and destruction of property. His attorney, Justin Okezie, did not return calls seeking comment. Pitts’s next court hearing is Monday.
A spokeswoman for AU said Pitts has been at the university since 2005. She said other professors have been assigned to take over his classes and duties as department chair. He also is on the editorial boards of several university journals and publications.
Pitts was arrested after he was put under surveillance by Montgomery County police at his D.C. apartment complex, at the Foxhall Square shopping center in the 3300 block of New Mexico Avenue NW. Authorities said he was being sought on a burglary warrant linked to a break-in Wednesday at a pharmacy. The shopping center is about two blocks from the university, and Pitts lives in an apartment above the stores.
According to an arrest affidavit, about 1 a.m. Thursday, Montgomery officers saw Pitts set a chair on fire near a guard shack at his apartment complex’s parking garage. Then, the documents state, he lit a newspaper on fire in front of a Starbucks and then set a fire in the woods off Embassy Park Drive. Police said they then saw Pitts force his way into the mall, giving him access to a pharmacy, bank and several doctors’ offices. The officers called D.C. police, and Pitts was arrested after a brief chase from the third level of the mall into the parking garage.
The arrest affidavit says Pitts had a white bag containing newspapers and an oily, black substance in a plastic bowl. Police said they found two lighters and matches in his pockets. Inside his apartment, the affidavit says, police found 5,431 prescription pills, including 2,310 Cialis pills, sedatives to treat insomnia and oxycodone.
According to the police affidavit, Pitts at first denied setting fires or breaking into the shopping center but then blamed the acts on his “disoriented state and need to obtain an envelope in his name containing a prescription” from his psychiatrist.
Authorities are aware of Pitts’s Twitter account, which contains postings and photos from the scene of early-morning fires at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Northwest on Aug. 30<http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/fire-forces-evacuation-of-marriott-wardman-park-hotel-during-apsa-conference/2014/08/30/3fc4fb1c-305a-11e4-994d-202962a9150c_story.html>, which forced guests from their rooms and into smoky hallways. The hotel fires, which authorities said were set, occurred in the midst of the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.
A police document, portions of which were read to The Washington Post, references the Twitter account and says the hotel fires were similar to those at the shopping center. Pitts has not been charged in the hotel fires.
One Tweet complains that firefighters were slow: “How long does it take to put out a fire for which there is no smoke?” Another says: “Marriott is on fire. Nothing like seeing all of the political scientists in their nighties at 1 am.”
Mike DeBonis and Dan Morse contributed to this report.
A campaign that started in New York City in November 2012, with 200 fast-food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation, has since spread to more than 150 cities in every region of the country, including the South. The growing Fight for $15 has been creditedwith elevating the debate around inequality in the U.S. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said that it has “entirely changed the politics of the country.” Since the campaign launched, nearly 7 million low-wage workers have seen their wages rise. What seemed like a far-fetched goal–$15 an hour–is now a reality in Seattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers.”
As it spreads, the movement is challenging fast-food companies’ outdated notion that their workers are teenagers looking for pocket change. Today’s workersare mothers and fathers struggling to raise children on wages that are too low. And they’re showing the industry that if it doesn’t raise pay, it will continue to be at the center of the national debate on what’s wrong with our economy.
Not only do fast-food jobs pay so little that a majority of industry workers are forced to rely on public assistance, but many workers don’t even see all of the money they earn. In addition to the class-action suits filed against McDonald’s alleging widespread and systematic wage theft, a poll by Hart research showed 89% of fast-food workers have had money stolen from their checks.
The fast-food worker campaign has fast-food companies back on their heels. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, McDonald’s said worker protests might force it to raise wages. A recent report shows the industry has by far the largest disparity between worker and CEO pay. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, “Excessive pay disparities pose a risk t
Attorney Colby Bruno, who represents victims, says that just because a lot of young men are suing their schools doesn't mean the process is actually unfair — only that it suggests some students are having trouble adjusting to the changing norms on campus sexual assault.
"I don't have sympathy for the guy who assaults somebody and thinks he's been railroaded," Bruno says. "The cases where students are deluding themselves into thinking that what they did wasn't rape and sexual assault? I think those are 85 percent of boys coming forward saying, 'I was railroaded.' "
While numbers are hard to come by, she says there are still far more perpetrators getting away with a slap on the wrist than innocent students being wrongly expelled. She says false accusations are rare; far more often, real crimes go unreported.
Annie Clark, a student survivor turned activist, says everyone wants the process to be fair. But, she says, more due process doesn't automatically advance the cause of justice.
For example, she says, giving alleged assailants the right to cross-examine alleged victims would make victims even more reluctant to report assaults.
"If a survivor is told that they would have to face their rapist, and that person would be allowed to interrogate them, that could absolutely have a chilling effect," Clark says.
Ultimately, the courts will weigh the costs and benefits of more due process and decide whether schools have struck the right balance. With all the cases now pending, experts say the answer may well be "it depends."
For example, a student accused of misconduct, who might only be required to change dorms, may be entitled to less due process than someone facing the more severe punishment of expulsion — which might permanently mar his record and impact his life.
In other words, higher stakes would demand greater protections.
Helping drive home the point: A growing number of alleged victims are winning civil suits against schools, and they are now more willing to sue. But on the other hand, so are the accused. Dozens of students who say they've been unfairly punished are now pushing back against what they say are kangaroo campus courts run amok.
"There is a certain hysteria in the air on this topic," says Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. She says schools are running so scared of violating the civil rights of alleged victims that they end up violating the due process rights of defendants instead.
"It's really a surreal situation, I think. The government has effectively put our universities in an untenable situation where they're damned if they do and they're damned if they don't," Neal says.
Advocates say the pushback is no surprise as the pendulum swings and sexual assault goes from being swept under the rug to being treated as a serious crime.
Back at Rutgers, the skit dramatizing a sexual assault has been cited by the White House as the kind of program all schools should have, to increase awareness about the issue.
Incoming freshman Skyler Bolkin says it got her attention. "It's infuriating because no one is safe. I know that sounds a little paranoid, but, I mean, there's always a chance, and you do have to make sure that everyone is safe, because that's what friends do," she says.
Advocates say training students to be more active observers and changing campus culture are as critical to reducing campus sexual assault as schools cracking down on perpetrators and the government cracking down on schools.
The People’s Climate March, organized by Bill McKibben’s 350.org and nearly 1,000 partner groups, is slated to be one of the largest climate justice demonstrations in history. On September 21, the protest will snake through the streets of Manhattan as Ban Ki-Moon convenes world leaders for a climate summit at the United Nations headquarters. McKibben and other organizers have not hidden their pessimism about the capacity or willingness of these “leaders” to shift course and reverse our already harrowing path toward irreparable environmental degradation. But those partaking in the march, despite their representatives’ feeble responses to a deluge of scientific evidence over the past 25 years, see this moment as critical—a time to demonstrate that there’s no turning back.
Underscoring this urgency, the artist collective Not An Alternative has just launched the Natural History Museum, a pop-up museum that draws inspiration from artist Andrea Fraser’s essay “From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique” to call into question accepted museological methods and institutional sponsors. These financial ties, Not an Alternative argues, often result in the censorship of crucial facts—for example, that global warming is a man-made phenomenon—which would threaten the ideologies of lead sponsors. As Not An Alternative approached the project, the billionaire industrialist David Koch, a staunch climate change denier and a board member of New York’s American Museum of Natural History, thus became something of muse. For this month’s Editor’s Letter, I speak with members of Not An Alternative about their museum-within-a-museum and what they hope audiences will rediscover when encountering their take on a national institution.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) reported that both the number of people working for labor contractors and the percentage of the workforce employed by such companies have hit record highs. According to figures from the American Staffing Agency, more than 12 million people, or ten percent of the labor force, worked for a temporary employment agency at some point in 2013.
The NELP report showed that, far from being confined to clerical work, temporary workers are increasingly being employed in industry and warehousing. A record 42 percent of temporary workers are now employed in such industries, up from 28 percent in 1990.
Workers employed by staffing agencies are subject to lower wages, making an average of $3.40 per hour less than traditional employees. They are more likely to be injured or killed on the job, according to a recent study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
The NELP report concluded: “Major corporations now use [temporary] staffing as a permanent feature of their business model,” adding that “Seventy-seven percent of Fortune 500 firms now use third-party logistics firms, who may then contract out to an army of smaller firms to move their goods.”
On Sunday, the New York Times carried a report documenting a series of high-profile lawsuits against major corporations that falsified workers’ time sheets, used accounting dodges to avoid paying overtime or withheld base pay owed to their employees.
The article noted that last week a California appeals court ruled that shipping company FedEx deliberately misclassified its delivery drivers as independent contractors, even though they were actually employees, in order to avoid paying them overtime and health and retirement benefits.
Schneider Logistics, which provides warehousing services for Walmart, recently paid $21 million to settle charges that it failed to pay workers legally required overtime. “Plaintiffs indicated they often logged 16-hour days every day of the week. Allegedly, they were not allowed mandatory breaks, not paid overtime and did not even receive minimum wage,” said California attorney Deborah Barron.
California Labor Commissioner Julie Su told the Times: “My agency has found more wages being stolen from workers in California than any time in history... This has spread to multiple industries across many sectors. It’s affected not just minimum-wage workers, but also middle-class workers.”
Workers’ wages, meanwhile, are stagnating or falling across the board. The Economic Policy Institute published a report showing that both low- and middle-income earners have seen their wages fall since 2007, while the wages of those with advanced degrees have remained essentially unchanged.
The capitalist crisis that erupted in 2008 has been used to drive down the conditions of life for working people. Decent-paying jobs have been wiped out and replaced with low-paying jobs. Full-time work has been replaced by part-time, temporary and contingency labor. Increasingly, corporations have resorted to illegal means to rob workers of wages and benefits.
A new draft of a United Nations report warns climate change could become "irreversible" if greenhouse gas emissions go unchecked. The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by media outlets, says human-driven warming has already fueled extreme heat and rains, as temperatures have risen 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since pre-industrial times. While the report says it could still be possible to cap warming at the globally agreed-upon limit of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, it warns a continued rise in emissions could cause an eight-degree rise in the coming decades, prompting mass extinction and catastrophic floods. If global warming is to be adequately contained, the report says, at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.
I also remember, and this is just me I’m talking about, being impressed by Barack Obama who was running for president at the time. I don’t know if you and I talked about him on that occasion. But at the time, I sometimes thought that he looked like he had what this country needed.
So that’s my first question, it’s a lot of ground to cover but how do you feel things have worked out since then, both with the economy and with this president? That was a huge turning point, that moment in 2008, and my own feeling is that we didn’t turn.
No, the thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. And that’s a very sad moment in the history of the nation because we are—we’re an empire in decline. Our culture is in increasing decay. Our school systems are in deep trouble. Our political system is dysfunctional. Our leaders are more and more bought off with legalized bribery and normalized corruption in Congress and too much of our civil life. You would think that we needed somebody—a Lincoln-like figure who could revive some democratic spirit and democratic possibility.advertisement
Ferguson’s growth paralleled the growth of Emerson, which is headquartered there. During the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, Emerson’s factories were the main employers in town.
In the late ’70s, Emerson began outsourcing production to low-cost, overseas factories—not all at once, but product by product. The population of Ferguson peaked in 1980 and has been shrinking slowly ever since.
Many older whites who had spent their working lives at Emerson continued to live in the community. But in the early 2000s, the white population fell by 35 percent, and the black population increased by a similar amount. Many older whites or their families took advantage of high prices and a booming real estate market to sell.
For many black homebuyers, it was their chance to get a piece of the American Dream. They were becoming homeowners, moving into what they thought was a nice, stable suburb, and accumulating wealth.
The credit crash and Great Recession betrayed those dreams.
Ferguson and neighboring municipalities in the northern suburbs of St. Louis were at the center of the crisis. Mortgage rates jumped. Many people in the wave of recent homebuyers found themselves underwater.
Home values in some Ferguson neighborhoods plummeted to half of what people had paid in 2004 or 2005.
Some people walked away from their homes. Some moved into other nearby homes that had been foreclosed on and turned into rental properties. Some dug in, fighting to keep the homes they had bought.
Supposed federal efforts to keep people in their homes never worked as advertised—and often seemed wrapped in endless levels of red tape and active resistance from bank regulators. Another betrayal, on top of the banks’.
Activists organized actions to help keep people in their homes, with limited success. Those connections, tactics, and alliances, however, would later provide structure to protests against police violence. Anti-foreclosure activists were among the leading organizers of protest marches in Ferguson in the days after police killed Michael Brown.
Speculators bought up foreclosed properties and turned many of them into rentals. People who had lost their homes could often stay in the city as renters.
The increased competition in the rental market kept rents down, which meant that some people who had aspired to move into neighborhoods like Ferguson’s, but couldn’t afford to buy a house there, could afford to rent one.
Meanwhile, as many people lost homes in the Great Recession, many also lost jobs, and even more lost wealth. Ferguson’s poverty rate jumped from 5 percent in 2000 to an estimated 24 percent in 2012. By comparison, the poverty rate in St. Louis is 29 percent.
As the recession waned and hope of a recovery began to sprout, Mayor Knowles and the city council, all white, acted to keep real estate values low. They appropriated money to buy up properties around the historic downtown, which they considered most attractive for redevelopment. They worked to buy land before owners declared any public intention of selling, lest, in the mayor’s words, “speculators could bid up the price.”
One has to wonder what people who had lost their savings and were underwater on their mortgages, hoping for a rebound in values, thought of this policy. It was applauded by the majority-white political and economic leadership of the metro area, however.
Knowles told real estate leaders in June that he was not ignoring Ferguson’s residential neighborhoods. His major neighborhood initiative was to urge people to form garden clubs and plant flowers. His view, he explained, was that beautiful appearances and low real estate prices would lay the foundation for growt
For all the ways that the differences here may simply reflect cultural preferences, however, the main lesson of the analysis is a sobering one. The rise of inequality over the last four decades has created two very different Americas, and life is a lot harder in one of them.
Income has stagnated in working-class communities, which helps explain why “selling avon” and “social security checks” correlate with the hardest places from our index. Inequality in health and life expectancy has grown over the same time. And searches on diabetes, lupus, blood pressure, 1,500-calorie diets and “ssi disability” – a reference to the federal benefits program for workers with health problems – also make the list. Guns, meanwhile, are in part a cultural preference, but they are also a health risk.
Given all these troubles, you can understand why religious web searches that are relatively more popular in places where life is harder have such a dark cast. “They are not just about religion but about apocalyptic religion,” notes Dan Silver, a cultural sociologist at the University of Toronto.
In the places on the other end of the spectrum, the picture is much brighter. People have disposable income to buy new technology and take faraway vacations. Their time spent prostrate on a foam roller or out running with the baby in a jogging stroller is more than enough to make up the occasional cupcake. And of course they are intent on passing down their way of life to the next generation, via Baby Bjorns and early access to technology.
That last point may be the most troubling. The different subjects that occupy people’s thoughts aren’t just a window into American life today. They’re a window onto future inequality, too.