Tag Archives: inequality

Romania shows the dire results of a healthcare “brain drain”

Lacrima Dambu, a Romanian doctor who has been working in Germany for five years, holds her nephew in Cluj-Napoca, Romania January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu     SEARCH "CAMPEANU HEALTH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

Lacrima Dambu, a Romanian doctor who has been working in Germany for five years, holds her nephew in Cluj-Napoca, Romania January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu.

Photos by Andreea Campeanu
March, 2017

Sonia Papiu started her first year of residency as a psychiatrist in the Romanian city of Cluj in January, but she plans to move abroad within the year, seeking better learning opportunities and hospital conditions.

She will not be alone.

“I don’t think any of my colleagues are planning to stay,” she said. “I think I could learn more abroad. You have higher responsibilities as a resident there.”

Students study at the Medicine and Pharmacy University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, December 8, 2016. There are currently over 6600 students at the Medicine and Pharmacy University in Cluj-Napoca, of which around 2260 are foreign. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu     SEARCH "CAMPEANU HEALTH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

Students study at the Medicine and Pharmacy University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, December 8, 2016. There are currently over 6600 students at the Medicine and Pharmacy University in Cluj-Napoca, of which around 2260 are foreign. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu .


In the Romanian system, doctors go through six years of medical school and then three to five years as a hospital resident, treating patients while working under the supervision of senior staff.

Finding a job abroad will be easy. Cluj, one of Romania’s largest cities and a university and business hub, hosts several agencies recruiting for western European hospitals.

Romania has bled out tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists since joining the European Union a decade ago, lured abroad by what the country lacks: significantly higher pay, modern infrastructure and functional healthcare systems. France, Germany and Britain are among the most popular destinations.

The consequences are dire. Romania is one of the EU states with the fewest doctors. Nearly a third of hospital positions are vacant and the health ministry estimates one in four Romanians has insufficient access to essential healthcare.

A mother holds her baby during a home visit from doctor Robert Ganea (not in the picture) in the village of Sacel in Romania, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

A mother holds her baby during a home visit from doctor Robert Ganea (not in the picture) in the village of Sacel in Romania, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

“Medical staff leaving Romania at an almost massive pace deepens the problems of the healthcare system,” former health minister Vlad Voiculescu has said. “Entire hospitals are facing a major personnel deficit and entire towns don’t have a family physician.”

This despite the fact that Romania is a leading EU state when it comes to the number of medical graduates. But the system – ridden with corruption, inefficiencies and politicized management – has been unable to motivate them to stay.

The shortages are even starker in rural areas.

Snow lies on roofs in the village Salistea de Sus, Romania, January 4, 2017.  REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Snow lies on roofs in the village Salistea de Sus, Romania, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

“Because we have one doctor per section for most specialties, when a doctor goes on holiday we need to close down the section,” said Cristian Vlad, the hospital manager in Viseul de Sus, a small town near the Ukrainian border.

Vlad said three hospitals in the region shared one anesthetist until last year, when his hospital brought in another from neighboring Moldova.

“I live in hope that our resident doctors will change their mind and stay in smaller hospitals, too,” Vlad said.

Medical staff work in the emergency ward (UPU) in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, December 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Medical staff work in the emergency ward (UPU) in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, December 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Romania is taking steps to address the issues. Pay has risen significantly, although it still does not measure up to western standards. The net average monthly wage for the healthcare system stood at 2,609 lei ($606) at the end of 2016, nearly double what it was three years ago.

In 2016, the health ministry created a multi-year plan for the medical profession, including a simpler recruitment process, education reform, better promotion opportunities, and subsidies for physicians willing to move to remote villages.

The strategy has yet to be approved by the two-month-old cabinet of Social Democrat Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu.

Doctor Gabriela Dromereschi does an ultrasound on a patient at her practice in Salistea de Sus, Romania January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Doctor Gabriela Dromereschi does an ultrasound on a patient at her practice in Salistea de Sus, Romania January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

“Measures to improve healthcare are in place, but the system suffers from inefficiencies, limited accessibility and corruption,” the European Commission said last month.

Yet not all doctors shy away from remote areas. From the village of Tureni, Andreea Kis has been serving as a family doctor for five villages for nearly five years.

“I chose to be a family doctor because this is compatible with family life,” said Kis, a mother of two. “People in the villages preserve their humanity better.”


Copyright Reuters 2017


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Revenge of the Forgotten Class

by Alec MacGillis, ProPublica
November 11, 2016

In March, I was driving along a road that led from Dayton, Ohio, into its formerly middle-class, now decidedly working-class southwestern suburbs, when I came upon an arresting sight. I was looking for a professional sign-maker who had turned his West Carrollton ranch house into a distribution point for Trump yard signs, in high demand just days prior to the Ohio Republican primary. Instead of piling the signs in the driveway, he had arrayed them in his yard along the road. There they were, dozens and dozens of them, lined up in rows like the uniform gravestones in a military cemetery.

The sign man wasn’t home, but he had left a married couple in charge of the distribution. I got talking to the woman, Contessa Hammel. She was 43 and worked at the convenience store at a local Speedway gas station after four years in the military. And this was the first time she was voting in 25 years of eligibility.

I was startled to hear this — it’s rare to find voters entering the political process after decades of disconnection; in fact, I’d met a handyman in his 70s at a Trump rally on the other side of Dayton that same day who said he was voting for the first time, but I had dismissed it as a fluke.

I asked Hammel why she’d held back all those years. “I didn’t want to make an unintelligent decision,” she said, in a tone that suggested she was well aware of what an admission that was. But this year’s Republican nominee was different, she said. “He makes it simple for people like me,” she said. “He puts it clearly.”

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Donald Trump’s stunning win Tuesday, defying all the prognosticators, suggested there were many more people like Hammel out there — people who were so disconnected from the political system that they were literally unaccounted for in the pollsters’ modeling, which relies on past voting behavior.

But Hammel was far from the only person I met in my reporting this year who made me think that Trump had spurred something very unusual. Some of them had never voted before; some had voted for Barack Obama. None were traditional Republican voters. Some were in dire economic straits; others were just a notch up from that and looking down with resentment at the growing dependency around them. What they shared were three things. They lived in places that were in decline, and had been for some time. They lacked strong attachment to either party at a time when, even within a single metro area like Dayton, the parties had sorted themselves into ideological, geographically disparate camps that left many voters unmoored. And they had profound contempt for a dysfunctional, hyper-prosperous Washington that they saw as utterly removed from their lives.

These newly energized voters helped Trump flip not only battlegrounds like Ohio and Iowa but long-blue Northern industrial states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin — without which he would have lost to Hillary Clinton. Nationwide, his margin with the white working class soared to 40 points, up 15 points from Romney’s in 2012.

Two days after meeting Hammel, I tagged along with some Trump supporters, women who’d come all the way from Buffalo to go canvassing door-to-door in the adjacent Dayton suburb of Miamisburg. It was a rainy day, and few were answering their doors in this neighborhood of frayed frame houses and bungalows, but they persisted in their yellow ponchos; I couldn’t help but be reminded of the doggedness I’d observed among Obama volunteers in 2008.

At one small house, someone finally answered the door. Tracie St. Martin stepped out onto the porch, a 54-year-old woman with a sturdy, thick-muscled build and sun-weathered face, both of them products of her 26 years as a heavy-construction worker. St. Martin greeted the women warmly, and when they told her what they were there for she said, sure, she was considering Trump — even though she usually voted Democratic. And when they got talking, in the disjointed way of canvassers making a quick pitch, about how Trump was going to bring back the good jobs, St. Martin was visibly affected. She interrupted them, wanting to tell them about how she had, not long ago, worked a job that consisted of demolishing a big local GM plant. Her eyes welled up as she told the story and she had trouble continuing.

The canvassers gave her some materials and bade her farewell. But I doubled back a little later and visited with St. Martin in her kitchen, which she was in the midst of tidying up, with daytime TV playing in the background. Space in the kitchen was tight due to the treadmill she recently bought to help her get into better shape, which she hoped might make her less dependent on the painkillers for the severe aches she got from her physically demanding job, pills that had gotten a lot harder to obtain from her doctor amid the clampdown on prescription opioids.

St. Martin apologized, unnecessarily, for her emotions on the porch and expanded on what she had told the women from Buffalo: She was a proud member of Local 18 of the operating engineers’ union, which had been urging its members to support Hillary Clinton. The union provided her health insurance and decent pay levels, and trained her for demanding work, which, just months earlier, had required her to hang off of a Pennsylvania cliff face in her dozer as part of a gas pipeline project.

She came from a staunch Democratic family and had voted for Barack Obama in 2008, before not voting in 2012 because, she said, she was away on one of her long-term jobs. She was a single mother with three grown daughters. She had experienced all manner of sexual discrimination and harassment on very male-heavy worksites over the years.

She was, in other words, as tailor-made a supporter as one could find for Clinton, a self-professed fighter for the average Jane who was running to become the first woman president.

And yet St. Martin was leaning toward Trump.

Her explanation for this was halting but vehement, spoken with pauses and in bursts. She was disappointed in Obama after having voted for him. “I don’t like the Obama persona, his public appearance and demeanor,” she said. “I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.” She regretted that she did not have a deeper grasp of public affairs. “No one that’s voting knows all the facts,” she said. “It’s a shame. They keep us so fucking busy and poor that we don’t have the time.”

When she addressed Clinton herself, it was in a stream that seemed to refer to, but not explicitly name, several of the charges thrown against Clinton by that point in time, including her handling of the deadly 2012 attack by Islamic militants on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya; the potential conflicts of interest at the Clinton Foundation; and her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State, mixing national security business with emails to her daughter, Chelsea.

“To have lives be sacrificed because of corporate greed and warmongering, it’s too much for me — and I realize I don’t have all the facts — that there’s just too much sidestepping on her. I don’t trust her. I don’t think that — I know there’s casualties of war in conflict, I’m a big girl, I know that. But I lived my life with no secrets. There’s no shame in the truth. There’s mistakes made. We all grow. She’s a mature woman and she should know that. You don’t email your fucking daughter when you’re a leader. Leaders need to make decisions, they need to be focused. You don’t hide stuff.

“That’s why I like Trump,” she continued. “He’s not perfect. He’s a human being. We all make mistakes. We can all change our mind. We get educated, but once you have the knowledge, you still have to go with your gut.”

Hand-wringing among Democrats about the party’s declining support among white working-class voters goes back a long time, to Lyndon Johnson’s declaration that signing the Civil Rights Act would sacrifice the allegiance of white Southerners. Then came the rest of the historical litany: the crime wave, riots and anti-Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s, the consolidation of suburban white flight, Nixon’s Silent Majority, Reagan Democrats, NAFTA, gun control, the War on Coal, and on and on. By this year, many liberals had gotten so fed up with hearing about these woebegone voters and all their political needs that they were openly declaring them a lost cause, motivated more by racial issues than economic anxiety, and declaring that the expanding Democratic coalition of racial and ethnic minorities and college-educated white voters obviated the need to cater to the white working class.

But this assessment suffered from a fatal overgeneralization. The “white working class” was a hugely broad category — as pollsters defined it, any white voter without a four-year college degree, roughly one-third of the electorate. Within that category were crucial distinctions, especially regional ones. Democrats in national elections had lost most white working-class voters in the Deep South — indeed, virtually all white voters there — a long time ago. They had in the past decade and a half seen much of Greater Appalachia, stretching from the Alleghenies to Arkansas, follow suit, to the point where West Virginia, one of just five states that Jimmy Carter won in 1980, went for Mitt Romney by 26 percentage points in 2012. It was hard to see how the Democrats were going to win back coal country like Logan County, W.V., which Bill Clinton won with 72 percent in 1996 but where Obama got only 29 percent in 2012.

But there was a whole subset of the white working class Obama was still winning: voters in northern states where unions, however diminished, still served to remind members of their Democratic roots (and build inter-racial solidarity). In these states, voters could still find national figures who represented them and their sort, people like Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Vice President Joe Biden. Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, centered on Biden’s hometown of Scranton, went for Obama with 63 percent of the vote in 2012. Rural Marquette County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, went for him with 56 percent of the vote. In Ohio, there were a couple counties in the state’s Appalachian southeast that went stronger for Obama in 2012 than they had in 2008. In the opposite corner of the state, gratitude for Obama’s bailout of the auto industry helped win him 64 percent of the vote in Lucas County, around Toledo. Across the North, Obama ran even or ahead with John Kerry and Al Gore among white working class voters; their raw vote total for him nationwide exceeded his tallies of college-educated white voters and minority supporters.

On Election Day 2012, one voter I spoke with in Columbus, Ohio, encapsulated how well Obama had managed to frame the election as a “who’s on your side” choice between himself and the private equity titan Mitt Romney, and thereby hold onto enough white working-class voters in crucial swing states. Matt Bimberg, 50, was waiting by himself at a remote bus stop in a black neighborhood on the edge of town. He had in the past decade lost jobs as a telecom technician for Global Crossing (he still carried a Global Crossing tote bag) and at a factory making escape hatches for buses. But he had just landed a job at a nearby warehouse as a forklift operator, a success for which he credited a three-week training course paid for by the U.S. Department of Labor. And as gratitude for that, he was voting for Obama after voting for John McCain in 2008. “My line of thinking was that under Romney and [Paul] Ryan, it would be more of a trickle-down administration,” he said. “Their thinking is to give that money to corporations and the rich in tax breaks, and some will trickle down. But it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Romney reminds me so much of Reagan’s theory of supply-side economics. It scares me.”

Not so long ago, Hillary Clinton would have seemed ideally suited to keep such northern white working-class voters in the fold. After all, she had trounced Obama among many of these very voters in the 2008 primaries, as she beat him in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania and at one point went so far as to declare herself, in a slip of the tongue, the champion of “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans.”

But things had changed in the intervening years. For one thing, she was further removed from her stint representing downtrodden upstate New York as a senator — she had spent the years since 2008 in the rarefied realm of the State Department and then giving more than 80 paid speeches to banks, corporations and trade associations, for a total haul of $18 million. For another thing, cause for resentment and letdown had grown in many of those Rust Belt communities where Obama had held his own — they might be inching their way back from the Great Recession, but the progress was awfully slow, and they were lagging ever further behind booming coastal cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, where the income gap compared with the rest of the country had grown far larger.

Most crucially, she was running not against Mitt Romney, the man from Bain Capital, but against Donald Trump. Yes, Trump was (or claimed to be) a billionaire himself, but he was not of Romney’s upper crust — they scorned him and his casinos and gold-plated jet, and were giving him virtually none of their campaign contributions. Trump attacked the trade deals that had helped hollow out these voters’ communities, he attacked the Mexicans who had heavily populated some of their towns and had driven much of the heroin trade in others, and, yes, he tapped into broader racial resentments as well. Faced with this populist opposition, Clinton fatefully opted against taking the “I’m on your side; he’s not” tack that Obama had used so well against Romney, and had instead gone about attacking Trump’s fitness for the presidency.

Back in Dayton, where Clinton never visited during the entire campaign, I had run into two more former Obama voters after Trump’s March rally there. Both Heath Bowling and Alex Jones admitted to having been swept up in the Obama wave, but had since grown somewhat disenchanted. Bowling, 36, a burly man with a big smile, managed a small siding and insulation business, and as he’d grown older he’d had gotten more bothered about the dependency on food stamps he saw around him, especially among members of his own generation, and demoralized by the many overdose deaths in his circle.

Jones, 30, who worked part-time at a pizza shop and delivering medicines to nursing homes, joked at first that his vote for Obama might have had to do with his having been doing a lot of drugs at the time. He grew serious when he talked about how much the Black Lives Matter protests against shootings by police officers grated on him. Chicago was experiencing soaring homicide rates, he said — why weren’t more people talking about that? He was upset that when he went out on the town in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine bar district, he had to worry about getting jumped if he was on the street past a certain hour — and that he felt constrained against complaining against it. “If I say anything about that, I’m a racist,” he said. “I can’t stand that politically correct bullshit.” He had, he said, taken great solace in confiding recently in an older black man at a bar who had agreed with his musing on race and crime. “It was like a big burden lifted from me — here was this black man agreeing with me!”

Polls had consistently showed that Trump’s support was stronger with white working-class men than women, and in October came a revelation that seemed sure to weaken his standing among women of all classes, release of an 11-year-old tape in which Trump boasted of trying to commit adultery with a married woman and grabbing women “by the pussy.”

A few days after the release of the tape, which was followed by a string of accusations from women saying they had been sexually harassed and assaulted by Trump, I checked back in with Tracie St. Martin to see if she still supported him. She was working on a new gas plant in Middletown, a working-class town near Dayton that was the setting of the recent best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” Here’s what she wrote back in a text message: “I still appreciate the honesty in some of his comments. Most of his comments. I still favor what he says he may be able to do. I am voting against Hillary, come what may with Trump. It’s important to me that ‘we the people’ actually have political power. And electing Trump will prove that. I am AMAZED at the number of people voting for him. The corruption is disgusting in the press. Yes, as of right now I am voting FOR Trump.” She was sure he would win, she said: “His support is crazy! The polls have to be wrong. Have to be fixed.”

And she shared an anecdote that reflected how differently Trump’s comments had been received in some places than others. “I’m setting steel for this new gas plant…I’m operating a rough terrain forklift,” she wrote. “So today, I kept thinking about the debate and the audio was released … And I got underneath a load of steel and was moving it…I was laughing and laughing and one of the iron workers asked ‘what are u laughing at.’ I said ‘I grabbed that load right by the pussy’ and laughed some more…And said ‘when you’re an operator you can do that ya know’, laughed all fucking day.”

Just last week, I was back in Ohio, in the southeastern Appalachian corner. I was at a graduation ceremony for opiate addicts who had gone through a recovery program, and sitting with four women, all around 30, who were still in the program. Someone mentioned the election, and all four of them piped up that they were voting for the first time ever. For whom? I asked. They looked at me as if I had asked the dumbest question in the world. All four were for Trump.

The most of the loquacious of the group, Tiffany Chesser, said she was voting for him because her boyfriend worked at a General Electric light-bulb plant nearby that was seeing more of its production lines being moved to Mexico. She saw voting for Trump as a straightforward transaction to save his job. “If he loses that job we’re screwed — I’ll lose my house,” she said. “There used to be a full parking lot there — now you go by, there are just three trucks in the lot.”

But Chesser also was viscerally opposed to Clinton who, the week prior, had endured a surprise announcement from FBI Director James Comey that a newly discovered cache of emails of hers was under scrutiny. “If she’s being investigated by the FBI, there’s a reason for it,” she said. I asked the women if they weren’t equally bothered by the many women’s accusations against Trump. They shrugged. “It’s locker-room talk,” Chesser said. “I know girls talk like that, and I know guys do.” But what about the accusations of assault? “Why are they just coming forward now?” she said. “If he did it to me before, I’d have come forward then. I wouldn’t wait until now.”

The next day, I met with Taylor Sappington, a native of Southeast Ohio who, after graduating from Ohio University, had decided to run for town council last year in Nelsonville, pop. 5,400, and won a seat. Sappington, who had been raised in a manufactured home by a single mother and whose brother works as a corrections officer, was a proud Democrat. He had volunteered for Obama’s 2012 campaign and took comfort in knowing that parts of Southeast Ohio had remained solid for the Democrats, unlike so much of the rest of Appalachia. But he knew that Clinton would not perform as well in the area as Obama had. “It’s a Democratic area. But Trump has blown a hole through it,” he said. “They feel like this is a forgotten area that’s suffering, that has been forgotten by Columbus and Washington and then they hear someone say, we can turn this place around, they feel it viscerally.”

And he feared that the national Democratic Party did not realize how little it could afford such a loss, or even realize how well it had those voters in the fold as recently as 2012. “I’m a believer in the Democratic coalition, but they’re writing off folks and it’s going to hurt them,” he said. “To write them off is reckless.”

A week later, on Election Day, I drove to a polling station in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, a small town south of York, just across the Maryland line. The polling station was inside an evangelical church housed inside a vast, mostly abandoned shopping plaza. It’s Republican country, where Romney outpolled Obama 2–1, but I was still startled by how long it was taking me to find a single Hillary Clinton voter.

But there was yet another woman voting for the first time in her life, at age 55, for Trump. “I didn’t have much interest in politics. But the older you get you realize more and more how important it is,” said Kelly Waldemire, who works in a local plastic-molding plant. “When it got to the point where the country is going in the wrong direction, I thought it was time.”

And there was yet another voter who had been for Obama in 2008 — Brian Osbourne, a 33-year-old Navy veteran who now drove all the way to Washington, D.C., every day to do commercial HVAC work because it paid double there what it would in Shrewsbury. The local economy had come back a little, he said, but “there’s a lot of people working jobs that they’re overqualified for.” That wasn’t all, he said. He hesitated, warning that what he was about to say wasn’t “politically correct,” and then said, “We’re really getting pussified as a country.”

I asked what he made of reports that Trump wrote off as much of a billion dollars on his taxes to avoid paying any at all. He shrugged it off just as every Trump voter I spoke with there did. “That doesn’t worry me all that much,” he said. “That’s what he does — that’s the loophole the government created. He takes advantage of what the system created. I’d do the same thing.”

As for Obama, his promise of racial reconciliation had been a “big letdown,” he said. “I thought it would help with race relations, but it’s getting way worse,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have another civil war in this country.”

And there were yet more women willing to wave off Trump’s comment on the tape and the women’s accusations against him. “I don’t take that crap seriously,” said Tammy Nuth, 49, who cares for Alzheimer’s patients. “Men are men.” As for the women accusers: “I think they’re getting paid off.”

As I was preparing to leave, I glimpsed a young woman who I guessed might’ve voted for Clinton, and approached her to help balance my reporting. I was wrong. Stephanie Armetta, an 18-year-old working as a grocery store cashier before heading to community college, had cast her first-ever ballot, for Donald Trump. Her family had many members in the military, she said, and she thought Trump would “have more respect” for them. She thought it was wrong that if her brother got deployed, he got only two meals per day, while people in prison get three. And then of course there was Benghazi, “that she left [the four Americans] there, that they weren’t her priority.” She was bothered by Trump’s comments on the tape, for sure. But, she said, “I’m glad how he didn’t lie about it. They caught him and he said, yeah, I said an asshole thing.” Not to mention, she said, “Bill Clinton isn’t good either on that subject.” Her vote, she concluded, was “more against Hillary than for Trump.”

Trump won that one small precinct by 144 more votes than Romney had won it in 2012 — a 20 percent increase. And all across rural and small-town Pennsylvania, that pattern repeated itself. In Scranton’s Lackawanna County, where Obama had won 63 percent, Clinton won only 50 percent.

In Michigan’s rural Marquette County, where Obama had won 56 percent, Clinton got only 49 percent. Trump became the first Republican since 1988 to win Pennsylvania or Michigan.

In Ohio’s Mahoning County, home of Youngstown, where Obama got 63 percent, Clinton got only 50 percent. In Hocking County, just adjacent to Nelsonville, Clinton fell even further, getting 30 percent, down from the 48 percent Obama had gotten, and realizing Taylor Sappington’s fears.

And at Tracie St. Martin’s working-class precinct in Miamisburg, where Obama had managed to get 43 percent in 2012, Clinton’s support plunged to 26 percent, giving Trump a margin of 293 votes just in that one precinct, triple Romney’s margin four years earlier. That helped provide Trump a historic claim: the first Republican majority in Dayton’s Montgomery County in 28 years. Statewide, Trump won by a whopping eight percentage points, a swing of 10 points from four years earlier. He had brought new voters out of the woodwork; he had converted some white working-class Obama voters while others had just stayed home.

St. Martin, who was still hard at work on the Middletown gas plant with a “great bunch of ironworkers,” was elated. “I just really needed to know that I was part of a majority that recognized we need these things that Trump spoke of,” she told me. “More importantly for me, to NOT have Hillary as Commander in Chief.”

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Alex MacGillis, ProPublica profile

Alec MacGillis, ProPublica

Alec MacGillis covers politics and government for ProPublica. MacGillis previously spent three years writing for The New Republic and five years as a national reporter for The Washington Post, where he was part of the team whose coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He was also a metro reporter for five years at the Baltimore Sun, where he and collaborators were Pulitzer finalists for their coverage of the Beltway sniper. He won the 2016 Robin Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic and New York Times Magazine.

A resident of Baltimore, MacGillis is also the author of “The Cynic,” a 2014 biography of Sen. Mitch McConnell.


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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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On Capitalism and “Bullshit Jobs”

By David Graeber
Fall, 2016

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would have advanced sufficiently by century’s end that countries like Great Britain or the United States would achieve a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is exactly what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the very sort of problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organising or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.  Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the – universally reviled – unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

Copyright David Graeber 2016

David Graeber is a professor in the London School of Economics’ anthropology department. He is the author of several books, including Debt: The First 5,000 Years. A contributing editor of The Baffler and editor at large to HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, he has written for Harper’s, The Nation, and other magazines and journals. His most recent book, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, is published by Random House/Spiegel & Grau. This essay was originally published on Strike! and is republished here with Prof. Graeber’s permission.


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‘It Don’t Come Easy’

July, 2016

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

A long time ago, when I ran an organization whose role is analyzing and reporting on the economy of Atlantic Canada, one of my board members from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador made a comment that stuck with me. There are ‘big’ Newfoundlanders and ‘small’ Newfoundlanders, he said, referring to ones that wanted to take on the business world as a whole and win, and those who wanted to huddle behind a protectionist wall with their little piece of the economic pie. Ever since then, I have used his localism to look at all kinds of people, not just Newfoundlanders.

Since the 1960s, at least, the trends in the world have favored the ‘big’ types. They do include the likes of multinational companies, but they also include those in the tech sector who run little companies and who know that their success depends on how fast they can reach global scale. The whole panoply of trade barrier-lowering treaties, from tariff reductions to integrative economic agreements constituted the first steps toward a global economy. But there has been resistance from nationalist groups who see these moves as threats to personal, social and national integrity.

The arguments against globalization began to have resonance after the financial crash of 2007-8. The pain caused by widespread financial malfeasance, arrogance, greed and stupidity provided a platform for resistance.

Then the collapse of Middle Eastern and African States added a huge movement of peoples to Europe, whose countries have scant experience in accommodating immigration. The slowness or lack of economic recovery meant chronic distress for millions, which has been laid at the feet of international competition, even though there is ample proof that demographic stagnation and technological change have been more important causes.

The social aspect of the nationalist complaint is that immigrants, refugees or not, take jobs that might otherwise have gone to locals, and that the cultural differences between immigrants and locals are hard to deal with. These have a bit of truth in them. Immigrants come from the most adventuresome parts of their native cultures and could be more aggressive in job searches. Cultural differences may be seen negatively rather than as opportunities for local cultural expansion. Immigrant-based countries like Canada and the United States have more or less successfully grappled with these challenges and found it depends more on local willingness than anything else.

The economic arguments are more fantastical. The idea that carving whole countries out of the global trading system could lead to local prosperity makes little sense. Breaking up the globalized nature of manufacturing, communications and financial services companies is more a formula for ruin than prosperity.

Trying to do this by creating nationalist trade barriers would lead to a lot of job losses in all sorts of industries well before that country’s businesspeople could recreate downsized corporations and begin any rehiring. Restructuring an economy is not an automatic job-creator. Financial markets hate uncertainty and won’t lend until the uncertainty is resolved. Global corporations would not be able to repatriate jobs home without suffering from retaliation by potential losers. Not importing leads to non-exporting. In the end, stimulation could only be restored by wartime buildup, but this is not 1936. War means nuclear war.

So, we are coming to a crossroads. Either we continue with the globalization project that started with the Marshall Plan and the first GATT tariff reductions, or we don’t.

We still have to bring billions of people into some kind of economic parity with the rich parts of the world. It will mean profitably continuing and improving their situation, or we can pretend that parts of the world are a ‘gated community’ as far as the rest are concerned. This would lead to having to control these populations somehow or shutting down our internet communications so they don’t know what it is like on the other side of the ‘wall’.

What does continued globalization mean? The original goal of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) on tariff reduction was largely met by the 1980s. A parallel step within Europe was toward more economic integration, first by the continental Europeans with the European Coal and Steel Community and then in the creation of Common Market. Then came the Canada-US Free Trade agreement in 1988, expanded into NAFTA about the same time as the creation of the European Union in 1993. A couple of years later, in 1995, the World Trade Organization was created to provide for a common set of rules for, basically, the whole globe to operate business and economic policy. Companies had similar rights and obligations within all of the national signatories’ economies. The agreement has not been perfect in its design nor execution, but it has made for the most level playing field the world has ever had.

So now, we are exhorted to break it up in the hopes that a few will be better off while others suffer. The double failure of nerve of the Cameron government in the UK, first in not acting as a properly elected government should by its permitting a referendum, and then campaigning against the ‘Brexit’ forces so ineffectively that it lost the vote, has led to the legitimizing of  nationalist attacks on the global rules that have benefitted everybody. Given the welter of trade rules that will not be affected by Brexit, it can be argued that the global economic system may not suffer, and that primarily, the UK will suffer the most. There are others, however, who would go further to fantasize extricating themselves from the WTO-globalized economy, promising to prospering from it while the rest of the ‘losers’ suffer.

Surprisingly, government does not operate like businesses. There is no global bankruptcy court out there to bail out national mistakes. There is no superior power making the rules to govern nations. To paraphrase Pogo, ‘they will meet the enemy, and it will be themselves’.

Maintaining and rebuilding confidence in the international economic system has to be Job One for policymakers today. We have something that works: there is no higher power to appeal to and no way to get off this big, blue marble we live on. Making it work after the idiocy of Brexit, to put it in the words of George Harrison and Ringo Starr, ‘It don’t come easy’.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2016

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Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.






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Inequality threatens democracy — investors

By Laurie Goering
April, 2016

A farmer waits to receive emergency food aid in the village of Estayish in Ethiopia's northern Amhara region, February 11, 2016. Picture taken February 11, 2016.  REUTERS/Katy Migiro

A farmer waits to receive emergency food aid in the village of Estayish in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region, February 11, 2016. Picture taken February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Katy Migiro

OXFORD, England — (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Growing global wealth inequality is becoming a fundamental risk to democracy and to economies around the world as more people feel government rules are “rigged” in favour of the rich leave them with few options, investors and governance experts said this month.

“It’s very dangerous,” said Ngaire Woods, dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. “If people can’t aspire to succeed within the system, they will aspire … outside the system, in ways that break the system.”

That frustration is feeding into everything from the contentious U.S. presidential race to growing dissatisfaction over the amount of aid money that lands in the hands of rich-nation consultants rather than reaching the poor, experts said at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford.

In the United States, for example, “trickle down” economic policies that support tax cuts for the rich with the aim of boosting economic growth and jobs have led to a $2 trillion annual redistribution of wealth from the bottom 99 percent of earners to the top 1 percent over the last 30 years, said Nick Hanauer, a former venture capitalist and now head of Civic Ventures, which aims to drive social change.

If the trend continues, by 2030, the top 1 percent of Americans will earn 37 to 40 percent of the country’s income, with the bottom 50 percent getting just 6 percent, he said.

“That’s not a capitalist market economy anymore,” he warned. “That’s a feudalist system and it scares … me.”

Globally, half of the world’s wealth is now held by just 1 percent of the world’s population, according to a 2015 report by Credit Suisse, a financial services company.

That trend toward greater inequality – driven in part by tax policies and shifts such as the growing power of corporate lobbyists in the United States – is leading to the increasing belief that political systems can no longer deliver results for many people, said Darren Walker, president of the U.S.-based Ford Foundation.

Many people feel that “the political apparatus of democracy is corrupted” and the result is “dissatisfaction by huge swathes of the population about the potential of democracy to deliver anything of value and meaning to their lives,” he said.

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It is also putting the United States in an odd spot when it comes to enforcing anti-corruption rules overseas, including in the aid business, he said.

U.S. aid groups ask, “Can we really trust Africans to spend this money in the way Congress has appropriated?” Walker said. “People say, ‘Poor you, you have to bring a suitcase of money when doing things in Africa.'”

“But we have the same thing in the United States – but you don’t have to bring a suitcase. You bring a check. And you get the same effect. You give it to the officials’ fundraiser and say, ‘By the way, I need you to do this for me,'” he said.

“It’s no different (except) it’s legal,” he added. “We need to (see) our own culpability in this inequality.”

Aid agencies and social enterprises – businesses that strive for social good as well as profits – also are part of the problem when huge sums of money they spend on bringing people out of poverty in poor countries end up in the pockets of rich-world consultants, the experts said.

Donors “make a lot of fuss holding us to account on the money we get,” Woods recalled a frustrated representative of an Indonesian organisation saying. “But for every dollar we get, 80 cents stays in the beltway (around Washington DC),” she said.

Many organisations – including USAID – are now trying to improve that percentage, delegates at the Skoll Forum said. But progress in helping aid recipient countries build their own systems to take care of their own problems has been slow.


The goal of giving “capacity building grants”, Walker said, should be to make sure “you don’t need to go back to Africa. So there is a rich, robust civil society there. That’s the vision, and we’re a long way from it.”

Investing more in civil society groups in poor countries, rather than just U.N. organisations, is one way of bringing change, said Degan Ali, the executive director of Adeso, a local charity working in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

Reversing growing inequality will depend largely on revamping government policies and making rules fairer, changes that often need to be driven by public pressure, panelists said.

Those might include everything from ensuring that civil servants don’t change with each election to eliminating private schools to drive funding into improving state-run schools, the panelists and audience members said.

Woods noted that her own university education in New Zealand was funded by taxes. “That opportunity is one we’re all agreed is open to far too few people today. We have to think about why,” she said.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Ros Russell:; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)


Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Globalization: elite British golfers rue sale to Chinese investors

A practice green is seen next to the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

A practice green is seen next to the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

By Estelle Shirbon
January, 2016

Former club captain Michael Fleming poses by a portrait of Winston Churchill inside the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Former club captain Michael Fleming poses by a portrait of Winston Churchill inside the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) – London has been cosying up to Beijing in recent years in the hope of attracting Chinese investment, but in one leafy corner of England the love-in has turned to acrimony.

Long-time members of Wentworth, a hallowed golf club in the affluent county of Surrey just west of London, accuse the new Chinese owners of using an eye-watering fee hike to get rid of them and turn the club into a preserve of the global ultra-rich.

The dispute has caused diplomatic ripples, with interventions from Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who represents the local area in parliament, and from the Chinese embassy in London.

At issue is a plan by Beijing-based property and investment firm Reignwood Group, which bought Wentworth in 2014, that would require members to pay 100,000 pounds to remain part of the club and double maximum annual fees to 16,000 pounds.

“My own personal feeling is that they don’t want us,” said Michael Fleming, a local dental surgeon and Wentworth member for 28 years who has just ended a term as club captain. As for many members, the club has been central to his family’s social life.

The club says it plans to invest an initial 20 million pounds to improve facilities, with 10 million being spent in the next two years, as it pursues its vision to make Wentworth “the world’s premier private golf and country club”.

“We are absolutely clear on the important role the club plays within the community and we know that it has generated multiple friendships over the years. We very much want this to continue,” it told Reuters in an emailed response to questions.

Home to three 18-hole courses and to a striking crenellated clubhouse, Wentworth is famed throughout the golfing world for an old association with the Ryder Cup and as the venue for the annual BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.

It has about 4,500 members, mostly wealthy locals with a smattering of British TV celebrities and professional sportspeople like former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen.

Men drink in the Burma Bar at the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Men drink in the Burma Bar at the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls



Fleming said he expected about 90 percent of members to leave the club if Reignwood’s changes come into force as planned in April 2017, and a significant number had already left.

One member of 18 years, who did not wish to give his name because he did not want public attention, said Wentworth was already exclusive by most people’s standards and he could not fathom what Reignwood were trying to achieve.

“If they do have this exclusive membership, the club is going to be like a morgue. There will be nobody there. One of the essential elements of a decent club is it has a certain amount of buzz about it,” he said.

In December, Fleming delivered a petition signed by over 500 Wentworth members to the Chinese embassy in London.

In a response seen by Reuters, embassy official Jin Xu wrote that Reignwood had “established itself as a responsible investor in the UK”, concluding that “the group has assured me that their plans for Wentworth Club will serve the long-term interest of its members and local community”.

But Hammond, writing in his capacity as the area’s member of parliament, described Reignwood’s plans as “very disappointing” in a letter to a club member.

Hammond has met twice with disgruntled Wentworth members and once with representatives of Reignwood to discuss the dispute.

“It is clear to me that a solution needs to be found … which preserves the great history of the club, delivers important new investment and retains the club’s position as a great UK sporting institution,” Hammond has said in a statement.

A barman stands behind the bar of the Cocktail Bar in the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

A barman stands behind the bar of the Cocktail Bar in the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls


In China itself, golf is frowned upon as a symbol of Western values by the ruling Communist Party. In October, the party banned its 88 million members from golf club membership.

This has fuelled theories among the Wentworth community about what could lie behind Reignwood’s plans for their club, with some speculating that it would become a place for party cadres to enjoy a discreet round of golf during their travels.

Though confined to a small and well-heeled community, the conflict at Wentworth feeds into a wider debate in Britain over perceptions that prime assets are being sold off to foreigners who may not always have local interests at heart.

Concerns range from absentee Asian landlords snapping up London properties while residents face a housing shortage, to a perceived loss of national prestige and control as foreign firms take over storied British brands.

China is at the heart of the debate, with government critics voicing concerns over a plan to build a nuclear power station reliant on French technical expertise and Chinese money.

A Chinese firm owns the London Taxi Company, maker of the capital’s distinctive black cabs, and during a pomp-laden visit to London by President Xi Jinping in October it emerged that a Chinese retailer would take over world-famous toy store Hamleys.

At Wentworth, the dispute over what Reignwood euphemistically calls “the new membership structure” has fuelled strong anti-Chinese sentiment.

“Is this what the British people are to expect when the Chinese ‘invest’ in our country? We need to be more alert,” wrote a club member in one of dozens of similar comments handed over to the embassy at the same time as the petition.

The club said it was “extremely disappointed by any inference that members have been treated badly, which in turn is impacting on China’s image and image of Chinese investors in the UK”.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsy)

Related reading:

Class war returns, this time as a global issue, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs column

Many mature democracies, previously characterised by the broad social harmony that defines equitable societies, are being sucked into a new world order. We are entering a world in which most wealth, and with it political power, is in the firm grasp of a tiny minority of people who have acquired their status either by luck, imagination, skill, or — in far too many cases — feral instincts. This is a shift in the structure of human society with very real and unappetizing implications … read more.

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Class war returns, this time as a global issue

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 8, 2016

By the time 2016 is two weeks old, each one of Canada’s 100 best paid corporate chief executives will have pocketed more than three times as much as the average Canadian can expect to take home in the entire year.

On average, Canada’s top 100 CEOs banked $8.96 million* each in 2014 while other Canadians earned on average $48,636. Thus in only four days the plutocrats were paid the equivalent of the average annual salary of the rest of us.

These are the headlines in a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. This is, of course, a “left-leaning” institution, and under normal circumstances that would be a useful caveat for readers to keep in mind. But the issue of income and wealth disparity between a minute elite and the rest of us is now a matter of global concern, well beyond tub-thumping by the political left or right.

Canada and many other mature democracies, previously characterised by the broad social harmony that defines equitable societies, are being sucked into a new world order. We are joining the rapidly rising developing countries into what looks increasingly like a system of global oligarchy. We are entering a world in which most wealth, and with it political power, is in the firm grasp of a tiny minority of people who have acquired their status either by luck, imagination, skill, or — in far too many cases — feral instincts.

And the minority is tiny. A report by Credit Suisse late last year said half the world’s entire human wealth is now owned by only one per cent of people. This followed a stream of equally disturbing analyses by other prestigious organizations that have started looking seriously at the implications of global disparity and inequality. One said that the world’s three wealthiest people possess assets worth more than those of the poorest 48 nations combined. Another said the world’s 85 richest individuals have a combined wealth equal to that of the bottom half of the world’s population: about 3.5 billion people.

This is a shift in the structure of human society with very real and unappetizing implications. The prospect that young Canadians will never be able to afford to buy or even rent a suitable home in Vancouver or Toronto because of the assault on the property market by foreign oligarchs, mostly Chinese, is one obvious fall-out. Russian oligarchs’ money is having a similar effect on the housing market in New York and London, where Middle Eastern petro-dollars are also a major influence.

But there are many deeper and darker long-term concerns. Oligarchy is a system that tends to entrench itself ever more firmly as the very wealthy bend the political and social system to their own interests. Just look at the campaign for this year’s presidential election in the United States. Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize winning economist, recently noted in a scathing attack on the influence of money on American politics that half the contributions to this year’s presidential campaigns have come from fewer than 200 families.

Even in the most well-established democracies, money buys influence.

The wealth gap between the rich and the rest has been growing since about 1990 and the end of the Cold War. In the last 25 years in the United States, for example, Census Bureau statistics show the real incomes of the vast majority of people, including the most highly skilled and educated, have hardly shifted.

Meanwhile, the pay for the CEOs of the 350 largest companies in the U.S., which was 20 times that of an average worker in 1989, was 273 times higher in 2012. The gap has continued widening since then.
The picture is similar in most developed industrial countries and even more exaggerated in developing countries or those emerging from Marxist economic management or extreme socialism such as China, Russia and India.

The post-Cold War globalization of the economy has had the remarkable success of halving from two billion to one billion the number of people in the world living in absolute poverty. But at the same time, disparity in rapidly developing countries such as China, India and Brazil has rocketed ahead even faster than the improvement in general livelihoods.

Inequity in China has for well over a decade been over the red line where disparity triggers social upheaval. This is usually measured by what is known as the GINI Coefficient. This system looks at several factors in the distribution of wealth in a society and then ranks them from zero to one. Zero is perfect equity where wealth is equally distributed among the population and one is where all assets are in the hands of one person.

Most analysts reckon that 0.4 is the red line, and that once a society becomes more unequal than that, social disruption will ensue. China’s GINI number has been fudged by the Beijing authorities for several years, like many of the country’s other embarrassing statistics. Beijing admits to a GINI number of 0.45, though various outside estimates put it much higher, some well over 0.7.

Canada’s GINI Coefficient number is about 0.32, which sounds impressive until one looks at it in context.
In the 1980s Canada was a much more equitable country than it is now, with the GINI rolling along between 0.28 and 0.29 for much of the decade. As in the rest of the world, the end of the Cold War triggered the era when the rich got much, much richer.

A recent report by the Conference Board of Canada divided the Canadian population into five income brackets – quintiles – and looked at how they had done over the past 25 years.

The richest group, the top quintile, now owns 39.1 per cent of Canada’s economic pie, up from 36.5 per cent in 1990. This top group is the only section of society to have benefited in the last 25 years. The wealth of every other economic group of Canadians has either remained stagnant or shrunk.

The picture is no prettier if we look beyond Canada’s borders. The same Conference Board report compares Canada’s GINI ranking with those of our 17 fellow industrialized nations. Canada comes in at 12th, between Switzerland and Japan. As might be expected, it is the northern European countries Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Finland and Sweden in that order who have the least wealth disparity, though they also have suffered attacks of plutocracy.

The main spark for the current stream of analysis of disparity was the 2008-2009 global recession, set off by the collapse of several of the main pillars of capitalism in the U.S. Questions about the sustainability, durability and suitability of American-style capitalism spurred the Occupy movement, which mounted demonstrations at several international economic summits. These sometimes violent protests gave an alarming glimpse into the future if the issues of social instability caused by wealth disparity are not addressed.

The collapse and the protests therefore launched much scholastic study, such as the 2013 tome Capital in the 21st Century, by French economist Thomas Piketty. Piketty’s 700-page manifesto boils down to the argument that when the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of growth of an economy, widening economic disparity between the rich and the rest is inevitable.

It is a compelling argument that has set off much political and academic exploration of the socially acceptable limits of capitalism and free market economics.

There are many lists, some long, some short, setting out what has triggered the drive towards global oligarchy. But there are two associated events at the core. One was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the realization both in the old Soviet Bloc and in China that classic communist central economic planning doesn’t work. The opening of these countries to a form of managed free market economics had a profound effect, especially in China where it opened to the world a vast storehouse of cheap labour used to working under conditions of near slavery. Western investors jumped at this opportunity with little concern for the repercussions on their own societies. Manufacturing industries in the North Atlantic basin migrated east in droves.

This economic globalization is the second factor in growing disparity. In every case one looks at, the fruits of globalization have gone disproportionately to the oligarch classes.

An interesting example is Taiwan, once like Canada a highly equitable society with a GINI Coefficient ranking of around 0.3. That was until the current Taipei government of President Ma Ying-jeou, which came to power in 2008, embarked on a drive to improve relations with China by removing economic barriers to trade and investment. This resulted in an Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement, which came into force early in 2010.

The agreement did indeed boost the economic relationship across the Taiwan Strait. The bottom line numbers look good. But the profits went into the pockets of already rich industrialists in Taiwan while the jobs of many of the island’s 23 million people disappeared into China. Taiwan’s GINI Coefficient now stands at over 0.5 according to several analysts, well over the red line.

Still, unlike China, Taiwan is a democracy and next weekend the island’s voters will choose a new president and parliament. All the indications are they will back the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which has serious doubts that cozying up to China under its current regime is a good idea for anyone.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

*Funds in Canadian dollars

Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com


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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Divided we fall


May, 2015 

The popular image that Americans like to have of themselves is of one nation, undivided, standing together with friends and against foes, that there is no problem that the American people cannot overcome, symbolized most vividly in the image of the melting pot – that no matter where you come from, no matter what your race or ethnic background, it will all disappear one day and you will become an American.

Horse hockey.

 I tend to think of myself as an optimist. I try to look for the best in people, in situations, and in life in general. But I’m growing increasingly pessimistic about the future of the United States of America. Increasingly I see America is not one but two countries: one is rich, white, older, male, conservative, hyper-religious, racist, bigoted and misogynist. The other America is populated with people of colour, the poor, the young, individuals who do not fit into the status quo notion of sexual or gender stereotypes, women (especially poor women of colour), and those who I referred to as progressive “white refugees,” who have fled conservative white America and what it stands for. 

The size of the first group above is shrinking and in some cases dramatically so, while the second group is growing both in numbers and in political clout. This terrifies the first group, and they have decided to defend their beliefs (and the privileges that go along with them) at any cost. The result is an increasing gap in almost every category you can measure.

According to a recently released survey, America now has the fourth largest gap between rich and poor in the world. Only Turkey, Chile and Mexico fare worse. When you consider the incredible wealth of the world’s only superpower, this is a staggering statistic. It illustrates how wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals who spend much of their time only trying to make sure that the system is rigged to concentrate even more economic power in their hands. 

You can see this divide in the comments of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, when he told a small group of wealthy supporters that 47% of people in the country are basically freeloaders totally dependent upon the government for everything.

You increasingly see this gap occurring around issues about race. How many more Fergusons or Baltimores or New Yorks or Clevelands are we going to need before we face the truth that there is an ugly streak of institutionalized racism that run through police departments across this nation? But those in the first group don’t want to face this issue. Their thoughts on the subject can best be summed up in a recent statement by Politico conservative writer Rich Lowry who said that “Not all black lives are worth saving.”

Politically, you see this gap widening almost day by day over issues like gay marriage, immigration, womens’s reproductive health, climate change, contraception, programs that support the poor, health-care, gun legislation, treatment of minorities like Muslims, and the list goes on and on. While there have always been differences on these and many other important issues between these two groups, in the last decade has become a veritable chasm of Grand Canyon proportions. 

And I’m afraid that the very medium on which you are reading this column is part of the reason. The Internet, for all the many positive things it does, has basically allowed Americans to read only those views that basically support the biases or prejudices that they hold. When added to the influence of cable TV news channels that only present liberal or conservative viewpoints, and in the case of a channel like Fox “News,” views that are often distorted lies and manipulated information masquerading as “the truth,” people can go months without ever actually stumbling across an opposing point of view.

Never has there been a time when we have more access to information and so little exposure to facts.

I wish I could offer you some kind of a solution, some kind of a 30,000 foot-view that basically said it’s all okay, it’ll all work out okay. But I really can’t. Both sides are entrenched for the long run, with little hope of a truce on the horizon. I certainly can’t pretend that I see both groups equally – I absolutely find myself in the latter group, constantly bemoaning the actions of the former. But as much as I find some of their actions despicable I would be more than willing to compromise to something that both sides could agree to.

Maybe right now I just can’t see the forest for the trees, but there are so many trees, so many issues that demand our attention, but will probably never be dealt with. 

Because how can you solve a problem when you can’t even agree on what the problem actually is? And that is America’s problem.




These Countries Have The Widest Gap Between The Rich And The Poor, Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/29/countries-rich-poor-gap_n_7471214.html


Copyright Tom Regan 2015 

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com


Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.







Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation (below), by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

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Noteworthy: prescriptions on inequality

Worth reading:  A joint American-British report today prescribed new policies aimed at reducing the growing gulf between haves and have-nots in Western democracies, using case studies from several countries.

Lawrence Summers

Lawrence Summers

The middle class has not fared well lately in advanced economies roiled by globalization, technological change and a shift in economic power from people to corporations, said the report. Headed by Lawrence Summers and Lawrence Balls, it said “economic growth, even coupled with productivity growth, is no longer enough to ensure middle-class income growth.” It called for “progressive public policy choices … to ensure that all of their citizens share in economic success.”

Produced by the Center for American Progress, the report cites case studies and makes recommendations on minimum wages, family-friendly labour standards, profit sharing, education, infrastructure investment, governance and climate change. Its recommendations aim to “create stable, sustainable growth by encouraging both the public and private sectors to focus on the long term,” and calls for cross-national cooperation to “boost economic and financial stability, all the while preventing a race to the bottom on international tax competition.”  An excerpt:

History tells us that societies succeed when the fruits of growth are broadly shared. Indeed, no society has ever succeeded without a large, prospering middle class* that embraced the idea of progress. Today, the ability of free-market democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before. The primary challenge democracies face is neither military nor philosophical. Rather, for the first time since the Great Depression, many industrial democracies are failing to raise living standards and provide opportunities for social mobility to a large share of their people. Some of those countries that have produced economic growth have done so in a manner that has left most of their citizens no better off. This is an economic problem that threatens to become a problem for the political systems of these nations—and for the idea of democracy itself.

The citizens of industrial democracies continue to value their freedom and their opportunity to participate in the task of self-government. But they also count on their political systems to create circumstances in which they can use their talents and their labor to provide a decent standard of life for themselves and their families. When democratic governments and market systems cannot deliver such prosperity to their citizens, the result is political alienation, a loss of social trust, and increasing conflict across the lines of race, class, and ethnicity. Inclusive prosperity nurtures tolerance, harmony, social generosity, optimism, and international cooperation. And these are essential for democracy itself.

The economic troubles of the democracies also erode support for the democratic idea around the globe. In our time, advocates and apologists for anti-democratic regimes argue that the democracies are no longer capable of managing their problems or creating a sense of social dynamism. Democracies are cast as sclerotic, inefficient, and ungovernable. We believe that this critique is wrong today, as it has been historically. But countering this persistent attack on democracy requires that free economic and political systems restore their vitality and reclaim their ability to deliver on the promise of prosperity for all.

It has always been the mission of progressives to ensure rising prosperity and opportunity. A strong, inclusive economy is the platform for a socially mobile, optimistic, and successful society. While the economic mission of progressives is unchanging, the means of its achievement change from generation to generation as the economy evolves. Today, we are living in the age of globalization and technological revolution. Both have delivered much benefit to society, but have reshaped the political economy of western industrialized countries in ways that challenge the middle class and those striving to get into it.

Our report is about embracing the new economic opportunities of the 21st century by finding ways to ensure they serve the vast majority of society. In previous eras, political institutions have responded to economic transformations to ensure prosperity is shared: the New Deal in the United States and the European social welfare state; the “third-way” politics of putting people first of Clinton and Blair by investing in people and reforming institutions. Just as it took the New Deal and the European social welfare state to make the Industrial Revolution work for the many and not the few during the 20th century, we need new social and political institutions to make 21st century capitalism work for the many and not the few. …. read Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity on the site of the Center for American Progress. (You will leave F&O’s site)


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Ferguson’s Damned Details

The Grand Jury decision Nov. 24  not to indict Darren Wilson ignited protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Jesse Chan-Norris via Flickr, Creative Commons

The Grand Jury decision on Nov. 24, not to indict Darren Wilson, ignited protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Jesse Chan-Norris via Flickr, Creative Commons


November 25, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri, burst into flames after Monday night’s announcement that a grand jury found no cause to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 9. Some 700 National Guard troops were immediately summoned, with 2,200 reinforcements added Tuesday, to quell rioting.

Darren Wilson, photographed in a medical office after shooting dead Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo released by the St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office photo

Darren Wilson, photographed in a medical office after shooting dead Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo released by the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office

As many words as tears have been spilled in the killing. (See below for selected documents and journalism that offer a fairly comprehensive overview of the case.)

Here are some thoughts about Ferguson, offered from a relatively safe, calm and quiet seat in Canada, thousands of kilometres and a culture removed from Missouri.

The world news is filled with the unceasing slaughter of warfare, natural disasters and disease, and yet for months the little town of Ferguson, near St. Louis, has topped international reports.

The killing that made it famous seems almost mundane: men clashed on a street on a summer night, and a nondescript police officer killed a typical young man.

To consider the facts of Brown’s death ordinary is not to downplay the horror, nor to disregard the impact of the tragedy on everyone involved. But, sadly, it’s a fact that people  around the world are regularly killed by local police; on Sunday in Cleveland, Ohio, a 12-year-old boy carrying a replica gun was fatally shot by a policeman. Few such killings receive the intense scrutiny Ferguson has experienced.

Brown’s death has drawn such attention that the United Nation’s human rights chief  issued a statement  today on the “disproportionate killings of African-Americans by U.S.police.” In the wake of Monday’s grand jury decision, my social and news media was deluged with opinions about it by every expert alongside every Tom, Dick and Harriette. The riots have been widely reported on every continent, and protests staged in many American and foreign cities.


The story of Ferguson is deceptively simple, and beguiling: a tale of authorities versus delinquents, blacks versus whites. devils versus angels. Officer Wilson compared 18-year-old Brown’s appearance that night to “a demon” in his testimony to the Grand Jury. Demonstrators in Ferguson, and elsewhere, have screamed for Wilson’s head as a killer, while emphasizing Brown’s loving family and academic interests. The rush to judgement of all parties began long before the grand jury considered the case, and the decision against laying charges only inflamed the protests, as well as sparking criticism of the jury and the process.

Michael Brown at his high school graduation, shortly before he was killed. Photo from St. Louis Public Radio

Michael Brown at his high school graduation this year. Photo from St. Louis Public Radio

I know almost nothing about Darren Wilson’s character, skills, education, training, perspectives, or motivation on the night he shot Brown dead. I have equally little information about Brown. But here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure that most of the people pronouncing on the case are equally ignorant.

I am, however, certain of one thing: Wilson is not the devil Brown’s defenders have made him out to be. Even if the policeman is eventually found criminally culpable, he cannot fairly be cast as the central villain of Ferguson’s and America’s woes. Not only would that be too easy, it would let the true villains off the hook.

The real devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. The details that have made Ferguson a global news story have little to do with Brown, or Wilson, or even their home town.

From this foreigner’s perspective, the devilish details lie in America’s obsession with the colour of people’s skin, its tragic history of slavery and discrimination, a racial divide that is worsening as the promise of the Civil Rights Movement fades, and well-documented social and economic inequality. 

That Missouri’s Grand Jury did not indict Wilson for Brown’s death may turn out to be a good thing, even if the policeman is blameworthy.

Without Wilson as a scapegoat, without criminal charges to toss like red meat to the crowds of enraged protesters, Ferguson and America cannot ignore the social, racial, economic and political context of Wilson and Brown’s clash on the street that August night.

The Grand Jury did not provide simple black and white solutions. America remains under a shroud of grey. 

Copyright Deborah Jones 2014

Contact: Editor@factsandopinions.com


 The Marshall Project:  Collated news and opinion items about Ferguson
Moyers and Company: What We’re Reading About Ferguson
U.S. and international reporting on Ferguson by the New York Times;  BBCFrance 24;  South China Morning Post; and Russian Television (RT.com) 

Original documents:

Guide to the Facts and Issues  and Evidence released from the Grand Jury, collated by St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s press stream, of videos and news releases

What next?

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in October announced a Ferguson Commission, tasked to:

  • “Conduct a thorough, wide-ranging and unflinching study of the social and economic conditions underscored by the unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown; 
  • “Second, to tap the expertise needed to address the concerns identified by the Commission – from poverty and education, to governance and law enforcement; 
  • “And third, to offer specific recommendations for making this region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.”

Related works in F&O’s archives:

Deadly Force in Black and White America. By Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones and Eric Sagara, ProPublica

An analysis of statistics supports what has been an article of faith in the United States’ African American community for decades: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population. Young American black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.  

Michael Brown, Ferguson and the nature of unrest. By Garrett Albert Duncan, The Conversation

Many Americans share president Barack Obama’s sentiment regarding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This is clearly indicated in the deeply felt hurt experienced by so many and the massive swell of moral support people of all backgrounds offered to the young man’s parents in recent days. But to suggest that all, or even most, Americans feel the same would be severely misleading.

Six Days in Ferguson: Voices from the Protests. By Lois Beckett, ProPublica

On the afternoon of Saturday, August 9, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown. The killing sparked immediate protests in Ferguson which was followed by a heavily militarized police response that drew national condemnation. Here is a day-by-day chronology of what happened in Ferguson, drawn from the best reporting by journalists and witnesses on the ground. 


Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate and need your support: please click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up using the form on the right side of our Frontlines blog to receive posts by email. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com. 

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