Militarization as Global Urban Policy

This post at Crooks and Liars, relating the use of Blackwater for security operations in the aftermath the exepcted disaster of hurricane Gustav touches upon what I think is an important topic: the militarization of urban centers and the suppression of dissent and disorder in the name of security (Blackwater had also been used in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, with some disturbing consequences).

This trend was also brought forth when Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi decided to deploy 3,000 soldiers in large Italian cities.

This constitutes another layer, the hard power layer (as opposed to the soft layer of extensive networks of video surveillance), of the rise of the surveillance society against targeted populations (immigrants, potential political protesters, etc.).

This is not something limited to the large cities of the core. Such militarization is also present in the world-cities of the periphery, as noted by Raúl Zibechi from the Americas program at the Center for International Policy.

"Urban peripheries in Third World countries have become war zones where states attempt to maintain order based on the establishment of a sort of "sanitary cordon" to keep the poor isolated from "normal" society."

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The Problem with Palin

[Update: just go read Zuzu]

First, it is ridiculous to see the former progressive blogosphere all up in arms over the fact that McCain chose a social conservative Republican as his running mate. Who the hell did they think he was going to pick? Russ Feingold??

The real problem is this, as best explained by Anglachel (as always):

"The real elephant (ahem) in the middle of the room is the unacknowledged fact that the DNC and their selected candidate abused the intelligence and trust of the party base and subjected the base’s preferred candidate to outrageous abuse month after month in the primaries. The blogosphere’s hysterical overreaction to the Palin selection reveals the fear that their hate-filled, explicitly misogynist tactics will backfire on them and that a significant enough percentage of this disaffected base will do more than sit out the election in November, but will actively cast a protest vote.

Clinton Democrats know exactly how revolting the Republican ticket is. That’s why we voted for Hillary. That’s why we rejected the Obama message of bipartisanship and content-free hopey-changey. Obamacans were the ones happy to play patty-cake with these bastards and throw our economic and legal concerns into the toilet. Hillary is still out there fighting for UHC, btw, while Obama’s good buddy John Kerry declares that a Democratic Congress isn’t even going to try to get it in front of a Democratic president."

And lest we forget, Obama was bringing up the "message of bipartisanship and content-free hopey-changey" at his Convention speech.

The DNC, Obamacans and the nominee have painted themselves in a corner. That’s what the problem is. Clinton Democrats and women are not going to vote for Palin. But if MSNBC, the fever swamp over at Daily Kos and elsewhere in the so-called blogosphere and the DNC go all misogynyst assholes as they have done in the primary, it might depress women’s turnout for Obama enough to make a difference.

And while they’re at it, the ageist stuff is also a great idea, because we know seniors don’t vote in large numbers… oh wait… are these people willfully stupid?

The Olympics and Gender, Race, Global Stratification, and Nationalism

Rachel has a great and thought-provoking post over at her place on the Olympics through the prism of sociological theories, based on a student’s report using multicultural functionalism to analyze the events (why do we even bother with that perspective, every time, we find it so wanting it’s amazing that we still use it so centrally in basic sociology courses). Anyhoo, from Rachel’s post:

"In my student’s view, the Olympics were great because they brought all the people of the world together. Furthermore, everybody was competing on an equal playing field. He also felt that the spirit of the Olympic movement wiped out race, class, gender, and sexuality issues. In other words, the Olympics made all of these things moot, and nobody cared about any of these things when watching the Olympics."

The student did not make a mistake, this is truly how a functionalist would look at the Olympics… and miss most of the story there. It seems to me that functionalism operates more as blinders rather than as a sociological theory that opens one’s eyes to social dynamics at work.

Rachel then takes that view to task and to examine the Olympics from a more conflict perspective:

"Let’s start with gender. If you watched careful, there were a few occasions when I saw events for men labeled in a neutral way–i.e. the basketball finals– but events for women were labeled as women’s events–i.e. the women’s basketball finals. Isn’t it interesting that even though women participate in most sports at the Olympics, the men’s events are still central in most of those sports. I’ve also noticed that some countries have significantly fewer successful women athletes, and that is often related to the limited number of opportunities for women to compete in those countries. Think about those Kenyan and Ethiopian runners–it has only been recent that women in those countries have been recruited and trained to run like their male counterparts. (…)

What about Patriotism and ethnocentrism? As a very public sociologist noted in the thread last week, the US media listed the medal count as opposed to the gold medal count. China ran away with the gold medal count, but I guess it makes us look better to note that we won more over all medals. You could also see the bias in coverage. For the most part if the US wasn’t doing good in an even, then the coverage of that even was either non-existent or relegated to a sound bite."

And then, Rachel moves on to global stratification and immigration. As they say, go read the whole thing.

Social Injustice Lowers Life Expectancy

So says a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) titled Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health. Actually, their language is even stronger: inequities are killing people on a grand scale. As the press release states,

"A child born in a Glasgow, Scotland suburb can expect a life 28 years shorter than another living only 13 kilometres away. A girl in Lesotho is likely to live 42 years less than another in Japan. In Sweden, the risk of a woman dying during pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 17 400; in Afghanistan, the odds are 1 in 8. Biology does not explain any of this. Instead, the differences between – and within – countries result from the social environment where people are born, live, grow, work and age."

The report investigates precisely these social determinants of health, especially health inequities defined as "unfair, unjust and avoidable causes of ill health." The report not only examines health inequities between countries but also what it calls health gradients, that is, health inequities within countries:

  • Life expectancy for Indigenous Australian males is shorter by 17 years than all other Australian males.
  • Maternal mortality is 3–4 times higher among the poor compared to the rich in Indonesia. The difference in adult mortality between least and most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK is more than 2.5 times.
  • Child mortality in the slums of Nairobi is 2.5 times higher than in other parts of the city. A baby born to a Bolivian mother with no education has 10% chance of dying, while one born to a woman with at least secondary education has a 0.4% chance.
  • In the United States, 886 202 deaths would have been averted between 1991 and 2000 if mortality rates between white and African Americans were equalized. (This contrasts to 176 633 lives saved in the US by medical advances in the same period.)
  • In Uganda the death rate of children under 5 years in the richest fifth of households is 106 per 1000 live births but in the poorest fifth of households in Uganda it is even worse – 192 deaths per 1000 live births – that is nearly a fifth of all babies born alive to the poorest households destined to die before they reach their fifth birthday. Set this against an average death rate for under fives in high income countries of 7 deaths per 1000.

These health gradients are in turn related to social gradients: the poor are worse off than the less deprived, the less deprived are worse off than the average income earners, etc. These social gradients are found in all countries, from the poorest to the richest.

Another important point noted in the report is that wealth or economic growth are not the major factors in reducing health inequities. Mechanisms of redistribution work better:

"Economic growth is raising incomes in many countries but increasing national wealth alone does not necessarily increase national health. Without equitable distribution of benefits, national growth can even exacerbate inequities. (…)

Wealth alone does not have to determine the health of a nation’s population. Some low-income countries such as Cuba, Costa Rica, China, state of Kerala in India and Sri Lanka have achieved levels of good health despite relatively low national incomes. But, the Commission points out, wealth can be wisely used. Nordic countries, for example, have followed policies that encouraged equality of benefits and services, full employment, gender equity and low levels of social exclusion. This, said the Commission, is an outstanding example of what needs to be done everywhere."

In other words, and unsurprisingly, social democratic models tend to work best rather than leaving it more or less to market mechanisms.

The report also notes that solutions to many of these problems are social and not to be narrowly confined in the health sector:

"Much of the work to redress health inequities lies beyond the health sector. According to the Commission’s report, "Water-borne diseases are not caused by a lack of antibiotics but by dirty water, and by the political, social, and economic forces that fail to make clean water available to all; heart disease is caused not by a lack of coronary care units but by lives people lead, which are shaped by the environments in which they live; obesity is not caused by moral failure on the part of individuals but by the excess availability of high-fat and high-sugar foods." Consequently, the health sector – globally and nationally – needs to focus attention on addressing the root causes of inequities in health."

It is therefore the job of governments to provide the social conditions that promote health and healthy lifestyle rather than just medical interventions. This is a very activist stance and a very liberal one (not very surprising considering the presence of Amartya SenWikipedia page – on the committee). So what are the committee’s recommendations?

"Based on this compelling evidence, the Commission makes three overarching recommendations to tackle the "corrosive effects of inequality of life chances":

  • Improve daily living conditions, including the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.
  • Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources – the structural drivers of those conditions – globally, nationally and locally.

Note the Weberian reference to life chances and the thoroughly sociological perspective.

In addition to these three overarching recommendations, the committee has more specific ones, as noted by Rachel Stevenson in the Guardian:

  • Quality care for all mothers and children from the child’s birth.
  • Compulsory primary and secondary education for all children, regardless of ability to pay.
  • Improved living conditions, such as water, sanitation, paved roads and affordable housing for all.
  • Health equity at the centre of all urban planning, for example, using designs that promote physical activity.
  • Full and fair employment, with improved working conditions and wages that take into account the real cost of living.
  • Universal welfare programmes that ensure everyone has the level of income needed for healthy living.
  • Universal health care provision.
  • The highest level of government taking responsibility for action on health, and all government policies being assessed for their impact on health equity.
  • Increase public spending on tackling the social determinants of health.
  • Ensure rich countries honour their commitments to increase aid and debt relief to poorer countries.
  • Ensure international finance institutions use transparent terms and conditions for international borrowing and lending.
  • Reinforce the role of the state in providing basic services such as water/sanitation and regulating goods such as tobacco, alcohol, and food.
  • Address gender biases through anti-discrimination laws, providing equal opportunities and pay for men and women.
  • Establish national and global surveillance systems for routine monitoring of health inequity and the social determinants of health, such as the compulsory registering of all births, free of charge to the parents/carers.
  • Make health equity a global development goal, and strengthen multilateral action.
  • Measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action.

Again, these involve a very specific and interventionist policy framework. The question, as usual, will be how much of this will be payed lip service to, while more or less ignored.

Youth as Potentially Criminal Condition

I have already written about the treatment of youths as a dangerous class. This is indeed a disturbing trend that seems to have spread on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. The idea is to find more extensive ways of monitoring youth behavior (as a component of the surveillance society that treats the youths with categorical suspicion) and to increase the sanctions for any type of behavior that is perceived as anti-social. Part of this is to treat any deviant behavior at any age as revealing on innate traits that cannot be corrected but only punished (see this case as well).

It goes without saying that the youths targeted for such increased surveillance and sanctioning belong to specific social classes (the bottom of the social ladder) and racial / ethnic categories (non-White). As mentioned before, the capacity to avoid the massive monitoring apparatus of the surveillance society has become a new dimension of social stratification where the lower classes are subjected to extensive levels of surveillance, control and sanction and the upper classes have the means of avoiding these mechanisms.

Sociologist Mike Males has done extensive work on this through his own books and articles (website) but also through his organization, Youth Facts. His work has been pointing out over and over that a lot of these increasingly severe measures are not based on facts and sound data but on absurd perceptions.

When it comes to reports (from politicians or the media) regarding youth behavior, Males’s advice is simple: believe nothing you read. One’s main source of information on this topic should be Youth Facts’ website. It does a thorough debunking job.

The World’s Most Powerful Women

Forbes just published its annual list of the most powerful women in the world, so, let’s take a quick look at the rankings:

"The most powerful woman in the world, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tops the list for the third year running as the ranking democratically elected female leader. Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the embattled U.S. bank-deposit insurer, debuts in second place as she tries to stave off financial panic amid a worldwide credit crisis.

At No. 3, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo is the highest-ranked woman in business as she expands the food and beverage giant internationally to counter a decline in Americans’ preference for soda and chips.

Angela Braly (No. 4), the head of big health insurer WellPoint, suffered a setback this spring when her downward revision of financial forecasts caused a stock tumble, sparking investor and employee ire.

At No. 5, Cynthia Carroll is leading mining giant Anglo-American to riches in the commodities boom. Kraft chief Irene Rosenfeld (No. 6), is slowly turning around the mac ‘n cheese maker in her second year on the job, scoring a big hit in China with a new Oreo.

In the last few months of her tenure, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (No. 7) faces a myriad of diplomatic flare-ups: an unstable Pakistan, a bellicose Russia and the long-smoldering Middle East peace question. Ho Ching (No. 8), the head of Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek, has been moving more of the city-state’s money abroad and now owns 15% of Merrill Lynch.

In France, Areva head Anne Lauvergeon (No. 9) has been dealing with public fallout from this summer’s leaks at two nuclear plants, even as France has announced plans to build more. Anne Mulcahy (No. 10) has doubled her research and development budget to focus on color printing and eco-friendly technologies.

These women top a far-flung list that comprises 54 businesswomen and 23 politicians, with the rest being media execs and personalities and nonprofit leaders. A third are newcomers to the rankings; this reflects not only new top positions for women, such as Starcom MediaVest’s Laura Desmond (No. 55) and Enterprise’s Pamela Nicholson (No. 93), but also the increasingly global reach of this list, with more women from outside the U.S. rising to worldwide prominence.

Just under half the women ranked this year are based outside of the U.S. Top countries represented include the U.K. (five women), China (four), France, India and the Netherlands (three apiece). Morocco has its first ranked woman this year: Hynd Bouhia (No. 29), director-general of the Casablanca Stock Exchange.

Candidates for our list are globally recognized women at the top of their fields: chief executives and their highest-ranked lieutenants, elected officials, nonprofit leaders. They don’t have to be rich, but they do have to wield significant influence. This year, an architect, a war correspondent and several foundation executives all won spots on the list.

We measure power as a composite of public profile–calculated using press mentions–and financial heft. This year, for instance, the woman with the highest public profile is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, No. 28, who garnered intense media scrutiny for her failed U.S. presidential bid."

All told, these women control $28 trillion worldwide.

The full list (with pictures) is here.

This list is certainly a tribute to corporate power and globalization.

Michelle Obama will probably make the list next year.

Some others who did not make the cut: Ellen Malcolm, founder of EMILY’s List, Cindy McCain, Sarah Palin, Navanethen Pillay, UN Human Rights Commissioner.

Nancy Pelosi ranks 35 and Oprah Winfrey, 36. Aung San Suu Kyi is number 38. Laura Bush at 44. Queen Elizabeth II (according to Forbes, occupation: "Queen") is number 58.

Meredith Vieira ranks 61, Katie Couric, 62, Barbara Walters at 63 and Diane Sawyer at 65… really? I think this overestimates these women’s influence on a global scale.

Very few academics (I spotted one). But those of us who are part of academia know that this is not the most progressive environment for women, to say the least.

Sociology and Political Activism

Over at Scatterplot, Andrew Perrin has a post criticizing another post by Steve Vaiseys over at Orgtheory (a post ridden with gross overgeneralizations, I might add and the author acknowledges himself). Says Perrin:

"Apparently because sociologists tend to be “liberal” (as useless a term as that is), we are less objective than we ought to be and we think stuff for partisan, as opposed to soundly scientific, reasons. (I am paraphrasing here, of course.)"

This is not a new discussion within sociology. Heck, it all goes back to Max Weber‘s idea of value-free social science.

This also reminded me of a discussion, both on and offline, regarding the role of public sociology especially when Michael Burawoy was president of the American Sociological Association, pushing for more intervention in the public sphere, talking to powers, etc. On the other side were people like Mathieu Deflem arguing that sociology needed to be saved from the likes of Burawoy.

On the public sociology side, Burawoy, I think, argued for promoting sociological ideas and translating them into programs of political actions or using sociology to push certain political agendas in matter of inequalities, environmental degradation, etc.. Contra this attitude, Deflem argued that this meant throwing away the scientific nature of sociology (by turning it into political activism) and that it limited the scope of sociological research by narrowing it down to a list of issues and excluding others. Bottom line: the Marxists were taking over.

It is worth noting that Deflem’s page criticizing public sociology has not been updated since 2006 whereas I attended a bunch of sessions on public sociology as couple of weeks ago at the ASA conference.

Personally, I think this is a false dichotomy that reinforces the stereotype that sociologists are all a bunch of lefties. It seems to me that a lot of research (think marriage and family) do support a liberal view of social issues.

There is really no reason why political intervention should come at the expenses of empirical and methodological rigor and people like Bruce Western combine both public intervention with methodological sophistication. And not everybody who wishes to see sociology less confined to the ivory tower and more involved in society is a Marxist. That kind of gross overgeneralization, irrespective of Burawoy’s personal persuasion, is not helpful.

I also think the work done at a lot of socblogs find their own place on the ivory tower – public sociology continuum. Some are strictly academics (for and by academics), others – hopefully, like mine – try to strike a balance between addressing social issues with sociological tools. The efforts of Contexts should also be seen from that perspective… not a bunch of Marxists, from what I can tell.

If anything, the only thing that sociology needs to be rescued from, is its inability to carve its own public place, something that economics and psychology have been more successful at doing for a variety of reasons.

The Sad State of Obama’s Party

It tells you everything you need to know when a post like this is even necessary, or this one:

"But let’s state this flatly, right here, right now — where you don’t attack Palin is based on her looks. Based on her femininity. Based on her being a mother. Based on her XX genotype. Sarah Palin is a former Miss Alaska, and conventionally attractive. But that doesn’t mean her mind is irrelevant to the discussion, that her experience as a Mayor or Governor is somehow worthless. (…)

Palin should be judged in the same way any other candidate for the vice presidency should be judged — on her merit as a candidate and a leader. Period. Attack her record and attack her experience — those must be on the table. But her gender — that should be off the table, period."

Or when Liss McEwan has to start another sexism watch for Sarah Palin.

But this should not be surprising. The nomination of Barack Obama shows that

  • sexism works
  • race-baiting works
  • bullying works

In other words, behaving like Republicans works.

World Poverty: Greater and More Widespread than Previously estimated

Via the BBC,

“The World Bank has warned that world poverty is much greater than previously thought.

It has revised its previous estimate and now says that 1.4 billion people live in poverty, based on a new poverty line of $1.25 per day.

This is substantially more than its earlier estimate of 985 million people living in poverty in 2004.

The Bank has also revised upwards the number it said were poor in 1981, from 1.5 billion to 1.9 billion.

The new estimates suggest that poverty is both more persistent, and has fallen less sharply, than previously thought.

However, given the increase in world population, the poverty rate has still fallen from 50% to 25% over the past 25 years.

“This is pretty grim analysis coming from the World Bank,” said Elizabeth Stuart, senior policy advisor at Oxfam.

“The urgency to act has never been greater, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where half the population of the continent lives in extreme poverty, a figure that hasn’t changed for over 25 years.”

The new figures confirm that Africa has been the least successful region of the world in reducing poverty.

The number of poor people in Africa doubled between 1981 and 2005 from 200 million to 380 million, and the depth of poverty is greater as well, with the average poor person living on just 70 cents per day.

The poverty rate is unchanged at 50% since 1981.

But in absolute numbers, it is South Asia which has the most poor people, with 595 million, of which 455 million live in India.

The poverty rate, however, has fallen from 60% to 40%.

China has been most successful in reducing poverty, with the numbers falling by more than 600 million, from 835 million in 1981 to 207 million in 2005.

The poverty rate in China has plummeted from 85% to 15.9%, with the biggest part of that drop coming in the past 15 years, when China opened up to Western investment and its coastal regions boomed.

In fact, in absolute terms, China accounts for nearly all the world’s reduction in poverty. In percentage terms, world poverty excluding China fell from 40% to 30% over the past 25 years.

Sobering news.

This is What a Democrat Sounds Like

Hillary took everybody to school last night and showed them how it’s done:

  • It’s about fighting for social justice
  • It’s about fighting for the disadvantaged
  • It’s about fighting for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights
  • It’s NOT about hopey-changey BS
  • It’s NOT about religious pandering

If anything, she highlighted the lack of liberal / progressive substance in Obama. He still needs to convince that he will fight for the agenda she has laid out… something, of course, he has never done so far.

Feminism on the Eve of Hillary Clinton’s Speech at the Convention

As a follow-up to my post on Stephanie Coontz’s column in the Guardian, Kim, of Aussie SocBlog Larvatus Prodeo, has a post on the social benefits provided by feminism (the real kind, not feminism of convenience).

Also, we should all take note of Susan Faludi‘s (her latest book, The Terror Dream, is a must-read) column in the New York Times. In her column, Faludi draws parallels between Hillary Clinton’s defeat and the persistent lack of "getting over it" on the part of her supporters and the disappointing aftermath of the suffrage movement.

"The despondency of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters — or their “vitriolic” and “rabid” wrath, as the punditry prefers to put it — has been the subject of perplexed and often irritable news media speculation. Why don’t these dead-enders get over it already and exit stage right?

Shouldn’t they be celebrating, not protesting? After all, Hillary Clinton’s campaign made unprecedented strides. She garnered 18 million-plus votes, and proved by her solid showing that a woman could indeed be a viable candidate for the nation’s highest office. She didn’t get the gold, but in this case isn’t a silver a significant triumph?

Many Clinton supporters say no, and to understand their gloom, one has to take into account the legacy of American women’s political struggle, in which long yearned for transformational change always gives way before a chorus of “not now” and “wait your turn,” and in which every victory turns out to be partial or pyrrhic. Indeed, the greatest example of this is the victory being celebrated tonight: the passage of women’s suffrage. The 1920 benchmark commemorated as women’s hour of glory was experienced in its era as something more complex, and darker.

Suffrage was, like Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, not merely a cause in itself, but a symbolic rallying point, a color guard for a regiment of other ideas. But while the color guard was ushered into the palace of American law, its retinue was turned away.(…)

The grail of female franchise yielded little meaningful progress in the years to follow. Two-thirds of the few women who served in Congress in the 1920s were filling the shoes of their dead husbands, and most of them failed to win re-election. The one woman to ascend to the United States Senate had a notably brief career: in 1922, Rebecca Felton, 87, was appointed to warm the seat for a newly elected male senator until he could be sworn in. Her term lasted a day.

Within the political establishment, women could exact little change, and the parties gave scant support to female politicians. In 1920, Emily Newell Blair, the Democratic vice chairwoman, noted that the roster of women serving on national party committees looked like a “Who’s Who” of American women; by 1929, they’d been shown the door and replaced with the compliant. The suffragist Anne Martin bitterly remarked that women in politics were “exactly where men political leaders wanted them: bound, gagged, divided and delivered to the Republican and Democratic Parties.""

And as I am typing this, on an evening supposed to celebrate women at the Democratic National Convention, anti-choice Bob Casey has the floor. Nice touch.

And so, Faludi asks a central question:

"Again, male politicians and pundits indulge in outbursts of “new masculinist” misogyny (witness Mrs. Clinton’s campaign coverage). Again, the news media showcase young women’s “feminist — new style” pseudo-liberation — the flapper is now a girl-gone-wild. Again, many daughters of a feminist generation seem pleased to proclaim themselves so “beyond gender” that they don’t need a female president.

As it turns out, they won’t have one. But they will still have all the abiding inequalities that Hillary Clinton, especially in defeat, symbolized. Without a coalescing cause to focus their forces, how will women fight a foe that remains insidious, amorphous, relentless and pervasive?"

How indeed.

Pierre Maura is Not A Happy Camper

In this post, he has it in for fake sociologists who drag the discipline in the mud by lending their analytical skills, such as they are, to opinion polls sites. These sites conduct asinine surveys and can proudly proclaim, as Maura relates on his blog, that 43% of the French think that love will be virtual by 2050. As Maura says, who the @#$% cares? So what? It’s a stupid poll.

What is really irking Maura is that a sociologist lends his credibility and credentials to provide some analysis of these fascinating results (the poll was conducted for The problem is that the gentleman who offers his expertise as sociologist is not a sociologist. He is one of these cool consultants who studies youth culture, freelance writer on the subject, with a part-time marketing position at Science-Po. As Maura states, if you write something like this: "Love will always pure and without cause"… you’re no sociologist.

And a final slam from Maura:

"Another one whose advisor was Michel Maffesoli."


For those who do not get the reference, see here, especially the section on Elizabeth Teissier. In a nutshell, Maffesoli was the thesis advisor for a famous astrologer, who received her Ph.D in sociology amid much protest and controversy.