Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mockupy Wall Street

It has been crushingly unsurprising to witness the rampantly dishonest, patronising, and snarky coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement(s), from the freebie rags (the AM and Metro syndicates) to the populist servants of the rich. The New York Post has been chomping at the bit, frothing over their front pages:

OWS are "shits"; they're "animals". Fox Nation managed to transmit one article with a story that cuts to the chase, turning them them into shitting animals:

NYers Furious at Protesters: 'Neighbors Don't Defecate in Streets'.
Even in outlets one might expect to be sympathetic, journalists and writers are straining to distance themselves from the soiled, spoiled youth. Hendrik Hertzberg ended an otherwise curious and partly sympathetic lunchtime stroll through Zuccotti Park with a sour burp of condescension:
If Occupy Wall Street can continue to behave with nonviolent restraint, if it can avoid hijack by a flaky fringe, if it can shake the center-left out of its funk, if it can embolden Democratic politicians (very much including President Obama, who, lately and belatedly, has begun to show signs of fight), then preoccupied Main Street will truly owe OWES. Big ifs all. It’s too early to tell, but not too late to hope.
In the next week's New Yorker, Lizzie Widdicombe made frequent use of cutesy brackets in her bubbly trip to a cartoon Zuccotti Park. Yes, Lizzie, it is "erroneous" to say that Michael Bloomberg is the richest man in the United States; he's actually the second richest man in New York, and only the twelfth richest man in the United States.

At 1am this morning, Mayor Bloomberg, the second richest man in New York, and only the twelfth richest man in the United States, had his police sweep through and "clear" the park. His primary reason for doing this? Public Health!

I have become increasingly concerned - as had the park's owner, Brookfield Properties - that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community.
It was a Public Health Intervention! According to Gabe Pressman, of NBC, Mayor Bloomberg:

did the right thing [. . .] The mayor had to balance the rights of free speech and free assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment with the need to protect public health and safety.
Bloomberg is not alone, of course, in focusing on the serious public health problems posed by the Occupiers. In San Francisco:

A tense standoff continued Thursday morning between San Francisco police and Occupy San Francisco protesters. Police have called on the protesters to leave Justin Herman Plaza, saying the camps pose a threat to public health.
The profound concerns about public health had been simmering in the media; here's a report from CBS:

"Occupy protests spark public health fears
by David W. Freeman Topics: News, Disease.

I love it! Look next to the byline: file this under "Topics: News, Disease."

It is, however, most encouraging that there has been a profound, perplexed interest in public health, and, in particular, the public health hazards of the Occupy movement. The OWS message was something vague and hippyish, fundamentally inconsequential and pie-in-the-sky, about the problem of wealth disparities in society, which, we know, has nothing to do with public health. The only public health problem is the flourishing of acne across unwashed faces, mildew in cheap tents, and, let's face it, chlamydia. You don't think they're just banging drums all night, do you?

But, since we're on the topic, do you mind if I bore you for a moment? I mean, it's not really that important, and it's going to involve graphs. Quite a lot of them. But, well, maybe . . . Come with me. I'm inviting you to follow me on a polygraphic spree. You're about to get more graph than Agassi on his anniversary. You'll discover there is such a thing as the graphalo!

So here's a graph. It shows the percentage change in after-tax income from 1979-2007. What you see is that between 1979 and 2007, the rich really got richer; and if you account for increases in costs (of education, for example), you might even argue that the poor got poorer with the barely-perceptible rise of income. There wasn't much trickle-down, but you need to give it time. And this has nothing to do with public health.

Here's another graph, but instead of oblong, phallic bars jutting priapically into the air, it uses a more homely visual imagery, almost a nostalgic, cinnamon-scented image. It's the

American Pie chart. It shows how the top 5% and 1% had the biggest slices of the after-tax income pie in 1979, but they had to make do with less than half the pie; by 2007, the richest 5% now eat more than half of the income pie. The richest 1% really take the heftiest slice, though the 2-5% won't be leaving the table empty-stomached.

Now, remember, we're really concerned about public health, which is why we support removing the bad-breathed whiners of the Occupy movement from their "camping" and "doorstep defecating" activities, but we should congratulate them on their way out for having done one thing: they brought the issue of wealth disparities to light, because nobody ever really thought that was important. So, good job! But now, as a public health nuisance, like scabies, bed bugs, or santorum on the sheets, they've got to go, because what they said had no relevance to, I don't know, public health? Because remember, we're really concerned with public health.

Here's another graph. It shows the average lifespan in New York City between 1990 and 2001. The top line, the people who are living the longest, live in the highest income neighborhoods. The people living not so long in the line below them live in moderate income neighborhoods. And the people living less long in the line below them live in a poor neighborhoods. The suckers at the bottom, living a lot fewer years, live in the poorest neighborhoods. (For an updated version of this graph, here's a pdf published in 2010 by the NYC gov on health disparities in NYC)

It's nice that they're all going up, but . . . Jeez. Those lines aren't all that close, when you consider that the integers between them are years. Huh.

Here's another graph, a more recent one (get it at the link above). It shows pretty much the same thing: if you live in a wealthier neighborhood, you live longer. Years longer. Except this next graph carves it up by race.

If you can't see it: it shows that people who live in wealthier neighborhoods, live longer. But race matters. In how long you live on average. By years. Blacks in a wealthier neighborhood live longer than blacks in an impoverished neighborhood, but blacks in a wealthier neighborhood don't live as long as whites (or hispanics or asians, who seem to be doing just peachy) in poor neighborhoods. What's going on here? You might start thinking that wealth disparities have something to do with public health, and health disparities, and shit like how long people actually get to live.

Here's another set of graphs, from Scotland. This was published in the British Medical Journal, by the wonderfully-named Chalmers and Capewell, sort of the Gilbert and George of public health epidemiology. And what Chalmers and Capewell show is really rather astounding. They followed a cohort of Scots born in 1920 and alive in the year 1974, through to 1997, and they recorded how everybody died. Take a look at these graphs. They compared the most deprived fifth (on the right) to the least deprived fifth (on the left); the upper pair is men, the lower pair is women. What do you see?

Three things. The most deprived fifth die more. The pattern is the same for men and women. And here's the point Chalmers and Capewell really make: the most deprived group die more of everything. It's not just one thing that nails them. They die more of all of it.

So in New York and in Scotland, in different time periods, taking into account race and gender, you're finding that your station in life can make the difference in years of life? You might begin to think that wealth disparities play a role in health disparities and, I don't know, dying. Of course, Bloomberg is profoundly concerned about public health, sending in an armed, paramilitary police force to deal with the public health menace of defecating, scruffy protesters; but we would expect nothing less from a man honoured in the field of public health:


Jeff Strabone said...

Every 'journalist' who repeats Bloomberg's obvious lie about shutting down OWS due to health concerns should be ignored for the remained of his or her career. Rule one of journalism should be skepticism about government and other forms of power.

The people who write for the New Yorker may be light years beyond Murdoch's lackeys, but comfort can warp one's politics. I have experienced that myself at times. These times, however, call for absolute clarity about wealth and how it is distributed and not distributed in the world. There are not many professional journalists in a position to provide it.

Dr Saul Wheelock, aka "sw" said...

Gabe Pressman's article begins as strenuously sycophantic, and then mopes righteously about the infringement on the rights of the press; Glenn Greenwald writes often about the symbiosis of the press and the political class, and Pressman's charade is a wonderful example - it's the piercing whine of the guy who believes he's holding his end of the bargain up and is not getting his special privileges from the big guy.

Agreed, re: New Yorker.

Jeff Strabone said...

I hope it is obvious that I meant 'remainder'.