Opinion

David Rohde

In Milwaukee, an evaporating middle class

David Rohde
Dec 15, 2011 23:22 UTC

MILWAUKEE — As Washington and Madison fiddle, this city’s middle class is in slow free fall.

First, the numbers. From 1970 to 2007, the percentage of families in the Milwaukee metropolitan area that were middle class declined from 37 to 24 percent, according to a new analysis by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.


(Click on the photo above for a slideshow) During the same period, the proportion of affluent families grew from 22 to 27 percent–while the percentage of poor households swelled from 23 to 31 percent. In short, Milwaukee’s middle class families went from a plurality to its smallest minority. 

The biggest culprit is the disappearance of well-paying manufacturing jobs. Despite a promising recent uptick in high-end manufacturing, Milwaukee has suffered a 40 percent decline in manufacturing jobs since 1970, when Schlitz, Pabst and American Motors reigned. Instead of shrinking, the city’s urban poverty is creeping outward toward suburbs.

Late Wednesday afternoon, that was evident in the Jefferson Elementary school of West Allis, a once solidly middle class suburb bordering Milwaukee. In a crowded school gymnasium, principal Shelly Strasser said that fifty percent of students now qualify for free or reduced price school lunch programs. In other local schools, the number is ninety percent.

Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, we’re not in Kansas anymore

David Rohde
Dec 8, 2011 19:15 UTC

On Tuesday, Barack Obama declared the debate over how to restore growth, balance, and fairness to the American economy the “defining issue of our time.”

“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” he said in a Kansas speech, “and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.”

The following day, Republican front-runner New Gingrich said Mr. Obama “represents a hard left radicalism” and is “opposed to capitalism and everything that made America great.” The answer, he said, was slashing taxes and the size of the federal government.

Occupy something

David Rohde
Dec 2, 2011 02:31 UTC

By David Rohde

The views expressed are his own.

Update: On Dec. 6th, Occupy protesters began a new tactic of rallying around homeowners trying to resist foreclosures in several cities. Read more here and here. The following column was published on Dec. 1st.

The Occupy movement is flirting with irrelevance. While press reports trumpet the movement’s introduction of the phrase “we are the 99 percent” into the political conversation, the group’s largest encampments have been razed. On Wednesday night, Los Angeles and Philadelphia joined New York, Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis in clearing out its protesters. Small demonstrations continue, but the movement now needs to turn catch-phrases into political change.

This week, Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was a symbol of the movement’s potential dissolution. On Tuesday afternoon, a dozen Occupy Wall Street protesters held a quiet discussion in one corner of the park. In another, a lone office worker sat at a small, marble table and ate his lunch. Christmas lights glistened on trees that once sheltered protesters. Scores of police blocked anyone with a tent from entering the area.

Remembering Richard Holbrooke

David Rohde
Nov 30, 2011 23:21 UTC

Remembering Richard Holbrooke with Kati Marton and James Traub on WNYC’s The Leonard Lopate show.

Complete Egypt’s revolution

David Rohde
Nov 23, 2011 02:25 UTC

For decades, the Egyptian military has operated an economy within an economy in Egypt. With the tacit support of the United States, the armed forces own and operate a sprawling network of for-profit businesses. The military runs factories that manufacture televisions, bottled water and other consumer goods. Its companies obtain public land at discounted prices. And it pays no taxes and discloses little to civilian officials.

Within weeks of Hosni Mubarak’s fall in February, experts predicted that the Egyptian military would refuse to relinquish its vast economic holdings or privileged position in society.

“Protecting its businesses from scrutiny and accountability is a red line the military will draw,” Robert Springborg, an expert on Egypt’s military at the Naval Postgraduate School, told The New York Times. “And that means there can be no meaningful civilian oversight.”

China’s newest export: Internet censorship

David Rohde
Nov 17, 2011 23:29 UTC
BEIJING — This great city is the epicenter of a geopolitical battle over cyberspace, who controls it, and who defines its rights and freedoms. China’s 485 million web users are the world’s largest online population. And the Chinese government has developed the world’s most advanced Internet censorship and surveillance system to police their activity. 

Yet the days of Americans piously condemning China’s “Great Firewall” and hoping for a technological silver bullet that would pierce it are over. China’s system is a potent, vast and sophisticated network of computer, legal and human censorship. The Chinese model is spreading to other authoritarian regimes. And governments worldwide, including the United States, are aggressively trying to legislate the Internet.

“There is a growing trend toward Internet censorship in a range of countries,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a prominent online democracy advocate and author of the forthcoming book “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.” “The same technology that helps secure your network from attack, that actually enables you to censor your network also.”

China’s cutting-edge authoritarianism

David Rohde
Nov 10, 2011 17:25 UTC

BEIJING–Just down the street from a faded Communist billboard declaring “art, harmony, joy, justice, peace,” dissident artist Ai Weiwei is trapped in a state-of-the-art authoritarian labyrinth.

To avoid prison time, the democracy-advocate known for his work on Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium can pay $2.4 million in back taxes and fines that he insists he does not owe. Or he can face a repeat of the 81-day secret detention he endured earlier this year. Either way, China’s all-powerful Communist party succeeds at smearing him.

“The police told me yesterday ‘if you pay, that means you admit the crime,” Ai said in an interview in his Beijing home and art studio. “It will justify that they arrest me.”

Will “Made in America” sell in China?

David Rohde
Nov 3, 2011 21:53 UTC

Update: My apologies. In the first version of this column, I confused two different Camaro models. A corrected version is below.

SHANGHAI –When the third film in Hollywood’s Transformers franchise debuted here in July, vast numbers of young Chinese flocked to movie theaters — and Chevrolet dealerships. Wealthy moviegoers wanted to buy one of the film’s half-car, half robot main characters, a bright yellow Chevrolet Camaro coupe called “Bumblebee.”

“Everyone knew Bumblebee,” said Richard Choi, the director of sales and marketing for Chevrolet in Shanghai. “I had to get the press guys to call it Camaro, not Bumblebee.”

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