Category Archives: Economy

Why Can’t White Supremacists Confront the Fact That the Source of Their Economic Problems Are White Economic Elites?

Frustrated young white men are facing class divisions more than racial divides.

There’s no disputing the white anger and rage seen in Charlottesville, even if conservative publications like the National Review say these “angry white boys do not have a political agenda.”

Their anger is real and grievances differ, even if they took the old path of joining mobs spewing racist filth. Yet these white supremacists are blaming the wrong slices of society for their angst.

Racial divides are not what’s plaguing vast stretches of white America—deepening class divides are. If you think about who is to blame, it is mostly powerful white capitalists and their government servants that decimated regional economies in recent decades.

Many Democrats keep saying inequality is the top economic issue, as Eduardo Porter wrote for the New York Times in a piece that recaps the party’s national political agenda. However, the conventional wisdom that Democrats need to “recover the support of the middle-class—people in families earning $50,000 to $150,000, whose vote went to Mr. Trump,” especially in swing states “where three-quarters of voters are white”—is not acknowledging the roots of America’s latest outburst of white supremacy.

“Our economy is in very serious trouble. Ten or fifteen years from now, the standard of living of our average citizen may actually be lower than it is today,” writes Steve Slavin, author of the new book, The Great American Economy: How Inefficiency Broke It and What We Can Do To Fix It. “Large swaths of the suburbs will be slums, and tens of millions of Americans will have joined the permanent underclass. There will be three separate Americas—the rich and near rich, an economically downscaled middle and working class, and a very large poor population.”

Slavin cites eight major economic trends, pointing out that almost everyone who is not living in wealthy enclaves—usually coastal cities or inland hubs—is facing a downward spiral that’s been decades in the making. These are the same stretches of suburban and rural America that elected Trump, elected the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, where hate groups are concentrated, and where many of those arrested in Charlottesville come from. They hail from the losing end of the trends Slavin cites and forecasts for the country.

It may very well be that the external circumstances of the whites protesting are “pretty good,” as the National Review‘s Kevin Williamson writes, compared to non-white America. That’s even more reason to condemn their visceral rage and hate speech. But as Slavin notes, the national economy and sense of well-being is on a downward slide that accelerated in recent decades.

Those responsible are largely white politicians, white business executives and more recently the graduates of elite business schools—where the curriculum involved outsourcing domestic industries that once allowed people without degrees to prosper.

The culprit here is primarily class—even though race and class are often synonymous. If anything, the downwardly spiraling sections of white America today eerily resemble inner cities in the 1960s, where non-whites called for economic justice. Those urban cores were abandoned after two decades of white flight to the suburbs and manufacturers also leaving.

Here are eight overarching economic trends that Slavin notes have clobbered the middle class, working class and poor.

1. Manufacturing has sharply declined. Notwithstanding Trump’s announcements that a few companies based overseas are returning, factory jobs have widely disappeared across the interior of America, where from World War II through the 1980s they anchored cities and counties.

2. Many cities have fallen into decline. Starting after WWII, the government and industry promoted suburbia, abandoning scores of cities to the mostly non-white poor. Detroit’s carmakers bought and dismantled public transit. That led to today’s costly transportation needs with a nation of commuters paying a lot for private vehicles, gas and insurance and spending hours away from home.

3. Health care costs have left wages frozen. Average wages have not seen increases, after being adjusted for inflation, for decades. A big part of the reason is businesses that provide health insurance have to keep paying more to insurers rather than employees. Meanwhile, insurers keep finding ways to draw on what’s left in people’s pockets.

4. Public education is vastly underfunded. Suburban schools in wealthy enclaves might be fine, but nationally half of high school graduates are not at the same level as graduates of other countries and their better achieving peers. That forecloses opportunity.

5. The government is not reinvesting in America. This is not simply about neglected roads and bridges. The U.S. government supports a beyond bloated military industrial complex that accounts for 40 percent of global spending on weapons. This may be domestic spending, but it is not spending on domestic needs.

6. The criminal justice system is bloated. Here too, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation; a predatory system that targets lower-income people and creates taxpayer-funded private police forces.

7. The make-work private sector’s useless jobs. This isn’t just the growth of service industries, but “more than 15 million Americans hold jobs that do not produce any useful goods or services,” such as bill collectors, telemarketers, sales reps paid on commission, etc., Slavin writes.

8. The bloated financial sector. This is Wall Street’s diversion of savings from productive investments to speculative ventures, where money is made from tracking the movement of other assets or the public is sold repackaged securities that generate fees.

In every one of these eight areas, wealthy whites in positions of power and privilege have made decisions that collectively have set the country on the path to today’s downward economic spiral. Right after World War II, the federal government would not lend money to black veterans to buy homes in newly expanding suburbs. They gave real estate investors like Fred Trump, the president’s father, money to build what became urban housing projects where many occupants were non-white renters.

There were not many non-white executives in Detroit when the auto industry acted to destroy public transit systems. There were not many non-whites on corporate boards in the 1980s, when the first wave of moving manufacturing abroad hit. The business schools minting sought-after MBAs were teaching predominantly white students to take operations to countries where labor was cheaper, or extolling the virtues of businesses like Walmart that decimated entire Main Streets across small-town America.

The list goes on and a pattern emerges—a class division, more so than race—which has deepened and afflicts America today. As Slavin writes, “Perhaps the most persuasive indicator of our nation’s economic decline is that millennials are on track to be the first generation in our nation’s history to be poorer than its parents’ generation. In January 2017, CNBC reported, ‘With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles.’”

The Young Invincibles are a progressive group concerned about health care, higher education, workforce and finance, and civic engagement. But that moniker could also be used to describe the belligerent attitude of the white marchers in Charlottesville.

As Williamson writes derisively in the conservative National Review, “What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up—to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians—may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.”

But Williamson only hints at what they seem to want—and it’s exactly what Slavin nails. These angry whites are being bypassed by structural changes in the economy that are narrowing their options. Needless to say, most people in dire straits do not embrace violence and racism. But it seems the heart of their grievances appear to be based on class frustrations, not race. If the white marchers want to blame someone, they ought to point their fingers at the wealthy whites on Wall Street and in Washington.

By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Capitalism and Its Discontents: What Are We Living For?

Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism.

— Max Horkheimer, from the essay “The Jews and Europe”, December 1939

Aren’t we all tired of capitalism? Haven’t most of us gotten sick of the drudgery, the monotony, the exploitation, sucking up to our bosses and management who pretend to care about the average worker? The drive to consume more and more has degraded all art, values, and sense of community in the US.

Capitalists literally are holding the people of the Earth in bondage. As liberal democracy crumbles in the West, the risk of neo-fascism continues to rise in North America and Europe.

It’s worth examining why the US has TV shows like “Hoarders”, where truly sick people have problems collecting useless crap, and where viewers publicly shame and judge the afflicted. Yet, where is the outrage at the real hoarders, the billionaires, the banks, and the military industrial complex? This is serious hypocrisy, a cultural blind spot: a double standard that is not being addressed by our society.

Capitalists are Addicts

Why does society not ask arch-capitalists the obvious questions: when is enough, enough? Who needs a billion dollars? Once you can provide a comfortable life for your family, children, and grandchildren, what is the point of hoarding your money in bank accounts and lording over a monopolizing mega-corporation? Where does this endless desire for more come from?

It’s fairly obvious that a failure to confront death is closely linked to the bottomless appetite exhibited by capitalists. The perceived need to construct towers, monuments, mansions, and manufactured narratives of their own greatness is proof. Not to mention how many of the super-rich have chosen to become cryogenically frozen post-mortem: this is in outright denial of their own mortality, and the necessity of death so that future generations may live.

In failing to confront death, any object can be used as a crutch, an addiction. Addiction is linked to social isolation and lack of community, which the capitalist class creates by artificially creating specialized divisions of labor, alienation, and class differences.

Addiction leads to a disconnection from what some would call a “reality principle”, leading to further and deeper indulgences and lack of restraint. There are further similarities between capitalists and drug addicts: the impatience, the disconnection from others, the neediness, as well as a general childlike need to be validated and pampered.

Methodology and Treatment in an Age of Insanity

We see where capitalism leads: to a permanent crisis, a never-ending state of emergency. Since the 1970s, workers have increased productivity mightily with little to zero increases in wages considering inflation and other factors. Americans are also working longer hours; young adults are even having less sex partly because of this. There is a huge problem with prescription drug abuse (not just opioids), teen suicide is rising (sadly, at a 40 year high for teen girls in 2017), and child poverty isn’t being addressed properly, if at all, by our own government.

All of these absolutely tragic issues are connected to capitalism. When we are forced to compete against each other, in grades at school, for that raise or promotion in the workplace, this breeds a mindset of dehumanization.

I would also posit that the separation of young children from their parents when they begin schooling, either day care or pre-school or kindergarten or afterwards, is one of the first steps in life where the feelings of individual atomization starts, and collective social disintegration begins. Being ripped from your parent’s arms because they have to work just to survive, and the state/private/charter school substituting for the role of a parent, is one of the first deep tragedies inflicted on many of us by the “needs” of the modern world. I believe this suffering is lodged deep in our unconscious selves, and this is not being addressed publicly at all, and barely acknowledged in our private lives.

Treatment starts when we want to become free of the Great Beast of capitalism, the “Babylon system” as some like to call it. We must ground ourselves, and return to a deeper relationship with our mother Earth. Self-reliance is true freedom, and families and communities should begin to grow as much of their own food as possible. I understand the limitations for those in urban areas, or those stuck in jobs where time and effort cannot be adequately put towards farming, of course. Collectively, as a city block, a suburban neighborhood, a rural township, we are all going to have to learn to get together, share food and technology, and become independent of this beast. We must begin to develop a gift economy, an indigenous-based economy, based on reciprocity and trust, not exploitation and coercion, as Charles Eisenstein explains.

Other than that, a mass protest movement must be created so the resources that our federal government receives in taxes can be shifted from weapons of destruction to schools, health care, community projects, and renewable energy.

Analyzing a Popular Alternative

I believe it’s important to discuss some of the budding alternatives to capitalism that are developing around the globe. In the US, support for socialism has risen immensely, especially among the younger crowd, thanks to the work of Bernie Sanders (notwithstanding him not really being a socialist) and others. Yet how serious are most American socialists?

One of the most popular groups in the US is called Socialist Alternative (SA), led by the charismatic Seattle councilwoman Kshama Sawant. SA has some great ideas, and yet, some of their proposals make it seem as if they’re just going through the motions. Let me explain.

On their about page, a few things stand out. They write: “We see the global capitalist system as the root cause of the economic crisis, poverty, discrimination, war, and environmental destruction.” Very well put. Yet then, this is followed by the line below:

“As capitalism moves deeper into crisis, a new generation of workers and youth must join together to take the top 500 corporations into public ownership under democratic control to end the ruling elites’ global competition for profits and power.”

This sounds nice, but I wonder how much time was really spent thinking through the implications of this policy. What if democratic control only leads to redistribution of the companies’ wealth, and not fundamental transformation of the products, resource usage, and dangerous working conditions?  Where is the sense of urgency, the fact that deadlines are being approached regarding global warming, regarding the ecological damage being done by these companies?

One wonders, has SA bothered to take a look at the list of the 500 top companies? For some, perhaps they can be repurposed to make sustainable products. For others, maybe the factories and warehouses can be dismantled and recycled for public use. For a few, it might be feasible that they could be broken up into smaller entities and non-profit co-operatives.

Yet, we must realize that these companies have only been able to thrive due to government tax breaks, insider trading, off-shoring hidden wealth, and other financial chicanery. Further, these mega corporations rely on specialized division of labor, fueling worker alienation.

Also, the biggest companies choose not to compete against each other in entire sectors, allowing for large profit margins. What happens when “public ownership” leads to stricter competition and price wars, forcing many employees to be laid off? How will these companies be able to compete against Europe and China? Is SA committed to local and bio-regional approaches to agricultural and socially responsible industrial practices?

For many of these companies, though, the only democratic thing I can think of to do is to vote on who gets to throw the first brick or Molotov through the empty building. These corporations have done irreparable harm to the planet. Some of them are simply not going to be able to be reformed.

The only way to transform these entities (the ones that can be saved) properly, with the proper protections, would be to rewrite the constitution to include environmental and social rights, as well as the rights of mother Earth, as Bolivia has done. Without a legal framework based on ecology, there is no way to make sure “democratic control” of a transnational corporation would actually lead to environmentally-safe production.

SA is notable for fighting for a $15 an hour wage. First, I want to say that I support this policy. It is a laudable goal, and may work soon in some of the nations wealthy, tech-savvy, coastal metro enclaves.

Yet we need to ask what would happen if this were enacted nationally, and what we should do to prepare if it ever does. The elites would pull their money out of the system, if only to spite the Left and the socialists who enacted the policy, and give them a taste of pain for disobeying capitalism. The neoliberal economy is designed around low-wage service work, and is so tightly interwoven, not to mention extremely monopolized, that a sudden wage rise would lead to high levels of inflation, and possibly to a severe economic recession or depression. Are groups like SA ready to organize outside the political structure, to make space for a civic society, domestically and abroad, which will need massive influxes of resources, food, and housing when shit hits the fan?

SA also wants to “slash the military budget”, which is great. SA does not clarify where that new money should go. SA also proclaims that they support internationalism. Allow me to make a proposal: money from the military budget should be given away freely to developing countries, with transnational groups, either under UN auspices or some new framework, helping distribute and allocate resources so they are not wasted by corrupt dictators and governments. Poorer nations will need massive influxes of revenue to help them develop and avoid using fossil fuels and habitat-destroying industry, in the realm of trillions of dollars over decades. The West has accumulated ill-gotten wealth from centuries of colonialism, chattel slavery, and genocidal policies towards the “Global South”, and now may be the last chance to give back, before it becomes too late.

Are US socialists committed to these sorts of radical proposals? Are SA and others ready to admit to its followers that real socialism will involve hard sacrifices, and almost certainly (in the short term, at least) lead to less material goods and privileges that Westerners have enjoyed for centuries? Are socialists as ready to support a living wage in China as they are in the USA? Finally, are American socialists committed to transforming the nation, or just promoting an ideology that is centered too much on human needs, and not enough on the needs of non-humans and future human generations?

Ecocentrism, not Anthropocentrism

The Left has been fragmented for decades. Liberals, socialists, communists, greens, and anarchists have all endlessly debated future models for society. One wonders how many are just talking, and how many are willing to listen? There already are models for society to live sustainably and to prosper, very, very old ways: by following the paths set by the indigenous.

For instance: by living in the moment, and observing things as they really are, it becomes quite clear that humanity is facing huge challenges unlike at any other time in history. Just one hundred companies have pumped out 70% of worldwide greenhouse gases since 1988. Is the answer, as SA has posited, really just to democratize these corporations and hope for the best, or to shut them down completely?

Westerners are going to have to realize very quickly that despite our space technology, skyscrapers, and instant media, we are the children in the room when it comes to ecological knowledge, and the indigenous around the world are the adults. Native American tribes and various indigenous peoples worldwide have catalogued thousands if not tens of thousands of local plants in their local ecosystems, often with hundreds of different uses for each individual plant. Indigenous accept their own mortality and have constructed elaborate rituals, ceremonies, and initiations to help each other confront death. Also, and this is critical, indigenous tribes understand their carrying capacity in their local habitat, so are able to regulate and rationally plan for their population levels. Overpopulation now threatens the world with ecosystem degradation, habitat destruction, global warming, resource wars, ocean acidification, plastics proliferation, pandemics, and mass starvation and drought.

The indigenous are plant people, and we can follow just a few basic ideas to help us escape capitalism: conserve what remains of the South American, African, and Southeast Asian rainforests, as many future cures from disease and chronic conditions will be found there. In the Americas, the milpa, a planting of corn, beans, squash, and various nutrient rich veggies allows for huge crop productivity in a small area. We can use hemp and legalize cannabis to make biofuels, produce paper, make innovate building materials like Hempcrete, and provide the masses with a safe, relaxing herb for recreational, medicinal, and spiritual use. Advanced technology in most scenarios will only make things worse. What is the best thing one can do to stop global warming? Not a solar array, but planting a tree. Slow down soil erosion? Plant a tree. What is resistance? Planting a community garden is a more socialist, a more significant thing to do now than attending another symposium on Marxism.

The indigenous are freer and happier than Westerners not by some innate abilities, but because they have chosen to work for their freedom: by co-producing food, tools, clothes, pottery, by hunting, fishing, and foraging together. Westerners have refused to resist thus far, because deep down, many know they are dependent on the system for survival, and don’t want to pull that plug, to bite the hand that feeds. It’s the only way, though. We are going to have to walk away from all this, and activists, protestors, and concerned citizens are going to have to metaphorically step into our own Lacandon jungle, and organize around ecology, democracy, and social justice.

Yet, we must realize that it is too late in the game to rely simply on voting. Citizens will respond to a mass movement to the degree that it represents the will of the people: to the degree it can articulate a political truth on a deeply visceral level. Most mainstream socialists (important exceptions being Ian Angus, Paul Burkett, and John Bellamy Foster) have so far been too committed to a flailing, abstract ideology; specifically, wrongly committed to a Eurocentric, technocratic, anthropocentric worldview; to capture people’s imaginations. Developing an ecological worldview, one that acknowledges our interdependence and interconnectedness with all species, is crucial.

Thus, as the 21st century progresses, Standing Rock will eventually be seen as having more influence than Occupy Wall Street. We are connected to our planet and the web of life more than we can ever know or attempt to explain. For instance, we won’t end warfare until we abolish factory farming: the two are intimately linked, as exploitation of man over animal allows fascists the ideological justification for exploitation and the killing of man by man. Ecology is the keystone science: it allows us to see the linkages between species, food webs, and provides the science needed to develop scale-appropriate, sustainable technology. Ecologists understand that an injury to one is an injury to all, and under capitalism, we’ve all been wounded, plant, animal, and human alike, even the rich, who’ve suffered spiritual decay and moral disintegration.

The only democracy possible is an ecological democracy, with a long-term planning, and rational, sustainably-oriented national constitutions, a 90-95% reduction in fossil fuel use within a few decades at most, and an international consensus which will guarantee safeguards against habitat destruction, even in the face of democratic majority opposition. If we don’t face up to these facts, and collectively and courageously organize, we may, in fact, be due for the Kali Yuga, as the Hindus prophesied.

Thus, perhaps we can update and re-phrase Horkheimer’s famous quote for the 21st century:

“Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about the 6th mass extinction.”

By William Hawes/DissidentVoice

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Trump Wants to Slash All Research Funds—Except for Military

President Donald Trump’s budget would slash nearly one in four dollars spent on science research at federal agencies, affecting study of everything from faster airport screening to protecting people from earthquakes and storms, and investigating new drinking water contaminants.

Trump’s proposal targets every federal department for cuts – except the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs, where research funding would increase substantially.

Overall, Trump’s budget would eliminate more than $30.6 billion, or nearly 21 percent, of research and development funding in fiscal year 2018 compared with 2016, when the Obama administration budgeted $148.3 billion. Adjusted for inflation, those cuts would reach almost 24 percent.

The biggest loser would be the Environmental Protection Agency, which would surrender 46.3 percent, or $239 million, of its research and development funds. Five others also face double-digit blows: the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Interior, Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Details of the potential impacts on the federal government’s scientific and engineering research are outlined in a new Congressional Research Service report that analyzed 12 major federal departments and agencies, and compared them with fiscal year 2016, the latest year available for a governmentwide comparison.

Robert Cowin of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a research and advocacy group, said the report reveals a clear pattern of White House hostility to the government’s role in science on topics as critical as water supplies, space, oceans, renewable energy, diseases, weather and earthquakes.

“That’s troubling, given all the benefits that we’ve enjoyed from that (research),” Cowin said.

For instance, the budget would trim a third of the funding for Department of Homeland Security research into making airport security screening faster and less intrusive for passengers while also being better at spotting terrorists.

The biggest winner in Trump’s research budget, the Defense Department, would account for almost half of all federal research and development spending, according to the report. The $84.4 billion proposal represents an increase of more than 18 percent in the Pentagon’s research, which ranges from medical topics to destroying chemical weapons and disarming roadside bombs in combat zones.

The only other federal agency that would receive a boost is the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the Congressional Research Service. VA research, such as projects related to the treatment and rehabilitation of injured veterans, would increase by 11 percent, or $135 million. Trump’s budget tells the VA to prioritize suicide prevention, pain management and opioid addiction.

Single-digit cuts would be in store for the departments of Commerce (6.8 percent) and Homeland Security (3.1 percent), as well as NASA (3.1 percent). At NASA, money would be stripped from Earth science and climate change research, and the maintenance of an Earth-observing satellite already built and launched with taxpayer dollars.

At the EPA, nearly half of the funds would disappear for researching air pollution, water contaminants, chemical safety, climate change and other areas related to protecting the environment and human health. One target: “Strengthening the science for drinking water and water-quality standards and guidance for new and emerging contaminants that threaten human health and aquatic ecosystems.”

The Energy Department’s investigations into efficiency and renewable energy would take major hits under Trump’s plan to cut its research budget by almost 12 percent.

Research into the health of the oceans, including fisheries and marine mammals, as well as science related to climate change and weather, would be cut at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Facing a 25 percent cut in research funding, the Agriculture Department would see several labs closed, research programs slashed or eliminated, and no funding for several grants to colleges, including its Women and Minorities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program. The Interior Department’s U.S. Geological Survey would have about 30 percent less money to research earthquakes and land use changes, according to the report.

The report focused on just one Department of Health and Human Services program, the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest biomedical research funder, which would see a 21.5 percent decrease from 2017 under Trump’s budget, according to a report by the nongovernmental American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS.

So far, the House has rejected that, moving to increase NIH research money by 3.2 percent, according to the AAAS, signaling just one likely flashpoint in the fight ahead.

HHS Secretary Tom Price, whose department would lose 19 percent or $6.1 billion – the most research and development dollars of any in the government – said in May that Trump’s budget “outlines a clear path toward fiscal responsibility by creating efficiencies that both improve services and save money.” Even before action on the 2018 budget, Price has already eliminated the department’s funding for teen pregnancy prevention research.

Trump didn’t mention research and development or science in his budget message in May, but he said “we must scrutinize every dollar the federal government spends.”

“Just as families decide how to manage limited budgets, we must ensure the federal government spends precious taxpayer dollars only on our highest national priorities, and always in the most efficient, effective manner,” the president said.

For years, a cost-cutting Congress has been backing away from what had been a strong public commitment to innovation in energy, technology, health and the environment. Public investment in non-defense research and development has been essentially flat since 2004, except for a one-off boost from the 2009 stimulus act.

But the cuts in the Trump budget go far deeper than the belt-tightening Republicans in Congress have advocated.

In response, Congress is starting to push back, with House bills that contain more money than the president requested for specific programs, and Senate bills offering more than the House. At the EPA, for example, a House bill would reduce research by 14.4 percent rather than Trump’s 46.3 percent.

With the House and Senate recessed for August, Congress hasn’t agreed on a final budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.

The AAAS says the congressional proposals risk violating statutory spending caps. The Budget Control Act of 2011, which President Barack Obama signed into law to resolve a federal debt standoff with Congress, requires annual cuts in discretionary spending through 2021. If cuts aren’t deep enough, that could trigger automatic, across-the-board cuts to all agencies.

To avoid that, Congress would have to reach a temporary deal to waive the caps, as it has done before.

“The bottom line is that much of what Congress has produced is not workable under current law,” Matt Hourihan, the AAAS research and development budget analysis director, wrote in another report on Aug. 1.

Energy research shows how Congress, while seeming generous compared with Trump, still would cut federal support in key areas. For example, Trump wants to reduce research funding for efficiency and renewables by nearly 70 percent from fiscal year 2017 levels, to $636 million, according to the AAAS. Some initiatives would be eliminated. In the House, that research funding would drop by 48 percent, to $1.086 billion. Even the Senate’s much larger figure, $1.937 billion, would be a 7.3 percent cut.

One of the smallest yet effective health research programs eliminated in Trump’s budget: the Fogarty International Center, which for 50 years has funded international health research. All $70 million for the center would disappear. The House, however, wants to keep the center alive, adding $3 million.

Without Fogarty’s support, some ongoing investigations in Peru, Brazil and Mexico into Zika, Chagas and dengue – diseases that are posing increased danger in the United States – would halt. Researchers say Fogarty, a unit of the National Institutes of Health, also has been vital in the fights against HIV and Ebola.

In an interview on the center’s website, Kenyan Dr. Ruth Nduati of the University of Nairobi, a former Fogarty trainee, said many people are alive today because of the U.S. funds.

“Fogarty has changed the face of HIV medicine,” she said.

By Randy Lee Loftis / Reveal

Who Is Responsible for Gentrification In HBCU Neighborhoods?

Gentrification. A term coined during the 1960s, it’s a concept that’s become hotly contested in recent years, described by Webster’s dictionary as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

The phenomenon has become a recurring theme across the country as urban areas once deemed unsuitable for affluent home buyers have become ground zero for new development.

Many students attend Texas Southern University, a ninety-year old institution in Houston’s historic Third Ward area, in search of an authentic Black college experience. But in recent years there’s been a change in the area surrounding the school, which has witnessed a decrease in its Black population. The percentage of African-American residents in the Greater Third Ward area dropped from 79 percent to 65 percent from 2000 to 2012 alone as the pace of change accelerated.

One of Houston’s six original wards, Third Ward was once described described by distinguished Clark Atlanta sociologist and former Texas Southern University dean Robert D. Bullard as “the city’s most diverse black neighborhood and a microcosm of the larger black Houston community.”

For years Third Ward served as a bustling hub of Black ownership in Houston, the Black-owned Unity National Bank and streets like Dowling, which once boasted over 150 stores during the 1950s. Roots run deep, with residents fiercely devoted to places like Emancipation Park, a community fixture founded by former slaves: Jack Yates, Richard Book, Richard Allen and Elias Dibble.

Due to limited resources, initially the park was only open to the public once a year for Juneteenth, a celebration of the effective end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation executive order declared their freedom. Since then it’s become an integral part of Third Ward’s history, serving as the only public swimming pool available to Black residents until integration during the 1950s.

The decline came gradually, after housing integration and upward mobility afforded wealthier Blacks the opportunity to move to newer subdivisions, leaving a number of dilapidated homes and shuttered businesses in their wake. Also at play was the construction of Highway 288, forcing a number of residents to give up their homes as construction expanded. As job opportunities began to dwindle, others began migrating from the area, creating a growing void in the neighborhood.

During an interview with the Houston Defender earlier this year, Gerald Womack, President and CEO of Womack Development & Investment Realtors explained, “Having ownership is important, and we have a lot of Black ownership in Third Ward. Unfortunately, many of these owners are grandchildren of the original owners, and live in other neighborhoods or out of state. Many see their properties as a burden or a drain on their finances rather than a plus. Many are selling these properties as the value goes up.”

The Defender also noted, “The vast majority of Third Ward’s Black businesses lease space, leaving them at the mercy of building owners who can increase the rent and price them out at a moment’s notice. Those that remain may find themselves dealing with a drastically different customer base.”

Meanwhile, vacancies have helped change the landscape of Third Ward, with homeowners increasingly pressed to sell their land to developers eager to insert luxury condos and townhouses into the area. Some 75 percent of residents are renters, but thanks to rates that rose nearly 5 percent from 2014 to 2015, many have found new properties out of their financial range.

For Texas Southern it’s meant a reduction of the very demographic that surrounds its campus. Once the only higher education option for African-American Houstonians, because of segregation the university has often been left to it’s own devices by Texas lawmakers, in favor of the larger — and more heavily endowed — University of Houston. Separated by only a few blocks, at times the two have competed for both land and resources, with TSU often on the losing end.

In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, John Nixon, a University of Houston law professor wrote, “What is happening in the Third Ward is a product of increased demand for inner city housing, developers who are willing to assemble land and build speculative houses to be offered to higher-income people willing to be pioneers in an area they previously shunned.”

For developers — all is fair in love and real estate — location factors heavily into the rush of new residents looking to get in on the ground floor of Third Ward’s revitalization efforts. Alyssa Gardner, a property sales representative, described the tactic to the Houston Chronicle as “We tell buyers that if you see something you like, snatch it up while you can. There are advantages to being on the edge of downtown.”

With the University of Houston actively buying up its own land in the area, officials like Texas Representative Garnet Coleman have started their own initiatives, teaming with local developers in an effort to buy land for affordable housing.

Residents are wary, with many able to recall the decline of the neighboring Fourth Ward. An early example of gentrification, for years residents fought to preserve the area once known as Freedman’s Town, founded by newly freed slaves. Settling along the flood-prone Buffalo Bayou, early residents worked hard to build their own community, paving their own bricks along hand-erected shanties.

Eager to protect the integrity of the community, for years residents fought to protect it, including a famous protest to retain Allen Parkway Village. Initially a whites-only property, thanks to integration it was later converted into a 963-unit public housing community.

Following a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the city of Houston demolished 677 units, under the provision that the site be used to provide low-income housing. The property was later added to the National Register of Historic Places, saving it from demolition, but other areas didn’t fare as well. In 1984, over 530 historic buildings had been registered: twenty years later, less than 30 remained.

After a series of losses at the hands of developers, Fourth Ward, which once boasted historic landmarks like West End Park — Houston’s first baseball venue for Negro leagues games — would see a sudden increase in mid-rise complexes and luxury properties in the late 1990s.

It’s a cautionary tale that former Houston Mayor Annise Parker described as “That was the downfall of Freedmen’s Town. That’s when most of the historic elements were moved or torn down so developers could put up townhouses.”

Even the 100-year-old bricks laid in Freedman’s Town came under fire, with some destroyed entirely, mistakenly dug up by city workers during drainage repairs last year. Yet another blow to a community still reeling from it’s erasure. 

While some homeowners were able to take advantage of rising property values and escape the concurrent rising tax bills, others were not, including those living in areas hit hard by the crack epidemic. Left a shell of its former self, eventually Fourth Ward was assimilated into the newly minted Midtown.

Fearing the erasure of their own community, members of Third Ward have come together in an effort to educate and assist residents, including organizations like the Sankofa Research Institute and Project Row Houses, who have worked to preserve the community and increase ownership throughout the Greater Third Ward area.

Depending upon whom you ask, Third Ward’s transformation has been long in the making, with some eager to revamp the shotgun-style houses that dot the area. As Third Ward has changed, neighborhoods previously shunned by white students and young couples have become a haven for those that wouldn’t even go near the area five years ago.

TSU graduate Linda Williams expressed her views on the area she once called home by saying, “With urban planning and development, much of the historical context of Houston’s Third Ward area has been taken over the past five years. It’s become a culture shock for many residents in the area and has caused financial frustration to those who are struggling to keep businesses open and afloat.”

While some businesses, including the longstanding Wolf’s Department Store, have managed to keep it together, others haven’t been as lucky, with spots like Dowling Theater long gone.

According to Roderick “Bass” Tillman, Program Director of Third Ward after-school program Workshop Houston, a number of school closures have also accelerated the issue. Following the closure of Ryan Middle School, students were forced to relocate to Cullen Middle, a nearby school in Houston’s southeast area.

“I’ve been here since 2011,” Tillman explained. “Since then, the middle school that most of our students come from has been closed. In Third Ward itself, you see less kids around, less population because most of it is under construction. I think kids are searching for answers. At first it was a no-brainer that they’d go to schools in their neighborhoods. Now they face tough decisions on where they can go, because those schools just don’t exist anymore,” he said.

But after years of declining properties and vacant lots, others are eager for fresh changes and revitalization to the area, including a recent $33 million redesign of the 11.7-acre Emancipation Park.

Citing the recent progress made in the area, former Third Ward resident Elliot Guidry shared his own thoughts about the situation, “Don’t we want better for ourselves?” Guidry said. “Is it a bad thing to want to see the neighborhood you were born and raised in get uplifted? For that matter, TSU has gotten a major facelift. I love seeing the evolution of my neighborhood.”

But for others, it’s not so simple, including Third Ward resident Hope Carter. Carter said, “I’m a fan of the revitalization of my neighborhood, but not to appease people who are coming in.

“They’re taking over in the name of progress, but at the same time making everything else too expensive for the people who already live there,” Carter added. “Older people are having their property values lowered because they can no longer see the skyline. I’m not mad at revitalization as long as the improvements are for people who live there. A lot of times it feels as if all of these improvements were intended for someone else.”

Houston is not alone. Exploring the effects of gentrification on neighborhoods surrounding black universities, NPR recently highlighted the erosion of the Black working class near Washington, D.C.’s famed Howard University.

Similar to Texas Southern — Howard’s improvements to impoverished areas in the neighborhood also a drew an influx of new faces  — causing rents and property values to rise as new construction brought wealthier residents in. For new students it’s meant a very different experience, as predominately black neighborhoods around a number of HBCUs continue to decrease.

It’s a reality that Darren Jones, president of the civic association in D.C.’s Pleasant Plains neighborhood, fears will become the new norm. The cost of living in an area now deemed a hot spot.

Addressing the difficulties facing property owners, he explained how his son has been affected. “His assessment is going to go from $400,000 to, well, maybe not $700,000, but something much higher,” Jones told NPR. “But the city is going to say your house is worth what the house is worth next door, which is not true because we can’t sell it for $700,000.”

Jones admitted that he is fearful for the future of his community, saying, “I’m afraid for my son because he grew up in this neighborhood and he would like to stay.”

Some cities are taking their own steps to address the effects of gentrification, including Houston, which rolled out a new program in April designed to revitalize a number of Houston areas, including Third Ward.

Unveiled by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Jones proclaimed, “This is going to be a signature of my administration because it is so important to the families who live in these neighborhoods.

“We must not be a city of haves and have-nots. Every Houstonian has a right to make the choice I have made and live in the neighborhood where he or she grew up. With a more focused approach that involves the communities as well as partners in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, we can transform these neighborhoods. We are going to do this while striving to preserve affordability for existing residents, and we will not leave until we know what we have done will have a high likelihood of success.”

While the resilience of Third Ward is undiminished, the ability to preserve itself is not. Ultimately, the community will need more than legislation to address the issue, including a multi-pronged approach that tackles comprehensive revitalization without compromising affordable housing or the rich history of it’s residents.

During an interview with Rice University’s Kinder Institute, Project Row House Executive Director Eureka Gilkey shared the work that lies ahead: “We can’t halt gentrification; it’s already happening — but we have an opportunity to change the way this process works.

By Cecilia Smith/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Did Trump Bamboozle HBCU Presidents? His Delay In Appointing a Director of the Initiative Shows They Are Not a Priority

When President Donald Trump met with leaders from historically Black colleges and universities in February, it sparked a backlash. Students and alumni criticized the decision of HBCU presidents to meet with a man who paved his way to the White House by making a series of offensive comments about African-Americans and other racial groups. At Howard University, graffiti turned up criticizing the school’s president, Wayne Frederick, for accepting the meeting.

“Welcome to the Trump plantation. Overseer: Wayne A.I. Frederick” read one message. Another mimicked Kanye West’s criticism of George W. Bush: “Wayne Frederick Doesn’t Care About Black People.”

But at the time, HBCU leaders thought the executive order Trump had signed regarding Black colleges was revolutionary. The order shifted the Initiative on HBCUs from the Department of Education to the White House’s executive office with the goal of making these educational institutions more financially stable and economically empowering for students. Fast forward to August, however, and not only haven’t HBCUs received any additional funding from the federal government, but Trump also has yet to appoint an executive director for the initiative, casting doubt on his claim earlier this year that supporting HBCUs was an “absolute priority.”

Naming a leader for the initiative is “the next step in saying HBCUs are important,” Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough told Inside Higher Ed.

“I look at it as another opportunity to share the message of HBCUs as well as to have someone, in a way, lobbying for HBCUs every day within the federal government. So, I think that’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said.

The initiative dates back to President Jimmy Carter’s administration. During recent years, though, leadership has been spotty. John Sylvanus Wilson led the initiative during President Barack Obama’s first term, but since he vacated the post in 2012 to serve as Morehouse College’s president, three different people have headed the initiative.

According to a White House spokesman, the Trump administration has selected finalists for the position but hasn’t yet chosen an appointee. Leonard Haynes, executive director of the initiative during President George W. Bush’s administration, helped Trump write the executive order on HBCUs but explained that he’s not interested in leading the program again. While the Trump administration has left many appointments unfilled, it’s particularly worrisome that the Initiative on HBCUs has no leader, since the annual HBCU Week Conference takes place next month. Traditionally, the initiative oversees the event. Kimbrough said it’s important to have an executive director by September, because of the upcoming conference and also because of Trump’s strained relationship with the African-American community.

Throughout his campaign, Trump made disparaging remarks about Blacks, suggesting that African-Americans largely live in inner cities overrun with crime, despite research that shows the opposite is true. Trump, who publicly called for the execution of the Central Park Five, the group of Black and Latino teens falsely accused of beating and raping a jogger in the New York City landmark in 1989, refused to apologize when evidence vindicated them. And in January, Trump attacked U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), a civil rights icon, on Twitter.

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to……mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!” Trump said on the social networking site, prompting outcry even from fellow Republicans. Moreover, the fact that Trump has previously faced allegations of housing discrimination certainly doesn’t help how African-Americans perceive him.

Dillard’s Kimbrough suggests that fulfilling his promise to HBCUs can help Trump improve his relationship with Blacks.

“A really good person has to say, ‘How do I assure people in the African-American community that I am still committed to the causes of the African-American community?’ knowing that there might be some things that the president does that might be diametrically opposed to the interests of African-Americans?” he told Inside Higher Ed.

But Trump appears to be doing little to repair his relationship with the Black community or with the HBCU leaders he met with five months ago. Since meeting with the group, he’s slashed funding for grant and work-study programs upon which many HBCU students rely. He’s refused to attend events organized by civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the National Urban League. Plus, in May, he questioned whether HBCUs could legally receive aid from the federal government. That’s because Trump apparently thought HBCUs weren’t open to non-Black students and, thus, discriminatory, despite the fact that whites and non-Black students of color have attended HBCUs for years. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seems just as uninformed about HBCUs as Trump, describing them as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” even though they came to be because mainstream universities and colleges denied admission to Black people.

While the leaders who met with Trump in February probably don’t want to hear “I told you so” from all of the naysayers, it appears increasingly clear that the man who agreed to settle a $25 million fraud lawsuit connected to Trump University likely bamboozled them, too.

Morehouse President Wilson saw the writing on the wall months ago when Trump’s budget did not allocate additional funding to HBCUs.

“I don’t mind saying that we were — a number of us — were disappointed, not because of what we thought on our own leading up to this meeting, but what we were led to think,” Wilson said. “And so I think it was a little underwhelming to see that the most tangible differentiator that happened here was an office relocation.”

 By Nadra Nittle/AtlantaBlackStar
Posted by The NON-Conformist

Toyota, Mazda Announce Plans for a $1.6 Billion U.S. Plant

President Trump called it a “great investment in American manufacturing.”

Toyota and Mazda announced Friday they are jointly building a $1.6 billion assembly plant in the U.S., buying a stake in each other, and developing electric vehicles.

Under the agreement, Toyota, the world’s second-largest automaker, will buy a 5 percent stake in Mazda, Japan’s sixth-largest carmaker. The smaller automaker, meanwhile, will take a 0.25 percent share in Toyota. The U.S. plant would have the capacity to make 300,000 vehicles annually and create up to 4,000 jobs , the companies said. The plant, whose location is yet to be determined, will begin work in 2021 pending regulatory approval, the companies said. Mazda will make new crossovers for the North American market at the plant. Toyota said it plans to produce Corollas for the North American market there. The goal, the companies said, was to respond more quickly to the needs of its customers.

President Trump praised the announcement on Twitter, calling it a “great investment in American manufacturing.” The decision by the automakers could be seen a victory for Trump who had campaigned for president vowing to bring back U.S. manufacturing jobs—though many of these jobs were returning in smaller numbers for a few years.

Still, the announcement comes at a surprising time for the U.S. auto industry: Figures released this week showed a continuing decline in car sales, a trend driven last month mostly by weaker-than-expected sales of trucks. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—the big-three U.S. automakers—were particularly affected, each seeing larger-than-expected sales declines. Sales of Mazda fell, too. Toyota was one of the few companies that saw an increase in sales.

Lower demand from consumers, as well as increased emissions and regulatory standards, the rise of self-driving technology, and ride-sharing services makes the auto industry a challenging sector. The two companies acknowledged as much in their announcement.

“With the future of the industry in mind, in addition to leveraging their individual strengths to further improve technologies and reinforce their business foundations, Toyota and Mazda aim to deepen collaboration and achieve sustainable growth through their partnership, rising to face and overcome these pressing challenges,” the statement said.

By KRISHNADEV CALAMUR

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Is this Trump’s worst-ever Twitter move? Threatening Congress could become an epic disaster

In a new tweet-burst, Trump threatens to cut off health care for Congress and staffers. Let’s see how that works!

President Donald Trump declared war on Congress this past weekend: both parties and both chambers, and including modestly paid Capitol Hill staffers. Not only that, he threatened to unilaterally rescind subsidies to help low-income Americans pay their health insurance premiums, potentially stripping millions of Americans of their coverage. In a Saturday tweetgasm, the Mad King blurted from his porcelain throne:

Trump tweet

If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!

The “bailout for Insurance Companies” is Trump’s obnoxious shorthand for what Reuters described as “$8 billion in cost-sharing reduction subsidies paid by the federal government to insurers to lower the price of health coverage for low-income individuals.” In other words, if you and your family earn less than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), the government helps you pay your premiums. Given that health insurance coverage is now mandated by the government and given that uninsured Americans tend to drive up health care costs, premium subsidies are both fair and fiscally responsible.

The “bailout for Congress” is more complicated, but the fact that Trump threatened to kill it with fire ought to both infuriate and ostracize members from both sides of the aisle (more about this presently). Trump is engaging in clear extortion in order to further pursue his maniacal obsession with repealing the ACA, despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s declaration that it’s “time to move on.”

Let’s review. Several years ago, former House Speaker John Boehner and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers to the White House in order to convince President Obama to continue providing a salary benefit for members of Congress and their staffers. Obama acquiesced to their request for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to continue its decades-long practice of providing health insurance premium-sharing as a benefit for any members who choose to have employer-based insurance coverage.

Until 2013, members were covered under the same government employee health plan as all other federal workers: the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program. Briefly put, it’s the public-sector equivalent to the employer-based health coverage most Americans receive through their private sector full-time jobs. As of 2013, though, a seldom-discussed amendment to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), proposed by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, went into effect, requiring that all members of Congress and staffers who wanted to continue their employer-based health coverage purchase their plans through the District of Columbia’s marketplace, established through the ACA. However, the Grassley amendment didn’t include any provisions for continuing FEHB’s premium-sharing, under which the government pays 72 percent of the health premiums for members and staff. Again, that isn’t out of the norm given that most full-time workers in America receive a similar benefit through their jobs.

This brings us back to Boehner, Reid, Obama and the OPM. Per the request of Congress, Obama ordered OPM to write a new rule allowing members and staff to continue receiving the premium-sharing salary benefit, ported to the D.C. exchange. Without the rule, Hill employees and their bosses would face a massive pay cut. Obama’s rule solved that problem, but no good deed goes unpunished: Republicans almost immediately began framing the benefit as an “exemption from Obamacare,” making it appear as if Congress was exempt from the entire law.

This, of course, was a whopper lie given that Congress was mandated by law to buy insurance through the Obamacare exchange if its members and their employees wanted employer coverage. Members and staffers can buy insurance through whatever means they choose, but premium-sharing is only provided if employer coverage is chosen. According to a 2013 tally by the Washington Post, libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a longtime advocate of Obamacare repeal, purchased his insurance through the D.C. exchange while receiving the premium-sharing benefit.

Trump, whose White House staffers are likely covered through FEHB, complete with premium-sharing benefits paid by taxpayers, is directly and explicitly blackmailing Congress. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., tweeted in response: “This is a clear threat to Congress: pass my health bill or as punishment I will end health care for you, your staff, & your constituents.” It’s difficult to fully illustrate how dumb and terrible this is — not like that’s something brand new. The “terrible” part is self explanatory: Trump is using the lives and livelihoods of millions of American citizens, including members of Congress, as a cudgel to get what he wants. And we shouldn’t be particularly shocked when he follows through.

Trump continues to make confoundingly stupid decisions: The executive branch has become a kakistocracy — government run by its most unqualified and corrupt occupants. See also “Idiocracy.” By threatening Congress from a position of utter weakness (38 percent approval rating, via Gallup), the president is not only crippling his own legislative agenda, he’s making enemies out of allies. At some point, and hopefully it’s soon, his entire presidency could come down to a congressional vote. In the near term, he needs all the friends he can muster without anything to offer in return.

Worse yet, former intelligence officer and MSNBC analyst Malcolm Nance reported on the syndicated Stephanie Miller Show last week that most of the leaks that so enrage the president are coming from Capitol Hill, not the intelligence community. Either way, Trump’s berserker lack of discipline, his uncensored blurts and “Fox & Friends”-inspired tantrums will only serve to accelerate the flow of damaging anti-Trump leaks, while augmenting the ranks of his enemies at the southeastern end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump thinks that Congress, and indeed, the entire federal government, works for him. In the real world, every new day and every fresh bout of explosive social-media diarrhea further isolates him. He thinks his chaotic flailing makes him more popular, but the exact opposite is true. He still hasn’t learned that he’s not the boss of the nation, no matter how loudly he stomps and screams. If this latest episode ends up being the tipping point, he only has himself to blame.

By Bob Cesca/Salon

Posted by The NON-Conformist