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Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

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Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.

A victory for Hip Hop’s birthplace

In Economic Justice, Housing, Music, New York City, Urban Planning / Space on March 4, 2008 at 11:38 am

2 posts in one day???  It’s been a while since i’ve done that……

Anyway, good news for housing activists and hip hop historians today.  Allhiphop reports the following:

Efforts to save the birthplace of Hip-Hop culture proved successful as the New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) rejected a proposed sale of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue to a developer Mark Karasick. According to Sen. Charles Schumer, the HPD cited the fact that current rents could not be sustained if the sale of the property had gone through. The decision is the latest chapter in the struggle for Sedgwick Avenue tenants to preserve their building. Tenants enlisted Hip-Hop co-founder DJ Kool Herc last year to help save the property after word got out that the 100-unit apartment building’s owner planned to leave an affordable housing program. The building has also been deemed eligible to be listed on national and state registers of historic sites.

article appears here.

“Overactivism” is a Beautiful Phrase

In Consumerism, Economic Justice, Housing, Land rights, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on March 8, 2007 at 4:26 pm

“Overactivism” is a beautiful phrase that is being lobbed from the lobbyists towards consumer advocates, fair lending advocates, and economic justice activists becausethe “subprime” or “nonprime” mortgage market.  Subprime loans are made to borrowers with lower than average credit; the loans, largely due to historical barriers to credit, are made disproportianatly to low-income, non-white, and female borrowers.

 

The subprime lending market has made years of irresponsible and predatory mortgage loans to these borrowers and now the cat is out of the bag beyond the activist community — the loans are unsuitable and unaffordable to many borrowers. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that 20%, or one of every five, subprime loan made in recent years will end in foreclosure, a process thta not only causes the homeowner to lose their home, but also causes neighborhood instability in terms of abandonment and gentrification.

 

The “overactivism” they refer to is the push by these advocates and activists to ensure that common sense regulations are in place requiring lenders to simple ensure that loans are suitable and affordable to the borrower through the life of the loan.

Countrywide, the biggest U.S. mortgage lender, originated $468.2 billion in home loans last year, including $40.6 billion in “nonprime” products to the riskiest borrowers. Regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, on Friday issued proposed guidance to encourage tighter standards by lenders facing a sudden surge in delinquencies. Loan quality is falling because borrowers, perhaps ill-informed about how fast and far their payments can rise on a 2-28 loan, sustain a “payment shock” and can no longer meet the obligation, the regulators said.

But Countrywide and industry lobbying groups, including the Mortgage Bankers Association, said the guidance would restrict lending to the portion of the economy that need it most… Half of the hybrid ARMs issued by Countrywide are for purchasing a home, he said. Half of those borrowers refinance into prime loans, showing that customers are improving their credit scores and not “hitting the end of the road,” he said.

“The worst thing would be over-activism,” Sieracki said. “There is a market here that needs to be served.”

Some Brooklyn News

In Housing, Land rights, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Urban Planning / Space on February 20, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Being a Brooklyn resident, I thought that I would share some information that I received from the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn newsletter.  It’s a good website for keeping up with Brooklyn development (i.e. Atlantic yards/Ratner), so go check it out.

First is a report about a recent court hearing:

Federal Judge Hears Eminent Domain Oral Arguments; Case Could Derail “Atlantic Yards”
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An overflowing crowd of Brooklyn residents and reporters (some late arrivals had to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV in the courthouse’s cafeteria) filled the courtroom of Federal Magistrate Robert Levy on February 7th, as the judge listened to initial oral arguments in the eminent domain lawsuit filed by property owners and tenants whose homes and businesses lie in the footprint of the proposed “Atlantic Yards” development.

The hearing, in the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, was held in response to a motion to dismiss the case, brought by the defendants, who include the Empire State Development Corporation, Forest City Ratner, former Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The defendants are fearful of the case going to trial in Federal court, where the fate of Bruce Ratner’s “Atlantic Yards” project would rest solely on the law – and with a politically independent, impartial judge.

If the case proceeds to trial – and many courtroom observers believe that Judge Levy’s demeanor and his line of questioning indicate there’s a good chance it will – it would derail Ratner’s plans to erect an arena and a superblock of high-rise buildings in Prospect Heights. If the plaintiffs win, the project will have to go back to the drawing board, or be scrapped altogether, because the arena cannot be built, nor can streets de-mapped, without the plaintiffs’ homes and businesses.

During the nearly four hours of sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-technical courtroom back-and-forth, Judge Levy seemed largely unmoved by the defendants’ arguments; at one point, he interrupted ESDC lawyer Douglas Kraus to tell him “you and I have very different ideas about the law.” For more on the courtroom blow-by-blow, we recommend the coverage at the always-excellent Atlantic Yards Report, and this story from The New York Sun.

Judge Levy is expected to make a recommendation to presiding Judge Nicholas Garaufis on the defendants’ motion in the next few weeks. If he denies the motion (and we’re optimistic he will), the discovery process will begin, leading to a trial some time in the next few months.

 

Secondly, here are some screening dates and locations for a movie about the proposed development projects and the “antics” behind them.  I haven’t seen the movie, but it looks good, and i might go try to check it out.  It’s definitely an issue that people need to understand more about.

Brooklyn Matters,” local filmmaker Isabel Hill’s documentary chronicle of the shenanigans behind Bruce Ratner’s full-court press to erect his massively scaled, massively subsidized “Atlantic Yards,” is a must-see – and it’s coming to a location near you.

“Of all the protesting voices and hundreds of thousands of words in opposition to the proposed Atlantic Yards development, nothing is as convincing as Isabel Hill’s excellent film.”
– Stuart Pertz, FAIA, former member of the New York City Planning Commission

Brooklyn Matters is a remarkable film that slowly, quietly, calmly reveals the extreme ugliness at the heart of one of the most ill-conceived mega-developments in New York history.”
– Francis Morrone, architectural historian and author

The next two Brooklyn showings are as follows:

February 21st, 7:30 p.m.
Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Auditorium
357 Clermont Avenue (between Lafayette & Greene)
Fort Greene
Presented by the Fort Greene Association & The Society for Clinton Hill
Complimentary refreshments will be served beginning at 7:00 p.m.

February 27th, 7 p.m.
Fifth Avenue Committee
621 Degraw Street (between 3rd & 4th Avenues)
Park Slope
Presented by the Fifth Avenue Committee

Both screenings are free and open to the public. The running time of the film is approximately 55 minutes.

For up-to-date information on additional screenings, and to view a trailer, please visit www.brooklynmatters.com.

Brookings’ 10 Noteworthy Trends for 2006

In Economic Justice, HIV/SIDA, Housing, Immigration, Labor, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on December 20, 2006 at 10:06 am

Brookings Inst:

  • For the first time in 2005 there are more poor residents of suburbs than central cities.
  • Six percent of the population of large U.S. metropolitan areas lives in exurbs.
  • More than one-third of the nation’s loss of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2005 occurred in seven Great Lakes states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
  • America’s older, inner-ring first suburbs make up 20 percent of the nation’s population and are more diverse and older than the nation as a whole.
  • The average U.S. household spends 19 percent of its budget on transportation, rendering household location a key component of housing affordability.
  • Nationwide, more than 4.2 million lower income homeowners pay a higher than average APR for their mortgage.
  • The leading refugee destination metro areas have shifted away from traditional immigrant gateways, like New York and Los Angeles, over the past two decades to newer gateways—such as Atlanta, Seattle, and Portland.
  • The fastest growing metropolitan areas for minority populations from 2000 to 2004 now closely parallel the fastest growing areas in the nation.
  • Middle-income neighborhoods as a proportion of all metropolitan neighborhoods declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000, disappearing faster than the share of middle class households in these metro areas.
  • Of the $109 billion in federal appropriations dedicated to Gulf Coast funding In the first year after Hurricane Katrina, only $35 billion, approximately, went toward the long-term recovery of the region.
  • NYC’s domestic partners face unfair choice – be cold or be alone

    In Civil Liberties, Economic Justice, Housing, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, religion & politics, Sexuality, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on December 13, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Send an e-postcard to NYC Dept. of Homeless Services because Commissioner Hess can change this.

    Happy Thanksgiving – No thanks to Ratner

    In class warfare, Economic Justice, Housing, Land rights, New York City, Urban Planning / Space on November 25, 2006 at 1:31 pm

     

    For Thanksgiving Day, the folks over at NoLandGrab made up a list of things to be thankful for.  The one that caught my the most was the last on their list – Bruce Ratner being listed as the #1 most loathsome New Yorker on the New York Press’ list of the 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers.  That most definitely is something to be thankful for!  Here is what the NYPress had to say:

    1 Bruce Ratner

    Nets Owner & Developer

    Where’s Jackie O. when you need her? The Atlantic Yards project and the rest of the properties this comb-over-mini-Donald’s got his greenbacked mitts around aren’t exactly Grand Central Terminal, but bear with us. Think of all the upper-middle-class homeowners who will be displaced after long, hard years of work carving a viable neighborhood out of a once-desolate area of Brooklyn. Then there are the many working-class people living in Prospect Heights, and the small businesspersons in the area. Aren’t their homes and businesses worth saving? The Empire State Development Board, Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz don’t think so. The centerpiece of the proposed development is a 19,000-seat arena that will house the Brooklyn (née New Jersey) Nets, in which Ratner has a major stake. Also on the table are 17 high rises, which will be as high as 55 stories, 628,000 square feet of commercial space and residences. The housing bit is a ruse to assuage the masses. The “affordable” residential buildings will, however, remain out of reach for a single mom of four surviving on a sub-poverty-line paycheck. Ratner’s attempts to evade official processes for major real estate projects and the use of Supreme Court-endorsed eminent domain have been met with challenges from underfunded groups like Develop Don’t Destroy. What really pisses us off is the imminent razing of Freddy’s Bar and Backroom, which is in the 22-acre footprint. With the Freddy’s gone, where will we get our $4 beers when that’s all we have in our wallet? Oh, and don’t look for criticism in the Newspaper of Record: Ratner’s building the Times’ gleaming new headquarters building west of Times Square.

     

    UN: Pro-poor mortgages to curb growth of slums

    In Children and Youth, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Environment, Housing, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Land rights, Laws & Regulation, Progressive Politics, Technology, Urban Planning / Space on November 14, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    From the UN late last month:

    Mortgages that allow poor people to buy housing will soon be needed to curb the worldwide growth of slums and improve living standards, the head of the United Nations agency charged with promoting socially and environmentally sustainable housing has warned, saying that her organization has already begun testing various financing methods… But she said that there were some signs of progress, noting in particular that new rules, effective since August, meant that UN-HABITAT could finally act as a catalyst, enabling countries to meet the slum upgrading and water and sanitation targets of 2015.

    First off, has there been a sudden crisis in the world’s urban slumdwelling population that is in such an emergent need for an innovative tool, but only in need of this tool “soon?” I guess the living standards are deteriorating, but at a slowth enough speed that they’re not needed now… soon will do.

    I agree that the expansion “pro-poor” financing options will be useful to the “poor,” but enforcing contracts/mortgages can also be a dangerous tool.

    Let’s pull this string through:

    Living in a slum, oftentimes on squatted land, and then, as this articles alludes to, water and utility infrastructure improvements shift people off squatted land and onto land where they will be formally recorded and deeded. If they’re not shifted, they are at the very least recorded and deeded. (Here’s a post about utility work and land displacement.)

    This deed is then exchanged for a mortgage, be it a “pro-poor” mortgage or what seems under this framework to be an “anti-poor” or perhaps “pro-wealthy” mortgage. Times get tough though because, say, unfair subsidies artificially deflate the prices of the goods these “pro-poor” borrowers can get for their crops. These “pro-poor” homeowners fall behind on their mortgage and while they are unable to sell their goods in an open economy (due to maladjusted subsidies) they are certainly going to tossed from their home, which will then be sold on an open market.

    “Pro-poor” mortgage means nothing unless the strongest protections are reserved for the homeowner, not the lender. Shift the “pro” in “pro-poor” to be short for “protection.”

    And don’t think this call for protection is paternalistic… it’s actually self-serving.

    We all need protections brought back a bit more to the borrowers of the world; the scales are tipped too far in favor of “investors’ rights” at the expense of human rights, in my not-so-modest opinion.
    If this were in fact for the urban poor the alarm for this innovative tool would have sounded to have it developed NOW; the call was made for this tool to be developed “soon.” This is for investors, not for the world’s “pro-poor” urban slumdwellers.

    LA’s Homeless Are Like LA’s Old Nikes

    In Children and Youth, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Housing, International politics, International Public Health, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, Progressive Politics, Race, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on October 24, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    I hate the terminology used in these stories. They discuss the “dumping” of the homeless.

    The frame gets across the mentality of those doing the “dumping,” though, and that may be for the best. Those doing the dumping see these people the same way Nike sees their unsold extra shoes — expendable goods that should be dumped into undesireable locations at the going rate.

    Los Angeles police have launched a criminal investigation into the dumping of homeless people on a rundown area in the city after ambulances were spotted dropping off discharged hospital patients there. The practice had long been suspected but police say they now have evidence, releasing pictures and video to the media on Tuesday of five hospital patients being left in the downtown area commonly known as skid row. “We cannot allow the dumping of the most needy … into that environment, and shame on those who do,” Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton told reporters on Tuesday…

    The investigation will focus on possible violations of federal laws that require medical facilities to screen and stabilize patients before releasing them. It comes as Los Angeles city council seeks a compromise on a policy that attempted to ban people from sitting, lying or sleeping on the streets. It was ruled unconstitutional in April on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment.

    Tanzania Sees Water Privatization-Driven Resistence, Violence

    In Children and Youth, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, HIV/SIDA, Housing, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Netroots, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on October 18, 2006 at 8:45 pm

    I was living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2003, during the “build up” to the Iraq inavsion. I was about 4 miles from the fortress that was the newly opened US Embassy — it replaced the US embassy bombed in 1998.  It was painful to be an American in another city that had also been victimized by Al-Queda (I was coming from NYC, where I was on 9/11/01) . Many of the people in Dar, like many in NYC, saw the attck on Iraq as a pitiful distraction from the true perpetrators of NYC/DC attacks in 2001, but that is a story for another day…

    While in Tanzania, I analyzed a World Bank-induced public utility privatization scheme that was clear to me to be an impending disaster. Beyond the complications that would arise from tiered access to safe water and increased prices, the sheer number of landholders without deeds in Dar es Salaam, I believed, tipped the equation of potential problems beyond even that of Bolivia’s wonderfully horrific water privatization scheme. (My opinionated, poorly written report on Dar’s plan is at my old blog. It includes interviews w officials from the city’s to-be-privatized water utility, representatives from the World Bank  and the Tanzanian government, as well as ‘everyday’ Tanzanians I played basketball with while there.)

    My study focused on the land rights of residential properties, not that of unregistered and “unofficial” businesses. The problems, though, are similar in many ways. 

    There is unfortunate news from Dar today. As reported by the BBC:

    Thousands of Tanzanian market traders are up in arms after being moved away from the centre of the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

    More than 40,000 traders have been relocated to the city’s remote Kigogo area. They say they now have to pay taxes before they can ply their wares…

    But the government insists that the traders have been occupying space in the city centre illegally – preventing the installation of sewage and clean water pipes and reducing traffic in the busy area to a single lane… In March, two people were killed in violent clashes between police and street vendors in the northern town of Mwanza.

    Mwanza is the section I lived in and Kigogo is way out there. I mean, it is WAY out there. There is no way these vendors will be able to do the same type of business as they would in downtown Dar. Especially since much of their business is based on downtown-oriented foot traffic, as opposed to foot traffic intending to go to the market.

    This is part of a much larger conversation of the suburbanization of the poor.  It is happening in the US (usually boiled down to the concept of gentrification, although these ideas are not synonymous) and it is happening in countless cities throughout the world.

    This will have incredibly negative effects on the poor, in terms of their access to social infrastructure — transportation will be losing funding, public utilities such as electricity and water are currently being installed in cities under the guise of the economies of scale (more water users and payers in the city makes the infrastructure investment feasible) while not being supplied to the suburbs. While saying nothing of the access to health services and disaster relief infrastructure,  first-and-foremost in my book, this facilitates the deeding of the unrecorded class and, subsequently, taxation.

    If we can’t get our system implemented on them in their squatter town, the thought goes, let’s move their squatter town to where we can implement our system on them. It’s how the government makes money and maintains social control.

    Plus, the thinking follows, there’s good times to be had in the city, let’s freshen it up a bit and give the tourists access to it — those low-wage workers will find a way to get into work for them ‘cuz they got nowheres else to work… except that export processing zone

    P.S. Hey, investors! Don’t worry, those pesky “existing” Tanzanian exporters have been disallowed from investing in the EPZ… this is strictly for folks like you!

    Housing Discrimination in Brooklyn

    In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Housing, New York City, Race on October 17, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    As if the institutional racism/classism of continually increasing rent costs wasn’t bad enough in NYC, we have to have groups like the Corocoran group acting like its 1960 around here….

    Gotham Gazette posted a report today by the National Fair Housing Alliance about racist housing practices in New York.  They briefly described it as follows:

    This report by the National Fair Housing Alliance charges that real estate agents of the Corcoran Group “steered homebuyers by race and denied basic services to African Americans.” Such activity, the report argues, helps explain why New York City, “for all its diversity…remains among the most segregated areas in the United States.” It recommends that the federal government set up a testing program to “provide systematic assessments of real estate agents and companies and take appropriate policy and enforcement actions to counteract discriminatory behavior.”

    Re-Post: The Nobel winner who wanted to make poverty a museum piece

    In Economic Justice, Housing, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Progressive Politics on October 15, 2006 at 11:50 am

    From The Guardian…

    Back in 1999 I interviewed the Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus while in Bangladesh to report on development issues. I left with a lasting impression of a humble, compassionate man with a quiet confidence in the ability of himself, his Grameen Bank colleagues and society as a whole to change the status quo in real and practical ways. These qualities are I suspect often found in people who have directly challenged unacceptable aspects of humanity. For Nelson Mandela it was apartheid, for Mahatma Gandhi it was self-rule, for Prof Yunus it is poverty.

    He told me that he had a dream of setting up a museum of poverty; a building where the children of the future would go and marvel at the phenomenon of poverty. They would ask questions which couldn’t be answered: “There was great wealth and prosperity and everyone was splurging, so why were others poor and dying?”
    To see his ideas in action, I visited a group of women in rural Bangladesh who had taken out Grameen Bank loans…

    The rest is here.

    The World Can’t Wait Demos

    In Children and Youth, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Education, Election 2006, Environment, HIV/SIDA, Housing, Hurricane Katrina, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Iraq War, Labor, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, The War On Drugs, US Politics on October 4, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    Tomorrow there will be a “Day of Mass Resistence,” organized by The World Can’t Wait. They’ve placed ads in newspapers across the country for this event that will be centered in DC, but will have locations throughout the nation. Our friends from Outernational, who Tom Morello says will be the next Rage Against the Machine, will be playing the NYC demo.

    It’s going to take all kinds to get the change we need in this world, and this group is one that is making the necssary noise to make people turn and listen. That is for damn sure.

    Join in–get loud–demand more. The time to be silent has long since passed.

    HUD Secretary Cleared of Partisan Favors, Kind of

    In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Housing, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Race, US Politics on September 27, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    There was all kindsa crap about this one initially after it happened (not the least of which was the Wonkette’s bestowing “spokeshottie” status on Dustee Tucker of HUD):

    A recent investigation into remarks by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson raises as many questions as it answers, with conflicting accounts on how political affiliations may have played into contract award decisions at the agency.

    The inspector general investigation was requested by several members of Congress in May after a news story in the Dallas Business Journal that Jackson told participants at a minority business conference that he had personally scuttled the contract of a man who said he did not support President Bush. Shortly after the news account, Jackson released a statement saying the story he had shared was made up.

    Investigators concluded that the substance of Jackson’s remarks was partly true. But they did not unearth evidence that would implicate the HUD chief for unethical or illegal contracting practices.

    Rather, the report presented page after page of sworn testimony by Jackson and senior staff members — some of it conflicting — on procurement practices at the department and Jackson’s involvement in contracts since he joined the agency in June 2001.
    […]

    Investigators also heard from two senior staff members — Chief of Staff Camille Pierce and Deputy Secretary Roy Bernardi — that Jackson told political appointees at a staff meeting that it was important “to consider presidential supporters” in the award of “discretionary” contracts. Other officials said they had not heard Jackson make that remark.

    Another official, General Counsel Keith Gottfried, said he had heard rumors that Jackson tries to help his friends win contracts, though he said he had never heard of contracts being rescinded or terminated as a result of the secretary’s actions.

    […]

    The investigators’ report delves into several specific contracts that were handled questionably. One of those was a contract with Abt Associates, a company that many officials recalled the secretary disliked. According to Pierce, his chief of staff, “There was a question about the Abt award, and he said the quality of Abt work is inferior, and besides, they are a Democratic organization. No, no, he didn’t — he said he believed that they would take their money, the HUD money, and contribute it to the Democratic Party or something.”

    That award eventually was signed, Pierce recounted, when Jackson learned Congress already had been notified of the award recipient.

    […]

    The investigators’ report, prepared by Anthony Medici, special agent in charge of the HUD inspector general’s office’s criminal investigations division, has not been publicly released but has been distributed to those members of Congress who requested it. A congressional staffer with access to the report said the department considers it to have the same protections as a personnel file, and thus, to be subject to the Privacy Act. Mike Zerega, spokesman for the IG’s office, would not comment on the reasons for not publishing it.

    The executive summary of the 340-page report has been leaked online, and a staffer said Democratic senators likely would call for hearings and further investigations after a rush of last-minute business this week.

    Election Day 9-12-06

    In Election 2006, Housing, Iraq War, New York City, US Politics on September 11, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    So i’m thinking that they should move elections to the spring so that they don’t fall so close to Sept. 11th. TV is full of images of September 11th and of election talk, so you can’t help but think about them together. Obviously, the President and Co. have capitalized off of this day in U.S. history, and removing election day from the picture would help to remedy that a little. But I guess it really doesn’t matter anyway, because if elections were moved to the spring they would just make up some terror alert.

    ballot box

    Plus, tomorrow is less about rivalry between parties and more about rivalry within parties. I personally am registered as an independent (so that i can critique both parties from the outside), but I have to honestly say I’m missing out on something in tomorrow’s primaries. I may have to reconsider my party registration for the future.

    My area has one of the hottest election battles in NYC, with the Congressional seat that Major Owens stepped down from sitting wide open. There is also interesting races going on for Governor, Attorney General, and Senate.

    The following is a list of how I would vote if I were to be voting tomorrow:

    Governor: Spitzer. He did some pretty good things in his position as Attorney General, including going after Wall Street firms, and other parts of the financial services industry, in order to make their practices better for consumers. He also seems more interested in providing the necessary funding for NYC education than his opponent. Plus, he seems to have some power when it comes to challenging Bloomberg and projects like the Atlantic Yards. Finally, Spitzer is getting the nod from NYtimes.

    Senate: Tasini. First of all, I’ve never been a huge fan of Hillary Clinton. Something about her is not to be completely trusted. Even though I don’t know enough about Tasini, I like what I’ve seen, including his criticisms of Hillary’s past and present stances on the war in Iraq. Plus, Hillary is probably guaranteed to be the winner here anyway, so I figure a vote for Tasini is a vote to show Hillary that people care about the issues that he is pushing.

    Attorney General: Green. Just like Spitzer, the New York Times is endorsing Green, which is a big plus in my mind for him. But on top of that, Cuomo has been linked to a major slumlord (another article here) as well as being former head of HUD (aka the #1 worst landlord in the city and country on the Village Voice’s top 10 worst landlords list). That doesn’t reflect too good on him, in my opinion.

    Congress: Chris Owens. All of the Congressional candidates seem to be decent choices, but I have to give my personal endorsement to Owens. In the end, he is the most progressive, and is the only candidate in this race that completely opposes Ratner and the Atlantic Yards project. Other than that, one issue for me in this race is, well, race. While Yassky doesn’t seem to be that bad, I have some issues with voting for the only white guy in the race for a black majority district. I mean, the guy did get heckled and had donuts thrown at him by some local residents after all.

    donut!

    If you aren’t sure about what to do tomorrow, don’t use that as an excuse not to vote. Read up on it tonight. There is plenty of information available online about candidates and races. In NYC, for example, Gotham Gazette provides a great guide during each election season. Check it out here. As for other cities, I’m sure there are similar guides.

    South Africa Faces “Grave Constitutional Crisis;” Minister of Health Continues Breaking the Law

    In Children and Youth, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, HIV/SIDA, Housing, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., New York City, Race, Sexuality, The War On Drugs on August 30, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    [Lucio Verani is a volunteer for Friends of TAC-North America and works as an administrative assistant at The Rockefeller University. Previously, Lucio volunteered for TAC in South Africa, interned with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center and worked for the National School of Public Health in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He can be contacted at lucio_verani@yahoo.com.]

    Two developments this week have highlighted the serious incompetence of the South African government’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

    First, the South African government is illegally withholding AIDS treatment from its prisoners. The South African Constitution states that healthcare is a right, and based on this, the South African government was ordered on June 26th, to implement emergency treatment programs in Durban’s Westville Prison. The government then appealed this judgment, but the judge, agreeing with the Treatment Action Campaign(TAC) and the AIDS Law Project, handed an interim-order (valid until the government’s original appeal could be ruled upon), which forced government to begin implementing an emergency treatment plan by August 14. The government then illegally appealed this interim-order, and on Monday, August 28th, the courts once again ruled against the government, saying:

    If the refusal to comply does not result from instruction from the first respondent, the Government of the Republic of South Africa, then the remaining respondents must be disciplined, either administratively or in an employment context, for their delinquency. If the Government of the Republic of South Africa has given such an instruction then we face a grave constitutional crisis involving a serious threat to the doctrine of the separation of powers. Should that continue the members of the judiciary will have to consider whether their oath of office requires them to continue on the bench.”

    Secondly, on Tuesday, August 29th, South Africa’s Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala Msimang (commonly known as Manto), was condemned by the South African Medical Association for making illegal and unscientific pronouncements. Manto is a lunatic that deserves to be fired. She is equivocating on the supposed “issue” of proper nutrition versus access to timely HIV medications. Manto highlights the side-effects of antiretrovirals (for treating AIDS), talks about the benefits of nutrition and then says it is each person’s democratic right to choose if they will maintain a healthy diet or try to get on antiretrovirals. Recently, US Senator Barack Obama met with members of TAC in the Khayeltisha township of Cape Town and afterwards declared that “[O]n the treatment side the information being provided by the minister of health is not accurate… It is not an issue of Western science versus African science, it is just science and it’s not right [what Manto is doing].” In addition to offering her poorly informed sisters and brothers this “false-choice” between proper nutrition and HIV treatment, the Minister has refused to distance herself from HIV/AIDS denialists and people who sell multivitamins or traditional remedies as cures for AIDS.

    TAC recently held an international Day of Action calling for the Health Minister to be fired and for prisoners to receive treatment. TAC’s explanation of their demands can be found here. The document provides a brief overview of why Minister Manto must be fired and then tried in court for the culpable homicide of one of the Westville prisoners, who died after receiving treatment far too late. According to TAC and the AIDS Law Project, at least four of the 14 remaining plaintiffs in prison are in critical condition, and their lawyers have been denied access to them for the past two weeks. Please e-mail, news-subscribe@tac.org.za in order to sign-up for the TAC Newsletter, the source of most of this information. This newsletter will help you support the most credible HIV/AIDS advocacy organization in the world. Until South Africa’s politicians take the lead on this issue, it will be up to international civil society to support South African civil society in leading the way. Your help is desperately needed.

    Finally, I would like people to read the below chart on HIV treatment rates in Africa and the accompanying explanation. This conclusively shows that the South African government is lying when they claim to run the world’s most comprehensive AIDS program.

    Country

    UNAIDS/WHO estimates

    People receiving
    treatment in
    December 2005

    People needing
    treatment in 2005

    Treatment coverage

    Under 25% coverage: RED

    Under 50% coverage: YELLOW

    Above 50% coverage: GREEN

     

     

     

    Algeria

    <500

    1,000

    39%

    Angola

    2,500-3,500

    52,000

    6%

    Benin

    3,500-6,000

    14,000

    33%

    Botswana

    67,000-77,000

    84,000

    85%

    Burkina Faso

    9,000

    34,000

    24%

    Burundi

    6,000-7,000

    46,000

    14%

    Cameroon

    21,000-26,000

    108,000

    22%

    Cape Verde

    <500

    Central African Republic

    1,500-2,000

    49,000

    3%

    Chad

    5,000-8,000

    38,000

    17%

    Congo

    2,000-3,500

    18,000

    17%

    Côte d’Ivoire

    18,000-19,000

    111,000

    17%

    Democratic Republic
    of the Congo

    7,000-8,500

    209,000

    4%

    Djibouti

    <500

    2,000

    16%

    Egypt

    <500

    2,000

    12%

    Equatorial Guinea

    <200

    4,200

    0%

    Eritrea

    <1,000

    11,000

    5%

    Ethiopia

    19,000-22,000

    278,000

    7%

    Gabon

    2,000-2,500

    8,650

    23%

    Gambia

    <200

    1,500

    10%

    Ghana

    4,000-5,000

    61,000

    7%

    Guinea

    2,000-2,500

    23,000

    9%

    Guinea Bissau

    <200

    4,800

    1%

    Kenya

    60,000-72,000

    273,000

    24%

    Lesotho

    7,500-9,000

    58,000

    14%

    Liberia

    <500

    15,000

    3%

    Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

    <1,000

    1,500

    35%

    Madagascar

    <200

    20,000

    0%

    Malawi

    31,000-35,000

    169,000

    20%

    Mali

    5,500-9,000

    22,000

    32%

    Mauritania

    <500

    1,500

    40%

    Mauritius

    <200

    Morocco

    <1,000

    2,000

    48%

    Mozambique

    19,000-21,000

    216,000

    9%

    Namibia

    27,000-31,000

    41,000

    71%

    Niger

    <1,000

    12,000

    5%

    Nigeria

    37,000-45,000

    636,000

    7%

    Rwanda

    18,000-20,000

    49,000

    39%

    Sao Tome and Principe

    <200

    Senegal

    3,000-5,500

    9,000

    47%

    Seychelles

    <200

    Sierra Leone

    <500

    9,600

    2%

    Somalia

    6,000

    1%

    South Africa

    178,000-235,000

    983,000

    21%

    Sudan

    <500

    62,000

    1%

    Swaziland

    12,000-14,000

    42,000

    31%

    Togo

    5,000-8,000

    25,000

    27%

    Tunisia

    <500

    <1,000

    34%

    Uganda

    71,000-79,000

    148,000

    51%

    United Republic of Tanzania

    20,000-23,000

    315,000

    7%

    Zambia

    45,000-52,000

    183,000

    27%

    Zimbabwe

    22,000-27,000

    321,000

    8%

    “[Gregg Gonsalves from the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa used UNAIDS/WHO statistics to code] countries with greater than 50% coverage in GREEN (i.e. Namibia, Botswana and Uganda); countries with less than 50% (but more than 25%) coverage in YELLOW (i.e. Algeria, Benin, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia, and Zambia) and those with less than 25% coverage in RED (i.e. South Africa and all the rest).  So when the Health Minister of South Africa says her country is treating more people than any other country in the region, she is correct in terms of absolute numbers, but South Africa is not out of the RED yet-it is behind all the countries in YELLOW AND GREEN and even within those countries with less than 25% coverage, still Kenya, Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso are ahead of South Africa!  That means 19 countries in the region are doing better than South Africa in terms of the percentage of people on ART who are in need of it. Finally, South Africa has the greatest absolute number of people in need of treatment (i.e. 983,000 people), dwarfing any other countries' number waiting for treatment with the closest rival being Nigeria with 636,000 people still in need of ART.” –posted by Gregg on the Health GAP list-serve, August 26, 2006.
    To subscribe to the Health GAP list-serve, send an email to info@healthgap.org

    Privatization of Disaster

    In Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Housing, Hurricane Katrina, International Public Health, Labor, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on August 30, 2006 at 10:37 am

    “The Red Cross has just announced a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. When the next hurricane hits, it will be a co-production of Big Aid and Big Box. This, apparently, is the lesson learned from the government’s calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina: Businesses do disaster better.”

    This is how Naomi Klein starts a piece she wrote earlier this week on disaster relief. But she goes on to show that just because Wal-Mart may do disaster relief better, the end result isn’t better for taxpayers and the country as a whole.

    She describes privatization of disaster relief as follows:

    Largely under the public radar, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction of a privatized disaster-response infrastructure…

    I call it the Disaster Capitalism Complex. Whatever you might need in a serious crunch, these contractors can provide it: generators, water tanks, cots, port-a-potties, mobile homes, communications systems, helicopters, medicine, men with guns.

    This state-within-a-state has been built almost exclusively with money from public contracts, including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers). Yet it is all privately owned; taxpayers have absolutely no control over it or claim to it. So far, that reality hasn’t sunk in because when these companies are getting their bills paid by government contracts, the Disaster Capitalism Complex provides its services to the public free of charge.

    But here’s the catch: The U.S. government is going broke, in no small part thanks to this kind of loony spending. The national debt is $8-trillion; the federal budget deficit is at least $260-billion. That means that sooner rather than later, the contracts are going to dry up. And no one knows this better than the companies themselves. Ralph Sheridan, chief executive of Good Harbor Partners, one of hundreds of new counter-terrorism companies, explains that “expenditures by governments are episodic and come in bubbles.” Insiders call it the “homeland security bubble.”

    When it bursts, firms such as Bechtel, Fluor and Blackwater will lose their primary revenue stream. They will still have all their high-tech gear giving them the ability to respond to disasters — while the government will have let that precious skill whither away — but now they will rent back the tax-funded infrastructure at whatever price they choose.

    Does this mean that the next time a disaster hits, we will be even less equipped to handle it? It looks like that may be the case.

    Meanwhile, in other disaster relief funding news, the Washington Post reports today that FEMA is trying to cut corners and hold back funding on some of the repair and renewal projects in New Orleans and other areas damaged by Katrina. They report:

    Someone had to pay to remove 3,000 dead trees in New Orleans. The trees, insisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency, couldn’t have been killed by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters because they weren’t toppled to a certain angle. New Orleans would have to pay…

    Through hundreds of such disputes large and small, the most costly disaster in U.S. history is fast becoming its most contentious, with appeals and disputes worth nearly a billion dollars bogging down repairs of critical public systems and delaying the return of residents.

    Current and former officials at all levels blame FEMA workers’ inexperience with eligibility rules, weaknesses in U.S. disaster laws and inconsistent treatment by Congress for much of the wrangling.

    But why are the workers inexperienced? Well, that sort of leads us back to Naomi Klein’s article. The WaPo article describes the situation as follows:

    Elsewhere [outisde of New Orleans] local officials say a parade of new FEMA officials — the overstretched agency rotates workers every 90 days or so and relies on temporary employees as well — leads to constantly changing decisions on project approvals and paperwork.

    One reason for mistakes is that FEMA has suffered a “brain drain” of top officials familiar with the complex rules to retirements and agency upheaval in recent years, said David Fukutomi, a FEMA consultant who is serving as a spokesman….

    The state of Louisiana had only 14 disaster recovery employees before the storm and is relying on 173 contract workers provided by James Lee Witt Associates, the firm headed by the Clinton administration FEMA director, to help it manage the process, Jones said. FEMA has more than 700 people in the Gulf states working on the program, about 90 percent of them interim or contract workers, Fukutomi said.

    So in summary, privatization leads to debt, unskilled workers, chaos, disputes, and a dependency on private companies to save us when something bad happens again. And when something does happen, the best services will go to people who can pay the most.

    To top it off, disaster relief isn’t the only industry that is being sold off by the government to private companies. You can add border patrol, healthcare, homeland security, and more to the list. Naomi Klein puts it best when she says:

    The model, of course, is the U.S. healthcare system, in which the wealthy can access best-in-class treatment in spa-like environments while 46-million Americans lack health insurance. As emergency-response, the model is already at work in the global AIDS pandemic: private-sector prowess helped produce lifesaving drugs (with heavy public subsidies), then set prices so high that the vast majority of the world’s infected cannot afford treatment.

    If that is the corporate world’s track record on slow-motion disasters, why should we expect different values to govern fast-moving disasters, like hurricanes or even terrorist attacks?

    Poverty Rate Unchanged, Bush Says “Told Ya So, Nanny-Nanny Poo-Poo”

    In Children and Youth, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Housing, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., New York City, Race, US Politics on August 29, 2006 at 11:05 am

    “The nation’s poverty rate was essentially unchanged last year, the first year it hasn’t increased since before President Bush took office… However, the number of people without health insurance increased to 46.6 million in 2005. About 45.3 million people were without insurance the year before.” NYT

    It doesn’t take much to realize that the latter statement is equally as important as the first. Three-quarters of all bankruptcies are filed because of one of three occurances: divorce, job loss, and, yes, medical bills. With last year’s bankruptcy protection devolution, we can expect poverty not to skyrocket just yet, bankruptcies to fall (as we historically think of and measure them), but employment and the food-on-the-table and gas-in-the-tank metrics to show dramatic drops.

    Stay tuned.

    UPDATE: Should’ve put this up earlier.  Tony Snow discussing the president: “Does he often talk about poverty? No,” Snow said. “There hasn’t been a direct discussion of poverty, but he is focused on eliminating the barriers that stand in the way of people making progress.”

    Following Bush’s Lead, The Yes Men Make Empty Promises to New Orleans

    In Children and Youth, Culture jamming, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Housing, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., Netroots, Race, The War On Drugs, US Politics on August 28, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    From Talking Points Muckraker:

    A team of political hoaxers fooled New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, and a thousand construction-industry members today.

    Posing as fictitious senior HUD official Rene Oswin, Andy Bichlbaum — a member of the Group the Yes Men — promised big (and unlikely) changes in New Orleans to a privately-organized conference in Kenner, Louisiana. Among his expansive promises, according to CNN:

    – Energy giants Exxon and Shell would spend $8.6 billion “to finance wetlands rebuilding from $60 billion in profits this year.”

    – Wal-Mart would withdraw its stores from poor neighborhoods and “help nurture local businesses to replace them.”

    – the federal government would spend $180 million to fund “at least one well-equipped public health clinic for every housing development.”

    – the feds would reverse plans to replace public schools with private and charter schools, and instead create a national tax base to supplement local taxes.

    If you haven’t seen it, their movie is well worth watching.

    New Wave in Corporate Crime Coming to Crest: Shrugged Shoulders

    In Culture jamming, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Housing, International politics, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., New York City, US Politics on August 25, 2006 at 9:21 am

    Since “Kenny Boy” Lay keeled over and the NY Post called for his coffin to be double-checked for his body before covering it with dirt, investment banker Frank Quattrone has been awarded a deferred prosecution agreement (read: don’t do anything illegal for one year, Mr Q, and we’ll forget that you likely did something illegal before) and now the DoJ drops charges against Fannie Mae and former CEO Franklin Raines. Quattrone’s settlement is much the same agreement many activists, shoppers, and pedestrians came to with the NYPD after being unjustly swept up at the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC, although I suppose none of the arrestees at the RNC were then awarded back pay that would shame a phone number and zip code into feeling inadequately small. I know the moderators of this site, unjustly swept up in the pre-emptive RNC arrests, certainly didn’t.