A Third Party for the Conservatives?!?

imagesNew Orleans   Every once in a while the arch-conservative editorialists working for Rupert Murdock at The Wall Street Journal have the capacity to surprise. Here we have been cajoling progressives that we need to learn the lessons of the 2016 campaign finally and think seriously about building an alternative political formation that more clearly translates our politics into voice and votes, and darned if the Trump ascension to the Republican throne hasn’t gotten some of their big Whigs talking about a third party for this November. These are not conversations that any of us among the unwashed masses would have known about, but the hue and cry in the conservative ranks must have been loud enough that their sounding board in the Journal felt it was serious enough that they needed to turn the full nozzle up on the hose to try and put out any trace of this fire.

Reading between the lines, there had clearly been a lot of fast and furious talk among the anti-Trump forces that now that he seems almost completely certain to cinch the Republican nomination that they should organize an independent, conservative candidacy and party to appeal to their sort of people. Certainly with the deep pockets that some of these folks have, a run approximating the Ross “Sucking Sound” Perot effort that helped Bill Clinton win or the idiosyncratic race by former Congressman John Anderson, might have been possible.

Their strategy, amazingly enough for conservatives, was to create total chaos. To me that sounds almost Trump-like, but that’s just me. Their notion was that they would pull enough of their kind of votes that there would be no clear winner in the Electoral College, and they would throw the election to the House of Representatives to decide. Since the House is controlled by Republicans their rationale then was that their team in the House would deliver the Presidency to the “true” conservative of their choosing, rather than the faux-conservative, Donald Trump. All of this just takes your breath away, and the fact that The Wall Street Journal took it all seriously enough to try to jump on it with both feet is equally amazing.

But, that’s not all! While some of us are busy trying to learn lessons from these campaigns for the future, there are clearly folks in the conservative ranks who still have not come to grip with the fact that Trump has proven them to be putative emperors with no clothes. Trump has proven these so-called “true” conservatives in think tanks and Wall Street, don’t have a base among voters. Trump has also taken down evangelicals and some of the more extreme gay-bashers and others as well, proving they may have support, but not as many votes as they were claiming either, and if there’s any doubt, call Senator Cruz for clarification on this point.

Some have gotten the message. David Brooks from the Times for example has pledged to get out of his bubble and hit the streets in the coming years to find out what people are really thinking and where they are hurting instead of hanging out in the echo chamber. Warren Buffet on the Democratic side is already drawing lessons from Sanders campaign.

Yesterday is dead and gone. Today is out of control. Time to take notes and do our homework to prepare for the future!

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Banks Creating Housing Squeeze Even More than Gentrification

atlantic yards before construction

Atlantic yards before construction

New Orleans   It seems like it has taken forever, but the first units of affordable housing as part of the victorious, but controversial, agreement negotiated between ACORN and Forest City Ratner to be built as part of the Atlantic Yards project, are finally coming to fruition, better late than never, thanks to the 2007-8 housing financing meltdown.

DNA Info reported:

Applications are now open for the first units of affordable housing at the Atlantic Yards Pacific Park complex. The modular tower built by Forest City Ratner Companies is the first building in the 22-acre Pacific Park development (formerly Atlantic Yards to join the city-run affordable housing lottery. The Dean Street property will contain half market-rate apartments and half affordable housing; the tower has 363 units in total.

Rents … will range from $559 per month for a studio at the lowest income requirement bracket ($20,675 to $25,400 per year for one person) to $3,012 per month for a two-bedroom at the highest income bracket (between $104,915 and $144,960 per year, depending on household size), the lottery requirements said.

As the country-and-western song goes, “that’s something to be proud of…,” but the larger issue continues to be in New York and most other cities in the US and around the world how unaffordable housing is. Ironically, as much as the delay at Atlantic Yards had to do with the meltdown in bank lending because of the housing bubble, banks are still at the heart of unaffordability.It’s not /just /gentrification, in fact, the gentrifiers are as much an effect caused by banks as they are a trigger for rising prices.

Stuart Melvin, ACORN’s head organizer in the United Kingdom, shared a piece from the New Economics Foundation with me several months ago.They noted that:

 

In advanced economies, banks’ main activity is now domestic mortgage lending. A recent study of credit in 17 countries found that the share of mortgage loans in banks’ total lending portfolios has roughly doubled over the course of the past century –from about 30% in 1900 to about 60% today.

 

This is how banks are making money everywhere, rather than through direct lending to consumers or businesses, partially because the land is a solid asset serving as collateral, meaning they can foreclose.  Where the land is scarce as it is in New York, London, San Francisco, and, well, lots of big cities, this makes each parcel more valuable and the next thing you know on the rollup, houses are costing nine times average  annual income throughout England and twenty times annual income in southeast England for example and that’s true for many other cities as well.

All of which squeezes housing developers even more, especially if they are not heavily subsidized by the government, when it comes to providing decent and affordable housing. The same level of bank profits cannot be gained compared to mortgages, so prices balloon, and the available customers who can handle the weight become smaller, and richer, until the whole bubble bursts again.

We countered this in New York through land trusts or mutual housing arrangements, but that is only partially successful. The scale of the issue is too large. Other countries and communities have tried land banks or public corporations.Unless we change our public policy around housing though this is a problem accelerating once again until it crashes against the wall, and in the meantime, low and moderate income families find themselves left with fewer and fewer affordable opportunities for decent housing.

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The Paradox and Problem of Payday Lending

A customer enters a Payroll Advance location in Cincinnati. (Al Behrman / AP)

A customer enters a Payroll Advance location in Cincinnati. (Al Behrman / AP)

New Orleans  Here’s an irony that is stark, yet impossible to really appreciate or enjoy. The Atlantic billed its most recent issue as “The Money Report.” The cover article was built around the premise that almost half of the American people have trouble coming up with $400, when there is a financial bump in their road. There was another article called “Loan Shark, Inc.” which was a probing and somewhat sympathetic article about the payday lending industry that mentioned that the average payday loan is $350, about the same number repeatedly cited in “The Shame of the Middle Class,” yet of all the tales of woe from its author, there was no mention of his ever going so low as walking through the doors of a storefront payday lender or the portals of one online.

Without a word of warning or explanation, it was assumed that clearly payday lenders were all about exploited lower income families, not the presumptuous middle class. The real line of demarcation they were unwilling to draw is that even if half of the middle class finds themselves in dire straits from time to time, it’s not catastrophic since they still have other informal places to go with family and friends or selling assets or reducing their footprint, while the poor are forced into predatory fringe financing once there is no place else they can go.

In the classic dilemma of neoliberalism, the payday lending article worried around the issue of alternatives between the devil and the deep blue sea. The polarity was presented as either payday lenders or worse, loan sharks, shysters, and gangsters. The role of government was limited only to regulation, and regulation was presented as problematic because when government stepped up to protect consumers from predatory practices, the marginal and inefficient payday lending industry shut its doors. In the USA New York and other states were given as examples of the industry fleeing when interest rates were reduced, and rather than applause there was handwringing. In Canada, where ACORN has been a dog on a bone chasing predatory lenders for over a dozen years, a 30% limit on interest rates in Quebec saw the payday people fleeing like rats on a sinking ship. ACORN has backed caps, though not that low, and industry record sharing that prevents multiple loans to one customer in the same period, as well as restrictive zoning limits in our neighborhoods among other reforms. ACORN also backs postal banking which The Atlantic gives short shrift.

Their best recommendation comes from what they admit are “more-modest reforms” in Colorado in 2010 that were achieved “by reducing the permissible fees, extending the minimum term of a loan to six months, and requiring that a loan be repayable over time, instead of coming due all at once.” Half the payday lending operations closed, but the ones that stayed open ended up with more than the average 500 annual customers and borrowers paid “42 percent less in fees,” and defaulted less “with no reduction in access to credit.” One hand clapping, I guess.

The author was right to understand that the real problem for families is desperately needing $350 with no other alternatives. Why are we wringing our hands about a predatory industry rather than stepping up and understanding that this is a collective responsibility? These are the kinds of problems that emergency assistance grants in welfare offices used to try to meet. The absence of a continued public response makes these private problems, increases hardship and inequality, locks people in a debt trap, and has led to the creation and growth of an industry where competition is irrelevant, inefficiency is rampant, and even reformers wring their hands and settle for sorry solutions.

Public welfare is exactly that, faring well for the public. When are we going to stop embracing the 19th century and start building the 21st?

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Finally an Alabama Lawsuit Fights Living Wage Preemption

WON THE MINIMUM WAGE BALLOT INITIATIVE 2.2.02New Orleans   The other day I stumbled onto a picture of a press conference in New Orleans in 2002, where our coalition of organizations was celebrating our living wage election victory on February 2nd almost fifteen years ago. We later lost what we had won solidly at the ballot box with New Orleans voters when the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that a law passed by the state legislature in Baton Rouge after we had qualified for the ballot, but before the vote, preempted the ability of New Orleans voters to enact a minimum wage in a state where, effectively, no minimum wage existed. We had already seen the Restaurant Association and others move similar legislation Texas and Colorado in the wake of ACORN and Local 100 ballot initiatives on living wages in the late 1990s in Houston and Denver in order to block repeat efforts along with other states like Florida. Over two decades this has been the industry strategy to block citizen efforts to use the ballot box to make change locally, when we are blocked at the federal and state level.

Now there’s a ray of hope in Alabama where lawyers and community-based organizations have called out the conservative, Republican controlled legislature for racial discrimination. The democratically elected Birmingham City Council had the courage to respond to fast food workers and a many other local organizations pleas about the inadequacy of their wages. This was not some pie-in-the-sky giveaway, but actually a fairly modest program of wage increases, much like the package that President Obama has had before Congress unsuccessfully for several years. The Council action would have raised the minimum wage to $10.10 from the present $7.25 by mid-2017 in a series of bumps. $10.10 is a long, long way from the $15 per hour that has been enacted in Seattle, New York City and Los Angeles, but it is also almost 40% higher than the piddling wage where we have been stuck for years, and that seems to have been what got the Alabama legislators’ goat. Well, that and probably a search-and-destroy party of well-heeled lobbyists raining money and mayhem all around them.

The state NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and a couple of fast food workers became the plaintiffs and enlisted a labor and civil rights lawyer to take the case and seek to block and overturn the legislature’s effort to interfere with workers’ rights in Birmingham. Their suit is plain-spoken and argues that the legislature’s action was a civil rights violation based on “racial animus” because Birmingham is 74% African-American.

The Wall Street Journal cited research from the National Employment Law Project that in the last five years “legislators in 30 states have introduced more than 100 bills that tried to repeal or weaken core wage standards at state or local levels.” In some ways that doesn’t help the Birmingham case because it illustrates how common and widespread the attack on cities and their workers are based solely on class hatred and struggle.

So, do we have a chance of winning? As long as we’re fighting, we have a chance of winning. It’s only when we stop doing so that we’ve completely lost. So, for the first time in a long time, let’s join together and chant, Roll Crimson Tide, we’re rooting for our brothers and sisters in Birmingham to win this one for all of our teams.

***

Please enjoy Bonnie Raitt’s Need You Tonight. Thanks to KABF.

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How Crazy is this Women’s Card Attack?

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cheer at her New York primary campaign headquarters, Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in New York

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cheer at her New York primary campaign headquarters, Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in New York

Little Rock    Really? You have to be kidding me! In the 21st century what kind of political calculations lead someone to believe that there is gain to be had by attacking Hillary Clinton expressly on the issue that she is a woman? Unbelievable!

I mean really, if the choice is electing the first billionaire or the first woman, who can possibly believe that’s really a choice. Better to play the card than think you can get a better deal with someone trying to buy the deck, the table, and the whole casino.

Where has Donald Trump been the last 70 years? He needs to get his plane out of the clouds. Are women tough enough, geez look what Margaret Thatcher did to the United Kingdom and Indira Gandhi did to India. There’s a case to be made that – right or wrong – men are soft by comparison. Can they lead, look around, and take the measure of Germany’s Angela Merkel who is virtually holding Europe together with her bare hands.

And, yet a Republican analyst was arguing that maybe, just maybe, Trump and his people were being shrewd and trying to “Swift boat” Hillary early on the women’s issue to sow doubt now on one of her significant assets against Trump by casting a shadow on her strengths, just as Bush did to Kerry on his war record. Hillary’s advisors were both jumping up and down over Trump’s wild misogyny and trying to figure out the proper tone of response so they didn’t alienate men.

Geez, my take was different and disappointment more real. Only a day after I had argued that Hillary needed to “go big” and sew up working women’s vote everywhere with a bold proposal for government programs and increased federal support for adequate and affordable daycare and eldercare to rally women, now with Trump’s preemptive attack on her solely over her gender, basically she doesn’t have to swing hard to win the critical women’s vote, she just has to keep standing, and it’s hers.

Even more depressing is the underlying comment about American culture and the continued divide even between race and sex. There is no doubt that a huge percentage of the stubborn resistance to President Obama, both personally and politically, emanates from resistance to his race. Yet, no candidate, big or small, well-meaning or mean spirited, ever was stupid enough to attack Obama precisely. Nonetheless, there is absolutely no hesitancy to attack Hillary exclusively on her gender.

On race, we have finally drawn a line about what is beyond the pale, but on gender it’s still anything goes, the sky is the limit, and there’s no such thing as too low to go. No coding there. No dog whistles to the masses, just straight-up women hating. Explains a lot about everything from the Republicans’ perverse interest in trying to infantilize women on the issue of their bodies and babies and their fear of other orientations from the bathroom to the bedroom.

We all knew this race was not going to be pretty, but we’re now getting a grasp of how humiliating the whole affair may be to all of us as a people.

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Is a Progressive Future Ours to Lose?

02supertuesday-sanders-superJumboLittle Rock   Ok, puzzle me this, joker, if Bernie Sanders doesn’t go out of the box as I’ve argued he should to gain increased leverage, but instead gets lost in the arcane minutia of Democratic platform politics, what is the progressive future? There are several scenarios that are possible, even if unlikely, but at least worth strategic consideration.

We’ve learned two things that we shouldn’t forget in the 2016 primaries thanks to the Sanders’ campaign. First, to use a sports analogy, small ball can at least stay on the court against the big guys, meaning in politics that small donors can equal big fat wallets. The money primary can be won with the right candidates and program as we have seen with Obama in 2008 and now with Sanders in 2016. Secondly, to quote Nate Silver’s data crunching, FiveThirtyEight website, “The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 has been a lot more liberal than it was in the last competitive Democratic primary, in 2008.” The tide is turning our way.

To Charles Blow of the New York Times that says that the “moderate/conservative portion of the Democratic primary electorate [could] become a minority in the next 10 years.” He worries that that could create the kind of divisiveness within the Democratic Party that the rise of Trump is creating for the Republicans. Maybe, but let’s say Clinton wins the presidency as a moderate/liberal/hawk having survived by the reckoning of many as the best of bad choices. The Sanders constituency that stays in the Democratic Party won’t be happy and an evolving progressive base will still be looking for someone or something to carry its banner, so my bet is that Clinton will face a challenge on the left in the 2020 primaries, especially since she won’t solve inequality, the betting odds are that we will be more likely to be in military conflict than not, and Sanders has created more space that someone will want to fill. She would still win the Democratic nomination in 2020, because there’s no way a sitting President doesn’t, remember Jimmy Carter, but the Republicans will learn from the Trump trouncing, and might then hold her to one term. Sadly, that would leave the progressive faction discredited, farther out of power, and estranged from its own growing base.

I think progressives get trapped in that scenario because we are competing with a significant base, but in an arena so alien to our core competency on rules that so radically privilege incumbents and elites that we can’t win, and worst can be ignored. All of which argues that we do better building an independent base either through an alternative party, a national Working Families Party style fusion strategy, or a temporary free floating ad hoc coalition strategy of running and winning with independents. There is energy for such strategies, and there are young, savvy candidates who will emerge as well.

Implementing any of these strategies means years of hard work in the vineyards, but at least there’s something real at the end of the rainbow. The short term strategies that depend on taking down the establishment with an inside coup, seem destined for failure and leave us holding an empty bag, and, worse, starting over from scratch on a job we should have started yesterday, but at the least need to get busy with today.

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