The Delta Foundation Says, Creating Jobs is Not Easy, but Possible

New Orleans   We hear a lot of big talk these about creating jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, and their disappearance, including going south to Mexico. The President-elect has been going wild with his Tweeter-finger about a Steelworkers’ local union president having the gall to correct his claims on how many jobs he and his team saved at the Indiana Carrier air-conditioner plant by reminding the Trumpster that 300 jobs he claimed were never slated to go. Trump may not have learned a lesson about his standard operating exaggeration, but he may have learned that that $7 million in tax incentives might save 700 jobs, but I don’t want to get side-tracked. My point is less about his bully-boy fibbing than how hard it is to create and save jobs.

On KABF’s Wade’s World, I discussed this with Spencer Nash, the head of the Delta Foundation, headquartered in Greenville, Mississippi. The foundation was created in 1969 by fourteen community-based organizations in and around the southern Mississippi, where new jobs were desperately needed given the automation in these rural areas dominated by cotton and soybeans. Their strategy was to acquire small manufacturing plants and expand their businesses and employment.

Nash said their biggest and most successful operation was an electronics company in Canton, Mississippi, most famous for the huge Nissan auto plant located in the same town. Delta Enterprises, the for profit subsidiary created by the foundation, manufactures electric switches for various customers, including Cummins Engine and others, as well as various types of tubing. Their biggest customer may be the Department of Defense, so sales go up with Republican administrations when military spending increases, and down with the Democrats. I remembered at one point they had a window fan factory in Memphis. Nash also told the story of a plant Delta owned in Little Rock that made attic staircases. They had to sellout in recent years because they could not compete with Mexico. The company that bought them, moved the equipment south of the border, so those jobs were lost. The impact of NAFTA can be counted in the scores of jobs as well as the hundreds, but the pain is the same.

So what is the future for jobs in places like the rural South or anywhere else? Nash made some interesting points.

Delta is watching closely a recent job training success they ran where 18 of 20 enrolled in a program to create construction skills in electricity, plumbing, and so forth all successfully found higher-waged, stable employment. He sees improving housing stock and building new, affordable units as a huge job opportunity, if there is support in the housing sector, citing Greenville, which lost a quarter of its population between the 2000 and 2010 Census, as an example where there is tremendous need. He surprised me by pointing out that only about 35 miles up the road in a town so near where my grandparents lived and died and where my mother and uncles were raised, that I had been through it more times than I can count, Cleveland, Mississippi was a success story in growth and job creation. Training and skill-education programs had attracted industry and jobs, supported by the city and Delta State University.

Spencer Nash and the Delta Foundation face the new administration with trepidation, but maintain their mission of creating jobs in the delta with hope, if there are resources to train and teach the skills needed to work in small manufacturing and construction, and, importantly, if there is support for new housing development for low-and-moderate income families. When we discussed the nomination of Dr. Ben Carson to lead HUD, the hope was tempered by skepticism, but it is encouraging to hear that there are at least some paths to progress being paved on very hard ground.

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Back and Forth “Boycotts” in the Time of Twittering Trump

Little Rock   LeBron James is a standup guy, and one heckuva ball player. The other day as the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers traveled to play the New York Knicks, he claimed he wasn’t making a political statement, but exercising personal preference ,and declined to stay in a Trump branded hotel. Most of his teammates followed him, though they all came on the same bus to Madison Square Garden.

These Trumpster hotels, even ones where he is no longer getting any moola, like the one most of the Cavaliers declined to sleep in, are no doubt items of curiosity, as people try to get a grip on some kind of touchstones that might help understand the incoming president, but undoubtedly there will be many that decline to stay at his hotels, eat in his restaurants, or golf on his fairways, personal preferences and the American way of low-threshold silent, personal protests being common for many. On the other hand, ethicists and virtually all of the former Republican and Democratic ethics lawyers employed at the White House note that many, including foreign governments and corporations by the legions will flock to stay at Trump branded hotels, particularly the new hotel in Washington, DC, in hopes of currying even the least favor. To the degree such birds of a feather do come together, it is easy to imagine that these properties may become the playground and business watering and resting holes for countless minions of the right.

Whether it’s a real boycott or a LeBron-style “personal preference,” he and many others can now also add to that list resisting a Hardee’s roast beef or a Carl’s, Jr. burger, and start covering their eyes every time one of the new Secretary of Labor’s salaciously politically incorrect hottie commercials airs with one of his juicy offering. Forget about watching the fantasy matches of the World Wrestling Federation as well. Likely the list will grow.

Meanwhile, the hater-baiters over at Breitbart.com are mad as always at the top of their lungs and calling for various corporate boycotts by their alt-right, mad dog website base. Corporate boycotts and rightwing conservatives? Yes, it doesn’t sound right, but that’s what Stephen Bannon’s boys are up to over at his old job, before he became the Trump whisperer as his chief strategist. Here’s the Breitbart beef. A bunch of straight-laced, big name, Brand A companies pulled their ads off of Brietbart.com once their big brass and their public relations folks started coming to grip with the corporate risks of being identified with a racist, misogynist, hater outfit bundled under the umbrella of the alt-right. Though the Brietbarters would have you believe they are all about free enterprise, they don’t like it when it’s not going their way, so they have declared various boycotts to try and bully the ad money back into their pockets. Their current target is Kellogg’s. Not surprising with its big consumer footprint. They have big boycott signs on their website with pictures of boxes of cornflakes.

But what’s the message? GMO/s? Nutrition? Calories? Hardly! Whining about losing money, oh, no, they can’t go there with their base and disclose the real facts. Instead they drag up fake news attacks they have generated about the Kellogg Foundation and claims of the terrible grants it has made supposedly to George Soros and the Tides Foundation, based in San Francisco. Really, grants to Soros who has his own foundation from his mega-billions? And, Tides because they funded progressive environmental, community, and human rights causes for the last 40 years almost?

Executives at Kellogg’s are probably worried more about the latest weather report in Michigan than they are about any Brietbart bully boycott. And, sadly, as Trump continues to court his base, he probably cares less about LeBron’s personal preferences or any of the rest of our concerns, though his daughter’s brand and sales have reportedly been impacted in places like New York City.

Nonetheless, we all have to do what we can, and maybe boycotts are coming back as weapons for progressives, and even for conservatives who have usually shunned them.

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Path to Power with Trump: Billions or Bullets

Artists in New York added their voices to the protests. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Little Rock     Wow! For all of us trying to keep up with the incoming Trump Administration every day is a roller-coaster ride. There are so many contradictions, I begin to wonder if even the biggest news outlets in the country are pushing real or fake news.

Pick a day, any day, and the point is easily proven.

In the last day or so we saw the following from the Trumpster:

· After more than a year of threatening to deport more than 11 million immigrants, Trump in his Time magazine, “Man of the Year” interview, said, essentially, oh, no, I’m going to figure out a way for the “dreamers,” about 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, to stay in the country. He says he’s going to make all of us proud and so on and so on. We can guess this might mean that he is not going to overturn President Obama’s executive order in this regard, but he hasn’t tweeted it yet, so we can’t be sure.
· All indications are he’s NOT going to divest from his holdings in his business, but simply turn them over to his two adult sons to manage. Meanwhile it seems possible that his daughter and son-in-law might be able to find a place to stay in Washington to help him out either in his new Trump Hotel or that other little place in DC where he might stay some weeknights…what’s it called, oh, yeah, The White House!
· With a head fake he meets with former big time climate change fighter and enviro, Vice President Al Gore, as does his daughter, leading some to think he might not stand in the way of saving the world from total destruction, and then turns around and appoints an Oklahoma Attorney General, climate denier, and a guy who lets oil companies draft his letters and then sends the missives out on AG stationery, to run the EPA, presumably into the ground or oblivion.
· Remember he had thought maybe Obama had made some good points in their visit about features of the Affordable Care Act, but then appointed a Georgia congressman and doctor advocate, who has been trying to systematically dismantle the act, to line his doctor buddies’ pockets.

On and on it goes like this. It seems there are only two things that can really help you pave clear paths to power on the Trumpster highway, being either a billionaire, or at least filthy rich, or being a general, no matter how good or whack.

Students of the presidency say that Trump already intends to put more generals in cabinet and high-level positions than any previous president. In fact, many of them – and a lot of us – worry now about civilian control of the military. It’s not really the same to say that there’s civilian control if a general running the Defense Department used to be the commander of another general elsewhere around the White House. What’s the count now? Defense, national security adviser, homeland security, and the beat goes on.

It goes without saying the richest-ever president who at least claims to be a billionaire, is also appointing a record number of his buddies who are also, no surprise, billionaires, or darned close to it as well. We now have billionaires in line to run education, who have never gone to public schools and hate them, to run treasury as boss and deputy, to run small business administration, and of course to run the commerce department.

I’m not sure any of these folks are going to have time to drain any swamps in DC, because they will be so busy flooding other swamps there and elsewhere around the country, and building barricades and bulwarks to keep it all however they like it.

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Boulders Still on the Road Forward for Standing Rock

New Orleans    The headlines on the progressive websites have been big and bold and heralded that “Resistance Works” in the wake of the delay won this week in construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Oahe Reservoir, the subject of massive protests by the Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of supporters. The websites are right – protests did work.

But, it was more than simple protests. What worked was a massive and entrenched show of force in the face of a confrontation that clearly no one on either side really wanted, no matter how much some of the fire breathers from the sheriff’s office and elsewhere might have wanted to provoke conflict and violence. The prospect of violence was likely a bigger threat than any slogans on protest signs.

The scale shifted decidedly in favor of the protestors when groups mobilizing veterans to support the Standing Rock Sioux announced that they would arrive coinciding with the state’s attempt to close the park where much of the encampment was located. The million dollars raised by the veterans on GoFundMe’s website was a serious statement. They claimed that 2000 veterans had signed up, and they were disciplined and talking tough. News accounts indicated that certainly 250 actually did come for sure and likely more where there, but by that time the Army Corp of Engineers had finally blinked, likely with a huge shove from the White House and denied the permit at least for now.

The pictures of the protests and reports from the field were heroic. This all looks like a modern day Valley Forge with protestors hunkered down and flag waving the snow. The mounted horsemen are dramatic. The symbols are stark. The Indians are resolute. And, truth to tell, they all look freezing cold and miserable! Winter in North Dakota is no one’s idea of a vacation spot in December. This is serious business.

Equally sobering is the flimsy feeling of the victory, since temporary is stamped all over it. The North Dakota congressman says build, baby, build. President-elect Trump has said he’s for finishing the job. He’s even interviewing oil company executives these days for jobs like Secretary of State for goodness sakes. Environmental lawyers said they would sue over any re-issuance of the permit, and the demands for a complete environmental study looking at alternatives is still reasonable and right. The head of the tribe played the situation perfectly by saying he looked forward to having an opportunity to make the case for rerouting the pipeline to Trump when possible.

A standing party will likely maintain the encampment through the winter until spring. Better weather will offer the opportunity to revive the support, because this fight could become iconic as the delays stretch from months into potential years. Even the pipeline builders with enough time may want to reroute just to be done with the job so that they can see the oil coursing through the pipes and collect their final paychecks.

A battle may have been won, but not the war. There’s a whole lot more fighting that will have to be done before all of us can count coup on another pipeline project.

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They’re Coming After Unions at Every Level

The Great Philadelphia Textile Strike of 1903

The Great Philadelphia Textile Strike of 1903

New Orleans    There is little question that the conservatives are coming after unions, even while they make the outrageous claim that they are now the workers’ party in the wake of the recent election.

Since the Wisconsin counterrevolution when the right was successful in eliminating union shop for public employees, the drums have been beating all over the country. Most observers believe that the challenge in California to union security provisions allowing dues or servicing fees to be collected for teachers would have prevailed on appeal at the US Supreme Court level if Justice Antonin Scalia had not suddenly passed away, leaving a tie vote and saving union security for another day. With Trump likely to nominate a hard right conservative justice as soon as he sits in the Oval Office swivel chair, there will be new challenges wending their way to the Court as quickly as they can be filed, and there are likely challenges already in process.

Kentucky Republicans tried an end around by allowing local counties to adopt so-called right-to-work laws eliminating union shop provisions, since they couldn’t get it done on a statewide level. The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously overturned a local federal court that had nixed that maneuver. Right now that means this is possible in that court’s jurisdiction where Kentucky and Ohio are still union shop states, while it is still amazing to write that Michigan is a relatively new right-to-work state and Tennessee has long had right-to-work on its books. The Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is touting the fact that this is also the strategy for the far right Illinois governor, and should be a precedent. They don’t mention that according to research, “Decisions issued by the Sixth Circuit were reversed by the United States Supreme Court 24 out of the 25 times they were reviewed in the five annual terms starting in October 2008 and ending in June 2013 — a higher frequency than any other federal appellate court during that time period.” With the new Supreme Court maybe they don’t need to do so, but it’s not a slam dunk since the issue is whether home rule provisions within a state can preempt the ability of a state to prevent patchwork measures like this.

Reportedly, there are going to federal bills for a national right-to-work. It might not make it through the Senate of course, and perhaps despite the huge wall that Trump will build between himself and his buildings, construction unions can drop their tools until the kids figure out a way to send smoke signals or something down to DC until he gets the message.

Meanwhile this will all be Koch Brothers everywhere you look, which means bills re-introduced in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere to eliminate all payroll deductions for unions. I’m not sure the United Way and insurance companies are going to save us, and an equal protection suit could be dragged out for years while local unions starve to death.

It won’t be the end of the world for unions, but it could be the end of the world as we know it now.

***

Gil Scott-Heron and his Amnesia Express sing “Three Miles Down” from March 14, 1990 in London, UK. A song for the Coal Miners.

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Not the Doctor to Fix America’s Housing and Urban Issues

558New Orleans  It is hard to escape the feeling that the only reason that President-elect Trump is preparing to recommend Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is because he is an African-American, and that somehow aligns with Trump’s view of those parts of urban America where he doesn’t have any financial interests in golf courses, hotels, or casinos and are too far to be seen from any of his towers. I can almost see his gears grinding as he comes to the conclusion that urban means crime means black, so let’s tweet!

Carson might argue, as undoubtedly he will, that he’s “good to go” in this job because he lived in public housing in Detroit. If that’s a qualification for running the immensely important HUD operation, then there are several million residents of public or subsidized housing that would arguably be more able to make that case for their own candidacy than than the rich, right neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Paul Newman was probably Trump’s first choice to run HUD, because after all he starred in a movie called “Hud,” so that probably would have been perfect in Trump-tweet-world, and he probably was disappointed when someone told him that Newman was now dead.

Carson is wrongheaded, but that is not to say that he’s not a smart man, which is why he dillydallied around for weeks after his name first surfaced, probably hoping that he would be offered something different where he wouldn’t have had to buy a clue. Bromides about bootstraps are not really a plan for fair housing or urban development. Retooling Community Development Block Grant money, specifically designed for lower income communities into some kind of pretzel-shaped monstrosity that funds real estate developments and hotels and other stuff that the boss in the White House might embrace, is hardly a fix for anything other than some developer’s profit-and-loss statement.

The only thing that emerged clearly from Carson’s campaign was his interest in increasing his book sales. Even if he cajoles every housing authority in the country into buying a copy, someone needs to tell him that most housing project residents are not going to be running over to make sure one of his volumes is in their libraries. The campaign was recent enough that most of us can recall that in the debates, Dr. Carson was pretty much lost at sea on both domestic and international issues, none of which will make anyone who cares about the desperate needs of urban America sleep better knowing that he is running the show.

The fact that Carson has no experience in running anything doesn’t matter to Trump and almost seems like nitpicking for us to point out since almost none of Trump’s other appointees have much of any experience with the content of their coming portfolios either. I would hate to pick on Carson for that, because it would seem like I was discriminating. Nonetheless, former Philadelphia Mayor Nutter may have said it best in talking to a Times reporter about the likely incoming HUD Secretary:

“I’m proud that I had seven years with President Barack Obama, who actually knew about community development because he was a community organizer,” Mr. Nutter said. “To the Philadelphia city government: Good luck dealing with the Trump administration.”

And, good luck to the rest of us and the country!

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