Scamming the Poor and Workers, Banks and Kushner Style Gerrymandering

65 Bay Street
Source: Getty

New Orleans  America, what a country! The news reports endlessly about plans to hard handle struggling families and workers, barely making it, or not making it at all, on food stamps or SSI disability payments, with increasingly draconian “work” requirements, mindless of whether any jobs exist and any fair definition of what “able-bodied” might mean, or the fact that it speaks to a bygone time in an America of another century where manual labor was king. At the same time, reports on the way that the big boys with deep pockets scam programs designed to level the playing field for bank loans or access to jobs are likely to be just more weeds popping through the cracks in the sidewalk and quickly ignored.

It turns out in big business “gerrymandering” is not just a term used in politics for the way that voting districts are shrunk or expanded to protect incumbents or disadvantage or isolate minorities for this party or that. Gerrymandering in the business world seems to be the science of redrawing or manipulating census tracts so that businesses can take advantage of programs meant to help low and moderate income families and workers.

The Washington Post, following up on the earlier marketing snafu where the sister of Trump son-in-law and still private business profiting special assistant, Jared Kushner, was hawking EB-5 visas to the Chinese, has now laid out how his company gerrymanders low income census tracts in order to use money raised through EB-5 visa programs to lower its capital cost by millions. You will recall that EB-5 visas are the so-called “golden visas” that foreigners can use to buy entry and privileges in the United States by laying down $500,000 in specially qualified areas like job creation in low income census tracts. The Post used two properties that Kushner developers had put together with the highly accommodating state officials in New Jersey to build 50-story luxury apartment developments in Jersey City, overlooking Manhattan across the river. 65 Bay Street and 1 Journal Square are both at this trough, while many people living in low income tracts as many as four miles away are shocked to hear that they are getting jobs from these projects. And, believe me, no special effort is being made to outreach to these tracts to offer job access, training, or real employment. It’s all take-the-money-and-run with no oversight, which is what defines a scam, isn’t it?

Another recent story detailed how all of the big banks, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank America and the gang crowd into the small slivers of a low income census tracts that might include upscale or business areas in order to open branches. Why? Certainly not to offer more services to lower income families, but absolutely to pat their own backs and lard on more credit for themselves in their annual reports that are part of the Community Reinvestment Act., designed expressly to force more lending and services for lower income and racially diverse communities.

The practice of businesses, often with the help of local, state, and even federal government, assistance are scamming programs designed for low-and-moderate income families isn’t something new under the sun. Any hard evaluation of the expenditure of Community Development Block Grant monies and their actual outcomes for low income families would find too much of the same. The number of private developments that have used CDBG monies as part of their financing with the promise of creating jobs and then never were required to prove the jobs were ever created is legion in city after city.

The surprise is that the constant attack on struggling individuals never even admits the irony of the even bigger gifts given to the undeserving rich individuals and their deep pocketed companies.


Shout Out to Deportation Fighters!

New Orleans   There are a lot of very hard organizing jobs in the country these days, but it’s a feat to claim that any organizers are tasked with a more difficult and heartbreaking struggle than preventing deportations of undocumented people from the United States. Organizers like to win, but the immigrant rights organizations and their organizers claim their victories in the hundreds while witnessing deportations carried out swiftly in the thousands. This is not a new struggle, but in the age of Trump, it is getting more attention. In that vein it was good to see a featured story in the New York Times Magazine by Marcela Valdes entitled “Is It Possible to Resist Deportations in the Age of Trump?” The answer in the piece was “yes,” but not often, and frequently when there is some success it is thanks to efforts by organizations like Puente in Arizona, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) nationally, and organizers like Carlos Garcia, who directs Puente.

I was fortunate to be working in Phoenix regularly before and after the passage of the draconian SB 1070 by Republican legislators attacking immigrants and clearly targeting all Hispanics in the process and often intersected with NDLON during that process and got to visit frequently with Garcia. Their boycott of Arizona cost the state “over $200 million in canceled business conferences,” according to the Times, but more powerfully they were the face and force of resistance in Arizona. NDLON and Puente argued that Arizona was in effect the “Mississippi” of the immigrant rights movement. In the warm glow of the aftermath of the Obama election in 2008, when I was doing a bit of work with several immigrant rights organizations, they were often one of the few and loudest voices pointing out that the emperor was wearing no clothes and that investments and strategic resources needed to focus on resistance and that ground zero was Arizona, even when they were drowned out too often by beltway advocates and money handlers. In the hopes of winning critically needed reform on immigration, many advocates wanted a more muted response to the record breaking level of deportations under Obama’s ICE and Department of Homeland Security and the Secure Communities Act which enabled Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s reign of terror. In Arizona, the world looked different and organizers had to respond on the frontlines.

Garcia and Puente’s organizing strategy in the wake of this crisis was classic community organizing translated into effective resistance by creating neighborhood defense committees or comites del barrio like those in Cuba and Nicaragua in order to build a base for real resistance among threatened families. Building such house-to-house strength in recent years required huge courage for immigrants to know and stand up for their rights, and paved the way for the more intense direct action required these days.

The stories of immigrant families being torn asunder in this national eviction are rending and dispiriting, but the terribly difficult work of these organizers and organizations is inspiring. In my house my well-worn “Legalize Arizona” t-shirt from the great Phoenix march against SB 1070 and Arpaio is worn more gingerly now, and we need a new one these days, but it should now say, Legalize America.