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.

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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.

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Trump to the World: What are Human Rights Anyway?

New Orleans   One of the most poignant pictures I have ever seen in a newspaper was standing alone in The Wall Street Journal without an accompanying story. There were three fully armed US Border Patrol agents standing next to an opening in a piece of the existing wall between the United States and Mexico. The agents had their hands folded in front of them and were peering through their sunglasses at a small family of three, man, woman, and teenage daughter, in a group hug under the shadow of the wall. The caption of the picture was straightforward, needing no accompanying story, saying: REUNITED: Members of the Reyes family hugged Sunday at Border Field State Park in San Diego during a three-minute reunion as U.S. Border Patrol agents opened a gate to allow families to embrace along the Mexico border as part of Children’s Day in Mexico. The headline was equally powerful: On Children’s Day in Mexico, Love Knows No Border.

Three-minutes, a short breath in a lifetime to bind families separated by a border and a wall. So, sad.

The headlines elsewhere indicated that President Trump was having another all-about-me-day with a grievance and ego driven rally to celebrate his 100-days of whatever you want to call it. In a regular job we would call it a probation, but that doesn’t work, because he would have been fired for such a disastrous performance. This was in the wake of an earlier buddy-buddy phone call to Philippine President Duterte which ended in an invitation to him to visit the White House. Duterte has been on a vigilante tear in the Philippines supposedly directed at drug dealers and traffickers which has given license to police and others to kill thousands around the country without arrest or trial, evidence or questioning, in a campaign of terror against the poor, which has been a human rights horror of global proportions.

Who is surprised? Trump, after being a fanboy to Russian strongman Putin during the entire election campaign, has also recently been solicitous of human rights disasters and dictators elsewhere. He has called the President of Turkey to congratulate him on his close and contested success in an election increasing his powers and essentially giving an American seal of approval on his purge of political opponents which has decimated the school, university, police, and public service of his country. He has also glowingly embraced President Sisi of Egypt who has also curtailed and jailed opponents large and small, eviscerated nonprofits, including those supported by the United States.

So, clearly he is clueless about the human rights globally, but his continued drum beating about immigrants and building the wall, as the Journal picture illustrated so powerfully, is also a blindness to basic and fundamental human rights.

This can’t be how we want our government to be seen either locally or internationally?

***

Please enjoy Steve Earle Lookin For a Woman.  Thanks to KABF.

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Supporting Grassroots Struggles over Immigration

New Orleans   In the wake of the Trump-Ryan debacle of play-pretend healthcare reform, the Republican gunfighters of the circular firing squad are now talking tax reform, debt ceilings, and other intricate problems that will confuse the living bejesus out of the American people. Oh, and of course in the current mess it is easy to forget the other mess that is still front-and-center since the inauguration, but is now framed in “bans,” “extreme vetting,” dropping foreign student applications, canceled school trips to the US from Canada and other countries for fear of border problems, reduction and stalled business investment in Mexico, and all manner of very personal trauma and uncertainty in communities all around the country, and of course the president’s “big, beautiful wall.” Yes, we’re talking about immigration. For all of us keeping score, let’s remember that the healthcare disaster is the second major domestic policy disaster of this new administration, because immigration is at heart a local, not a foreign policy issue.

Talking to Mireya Reith, the founder and executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, recently on Wade’s World, was a constant reminder, if anyone needed one, that the fight for immigration reform and the life decisions that teeter on every twitch and tweet from the White House are daily dilemmas at the grassroots level of millions and millions in the United States now. Reith is based in Walmart and Tyson country in northwestern Arkansas, but with seven support and information centers around Arkansas in places like McGeehee, DeQueen, and Fort Smith, not to mention Little Rock, it’s hard to get more grassroots than her operation.

Reith worked heroically in the interview to keep her remarks positive, but it was a medal winning effort, because the stories were rending. For every school district she mentioned that was stepping up to support children afraid to go to school, the list was obscuring the silence from many more as well as from the state, not to mention her story of some teachers telling children in their classrooms right after the election that they needed to leave the country and do so now. Whole families are retreating into the shadows now all over the country, and Reith and the United Community Coalition know their names in their communities.

That part of her job is hard, but perhaps not as thankless as her reports of having recently been in Washington talking to her local and state Congressional delegation about the continued need for immigration reform and the human faces of these issues in the community. Once again Reith was relentlessly positive about the reception she received, including from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has been touted as something of a Trump “whisperer” in the early days of the administration. Cotton, whose raw ambition and extreme conservativism has him on many short lists on the right as a comer nationally, is also the architect of one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation introduced in the Senate. Not satisfied with drumbeating about undocumented immigration, his proposal is to reduce even legal immigration more than half and more than even the Administration is proposing.

Only eight years ago the fight was to get real immigration reform on President Obama’s agenda in the first hundred days, which we lost. Now the fight is almost to keep so-called immigration reform off of the agenda for the first two hundred days of this Congress, when most believe is the only time the legislative window is open before mid-term elections make most anything impossible to pass. We have to hope that Reith’s work and that of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and other grassroots pro-immigrant groups around the country are successful in saving America’s reputation and principles as an open and welcoming country to all, and we have to support their work as much as possible in these chaotic and dark times.

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Trump Militarization of Domestic Policies Is Getting Scarier

London   It is getting harder and harder to deny that there is a very scary, highly uncomfortable pattern emerging around Trump’s domestic policies, and it involves a steady effort to federally militarize policy and policing. These are not tendencies, but firmly expressed proposals. Coupled with his increasing attacks on the institution and independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the court system, this adds up to something dangerous, even if I hesitate to call its name.

First, of course, we have the Trump immigration and deportation policies. The familiar outlines are well-known in all of their horror, but critical to these efforts, particularly in the light of the unwillingness of not only sanctuary cities, particularly in heavily populated immigrant areas, and already strapped local police forces unable to stretch themselves even thinner on unfunded federal mandates, is his proposal to hire an additional 10,000 immigration enforcement agents to speed up captures and deportations.

A second proposal surfaced in a press briefing that Trump’s press secretary held last week about the loosening standards, as the White House sees it, of drug enforcement. Sean Spicer was careful to say that Trump supports the continued use of medical marijuana for the relief of patients in pain, but that there needed to be a crackdown on federal marijuana laws being ignored in many urban jurisdictions. He indicated that they were likely to propose beefing up the federally controlled police force to do this by many thousands of officers, presumably referring to the agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

And, then there’s the blatant attacks and bullying of the Federal Bureau of Investigation which he is excoriating as a threat to the American people, rather than a critical protector of our safety. Some of this seems triggered by reports that Press Secretary Spicer had leaned on the FBI to deny a story in the Times that he asked them to refute a story about the Trump campaign’s communications with Russian operatives before the election. They were scuffling to deny that one of their top dogs had been the source of the anonymous leak, and the Trump team wanted them to go public with their obsequiousness, which they refused. Trump has also been unhappy that the FBI is continuing to investigate the Russian-Trump campaign ties. This is a Steve Bannon-Brietbart.com playbook exercise of attack and disruption meant to realign and control the department.

Fortunately, Congress hasn’t approved the appropriations for either of these expanded police forces for Trump policies, but the lack of independence of the transactional Republican Congress gives me pause that they will slam the brakes down as hard as needed.

Add two new federal police force expansions and one effort to take control over the formally independent federal police force, and what do you get? It’s not jack boots and Stormtroopers, but it is also nothing good for democracy and the American people.

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Resisting Deportations

Edinburgh   In the new orders being rolled out by the Trump Administration targeting immigrants and possibly Muslims and others, many have pointed out that we are now going to be creating secret communities of immigrants unprotected by usual law and order, victimized by employers and wage theft, susceptible to human trafficking, and devolving into slums. Bill Quigley, professor at Loyola Law School, and longtime friend and comrade recently provided eleven ways that people are resisting deportations around the country, and I thought it worth sharing, so here they are.

Here are eleven recent examples of how people are directly resisting.

One. Blocking vehicles of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A coalition of undocumented immigrants, faith leaders and other allies blocked a bus in San Francisco which was full of people scheduled for deportation. Other buses were blocked in Arizona and Texas. People blocked streets outside of ICE facilities in Los Angeles.

Two. People have engaged in civil disobedience inside border highway checkpoints to deter immigration checks. People have called neighbors to warn them that ICE is in the neighborhood and held up signs on highways that ICE is checking cars ahead.

Three. Cities refusing to cooperate with immigration enforcement and targeting. Hundreds of local governments have policies limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement.

Four. Colleges and universities declining to cooperate with immigration authorities and declare themselves sanctuary campuses. Dozens of schools have declared themselves sanctuary campuses and over a hundred more are considering some form of resistance to immigration enforcement.

Five. Churches sheltering and protecting immigrants scheduled for deportation in their sanctuary. Over a dozen churches are already doing this with hundreds more considering sanctuary. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles declared itself a Sanctuary Diocese in December 2016 and pledged to defend immigrants, and others targeted for their status.

Six. Detained people demanding investigation into illegal actions. Over 400 detained immigrants in Broward County Florida wrote and publicized a letter to government officials challenging the legality and conditions of their confinement.

Seven. Divesting from stocks of private prisons. Private prison companies CCA and GEO have pushed for building more prisons for immigrants and have profited accordingly. Columbia University became the first university to divest from companies which operate private prisons.

Eight. Lawyers have volunteered to defend people facing deportation. People with lawyers are much less likely to be deported yet only 37 percent of people facing deportation have an attorney and of those already in jail the percentage drops to 14 percent. Los Angeles has created its own fund to provide legal aid to those facing deportations. Other groups like the American Bar Association recruit and train volunteer lawyers to help. Know Your Rights sessions are also very helpful. Here are CAIR Know Your Rights materials for Muslims. Here are Know Your Rights materials for immigrants from the National Immigration Law Center.

Nine. Restaurants declaring themselves safe space sanctuaries for undocumented and LGBTQ workers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 25 percent of workers in restaurants are Latino.

Ten. Sit-ins at elected and appointed officials at government buildings. Bodegas have gone on strike.

Eleven. Social self-defense. Jeremy Brecher pointed out that decades ago communities in Poland organized themselves into loose voluntary networks called Committees for Social Self-Defense to resist unjust government targeting. This opens resistance in many new forms in addition to the ones identified above including: setting up text networks for allies to come to the scene of ICE deportation raids, to document and hopefully stop the raids; identifying and picketing homes of particularly aggressive ICE leaders; providing medical, legal and financial assistance to help shelter people on the run from authorities; and boycotting businesses and politicians that cooperate with ICE.

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