The New HUD Seems OK with Racial Discrimination

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Little Rock       It has become a modern foundation of public policy, following Rahm Emanuel, now the Mayor of Chicago, and earlier when the comment was attributed to him when he was chief of staff for President Obama, to “…never let a serious crisis go to waste.”  Like Katrina a dozen years ago, many governmental policy makers saw the $28 billion in community development recovery funds going to Houston, the Gulf Coast, and Puerto Rico in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma as just such an opportunity.   They might have been right except for the devastation being wrecked on the Housing & Urban Development department by Hurricane Ben Carson, its turn-back-the-hands-of-time Trump secretary.

Carson claims he’s not going soft on the mission of HUD to assure fair and equal housing and therefore to combat racism in public policies.  This claim is despite the fact of all evidence to the contrary.  He has removed the words “inclusive” and “free from discrimination” from HUD’s mission statement according to a report in The New York Times.  He has put a hold on various fair housing investigations he inherited from the Obama administration.  He canceled a settlement conference with Facebook over fair housing violations in their ad targeting that have led fair housing organizations from around the country to join in filing suit against the department and Facebook in federal court in Manhattan recently.  He has gone soft on big developers over disability access.  He tried to reverse an Obama pilot, years in the making, that would allow section 8 vouchers to be used in more affluent neighborhoods.

Most disturbingly is the way HUD and local officials have handled a housing development in Houston, long recognized despite its gung-ho growth and prosperity in recent years as one of the most segregated cities in the country.   Before the Obama administration turned over the keys to the HUD building, they had slapped back hard at Mayor Sylvester Turner’s attempt to nix a 233-unit mixed income, racially diverse project called Fountain View in the upscale, largely white area around the Galleria.  Under Carson’s regime, a watered-down settlement was approved that bypassed HUD’s own lawyers and negotiated directly with Turner, despite his opposition to the project.  A proposed $14 million penalty that the developers would have had to pay to the Houston Housing Authority if the Fountain View project was scuttled also disappeared from the negotiations.

Not surprisingly, since HUD under Carson no longer has much interest in enforcing fair housing, national and local groups have now sued the city and HUD to block $5 billion in funds that are desperately needed for rebuilding neighborhoods until this issue is resolved.  This is a classic devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea situation.  For the sake of rebuilding Houston, are we supposed to join HUD and say racial discrimination is now hunky-dory?  We know that any delays in recovery funds can be fatal to neighborhoods.  On the other hand, allowing continued racial segregation, HUD-sanctioned or not, in Houston or any other city will eventually kill the city’s very heart and soul.

The choice seems clear.  Even if Carson and HUD are now OK with racial discrimination in housing and elsewhere, we must oppose it at every opportunity, no matter the pain.

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Facebook is Out of Control with Greed and Self Interest

New Orleans      With Facebook and most of the other tech conglomerates it really is no longer a question of adults not being in charge.  They are in fact in charge, but they are irresponsible in caring for their consumers and customers, blinded by greed, self-interest, and self-aggrandizement.   Let’s stop pretending these international, 100 billion dollars plus conglomerates are “doing good,” rather than being profit maximizing companies that warrant the same kind of full-throated regulation and supervision that other powerful economic and social actors should receive in order to protect the community and their consumers.

In the latest in a long running series of disclosures Facebook withheld information that Cambridge Analytics had scrubbed the usage data and information from 50 million users at the service of rightwing political campaigns run by Texas Senator Ted Cruz and current President Donald Trump.  It is impossible that this theft, likely violating a number of state and federal consumer protection laws, as well as a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission swearing Facebook to protect users’ privacy, did not have an impact on the 2016 election for president.  Reports by both the Observer in the Great Britain and The New York Times uncovered this, but also have reported that Facebook knew about this breach for the last two years without saying one solitary word to its customers.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Cambridge Analytics was just another data shop and they all do it.  This was the adopted child of Stephen Bannon and billionaire Rebecca Mercer, who invested millions in the company.  Reports from Channel 4 in the UK, based on a sting where they seemed to be seeking business, has the CEO of this outfit suggesting dirty tricks were readily available from the company including his suggestion that Cambridge would arrange for beautiful Ukrainian sex workers to seduce opposition candidates and secure compromising video.  This rightwing darling was amoral at best.

Additional reports indicate that the head of security at Facebook who until recently ran a 150 plus group to assure user safety had his team shrunk to three people and is now being forced out.  He had lost an argument within the company over the last several years by advocating early on that the Russian interference be exposed publicly to other executives on the business side that wanted the information silenced and have continued to do so even as the scandal has exploded over them and other tech companies for their lack of candor.

Their obsession with protecting the public reputation of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg trumps their responsibility to customers and shareholders as self-interest triumphs.  The basic algorithm at Facebook seems to be that another dollar comes first in their equation and users come last.

Move fast and break this Facebook thing so that it finally puts the users at the top of their concerns.