Category Archives: Financial Justice

The White House is a Bloody Mess

New Orleans     People literally don’t know what to do.  Random strangers will ask in social distanced lines at stores and gas stations, whether anyone knows what’s happening to the stimulus.  Will there be one?  When will it happen?  What are we supposed to do?

Being president used to be the benchmark that defined leadership in America and the world, like it or lump it.  Now it is unclear what we have other than a bloody mess.

Trump signed yet another executive order.  He held up the paper he signed while at one of his golf resorts.  This time about evictions and perhaps about some level of stimulus, possibly $400 per week.  Is this real?  Was it worth the paper it was written on?

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, admitted it didn’t do much in the weekend news shows.  Nothing for local and state governments.  Nothing for testing.  Nothing here.  Nothing there.  Meadows, a former Congressman, reminded the interviewers that only Congress can appropriate money.

This was a big Peter to pretend to pay Paul move.  The money being moved was supposed to come from allocations already made to prepare for disasters, just as we read reports that this is supposed to be an unusually active hurricane season, particularly in the Atlantic.  Small comfort that.  The money is also contingent on states agreeing.  In what has to be a gratuitous move, the president said $400 with states paying $100 of that. Fat chance!  Louisiana, as just one example, reports that their unemployment trust fund is pretty tapped out with only enough to make the base payments, one of the lowest in the country, for another month or two, unless they get help from the federal government.  Tell, me friends, does that sound like money that can help you pay rent and make groceries?

Negotiations are at an impasse.  Speaker Pelosi believes she has a strong hand and lots of leverage.  She won’t take a partial deal, because with the election coming, she and the Democrats don’t believe there will be another stimulus effort this year, especially since the Republicans in the Senate are totally divided between the ones desperately facing re-election and the others trying to position themselves as the “new” Trump for the future.  She reminds Meadows to his face that as a former Freedom Caucus congressional deal disrupter, “he has never done a deal.”

Into this critically important negotiation, the president, Mr. Art of the Deal, becomes a rocket launcher firing at both sides and his own people.  What happened to the notion of leadership being to “bring the parties together,” “find common ground,” and give-and take?  Too old school, eh?  What happened to putting the people first, and the politics later?  No one in their right mind can think that this mess and mayhem brings voters your way some day, when Americans are desperate today.

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City Amenities and the Prices Paid for Them

Pagosa Springs   In Durango, Colorado, we felt like we had struck gold, having hauled out bikes across Texas and New Mexico.  We stumbled, almost literally, onto a bike trail that had seemingly been recently completed along the pretty little Animas River that runs through the town.  We, meaning my son and I, knew it was a more recent addition because of the change of paving materials from modern concrete to asphalt, as we came to another nice bridge across the river.  Coming back, we crossed a park and to our amazement a young buck in the felt simply stood and stared at us as we passed within feet on our return.  The next day we found the town center of Pagosa Springs similarly gussied up with another nice bike trail linking the center of town and the hots springs along the San Juan River with several other parks.  The downtown area was bumping with literally hundreds of people, young and old, tubing through this stretch of small rapids along the river.

What wonderful urban amenities!  I vividly remember time spent over the years in both towns, especially Durango, when it was little more than another dusty western town serving ranch and mining and perhaps visitors headed for Mesa Verde National Park.  Who lives in these towns now?  A windshield survey might lead to the wrong conclusions, so I’ll be careful not to spit too hard where we had just luxuriated.

Sadly, I couldn’t help thinking that these improvements in downtown and riverfront development, perhaps for businesses and tourists, and nominally for residents of these areas, was really paid for by Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.  CDBG funds, as everyone should know, but many forget, especially mayors and city councils, are designed to improve the lives of the lower income residents in a community.  Although I know this fact, as well as I know my own name, I was reminded of this while finishing Walter Johnson’s The Broken Heart of American:  St. Louis and the Violent History of America, while we were off the grid.  Johnson quotes an ACORN report in St. Louis about the abuse of CDBG funds in pimping on lower income census tracks in order to do a version of urban development while displacing the poor and, worse, making them pay for it.  Johnson follows the money to the fancy campus of Express Scripts and their $50 million data center construction which didn’t change their property tax evaluation thanks to tax increment financing (TIF) and CDBG, thereby short changing the local school districts and making the poor pay their bills both directly and indirectly.

Johnson is of course writing about St. Louis and the violent, racist, and exploitative tentacles that spring from its position at the confluence of great rivers and great greed.  Nonetheless, his short primer on urban development and financing is valuable.  There’s a history of CDBG abuse and misuse that is waiting to be written, and needs to be done soon, before more pay the price.

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