David Brooks, His “Higher Pleasures” and the Kids in Jail

Left Margin

David Brooks, His “Higher Pleasures” and the Kids in Jail

Carl Bloice
January 9, 2014
Black Commentator

David Brooks couldn’t just give up on marijuana and stop using it on
his own; it had to be a group experience. He says, “We all sort of
moved away from it,” and it “just sort of petered out, and, before long,
we were scarcely using it.” That was mainly “because we each had had a
few embarrassing incidents,” wrote the New York Times columnist in
response to the vote decriminalizing cannabis use by the voters of
Colorado. He doesn’t give any other examples with respect to “our
clique” but his own embarrassing moment was a real corker. “I smoked one
day during lunch and then had to give a presentation in English class,”
he wrote. “I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple
phrases, feeling like a total loser.”

Not a good show. What did he expect was going to happen? Hardly an
auspicious beginning for a budding public philosopher (or, as pundits
have taken to calling themselves: “thought leaders.”)

So David Brooks inhaled. Apparently quite a few times. And he didn’t go to jail.
And now he allows that locking people up for having a little weed in
their possession is “excessive.”

“The Brooks column is particularly infuriating because in just a few
hundred words it perfectly captures why marijuana needs to be
legalized,” wrote Matt Taibbi in the Rolling Stone. “Here’s this
grasping, status-obsessed yuppie who first admits that that he smoked an
illegal drug without consequence in his youth, then turns around and
tells us, as a graying and bespectacled post-adult, that it would be
best if the drug remained illegal for the masses.”

Taibbi continued, “Would David Brooks feel the same way about drug
laws if he was one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans arrested in
weed-related incidents every year (it was over 700,000 people in 2012)?
If he’d been prevented from getting a student loan or getting a state
job because of such a bust? If he’d lost a professional license, or had
his property seized, or even had a child taken away from him?”

Frankly, I found most of the reporting and commentary on the recent
case of the kid that got off easy after killing four people while DUI
missed the point. I wasn’t as concerned with the sentence the young man
got as with the hardly even mentioned larger implication of the case.
If “affuelza” can be argued as a justification for lenient
sentences after breaking the law then what about the millions of people
behind bars – some for life – for infractions far less severe than
intoxication manslaughter? If being rich means special privilege (what?
when?) before the bar, what about the disproportionately black and brown
and largely working class youth languishing behind bars?

Nicole Flatow, deputy editor of ThinkProgress Justice, got this
right when it comes to marijuana: “People are jailed, fired, and barred
from voting for marijuana,” she wrote last week. “Under federal law and
the laws of most states, marijuana possession, distribution, conspiracy,
and other related offenses are crimes. They carry jail time. They go on
your criminal record. They carry all of the collateral consequences
that accompany a host of other crimes in this country, including as a
barrier to employment and voting, revocation of professional licenses,
loss of educational financial aid, lost access to public benefits and
food stamps, and can even bar the adoption of a child. This New York
City art teacher is fighting for his job back. These teens died in jail.
And while Colorado and Washington just made history with their
legalization measures, arrest and punishment for drug crimes including
marijuana has increased exponentially over the past 40 years, changing
the course of countless lives.”

“Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana”
continued Flatow. “Brooks smoked pot. Heads of state have smoked pot. To
many in America’s privileged class, their marijuana phase is just a
blip in their life history, which did nothing to obstruct their life
path or career aspirations. They are not the ones who suffer from
marijuana criminalization. If you’re black in America, you’re four times
more likely to be arrested for marijuana, even though all races use
marijuana at the same rate. In some states, the disparity is as high as 8
to 1. The overwhelming majority of these arrests are for possession. If
you’re poor and black, or if you live in a particular inner city
neighborhood, your arrest is a near certainty. Take New York. In 2011,
the New York Police Department stopped thousands of young black men
under the city’s aggressive stop-and-frisk program. And the number one
reason for arrest as a result of these stops was marijuana, even though
marijuana is decriminalized in New York.”

Although Brooks goes so far as to say that he doesn’t have “any
problem with somebody who gets high from time to time,” he opposes
letting go of cannabis prohibition laws.


“But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so
what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture?” Brooks asks.
“What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to
encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly
tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship.
In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures,
like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser
pleasures, like being stoned.”

I always find it amazing that whether it be in the bedroom or the
den, “conservatives” like Brooks so often want to use the law to enforce
their own perception of what is morally correct, what are “satisfying
pleasures” and what they deem “lesser pleasures.”

I’m sure there are many people out there thinking it might have been
better if Brooks had not stopped at the sitting-around-giggling stage
of his early pot experimentation. If he hadn’t he might not come off so
often as self-righteous and, well, priggish. He might more often spare
Times readers what Michelle Goldberg described in The Nation as his
“wistful, self-satisfied moralism.” (As in: “We graduated to more
satisfying pleasures. The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a
state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more
about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of
satisfaction and accomplishment.”).



BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist
Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.
Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing
can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.

The Walmartization of Aerospace and the Race to the Bottom

By Carl Bloice
Black Commemntator Editorial Board
November 21, 2013


The giant aircraft manufacturer Airbus is charging its chief rival
Boeing with densely cramming narrow seats in one of its new wide-body
777 planes in order to say it will accommodate 406 passengers in order
to unfairly compete for sales with the European company’s 350-seat
A350-1000 jumbo model.

And here we thought that it was the airlines that were packing us
into tight spaces in coach in order to reap extra profits by selling
“extra leg room” to others willing to pay for the ability to unfold
their laptops on the serving tray. Well, actually, we were right. The
suggestion that the plane makers might themselves be shrinking available
passenger space is just indication of the cutthroat antics besetting
the airlines and the aircraft industry as a whole.

The motive force here is profit. Just how strong the lust is to
maximize it is well illustrated by what U.S.-based Boeing is trying to
do to its workers in Washington State.

Boeing recently proposed to build the new 777X in Washington,
possibly involving 10,000 jobs, if the 30,000 unionized machinists
there would agreed to an immediate eight-year extension of their
contract now set to expire in 2019. The
bosses also demanded that pension benefits be frozen at current levels,
that additional healthcare cost be borne by the employees and that
salary increases be limited to one percent every other year. They also
insisted on a no strike pledge covering the next 11 years.

The bosses also made it clear that if their proposals were not
agreed to they would consider moving operations so other location where
people would make the planes for less. Washington State Boeing workers,
members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace
Workers union (IAM) rejected the proposal by a margin of 2 to 1.

As a result, Boeing said it would open the competition for the plant to
cities in South Carolina, Alabama, California and Utah.

Here, we have on naked display the reality of contemporary capitalism: give
the consumers as little as possible and charge them whatever the market
will bear and compel the workers to produce more and better while
compensating them as little as possible.

And, while you’re at it, enable the top brass to rake off as much as
possible. Boeing CEO James McNerney saw his total compensation package
increase 20 percent last year for a total of $27.5 million

The extraordinary thing here is that Boeing is not pleading hardship. The
company is not threatening bankruptcy. It isn’t even doing what bosses
often do in such cases: claiming it will be unprofitable unless its
concessionary demands are meet. Boeing posted a $3.9 billion net profit
in 2012. So far this year the company stock price has risen 83 percent.

Furthermore, this week Boeing racked up orders that have been
characterized as “the largest product launch in commercial jet history.”
Along with an order already in from Lufthansa, it has now agreed to
supply the new planes to three airlines in the United Arab Emirates, Abu
Dhabi and Qatar with a total initial price tag of nearly $100 billion.

Last week, Reuters reported that it had been told by IAM President
Thomas Buffenbarger, that “Boeing had pushed hard for a quick contract
extension in Washington because it worried that the development of the
A350 was running about two years ahead of the 777X.” No problem there.
When the results of the behind-the-scenes bargaining were revealed at
the Dubai Airshow, Boeing had sold 342 planes against the struggling
Airbus’ 142.

On Sunday in Dubai, CEO McNerney told the Financial Times, “We are
starting here, but I think we see broad worldwide demand for the 777. I
am highly confident that [the 777X] will be a big global success on
every continent around the world.”

Ari Paul, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of
International and Public Affairs, wrote recently, “Boeing’s stingy
demands are part of a trend at companies where historically American
capitalism has actually functioned fine for workers. In 2010, employees
at an upstate New York factory making Mott’s applesauce went on strike
after its parent company, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which posted a
$555 million profit the year before, demanded deep wage and benefit cuts
on grounds that other companies in region were paying less. In 2011,
Verizon phone workers who maintain the vast landline system for the
telecom giant went on strike when it asked workers to accept cuts on the
grounds that nonunion workers at its wireless subsidiary were more
responsible for company profits.”

Ray Conner, head of Boeing’s commercial aircraft business told the
media last week that the company would now have to decide where it wants
to build the new plane in order to start deliveries in 2020. “What has
happened with the IAM union is not going to impact anything we have to
do with respect to what we have committed to our customers,” he said.

Much of the commentary on the situation Boeing – from unionists and
outside observers – has tended to view with considerable skepticism the
idea that the company would actually move operations out of state, given
that it has, in Puget Sound, existing facilities and a trained and
experienced workforce. A report by Jenny Brown on Labor Notes said,
“Some analysts say moving 777X production to South Carolina or another
state will be more disruptive to efficiency and quality than basing the
program in Washington, where similar fuselages are already being
produced. The very long composite wings for the new airplane are hard to
transport if they’re built far away.” However, a veteran unionist I
spoke to over the weekend cautioned, “A number of times in situations
like this it’s been said, `Oh, they’d never leave’ right before the
employer packed up and moved.”

A strong argument can be made that the conflict in Washington State
involves far more than a local dispute over wages and benefits. Boeing
appears determined to set the bar higher in its labor relations. As is
the trend in much of labor negotiations these days, the bosses have
simply decided that moving forward, workers are going to have to forfeit
the medical and retirement benefits their unions have previously
secured. To accomplish this, they may well be willing to move
operations, at great initial cost, to areas where unions are weak or
non-existent. In the U.S. today, that means relocating in “right to
work” states in the South or Southwest.

I suspect the suggestion appearing in some media reports, that
operations might be moved from Everett to Long Beach, California, where
Boeing now builds the C-17 military transport aircraft at a unionized
plant, are management’s attempt to distract from that impression.
Surely, the labor movement in California would be expected to resist
transforming Southern California into a cheap labor location.

As the Machinist Union members were voting on the take-away
contract, some began to refer to it as “the Walmartization of aerospace”
and Dean Rutz of the Associated Press noted, “vultures circled, among
them Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who tweeted last week that his low-tax,
low-wage state was ready to help Boeing.”

“This is how the middle class dies, not with a bang, but a forced
squeeze,” wrote Timothy Egan in the New York Times November 14. “After a
global corporation posts record profits, it asks the state that has
long nurtured its growth for the nation’s biggest single tax break, and
then tells the people who make its products that their pension plan will
be frozen, their benefits slashed, their pay raises meager. Take it or
we leave. And everyone caves.”

Egan continued, “It is not impelled, as the auto industry was five
years ago, in the midst of bailouts and cutbacks. Boeing could afford to
be generous, or at least not onerous. But it’s easier to play state
against state, the race to the bottom.”

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist
Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the
National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.
Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing
can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.

Keeping Us in the Dark About Latin America

“Many of us here in the U.S. had entertained the notion
that whatever disappointments await us after the
election of the U.S. President Barak Obama, at least
the reactionary U.S. policy toward Cuba might change.”

By Carl Bloice
Black Commentator Editorial Board
November 7, 2013


It’s like it didn’t happen; not even a two-inch World Briefing. On October 29, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly, for the 22nd time, to condemn the 5-decade-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. The New York Times did about as much as it could to ignore it. So, for those amongst us that rely on the newspaper of record for all the news that’s fit to print, here’s what had occurred.

The 193-nation UN General Assembly approved a resolution entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” There were 188 votes in favor of the resolution. The only countries voting “no” were the United State and Israel.

Last year, Palau voted with the U.S. and Israel; this year the tiny Pacific island abstained, along with fellow island nations Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

On the afternoon of October 29, the day of the UN vote, the Reuters brief report on the resolution appeared on the Times website.

The Reuters report noted that “U.S. President Barack Obama, who said before taking office that he wanted to recast long-hostile U.S.-Cuba relations, has been a disappointment to the Cuban government, which hoped he would do more to dismantle the embargo.”

Actually the disappointment goes far beyond Havana. Many of us here in the U.S. had entertained the notion that whatever disappointments await us after the election of the U.S. President Barak Obama, at least the reactionary U.S. policy toward Cuba might change. But that was not to be.

Cuba represents absolutely no threat to our country. With Washington maintaining, and even shoring up, relations with some of the most reactionary regimes on the planet it would be hard to make a case that the blockade has anything to do with human rights. Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. senior area advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, would seem to have made the Obama Administration’s motivation for maintain the blockade quite clear. He drew attention to the “economic policies” Cuba “has pursued for the past half century,” adding that while the Administration welcomes “recent changes, such as those that allow greater self-employment and liberalization of the real estate market, Cuba still has one of the most restricted economic systems in the world.”

“Irrespective of U.S. policy, it is unrealistic to expect the Cuban economy to thrive until the Cuban government opens its state monopolies to private competition, fully empowers Cuban entrepreneurs, respects intellectual property rights, allows unfettered access to the Internet, and adopts the sound macro-economic policies that have contributed to the success of many of Cuba’s neighboring countries in Latin America,” Godard told the Assembly.

So, apparently the U.S. government intends to maintain its policy of dictation and economic corrosion unless, and until, the Cubans change their internal economic policies. The problem is that this stance runs against international norms and is opposed by the vast overwhelmingly nations of the world.

Most particularly the countries of Latin America.

All Latin American, European and African nations voted for the anti-blockade UN resolution.

Speaking out against the embargo was the Ethiopian delegate on behalf of African countries, Iran on behalf of the 120-nation non-aligned movement, and India, Mexico, China, Ecuador, Russia, Bolivia, Indonesia and Nicaragua. “The call of the international community is getting louder and louder, demanding that the US government change its policy toward Cuba,” said China’s deputy UN ambassador Wang Min. Bolivian UN ambassador Sacha Llorenty Soliz said the embargo is “sullying the history of mankind.”

It is not all surprising that the New York Times choose to pretty much ignore the story of the blockade vote. I have always imagined that there is a banner in the paper’s newsroom that reads: “The Monroe Doctrine Lives.” Of course the Times has a right to say or report on whatever it chooses but this particular incident of turning a blind eye might be a good topic for the paper’s “Public Editor” Margaret Sullivan to take up. She might also ask why with an important and contentious election coming up in Honduras, the paper hasn’t carried news from that Central American country for a couple of months?

This despite the fact that since the June 28, 2009 military coup, which the U.S. refused to condemn, there has been a rash of political violence targeting various social activists and opponents of the current regime and international human rights organizations, including the Inter American Commission of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Commission, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have cited widespread human rights abuses.

In the lead up to the now slated November 24 Honduran Presidential election, the situation has attracted the attention of members of the U.S. Congress. In June 24 members of the Senate penned a letter to the State Department to examine the Honduran government’s commitment to uphold the rule of law, denounce rights abuses and to do what it can to promote elections that are “free, fair and peaceful.” On October 15th three members of the House of Representatives, Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Mike Honda (D-CA) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry saying “the freedom and fairness of election is very much at risk, as human rights abuses under the existing government continue to threaten basic civil liberties, opposition candidates do not enjoy a level playing field, and state security forces are taking on an increasingly central, and ominous role in context of the election.”

I don’t really think there is any mystery has to why the major media in the U.S. has ignored or downplayed the UN blockade vote, the threat of election violence in Honduras or a number of other recent significant political developments in and around Latin America. U.S. policy toward the region – still imbued with the spirit of neo-colonialism – has led to Washington’s increased political isolation in the hemisphere. While President Obama is pivoting to Asia he might consider swinging south and assessing what current U.S. policy toward Latin America is reaping. And the major media could do a better job of informing us about what is unfolding there.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.

Hostage Taking, the Sequester and the New Ransom Note

Hostage Taking, the Sequester and the New Ransom Note

By Carl Bloice
Black Commentator
October 24, 2013


It’s more than irritating to hear liberal media commentators – and even some a little further to the left – try to minimize the impact of the sequester. Yes, it’s true that Obama Administration operatives did their best to magnify the possible negative effects of the cuts in government spending. That was the whole idea. The aim was to frighten the public and the Congress thereby creating the atmosphere for a “grand bargain” along the lines of the “Simpson-Bowles” scheme. True, the country’s economy didn’t collapse and we didn’t run out of weapons needed to fight wars halfway around the globe, but sequestration is not benign.

The Congressional Budget Office has suggested that keeping the cuts in place could result in the loss of as many as 800,000 jobs. So far, the sequester has cut needy children off from pre-school, tens of thousands of low income people have been denied rental payment assistance, cancer patients have been denied treatment and the court system undermined. “The absurdity of continuing these failed policies should be clear,” wrote Michael Linden at the Center for American Prospect last week.

But the policies do continue and if they are still intact when the New Year begins, things are going to get a whole lot worse.

The Congressional action last week that brought the suspended government back on tract was important. The assault from the far right was staved off and its attempt to extract a pound of flesh by taking the government hostage was, for the moment, frustrated. But it was not the victory some people are trying to make it out to be.

“Because the deal only includes minor concessions, the Beltway consensus is that it represents a resounding defeat for Republicans, who ‘surrendered’ their original demands to defund or delay Obamacare,” observed The Nation editorially last week. “In the skirmish of opinion polls, that may be true, for now. But in the war of ideas, the Senate deal is but a stalemate, one made almost entirely on conservative terms. The GOP now goes into budget talks with sequestration as the new baseline, primed to demand longer-term cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And they still hold the gun of a US default to the nation’s head in the next debt ceiling showdown.”

“Surrender? Any more ‘victories’ like this and Democrats will end up paying tribute into the GOP’s coffers,” said the magazine.

The attempt to take the nation’s politics hostage is still underway. Only the wording of the ransom note has changed.

Congressional Republicans “misjudged their leaders,” Conservative columnist, George Will, told Fox News last Sunday. “The fact is they have extraordinary leverage,” he said. “We are now talking entirely in Republican terms, in Republican vocabulary after this so-called defeat. No taxes, how much is the spending going to be cut? The federal workforce is being cut, discretionary domestic spending is being cut and this is all because of the much reviled [Senate GOP leader] Mitch McConnell getting basically on his own, the sequester two years ago.”

Under the terms of the agreement reached last week, a bi-partisan Congressional committee will now recommend even more spending cuts with a deadline of December 13 for action by early next year. What will now be debated are proposals for massive reductions in spending for Social Security and Medicare. Hanging over the talks will be the threat, once again, of refusal to raise the debt ceiling beyond February 7.

Having for now given up on using the budget process to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the Republicans appear to be united in their demand for “entitlement reform.” “For their part, Republicans say they’re willing to give up the harmful cuts known as sequestration – and only those cuts – in return for Social Security and Medicare benefit reductions,” wrote Richard Eskow, a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future last week. “Their defense-contractor patrons would be amply rewarded in return for sacrifices from America’s seniors and disabled.”

The drive continues to deal with the effects of capitalism’s latest crisis by making seniors and retirees make do with less while corporate profits continue to rise and economic inequality continues to expand. But it can’t be emphasized enough that this drive is, indeed, “bipartisan” with the elements of the Democratic Party eagerly joining in the assault on Social Security and Medicare. Call it “Simpson-Bowles,” or “Fix the Debt” or any number of other euphemisms, some of the wealthiest people in the country have mobilized their resources to see that this happens.

For defenders of senior retiree and disability benefits there are simply no encouraging words coming out of the White House. President Obama continues to speak of achieving a “balanced approach to a responsible budget” and saying things like: “The challenges we have right now are not short-term deficits; it’s the long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security.”

As could be expected, the false equivalency propagandists have gone into action. Last week the New York Times carried a front page feature on how “special interests lobbyists” have flown into action to try and sway the Congressional negotiators. The list of these evil doers included the tea party aligned groups and the AARP. That’s right; the absurd argument is being made that complicating the effort to reach a reasonable budget compromise are the folks who want to undermine or eliminate Social Security and Medicare on the one hand and the 40 million-member organization of seniors trying to preserve the programs on the other.

As economist, Mark Weisbrot, pointed out last week, public opinion sampling indicates that most people in the country “decidedly don’t want any cuts in social security, Medicare, or the social safety net in general, in order to strike a ‘grand bargain’ with the Republicans.” He went on to ask, “How is it that our Democratic president, whose opponents have been utterly defeated in their efforts to prevent Congress from raising the debt ceiling, now feels that he has to negotiate with them over a purely fictional problem?” Instead, wrote Weisbrot, the White House “should be taking up the legitimate concerns of not only his own base, but the majority of Americans whose real income has stagnated or fallen for the past 30 years – not to mention (and they are, in fact, not often mentioned) the 46 million Americans, which is close to one in sixth, who live below the poverty line.”

Noting the vast sums the so-called reformers have at their disposal, economist, Robert Reich, has written, “Still, the majority is holding its own for now, despite its under-representation in the public debate. President Obama will have to think twice about any grand bargain with the Republicans that harms senior citizens. As Obamacare takes effect and millions benefit from it, right-wing arguments about the role of government will sustain further losses. Eventually, the country will move on to the real, non-fictional, and serious issues of employment and income inequality.”

Speaking October 21, before a conference of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka, said he had a “sinking feeling that too many politicians are ready to put the hurt on regular working people,” adding that the people in Washington should be increasing Social Security payments rather than cutting them. “Millions of Americans are afraid Social Security might not be there for them,” Trumka said. “We cannot listen to that fear and believe Social Security is the problem. It isn’t. The fear is. Instead of cutting Social Security, which will make the fear come true, we should, as a nation, invest in Social Security. Increase benefits.”

“The reality is that the economy needs more spending and there is no plausible story where the additional spending is going to come from the private sector in the immediate future,” economist Dean Baker wrote in TruthOut last week. “If the government is not prepared to boost spending then we will continue to see an economy that is down close to 9 million jobs from its trend level.”

Baker continued, “For the next round of negotiations progressives should come up with the wish list of problems that badly need to be fixed in the years ahead. Universal pre-school, as suggested by President Obama is a good one. We can also include a wide variety of infrastructure needs. We can also look to increased support for energy conservation measures. Another injection of subsidies to support retrofitting homes, businesses, and government buildings could go far towards reducing our energy use. And we could help many of the state and local governments that are still struggling and laying off workers.”

Avoiding disaster is turning into President Barack Obama’s abiding role,” Financial Times Washington correspondent, Edward Luce, wrote in the Financial Times October 14. “Top of the list is stopping a sovereign default, which would eclipse any other economic damage Washington could inflict. In today’s climate, even a six-week reprieve on the debt ceiling counts as progress. But the opportunity cost of persisting with this lethally irrelevant debate is huge. The longer the US squabbles over the basic legitimacy of government, the less hope there is of making it relevant for the 21st century.”

“The US is in the throes of an epochal battle over government’s legitimacy,” Luce continued. “The last party to hold the entire system to ransom was the Democrats, in 1860. That led to a bloody civil war that paved the way for modern federal government. The south is still fighting some of its consequences. It is probably no coincidence this latest escalation is taking place under the watch of America’s first black president. Partly as a result, Mr. Obama is on course to leave government in a weaker condition than when he found it. That is not the legacy he sought. Preventing default will not be enough. Mr. Obama needs to make the case for what is essential.”

Essential is preserving and expanding economic security for seniors and people with disabilities, expanding the educational opportunities for the younger generation and doing something to aid the nearly 12 million people unemployed or underemployed.


BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.comleftmargin.wordpress.com.

How Many Jobless People Last Month? Who Knows

How Many Jobless People Last Month?
Who Knows

By Carl Bloice
Black Commentator
October 10, 2013


It looks like we may never know how many workers were jobless in
September. Because of the government shutdown, the Labor Department
statisticians have been unable to complete their surveys or publish
their findings. Experts say this could have serious wide-ranging
consequences, including complicating the Federal Reserve’s deliberations
on whether or when to start tapering down its effort to keep the
economy moving through its “quantitative easing” bond-buying practice.

But we do know this much: at this point in time there are 11.3
million people in the country unable to earn a living – more or less. At
the end of 1995 that number was 7.4 million. The official unemployment
rate is a something less than precise figure but it does give some
indication of where thing are going. Eight years ago it was 5.6 million;
now it’s 7.3 million. Or at least it was in August.

Millions of our friends, relatives and neighbors are living
precarious lives of want and insecurity due to unemployment or
underemployment. We are still faced with a jobs crisis, even if few in
Washington seem to want to own up to it.

Joblessness among African Americans went from 12.6 percent in July
to 13.0 percent in August and the number of black people 16 years of age
or older gainfully employed who held jobs dropped from 16,318,000 in
July to 16,108,000 in August, a drop from 61.4 percent in July to 60.8
percent – the lowest in 20 years. That’s was the lowest that rate has
been since July 1982. In January 2009, the participation rate was 63.3

Nearly half of young African Americans seeking work cannot find any.
Black teen joblessness stood at 41.6 percent in August, a figure that,
if it pertained to the population as a whole, or even to young people as
a whole, would be recognized as a crisis of the first order. A year ago
the figure was 36 percent. Hispanic youth unemployment was 28.4 percent
in August, a slight decrease from July but about where it was this time
last year.

It is ironic and distressing that these days these alarming
statistics are being cited more by rightwing Republicans than by public
figures on the left side of the political aisle. They’re trying to sell
the picture as an illustration of the failure of Obama Administration
policies. It’s rank hypocrisy, of course. As BET.com Senior National
Correspondent Jonathan Hicks points out, “… the Republican-led House of
Representatives, in its current makeup, seem to have but one significant
agenda: to oppose tooth and nail any initiative, bill or idea that
springs from the Obama administration.”

On August 29, the McClatchy newspapers reported that “For the fourth
consecutive summer, teen employment has stayed anchored around record
lows, prompting experts to fear that a generation of youth is likely to
be economically stunted with lower earnings and opportunities in years

“I think there is this myth out there that there is some silver
lining for young people, that they are going on to college. . . . You
don’t see an increase in enrollment rates over and above the long-term
trend. You can’t see a Great Recession blip,” Economic Policy Institute
economist Heidi Scheirholz told McClatchy. “They are not in school.
There’s been a huge spike in the not-in-school, not employed. It’s just a
huge missed opportunity.”

As the employment situation has worsened for many, and the duration
of joblessness increased for millions, instead of the government moving
to ameliorate the situation and lessen the suffering, it has moved to
make matters worse. As a result of the disreputable “sequester” an 8
percent reduction in federal unemployment benefits is slated for 2014.

Of those unemployed at the moment, 4.3 million have been without
work 27 weeks or longer. That’s 2.8 percent of the nation’s total

As of September 30, 2013, there have been close to
1,179,700 unemployed workers in California who have run out of all
available benefits.

Under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program
jobless workers are now eligible for federal and state jobless benefits.
However, there are currently no plans in place to continue extended
unemployment benefits into 2014. Legislation providing for an
unemployment extension will also need to be passed by Congress.

All of this could be avoided with legislative action but there seems
be little likelihood that the current Tea Party strangled Congress will
do anything that might relieved the economic pressure on the nation’s
working people.

The Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that the economy
could generate nearly 500,000 fewer jobs through 2014 if federally
funded unemployment insurance benefits aren’t extended. “Right now, the
extra weeks of unemployment insurance benefits come to an end at the end
of this year and not only do unemployed workers need the money, but the
economy needs the boost from them spending it,” says Chad Stone, chief
economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“The U.S. economy is weak and in danger of foundering,” wrote Roger
Hickey co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future last week. “The
government shutdown is harming the still-fragile recovery. And now we
are flying blind — because the shutdown has shut down the production of
the official numbers and statistics that government and business and
labor need to figure out what our public policy — and private
investment policy ought to be.”

Hickey continued, “Since we are all flying blind, we can only rely
on the trends for previous months. And that trend has not been good.
Month after month, a disappointing number of private sector jobs have
been created, but cuts to public sector spending have meant that public
payrolls and jobs have been reduced. The result: not enough job creation
to fill the huge ‘jobs gap’ created during the deep recession — or
even to create good opportunities for new entrants into the labor

As Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future
said last week, “Instead of continuing its failed austerity-lite
policies, Congress should be moving to a jobs agenda, making the
investments we cannot avoid – in rebuilding our decrepit infrastructure,
putting teachers and police back to work, and in renewable energy and
energy efficiency – that will help put people back to work. With the
Federal Reserve likely to begin cutting back its boost to the economy,
the Congress should step in to boost jobs and growth, not continue to
cut them.”

“The fact is this economy has not recovered from the Great
Recession. It still is in dire need of jobs and greater growth,”
Borosage said. “With the Federal Reserve likely to begin cutting back
its boost to the economy, the Congress should step in to boost jobs and
growth, not continue to cut them.”

That could happen. But don’t hold our breath. Right now the
rightwingers have the government tied up in knots. They have created a
Constitutional crisis by asserting the right of a minority to dictate
public policy and in doing so, to advance the interests of the one
percent as opposed to the rest of us. Meanwhile, the plight of those
with no way to earn a living rates only an occasional blip on the
country’s political radar screen. If this continues to be the case the
consequences will be grave indeed.


BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member
of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a
healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other
Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.

Overcoming the Sequester Pain – Not Much Hope from Capitol Hill

Left Margin

By Carl Bloice – BC Editorial Board
Black Commentator
July 25, 2013 – Issue 526


There is a chance that some of the most horrendous effects of the sequester deal between the Congress and the White House could be considerably alleviated by legislation now before the Senate. However, the likelihood of that happening is scant, given the heartless political Neanderthals in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

“As early as next week, the House and Senate will consider separate bills to fund the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for fiscal year 2014,” Douglas Rice of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), wrote July 19. “The stark differences between the two bills reflect the radically different budget priorities set by the budget resolutions that the chambers approved earlier this year. These differences will have to be resolved over the next several months, and low-income families needing housing assistance – who have been hit hard by the across-the-board sequestration cuts that took effect in March – have a lot at stake in the outcome.”

As I reported a couple of weeks ago, the outrageous sequester deal is already causing havoc with the lives of low income working people who currently receive rental payment assistance through the rent vouchers program. If nothing is done to reverse it the problem will only get worse, eliminating future vouchers and pushing more impoverished people into the streets.

“Facing the deepest voucher renewal funding shortfall on record, many state and local housing agencies have stopped reissuing vouchers to families on waiting lists when current voucher-holders leave the program, and many others are likely to follow suit in coming months,” wrote Rice, adding that “If sequestration continues into 2014, moreover, and Congress provides voucher renewal funding in 2014 at the 2013 post-sequestration level, housing vouchers for thousands of additional low-income families will be eliminated.”

“These cuts fall heavily on vulnerable people,” continued Rice. “Half of the families with vouchers are seniors or people with disabilities, and most of the rest are families with children. These households typically have incomes well below the poverty line and cannot afford decent housing without assistance. Some who will go without assistance will face extreme hardship, such as having to live in emergency shelters.”

Proposed Senate legislation would restore for the 2014 fiscal year federal housing grants eliminated by the sequester. It would restore most of the HUD vouchers currently being eliminated Legislation before the House, however, would reduce funding for housing and community development programs by nearly $1 billion below the budget level the sequestration mandates for this year.

“In addition to sequestration’s cuts in housing vouchers, the consequences of its cuts in other housing assistance programs and in community development funding – which come on top of other deep cuts in these areas in 2011 and 2012 – will magnify over time,” says the CBPP “For instance, sequestration cut funding for Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), which help communities provide emergency shelters and short-term assistance to prevent homelessness, by 25 percent in 2013. The combined effect of funding cuts for both vouchers and ESG likely will be that more individuals and families ultimately become homeless and remain homeless for longer periods of time.”

The CBPP says the Senate bill “would return funding for most other HUD housing and community development programs to at least 2013 pre-sequestration levels. In contrast, the House bill would slash Community Development Block Grant funding by $1.4 billion – or 47 percent – below the 2013 post-sequestration level, reducing funding to its lowest nominal level since Congress created the program in 1974.”

And this, the CBPP says, “will contribute to further losses of public housing; impede the development of affordable housing for seniors, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable families; and undercut efforts to redevelop and revitalize low-income neighborhoods.”

“While the Senate bill would reverse much of the harm to low-income families caused by sequestration, it remains frugal,” says the CBPP. “Funding for most HUD programs would remain far below 2010 levels, adjusted for inflation (see Figure 2 below), even though the need for rental assistance has grown substantially. The number of renters with ‘worst-case housing needs’ – those whose incomes are below 50 percent of the local median and who pay more than half their income for housing or live in severely substandard housing – has risen by 43 percent since 2007. This has contributed to homelessness remaining a large, persistent problem.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is to be commended for keeping tabs on the effects of the sequester on important social welfare programs. Especially in the face of effort by some in the major mass media – like the Washington Post – to downplay or discount the savagery of the cuts instituted and the pain inflicted upon so many individuals and families. In fact, while there were omens of things to come reported in the spring, the on-the-ground results of the sequester have pretty much disappeared from newspaper pages and the airwaves.

A cruel irony of all this – and all austerity moves being unrolled in Washington – is that the cutbacks are coming at a time of growing need.

Back on November 21, 2012, Will Fischer, another policy analyst at the CBPP noted that the number of low-income families struggling to afford housing has “grown dramatically in recent years” according HUD data. [Chart] “That’s one reason why so many poor children live in households that face major hardships such as falling behind on the rent or mortgage, as my colleague Arloc Sherman recently noted,” he noted.

Fischer wrote that “About 8.5 million households with very low incomes faced ‘worst case housing needs” last year, meaning that they had no housing assistance and either paid more than half of their income for rent and utilities or lived in severely substandard housing. That’s 2.6 million (43 percent) more households than in 2007.

“Families that pay large shares of their income for rent are much more likely to move frequently or go through periods of homelessness – experiences that can seriously harm children’s health and development.”

On March 6, New York Times columnist, Charles M. Blow, noted that “since the country didn’t fall apart during the first week of the sequester, many Americans may be even more open to the argument that the administration was crying wolf. In fact, the Dow Jones industrial average hit a record high this week, and there were no long lines at airports for any reason other than a brewing snowstorm.”
“But remember that in the story of the boy who cried wolf, ultimately, a real wolf does show up after all the false cries, and that very real wolf destroys a vulnerable flock.”

Blow continued, “The pain of the sequester is that kind that lurks: a slow, creeping disaster mainly affecting those Americans on the fringes who are barely inching their way back into a still-bleak job market – or hopelessly locked out of it – and poor Americans too old or too young to participate in it.”

“Housing vouchers are an essential tool to prevent homelessness and help families in emergency shelters and other types of temporary housing move into stable, permanent housing, the CBPP’s Rice observed. “Indeed, many communities prioritize homeless individuals and families for receipt of vouchers. As agencies stop reissuing vouchers in response to sequestration, the number of vouchers available to families that are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness will shrink markedly, lengthening the time that families remain homeless (and causing other homeless families to be turned away from emergency shelters because they are full).”

The measure before the Senate would not solve the nation’s affordable housing crisis. It would hardly make a dent in it. But it would alleviate some of the dreadful effects of the irresponsible wheeling and dealing between the Obama Administration and the Republican Congressional leadership. But don’t expect much understanding of this from the knuckleheads in the House leadership beholden as they are to their rightwing supporters and their reactionary corporate backers. Absent effective protest and resistance they will continue to cut deeper and deeper into the living standards and well-being of the country’s working families and the poor.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com

Should Jobless Black Youth Apply for EU Membership?

Left Margin

By Carl Bloice – BC Editorial Board

Black Commentot
July 18, 2013


The BBC said joblessness in Europe is reflected in “shocking numbers.” President Francois Hollande spoke of his commitment “to end youth joblessness.” And, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it a campaign issue in the run-up to her country’s national elections in September.

“We must not allow there to be a lost generation,” said Merkel ahead of the July 3 summit she convened on the problem. The meeting drew 28 European leaders or their representatives. Youth unemployment, she added, is “perhaps the most pressing problem facing Europe at the present time…. It is highly regrettable that parts of the economic elite assume so little responsibility for the deplorable situation.”

While the summit was underway at the Berlin chancellery, union members from across the continent waved banners reading: “Stop talking, act now.”

“Merkel has spent most of the eurozone crisis insisting over-indebted states cut public spending,” Michelle Martin wrote in The Independent (UK) July 5. “Now, just ahead of her re-election bid in September, she is trying to rebrand herself as savior of Europe’s jobless as well as its public finances.”

Merkel’s main challenger in the upcoming German elections, Social Democrat (SPD) Peer Steinbruck, said, “This economic crisis is turning into a political crisis, which is threatening social stability in these countries, and Germany cannot remain indifferent.” The euro zone jobless rate was reported to be 12.1 percent in May, up from 12.0 percent in April. The youth unemployment rate was 23.8 percent. An estimated 3.5 million women and men under 25 years old are unemployed. In Spain and Greece the youth unemployment rate nears 50 percent.

The aid package approved by the European governments is allocated for the next two years and is part of a program that promises to guarantee every worker under 25 years old new employment, further education, or training within four months of becoming unemployed.

Not everybody on the continent thinks the $7.8 billion so far allocated by the European Union governments under Merkel’s prodding is enough to have the needed impact. One participant called it “drop in the bucket.”

“We believe that in the next two years, about €20 [$25.5] to €21 billion are needed urgently,” said Steinbruck.

I hate to be cynical here but there is a lamentable irony in all this. The youth jobless rates in various rich European countries reach levels that have existed in many African American communities in the U.S. for decades, and suddenly there’s a continental summit do something and pledges to take major action to end the scourge.

It didn’t really get much media attention but the African-American unemployment rate for June came in at 13.7 percent – up from 13.5 percent in May. It’s been over 13 percent for the past couple of years.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the unemployment rate for African-American women is higher today than it was when the current economic crisis began. Currently, it stands at 12 percent, compared with 11.8 percent in June 2009 and 7.1 percent in December 2007.

And even fewer analysts and commentators took note that for young African Americans (16–19 years old) unemployment was 43.6 percent in June – up from 42.6 percent in May. For black female teens, unemployment stood at 35.3 percent – down from 37.8 percent in May. For young black males, however, the jobless rate rose to 52.9 percent – up from 48.5 percent in May. It was 39 percent in December 2007.

On PBS, business writer Paul Solman commented June 28, “What you might call ‘full employment,’ then, would seem to be about 4 percent. Young African-Americans have an unemployment rate more than ten times as high.”

“The current completely dysfunctional Congress has no plan for any jobs let alone summer jobs,” Lauren Victoria Burke, managing editor of Politic365.com, blogged at Crew 42 last week. “In 2010, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) was the Chair of the Black Caucus, she and CBC vice-chair Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) bugged everyone on the issue of summer jobs for youth. They were joined by Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Bobby Rush and many others. After two summers of inactivity by Congress and the White House on the issue of summer jobs, the rate hit 43.6% last month, the highest of the year.”

African Americans ages 18-29 face an unemployment rate of 23.7 percent. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the jobless rate peaked at 25.4 percent.

Economist, Paul Krugman, notes that, far from “improving,” the economy remains in “a low-grade depression.” Referring to that statement, radio commentator and former commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, Jim Hightower, said, “Of course, that thermometer zooms to high-grade if you’re among the millions of Americans who’re jobless, working for low wages, or able to get only part-time, temporary employment. Yes, the unemployment rate has ticked down – but not because of any jump in job creation. Rather, the dismal lack of hiring has become so discouraging that many people simply give up the hunt, which magically removes them from the ranks of the unemployed.”

“Most congress critters clearly don’t care about America’s middle-class jobs depression,” wrote Hightower. “The White House cares, but doesn’t treat it as the crisis it is, so nothing happens. The only jobs push we’ve had is the stop-gap effort by the Federal Reserve to pump enough money into the economy to keep unemployment from worsening.”

“But rather than push harder, Ben Bernanke, head of the central bank, recently sounded retreat,” continued Hightower. “He, too, uses the faulty unemployment statistic as a crutch to claim ‘improvement’ – the jobless rate, he says, could drop to seven percent next year, so the Fed’s stimulus will no longer be needed.”

“That’s shameful,” wrote Hightower. “Even if that was the true rate, seven percent equals 11 million unemployed Americans and many millions more who’d still be underemployed. From Bernanke to Congress, all government officials who shrug their shoulders and give up on helping that many Americans should themselves be made jobless.”

Terrance Heath, blogger & web producer at Campaign for America’s Future said recently, “As the recession continues, conservative economic policies have only made things worse for African Americans in terms of employment. Deficit-and sequester-driven spending cuts have led to layoff and job losses in the public sector. African Americans are disproportionately represented in the public sector workforce, and thus disproportionately impacted by public sector cuts.”

Heath went on to note that about one in five African Americans work in the public sector, and “With manufacturing jobs in decline, public sector jobs became an alternate path to the middle class for many African-Americans. Now the Black middle class is threatened by the loss of those jobs, too.”

The Europeans are planning another summit on youth unemployment in the fall.

Meanwhile, there are no high level meetings on the problem slated in our country. No matter what the motives of the individual European leaders or the wisdom or reach of their prescription for dealing with the prospects for the jobless, at least there is recognition on that side of the pond of the seriousness of the situation and the likely consequences of leaving it unaddressed. We should be so fortune as to have youth joblessness as a campaign issue here.

“Left to its own devices, the American economy is eroding the American job. Hours decline, dragging take-home pay down with them,” American Prospect editor-at-large Harold Meyerson wrote in the Washington Post last week. “The identity of the boss becomes mystified, much to the boss’s advantage. A government commitment to full employment, backed up by the public investment required to create it, would bolster not just the quantity but also the quality of our jobs. Republicans are dead set against that, however, and most Democrats appear to have abandoned the fight. So much for the American job.”

Marking July 4, Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America’s Future wrote, “Today the headlines cheered the latest unemployment figures as if they were some sort of victory, not the continuation of a human tragedy for millions of Americans. Apparently our political leaders don’t want to talk about their suffering, perhaps because they’re not willing to expend ‘political capital’ by trying to help them. And our journalistic class, by and large, hasn’t bothered to understand what’s happening in our country.”

Eskow added, “So millions of Americans have joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed – and the long-term forgotten.”

Jamelle Bouie, a staff writer at The American Prospect said, “The simple fact is that there are no economic constraints to solving mass unemployment. For Washington, however, it’s just not a priority.”

A Nearly Hidden Horror of the Sequester

Left Margin

A Nearly Hidden Horror of the Sequester

By Carl Bloice, BC Editorial Board
Black Commentator
July 11, 2013


The story is being spread that the “sequester,” has not turned out as harmful as had been expected, indeed, that it is causing very little harm. Don’t believe it.

On June 30, the Washington Post, a predictable outlet for arguments for gutting critical social services, carried a misleading, ill-informed article by David A. Fahrenthold and Lisa Rein. It alleged that the ongoing federal budget cut “may not be as draconian in its economic impact as some (such as the President) had predicted.” Sequester “wasn’t a cleaver,” it concluded. “It wasn’t a scalpel. It was more like liposuction — carefully removing the things that would be missed the least.”

Like rental housing assistance for the poor and disabled?

The sequester refers to a section of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that went into effect March 1. As part of a deal between the White House and the Congress resulting from a deadlock over the federal budget, it reduces approximately $85.4 billion in federal spending this year, with similar cuts for years 2014 through 2021

As a result of this ungodly political deal a whole lot of people are going to suffer needlessly.

According to the The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, African Americans received 43 percent of housing vouchers to while whites received 36 percent “Without the vouchers, these families would see those costs skyrocket. Other families will lose counseling services that help distressed homeowners navigate foreclosure proceedings,” it said.

“Housing vouchers are essential for preventing homelessness, and for helping families in emergency shelters or other temporary housing move into more permanent stable housing,” wrote blogger msmolly on FireDogLake. “Often communities prioritize homeless individuals and families for receipt of these vouchers. But many housing agencies now are ‘shelving’ vouchers — not reissuing vouchers to families on the waiting list when other families leave the program. As agencies shelve vouchers because of sequestration’s cuts, the number of vouchers available to families that are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness will shrink dramatically. This lengthens the amount of time that families remain homeless and causes other homeless families to be turned away from emergency shelters because they are full. Some agencies also are withdrawing vouchers from families that have recently received them but are still searching for a suitable apartment, and thus have not yet begun to use them. (Agencies can shelve or withdraw vouchers without notice to, or permission from, HUD.)”

Last week, housing activist Lynda Carson reported in the San Francisco Bay View community newspaper that, “a survey conducted by the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association involving 300 housing agencies from 41 states, the situation looks very grim for the poor. At least 51 agencies reported that they will terminate vouchers during the next six months, and an additional 75 agencies have reported that the budget cuts known as sequestration will result in higher rents for voucher holders throughout their jurisdictions.”

What’s more, this threat to render more people homeless is taking place under a shroud of relative silence. By and large the major mass media appears to be unaware that this is going on or reticent about delving into it. Some newspapers noted back in March that there would be severe cuts to the rental assistance programs when the sequester kicked in but not many have had much to say about it since it did – with a few notable exceptions.

“That’s because so much of what the government does affects the nation in local, decentralized ways,” economist Robert Reich wrote last April. “Federal funds find their way to community housing authorities, state unemployment offices, local school districts, private universities and companies. So it’s hard for most Americans to see that the sequestration is responsible for the lost funding, lost jobs or just plain inconvenience.

“These cuts – and thousands like them – are so particular and localized; they don’t feel as if they’re the result of a change in national policy.”

“A second reason the sequestration hasn’t been visible is that a large share of the cuts are in programs for the poor – and America’s poor are often invisible,” Reich added. “Bear in mind, finally, that the sequestration is just starting. The sheer scale of it is guaranteed to make it far more apparent in coming months.”

Funds are allotted to local communities for rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Section 8 voucher designed to helps low-income families, the elderly and the disabled find affordable housing. Those who receive these vouchers pay rent amounts between 30 and 40 percent of their income. Government officials estimate that as many as 125,000 families could lose assistance from the housing choice voucher program due to the sequestration cuts.

“These cuts, which housing agencies have already begun to implement (primarily by failing to reissue vouchers to families on waiting lists when other families leave the program), will fall heavily on vulnerable people,” wrote Douglas Rice for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities back in April. “Half of the households in the voucher program include seniors or people with disabilities, while most of the rest are families with children. These households typically have incomes well below the poverty line and cannot afford housing without assistance. Some who will go without assistance face extreme hardship, such as living in homeless shelters.”

“The cuts come at a time when the number of low-income families in need of housing assistance has been rising substantially, there are long waiting lists for vouchers in almost every community, and homelessness remains a persistent problem,” Rice continued.

In Fairfax, Va., as many as 150 homeless individuals or families, and others on the long voucher waiting list, are expected to be turned down this year. “We have already seen the effects of sequestration in the lack of housing choice vouchers,” said DC Coalition for the Homeless executive director Mike Ferrell, who presented the results of the annual homeless survey at the May meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments board of directors. Ferrell attributed much of the region’s progress in addressing homelessness to the use of permanent supportive housing and rental assistance programs. The freeze could impact those efforts, he said.

Penelope Gross, a board member at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, told Huffington Post May 31, “We had 50 families that were about to receive vouchers. We said ‘Oops. The funding has dried up from the federal government. You can’t have them.’ ”

“They were getting ready to be successful and suddenly they got the legs cut out from under them,” said Gross.

About 1,700 poor families in and around Sacramento, Ca. are said to face losing housing vouchers. According to Crain’s, agencies that administer Section 8 in New York City will not issue as many as 6,000 new vouchers that had been planned for this year, while thousands in the system face subsidy cuts. KCVTV in Kansas City, Missouri recently reported that 33 families there have recently faced eviction because of the sequester cuts.

Housing for the poor in Greater Cincinnati will take a huge hit in the coming months when federal budget cuts eliminate financial help for about 1,000 needy families and force layoffs at the city’s housing authority.

Officials at the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority said last week the cuts mandated by the sequester represent a massive blow to the agency, which serves more than 15,000 low-income families throughout Hamilton County. No families will be removed from the program, but no new families will be added for at least the next nine months. The agency estimates that will reduce the number of families receiving rent vouchers to 10,200 by next March, down from more than 11,200 in January. “It’s safe to say our voucher program will be reduced,” Gregory Johnson, the agency’s executive director, told cincinnati.com. “It’s unfortunate because we have a high waiting list. There are folks that definitely need help.”

The sequester means that most federal budgets must be reduced by as much as five percent. For the city of Houston, for instance, that means a reduction of $7 million in federal assistance. “One way to get rid of the $7 million cut would be to serve 888 less households for an entire year,” Tory Gunsolley, president and CEO of the Houston Housing Authority, which provides rental assistance to 15,000 households a year, told the Houston Chronicle. “Do we serve less people, or do we serve people less well?”

“Some families could see additional rent increases as the city and county end most exemptions to a rule requiring two people per bedroom, regardless of age and gender,” reported the Chronicle. “Sequestration also could slow a countywide effort to end chronic homelessness, as it becomes more difficult to use a portion of the vouchers to move homeless people into stable housing and as the increased rents for current recipients may threaten their stability.”

Sean Rogan, executive director of the county Los Angeles Community Development Commission/Housing Authority, told the Daily News in March, ” “If it comes down to us having to terminate vouchers, we’ve exempted seniors, the homeless and our special needs population,” he added. “We would terminate those who’ve been on the program the longest and have received the greatest benefit.”

Santa Clara, Ca. County official say they have lost $21 million in funding and “desperately is searching for ways to avoid the worst-case scenario — pulling vouchers from some of the 17,000 households it serves.”

“We’re being put in an untenable position of having to decide winners and losers among the most vulnerable,” Alex Sanchez, executive director of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority told the San Jose Mercury News. “We’re forced to pit one group of poor people against another group. Seniors versus the disabled. Homeless versus working-poor families. It’s an impossible choice with terrible consequences.”

That’s in Silicon Valley, where high tech moguls build mansions and rents are outrageously high.

Another exception to the dearth of media attention to the sequester rent subsidy crisis is in Berkeley, Ca. where the campus newspaper the Daily Californian reports “Looming sequester cuts pose grim challenges for city officials.” There, staff writer Mary Zhou wrote June 22, “Due to March’s federal budget cuts, known as the sequester, Berkeley Housing Authority has cut 14 subsidized housing vouchers from low-income individuals while also suspending about 200 households in the final stages of applications.”

“Low-income families who are really struggling in this economy don’t have the resources to mount a huge campaign to bombard Capitol Hill,” says Amelia Kegan, senior policy analyst at Bread for the World. “They are most likely to be left out of any legislative attempts to mitigate the impact of sequestration. Congress needs to replace sequestration and deal with the entire thing and take a much more balance approach.”

Kegan added: “We don’t want to see a situation where those who are the most vulnerable are the ones left bearing the brunt of deficit reduction.”

I’ve been stewing about it for days now. I want to ask the important people in Washington – starting with the one in the White House – how could they let something like this happen? How, in the richest, most powerful country on the planet, could they visit such cruelty on people?

“With the sequestration, America has adopted austerity economics,” wrote Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor. “Yet austerity economics is the wrong medicine at exactly the wrong time. Look what it’s done to Europe.”

And look what it’s doing to unemployed, low income and people with disabilities right here at home.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.

The Well Travelled and Disastrous Road from Kabul to Benghazi

Left Margin

By Carl Bloice, BC Editorial Board
Black Commentator
May 23, 2013


In his book Blowback, published in 2000, the author and scholar, Chalmers Johnson, wrote: “World politics in the twenty-first century will in all likelihood be driven primarily by blowback from the intended consequences of the Cold War and the crucial American decision to maintain a Cold War posture in a post-Cold War world.” In 2003, in a preface to the book’s second edition, he wrote that the attacks of September 11, 2001 “descend in a direct line” from events in 1979, when the CIA launched “its largest ever clandestine operation.” the secret arming of mujahideen to wage a proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, “which involved the recruitment and training of militants from all over the Islamic world.”

“The blowback from the second half of the twentieth century has only just begun,” Johnson concluded.

Johnson died a couple years ago. I bet were he around today he would spot the line – sometimes direct and other times indirect – running from Afghanistan to Libya and on to Syria, and even touching on the April 15 premeditated murder of innocents at the Boston Marathon.

Last week, the Financial Times wrote that Qatar had fallen into second place when it comes to providing arms for the forces out to overthrow the Syrian government. Partly, it said this is because of “concern in the West and among other Arab states that weapons it supplies could fall into the hands of an al-Qaeda-linked group, Jabhat al-Nusrah, which has gained strength over the past year.” The story went on, “Diplomats also say the Qataris have had trouble securing a steady supply of arms, something the Saudis have been able to do via their more developed networks. Those networks are a legacy of past endeavors in places such as Afghanistan, where in the 1980s the Saudis helped bankroll US-led support for Mujahedeen fighting against Soviet occupation.”

The Saudis and the Qataris spent a lot of money recruiting, transporting and arming fighters for the Libya war as well. There, “Al-Qaida played a key role in toppling Gadhafi and remains a potent threat,” UPI reported May 14.

The Cold War is ostensibly over but training and arming the bad guys never stopped.

I have no idea what really went on in official Washington following the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi but the policy makers must have had serious concern about it appearing that once again, forces unleashed by the U.S., Britain and France had bit the hand that fed them.

Outside the devastated consulate after the attack, a young member of a Libyan security team told an interviewer that the group suspected of storming the building had been considered on the side of the good guys.

On May 14, New York Times columnist, David Brooks, made an intriguing statement. “Furthermore, intelligence officers underestimated how dangerous the situation was,” he wrote. “They erred in vetting the Libyan militia that was supposed to provide security.” Maybe one day he will elaborate.

Describing the emails that were turned over by the Obama Administration to Congressional investigators, Eli Lake, the senior national security correspondent for Newsweek, wrote May 14 in the Daily Beast that there was “extensive discussion on the evening of September 14 about whether the talking points should mention Anwar al-Sharia, a jihadist militia member. The original CIA draft stated he was a likely participant in the attacks. Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman at the time, asked whether or not mentioning the group would prejudice the investigation, and the FBI in later emails did not object (to what?). Still, the final version excised the reference to Ansar al-Sharia as well as a reference to Facebook posts the group had created suggesting a link to the attacks.”

And how about the Tsarnaev brothers who carried out the bombing in Boston that killed three and wounded more than 260? A short time before the terror attack, the eldest, Tamerlan, was in Manchester, NH having tea with a friend, Musa Khadzhimuratov, a Chechen exile that the New York Times identified as a “former separatist fighter.” He had once been a bodyguard for Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen separatist leader now living in London. On May 14, the FBI searched Khadzhimuratov’s home, inspected his computers and gave him a lie detector test.

Khadzhimuratov told the Voice of America that he and Tsarnaev the elder had met three times, visited a local shooting range together and never talked politics.

Then there is Graham Fuller, a high CIA official whose daughter married Ruslan Tsarnaev, uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers, who, according to numerous accounts, was quite familiar with the project to recruit and train terrorists for use in the former USSR.

Because people in the “intelligence” community don’t usually talk out loud about such things, we may never know the real story behind the Moscow arrest of the U.S. spy with the ugly wig, pocket knife, compass and roll of dollars. But no one has refuted the Russian’s claim that he was trying to recruit a Russian who specializes in the affairs of the North Caucasus. According to the Guardian (UK), “The US has not reacted to the expulsion of Ryan Fogle, who Russia said was caught in a sting operation last week while allegedly attempting to recruit an FSB agent focused on anti-terrorism efforts in Russia’s North Caucasus.”

Throughout the Cold War, the CIA had “assets” in that troubled part of the then Soviet Union that includes Chechnya and it has never ceased to stir that pot.

Last week, CNN reported that “Russian authorities asked U.S. officials to investigate Tamerlan before the trip, saying they believed he was becoming increasingly involved with radical Islam. The FBI investigated, but found no evidence of extremist activity and closed the case.” U.S. officials probably had good reason to be wary about following up on Russian warnings and inquiries about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

According to the Guardian (UK), “The US has not reacted to the expulsion of Ryan Fogle, who Russia said was caught in a sting operation last week while allegedly attempting to recruit an FSB agent focused on anti-terrorism efforts in Russia’s North Caucasus.”

Last year, with the governments of Britain and France leading the pack and the U.S. “leading from behind,” they launched yet another attempt to use a popular political uprising to overthrow a government they once wooed and then turned against. What has it wrought? According to UPI, “Eighteen months after the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya remains a powder keg with a government unable to control dozens of armed groups whose lawless marauding has created a security crisis that’s driving off desperately needed foreign investment.”

And, “Security officials say there are about 500 militias and armed groups across Libya, most of them competing with one another. Libya’s Warrior Affairs Commission estimates these total around 250,000 men who hold allegiance to warlords, tribal leaders and Salafist groups rather than to the government that’s struggling to emerge.”

Writing May 13 in the neoconservative organ Commentary, arch neocon Max Boot described what he considers “the real scandal” around Benghazi – “the shameful failure of the Obama administration to extend state-building assistance to Libya’s pro-Western leaders after having helped them to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The inability of the Libyan government to control its own territory created the conditions that led to the 2012 attack – and those conditions have not changed since.”

Boot went on to quote a recent Reuters dispatch from Tripoli that said “More than 18 months after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s new rulers have yet to impose a firm grip on a country awash with weapons. Rebel groups that helped to overthrow him are still refusing to disband, and remain more visible on the streets than the state security forces.”

Ethan Chorin, a former U.S. diplomat in Libya and expert on the Libyan economy, chides the U.S. for having been “unprepared for the ability of terrorist groups to undermine advances toward civil authority there.”

“In short, if the United States and its NATO and Arab allies had learned from the Iraq experience and implemented a full, well-supported plan for Benghazi, covering everything from technical assistance to security and staffing, we might have averted the attack and the momentum it has given to extremists.”

Boot and Chorin are both wise enough to know the history of such endeavors but foolish enough to think the U.S. can or should step in to bring it all under control and sort out the freedom lovers from the reactionary extremists. The lesson they apparently draw from Iraq and Afghanistan is: try it again.

Chorin, however, is clear on where he thinks the trouble began. “Libya’s own ‘Islamist’ problem is itself a product in part of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan– those conflicts attracted militants looking to hone their skills in the war against Gaddafi; they returned to fight in the Libyan Revolution, and many are now back in Syria helping the Islamist factions within Syrian rebel ranks,” he wrote on his blog May 4.

“US, British and French recipes for Syria’s future seem as fraught with potential for disaster as their plans in 1916 or 2003,” wrote Patrick Cockburn in the Independent (UK) May 12. “In saying that [President] Assad can play no role in a future Syrian government, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaks of the leader of a government that has still only lost one provincial capital to the rebels. Such terms can only be imposed on the defeated or those near defeat. This will only happen in Syria if Western powers intervene militarily on behalf of the insurgents, as they did in Libya, but the long-term results might be equally dismal.”

“Mr. Obama would not be a decent human being – let alone a leader – if he did not have an urge to try to stop the killing in Syria,” wrote the Financial Times chief foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman May 14. “He is hanging back because he does not have the answers to some really crucial questions.

“If we supply weapons to the rebels, how do we know that it will not simply lead to worse bloodshed? If western intervention is decisive enough to tip the military balance, do we understand the nature of the forces that will take control in Syria? Is there any way of ensuring that a decent regime will emerge in Syria, short of a decade-long, Afghanistan-style commitment to nation-building? (And, incidentally, even Afghanistan has not worked out too well.)”

Bob Woodward has taken some flak for his view of the situation after he had read the Administration’s internal emails. (“Oh, let’s not tell the public that terrorists were involved, people connected to al Qaeda. Let’s not tell the public that there were warnings.”) Well, I think that’s more likely than Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s explanation (“In the midst of a re-election campaign, Obama aides wanted to promote the mythology that the president who killed Osama was vanquishing terror. So they deemed it problematic to mention any possible Qaeda involvement in the Benghazi attack.”). There were al Qaeda-linked “terrorists” involved. And, there were warnings dating back to 2000 and “Blowback.” When you lay down with dogs you get fleas.

In Syria and elsewhere, the U.S. is funding (with help of the freedom loving Gulf monarchies), arming and training the same terrorists it is said to be fighting in Yemen, Mali and Libya. The consequence would seem to be inevitable. Those aren’t chickens. It’s a whole flock of turkey buzzards coming home to roost.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.

Austerity Has Lost All Credibility & Threatens Social Upheaval

Left Margin

Austerity Has Lost All Credibility & Threatens Social Upheaval

By Carl Bloice, BC Editorial Board
Black Commentator
May 9, 2013


When Michael Higgins, the president of Ireland, finished speaking he received a standing ovation from members of the European Parliament. In a stirring April 17 address to the delegates meeting in Strasbourg, he said the continent’s policy makers must not “ignore the fact that European citizens are suffering the consequences of actions and opinions of bodies such as rating agencies, which, unlike parliaments, are unaccountable.”

“Many of our citizens in Europe regard the response to the crisis in their lives as disparate, sometimes delayed, not equal to the urgency of the task and showing insufficient solidarity with them in their threatened or actual economic circumstances,” Higgins, a left-leaning poet, sociologist, author and broadcaster who holds the largely ceremonial post as his country head of state, continued. “They feel that in general terms the economic narrative of recent years has been driven by dry technical concerns; for example, by calculations that are abstract and not drawn from real problems, geared primarily by a consideration of the impact of such measures on speculative markets, rather than driven by sufficient compassion and empathy with the predicament of European citizens who are members of a union, and for whom all of the resources of Europe’s capacity, political, social, economic and intellectual might have been drawn on, driven by the binding moral spirit of a union.”

Last week, Higgins said pretty much the same thing to the Financial Times, which said he told Dublin correspondent, Jamie Smyth the European Union “risked social upheaval and losing popular legitimacy” unless it changed course. He called for “radical economics” and a “radical rethink” of how to deal with the current economic crisis.

Higgins’ views stirred a political hornet’s nest in Ireland. When a Sinn Fein delegate brought up his remarks the lower house of parliament (the Dail) the day the interview appeared, the parliamentary speaker ruled such a discussion out of order.

Higgins’ expression appears to have gone over well in Ireland, however and reflects a growing sentiment in Europe that by continuing on the present path of fiscal austerity and failure to confront the problem of joblessness raises the specter of social upheaval.

“There is a sense of foreboding in the region” Financial Times correspondent Komal Sri-Kumar wrote April 30.

“Socially and politically, one policy that is only seen as austerity is, of course, not sustainable,” the president of the European commission Jose Manuel Barroso said recently. “We haven’t done everything right … The policy has reached its limits because it has to have a minimum of political and social support.”

Olli Rehn, the E.U. commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, issued a statement last month calling on the union’s leaders to “do whatever it takes to overcome the unemployment crisis.’

Meanwhile, the Economist reported April 27 that “more young people are idle than ever,’ citing statistic that show 26 million 15-to -24-year-olds in developed countries are idle and the number of young people without a job has risen by 30 percent over the past five years and across the planet 75 million young people are seeking work. “Depending on how you measure them, the number of young people without a job is nearly as large as the population of America,” said the magazine.

“The result is an ‘arc of unemployment’, from southern Europe through north Africa and the Middle East to South Asia, where the rich world’s recession meets the poor world’s youthquake,’ said The Economist. “The anger of the young jobless has already burst onto the streets in the Middle East. Violent crime, generally in decline in the rich world, is rising in Spain, Italy and Portugal – countries with startlingly high youth unemployment.”

“It is difficult to be festive when 26m Europeans are jobless and economic recession blights the continent,’ Tony Barber wrote in the Financial Times last month. “For the first time in generations, numerous parents fear that the future living standards of their children will be lower than their own. Their sense of powerlessness is all the greater because, in or out of government, Europe’s centre-left parties – once the formidable political voice of the organized working classes – no longer appear capable of fulfilling their historical mission as protectors of jobs, welfare and social cohesion.”

“Our task is to continue with policies of fiscal consolidation and keeping public accounts in order,” he said. But, he added, it was “absolutely necessary” to foster growth and job creation “so that our citizens see Europe not as something negative but as something positive,” Italy’s new Prime Minister Enrico Letta said last week.

“Politics has lost all its credibility. Either we regain it, everyone and together, or there cannot be the instruments to resolve the country’s problems.”

“Seemingly endless recession and truly catastrophic levels of unemployment are fostering distrust, despair and a rise in political extremism,” the British daily Independent observed on May Day. “Joblessness is soaring in recession-mired Italy, and a series of suicides linked to the economic crisis have hit the headlines in recent months.”

Meanwhile here at home, the April U.S. employment statistics came out last week. For the most part little changed over the month. On the jobs front the country is treading water.

The figures released by the Labor Department “means there were enough jobs to keep the unemployment rate stable, but not much more,” says analyst Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute. “While this report would be fine in good times, at a time of persistent economic weakness, it represents an ongoing disaster.”

“The American economy continues to add jobs in proportion to population growth. Nothing less, nothing more,’ observed Binyamin Appelbaum in the New York Times,’ adding that the country’s economy “is not getting any closer to recreating the jobs lost during the recession.”

“Despite more than three years of job growth, the labor market still has a deficit of 8.7 million jobs, and the lack of demand for workers means unemployment remains high, labor force participation is low, and wage growth for people with jobs is sluggish,” says Shierholz.

The April jobless rate for African Americans was 13.2 percent, practically unchanged from 13.3 percent in March. According to Steven Pitts of the University of California Labor Center, “For the nation as a whole, unemployment was 7.5 percent in the month of April; this was virtually unchanged from March when the national unemployment rate stood at 7.6 percent. Among whites, unemployment was 6.7 percent; among Latinos, unemployment was 9.0 percent. Comparable March 2013 figures were 6.7 percent and 9.2 percent respectively.”

In keeping with the usual pattern, the group taking the biggest hit on the jobs front is African Americans between 16 and 19 years old. For them the unemployment rate in April was 40.5 percent, up from 33.8 percent in March for Black female teens, unemployment stood at 37.6 percent, up from 30.9 percent in March). For young black males the unemployment rate was 44.7 percent up from 37.1 % in March.

As Pitts notes, “teen unemployment rates are extremely volatile from month to month.” Yet, it is clear that the catastrophic employment situation for young African Americans shows no sign of improvement.

Over 20 percent of 18-29-year-old African Americans are without a job.

Just in case there was an impression that the May Day appeal by Pope Francis to “give new impetus to employment,” was applicable only to Europe consider this from David Leonhardt of the New York Times May 3: The U.S. “has quietly surpassed much of Europe in the percentage of young adults without jobs. It’s not just Europe, either. Over the last 12 years, the United States has gone from having the highest share of employed 25- to 34-year-olds among large, wealthy economies to having among the lowest.”

Would it really be easy to end “the scourge of unemployment?” in the U.S. economist Paul Krugman asked March 30. “Yes — but powerful people don’t want to believe it. Some of them have a visceral sense that suffering is good, that we must pay a price for past sins (even if the sinners then and the sufferers now are very different groups of people). Some of them see the crisis as an opportunity to dismantle the social safety net. And just about everyone in the policy elite takes cues from a wealthy minority that isn’t actually feeling much pain.”

“The Class of 2013 will graduate into a labor market that is still very weak,” observed Shierholz. “As discussions take place this spring about what to do for these young workers entering a dire labor market, it is important to note that although young workers are a unique group, their currently high unemployment levels do not require a unique solution. The thing that will bring down the unemployment rate of young workers most quickly and effectively is strong job growth overall. Focusing on policies that will generate demand for U.S. goods and services (and therefore demand for workers who provide them) – policies such as fiscal relief to states and substantial additional investment in infrastructure – is the key to giving young people a fighting chance as they enter the labor market during the aftermath of the Great Recession. This would require policymakers to prioritize job creation over deficit reduction.”

“Over 20 million people are in need of full-time work,” wrote Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future May 3. “Thirty seven percent of the officially unemployed have been out of work for more than 27 weeks. Wages of those who are working are not keeping up with prices. Families are losing their homes. Marriages break under the strain. The young are idled; their hopes crushed. Americans are paying a terrible price for Washington’s folly.”

“A first and urgent task must be to get Europe back to sustainable and fulfilling employment and a return to real growth,” the Irish poet said to the EU Parliament. “There is nothing more corrosive to society and more crushing to an individual than endemic unemployment, particularly among the young. Today there are 26 million people across the Union without work, 5.7 million young people, and 115 million in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion. We cannot allow this to continue.”

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com