Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Nuggets From the Nuthouse
Douglas j. Buege
Eleanor J. Bader
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Republicans, Cities, and Cruise Ships
U nited States House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who comes from the suburbs of Houston, wants to minimize contact between Republican Party delegates and the people of New York City when the Republicans hold their political convention there next August 30 to September 2. Last November, we learned that he pushed for the Republican National Committee to lease a 2,240-passenger luxury cruise liner named the Norwegian Dawn to function as a “floating hotel” during the convention. With “15 decks, 14 bars and lounges, and babbling brooks,” the New York Times reported, the Norwegian Dawn would have been stocked with “shows, fine works of art, health clubs, bars, cafes, luxury staterooms, and restaurants serving cuisine from around the world.” It would have been docked at a pier on the Hudson River, providing what a DeLay spokesperson called “an opportunity to stay in one place, in a secure fashion” (Michael Slackman, “GOP Option at Convention: Luxury Liner,” New York Times , December 1, 2003).
DeLay’s proposal outraged New Yorkers, including many city Republicans—who hold the mayor’s office, after all. City officials and business owners were concerned that DeLay’s cruise ship would siphon millions of dollars from local restaurants, shops, theaters, and hotels. By one estimate, Delay’s plan would have “cost the local hospitality industry about $40 million over five days (Joseph Dolman, “Ahoy, National Republicans Abandon Ship,” Newsday, December 3, 2003). New York City, local Republicans and others noted, has one of the lowest crime rates of any big city in U.S.—something that Republicans generally attribute to the militant policing and workfare strategies of the city’s recent GOP Mayor Rudolph Guliani. At the same time, according to the Times , many Republicans felt “the cruise ship could undermine one reason New York was chosen for the first time in the party’s history as the site of its convention: to help advance the idea that Republicans are the new big-tent party, trying to embrace all voters” (Slackman, “GOP Option”).
Reflecting these related economic and image concerns, the GOP shelved DeLay’s “floating fortress” scheme in early December.
“We’ve Just Got to Work Harder”
a decision the party deserves to regret. It’s hard, of course,
for any down-on-its-luck city to sneeze at $40 million in one week.
But what, after all, does the party of George Bush II, Karl Rove,
and Grover Norquist really have to offer New York City and other
major urban centers in the bigger and longer term scheme of things?
Last February, as Bush presented his budget for FY 2004, half of
America’s cities reported that they could no longer provide
adequate amounts of food to meet the needs of urban residents applying
for emergency assistance. The hunger was especially great in New
York, where the Bush downturn was severely compounded by the local
impact of the September 2001 terror attacks. Bush responded to the
dire urban indicators with a deficit-generating budget combining
massive military expenditures with even more massive tax cuts that
tilted towards the super-wealthy in what was already the industrialized
world’s most unequal and wealth-top-heavy nation. The U.S.
Conference of Mayors pointed out that this budget was nearly $4
billion short of what Bush’s own plan for “educational
reform” required. It even, the mayors noted, cut support for
regular policing, the need for which is rising as states accelerate
the release of prisoners to save money, partly in response to reduced
federal assistance. By slashing taxes on the well-off and diverting
hundreds of billions to an imperial “defense” budget that
dwarfs the combined military expenditures of all possible “enemy”
states, Bush guaranteed that the federal government would not significantly
help the nation’s cities or the rising number of (disproportionately
This was before the Administration requested and received $87 billion for invasion, reconstruction, and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the National Priorities Project, that imperial allocation has come at no small cost to the nation’s leading urban areas: Los Angeles ($937 million), Atlanta ($110 million), Chicago ($905 million), Detroit ($166 million), Kansas City ($121 million), Las Vegas ($161 million), New York City ($2.73 billion), Dallas ($352 million), and Houston ($563 million). Bush’s special imperial assessment extracts $119 million from Baltimore, which opened the holiday season by laying off 710 education workers as part of an effort to close a $52 million deficit in the city’s public schools. “Cities and states,” reporter Tim Wheeler reports, “are facing similar deficits, to the tune of a combined $150 billion, thanks to Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, his war policy, and the economic recession” (“Cities and States Face Brutal Cutbacks,” People ’ s Weekly World , December 6-12, 2003).
Bush’s budgetary priorities are bad news for the 20 percent of Chicago’s population that lived beneath the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level in 2000. Half of that group, heavily concentrated in predominantly black neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides, was actually mired in “deep poverty,” living at less than half the official poverty measure. Things have certainly worsened in these and other impoverished urban communities since the time these percentages were recorded, at the peak of the longest period of continuous U.S. economic expansion since the 1960s.
Bush’s budget is bad news also for the more than 100,000 16- to 24-year-old Chicago residents who are disconnected from both the labor market and the educational system, according to a recent study released by the Alternative Schools Network (“Giving Up the Race: Jobless Youth in Chicago,” 2003). Also very disproportionately black and Latino/a, these “unattached youth”—increasingly ubiquitous across the ghettos and barrios of U.S. cities—are a core recruiting ground for the nation’s swelling army of prisoners, detainees, felons, probationers, ex-offenders, and recidivists—a permanently marked criminal class that cycles in and out of courts, jails, and squad cars, providing the essential raw material for one of the predominantly white rural U.S. sector’s few growth industries—mass incarceration. This “criminal element” is fed by the remarkable one in five black Chicago students who drop out from that city’s overcrowded and under-funded public school system, which is being stretched fiscally and otherwise to meet the punitive and unfunded mandates of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (recently described in a Baltimore Sun opinion-editorial as a “weapon of educational mass destruction”). Meanwhile Chicago city government is preparing to lay off as many as 1,000 workers, as it squeezes to fill gaps left by cuts in federal and state spending.
It’s all very consistent with the vapid emptiness of Bush II’s comments at a church-sponsored community development center during an event marking the ten-year anniversary of the 1992 Rodney King riot at that memorable urban conflagration’s epicenter in South Los Angeles. According to Peter Drier, director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College in Los Angeles, “reporters might have expected” Bush to use this poignant anniversary “to announce a new initiative to address the nation’s serious urban problems.” Instead, Bush used the occasion “simply,” as Dreier notes, to “tout his most visible urban program—encouraging urban churches to sponsor programs such as homeless shelters, food shelters, and drug counseling. His proposal added no funds for these worthy, though Band-Aid efforts, but called for redirecting existing money. George W. Bush came to Los Angeles bearing only rhetoric. ‘You know, we live in a great country,’ he said. ‘I’m proud of America. I’m proud of what we stand for. Oh, I know there’s pockets of despair. That just means we’ve got to work harder. It means you can’t quit. It means you’ve got to rout it out with love and compassion and decency. But this is the greatest country on the face of the earth. And it is such an honor to be a resident of such a great land…. Out of violence and ugliness came new hope,’ he said, in the middle of a neighborhood where only 23 percent of the commercial buildings destroyed by the riots are back in business, where there are 43,800 fewer jobs than there were in 1992, and where more than one-third of the residents live in poverty” (Peter Dreier, “America’s Urban Crisis A Decade After the Los Angeles Riots,” National Civic Review, Spring 2003).
The Republican War on Cities
T he truth is, the federal government, under the lead of what urban-ecological writer Mike Davis calls “the Republican war on the cities,” has been disinvesting in cities for more than two decades. This anti-urban civil “war” has created massive shortfalls in the municipal monies available for subsidized housing, job training, public education, welfare, and much else of pressing need in the nation’s abandoned urban core. Between 1977 and 1985, under the influence of “Reagan revolution in urban finance,” the federal government’s contribution to the budget of New York City fell from 19 percent to 9 percent. For Los Angeles, the comparative decline was from 18 to 2 percent. “For cities with more than 300,000 inhabitants,” Davis notes, “the average federal share of the municipal income stream…plummeted from 22 percent in 1980 to a mere 6 percent in 1989.” The consequences were especially harsh for impoverished inner-city neighborhoods, particularly reliant on federal assistance and already reeling from the savage, policy-enabled deindustrialization of central metropolitan districts.
They were exacerbated by the federal government’s determination to “shift the costs of many national problems onto Democrat-dominated localities,” including immigration regulation and the noxious, racist Republican-led War on Drugs. The latter has led to an expensive militarization of the cities, provided a steady stream of black and brown bodies to the prison industrial complex, deepened many minorities’ already extreme labor market disadvantages with mass, racially disparate felony marking (one in three black adult males now possesses a felony record), and done nothing to stem the ravages of substance abuse.
The “Reagan-Bush era’s various anti-urban policies,” Davis found, “combined with huge tax subsidies to suburban retail and office development” to create a spectacular “new Spatial Apartheid” between fiscally starved and disproportionately black and Latino/a urban centers and very disproportionately white, affluent, and over-funded suburban rings. Reaganite policy “subsidized white flight and metropolitan re-segregation” by “exiling core cities into the wilderness” and “smothering commercial suburban developers and renegade industrialists with tax breaks and subsidies”—a process that reapportioned away cities’ “once-decisive political clout in national elections” and entrenched “suburban voters and their representatives as the political majority in the United States” (Mike Davis, Dead Cities, New York, NY: the New Press, 2003).
No More European Vacations
T hree days after Bush II landed on the Abraham Lincoln to declare victory in Iraq, Michael Powell, chief of the Washington Post ’ s New York bureau, provided an interesting perspective on the current White House’s response to the fiscal and social crises of urban America. “The traditional conversation heard during national recessions—in which the federal government, Republican or Democratic, talks of rescuing state and local governments, had,” Powell noted, “been turned on its head” by the Bush team. “While cities and states slash budgets for public hospitals, firehouses, and schools even as they raise [regressive sales] taxes to make ends meet, the Bush administration talks of cutting more taxes. Federal tax cuts enacted under Bush have led to a $10 billion drop in total revenue for the states, many of which link their taxes to those of the federal government.” “The Bush administration,” a leading urban policy expert (Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution) told Powell, “is fundamentally indifferent to the fiscal crisis of the states.”
Actually, however, Republican “conservatives” within and outside the White House openly and honestly endorse that crisis. “They say,” Powell observed, that “squeezing states and cities will produce better services for less—or force them to turn to the private sector.” Powell cited a recent study produced for the radically regressive Republican think-tank the Heritage Foundation—a White House favorite second in influence only to the American Enterprise Institute—by Ohio University professor Richard Veeder. Veeder compares hard-pressed states and cities slashing human services programs needed by children and families to an affluent family that needs to “tighten its belt.” “Instead of eating out three days a week, the family eats out once. Instead of taking European vacations, the family goes to Florida.” It’s fine advice for the millions of U.S. citizens who lack the time and money for any kind of vacation or for dining out and who depend on government simply to keep their heads above water. The insult and injury are compounded by the Bush administration’s unfunded urban mandates around education, immigration, and homeland security.
Bush “is wearing a wartime halo,” notes Richard Schrader, a New York City labor and political consultant, “but someone needs to ask him why we can rebuild Baghdad but we can’t rebuild...our cities and states” (Michael Powell, “Rescue’s Just Not Part of the Plan,” Washington Post , May 4, 2003). As Schrader spoke, Tom DeLay was seeking to alter the formula for the distribution of federal transportation money in a way that would have cost New York $300 million a year (Timothy Williams, “Mayor Slams RNC Cruise Plans,” Newsday , November 19, 2003).
To make matters worse in New York City, the Bush administration pressed the Environmental Protection Agency to “omit cautionary language about the possible hazard from air pollutants such as asbestos, cadmium, and lead after the World Trade Center towers fell.” This is according to the EPA’s Inspector General, who also noted that the EPA’s early statements failed to include proper guidance for cleaning indoor spaces, leading lower Manhattanites to return to their homes before they were completely safe. Large numbers of emergency and construction workers spent weeks at the center of destruction, most without respirators, falsely encouraged by the EPA’s September 18 declaration that the air was “safe” (Mark Kaufman, “Details on 9/11 Air Quality Questioned,” Washington Post , August 27, 2003).
Today, thousands who worked in lower Manhattan during and after the terror attacks “have seen their lives turned upside down by illness without access to care.” This is according to Dr. Stephen Levin, who heads a program at Mt. Sinai Hospital that screens people with Ground-Zero-related illnesses. Levin recently told New York Magazine writer Greg Sargent, “Many of the people who spent months in the pit at ground zero,” Sargent learned, “have respiratory ailments. And no health insurance. And no help from the government.”
“There is a patchwork, at best,” Levin reports, “of treatment” for those who have breathed in the “hydrochloric-acid mist released by plastics smoldering in the wreckage” and/or the “huge amounts of concrete” that was “ground into powder so fine that it could be inhaled deep into the lungs.”
There’s a rich history to the conflict between the urban U.S. and the Republican Party. It’s not for nothing that Republican presidential candidates have long written off the nation’s largest cities, whose voters naturally tend to shun “the more reactionary of the two business parties” (as Noam Chomsky aptly describes the Republicans), which is hardly to say that the Democratic Party has earned its urban dominance with genuinely progressive and city-friendly policies and positions.
Republican white America’s main policy initiatives for what its sees as the Enemy Territory of U.S. cities are two-fold: (1) right-statist mass surveillance, arrest, incarceration and felony-marking and (2) neo-liberal “privatization.” The two initiatives are intimately linked to each other in a toxic relationship of dialectical inseparability that is symbolized by the rise of massive private prison firms like the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA). The more the state retreats from meaningful commitment to urban social welfare and the management of balanced, equitable development, the deeper grows the chaos of inner-city life and the more public officials rely on scandalously expensive and ineffective means of urban militarization implemented under the aegis of the “War on Drugs” to pretend to address the urban crisis. The “left hand of the state” (as the late French sociologist Pierre Bordieu called public programs and services that serve the social and democratic needs of the non-affluent and embody the victories won by past struggles for justice and equality) withers but the at-once regressive and repressive “right hand” is strengthened, consistent with Republican doctrine —falsely sold as “laissez-faire”—calling for policy- makers to “starve the beast of government.”
Why Come To New York?
A ll of which raises the interesting question of why the city-impaired Republicans want to hold their convention in the nation’s quintessential urban setting in the first place. Moderate Republicans can say all they want about the party’s desire to refashion itself as a “big tent” organization open to all voters, i.e., even urban blacks. The deeper truth, of course, is that the Republicans have chosen New York City for their quadrennial theme show to wrap Bush II’s re-nomination in the nationalistic, media-choreographed, and obedience-inducing aura of 9/11, which—the Republican PR story runs—sparked Bush II to move swiftly and heroically to “rid the world of evildoers” and advance the cause of “freedom.” This, it should be noted, is why they took the unusual step of pushing their convention into September.
Their goal is crass exploitation and no self-respecting U.S. city-dweller should want to encourage the Republican Party to seem like anything other than what it really is: a racist, regressive, and rightist enemy of urban America. A luxurious and city-“safe” offshore cruise ship? It’s where they belong.
Paul Street is an urban social policy researcher in Chicago, Illinois.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.