Saturday, November 29, 2008

Urban Policy and Corporate Dominance

In his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “Most people are totally unaware of the darkness of the cave in which the Negro is forced to live. A few individuals can break out, but the vast majority remains its prisoners. Our cities have constructed elaborate expressways and elevated skyways, and white Americans speed from suburb to inner city through vast pockets of black deprivation without ever getting a glimpse of the suffering and misery in their midst.”

American urban ghettos are even more devastated today than they were 40 years ago when Dr. King wrote those words. What is the reason for this?

By way of explanation, by the early 1970s, America’s central cities started to crumble under the weight of globalization and deindustrialization. Manufacturing jobs were being exported en masse. At the same time, there was no place for the masses of unskilled and semi-skilled laborers in the new technology sector that sprung up to replace the industries that once provided countless Americans, regardless of their race, with a chance for economic mobility. Unemployment, violence, and desolation are far too common features of America’s major cities today.

Given that urban issues were rarely talked about by President-elect Barack Obama or any of his rivals for the presidency, it was a pleasant surprise to me to hear that he plans to establish a White House Office of Urban Policy to better coordinate federal efforts to help cities nationwide.

"He's going to have a White House chief of urban policy," Valerie Jarrett, co-chairman of the Obama transition team, told the Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists.

The deeply embedded, systemic, and institutionalized problems that plague American cities will require thoughtful analysis and a genuine commitment to long-term solutions. Most importantly, to be challenged is the deeply entrenched neoconservative orthodoxy of free and unfettered capital and trickle-down economics, which has shaped American economic (and domestic) policy for the last several decades.

Corporate dominance and the neoconservative orthodoxy, which has provided the ideological cover for business decisions that undermined the economic vitality of America’s central cities (and the kind of rampant greed that helped produce the Wall Street meltdown that led to the current financial crisis the country faces) must be challenged at its core, requiring more than simply closing tax-loopholes and marginally raising the corporate tax rate.

Sacred cows must fall.

One sacrosanct issue is the tax rate corporations are supposed to pay. In reality, the corporate tax rate is really a joke. According to a July 2008 report by the non-partisan Government Accounting Office (GAO), between 1998 and 2005, about two thirds of all corporations that operated in the US paid no taxes.

The corporations that did pay taxes, after all the loopholes and exemptions, paid at a rate far below the 35 percent they are supposed to contribute to the nation’s coffers – averaging only about 24 percent.

Raising the corporate tax rate is essential. In other words, corporations (and the excessively salaried CEO’s that run them) must pay their fair share.

Putting an end to corporate welfare, however, will not be easy. Although he does not go far enough, President-elect Obama is on the right track, proposing, for example, to eliminate tax breaks for companies that move jobs and production abroad and providing incentives to companies that create jobs in America.

If President-elect Obama really intends to usher in a new era of change in Washington, then, challenging corporate dominance is a necessary and much needed step.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Few BIG IDEAS: How President Obama Can Promote Social and Racial Justice

My fraternity brother, friend, and colleague, Dr. Lester Kenyatta Spence, put together this excellent list of BIG IDEAS for President-elect Obama and anyone else interested in promoting an agenda aimed at social and racial justice.

40 Big Ideas for Obama (and everyone else)

October 17, 2008 By: The Good Doctor Category: afrofuturism

A while back I noted the powerful black party discipline that attended Obama. Rather than take the opportunity to talk about ideas, about what we would actually want from an Obama presidency, we talked more about getting him over that electoral hump. To the point of cutting off dissent in some limited cases.

What I’d like to do is begin a conversation about what comes next. And as a first step I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. Folks talk about the first 30 days of a presidency? I’m going to up the ante. My motto next year is “40 is the new 40.” So in that spirit I’m going to present 40 ideas for Obama. Some of these ideas are ones Obama is already promoting. Some of these ideas are technically not within the federal government’s purview. Some of them are unworkable.

So what.

We’ve got to stop believing that the one thing government does well is punish black and poor men and women.

In no particular order:

1. Free college tuition.

2. Low interest loans to businesses/homes for energy improvements.

3. Promote micro-loans.

4. Universal preschool.

5. Green public transit.

6. Fund vertical gardens.

7. Fund the Algebra Project.

8. Promote wellness.

9. Create green-collar jobs.

10. Explore Free Government.

11. Release non-violent offenders.

12. Rebuild New Orleans.

13. Rebuild New Orleans.

14. Support the Millenium Project.

15. Make Election Day a Federal Holiday.

16. Change how the census counts prisoners.

17. Restore their right to vote while you’re at it.

18. Bring back the Bicycle.

19. Build a bridge to somewhere.

20. Support parental leave.

21. End the War on Drugs.

22. End private financing of political campaigns. (pdf)

23. Increase funding for the arts.

24. Restore the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department.

25. Reduce government secrecy.

26. Put Greenhouses in every classroom.

27. Give working class families individual development accounts.

28. Expand Horizons.

29. Put first things first.

30. End the Media Monopoly.

31. Fix our bridges and roads.

32. Bring scientists back into government.

33. Promote a living wage.

34. Expand Americorps.

35. Stop trying youth as adults. (pdf)

36. Give 47 million Americans the ability to get sick.

37. Rebuild New Orleans.

38. Promote zero-pollution cars.

39. End corporate welfare.

40. Rebuild New Orleans.

What did I miss?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Power and Potential of the Black Vote

The Barack Obama victory, without a doubt, is testimonial to the power of the black vote. According to exit polls, 95 percent of Blacks voted for the President-elect.

Now, of course, black people alone did not (and could not have) make Barack Obama the next president of the United States of America.

Nonetheless, the Black vote was a key in this election. A number of states saw record-breaking levels of registration and turn-out by Black people. In states such as Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, the Black vote gave the President-elect the votes he needed to secure his historic victory.

Yet, more than 40 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the expansion of the criminal justice system - particularly the War on Drugs – continues to marginalize the political voice and limit the potential clout of the black community.

Felon disenfranchisement laws have disproportionately impacted the ability of black people to fully realize the potential of the ballot box.

Nationally, about 5.3 million Americans have lost the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions.

Roughly 13 percent of Black men are unable to vote, a rate seven times the national average.

In states that strip citizens convicted of a felony of their right to vote, as many as 40% of black men may be permanently disenfranchised.

And, according to the Sentencing Project, a non-partisan research and advocacy organization, “Given current rates of incarceration, three in ten of the next generation of black men can expect to be disenfranchised at some point in their lifetime.”

A new report by The 2009 Criminal Justice Transition Coalition, “Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress,” contains a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to reform the criminal justice system at every stage.

Among the group’s recommendations are:

* Extend federal voting rights to people released from prison;

* Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity;

* Expand alternatives to incarceration;

* Fund prisoner reentry trough the Second Chance Act;

* Analyze and reduce unwarranted racial and ethnic disparity in the federal judicial system.

The policy report will be delivered to President-elect Barack Obama and key legislative leaders on Capital Hill.

Let’s all hope that an Obama administration will make reforming the criminal justice system a key component of its civil rights agenda.