Friday, June 30, 2017

A Story About Lenny Keeping The Professor Honest

I'm always looking for interesting ways to talk about the many things that cross my mind about politics, economics, race, and class. So, I thought I would try my hand at using storytelling rather than a straight essay to share my thoughts. This is the first of many to come featuring Lenny, the Professor and their friends.


Lenny walked into my office and immediately extended his fist to give me some dap.

Pretending he was looking around for a camera, he said, “You need to be careful professor. You know fist bumps got Michele and Barack in trouble. I know you have tenure, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t make a move against your black butt."

“The fists bump,” I said, “is the universal black man greeting. You know if I did not give you any dap, you would spread rumors all over the Northend of Hartford that the Professor had sold out.”

“Professor, I wouldn’t do you like that. I love you like a brother from another mother.”

Lenny stepped back and looked around my office at the books on the shelves. “Damn, you got a lot of books. You got books stacked on top of books on your shelves. Hell, you got books stacked on top of books on the floor. You read all those books, or are they for show” he asked?

“What, a black man cannot read,” I replied?

“Answer the question, Professor. Are they for show, or did you actually read all of them?”

“I read a lot of them. Well, I read most of them. Okay, I have not read all of them.”

“So, you’re faking it," he interrupted?

I leaned forward in my chair. “Why you trying to give me a hard time?”

Lenny smiled at me. “Professor, don’t get defensive, I’m just kidding. I know you read all the time. If I had this many books, I’d probably never come out of the house and spend most of my time with my nose in a book like you.

“So, after insulting me, now you are trying to placate me?”

“Dictionary alert,” he quickly responded. “Come on Professor. Stop trying to throw those big words around. I’m a struggling black man in America with a very simple vocabulary.”

We both laughed out loud.

“Do not try that struggling black man stuff with me. I know you.”

Lenny took a seat. He continued to look around the room at my books. I knew he was not finished messing with me. Lenny is an autodidact. Unlike me with my Ph.D from The Ohio State University, he is largely self-taught and one of the smartest people I know. If he wanted a Ph.D., he could easily earn one. He said that he spent a couple of years in college before dropping out. Lenny said he left school because he was tired of arguing with his professors and had grown increasingly disgusted with a curriculum that was, in his opinion, simply training people to be consumers, supporters of the status quo, and future worker drones in service of capitalism. Until we met 5 years ago, he probably never would have set foot on a college campus again. I have to admit, there are times after he has left my office that I feel like I am a student and he is the professor.

“So Professor, you reading anything that will help you save the word?”

“You know Lenny that I don’t believe in trying to save the world. That is a doomed project.”

“Well Professor, I hope that you are at least trying to change the world. Remember, what Karl Marx said: The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

“Lenny, you know I try to do my part.”

“Yes you do Professor. But, we need more of you (clears throat) ‘edumacated’ brothers and sisters to step up to the plate.”

Lenny stood up and leaned toward me and said, “I gotta go. Gimmie some dap.”

I stood up and gave him a hug.

“Have a good day, Professor,” he said, and started to walk toward the door.

“Although you gave me a hard time, it was good to see you Lenny,” I replied.

Lenny looked over his shoulder just as he grabbed the door knob. “Professor, we gotta keep you brothers and sisters in the academy honest. I apologize if I stressed you out. You want me to get you some weed? It’s some good stuff” he said, with a grin on his face.

“Nope, I’m good. You know my motto: just say no to drugs.”

“Professor, you don’t look like Nancy Reagan. Besides, you need to take that message to the white folks in the suburbs and rural America and leave us weed smokers in the hood alone. Okay, but let me know if you need something to help relieve some of that stress you’re feeling up here in the Ivory Tower. Remember, your boy got you covered. You always got the weed hook up.” Lenny laughed out loud as he closed the door behind him.

I sat back in my chair and laughed out loud too.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Connecticut Must Say No To Austerity: Make Corporatons And The Rich Pay Their Fair Share

More than nine years after the start of the 2007-09 Great Recession, the U.S. economy is not working for most Americans. The recovery in terms of GDP and job growth has been weak and uneven across the country.

According to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a major reason for the slow recovery is austerity, a series of economic policies that rely primarily on spending cuts and reducing the taxes of wealthy Americans and corporations to reduce deficits.

Connecticut’s political leaders must resist calls for austerity measures to deal with our current revenue crisis. Slashing government spending and tax cuts for those who least need them will not make things better; austerity will only make things worse. What Connecticut needs is a more progressive tax system to solve its revenue crisis.

Here in Connecticut, the recovery to the Great Recession has been anemic. The state is projected to have a more than $5 billion revenue shortfall over the next 2 years. This year’s legislative session ended without a budget deal because lawmakers could not agree on how to respond to the state’s revenue crisis and where to make major cuts.

There is mounting evidence that austerity does not work. Following the world-wide economic decline during the late 2000s, many European countries implemented these kinds of measures. For the last seven years, the British people have been living under an austerity-obsessed government. Things have not gotten better: the social safety net is under attack; public and private debt has increased; the unemployment rate is higher; inequality has grown.

It should come as no surprise that voters in the U.K. recently voted decisively against the austerity measures of their government and an economic system that is not working for them.

In the U.S., Kansas experimented with the idea that cutting the taxes of the very wealthy and eliminating certain business taxes would spur economic growth. Instead, the budget deficit exploded threatening core state functions such as funding for public schools and other vital services. Overriding a veto by the Republican governor, a Republican controlled legislature approved a $1.2 billion tax hike over the next two years to plug the deficit.

The shocking election results in the U.K. and the failed experiment in Kansas should be a wake-up call to politicians in Connecticut that people do not want austerity.

Reducing state and local government spending and giving tax breaks to the rich and corporations will only result in a reduction of jobs in the public and private sectors and the erosion of vital government services for some of the state’s most economically vulnerable people. Connecticut residents deserve good schools, top-notch colleges and universities, well-run local services, and improved infrastructure and utilities, not austerity.

According to EPI, “Connecticut has ample room to move further toward a state budget that strengthens public investment and other vital forms of state and local spending and that funds these investments with progressive revenue sources, including more revenue from the business sector.”

Their report shows that Connecticut’s wealthiest residents and corporations are not overburdened with taxes. In fact, Connecticut residents in the top marginal income tax bracket pay less in taxes than residents in both New York and New Jersey. And, based on an annual ranking of state and local business taxes, Connecticut businesses have one of the “lightest business tax regimes in the country.”

In short, austerity is a choice; it is not a necessity nor an inevitability. There is little evidence that cutting corporate tax rates will spur long-term economic growth or that raising the taxes of those in the top income brackets will lead to a mass exodus of wealthy people or corporations from the state.

A better path forward for Connecticut to respond to its revenue crisis should include several steps. First, a progressive tax system that asks our wealthiest citizens with the ability to pay more to do just that, pay more. Second, close corporate loopholes (government spending on tax credits, exemptions, deductions, etc.) in the business tax code to raise additional revenue without raising taxes on corporations. And last, protect the social safety net and increase public investments in for example K-12 and higher education, which over the long term can lead to economy-wide productivity growth and higher wages for workers.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

No Time To Go Backwards; Segregated Schools Are Not Acceptable.

Over 63 years ago, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision, issued its landmark ruling, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Justices declared that de jure racial segregation was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling overturned the High Court’s 1896 decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, which had legitimized racial segregation laws for public facilities, including public schools.

Seven years after the case was filed at Hartford Superior Court, on July 9, 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court, in a sharply divided 4-3 decision, ruled in Sheff v. O’Neill that racial and ethnic segregation and socioeconomic isolation in the Hartford public school system “demonstrates that the state has failed to fulfill its affirmative constitutional obligation to provide all of the state’s schoolchildren with a substantially equal educational opportunity.”

Sheff, like Brown, is a landmark school desegregation decision.

After years of legal wrangling, in 2003, the plaintiffs and the defendants reached a legal agreement which has led to the creation of a network of 42 magnet schools and a voluntary busing program called Open Choice that sends Hartford students to schools in the suburbs.

The Sheff plaintiffs are back in court, however, because the state wants to further weaken the diversity standards to open up more seats in the magnet schools for students of color in Hartford, who want in but are locked out each year (6,000 Hartford children compete in a lottery for about 2,500 magnet and Open Choice seats annually).

Because the schools have failed to entice enough white families to enroll their kids in them, a magnet school is considered “integrated” if 7 out of 10 students are black or Latino. The state wants to increase that number to 8 out of 10.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy's suggestion that the plaintiffs in the landmark Sheff decision by resisting the further dilution of integration goals appears "as if we're going out of our way to deprive kids from Hartford of a good education," is a disingenuous and ahistorical argument.

Low performing schools in racially and economically segregated communities were created by white flight, decades of FHA mortgage insurance requirements that utilized redlining, the use of racially restrictive covenants to prevent people of color from purchasing homes in white neighborhoods, exclusionary zoning practices that limit the availability of affordable housing in the suburbs, and the use or threat of violence to keep black or brown families brave enough to try to cross the color line out of white communities.

The state pats itself on the back for investing roughly $3 billion in the magnet schools and voluntary busing program. Some suggest that the state has done more than enough to right a wrong.

In reality, however, you can’t put a price tag on the harmful effects of segregation? This is why going backwards is so unacceptable.

To suggest that the Sheff plaintiffs actions are depriving kids of a quality education instead of pointing at decades of official government policy that promoted residential segregation, the actions of individual white homeowners who chose rising property values over integrated neighborhoods, the racist practices of the real estate industry, banks and mortgage lenders, and the reluctance of white parents to enroll their kids in high-quality integrated magnet schools is the equivalent of the man who sets his house on fire and then blames the fire department for not getting there soon enough.