Tuesday, September 18, 2018

They Just Lowered Our Property Values!

Los Angelenos passed Proposition H to fund programs for the homeless back in 2017 through a sales tax increase. The focus was obviously on housing, including bridge facilities (tents, rent subsidies, etc.) while more permanent structures could be built and deployed. Case workers and health specialists were added to the municipal payroll, job training was budgeted, and addiction programs were expanded and accelerated. But as local real estate prices, from sales to rentals, skyrocketed, the legions of homeless people swelled accordingly. Landlords, anxious to take advantage of escalating revenue potential, were finding increasing ways to evict people who were already stretched to the financial breaking point even with their lower rents.
The story of exploding homelessness is happening all across the land, stoked by medical bankruptcies, gentrification of once-affordable neighborhoods, the success of some new industries that lured highly educated hordes of new workers able to afford “a bit more” to live closer to work. They simply and unintentionally pushed old residents out. In the hot urban areas, entirely too often, all of the “affordable neighborhoods,” even in some pretty slummy areas, pushed past the capacity of as much as 20% of the population could afford. 
For some, those with decent jobs, the choices were multiple roommates or a long commute. See my September 9th blog, The Big Disconnect, for more on that subject. But for those on the street, they have to battle local prejudices and fears. After all, having a homeless shelter in your neighborhood doesn’t exactly help your home price increase. So as bridge and permanent homeless facilities were proposed, often on unused city lots, cries of NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) became commonplace. Still, the shelters were beginning to get built, tents and their more permanent replacements.
For those still living on the streets, under bridges or occupying whatever space they can find, life is really hard. Aside from the weather, criminal assaults, rapes, and internal theft, the denizens of the streets – many sick, old, addicted or mentally ill – face the municipal codes that effectively make homelessness illegal... even though the ordinances don’t actually come out and say that. Hundreds of homeless people die on the streets of Los Angeles every year, most being easily preventable deaths.
Writing an Op-Ed for the September 14th Los Angeles Times, attorney Shayla R. Myers with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, tells us the story of one homeless man, 56-year-old “Joe,” a man who had been evicted in the spate of rental increases, who didn’t live long enough to find a new permanent home through the city program. After living for five months in one of those temporary tented units, he simply succumbed to the heat of a hot Los Angeles summer: “The City Council has repeatedly passed laws that made Joe a criminal because he had no place to go other than the street.
“I met Joe at a presentation I did in Koreatown on the criminalization of homelessness. He told the gathering about his experiences with the Los Angeles Police Department. He had lost all of his belongings in one of the countless sweeps of homeless encampments that take place every day in L.A. He just didn’t see a posted notice announcing the cleanup. He left his property for the morning, and when he came back, it had been thrown away.
“In the weeks before he died, Joe was caught up in more than one of these sweeps. The city justifies its actions in part by pointing out that people who are homeless are breaking the law. And they are right. Every day Joe lived on the streets of Los Angeles, he was breaking any number of laws that criminalize homelessness.
“When I visited Joe in Koreatown, he was in violation of city ordinances at least five times over. His makeshift shelter, which replaced the tent that had been taken by LA Sanitation the month before, was unlawfully tied to a nearby tree. It was impermissibly up during the day, to provide some relief from the 90-degree heat. He had a cart to carry his belongings — a forbidden ‘bulky item — and it looked like he had more than would fit in a 60-gallon trash can, the amount allowed by law.
“Each of these actions is prohibited by Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 56.11. And as we sat on the sidewalk and talked about his experiences, we were both in violation of Municipal Code Section 41.18(d), which outlaws sitting, sleeping and lying on the sidewalk....
“So if Joe had not gotten a bed, he likely would have been subjected to that increased enforcement: weekly sweeps and daily harassment intended to drive him from the neighborhood where he had lived for more than a decade and where he had a support system.
“I was in the City Council Chambers in 2015 and 2016 when the ordinance that limits the amount of property the homeless can have was debated and passed, and when ‘dwelling’ was prohibited in vehicles on most L.A. streets. The council members’ discussions focused almost solely on addressing the visible signs of homelessness — tents, sleeping bags, cars — rather than the needs and lived experiences of the people whose existence they were about to regulate. For every encampment swept away or car towed based on those ordinances, there is a person who relied on that tent or car to survive.
“Over the past few years, L.A.’s elected officials have finally begun to acknowledge that people are homeless because of decades of failed policies, because the city is plagued by an affordable housing crisis, because there are simply not enough homes here for the nearly 23,000 people who are unsheltered every night.” 
And that’s just Los Angeles. Add New York, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Miami... hell every big city in the United States... and you see a nation quite happy to incur an additional massive deficit to reduce taxes for the richest segment of our society – with no real evidence of any trickle-down benefit to those lower on the economic ladder – but pretty much unwilling to invest in supporting the poorest members of our country. 
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wonder who and what we, as Americans, have become, in an era of Trumpian rage and selfishness.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Doing What Trump Does Best!

Russia is engaging in her first major set of naval exercises in the Mediterranean. An economically troubled Shiite Iran is still using her surrogate Hezbollah army to fight Sunni foes everywhere, also finding the value in financing her Shiite surrogates in Yemen – the Houthis – in their battle against the corrupt incumbent Sunni government, which in turn is backed by U.S.-supported Saudis (a Sunni royal family). Turkey and Russia are talking about working together. Russia and Iran are gloating on how their support gave Syria back to the Shiite minority (10%) Assad dictatorship, replete with multiple acts of genocide of Assad’s own people. The United States is the biggest loser of power and prestige in the Middle East. Iraq is now an Iranian satellite.
But that level of roiling diplomatic failure was not enough for the “believe what I say not what I actually do Trump administration.” No, an American Israeli-Palestinian policy is now dictated by an under-educated son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose father had to pay $2.6 million for Harvard to allow Jared to attend and generate a degree. Baby-boy Kushner, who faces a pretty deep inquiry into his real estate financing business, has designed a U.S. policy to bully the Palestinians into accepting a right-wing Israeli Likud Party vision (that of Benjamin Netanyahu) of how Palestine should look.
The two-state solution that was officially sanctioned by the United States, the United Nations and the vast majority of countries in the world. Gone. Israel as a multicultural nation where Islam/Arabic are on par with the notion of the Torah/Hebrew. Gone. Judaism is the now officially the priority faith in a nation that will soon have more Muslims than Jews. Palestinians slipped from being second class citizens to third class. Keeping Jerusalem an open city since it is so much a core of so many religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), while keeping Tel Aviv as the functional capital of Israel. Gone. As the United States has officially moved its embassy to Jerusalem, a huge slap in the face of the Islamic world. Stopping building armed Jewish settlements on the Palestinian West Bank. Off the table.
The Palestinian Hamas hardliners, anti-Zionists who purposely put their citizens in harm’s way knowing that Israel will overreact and make themselves look terrible in the eyes of the rest of the world, are cheering as the United States dramatically abandons Palestinian moderates, pushing those in the middle – willing to negotiate for peace – into the extremist camp. All the while, Trump and his gang of diplomatic dilatants firmly believe that their bullying tactics will ultimately force Hamas and the rest of Palestine to come back, begging and humbled, to the peace talks to “seal the deal” as Trump, boy-Kushner, the right-wing evangelical (Armageddon fomenters) part of Trump’s base and the Netanyahu clones believe it should be sealed: With Israel completely in the driver’s seat, a one-state solution where Palestinians know and accept their second/third class status  
The next Trumpian move? “In the latest effort to pressure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, the State Department announced Monday [9/10] that it has ordered the Palestinian leadership to close the office that serves as its de facto embassy in Washington. [Pictured above]
“The punishment comes days after the Trump administration said it would cut off more than $300 million in funding for the United Nations agency that provides humanitarian assistance to more than 5 million Palestinians who have scattered across the Middle East since the creation of Israel.
“The State Department blamed Palestinian leaders for the tensions, which have left the White House with nothing to show for months of diplomacy with Israel and the gulf Arab states in an effort to forge what President Trump once called the “ultimate deal.”
“Leaders of the Palestinian Authority have accused the Trump administration of acting in bad faith by hewing to a sharply pro-Israel line rather than acting as an honest broker for peace. Their refusal to even talk to Trump’s envoys has created growing frustration in the White House.
“The Palestine Liberation Organization ‘has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel’ and should close its office in Washington, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
“To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise,” she added...
“Palestinian leaders have refused to meet with them since Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December and moved the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv, reversing decades of U.S. policy. The Palestinians claim part of the holy city as their capital of an eventual independent nation.
“Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador in Washington, was not expelled in the State Department order, but he said Monday that he was not surprised that he was told to shut the office... ‘Such a reckless act confirms that the administration is blindly executing Israel’s ‘wish list,’ which starts with shutting down Palestinian diplomatic representation in the U.S.,’ he said.
“Palestinians also have a delegation at the United Nations in New York, which in late 2012 upgraded Palestine to the status of ‘nonmember observer state. Around two-thirds of the U.N. members recognize the state of Palestine...
“Also Monday, national security advisor John Bolton threatened harsh punishment if the International Criminal Court attempts to act against the United States or Israel.... Speaking to the Federalist Society, a conservative Washington think tank, Bolton described the ICC, which prosecutes crimes against humanity such as genocide, as ‘ineffective, unaccountable and, indeed, outright dangerous.’... Palestinian officials have said they intend to take Israel to the ICC for what they see as war crimes in Israel’s attack on protesters in the Gaza Strip...
“Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor to the Palestinian Authority, said the Trump administration is punishing Palestinians while refusing to criticize Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians, which is considered illegal under international law... ‘Palestinians are getting all the sticks and Israel all the carrots,’ Buttu said in a telephone interview from the West Bank city of Ramallah.” Tracy Wilkinson writing for the September 11th Los Angeles Times. 
What Trump has done is to provoke the moderates, make them join with the very extremists he sought to disenfranchise, and convince anti-U.S. hardliners in the Middle East to replace U.S. funding. Simply, this President’s moves have further destabilized an already volatile region, throwing gasoline on a raging fire. And globally, the United States continue to isolate itself and fall into the abyss of international irrelevance.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we really don’t have to wonder why, if the United States needs serious international cooperation to achieve its economic, political and military objectives, it just might find few if any takers.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Government Statistics – Finding the Truth

One of the tricks of discerning real from “spin-driven” hyperbole is to look at the “other indicators.” If you are an avid reader of ye olde blogs, you know that my take on the government’s grand unemployment numbers and hot GDP numbers has been to focus on how the top earners and wealthiest segment in the United States have made so much more money since the Great Recession that the economy as a whole and hence averages are severely enhanced even if the only folks making more are at the highest rungs on the economic ladder.  
We know that 70% of Americans have not seen an increase in inflation/cost-adjusted earnings in four decades. Those statistics come from the same government agencies that are hyping an economy that “has never been better.” True if you are a one-percenter or close. Otherwise, not so much. That unemployment rate still leaves the under-educated and under-trained out of the job market altogether. They’re not even in those unemployment numbers; they are just gone! Those seemingly favorable unemployment numbers don’t bring back obsolete industries; coal remains in precipitous decline for example. Trade wars also do not create jobs; they decimate jobs. 
For those who wonder where our tax dollars are really going, I can tell you one place were every single taxpayer is paying through the nose: the national debt. And since we know that the massive corporate tax cut has brought a mere 8% of the net economic improvement in corporate financial wealth back into the economy for capital improvement expenditures and creating new jobs and we know that only 3.7% of workers actually got even a trickle of new money from their now-financially-enhanced corporate employer, exactly what are most taxpayers really getting? Almost all the rest: Dividends that only make a difference if you have tons of stock? Share value increases, if you have enough stock, from corporations’ using those savings to buy back their own shares from the marketplace? Or debt?!
We were told by the GOP lawmakers who foisted this giant tax scam on “the rest of us” that the trickle down of economic values would pay for the tax cut. It didn’t, but the spin was so successful in making people think that trickle down actually trickled down that GOP lawmakers are proposing another tax cut. So how do we pay for such tax cuts if the economy doesn’t actually grow enough to justify that tax “reform”? We borrow it to allow the rich guys the economic breaks, but the debt has to be paid back and interest serviced by all of us.
The September 11th Washington Post, using the government’s own numbers, explains how bad it really is for most of us: “The U.S. budget deficit is reaching levels that are abnormally high for a robust economy, and lawmakers from both parties are proposing ideas that would make the deficit swell even further.
“The government spent $895 billion more than it brought in from taxes and other revenue sources during the past 11 months, the Congressional Budget Office said this week, a 33 percent increase from one year before.
“Typically, the deficit shrinks during strong economic times, as the need for costly government support wanes and tax revenue rises. In 2000, the last time the unemployment rate was at its current level of 3.9 percent, the government ran a surplus, meaning tax revenue eclipsed all spending.
“The dynamic is much different now.
“Corporate tax receipts fell 30 percent in the past 11 months, the CBO said, precipitated by the large reduction in rates from the massive tax overhaul passed by Congress last year. Spending levels have risen sharply as a result of a bipartisan agreement to shed budget caps put in place to maintain fiscal discipline and pour more money into both military and domestic programs.
“‘It’s not just irresponsible, it’s wildly irresponsible,’ said retired senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who added that lawmakers are pushing the deficit higher because of political expediency.
“‘If you are seeking elective office, the hardest thing in the world is to say, ‘I’m going to raise your taxes or cut spending on popular programs,’ ’ he said.
“Among the Republicans, the loudest voices recently have come from outside Congress... ‘With a booming economy, full employment, a soaring stock market and record asset values, we should be shrinking the deficit, not growing it, Mitt Romney, a Republican and Senate candidate in Utah, wrote on his campaign website Monday [9/10]. He said other conservatives have largely been “silent” on the issue since President Trump took office.
“Yet there are signs the borrowing binge has only begun... Leading House Republicans proposed an additional $646 billion in tax cuts this week — a number that could grow to roughly $2 trillion over a decade — and a growing number of prominent Democrats have proposed expanding access to government-sponsored health care, which could add trillions more.”
We don’t fix our crumbling infrastructure. We do not create affordable healthcare. Tuition and student debt are skyrocketing, but our educational standards are stagnant or declining. Workers in the private sector have watched their share of the pie plunge as unions were pushed away. 6.7% of private sector workers are represented by unions today, but those working without benefits in the United States is growing very fast:
“In the U.S., the number of gig workers (though hard to fully quantify) is estimated to represent around 34 per cent of the American workforce. By 2020, that number is expected to reach 43 per cent.
“There certainly are benefits for gig workers — your day can be more flexible, you can take advantage (sometimes) of things as simple as good weather. Heck, for some jobs, you can work in your bathrobe.
“But you also do your own payroll, manage your own taxes (remember to pay those instalments), and try not to turn down a job — because the employer can just go to someone else and never come back. (That’s the biggest fiction, the argument that you can sit back and say, ‘No, I don’t feel like it today.’)
“It’s more than a sweet deal for employers. They don’t have to keep staff during slow periods, and can ramp their workforce up and down depending on how much work they have.
“Your employer doesn’t have to worry about calculating the number of vacation days you have left — you don’t have any. The employer doesn’t have to worry about health plans or severance, about union negotiations or wrongful dismissal suits. Employers can assign unreasonable workloads, and shorten lead-times. Sometimes for the unfortunate gig employee — actually, often — work flows in from a number of clients simultaneously.
“And they don’t ever have to fire you... They can just stop calling. It’s that precarious.” The Telegram, September 7th. 
In the end, for most Americans, the economy is an unmitigated disaster. Yet I read even liberal mass media tell Democrats that this “solid economy” will make Republicans hard to beat in November. Really? Even if the economy is only good for the very top earners, only the truly wealthy? And crap for most of us? Seriously! How do you replace those making mincemeat out of our economy when everyone thinks its caviar? It’s work, but if you understand what the numbers really mean and you look at what really matters, the picture is clear. Very, very clear. We just need the Democrats running to understand real from unreal.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I hope that with real numbers and hard facts that I present to you all the time, you can explain to at least a few suckers who think the economy is great... why it really isn’t unless you are very, very rich.