Houston’s public housing residents are the worst hit by toxic flooding

Levels of E. coli tested in one development are 135 times above the amount considered safe

Floodwaters in two Houston-area neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Harvey have been contaminated with bacteria and toxins — and the highest levels of contamination were found in a low-income neighborhood built next to a slow-moving river that is known to have been polluted for decades.

A New York Times investigation discovered E. coli levels at four times the amount considered safe in “water flowing down Briarhills Parkway in the Houston Energy Corridor.”

“There’s pretty clearly sewage contamination, and it’s more concentrated inside the home than outside the home,” Lauren Stadler, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University who participated in the Times’ research said. “It suggests to me that conditions inside the home are more ideal for bacteria to grow and concentrate. It’s warmer and the water has stagnated for days and days. I know some kids were playing in the floodwater outside those places. That’s concerning to me.”

Though the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have risen concerns about contaminated floodwaters, none of the results of samples they have taken have been made public so far, the Times reported.

The Times elaborated on medical warnings:

Dr. Beau Briese, an emergency room physician at Houston Methodist Hospital, said he had seen a doubling in the number of cases of cellulitis — reddened skin infections — since the storm. He said it was a more modest increase than he had expected, and that the infections had been successfully treated with antibiotics.

Dr. David Persse, the chief medical officer of Houston, said residents caring for children, the elderly and those with immune disorders should try to keep them out of homes until they have been cleaned.

In the Clayton Homes public housing development, which is alongside the Buffalo Bayou, levels of E. coli were measured at a shocking 135 times higher than what’s considered safe, the Times reported. The water also included elevated levels of “lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in sediment from the floodwaters in the kitchen.”

The Buffalo Bayou has been polluted for years, and it’s been reported that minority residents have suffered the most from the consequences.

“Here it’s normal to see industrial flares from front porches, and to wake up to paint particles from the nearby scrap metal shredding facility floating into homes,” Houston Public Media reported regarding neighborhoods along the bayou.

“I wanted you to come through here because you’re going to see one of the shredding facilities that shreds cars into tiny tiny little pieces of metal. It comes into this community here, and they don’t like it,” said Juan Parras, a community activist who led TEJAS, or Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, in 2011.

Parras said the facility should have never been built. The Ashby high rise was heavily protested in the more affluent parts of town, Houston Public Media reported.

“And there was a lot of complaints, you know, the citizens obviously didn’t want it. And at the same time they were building this,” Parras said. “And sometimes it gets real real high, you know, just a pile of cars here. And so we call it our Ashby high rise. But even though we protested, you know, we got it anyway.

In 2012, environmentalists called for strengthening the Clean Water Act, which helps regulate pollution control, the same law that President Donald Trump’s administration has already proposed rolling back.

 

Charlie May is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @charliejmay
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Trump’s “trans ban” is an attack on health care

 — and an especially cruel one

Marginalizing health care for trans people is nonsense. It’s also unnecessary and needlessly hurtful

On Tuesday, a rash of extremely misleading headlines, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to ABC News, reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had “frozen” Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. This was misleading to the point of being a flat-out lie. As Mark Joseph Stern of Slate wrote:

This framing is an extreme mischaracterization of the facts. Mattis did not “freeze” the trans ban, and he is not “buy[ing] time” in some potentially insubordinate effort to buck Trump. In reality, the secretary is doing exactly what Trump directed him to do in a recent memo.

Mattis’ claim that the issue needs more study is a lie designed to make a decision based in raw bigotry look more thoughtful than it is. The reason we know this is that the military has already studied this issue extensively, releasing a 2016 report that found “allowing transgender personnel to serve openly” would have “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”

The excuse that Trump used when he first announced this ban on Twitter, and the excuse he will almost certainly continue to use, is that medical care for trans people, such as hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery, is too expensive. Not only is this another lie — it was widely reported that the military spends five times as much on Viagra as it expects to spend on gender confirmation treatments — but this excuse is in itself a form of bigotry, a way to demonize transgender people by stigmatizing the health care they need.

“The only reason we’re even having this conversation is because the president and others don’t actually consider health care for trans people to be real health care,” Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project, explained to Salon. “It’s only because we stigmatize this care and we don’t understand trans people that part of the conversation even comes up, because all of the evidence shows that the costs are negligible in a budget that’s billions and billions of dollars.”

Strangio, who helped Chelsea Manning with legal issues during her time in a military prison, is working on a suit that the ACLU filed against Trump and the Department of Defense on behalf of five active service members. The ban would not only bar trans people from enlisting and threaten the status of those currently serving, it would also forbid them from having equal access to health care.

“From a medical aspect, transgender care is regular health care,” explained Dr. Jenn Conti, an ob-gyn who has helped trans men with their gender confirmation care and who is an advocate for Physicians for Reproductive Health. Trump’s “statements and his tweets are truly not founded in medical science,” she continued. “It’s a political issue, and it’s something that’s happening at the expense of an already stigmatized and underserved population.”

What Conti and Strangio both emphasized repeatedly is that there is no reason, morally or medically, to single out trans health care as any different from any other kind of medically necessary care.

“There are enormous medical and psychological consequences that stem from being forced to live in the wrong body,” Conti explained. She has provided gender confirmation surgeries for trans men, including some veterans, and reports, “The relief they feel afterwards is indescribable.”

It’s frustrating to even have to write about this, because people’s right to private medical care that makes them healthy and whole should not be up for debate. Unfortunately, however, trans care — like contraception and abortion care — has been politicized by forces that wish to exploit these private health issues in interests of marginalizing entire classes of people.

“In all contexts, the data shows that not providing health care that’s necessary is more costly than providing it,” Strangio said. He contrasted the $8 million the Pentagon estimates they will spend on trans medical care versus the $960 million bath that the military will take by trying to implement a ban on trans troops.

Beyond the money, however, there is a human cost involved in marginalizing trans health care from any system, military or otherwise. Conti has firsthand knowledge, because she’s worked with patients who get health care through the Veterans Administration, which currently does not cover gender confirmation surgery or related trans medical treatments.

“These people, in addition to feeling really stigmatized, are tasked with this additional stressor of getting creative” in their pursuit of  health care, Conti said. Some of her patients have been forced to claim “that they need these procedures for other indications, like abnormal uterine bleeding or heavy bleeding.”

As far as Conti is concerned, any uterine bleeding is abnormal in a trans man, because they “aren’t meant to have a uterus.” However, the more humane and simpler solution is to simply treat health care for trans people as part of a regular health care system.

Banning trans service members adds another burden to the military medical care system by encouraging trans troops to hide their identity, Strangio added. Once inside the system, there are a number of situations, such as when getting sexual health or mental health care, that a closeted trans person may need to disclose his or her status to a doctor to get proper treatment. But doing so risks a discharged, creating an impossible and stressful choice that does no good for the patient, the doctor or the military.

Strangio expressed confidence that the ACLU’s case against Trump and the Department of Defense would be successful. Pentagon-financed research backs the inclusion of trans troops and coverage of their health care needs. There’s also “significant evidence,” Strangio added, that the president’s alleged concerns “are pretextual for animus that is driving the policy.” Even if the plaintiffs win, he hastened to note, Trump’s actions have done a tremendous amount of needless damage.

“Surgeries have been cancelled. People have been emboldened to act out their individual biases,” he said. The president has sent a message, in Strangio’s judgment that “the government doesn’t value our participation in public life, doesn’t take seriously our health needs.”

John McCain blasts Donald Trump in op-ed

 “We are not his subordinates”

He’s talking about the need for bipartisanship, but John McCain couldn’t help taking swipes at Donald Trump

 

Sen. John McCain of Arizona has a message for his fellow Republicans: You are accountable to the American people, not to President Donald Trump.

In a Thursday editorial to The Washington Post, McCain strongly denounced the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville and clearly established that “Most of us share Heather Heyer’s values, not the depravity of the man who took her life.” Heyer became a national hero after she was murdered by one of the white supremacists at the rally.

After discussing the need for bipartisan cooperation when confronting the major issues facing Americans today, McCain described Trump as “a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.”

Although he deferred to Trump’s position of authority from a strictly constitutional perspective and encouraged cooperation when it was possible, McCain added that “we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people.” He also urged his colleagues to remember that “we should value our identity as members of Congress more than our partisan affiliation.”

McCain and Trump have a notoriously uneasy relationship. After McCain criticized Trump in 2015, the then-candidate attacked the Arizona senator’s war record, claiming that “he’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Although McCain was reluctant to speak out against Trump during the 2016 campaign (most likely because McCain himself faced a tough Republican primary), in 2017 he emerged as one of the president’s fiercest Republican critics. In June McCain told The Guardian that Trump’s erratic diplomatic behavior had sent America’s allies the message that ““America doesn’t want to lead. They are not sure of American leadership, whether it be in Siberia or whether it be in Antarctica.”

In July, when it was revealed that members of Trump’s campaign had met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton during the election, McCain commented that “Another shoe just dropped. There’ll be many more shoes that drop.” And of course, McCain rocked the political world later that month by voting “No” on Trump’s final Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill, thereby dooming a cornerstone of the new president’s domestic agenda.

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

“Black Mirror” is coming back

The show is brilliant, but we’re already living in it

 

"Black Mirror" is coming back, but do we even need it?
“Black Mirror” Season 4(Credit: Youtube/Netflix)

Today, Netflix released the first teaser trailer and show details about the upcoming fourth season of the satirical, often harrowing dystopian British television show “Black Mirror”.

One episode of the forthcoming edition of Charlie Brooker’s brilliant, wonderfully depressing series seems to be in black and white. Another promises to be a homage to “Star Trek” with Jesse Plemons of “Fargo” sitting in the captain’s chair. It’s all very slick looking, very scary, very gripping.

Take a look for yourself.

Sharp, right?

But, as many will no doubt ask over white wine at house parties across the globe, do we even this?

A running joke (if you can call it that) as the election results swept in on November 8, 2016 was that we had been transported into a particularly nasty, particularly sad episode of the critically acclaimed show — that the looming presidency of a bigoted, sundowning reality star seemed pulled straight from a Booker script. (Indeed, some saw season 2 episode featuring a vulgar cartoon bear winning political office and then turning Britain into a dirty authoritarian hellscape as highly prescient.)

As the term of President Donald Trump as shambled along at upsetting speed, the nation (and the world) has only descended further into absurdist, Bookereque scenarios. Now, the commander in chief dictates policy and threatens nuclear hellfire via social media, sides with Nazis, rewrites history at will, compels the Justice Department to monitor those who demonstrate against him and continues to use his base in the Oval Office to wage petty, personal wars against other celebrities. He sources a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist for his daily news.

With a revolving cast of despicables running in and out of the West Wing while opening fighting with each other and pushing “alternative facts,” almost every Trump critic has compared the Executive Branch to Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice”.

All this misery has metastasized beyond the White House. Kid Rock may (or may not) be running for Senate. More than half of all Republicans would be fine with Trump delaying the 2018 elections. A significant portion of them would rather have Jefferson Davis — a traitor and a poor leader who lost the Civil War — as president than go through another Barack Obama administration. Men in polo shirts hoist tiki torches in fear of losing not their rights, but their systematically reinforced privileges.

While Trump’s numbers are down overall, his most ardent supporters seem more impressed with him with each and every obvious falsehood or legislative fail. The worse he performs, the more they love him. Our newsfeeds, and the powerlessness many of us feel while looking at them, are quite a bit more frightening and surreal than anything Booker has offered us.

But you know all this, you’ve probably said all this. At a time when every headline is more instructive of our flawed system (and more grimly vicious), the power of “Black Mirror” to point out the cracks in Western society dims.

When it debuted during the Obama administration, it was a needed corrective to the shared liberal belief that equality, sanity and justice were right around the corner. Much as how “Get Out” was designed to explode the myth of a post-racial America, “Black Mirror” arrived to reveal the often unseen monsters lying just beneath the surface of the connected, seamless future Silicon Valley and the technocrats surrounding Obama had sold us.

Now — as you have said, as we all have said — we live with those monsters every day. As relevant as a fourth season of “Black Mirror” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” may be, they run the risk of becoming rote, of simply contributing to the echo chamber of misery and fear that is our Facebook feeds, our off-hours conversation and cable news. What once was revelatory is now no different, and quite a bit more prosaic, than a White House press briefing.

What’s to learn from this show? What’s to fear that we don’t already scream about? How is “Black Mirror” a wakeup call when we already can’t sleep at night?

But, again, you know all this already.

It will be interesting to see if Booker and company can chart out new relevancies, new unexplored fears that have gone unaddressed in the Trump era. If “Black Mirror” cannot do that, however, it will fail. After all, we spend every day on the other side of a dark looking glass.

Unfair and unbalanced: Media defined Trump by his key issues — and Hillary Clinton by her phony scandals

Trump got his scary message out to voters, while Clinton’s issues got buried under an avalanche of email stories

Steve Bannon and his fellow travelers in right-wing media played us all for fools. While that’s never directly stated in a recent study of the role of media in the 2016 election, conducted by researchers from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, it’s the unavoidable conclusion after examining the results. The right-wing media ecosystem, epitomized by Bannon’s no-longer-former site Breitbart News, was not only able to colonize Republican voters’ minds but also to direct the focus of the mainstream media. The result was that Donald Trump got his political message out with great success, while Hillary Clinton was largely silenced, and defined for the public largely in terms of hysterical right-wing attacks.

In the mainstream media, “the coverage was negative for both candidates,” Yochai Benkler, one of the study authors, explained to Salon. “What became clear was that the conversation in the broader public sphere reflected the agenda that was set by the right,” he continued, “rather than an agenda that was set by Hillary Clinton.”

Simply by dint of being a loud-mouthed boor, Trump was able to dominate the media coverage so thoroughly that it’s a miracle that Clinton even got through, the researchers found.

Fig03

 

Even though most of the Trump coverage, like most of the Clinton coverage, was negative in tone, Trump was able to leverage the negativity to get his message in front of the voters. Even more important, his candidacy was largely defined by his primary issues, such as his hostility to immigration.

“When you say Trump makes a statement about a Muslim ban, that’s a statement about immigration,” Benkler said. That may get negative coverage, he argued, but it also helped educate voters who follow the mainstream media about his positions and views on the issue.

Coverage of Clinton, on the other hand, was largely substance-free and focused on overblown “scandals,” such as stories about leaked emails or stories highlighting donors to the Clinton Foundation. Her campaign’s efforts at creating a robust, progressive political platform were largely wasted on a mainstream media that was almost entirely uninterested in educating the public on her policy views.

The end result was that Trump’s policy positions on nearly all issues got more media attention than Clinton’s, even though the latter put time and effort into developing substantive views, while her opponent’s “policies” were mostly the result of him riffing off something he heard on Fox News.

 

Fig02

A number of Clinton’s critics argue, as Columbia professor Mark Lilla did in my recent interview with him for “Salon Talks,” that the Democrats in 2016 failed to “articulate a vision.” This arguments frustrates many Clinton supporters, who could point to the reams of policy ideas and political ideals she spent the campaign promoting. But it’s easy to see why some people might believe Clinton didn’t articulate or discuss a vision, when her efforts to do so were studiously ignored by mainstream media sources that were more interested in breathlessly covering the non-story about her private email server.

The extent to which Clinton was defined by these pseudo-scandals, while Trump was defined by his views, is illustrated by perhaps the most disheartening chart that the Harvard researchers created from their data.

Fig01

The gap between coverage of the Clinton Foundation and the Trump Foundation is a crystalline example of how distorted the 2016 campaign coverage was. No one has ever found any evidence of Clinton misusing her powers as secretary of state to do favors for Clinton Foundation donors. In contrast, David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post found extensive evidence, including an admission on a tax form, that Trump used his foundation for dubious and possibly illegal self-dealing. Fahrenthold found that Trump used his foundation to buy personal items or to settle legal disputes, rather than for charitable purposes, which is the only legitimate use of foundation funds.

Fahrenthold won the Pulitzer Prize for his investigation of the Trump Foundation, but somehow the rumors and insinuations around the Clinton Foundation got far more coverage. This contrast reveals how well right-wing media was able to control and direct the public conversation about the 2016 campaign.

On one hand, conservative media “provides a shared internal narrative for Trump supporters that keeps them comfortable with the choice and gets them mobilized,” Benkler said. “On the other, it produces a steady flow of stories that end up sometimes — often enough, it seems — setting the agenda for mainstream coverage. It’s this dual effect, on one hand stabilizing and insulating your base from the mainstream, and on the other nudging the mainstream coverage to cover your issues, that was so successful.”

The Clinton Foundation stories largely stemmed from a book called “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” written by then-Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer, who also co-founded a right-wing think tank called the Government Accountability Institute, with funding from hedge fund billionaire and Trump enthusiast Robert Mercer. Even though Schweizer had no real proof of corruption, he was able to get his insinuations about the Clinton Foundation covered heavily by The New York Times. After that, the story spread far and wide, from mainstream media to left-leaning sources read by Bernie Sanders supporters.

The Harvard report offers a much more thorough retelling, but the larger lesson here is chilling: Right-wing propaganda forces were able to define Clinton in the public eye, concealing what was without question a substantive policy agenda under a pile of nonsense about her emails and other supposed scandals. Trump, despite his deep and demonstrable corruption, was still able to get his message out — virtually everyone in the country knew what he stood for, whether they found it repulsive or refreshing.

As recent days have shown, many of the mainstream outlets worked as conduits for right wing propaganda, highlighting Trump’s policy message while burying Clinton’s, refuse to take responsibility for what happened. The first step in recovery is recognizing you have a problem. It’s hard to imagine how mainstream media journalists will do better the next time around if they can’t accept that their failures helped put Trump in the White House.

Golden State sets the standard for resistance to Trump agenda

California’s big pushback:

Attorney General Xavier Becerra and progressive legislators are fighting back against the Trump agenda

California's big pushback: Golden State sets the standard for resistance to Trump agenda
Donald Trump; Xavier Becerra (Credit: AP/Alex Brandon/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

After Donald Trump’s shocking meltdown on Tuesday afternoon, it’s even clearer that progressives need effective strategies to blunt the effect of having a conspiracy-theory-driven, racist authoritarian in the Oval Office, backed by a congressional majority that is still too afraid to offer meaningful checks on his worst behavior. The good news is that some of the nation’s biggest cities and states remain controlled by Democrats. Activists and politicians in those states are looking for meaningful ways to throw wrenches in the Trump agenda.

At the top of that list is California, which not only has the largest population of any state but is controlled by progressive Democrats (relatively speaking) who seem ready and eager to fight Trump, especially on the issues of climate change and immigration. (New York is the next biggest state controlled by Democrats, but intra-party warfare has crippled the ability of progressives to get much done.)

California fired a significant shot across the bow at Trump on Monday, when state Attorney General Xavier Becerra declared that the state would sue the Trump administration over threats to withdraw law enforcement grants if the local and state police refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to deport immigrants. The lawsuit will be joined with an earlier one filed by the city of San Francisco.

“It’s a low blow to our men and women who wear the badge, for the federal government to threaten their crime-fighting resources in order to force them to do the work of the federal government when it comes to immigration enforcement,” Becerra said during a press conference announcing the suit. California received $28 million in law enforcement grants from the federal government this year, money it could lose if the police prioritize actual crime-fighting over federal demands that they focus their resources on deporting people.

“The government’s plan for deporting millions of people in this country is to coerce local law enforcement to be their force-multipliers,” explained Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights for the ACLU of California.

Pasquarella noted that most deportations currently occur because of an encounter with local law enforcement. By resisting pressure to step up efforts to persecute undocumented immigrants, she said, California can make it safe for people to “access basic services that are vital to our state and communities without fear of deportation, like schools and hospitals and libraries and health clinics.”

Some Democrats in the state are trying to take this idea even further, backing SB 54, titled the California Values Act. According to The Los Angeles Times, the bill would prohibit “state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.”

While SB 54 is still being worked over in the legislature, California has already made progress in resisting the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal Obama-era actions to fight climate change. In July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill extending a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions until 2030. The bill passed by a two-thirds majority in both the State Assembly and Senate.

Many environmentalist groups have come out against the bill, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough. Still, compared to the federal government’s evident retreat, it’s progress in the right direction. California has the largest state economy in the country, and demonstrating that climate action does not have to undermine economic growth could go a long way towards convincing other states to take similar action. This, in turn, could help the country meet the goals set by the Paris Accords, defying Trump’s efforts to pull the United States out of the historic climate change agreement.

This strategy to resist right-wing policies and protect California residents predates Trump, to be clear. While much of the country was experiencing an unprecedented rollback of reproductive rights — with numerous red states passing alarming new abortion restrictions while anti-choice activists fought insurance coverage of contraception in the courts — California moved to make birth control and abortion easier and safer to get.

In 2013, responding to research showing that abortions provided by nurse practitioners and midwives are safe, Brown signed a law giving those groups authority to offer abortion services. Brown has also signed off on three provisions to make it easier for women to get birth control: Letting pharmacists dispense it without a doctor’s prescription, requiring that health care plans cover contraception without a co-pay, and allowing women to get a full year’s worth of birth-control pills at a time.

These policies were already in place before Trump’s election, but they are all the more necessary now that the president is backing conservative efforts to make contraception more expensive and harder to get. It has also helped create a model for progressive cities and states to resist reactionary policies pushed by the federal government, which is already inspiring Democrats in other states. Chicago, for instance, is also suing the federal government over the threat to sanctuary cities.

There’s a deep philosophical irony here, because for decades now conservatives have claimed they wanted to reduce the power of the federal government and hand more decision-making authority to the states. That was always a disingenuous pose, of course. This conservative “principle” was largely invented to justify state resistance to Supreme Court decisions and federal legislation legalizing abortion, desegregating schools and protecting voting rights.

Still, it’s nice to see states like California calling the Republican bluff and showing that their supposed devotion to “small government” dries up the second states and cities move to protect human rights, instead of to attack them. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has always held himself out to be a small-government conservative, for instance. But his reaction to state and local officials who claim the power to set law enforcement priorities for themselves has been to accuse those officials of being law-breakers. This hypocrisy is already obvious, and it may soon be exposed in court.

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

Frustrated young white men are facing class divisions more than racial divides

Why can’t white supremacists confront the fact that the source of their economic problems are white economic elites?

Why can't white supremacists confront the fact that the source of their economic problems are white economic elites?
(Credit: AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet

There’s no disputing the white anger and rage seen in Charlottesville, even if conservative publications like the National Review say these “angry white boys do not have a political agenda.”

Their anger is real and grievances differ, even if they took the old path of joining mobs spewing racist filth. Yet these white supremacists are blaming the wrong slices of society for their angst.

Racial divides are not what’s plaguing vast stretches of white America — deepening class divides are. If you think about who is to blame, it is mostly powerful white capitalists and their government servants that decimated regional economies in recent decades.

Many Democrats keep saying inequality is the top economic issue, as Eduardo Porter wrote for the New York Times in a piece that recaps the party’s national political agenda. However, the conventional wisdom that Democrats need to “recover the support of the middle-class — people in families earning $50,000 to $150,000, whose vote went to Mr. Trump,” especially in swing states “where three-quarters of voters are white” — is not acknowledging the roots of America’s latest outburst of white supremacy.

“Our economy is in very serious trouble. Ten or fifteen years from now, the standard of living of our average citizen may actually be lower than it is today,” writes Steve Slavin, author of the new book, “The Great American Economy: How Inefficiency Broke It and What We Can Do To Fix It.” “Large swaths of the suburbs will be slums, and tens of millions of Americans will have joined the permanent underclass. There will be three separate Americas — the rich and near rich, an economically downscaled middle and working class, and a very large poor population.”

Slavin cites eight major economic trends, pointing out that almost everyone who is not living in wealthy enclaves — usually coastal cities or inland hubs — is facing a downward spiral that’s been decades in the making. These are the same stretches of suburban and rural America that elected Trump, elected the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, where hate groups are concentrated, and where many of those arrested in Charlottesville come from. They hail from the losing end of the trends Slavin cites and forecasts for the country.

It may very well be that the external circumstances of the whites protesting are “pretty good,” as the National Review’s Kevin Williamson writes, compared to non-white America. That’s even more reason to condemn their visceral rage and hate speech. But as Slavin notes, the national economy and sense of well-being is on a downward slide that accelerated in recent decades.

Those responsible are largely white politicians, white business executives and more recently the graduates of elite business schools — where the curriculum involved outsourcing domestic industries that once allowed people without degrees to prosper.

The culprit here is primarily class — even though race and class are often synonymous. If anything, the downwardly spiraling sections of white America today eerily resemble inner cities in the 1960s, where non-whites called for economic justice. Those urban cores were abandoned after two decades of white flight to the suburbs and manufacturers also leaving.

Here are eight overarching economic trends that Slavin notes have clobbered the middle class, working class and poor.

1. Manufacturing has mostly vanished. Notwithstanding Trump’s announcements that a few companies based overseas are returning, factory jobs have largely disappeared from the interior of America, where from World War II through the 1980s they anchored cities and counties.

2. Many cities have fallen into decline. Starting after WWII, the government and industry promoted suburbia, abandoning scores of cities to the mostly non-white poor. Detroit’s carmakers bought and dismantled public transit. That led to today’s costly transportation needs with a nation of commuters paying a lot for private vehicles, gas and insurance and spending hours away from home.

3. Health care costs have left wages frozen. Average wages have not seen increases, after being adjusted for inflation, for decades. A big part of the reason is businesses that provide health insurance have to keep paying more to insurers rather than employees. Meanwhile, insurers keep finding ways to draw on what’s left in people’s pockets.

4. Public education is vastly underfunded. Suburban schools in wealthy enclaves might be fine, but nationally half of high school graduates are not at the same level as graduates of other countries and their better achieving peers. That forecloses opportunity.

5. The government is not reinvesting in America. This is not simply about neglected roads and bridges. The U.S. government supports a beyond bloated military industrial complex that accounts for 40 percent of global spending on weapons. This may be domestic spending, but it is not spending on domestic needs.

6. The criminal justice system is bloated. Here too, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation; a predatory system that targets lower-income people and creates taxpayer-funded private police forces.

7. The make-work private sector’s useless jobs. This isn’t just the growth of service industries, but “more than 15 million Americans hold jobs that do not produce any useful goods or services,” such as bill collectors, telemarketers, sales reps paid on commission, etc., Slavin writes.

8. The bloated financial sector. This is Wall Street’s diversion of savings from productive investments to speculative ventures, where money is made from tracking the movement of other assets or the public is sold repackaged securities that generate fees.

In every one of these eight areas, wealthy whites in positions of power and privilege have made decisions that collectively have set the country on the path to today’s downward economic spiral. Right after World War II, the federal government would not lend money to black veterans to buy homes in newly expanding suburbs. They gave real estate investors like Fred Trump, the president’s father, money to build what became urban housing projects where many occupants were non-white renters.

There were not many non-white executives in Detroit when the auto industry acted to destroy public transit systems. There were not many non-whites on corporate boards in the 1980s, when the first wave of moving manufacturing abroad hit. The business schools minting sought-after MBAs were teaching predominantly white students to take operations to countries where labor was cheaper, or extolling the virtues of businesses like Walmart that decimated entire Main Streets across small-town America.

The list goes on and a pattern emerges — a class division, more so than race — which has deepened and afflicts America today. As Slavin writes, “Perhaps the most persuasive indicator of our nation’s economic decline is that millennials are on track to be the first generation in our nation’s history to be poorer than its parents’ generation. In January 2017, CNBC reported, ‘With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles.’”

The Young Invincibles are a progressive group concerned about health care, higher education, workforce and finance, and civic engagement. But their name could also be used to describe the belligerent attitude of the white marchers in Charlottesville.

As Williamson writes derisively in the conservative National Review, “What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians—may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.”

But Williamson only hints at what they seem to want — and it’s exactly what Slavin nails. These angry whites are being bypassed by structural changes in the economy that are narrowing their options. Needless to say, most people in dire straits do not embrace violence and racism. But it seems the heart of their grievances appear to be based on class frustrations, not race. If the white marchers want to blame someone, they ought to point their fingers at the wealthy whites on Wall Street and in Washington.

 

Salon