Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Two Solitudes-In Amerika

In Canada we often speak of Two Solitudes, in reference to Quebec and the Rest of Canada (ROC).

In Amerika there are still two solitudes 140 years after Slavery ended. There are Two Americas, one Black and one White. And Afro-America is still poor, illiterate, and subject to the whims of capitalist exploitation as these two stories show. Idol Winner Fanatasia reveals the reality of being working class African American, making a sham of the so called American Dream. Sure she is America's Idol, if being illiterate and being raped is anyting to idolize. Yet it is the harsh reality of everyday life for working class women of colour in racist America. And typical of the American culture of 'you can make it if you work hard enough', she blames herself.

And the announcement of the layoffs of New Orelans city workers reveals the same false American Dream for working class Afro Americans. I guess they can blame themselves to for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or for not being one of George II's Texas pals, who get all the plumb jobs.

Say what was that promise George II made about rebuilding New Orleans? Oh did he forget to mention it will be by the private sector to benefit the private sector, with taxpayer money. With the layoffs of municipal workers in New Orleans, FEMA will be known as Firing Employees of Muncipalities in America.....
The American Dream is only available for a few, they are White and Rich.

Idol winner Fantasia reveals she's illiterate

Fantasia Barrino performs on ABC's 'Good Morning America' in July, 2005.

Fantasia Barrino performs on ABC's 'Good Morning America' in July, 2005. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen, File)

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- "American Idol" winner Fantasia Barrino reveals in her memoirs that she is functionally illiterate and had to fake her way through some scripted portions on the televised talent show, which she won in 2004.

"You're illiterate to just about everything. You don't want to misspell," Fantasia told ABC's "20/20." "So that, for me, kept me in a box and I didn't, wouldn't come out."

The 21-year-old R&B singer says she's signed record deals and contracts that she didn't read and couldn't understand. But the hardest part, she said, is not being able to read to Zion, her 4-year-old daughter.

"That hurts really bad," she said, adding that she is now learning to read with tutors.

In her memoir, "Life is Not a Fairy Tale," which she dictated to a freelance writer, Fantasia also said she was raped in the ninth grade by a classmate. She says the boy was disciplined, but she blamed herself for the attack.

She dropped out of high school that year and became an unwed mother at 17.

US housing official: rebuilt New Orleans will have fewer poor blacks

President Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development acknowledged the administration’s real vision for New Orleans when he told reporters last week that the city would have far fewer poor black residents once reconstruction is completed.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson predicted New Orleans would slowly bring back as many as 375,000 people, but that only 35 to 40 percent of the population would be black. Prior to Hurricane Katrina the city had nearly 500,000 residents, more than two-thirds of whom were African-American.

“Whether we like it or not, New Orleans is not going to be 500,000 people for a long time,” Jackson said. “New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.”

New Orleans lays off 3,000 city workers

Associated Press

October 4, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - Mayor Ray Nagin said Tuesday the city is laying off as many as 3,000 employees -- or about half its workforce -- because of the financial damage inflicted on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

Nagin announced with "great sadness" that he had been unable to find the money to keep the workers on the payroll.

He said only non-essential workers will be laid off and that no firefighters or police will be among those let go.

[So sewer workers, truckers, paramedics, and other support staff aren't essential?! New Orleans is Not a City, it's a Police State! EP]

"I wish I didn't have to do this. I wish we had the money, the resources to keep these people," Nagin said. "The problem we have is we have no revenue streams."

Nagin described the layoffs as "pretty permanent" and said that the city will work with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to notify municipal employees who fled the city in the aftermath of Katrina, which struck about a month ago.

The mayor said the move will save about $5 million US to $8 million US of the city's monthly payroll of $20 million US. The layoffs will take place over the next two weeks.

Eased Out of the Big Easy
by Jesse Jackson

After his administration's incompetence and indifference had lethal consequences in Katrina's wake, President Bush has been scrambling to regain his footing. He's called for an "unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis." In religious services at the National Cathedral, he called on America to "erase this legacy of racism" exposed by those abandoned in Katrina's wake. He's called on Congress to appropriate more than $60 billion in emergency relief and outlined a recovery program likely to cost up to $200 billion, or nearly as much as the Iraq War.

All this has led the press to compare his plans to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Don't fall for it. A close look at the Bush plan reveals that this is a bad deal from a deck stacked against the poor who suffered the most in Katrina's wake.

The first clue came from Bush's first act. He issued orders erasing the prevailing wage for work on rebuilding the Gulf, and his administration gave Halliburton a lucrative no-bid contract to begin the work. Then he designated Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana an enterprise zone, and, using emergency authority, waived all worker protections in the region -- protections for equal employment, for minority contractors, for health and safety, for environmental protection.

We're learning that when Bush promised to remove the legacy of racism in New Orleans, he meant he'd remove the poor who were victims of that racism. Bush's secretary for Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso Jackson, revealed that to the Houston Chronicle.

"Whether we like it or not, New Orleans is not going to be 500,000 people for a long time," the HUD secretary said. "New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Jackson predicted New Orleans will slowly draw back as many as 375,000 people, but that only 35 percent to 40 percent of the post-Katrina population would be black. (Before Katrina, New Orleans was two-thirds black.) "I'm telling you, as HUD secretary and having been a developer and a planner, that's how it's going to be." Jackson revealed that he advised Mayor Ray Nagin not to rebuild the overwhelmingly black 9th Ward.

The people of the 9th Ward are the maids and waiters who serve New Orleans tourists. They are the musicians who give the city its blues. They are the cops and government clerks who are struggling to bring the city back. Half of the houses there are owned, not rentals. Many of these workers are dispersed -- dispatched to over 40 states. Many still are in shelters.

No one could figure out why the Bush administration wouldn't give the evacuees housing vouchers to rent housing in and around New Orleans. Instead, FEMA has ordered tens of thousands of trailers and is struggling to build trailer parks -- Bushvilles -- to shelve Katrina's victims.

Now we know. Bush's isn't planning urban renewal, he's planning urban removal. The administration has given the victims of Katrina a one-way ticket out with no plan for their return. Instead, the planners will turn New Orleans into a gentrified theme park. They'll rebuild the white communities -- even those like middle-class Gentilly and wealthy Lakeview that are as prone to severe flooding as the 9th Ward.

Congress should insist that Katrina's victims have a right to return -- and FEMA should develop a plan to make their return possible. They should have preference for the jobs that will be created in rebuilding the city. They should be provided vouchers to use for nearby housing. If necessary, local military bases should be opened, with public transportation to get them to and from work. They should be paid the prevailing wage, with decent health-care benefits. The people of the 9th Ward should decide the fate of their homes, not urban planners intent on building a New Orleans without its black people. If their neighborhoods are not rebuilt, then affordable and public housing should be built in other parts of New Orleans.

That's not what Alphonso Jackson and the administration are planning, so it will take street heat and congressional action to make them see the light. Katrina destroyed its victims' homes; we shouldn't let the administration make them exiles from their own city.

© 2005 Chicago Sun Times

Growing Gulf Between Rich and Rest of US
by Holly Sklar

Guess which country the CIA World Factbook describes when it says, "Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20 percent of households."

If you guessed the United States, you're right.

The United States has rising levels of poverty and inequality not found in other rich democracies. It also has less mobility out of poverty.

Since 2000, America's billionaire club has gained 76 more members while the typical household has lost income and the poverty count has grown by more than 5 million people.

Poverty and inequality take a daily toll seldom seen on television. "The infant mortality rate in the United States compares with that in Malaysia -- a country with a quarter the income." says the 2005 Human Development Report. "Infant death rates are higher for [black] children in Washington, D.C., than for children in Kerala, India."

Income and wealth in America are increasingly concentrated at the very top -- the realm of the Forbes 400.

You could have banked $1 million a day every day for the last two years and still have far to go to make the new Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.

It took a minimum of $900 million to get on the Forbes 400 this year. That's up $150 million from 2004.

"Surging real estate and oil prices drove up several fortunes and helped pave the way for 33 new members," Forbes notes.

Middle-class households, meanwhile, are a medical crisis or outsourced job away from bankruptcy.

With 374 billionaires, the Forbes 400 will soon be billionaires only.

Bill Gates remains No. 1 on the Forbes 400 with $51 billion. Low-paid Wal-Mart workers can find Walton family heirs in five of the top 10 spots; another Wal-Mart heir ranks No. 116.

Former Bechtel president Stephen Bechtel Jr. and his son, CEO Riley Bechtel, tie for No. 109 on the Forbes 400 with $2.4 billion apiece. The politically powerful Bechtel has gotten a no-bid contract for hurricane reconstruction despite a pattern of cost overruns and shoddy work from Iraq to Boston's leaky "Big Dig" tunnel/highway project.

The Forbes 400 is a group so small they could have watched this year's Sugar Bowl from the private boxes of the Superdome.

Yet combined Forbes 400 wealth totals more than $1.1 trillion -- an amount greater than the gross domestic product of Spain or Canada, the world's eighth- and ninth-largest economies.

The number of Americans in poverty is a group so large it would take the combined populations of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, plus Arkansas to match it. That's according to the Census Bureau's latest count of 37 million people below the poverty line.

Millions more Americans can't afford adequate health care, housing, child care, food, transportation and other basic expenses above the official poverty thresholds, which are set too low. The poverty threshold for a single person under age 65 was just $9,827 in 2004. For a two-adult, two-child family, it was just $19,157.

By contrast, the Economic Policy Institute's Basic Family Budget Calculator says the national median basic needs budget (including taxes and tax credits) for a two-parent, two-child family was $39,984 in 2004. It was $38,136 in New Orleans and $33,636 in Biloxi, Mississippi.

America is becoming a downwardly mobile society instead of an upwardly mobile society. Median household income fell for the fifth year in a row to $44,389 in 2004 -- down from $46,129 in 1999, adjusting for inflation. vThe Bush administration is using hurricane "recovery" to camouflage policies that will deepen inequality and poverty. They are bringing windfall profits to companies like Bechtel while suspending regulations that shore up wages for workers.

More tax cuts are in the pipeline for wealthy Americans who can afford the $17,000 watch, $160,000 coat and $10 million helicopter on the Forbes Cost of Living Extremely Well Index.

More budget cuts are in the pipeline for Medicaid, Food Stamps and other safety nets for Americans whose wages don't even cover the cost of necessities.

Without a change in course, the gulf between the rich and the rest of America will continue to widen, weakening our economy and our democracy. The American Dream will be history instead of poverty.

Holly Sklar is co-author of "Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All Of Us" (www.raisethefloor.org). She can be reached at hsklar@aol.com.

© 2005 Holly Sklar

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