Friday, October 20, 2006

Pleading The Case For Cities

Dear Attorney General Gonzales:

We’ve read that you have ordered Department of Justice officials to visit U.S. cities to find out why there is a spike in crime. To help you out, we Mapquest’ed the tour for you. It will tell you what you need to know, and it will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel costs.

That’s because the entire trip will only cover 3.17 miles, and it only takes one day.

If you are serious about accomplishing your fact-finding mission, you’ll find out the most by visiting the federal departments that have adopted an array of policies that reflect a hostility toward cities and their problems that is unprecedented in the history of this nation.

You start in your own building by getting out of your office and visiting your evaluation office to get the statistics that show that the highly touted Bush “War On Drugs” is more like the ultimate “reefer madness.” Over a 12-year period, 82 percent of the growth in drug arrests was for marijuana with most for possession. Surely the more than $4 billion spent to enforce marijuana laws could be put to better use. You might also want to ask someone whose bright idea it was to cut COPS funding by $412 million in the ’07 budget.

Get Tough On Crime

Then stroll around to offices of the policy advisors who draft the new “get tough on crime” laws that have more to do with rewarding political contributors than solving the root causes of the problem. These days too much crime legislation is about putting profits in the pockets of political friends who build more and larger prisons and sell them food and equipment.

With more people in prison per 100,000 than any nation in the world – with the possible exception of China – it seems obvious that when you have private prison operators and contractors sitting on federal panels drawing up new laws, it’s not unexpected that the laws will never be tough enough, because they need the raw material that justifies the building boom of the prison-industrial complex, and in their business, it comes in the form of more and more prisoners serving longer and longer sentences.

Then, drive over to the Department of Commerce. It’s less than half a mile – go east on Pennsylvania, right on 9th and right onto Constitution to #1401.

Once you get there, ask Secretary Gutierrez why tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans were partially paid for with cuts in programs for the poor. It would also be good to learn the reasons why, since the 2001 Bush tax cuts, median household income has fallen, poverty has risen, the percentage of Americans without insurance at work has gone up, and pension benefits have gone down.

Killing HOPE

After that short visit, go east on Constitution toward 14th Street turn right on 7th and drive to the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 451 7th Street SW.

If you can recognize him, ask Secretary Jackson why the Bush Administration works to kill programs like HOPE VI grants that have helped cities like ours rebuild neighborhoods and seed new economic life in our urban core. See if you can find out why it makes any sense to end $657 million in community service block grants created more than 35 years ago so community action agencies could help the poor escape from poverty.

Once you leave HUD, it’s a good time for a stroll, so walk up the block to 400 7th Street SW to the Department of Transportation. Perhaps there you can discover why the budgets of the Bush Administration have attacked public transit in our cities. With more jobs on the periphery of cities, public transit is more and more the lifeline between inner city residents and jobs. And yet, DOT continues to be cheerleaders for highways that promote sprawl and hefty profits for road builders and developers.

When you’re through, call for your limo and go six-tenths of a mile - north on 7th Street toward D Street and turn right on Independence Avenue, where you’ll stop at the Department of Health and Human Services at 200 Independence Avenue to talk to Secretary Leavett. There’s so much to ask him about – cuts in programs for the poor, urban redevelopment, rent subsidies, Medicare, child care, and pension insurance – elements of the safety net of which this nation once boasted.

An Education In Puffery

Now it’s time to move over to the Department of Education. It’s an enjoyable, short walk, so when you leave HHS, go west on Independence toward 3rd Street and stop at 400 Maryland Avenue SW.

The first thing you should do is put Secretary Spellings under oath. It’s next to impossible to get the truth out of her when she starts talking about her policies and programs. She’s one of those bureacrats that’s repeated her talking points so often even she’s beginning to believe them. If you doubt us, ask her why the massive mandates of No Child Left Behind were not backed up with the $40 billion needed to help school districts comply with them. Be prepared to hear some whoppers, such as “nine-year-olds made greater gains in five years than in the previous 28 years combined” and her justification for vouchers when her own department’s studies – which she deep-sixed - show that overall public schools perform as well as private ones.

Try finding out why the 2006 budget terminated 48 educational programs, saving $4.3 billion. Meanwhile, the budget called for $74 billion in new weapons, and just by delaying the F/A-22 Raptor fighters, the Administration could have made up more than the amount needed to fund education. If you really want to get her sputtering, ask her to explain the logic of her opposition to programs like Community Technology Centers, aimed at helping poor students get access to technology; the Upward Bound program to help low-income high school students succeed in pre-college performance; the Talent Search program to increase the number of poor youth competing high school and attending college; the DARE anti-drug program; all vocational education at the high school level; and parental information and resource centers to help parents whose children attend schools identified as under-performing under No Child Left Behind.

By now, you should be scratching your head, so take a walk - go east on Independence toward 4th Street, turn left onto Maryland Avenue, turn left on 3rd Street, and right on Constitution where you’ll stop at #200, the Department of Labor.

Minimum Standards

While you’re there, ask Secretary Chao why she’s fought every bill that would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour for the six percent of American workers paid at this level. Remind her of the independent studies that show that an increase does no damage to the economy, which she touts as the strongest in the history of the country. We suggest that you don’t mention that average CEO in the Standard and Poor’s 500 now makes $17 million a year, because she’s touchy on that subject. Instead, ask her why Americans work 213 hours more a year than other workers in the industrialized world and why cutting job training, housing, higher education and a range of social services makes sense in light of the challenges to today’s workforce.

If you’ve got any energy left, you’ll need a walk to clear your head. Stroll away from the Capitol on Constitution, turn right at the Ellipse and stroll up to the White House. Perhaps, you can have a few minutes with the master political strategist Karl Rove. His disdain for “across the aisle” solutions to our national problems results in his trumping anything that doesn’t pander to the extreme right base that he sees as the Republican Party’s key to power.

In the end, that’s what the day will teach you. It’s all about power. That’s why most federal funding was changed years ago so it goes in block grants to governors. Most were Republicans, and the change gave them the power to send money to favored districts, rather than to deal with the problems in that perceived hotbed of Democratic opposition, that vortex of minorities, gays and secular humanists – cities.

Some one at the Police Executive Research Forum said that “it’s important for the Justice Department to get into these cities.” There truth to that statement, because someone from the Bush Administration needs to see what your policies have wrought. The consequences to our cities have been devastating and ugly.

Punishing Cities

The punishing policies of all the departments you will visit make our cities poorer, less safe, less fair, and less competitive. There used to be an axiom in Washington that some things are so important that they rise above the considerations of day-to-day politics – things like the needs of people and the health of our cities.

No longer. Now, the future of our citizens are put at risk on the altar of narrow political gain and partisan power. In the process, the historic chance to unify this nation was squandered. That’s a main reason for the depth of rage and frustration out here in the real America.

We’ve been trying to get your attention for some time, but our concerns were brushed aside as the rantings of political enemies. What surprises us is that someone like you, who decides to dedicate his life to making decisions about people’s lives on solid evidence, can be so deaf to the pleas of cities and the facts of their need.

In the end, the tragedy of the Bush Administration isn’t a personal tragedy of the man and his narrow political agenda. Instead, it’s a national tragedy of lost hope, squandered opportunity, sacrificed ideals and a shredded national safety net. And that’s a charge that even the Department of Justice can’t mount a defense against.

Smart City Memphis

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks