Racism at the foundation of opposition to Medicare for All

Powell’s Books Sep 10, 2021 In his new book, The Hidden History of American Healthcare (Berrett-Koehler), popular progressive radio host Thom Hartmann reveals how and why attempts to implement affordable universal healthcare in the United States have been thwarted and what we can do to finally make it a reality. For-profit health insurance is the largest con job ever perpetrated on the American people — one that has cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives since the 1940s. Other countries have shown us that affordable universal healthcare is not only possible but also effective and efficient. Taiwan’s single-payer system saved the country a fortune as well as saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic, enabling the country to implement a nationwide coronavirus test-and-contact-trace program without shutting down the economy. This resulted in just 10 deaths, while more than 500,000 people have died in the United States. Hartmann offers a deep dive into the shameful history of American healthcare, showing how greed, racism, and oligarchic corruption led to the current “sickness for profit” system. Modern attempts to create versions of government healthcare have been hobbled at every turn, including Obamacare. There is a simple solution: Medicare for all. Hartmann outlines the extraordinary benefits this system would provide the American people and economy and the steps we need to take to make it a reality. It’s time for America to join every industrialized country in the world and make health a right, not a privilege. Order The Hidden History of American Healthcare: https://www.powells.com/book/hidden-h…

In New York Times Op-Ed, US Physician Blasts ‘Lucrative System of For-Profit Medicine’

A physician looks into a Covid-19 patient's room

A physician looks into a Covid-19 patient’s room as he makes his rounds in the ICU at a hospital in Hartford, Connecticut on January 18, 2022. 

(Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

“Doctors’ sense of our complicity in putting profits over people has grown more difficult to ignore.”

JAKE JOHNSON

Feb 05, 2023 (CommonDreams.org)

A U.S. physician took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times on Sunday to offer a scathing condemnation of the country’s for-profit healthcare system and his profession’s historical complicity in campaigns against universal coverage.

“Doctors have long diagnosed many of our sickest patients with ‘demoralization syndrome,’ a condition commonly associated with terminal illness that’s characterized by a sense of helplessness and loss of purpose,” wrote Eric Reinhart, a physician at Northwestern University. “American physicians are now increasingly suffering from a similar condition, except our demoralization is not a reaction to a medical condition, but rather to the diseased systems for which we work.”

“The United States is the only large high-income nation that doesn’t provide universal healthcare to its citizens,” Reinhart continued. “Instead, it maintains a lucrative system of for-profit medicine. For decades, at least tens of thousands of preventable deaths have occurred each year because healthcare here is so expensive.”

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated that trend and spotlighted the fatal dysfunction of the nation’s healthcare system, which is dominated by a handful of massive corporations whose primary goal is profit, not the delivery of care.

According to one peer-reviewed study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a universal single-payer healthcare system could have prevented more than 338,000 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. from the beginning of the crisis through mid-March 2022.

“In the wake of this generational catastrophe, many healthcare workers have been left shaken,” Reinhart wrote Sunday. “One report estimated that in 2021 alone, about 117,000 physicians left the workforce, while fewer than 40,000 joined it. This has worsened a chronic physician shortage, leaving many hospitals and clinics struggling. And the situation is set to get worse. One in five doctors says he or she plans to leave practice in the coming years.”

“To try to explain this phenomenon, many people have leaned on a term from pop psychology for the consequences of overwork: burnout. Nearly two-thirds of physicians report they are experiencing its symptoms,” he added.

But for Reinhart, the explanation lies more in “our dwindling faith in the systems for which we work” than in the “grueling conditions we practice under.”

He explained:

What has been identified as occupational burnout is a symptom of a deeper collapse. We are witnessing the slow death of American medical ideology.

It’s revealing to look at the crisis among healthcare workers as at least in part a crisis of ideology—that is, a belief system made up of interlinking political, moral, and cultural narratives upon which we depend to make sense of our social world. Faith in the traditional stories American medicine has told about itself, stories that have long sustained what should have been an unsustainable system, is now dissolving.

During the pandemic, physicians have witnessed our hospitals nearly fall apart as a result of underinvestment in public health systems and uneven distribution of medical infrastructure. Long-ignored inequalities in the standard of care available to rich and poor Americans became front-page news as bodies were stacked in empty hospital rooms and makeshift morgues. Many healthcare workers have been traumatized by the futility of their attempts to stem recurrent waves of death, with nearly one-fifth of physicians reporting they knew a colleague who had considered, attempted, or died by suicide during the first year of the pandemic alone.

Although deaths from Covid have slowed, the disillusionment among health workers has only increased. Recent exposés have further laid bare the structural perversity of our institutions. For instance, according to an investigation in The New York Times, ostensibly nonprofit charity hospitals have illegally saddled poor patients with debt for receiving care to which they were entitled without cost and have exploited tax incentives meant to promote care for poor communities to turn large profits. Hospitals are deliberately understaffing themselves and undercutting patient care while sitting on billions of dollars in cash reserves.

Acknowledging that “little of this is new,” Reinhart wrote that “doctors’ sense of our complicity in putting profits over people has grown more difficult to ignore.”

“From at least the 1930s through today, doctors have organized efforts to ward off the specter of ‘socialized medicine,'” he wrote. “We have repeatedly defended health care as a business venture against the threat that it might become a public institution oriented around rights rather than revenue.”

Confronting and beginning to solve the myriad crises of the U.S. healthcare system will “require uncomfortable reflection and bold action,” Reinhart argued, and “any illusion that medicine and politics are, or should be, separate spheres has been crushed under the weight of over 1.1 million Americans killed by a pandemic that was in many ways a preventable disaster.”

“Doctors can no longer be passive witnesses to these harms,” he concluded. “We have a responsibility to use our collective power to insist on changes: for universal healthcare and paid sick leave but also investments in community health worker programs and essential housing and social welfare systems… Regardless of whether we act through unions or other means, the fact remains that until doctors join together to call for a fundamental reorganization of our medical system, our work won’t do what we promised it would do, nor will it prioritize the people we claim to prioritize.”

Reinhart’s op-ed came as the prospects for legislative action to transform the U.S. healthcare system appear as distant as ever, despite broad public support for a government guarantee of universal coverage.

With the for-profit status quo deeply entrenched—preserved by armies of industry lobbyists and members of Congress who do their bidding—the consequences are becoming increasingly dire, with tens of millions uninsured or underinsured and one health crisis away from financial ruin.

In a study released last month, the Commonwealth Fund found that “the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy at birth, the highest death rates for avoidable or treatable conditions, the highest maternal and infant mortality, and among the highest suicide rates” among rich countries, even as it spends far more on healthcare than comparable nations both on a per-person basis and as a share of gross domestic product.

“Not only is the U.S. the only country we studied that does not have universal health coverage,” the study added, “but its health system can seem designed to discourage people from using services.”

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

JAKE JOHNSON

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

UNSHELTERED

Two couch chairs on the sidewalk face the street on either side of an electric pole in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. The two chairs seem both out of place and settled, as if someone had placed them there with purpose.

© Larena Nellies-Ortiz

THE SUN INTERVIEW

Eric Tars On The Human Right To Housing

BY THACHER SCHMID • FEBRUARY 2023 (thesunmagazine.org)

While largely undercounted by officials, the scale of homelessness in the United States appears to have grown significantly this decade. The pandemic brought eviction moratoriums, emergency hotel shelters, and a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halt removal sweeps, but those were temporary. Meanwhile, for complex reasons — but driven by structural factors like high housing prices and low wages — a majority of homeless people now live in unsheltered locales, like tents, vehicles, or shanties. Many cities and states have chosen to respond with a historic wave of sweeps, tows, bans, and new mass or outdoor shelters.

With Eric Tars as its legal director, the National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC) has served as a kind of legal conscience for the nation, hyperfocused on a mission of using the law to, according to its website, “transform fundamentally the landscape of homelessness and poverty in this country.” Founded in 1989, the nonprofit has issued reports on the nation’s growing homeless encampments and initiated the Housing Not Handcuffs campaign to draw attention to the criminalization of homelessness.

Tars’s father was born in a refugee camp during World War II — not only homeless but stateless. “He grew up in refugee camps in conditions that were, in some ways, better than what many people experience on the streets of America,” Tars says, “but with a lot of the same concerns about where he would be laying his head the next night.” This perspective within his family helped push the Georgetown University–educated attorney to take an unabashedly sympathetic point of view toward unhoused people. His analysis of the problem, however, is sophisticated and rigorous, reaching back decades to examine the New Deal and the Reagan Revolution, and weaving together racism, segregation, electoral politics, social trends, and the role of direct action.

If we would just prioritize housing as a human right, Tars argues, the U.S. wouldn’t just help hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — of houseless people. We’d improve city budgets. We’d increase public safety. And we’d transform how this nation treats people of color, our young and old, LGBTQ individuals, and those with disabilities.

Tars studied international human rights in Austria at the Institute for European Studies and the University of Vienna. He is a board member at the U.S. Human Rights Network and has also served as counsel of record in precedent-setting cases such as the 2019 Martin v. City of Boise decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that it is unconstitutional for cities to enforce anti-camping ordinances if there are not enough shelter beds for their homeless populations.

Tars spoke with me by phone from the NHLC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. “I grew up with the sense that I had been given a lot of privileges just by being born into the place where I was, in suburban America, and that other children are born into very different circumstances through no fault of their own,” he told me. “So I’ve always felt like I needed to use the privilege that I have in order to advocate together with, and for, those who can’t advocate for themselves.”

A photograph of Eric Tars.
ERIC TARS© Melicia Escobar

Schmid: What’s the history behind today’s anti-homeless laws?

Tars: They very much date back to laws like the “anti-Okie” law that California had in the late 1930s, which made it a misdemeanor to knowingly bring any nonresident “indigent” person into the state, as well as to Jim Crow laws in the post–Civil War South. Anti-homeless laws come from the worst part of the American mindset. At its best, America values rugged individualism and self-reliance. But we also have this myth that if you haven’t gotten ahead, it’s always because you haven’t worked hard enough. That’s never been true, and it particularly wasn’t true during the Depression, when conditions beyond any individual’s control led to millions of people losing their jobs or their farms and moving to places where they’d heard there was more opportunity, only to discover that the people living there didn’t want to let them stay.

Income inequality is currently at the highest level it’s been since the Gilded Age. Rents continue to go up and up and up, while wages remain flat in real terms. Nowhere in the country can a person working full-time at the federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour — afford a two-bedroom apartment. So homelessness is not the fault of individuals who are working two and sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet. It’s the systemic issues that are causing it. But this myth that it must be the individual’s fault has led to policies that punish people for living on the street rather than embrace them. In almost every city and state we see laws criminalizing basic life-sustaining acts like sheltering yourself and sleeping, sitting, or just existing in public spaces.

The better part of the American spirit is the Second Bill of Rights that Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed, in which he said that none of our countrymen should be without access to a decent home, adequate food and nutrition, and good-paying jobs. If we can come back to those better parts of our American character, we can see the same kind of success we saw from the 1940s to the 1970s, when social safety nets prevented mass homelessness.

Schmid: You mentioned Jim Crow and the Reconstruction era. How do laws passed then fit into the history of U.S. attitudes toward homelessness?

Tars: We have a racialized notion of poverty in this country. Many anti-vagrancy, anti-panhandling, and anti-loitering laws were passed in the immediate aftermath of Emancipation. The intention was to make it a crime for formerly enslaved people not to have a job. Then they could be tasked back into slavery using a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment, which says that slavery is abolished except as a condition of incarceration. So if you made it a crime for formerly enslaved people simply to exist in public spaces without a job, you could get them back into the fields picking cotton. Many of the anti-homeless laws that we see — particularly across the South, but in other areas as well — come from that era. They continue to have the same effect now that they did back then, which is to disproportionately imprison Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color.

Schmid: You’ve spoken of a “right to housing.” But terms like “housing” and “shelter” can be difficult to define.

Tars: That’s the beauty of using the internationally defined standard of the human right to adequate housing. The right to housing does not mean that every American can have a single-family home with a white picket fence provided to them free of charge tomorrow. It means that every American should have an adequate place to live, which means it can’t be temporary or unaffordable. You need to have legal rights as a tenant and the ability to protect those rights through a right to counsel. The location must have access to hospitals and fire services and not be in a food desert. There are so many things that go into making housing adequate.

But the housing might be more communal than we’re used to in the U.S. It could mean bringing back single-room-occupancy rentals — hotel-type situations with common cooking facilities and shared bathrooms. As long as each resident has a door to lock and the common spaces are well maintained, that could be part of the solution. We’ve lost that lowest-income housing, which is one reason we see more and more people living on the streets.

Schmid: What about the connections between homelessness and stagnant wages?

Tars: The biggest cause of homelessness in America is the lack of affordable housing. And housing is less affordable because over the past forty years wages have not kept pace with the rising costs of rent and homeownership. I mentioned the cost of a two-bedroom apartment being out of reach. In the U.S. today many people are paying 30, 40, even 50 percent of their income on rent each month. When they get some sort of shock to their finances — whether it’s an emergency medical bill, a broken-down car, or a missed paycheck — it puts them right on the street.

There’s also this concept called “network impoverishment,” where it’s not only you who are financially stretched thin, but everyone in your network. Then, when a shock comes, nobody you know can tide you over with rent money or help you fix your car. That’s why communities of color are far more vulnerable, and the people in them are far more likely to go directly into homelessness rather than get a helping hand that keeps them housed.

Also, when people are desperate for any income at all, it allows employers to keep their wages artificially low. So it’s both the low wages causing homelessness, and the threat of homelessness causing the low wages.

Schmid: Besides network impoverishment, what factors make people of color more likely to become homeless?

Tars: One is the racialized view of public assistance. Even though, over time, more white people have been helped by affordable-housing programs, people of color are seen as the ones who get those benefits. This goes back to President Reagan’s racist trope of the welfare queen, which was never true to begin with, but it cemented a racialized image of the beneficiaries of welfare programs, including public housing. When President Roosevelt launched many of the federal public-housing programs back in the 1930s, it was seen as something for everybody, and it was well funded — or, at least, adequately funded. You would see these housing projects open with great fanfare, and the news coverage celebrated “average” Americans — meaning white Americans — gaining access to the housing they needed. Families who lived there gained a foothold in a community with access to decent schools and other services and infrastructure that enabled them to then get into the middle class and out of public housing, exactly the way the program intended.

But as more people of color entered public housing, views of it became racialized, and the resources diminished. Public housing was no longer maintained as well, and then we got into a self-perpetuating cycle of more white people moving out of it and more people of color moving in, which led to fewer resources and more run-down buildings, until the system as a whole was viewed as a failure. Reagan alleged that public housing was failing because of the people who were living there, not because of the systemic neglect, and blaming tenants became an excuse for further systemic neglect.

Schmid: We know how ripples in the economy can force more people into homelessness — the pandemic being a recent example. Are there ripples that could push people back into adequate housing?

Tars: That’s a tough question. I think there once were, when our housing markets and labor markets were balanced in favor of workers and not corporations. Now it’s increasingly difficult for that to happen, because the benefits of economic ripples are so disproportionately captured by the top 1 percent. Look at the recovery from the recession of 2007–2009. That recession was caused by the housing bubble, which was caused by mortgages being bundled into these exotic financial products for investors. When the bubble burst, millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure, and many of those homes were bought up by the very venture capitalists who’d caused the housing bubble in the first place, who then turned them into rental properties and put them on the market again.

Now they’re bundling together those rental contracts into new, exotic financial products that are almost certain to lead to the next bubble and crisis. Because corporations bought all that housing, the number of homes available for sale is lower across the country. And despite all these rental properties, there still isn’t enough rental stock out there, especially at affordable levels. So rental prices are going up. And as rental prices go up, it makes it almost impossible for renters to save up a 20 percent down payment on a house — especially when housing prices have been so high.

There should have been a ripple of new homeownership during the recovery from the last recession, which would have made many more people’s housing situations stable, but because of the financialization of housing, we haven’t seen it. Housing is becoming a commodity rather than a basic human right. I just saw a statistic about Philadelphia, which used to have relatively high rates of homeownership, but now only about half of the city’s residents own their homes. That’s a long-term trend that has consequences throughout the city’s population. More of its residents have less housing stability and are more subject to the whims of landlords.

I think something like 2 percent of landlords in Philly own more than 50 percent of the rental units. So the rental stock has become concentrated among big corporate owners. Whereas mom-and-pop landlords are often willing to work out a payment plan and figure out if there’s anything they can do to keep somebody in housing, the big corporate owners are unlikely to negotiate. If the rent check doesn’t come in, the eviction notice goes out the next day.

I think the Build Back Better Act was an attempt to create a ripple that could have provided really deep benefits to the American public. The housing provisions of the act, in particular, would have targeted the most needy. But it didn’t pass. So we’re continuing to deal with the negative ripples of the pandemic, and we’ve lost the flood walls that the eviction moratorium and the expanded child tax credit of 2021 provided. Reinstituting one or both of those could provide a positive ripple effect, but right now we don’t have either. So I think we’re already seeing a lot more evictions, and a lot more homelessness as a result.

We could have built on successes during the pandemic and continued going in that direction, but now I’m afraid we’ve missed that window. We’re on the downslope of that tipping point, and things are going to get a lot worse before they hopefully get better.

Schmid: Since the NHLC began tracking laws and ordinances that criminalize homelessness in 2006, you’ve seen an increase in every category, from laws against camping or sleeping or sitting in public to statutes forbidding panhandling, loitering, or living in a vehicle. What are you most concerned about right now?

Tars: We are at a tipping point. In some ways the pandemic showed us the best of what we can do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out COVID guidelines saying that, for public-health reasons, homeless encampments shouldn’t be broken up unless people could be given individual hotel rooms. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided funding to get people into hotel rooms, and we saw tens of thousands move off the streets and into dignified spaces where they could start focusing on finding jobs and permanent housing. We saw emergency rental assistance prevent homelessness for tens of millions of people, because there was a recognition that housing is a key component of public health.

But people have tired of the pandemic. They’re tired of the things that we’ve been doing to help, even though we haven’t solved the underlying problems that led to homelessness and housing instability prior to the pandemic. Now, with all of the pandemic programs having expired, we are already seeing a dramatic increase in homelessness — and in unsheltered homelessness in particular: people living in encampments or in their vehicles or in highly visible public locations. Unfortunately unsheltered homelessness often leads to more-punitive laws and tougher enforcement, rather than more compassion for our fellow citizens.

We could have built on successes during the pandemic and continued going in that direction, but now I’m afraid we’ve missed that window. We’re on the downslope of that tipping point, and things are going to get a lot worse before they hopefully get better.

Schmid: The improvised structures and areas in which unsheltered people live can become dirty, dangerous, or fire hazards. Where should local officials set the bar for encampment cleanups?

Tars: The National Homelessness Law Center doesn’t bring cases or litigation against cities to protect the rights of people to sleep on the streets. People sleeping outdoors is not a win for the Law Center, for the city, or for the unhoused people themselves. Our goal is for cities not to need to outlaw encampments, because nobody’s sleeping on the streets in the first place. A lot of communities use the criminal-legal system as a crutch to avoid having difficult conversations about providing adequate housing in their community. They can hide the costs of their failure in increases to the police budget and the jail budget. Since those are “for public safety,” they’re more popular to fund than affordable housing.

Where cities should draw the line is on conducting a sweep of an encampment without providing an adequate alternative place for those people to go. That’s the standard set by the Martin v. Boise decision, and the fact that communities were objecting to that line is really mind-boggling. People have to sleep. They have to shelter themselves from the elements. If you force them to move and don’t provide an adequate alternative place for them, they’re going to improvise a new solution, probably one that the community won’t like any more than the first. It’s in everybody’s interest for a city to provide an alternative — and not some undignified communal shelter with a lot of judgment, but a place you would feel good about sending your mother, father, brother, or sister, because people experiencing homelessness are the mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters of other people.

Schmid: You mentioned Martin v. Boise. You worked on that landmark 2019 case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has appellate jurisdiction over seven western states, Alaska, and Hawaii. Can you talk about what the Martin v. Boise decision said and why it’s important?

Tars: The Martin v. Boise decision stands for the very simple principle that punishing a homeless person for undertaking basic, life-sustaining activities like sleeping or sheltering themselves — when there’s no adequate alternative accessible to them — is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. We didn’t bring that case because we’re trying to put limits on what cities can do; we’re actually trying to open them up. Martin v. Boise provides an opportunity for cities to take steps that will end homelessness, rather than continue to push around and harm homeless individuals, which costs communities more than it would to simply provide housing.

Before this decision, when a business owner said, “There’s a homeless encampment on the corner that’s scaring away my business, and I want it gone,” an elected official had two choices: They could provide adequate housing for all those people, but that would cost a lot up front, and they would have to fight zoning battles with neighborhood associations who don’t want affordable housing in their backyard, and by the time ground was being broken, the politician would have been voted out of office. Or the official could pass a quick law saying it’s illegal for that encampment to be there, then hide the costs of that in increases to the jail budget and the police budget. This would at least satisfy that individual constituent, even though it did nothing to solve the problem and actually made it worse, because now the individuals in that encampment would have criminal records and need to pay fines and fees — yet another barrier to saving up first and last month’s rent and security deposit.

The Martin v. Boise decision takes some of the heat off that elected official. It allows them to say to that constituent, “Look, I agree that encampment should not be there on your corner, but the courts have told me I can’t just force those people to move if I don’t have somewhere else for them to go. So if we want that encampment off the corner, we’ll have to work together to come up with housing for them. And it turns out it only costs one-half to one-third as much to provide housing as it would to keep cycling those people through the courts and the jails. So the good news is, your taxes could go down as a result of this solution, because we’re not simply using increased law-enforcement spending as a proxy for public safety.”

That’s what we hope the decision will do for communities. We’ve seen that kind of conversation going on in the Ninth Circuit, where it’s legally binding — like in Los Angeles, where it served as part of the backdrop to passing the United to House LA measure, which raises money from sales of mansions to provide affordable housing and fund initiatives to reduce homelessness. But we’ve also seen the influence of this decision in legislation and public policy outside of the Ninth Circuit. When the decision came down in 2019, the Trump administration was looking at a policy of rounding up people experiencing homelessness under threat of arrest and putting them into camps. Once they saw the Ninth Circuit decision, they backed off those plans. So that was an immediate impact. I know that for tens of thousands of people experiencing homelessness right now, they are sleeping more soundly without the fear they will be roused by a police officer saying, “Time to get up and move along.”

Schmid: What were some highlights of the Martin v. Boise proceedings for you?

Tars: One of the things that touched me most happened back in 2015, when the case was called Bell v. Boise and it was down at the district-court level. We got the Department of Justice (DOJ) to submit a brief supporting our position that criminalizing sleeping and camping in the absence of alternatives is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment. Even though that wasn’t the formal ruling in the case, it was a clear indication of where the DOJ thought the ruling should go, and, as a result of that, a number of communities immediately put moratoriums on enforcing their anti-camping ordinances and started looking at alternatives.

A couple of months later I was in Portland, Oregon, to meet with some local advocates, including people who were experiencing homelessness, and after the meeting one of the gentlemen approached me. He knew I worked at the NHLC, but he didn’t know my role in the case, and out of his bag he pulled a tattered folder. Inside were crisp, clean copies of the DOJ statement and a report that we had made to the UN Human Rights Committee — which was partly what had led the DOJ to get involved. This man said, “I just want you to know that these statements, these documents, have meant everything to me.” He told me he hadn’t gotten a single good night’s sleep since becoming homeless more than five years earlier, but when the DOJ brief came out and Portland stopped enforcing its anti-camping laws, he was finally able to rest easy. “It gave me my humanity back,” he said. He was tearing up, and I told him how meaningful it was for me to hear that, because I had worked on that report and helped get the DOJ involved. Then he just opened up his arms, and said, “May I?” and I said, “Absolutely.” There we were, crying in each other’s arms.

Working at the national level, as I do, I often don’t get to see that direct impact. My work takes decades, and often the people who benefit will never know my name. So it was wonderful to make that connection.

Schmid: For Martin v. Boise to work in practice will require coordination among homeless people, police, and shelters. Is this happening?

Tars: The point of Martin v. Boise is to get us out of this assumption that the criminal-justice system is a legitimate way of dealing with homelessness. Communities that look at Martin v. Boise as a limitation are going to be frustrated, while the ones that look at it as an opportunity to finally find long-term solutions are going to enjoy its greatest benefits.

If you want a model of what a successful approach to Martin v. Boise might look like, look at Finland. They have adequate amounts of supportive housing, and they don’t have homeless people on the streets. So they don’t need to enforce the laws criminalizing homelessness in the first place.

It’s hard to find a perfect example in the U.S., but in Philadelphia police and homeless-outreach workers have been partnering in responding to any call that potentially involves a homeless person. A 911 dispatcher will send a law-enforcement officer and a social-service worker, and the social-service worker will approach first, because they’re trained in crisis de-escalation. The ideal is that the homeless person never needs to get involved in the justice system. The law-enforcement officer is there as backup but not as the first responder. That’s a positive model. It’s not a perfect model. It’s worked in some cases, and in other cases police will still sweep an entire encampment.

During the pandemic we saw many communities working on creating new shelters or using federal funding to get people into hotels — like California did through Project Roomkey, which provided unhoused people with private rooms — following the spirit of Martin v. Boise if not always the letter. For example, right after the Ninth Circuit decision came down, the city of Modesto, California, canceled a planned sweep of a homeless encampment in one of their parks. They ultimately worked with the people living in the encampment to move them to a sanctioned tent village with access to sanitation and porta-potties and things like that. Meanwhile the city worked to build a permanent indoor shelter, and once that facility opened up, the people were able to move there. The capacity is limited, so it isn’t a permanent solution, but the community took a constructive approach.

Schmid: What about less-successful models?

Tars: Places that have experienced failure are trying to do the least they can rather than rethink their approach to homelessness. They are rewriting their ordinances to try to bring them into compliance, but in the meantime they continue using the police as their primary response to street homelessness. In a number of cases courts are finding that these communities are coming up short of what Martin v. Boise requires. For example, in Chico, California, after the Paradise wildfire, there was initially a high degree of sympathy and support for those who’d been displaced by that disaster. But people’s memories are short, and some displaced people weren’t able to find housing. The encampments in Chico increasingly were harassed by individuals and by the community. So the city proposed creating an encampment at the airport — literally on the tarmac, with very limited shade and access to restrooms. It was an inhospitable place, particularly in summer. And a judge basically said, “When Martin v. Boise talked about providing an alternative, this is not what it envisioned.”

The city government has come to a settlement where it is working on creating a large-scale tiny-home community in partnership with people with lived experience of homelessness, and there are restrictions on when the city will be able to enforce its anti-homelessness laws. It’s not a perfect solution, but it has a lot of good features.

Schmid: California is considering requiring its law-enforcement officers to record housing status during stops. Should already-busy officers have to do that?

Tars: They should do it, and one of the reasons that they’re busy is because they are unfairly tasked with being our frontline response to homelessness. To gather housing-status data is a minor administrative burden — they are already having to record race, gender, and other demographic information — but it will give us a lot of data we don’t have right now.

In places where we do have this data, we know that half, or even more than half, of people in jail on any given night are there primarily because they are homeless. This costs our communities a tremendous amount of money. If we can start collecting this data in more communities, it will help us make the case that we’re misusing our police officers.

Individuals don’t become law-enforcement officers because they want to harass people who are just trying to survive. They go to the police academy because they want to ensure the safety of the entire community. But where there is heavy enforcement of laws against low-level “crimes” of survival, it eats up a lot of officers’ time and resources, and the rates of violent crime and unsolved crimes are actually higher in those communities. It’s keeping them from doing the work they’re hired to do, which is to prevent violent crime and ensure public safety in other ways. Law-enforcement officers aren’t trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques the way social workers and other outreach personnel are. Their lack of training sets them up for potential viral-video incidents. The officer’s badge and uniform and the gun at their hip alone can escalate the situation and lead a homeless person who feels threatened to do something they’ll regret. Collecting this data is a win for the entire community, but law-enforcement officers in particular have a vested interest in showing the work that they’re doing, so they don’t have to be doing it anymore.

It really comes down to empathy, and there are forces in this country that are trying to stop that empathy from growing by making people worry about their own well-being to the exclusion of others’ well-being.

Schmid: New York City has a right-to-shelter law, and, according to the most-recent prepandemic federal count, roughly 95 percent of that city’s homeless people are sheltered. In Los Angeles, by contrast, only 28 percent sleep in shelters. Does the right-to-shelter law help drive this stark difference?

Tars: Definitely. New York City has recognized it has a duty to at least provide some basic form of shelter to citizens. But a right to shelter is not the same as a right to adequate housing. Also, the shelter system in New York is not providing dignity and safety for many of the people living in it, which is why there is still an unsheltered population in New York City.

Similar dynamics exist in Los Angeles. There are some shelters doing a good job but also many others where people just don’t want to go. They’d rather be on the streets than be subjected to the dehumanization, the trauma, the lack of safety, and the terrible health conditions inside some LA shelters.

There are better ways of addressing the issue than you’ll find in Los Angeles or in New York City. In Scotland, for example, citizens have the right to adequate housing. If you present yourself as homeless to the housing agency there, they give you immediate accommodations in a semiprivate “bed-and-breakfast,” as they call them. Then, within ninety days, they are legally required to move you into a permanent accommodation that’s appropriate for your family size and your other health, disability, or safety needs. There are a lot of benefits to doing it that way. They don’t have this giant shelter system like in New York City.

The downside of right-to-shelter laws has been that people are staying in the shelter system for years at a time while awaiting permanent housing, and the shelter system is really inefficient and costs more than just providing housing. The requirement to maintain that basic access to shelter has prevented some communities from being able to explore the longer-term housing options homeless people want. You don’t see so-called housing resistance among homeless people, but you do see lots of shelter resistance when people go into a shelter and find that it’s not conducive to their mental health, their physical health, their dignity, or their safety. I would actually argue that it’s the shelters that are people resistant, and not the other way around.

When Section 8 or public-housing wait lists open up, there are lines around the block. When you don’t see those lines of people waiting to get into a shelter, it tells you more about what’s being offered than about the people who are or aren’t trying to access it.

Schmid: How does having a conservative majority on the Supreme Court affect legal advocacy for unhoused people?

Tars: In the case of Martin v. Boise, it was appealed to the Supreme Court, and we advocated for the Supreme Court not to take the case — it didn’t — because even though it would have been great if Martin v. Boise had become the law of the entire land, we weren’t going to take a chance with the conservative majority if we didn’t have to.

Homelessness has a hugely disparate racial impact in our country. To be able to really address that, we need to acknowledge those disparities and take measures to affirmatively remedy them. And affirmative-action programs are under threat right now. This Supreme Court does not seem likely to acknowledge any legal distinction between people of different races, even to remedy historical discrimination. We’re trying to figure out ways for housing agencies to reduce the racial disparities that are a direct result of past federal, state, and local discrimination, but we’re not optimistic that this Supreme Court will support that. That’s a big barrier.

The other matter is voting rights. People experiencing homelessness have a very difficult time voting, and voter-suppression efforts are making it even more difficult. It’s hard to maintain ID when you’re homeless, and there’s nowhere to register to vote when you don’t have a permanent address. Kansas’s new voting law, for example, is phrased in a way that might exclude anyone who doesn’t have a physical address. And this Supreme Court seems to be taking a stance that it’s OK to exclude large numbers of citizens from voting.

Schmid: You mentioned racial disparities. The NHLC has noted that refugees, undocumented migrants, persons with disabilities, children, youth, women, LGBTQ individuals, and older people are also disproportionately homeless. Why is that?

Tars: For decades in the mid-twentieth century, if you were elderly or on a fixed income, if you were disabled, if you were working but couldn’t pay market-rate rent, there was still public housing and the housing-voucher system. These programs were never perfect, but they prevented homelessness on the scale we see today. The latter didn’t exist until the 1980s, when the Reagan Revolution cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s affordable-housing budget in half, and wages started stagnating. It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to leave the most-vulnerable members of our society on the street, but those are the choices that we’ve made.

Of course people who are vulnerable — whether it’s because they’re elderly or disabled or Black or Indigenous or a person of color or LGBTQ — are going to be the ones most deeply and immediately impacted. I know we can do better as Americans, but we have to stop “othering” these individuals and blaming them for their circumstances, and instead recognize that they are our fellow citizens. They deserve the basic necessities of life and a dignified existence.

It really comes down to empathy, and there are forces in this country that are trying to stop that empathy from growing by making people worry about their own well-being to the exclusion of others’ well-being. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we really are all in this together. That’s what motivated the emergency rent assistance and the eviction moratorium and other steps that were taken during the pandemic — because politicians on the Left and the Right recognized that people needed to be able to stay home, which meant they needed a home to stay in. But as the pandemic continues to wane, this push toward a more selfish approach is taking hold again.

Schmid: Representative Cori Bush of Missouri has proposed an Unhoused Bill of Rights, and the NHLC has advocated for housing as a human right. Are such outcomes politically feasible?

Tars: The fact that politicians are taking these steps shows that they are feasible. The idea that housing is a human right resonates with three-quarters of Americans. We recently polled Californians and found that the majority there — including the majority of Republicans — support amending the state constitution to recognize housing as a human right. And when you see Cori Bush sleeping out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 2021, calling on the White House to reinstitute the eviction moratorium — and ultimately getting the administration to put that moratorium back in place, despite what the courts were saying — it shows the message is broadly resonant.

It’s not a foreign concept. This is as American as apple pie, dating back to FDR and the 1930 and 1940s. The key difference is that back then, FDR was able to convert popular sentiment into actual legislation and adequately funded programs. That’s the challenge we face now, and it’s not easy. We saw Build Back Better fizzle. And I’m particularly worried about the messaging coming from the right-wing punditocracy, blaming the Housing First concept for the failures of the current system and saying that since Housing First hasn’t solved homelessness, it must not be working, even though it has relieved homelessness for millions. The reason we haven’t ended homelessness is because more people are becoming homeless than are finding their way out of it.

I’m worried that we’re going to lose what limited common ground we have between the parties on this issue, and it’s going to make finding solutions more difficult. Unfortunately, with former president Trump demonizing unhoused people in recent speeches — and Tucker Carlson making evidence-based approaches like Housing First as politically toxic on the Right as critical race theory — even those fiscal conservatives who know that housing costs less than criminalization are being cowed from speaking the truth. That’s why we need to establish the government’s duty to create the conditions by which every American can have a long-term place to live. Public housing, Section 8, inclusionary zoning, market regulations, tenants’ right to counsel, eviction moratoriums — all of those things can go into making housing a right, as important as the right to a fair trial, the right to an attorney, and many other rights that we all take for granted.

Schmid: Property laws are among our strongest, yet few scenes epitomize what’s broken in the U.S. like people living in tents or vehicles while vacant homes number 16 million, according to the 2020 census. What, if anything, can be done about this?

Tars: We’ve seen what can be done through the leadership of groups like Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, which found properties owned by investment firms that were letting them sit vacant while there were tens of thousands of people experiencing street-level homelessness in the Bay Area alone. Moms 4 Housing in Oakland said that the human right to housing overrides investors’ right to make a profit, so they were just going to move families into the empty properties. [Laughs.]

If squatters taking over property is scary to other residents, then there are legal, regulated ways of making sure those properties are lived in. First, it would be useful to know how many empty properties there are. New York has either passed or been looking at legislation to require the counting of these properties. In some places nonprofit groups are doing informal counts. Second, you can put penalties like a vacancy tax on owners who leave buildings empty, so that investors aren’t encouraged to keep some properties vacant to drive up prices on others, or just to sit on properties and wait for the market to turn around. Housing isn’t just another commodity. If there are vacant homes and homeless people, those two should be put together in some way.

Schmid: Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act allows the government to use surplus federal buildings to help people experiencing homelessness. The Law Center says this capability is “underutilized,” providing only about five hundred buildings nationwide. What can be done to change that?

Tars: In addition to huge numbers of vacant private properties, we also have at least a hundred thousand empty federal- and state-government buildings that could be put to public use. Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act requires the federal government to make its vacant properties available to homeless-service providers for free. Unfortunately the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program, has put unnecessary bureaucratic barriers in the way of homeless-service providers, like requiring them to put together an application in ninety days that proves committed funding for operating programs for years to come for a property they don’t even own yet. And it requires that the properties be fully ready for use within three years, despite the fact that affordable-housing developments typically take five years to complete.

We’re working with the Biden administration right now to remove some of those barriers. We need tweaks to the legislation as well. There’s hope on the horizon for improved use of this program. It could be a great tool, because it doesn’t cost anything. In fact, it relieves the government of providing upkeep on these properties.

Schmid: I’d like to ask you a question taken from the Law Center’s comments on the draft strategic plan of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness: What would a progressive realization of the right to housing look like?

Tars: It doesn’t have to look like anything revolutionary. We have many programs in place domestically that, with adequate funding, could do the job. The right to housing could be realized through public housing and vouchers. In practice, we would need additional protection for people who use those vouchers; discrimination against them is a major barrier, and many have not been able to rent in areas that would give them better housing and educational opportunities, among other things.

But it could also be done in other ways. The successful expansion of the child tax credit in 2021, making it fully refundable, set a good example for what a renter’s tax credit could look like: Renters wouldn’t have to get a voucher and figure out where they could use it. The government wouldn’t have to construct new public-housing units. Everyone could continue to rely on the private housing market, but renters could be assured they wouldn’t have to pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent each month. In an ideal system, if an individual loses their job, they could report that to the federal government, and then the federal government could instantly adjust the amount of money that’s going into their bank account each month to prevent that person from being evicted.

Or if there’s a natural disaster, rather than waiting for Congress to approve disaster-housing vouchers, you just figure out who has been displaced and get the money into their bank accounts so they can get a motel. Something like that could be revolutionary. If we’d had this system set up before the pandemic, we wouldn’t have needed the CARES Act or an eviction moratorium. As it was, the administration side of our public-housing system was so decimated it wasn’t able to get benefits out to people quickly enough. We had to wait for HUD to create its regulations, and for the Department of the Treasury to do this and that.

But if we’d had a renter’s-tax-credit system set up in advance, then the aid would have just gone out to people whose income had decreased because of the pandemic. They could have gotten the benefits in their bank account and continued to pay rent.

Schmid: Many grassroots groups, nonprofits, and even some governments have supported sanctioned encampments or villages, but you’ve expressed concerns about them. Is it about making sure these spaces are “adequate” and “decent,” as the NHLC’s 2017 Tent City USA report suggests, or something else?

Tars: I’m concerned we are accepting the existence of encampments in our communities, and, as a moral matter, we shouldn’t. We are the richest country in the world. We have more than enough resources — and more than enough vacant properties — to adequately house every American. But rather than trying to get people indoors, our communities are giving up and saying, “We’ll just legalize encampments and let them live there.” We’re acquiescing to the creation of shantytowns in the wealthiest country in the world. It normalizes this wealth divide, where a very few people are hoarding huge amounts of wealth while millions don’t even have the ability to keep a roof over their head. That’s my concern.

I think that legalized encampments can be a useful harm-reduction tool if used as a transitional step — if you create the encampment with an explicit plan for how you’re going to get everybody from that encampment into housing within a limited period of time, and you make it an attractive facility such that people will go there without the threat of arrest. But if you don’t have that plan, then you’re kicking the can down the road and setting it up to fail. And if you need to coerce people with threats of arrest, that’s not consistent with harm-reduction principles. Just as public housing stopped being adequately funded and those buildings began to deteriorate, and then public sentiment turned against them, the encampments may look like nice-enough facilities at first, but if you don’t get people out and into permanent housing, eventually people will say, “This hasn’t solved the problem of homelessness,” and they’ll stop funding it and let it deteriorate. And these miserable shantytowns are going to become permanent features of American cityscapes. I don’t think we should accept that.

This is why I don’t trust former president Trump or extremist groups like the Cicero Institute when they propose creating mass encampments of “high-quality tents.” They want you to think they care about the people experiencing homelessness, but then they take away funding from permanent housing; they promote using heavy law enforcement to force people into the encampments; and they explicitly waive liability for camp operators in all but the most-extreme cases. So you know they aren’t talking about a harm-reducing model. They’re talking about mass internment of America’s most-vulnerable poor populations. That we’re even discussing this should frighten us all.

Finally, public discussion on reparations begins this week at the Board of Supes

Plus: Should remote comment be abolished? And what about planning for flooding? That’s The Agenda for Feb. 5-12

ByTIM REDMOND

FEBRUARY 5, 2023 (48hills.org)

UPDATE: Walton’s office just announced that the hearing will be moved to March 14.

I would expect Fox News go ballistic over the entire concept of reparations, and super ballistic over the San Francisco draft plan, which was released in December 2022.

But it’s also created a lot of frankly racist response in San Francisco, especially on Twitter (read the replies):

The bottom line, as Justin Phillips notes in the Chron, is that the draft is just a draft —and the first hearing on the proposals will come Tuesday/7 at the full Board of Supes meeting.

Sup. Shamann Walton says the reparations numbers are too low, and there’s ample evidence to support that. Photo by Ebbe Roe Yovino Smith

The ringhtwingosphere, and even a lot of local folks, have jumped on the idea of a $5 million cash payment to Black residents. That would cost like $100 billion, ten times the city budget! No way!

Well, yeah, but there are also around 60 billionaires in San Francisco, and lots more people worth more than $100 million. And if we’re honest, we have to admit that a lot of that wealth came, historically (and even fairly recently) at the expense of Black people.

I haven’t done the math, and I wish the draft report had spent more time on the numbers (it’s going to be a bit complicated) but even if you just go back to World War II and you calculate the amount of multi-generational wealth that Black residents have lost through racist housing policies, Redevelopment, racist banking, predatory loans, a racist education system, a racist War on Drugs, and a long list of other discriminatory practices, $5 million a person doesn’t seem that outrageous at all.

And I’m not even starting with the birth of the state and the impacts of slavery on early Black residents.

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In fact, Sup. Shamann Walton says the number is way too low.

I’m also not saying that San Francisco can afford to do this alone; it’s a statewide and national problem. But this kind of discussion is important, and there’s a lot more to the draft than the Fox headlines would suggest.

The supes will hear it, for the first time, in a Committee of the Whole at 3pm.

The Pandemic, of course, changed so much, and much of it for the worse in this city, but one of the interesting changes it also brough was remote commenting at the Board of Supes and board committees.

For a while, all the city agencies met remotely, and the only way the public could comment was by calling in. Then everyone got back to meeting in person (for the most part), but people who couldn’t or didn’t want to come to the meetings in person could still call in.

Now Sup. Rafael Mandelman wants to end that. The Rules Committee will consider Monday/6 a measure that would end remote participation by supes, meaning if a supervisor is sick and can’t make the meeting in person, they’ll just miss the meeting, which is pretty rare and was never a huge deal.

But it would also end remote public comment, meaning that anyone who wants to testify to a committee or the full board will need to be there in person.

That’s always been hard for people with full-time jobs, particularly since public comment often goes on a while and it’s hard to know exactly when an item will come up. So you have to set aside several hours, at least, to be able to get your two-minute comments in.

Mandelman told me that the increased public comment that comes with remote comment takes a lot of time, and that “I’m not sure what is added by the additional hours of people commenting, when under district elections there are so many ways to meet with your supervisors. I don’t think this is the most effective way of influencing a body, and I’m not sure it leads to better decision-making.”

From a letter to the board from activist Marc Norton:

I am informed that the Board of Supervisors is considering eliminating remote commentary. That is a fundamental attack on democracy. Eliminating remote comments means making it very, very difficult for working people, for disabled people, for seniors, for people with families and many others to have their say. It sounds like you just do not want to hear from us.

I understand that allowing remote commentary means you have to listen to some crackpots. But eliminating remote commentary in order to solve that problem is truly a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Don’t do it.

Nobody forced any of you to run for public office. If you don’t like the obligations that go with your office, get another job.

Mandelman told me that the increased public comment takes a lot of time, and that “I’m not sure what is added by the additional hours of people commenting, when under district elections there are so many ways to meet with your supervisors. I don’t think this is the most effective way of influencing a body, and I’m not sure it leads to better decision-making.

I spoke with SF Public Utilities Commission General Manager Dennis Herrera Jan. 3, after the first round of early-year floods, and asked him if the new climate reality would mean San Francisco might have to change some of its development patterns. “We have to look at everything,” he said.

The Planning Commission will consider Feb. 9 a housing development at 98 Pennsylvania that’s either in a flood zone or right on the edge of own, depending on whether you look at the city’s “100 year flood map” that depicts areas likely to be under water in a once-in-a-century storm that may now be an annual event—or whether you were out and about in that area on New Year’s Eve.

I was. It looked like this:

The project has an underground garage, and the planners don’t seem to have any concerns at all about flooding; the staff memo on it only mentions the issue in passing, and leaves it up to the developer, who said everything was just fine.

It’s not even clear who the project architect is. The name on the plans is SIA Consulting, which was linked to part of the city’s ongoing corruption scandal. Environmental lawyer Sue Hestor asked the planners:

98 Pennsylvania plans in 1/5 staff report had “vertical” strip along right edge of each sheet with SIA Consulting Corporation, identifying person who drew the plans, and date of that drawing.  Plans in 2/9 staff report have a strip at bottom with SIA Consulting Corporation, each dated 12/15/2021 and say drawn by R.K.  What architect or architectural firm is offering its license as a guarantee of the accuracy of the renderings? When an architect submits project plans, their license is on the line.  Please explain plan date discrepancy.  Who is licensed architect?

Potrero Boosters activist Alison Health also raised the question in a letter to planners:

We have been told the project sponsor hasn’t hired a mechanical engineer or landscape architect, and there is no licensed architect on staff at SIA.

A licensed architect, I am going to presume, might be thinking about preparing a building for the potential of floodwaters lapping against its sides.

The project was approved in 2016 as a five-story building with 48 units, but (like so many housing projects in this city) was never built. Now, using the state’s Density Bonus Law, the developer, Ciaran Harty, wants six floors with 64 units, ten of them affordable.

It’s now a parking lot. It’s in a neighborhood where there’s not a lot of threat of displacement from market-rate housing. The Boosters have issues with the height and design, which like much new housing is really ugly, but overall, it’s hard to support new housing in the city and oppose this, and the Yimbys will be all over anyone who does.

Except that, as Herrera told me, we have to look at everything. And anything in Mission Bay is going to have to be built with the idea that serious flooding is the new normal.

Tim Redmond

Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure

IDEAS

BY NICK HANAUER AND DAVID M. ROLF

SEPTEMBER 14, 2020 9:30 AM EDT (Time.com)

Hanauer is an entrepreneur and a venture capitalist, the founder of the public-policy incubator Civic Ventures, and the host of the podcast Pitchfork Economics.

Rolf is Founder and President Emeritus of SEIU 775 and the author of The Fight for Fifteen (New Press, 2016)

Like many of the virus’s hardest hit victims, the United States went into the COVID-19 pandemic wracked by preexisting conditions. A fraying public health infrastructure, inadequate medical supplies, an employer-based health insurance system perversely unsuited to the moment—these and other afflictions are surely contributing to the death toll. But in addressing the causes and consequences of this pandemic—and its cruelly uneven impact—the elephant in the room is extreme income inequality.

How big is this elephant? A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades.

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This is not some back-of-the-napkin approximation. According to a groundbreaking new working paper by Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation, had the more equitable income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) merely held steady, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.

Price and Edwards calculate that the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality had grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020. That’s $50 trillion that would have gone into the paychecks of working Americans had inequality held constant—$50 trillion that would have built a far larger and more prosperous economy—$50 trillion that would have enabled the vast majority of Americans to enter this pandemic far more healthy, resilient, and financially secure.

As the RAND report [whose research was funded by the Fair Work Center which co-author David Rolf is a board member of] demonstrates, a rising tide most definitely did not lift all boats. It didn’t even lift most of them, as nearly all of the benefits of growth these past 45 years were captured by those at the very top. And as the American economy grows radically unequal it is holding back economic growth itself.

People participate in a "March on Billionaires" event on July 17 in New York City. The march called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to pass a tax on billionaires and to fund workers excluded from unemployment and federal aid programs (Spencer Platt—Getty Images)

People participate in a “March on Billionaires” event on July 17 in New York City. The march called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to pass a tax on billionaires and to fund workers excluded from unemployment and federal aid programs

Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Even inequality is meted out unequally. Low-wage workers and their families, disproportionately people of color, suffer from far higher rates of asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and other COVID-19 comorbidities; yet they are also far less likely to have health insurance, and far more likely to work in “essential” industries with the highest rates of coronavirus exposure and transmission. It is no surprise then, according to the CDC, that COVID-19 inflicts “a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.” But imagine how much safer, healthier, and empowered all American workers might be if that $50 trillion had been paid out in wages instead of being funneled into corporate profits and the offshore accounts of the super-rich. Imagine how much richer and more resilient the American people would be. Imagine how many more lives would have been saved had our people been more resilient.

It is easy to see how such a deadly virus, and the draconian measures required to contain it, might spark an economic depression. But look straight into the eyes of the elephant in the room, and it is impossible to deny the many ways in which our extreme inequality—an exceptionally American affliction—has made the virus more deadly and its economic consequences more dire than in any other advanced nation. Why is our death toll so high and our unemployment rate so staggeringly off the charts? Why was our nation so unprepared, and our economy so fragile? Why have we lacked the stamina and the will to contain the virus like most other advanced nations? The reason is staring us in the face: a stampede of rising inequality that has been trampling the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of Americans, year after year after year.

Of course, America’s chronic case of extreme inequality is old news. Many other studies have documented this trend, chronicled its impact, and analyzed its causes. But where others have painted the picture in terms of aggregate shares of GDP, productivity growth, or other cold, hard statistics, the RAND report brings the inequality price tag directly home by denominating it in dollars—not just the aggregate $50 trillion figure, but in granular demographic detail. For example, are you a typical Black man earning $35,000 a year? You are being paid at least $26,000 a year less than you would have had income distributions held constant. Are you a college-educated, prime-aged, full-time worker earning $72,000? Depending on the inflation index used (PCE or CPI, respectively), rising inequality is costing you between $48,000 and $63,000 a year. But whatever your race, gender, educational attainment, urbanicity, or income, the data show, if you earn below the 90th percentile, the relentlessly upward redistribution of income since 1975 is coming out of your pocket.

People line up outside Kentucky Career Center to find assistance with their unemployment claims in Frankfort, Kentucky, U.S. June 18 (Bryan Woolston—REUTERS)

People line up outside Kentucky Career Center to find assistance with their unemployment claims in Frankfort, Kentucky, U.S. June 18

Bryan Woolston—REUTERS

As Price and Edwards explain, from 1947 through 1974, real incomes grew close to the rate of per capita economic growth across all income levels. That means that for three decades, those at the bottom and middle of the distribution saw their incomes grow at about the same rate as those at the top. This was the era in which America built the world’s largest and most prosperous middle class, an era in which inequality between income groups steadily shrank (even as shocking inequalities between the sexes and races largely remained). But around 1975, this extraordinary era of broadly shared prosperity came to an end. Since then, the wealthiest Americans, particularly those in the top 1 percent and 0.1 percent, have managed to capture an ever-larger share of our nation’s economic growth—in fact, almost all of it—their real incomes skyrocketing as the vast majority of Americans saw little if any gains.

What if American prosperity had continued to be broadly shared—how much more would a typical worker be earning today? Once the data are compiled, answering these questions is fairly straightforward. Price and Edwards look at real taxable income from 1975 to 2018. They then compare actual income distributions in 2018 to a counterfactual that assumes incomes had continued to keep pace with growth in per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—a 118% increase over the 1975 income numbers. Whether measuring inflation using the more conservative Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCE) or the more commonly cited Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U-RS), the results are striking.

Data Source: RAND; Graphics: Mary Traverse for Civic Ventures

At every income level up to the 90th percentile, wage earners are now being paid a fraction of what they would have had inequality held constant. For example, at the median individual income of $36,000, workers are being shortchanged by $21,000 a year—$28,000 when using the CPI—an amount equivalent to an additional $10.10 to $13.50 an hour. But according to Price and Edwards, this actually understates the impact of rising inequality on low- and middle-income workers, because much of the gains at the bottom of the distribution were largely “driven by an increase in hours not an increase in wages.” To adjust for this, along with changing patterns of workforce participation, the researchers repeat their analysis for full-year, full-time, prime-aged workers (age 25 to 54). These results are even more stark: “Unlike the growth patterns in the 1950s and 60s,” write Price and Edwards, “the majority of full-time workers did not share in the economic growth of the last forty years.”

Data Source: RAND; Graphics: Mary Traverse for Civic Ventures

On average, extreme inequality is costing the median income full-time worker about $42,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation using the CPI, the numbers are even worse: half of all full-time workers (those at or below the median income of $50,000 a year) now earn less than half what they would have had incomes across the distribution continued to keep pace with economic growth. And that’s per worker, not per household. At both the 25th and 50th percentiles, households comprised of a married couple with one full-time worker earned thousands of dollars less in 2018 dollars than a comparable household in 1975—and $50,000 and $66,000 less respectively than if inequality had held constant—a predicament compounded by the rising costs of maintaining a dignified middle-class life. According to Oren Cass, executive director of the conservative think tank American Compass, the median male worker needed 30 weeks of income in 1985 to pay for housing, healthcare, transportation, and education for his family. By 2018, that “Cost of Thriving Index” had increased to 53 weeks (more weeks than in an actual year). But the counterfactual reveals an even starker picture: In 2018, the combined income of married households with two full-time workers was barely more than what the income of a single-earner household would have earned had inequality held constant. Two-income families are now working twice the hours to maintain a shrinking share of the pie, while struggling to pay housing, healthcare, education, childcare, and transportations costs that have grown at two to three times the rate of inflation.

This dramatic redistribution of income from the majority of workers to those at the very top is so complete that even at the 95th percentile, most workers are still earning less than they would have had inequality held constant. It is only at the 99th percentile that we see incomes growing faster than economic growth: at 171 percent of the rate of per capita GDP. But even this understates the disparity. “The average income growth for the top one percent was substantially higher,” write Price and Edwards, “at more than 300 percent of the real per capita GDP rate.” The higher your income, the larger your percentage gains. As a result, the top 1 percent’s share of total taxable income has more than doubled, from 9 percent in 1975, to 22 percent in 2018, while the bottom 90 percent have seen their income share fall, from 67 percent to 50 percent. This represents a direct transfer of income—and over time, wealth—from the vast majority of working Americans to a handful at the very top.

Data Source: RAND; Graphics: Mary Traverse for Civic Ventures

But given the changing demographic composition of the U.S. workforce, these topline numbers can only tell part of the story. The U.S. workforce is now better educated and more urban than it was in 1975. It is also far less white and male—with white men falling from over 60 percent of the prime-aged workforce in 1974 to less than 45 percent by 2018. These changes are important, because while there was far more equality between the income distributions in 1975, there was also more inequality within them—notably in regard to gender and race.

For example, in 1975, the median income of white women was only 31 percent of that of white men; by 2018 white women were earning 68 percent as much. Likewise, the median income of Black men as a share of their white counterparts’ earnings rose from 74 percent in 1975, to 80 percent in 2018. Clearly, income disparities between races, and especially between men and women, have narrowed since 1975, and that is a good thing. But unfortunately, much of the narrowing we see is more an artifact of four decades of flat or declining wages for low- and middle-income white men than it is of substantial gains for women and nonwhites.

Data Source: RAND; Graphics: Mary Traverse for Civic Ventures

Much has been made about white male grievance in the age of Trump, and given their falling or stagnant real incomes, one can understand why some white men might feel aggrieved. White, non-urban, non-college educated men have the slowest wage growth in every demographic category. But to blame their woes on competition from women or minorities would be to completely miss the target. In fact, white men still earn more than white women at all income distributions, and substantially more than most non-white men and women. Only Asian-American men earn higher. Yet there is no moral or practical justification for the persistence of any income disparity based on race or gender.

The counterfactuals in the table above appear vastly unequal because they extrapolate from the indefensible 1975-levels of race and gender inequality; they assume that inequality remained constant both between income distributions and within them—that women and nonwhites had not narrowed the income gap with white men. But surely, this cannot be our goal. In an economy freed from race and gender bias, and that shares the fruits of growth broadly across all income distributions, the most appropriate counterfactual for all the groups in this table would be the aggregate counterfactual for “All Groups”: a median income of $57,000 a year for all adults with positive earnings ($92,000 for full-time prime-age workers). That would be the income for all workers at the 50th percentile, regardless of race or gender, had race and gender inequality within distributions been eliminated, and inequality between distributions not grown. By this measure we can see that in real dollars, women and nonwhites have actually lost more income to rising inequality than white men, because starting from their disadvantaged positions in 1975, they had far more to potentially gain. Per capita GDP grew by 118 percent over the following four decades, so there was plenty of new income to spread around. That the majority of white men have benefited from almost none of this growth isn’t because they have lost income to women or minorities; it’s because they’ve lost it to their largely white male counterparts in the top 1 percent who have captured nearly all of the income growth for themselves. According to economist Thomas Piketty, men accounted for 85 percent of the top income centile in the mid-2010s—and while he doesn’t specify, these men are overwhelmingly white.

Thus, by far the single largest driver of rising inequality these past forty years has been the dramatic rise in inequality between white men.

People participate in a "March on Billionaires" event on July 17 in New York City (Spencer Platt—Getty Images.)

People participate in a “March on Billionaires” event on July 17 in New York City

Spencer Platt—Getty Images.

The data on income distribution by educational attainment is equally revealing, in that it calls the lie on the notion of a “skills gap”—a dominant narrative that has argued that rising inequality is largely a consequence of a majority of American workers failing to acquire the higher skills necessary to compete in our modern global economy. If workers were better educated, this narrative argues, they would earn more money. Problem solved.

Indeed, at every income distribution, the education premium has increased since 1975, with the income of college graduates rising faster than their less educated counterparts. But this growing gap is more a consequence of falling incomes for workers without a college degree than it is of rising real incomes for most workers with one—for not only have workers without a degree secured none of the gains from four decades of economic growth, below the 50th percentile they’ve actually seen their real incomes decline. College educated workers are doing better. The median real income for full-time workers with a four-year degree has grown from $55,000 a year in 1975 to $72,000 in 2018. But that still falls far short of the $120,000 they’d be earning had incomes grown with per capita GDP. Even at the 90th percentile, a college educated full-time worker making $191,000 a year is earning less than 78 percent what they would have had inequality held constant.

The reality is that American workers have never been more highly educated. In 1975, only 67 percent of the adult US workforce had a high school education or better, while just 15 percent had earned a four-year college degree. By 2018, 91 percent of adult workers had completed high school, while the percentage of college graduates in the workforce had more than doubled to 34 percent. In raw numbers, the population of adult workers with a high school education or less has fallen since 1975, while the number of workers with a four-year degree has more than quadrupled.

Data Source: RAND; Graphics: Mary Traverse for Civic Ventures

It is impossible to argue that a “skills gap” is responsible for rising income inequality when the rate of educational attainment is rising faster than the rate of growth in productivity or per capita GDP. Yes, workers with college degrees are doing better than those without; the economy we’ve built over the past 45 years has been more unequal to some than to others. But below the 90th percentile, even college graduates are falling victim to a decades-long trend of radical inequality that is robbing them of most of the benefits of economic growth.

The iron rule of market economies is that we all do better when we all do better: when workers have more money, businesses have more customers, and hire more workers. Seventy percent of our economy is dependent on consumer spending; the faster and broader real incomes grow, the stronger the demand for the products and services American businesses produce. This is the virtuous cycle through which workers and businesses prospered together in the decades immediately following World War II. But as wages stagnated after 1975, so too did consumer demand; and as demand slowed, so did the economy. A 2014 report from the OECD estimated that rising income inequality knocked as much 9 points off U.S. GDP growth over the previous two decades—a deficit that has surely grown over the past six years as inequality continued to climb. That’s about $2 trillion worth of GDP that’s being frittered away, year after year, through policy choices that intentionally constrain the earning power of American workers.

COVID-19 may have triggered our current crisis, but it wasn’t its only cause. For even had our political leaders done everything right in the moment, our response to the pandemic would still have been mired in the footprint of extreme inequality: a $50 trillion upward redistribution of wealth and income—$297,000 per household—that has left our families, our economy, and our democracy far less capable of fighting this virus than in other advanced nations. This is the America that stumbled into the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic catastrophe it unleashed: An America with an economy $2 trillion smaller and a workforce $2.5 trillion a year poorer than they otherwise would be had inequality held constant since 1975. This is an America in which 47 percent of renters are cost burdened, in which 40 percent of households can’t cover a $400 emergency expense, in which half of Americans over age 55 have no retirement savings at all. This is an America in which 28 million have no health insurance, and in which 44 million underinsured Americans can’t afford the deductibles or copays to use the insurance they have. This is an America that recklessly rushed to reopen its economy in the midst of a deadly pandemic because businesses were too fragile to survive an extended closure and workers too powerless and impoverished to defy the call back to work.

Rectangles designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging social distancing line a city-sanctioned homeless encampment at San Francisco's Civic Center on May 21 (Noah Berger—AP)

Rectangles designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging social distancing line a city-sanctioned homeless encampment at San Francisco’s Civic Center on May 21

Noah Berger—AP

There are some who blame the current plight of working Americans on structural changes in the underlying economy—on automation, and especially on globalization. According to this popular narrative, the lower wages of the past 40 years were the unfortunate but necessary price of keeping American businesses competitive in an increasingly cutthroat global market. But in fact, the $50 trillion transfer of wealth the RAND report documents has occurred entirely within the American economy, not between it and its trading partners. No, this upward redistribution of income, wealth, and power wasn’t inevitable; it was a choice—a direct result of the trickle-down policies we chose to implement since 1975.

We chose to cut taxes on billionaires and to deregulate the financial industry. We chose to allow CEOs to manipulate share prices through stock buybacks, and to lavishly reward themselves with the proceeds. We chose to permit giant corporations, through mergers and acquisitions, to accumulate the vast monopoly power necessary to dictate both prices charged and wages paid. We chose to erode the minimum wage and the overtime threshold and the bargaining power of labor. For four decades, we chose to elect political leaders who put the material interests of the rich and powerful above those of the American people.

Other nations are suffering less from COVID-19 because they made better choices, and the good news is that America can, too. Economics is a choice. We could choose to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 or $20 an hour and peg it to productivity growth like in the decades before 1975. We could choose to revalue work so that the majority of Americans once again earn time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. We could choose to provide affordable high-quality healthcare, childcare, and education to all Americans, while modernizing our social insurance and retirement systems so that contract and gig workers aren’t left out and left behind. We could choose to make it easier for workers to organize, and to defend the rights and interests of those who can’t. We could choose to build a more equitable, resilient, and prosperous America—an America that grows its economy by intentionally including every American in it. But given our nation’s radical redistribution of wealth and power these past 40 years, it won’t be easy.

People wait on a long line to receive a food bank donation at the Barclays Center on May 15 in Brooklyn. The sports arena saw lines wrap around the block as New Yorkers struggle with unemployment and other financial stresses brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak (Stephanie Keith—Getty Images.)

People wait on a long line to receive a food bank donation at the Barclays Center on May 15 in Brooklyn. The sports arena saw lines wrap around the block as New Yorkers struggle with unemployment and other financial stresses brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak

Stephanie Keith—Getty Images.

What American workers need are multiple simultaneous experiments in rebuilding worker power, from tweaking existing labor laws to sectoral bargaining to the creation of whole new trade associations and broad-based not-for-profit organizations. For example, imagine an AARP for all working Americans, relentlessly dedicated to both raising wages and reducing the cost of thriving—a mass membership organization so large and so powerful that our political leaders won’t dare to look the other way. Only then, by matching power with power, can we clear a path to enacting the laws and policies necessary to ensure that that trickle-down economics never threatens our health, safety, and welfare again.

There is little evidence that the current administration has any interest in dealing with this crisis. Our hope is that a Biden administration would be historically bold. But make no mistake that both our political and economic systems will collapse absent solutions that scale to the enormous size of the problem. The central goal of our nation’s economic policy must be nothing less than the doubling of median income. We must dramatically narrow inequality between distributions while eliminating racial and gender inequalities within them. This is the standard to which we should hold leaders from both parties. To advocate for anything less would be cowardly or dishonest or both.

(Contributed by Gwyllm Llwydd)

Oakland allowed to remove last residents from Wood Street homeless encampment

Sarah Ravani

Feb. 3, 2023 Updated: Feb. 5, 2023 (SFChronicle.com)

A dwelling at the Wood Street encampment in Oakland on Jan. 12, 2023. A federal judge decided Friday that Oakland could remove the last remaining residents of the camp after the city argued it could lose much-needed state funding to build affordable housing.
A dwelling at the Wood Street encampment in Oakland on Jan. 12, 2023. A federal judge decided Friday that Oakland could remove the last remaining residents of the camp after the city argued it could lose much-needed state funding to build affordable housing.Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

Oakland can remove the last remaining homeless residents from the once-sprawling Wood Street homeless encampment this week, after a federal judge ruled in the city’s favor late Friday.

Oakland had appealed to the courts for permission to evict the residents, arguing that it could lose much-needed state funding for affordable housing if it didn’t clear the site soon.

Judge William H. Orrick said Friday that while he understands that “eviction is irreparable,” he will allow the city to move forward with removing nearly 60 residents still living at the site at 8 a.m. on Feb. 10.

“Though the eviction will inevitably cause hardship for the plaintiffs, that hardship is mitigated by the available shelter beds and the improved weather conditions,” Orrick wrote in his order.

The decision comes as the city has struggled with what to do about the encampment, which was once the largest in Northern California. City and state officials have long sought to clear the site, which has been the scene of rodent infestations, unsanitary conditions, more than 100 fires, and other health and safety hazards.

At one point, the camp took up nearly 25 city blocks, with almost 300 residents living on land owned by the city, state, railroad companies and other government agencies. After months of evictions by Caltrans, the population has shrunk to about 60 people.

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But the remaining unhoused residents, who have built a community of makeshift shelters and tents on city land, are reluctant to leave and say Oakland’s shelter options are inadequate. They say they don’t want to lose the close-knit community they’ve built at Wood Street and are demanding that the city create a shelter with more wraparound services, support and freedom.

Residents have presented a list of preferences for the shelter the city offers them — including a recreation room, a community kitchen, a visitor policy, job and training programs, and mental health support.

It’s unclear whether the city will meet the residents’ demands.

The city has offered some residents space in an existing RV safe parking site and at a new cabin community located nearby.

Orrick said Friday that the city had met its obligation to provide shelter and it’s up to residents whether they want to take it.

The city has said nonprofit developers behind a 170-unit affordable housing project slated for the site could miss out on state funding if residents don’t leave. On Friday, Orrick said the effort to build that development is “in the public interest.”

The developers, Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley and MidPen Housing, are in exclusive negotiations with Oakland for a project that has 85 for-sale and 85 rental units. The organizations say the project is affordable housing, but say that they can’t determine what the income requirements will be until they can access the site. The city said in January that it probably had only a 60-day window left to apply for the state funds. The city has said the project will include units for households that are low-income, extremely low-income or no income.

“I have to balance those things in thinking about a temporary restraining order,” Orrick said Friday. “At this point, the balance is tipping towards the city despite the hardship that it’s going to cause.”

Sarah Ravani (she/her) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sravani@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SarRavani

Written by Sarah Ravani

Sarah Ravani covers Oakland and the East Bay at The San Francisco Chronicle. She joined The Chronicle in 2016 after graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Previously, she covered breaking news and crime for The Chronicle. She has provided coverage on wildfires, mass shootings, the fatal shooting of police officers and massive floods in the North Bay.VIEW COMMENTS

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Longstanding ‘Here There’ encampment cleared by Berkeley city officials

article image

ELANA AUERBACH | COURTESY

After a nearly seven-year protest on the green space, the “Here There” encampment was cleared away on Tuesday.

NATASHA KAYE

FEBRUARY 02, 2023 (DailyCal.org)

Berkeley city officials cleared away the longstanding “Here There” encampment on Adeline Street on Tuesday, putting a halt to the camp’s nearly seven year-long protest on the green space.

Despite being largely considered a “model camp,” according to Berkeley’s Vice Mayor Ben Bartlett, the encampment had its closure expedited by recent mounting health concerns, namely its increasing rodent population. Last Friday, an Environmental Health Division inspection deemed the location an “imminent health hazard” pursuant to Berkeley municipal code, according to assistant to the City Manager Peter Radu.

“It was an increasingly dangerous and inhumane place for people to be,” Radu said. “In December, we started planning for this closure, and we set aside our entire allocation of our annual Alameda county funding for winter shelter vouchers.”

City officials determined that there were six permanent encampment residents at the time of its closure and said they were all successfully relocated to a local motel, along with being offered vouchers for up to 60 day-stays, Radu noted.

During that time, Radu says the city will try to connect residents to the “coordinated entry” system, a process within the city’s Homelessness Response System that assesses the situations of unhoused people and tries to provide them with housing and other resources.

“The reason why this encampment has been there for six years is because we do follow the law in regards to how folks are able to leave the encampments, which includes the fact that we have to provide them options for housing and options for services,” said James Chang, Bartlett’s chief of staff.

The encampment was erected in 2017 as a protest against the city’s alleged lack of resources for unhoused residents, according to former encampment resident Slum Jack.

It functioned as a community, with established internal and external rules to abide by, and even had utilities such as an outhouse and electricity powered by solar panels, Slum Jack said.

“The problem with this camp is, it is arguably, demonstrably, the best-running camp within the city limits of Berkeley in most regards, and they didn’t just get rid of these people’s shelter. They removed a camp that could be an important resource for everybody who’s out there tonight in the cold,” Slum Jack said.

Radu said outreach with the encampment’s residents began Jan. 9, with formal written notices of the impending closure posted on Jan. 27 in and around the encampment. It is standard practice to give residents at least 72 hours notice before closure, Radu noted.

Julio Lee, a former encampment resident who was present at the time of its closure, noted that while he was given several days’ notice to leave, Tuesday’s cleanup efforts were swift, resulting in the loss of many of Lee’s personal belongings. Lee was in the process of relocating his three emotional support animals to the local motel during the cleanup.

Lee said he lost thousands of dollars’ worth of art supplies as the excavators tore down the remaining tents before he could retrieve his belongings. He said he was offered compensation in terms of a Blick Art Materials gift card, but noted it was not enough to cover his expenses.

“It’s kind of tough to think about,” Lee said. “I lost a lot of stuff I wish I hadn’t.”

Contact Natasha Kaye at nkaye@dailycal.org

LAST UPDATED

FEBRUARY 03, 2023

Articles ~ Petitions ~ Events for Monday, February 6 – Thursday, February 9

By Adrienne Fong

Not back posting on a regular basis

Please include Accessibility and ASL info in your events! And if your action is ‘child friendly’ This is a JUSTICE issue!!

*** ASL interpretation – Let me know if your event needs this service .***

Please post your actions on Indybay: https://www.indybay.org/calendar/?page_id=12

 See Indybay  for  other listings of events

ARTICLES:

A. MISSOURI IS ABOUT TO KILL A MAN WHO WITNESSES SAY WAS 2,000 MILES AWAY AT THE TIME OF THE CRIME FEBRUARY 5, 2023

Missouri Prepares to Execute Leonard “Raheem” Taylor (theintercept.com)

  See Petition # 1

  Leonard “Raheem” Taylor is scheduled for execution on Tuesday, but the state’s case against him doesn’t add up.

B. Caitlin Johnstone: War Machine vs. Balloons February 4, 2023

C. Palestinians File Objection to US Embassy in Jerusalem  – February 3, 2023

D. Filipino movements protest Marcos Jr’s decision to further open up to US military  – February 3, 2023

E. Sixth Memphis police officer fired after death of Tyre Nichols – February 3, 2023

HTTPS://WWW.CBSNEWS.COM/NEWS/SIXTH-MEMPHIS-POLICE-OFFICER-PRESTON-HEMPHILL-FIRED-DEATH-TYRE-NICHOLS/

F. MEMPHIS POLICE CHIEF TRAINED WITH ISRAEL SECURITY FORCES

Memphis Police Chief Trained With Israel Security Forces (theintercept.com)

G. Here are the names and faces of 35 Palestinians killed in January – February 1, 2023

Here are the names and faces of 35 Palestinians killed in January | Middle East Eye

H. Attorneys for Kevin Cooper Respond to Special Counsel Report – January 30, 2023

Attorneys for Kevin Cooper Respond to Special Counsel Report | Death Penalty Information Center

5 PETITIONS

1. Stop the Execution of Leonard “Raheem” Taylor in Missouri

   SIGN: Stop the Execution of Leonard “Raheem” Taylor in Missouri – Action Network

2. Tell the Atlanta Police Foundation: Stop Cop City and Resign!

  SIGN: Tell the Atlanta Police Foundation: Stop Cop City and Resign! – Action Network

3. Push back against state attempts to ban Black history

  SIGN: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/sign-the-petition-to-congress-push-back-against-state-attempts-to-ban-black-history-3?source=direct_link&referrer=group-credo-mobile

4. Just Say NO to a national sales tax

  SIGN: : Sign and send the petition: JUST SAY NO to a national sales tax (dailykos.com)

5. ExxonMobil: stop sales of jet fuel to Myanmar military

  SIGN: ExxonMobil: stop sales of jet fuel to Myanmar military – Action Network

EVENTS

Monday, February 6 – Thursday, February9

Monday, February 6

1. Monday, 8:30am, Court Support for Sergio Sosa and the Right for Workers to Organize and Anti-SLAP Motion

San Francisco Superior Court
400 McAllister (@ Polk St.), 5th Floor – Rm. 514
SF

We will meet outside at 8:30am – if you are late take the elevator up to the 5th Fl.

Peoples presence in court has an impact.

Brief history

 – Last year Sergio Sosa was an emplolyee at the non-profit, La Raza Community Resource Center, and manager of their food distribution  (in the Mission District). He  along with several employees organized a picket in front of the center when their concerns about serious issues from the mis-management of programs, finances and treatment of staff by the Executive Director Gabriel Medina were not heard. The employees took their concerns to the board of directors of Centro Del Pueblo. Their concerns were once again not heard.

They formed a picket once a week outside of 474 Valencia St. during their lunch hour.

Sergio Sosa and an attorney with the organization were initially fired. Since then other employees have also been fired.

Sergio’s reputation has been falsely tarnished by Gabriel Medina

Some community members continued the picket Medina has harassed some of the people picketing.

As a last resort to call attention to the situation a hunger strike by Maria Cristina Guiterriez was started and continued for 15 days.

Gabriel Medina continues to mis-manage La Raza Community Resource Center. Many of the workers are immigrants whose livilhoods depend on their jobs at the center.

Please come out to support the Right of Workers to Organize!

ARTICLES:

La Raza employees call for executive director’s ouster – March 1, 2022

La Raza loses $8M in grants following internal controversies – March 24, 2022

2. Monday, 10:00am, Tell SF BoS Rules Committee To Keep Remote Public Comment at City Meetings

In person or online

In person:

SF City Hall – Rm 250
1 Dr. Carleton B. Goodlett Pl
SF

REMOTE ACCESS WATCH SF Cable Channel 26, 28, 78 or 99 (depending on provider) WATCH www.sfgovtv.org

Phone in public comment at 415-655-0001, then 2498 811 4462, then #,#. Press *3 when this item is announced, begin speaking when you hear “Your line has been unmuted.

Agenda: Meeting Agenda (sfbos.org)

Supervisors on Rules Committee:

Matt Dorsey

  Email: DorseyStaff@sfgov.org

  Tel: (415) 554-7970 

Shamann Walton

  Email: Shamann.Walton@sfgov.org

  Tel: (415) 554-7670

Ahsha Safai

 Email: Ahsha.Safai@sfgov.org

 Tel. (415) 554-6975 –

The option of calling in, rather than having to come down to City Hall, makes it possible for so many people to share their input and perspectives, including disabled people, parents, working people, seniors, people who live far from City Hall, and others who are usually less likely to be heard.

221008 [Limiting Teleconferencing and Remote Public Comment at Meetings of the Board of Supervisors and its Committees] Sponsor: Mandelman

 Motion discontinuing remote participation by members of the Board of Supervisors (“Board”) at meetings of the Board and its committees for reasons related to COVID-19; and discontinuing remote public comment by members of the public at meetings of the Board and its committees, except as legally required to enable people with disabilities to participate in such meetings.

Info: Gray Panthers and Senior Disability Action

3. Monday, 11:00am, Demand a meeting with Consulate General Neil Ferrer!

In person

San Francisco Philippine Consulate
447 Sutter St.

SF

On Wednesday, February 1, 2023, Philippine human rights advocates and members of the Justice for Brandon Lee Campaign accompanied Brandon to demand a meeting with Consul General Neil Ferrer of the San Francisco Philippine Consulate. Brandon and the delegation wanted to meet with Con Gen Ferrer regarding the new Commission on Human Rights Report on Brandon’s case, as well as share concerns around the Anti-Terror Law, red-tagging, and surveillance in our community.

The delegation was once again denied a meeting with Con Gen Ferrer, and instead a consulate staff noted the concerns of the delegation and said that these concerns will be relayed to the Consul General. This marks the fourth time Brandon was denied a face-to-face meeting with Con Gen Ferrer and only the second sit-down meeting inside the Philippine Consulate. 

It has been over a year and half since Deputy Consul General Raquel Solano met with Brandon and said that the San Francisco Philippine Consulate would follow up on his case, but there have been no communications with Brandon since then.

After meeting with the consulate staff, Brandon shared, “I was able to assert more of my story. I looked at her and hoped she felt my humanity as I shared my experience.” While each member of the delegation was able to share their points and concerns with the consulate staff, we continue to push for an in-person meeting with Con Gen Ferrer himself to hear Brandon’s story and own the responsibility to help push Brandon’s case forward. We also aim to hold Con Gen Ferrer accountable for hosting members of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on their speaking tour in the United States. The NTF-ELCAC regularly red-tags human rights defenders in the Philippines, just like Brandon.

The NTF-ELCAC in Northern Luzon targeted the province of Ifugao for neutralization resulting in the assassination attempt on Brandon’s life in his work in the Ifugao Peasant Movement and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance-Ifugao chapter. Prior to the attempted assassination, Brandon was red-tagged and faced ongoing harassment. The NTF-ELCAC is now operating in the United States openly targeting dissenters and critics of the U.S.-Duterte and now Marcos Regime.

Please join Brandon Lee on February 6, 2023 in demanding a meeting with Consulate General Neil Ferrer to investigate the attempted assassination, to expose the role of the Consul General in ushering in state surveillance on our people’s organizations here in the U.S., to improve services for Filipinos in the United States, to address the 2022 Philippine electoral fraud, to Free Jen Awingan, and to drop all charges against the 7 Northern Luzon activists.

4. Monday, 11:15am, Youth Organized Block Party – Vigil in Memory of Tyle Nichols

In person

Oakland Tech
45th & Broadway
Oakland

Wear all black. Free food, music, and art will be available. Come out to celebrate and mourn Tyre’s life ❤️

Host: OTHS Students in collaboration with APTP

Info: Facebook 

5. Monday, 5:00pm, San Francisco Rally to Demand the Immediate Release of Leonard Peltier

In person

SF Federal Building
7th Street & Mission
SF

February 6 will mark the 48th anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of Leonard Peltier, who remains in U.S. federal prison in Florida, despite national and worldwide demands for his freedom. 

Host: ANSWER Coalition

Tuesday, February 7

6. Tuesday, 4:00pm, Laguna Honda – Health Commission Meeting

In person

101 Grove St., Rm 300
SF

THE HEALTH COMMISSION WILL HEAR AN UPDATE OF DPH ACTIVITIES INCLUDING COVID-19 AND MPX-RELATED DATA AND INITIATIVES, AND LAGUNA HOSPITAL AND REHABILITATION CENTER.

Members of the public may attend the meeting in person at 101 Grove Street, room 300, or view the meeting via the links below. Anyone attending the meeting in person is required to wear a mask throughout the meeting. https://sfgovtv.org/DPHLiveStream https://sfdph.webex.com/sfdph/onstage/g.php?MTID=e87b283a4ae7be468d3a53cabcc9b8b6d NOTE: Depending on your broadband/WIFI connection, there may be a delay when viewing the meeting live.

 PUBLIC COMMENT CALL-IN: 415-655-0003/ Access Code: 2459 027 3114 After entering the access code, press # twice to listen to the meeting (There is no delay when listening to the meeting using this number.

Agenda: Edward A (sf.gov)

Wednesday, February 8

7. Wednesday, 6:00pm – 8:00pm, SF Living Wage Coalition Meeting

Register in advance for this meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYsd-6oqjsuHtHOnpBtDCGwVCsPnPhP0kdC
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting and the agenda. We will resend the
information on the day of the meeting.
The Living Wage Coalition is building a grassroots movement of low-wage
workers and their allies to win economic justice.  Anyone who works full
time should be able to survive on what they earn and support themselves
and their children.  We are engaged in a transformative rethinking of
the economy that makes the goals of public policy living wage jobs for
all. Come to be a part of discussing next steps in pursuing an economic
justice agenda.
Thursday, February 9
8. Thursday, 5:00pm – 8:00pm, Community Meeting RE: 24th & Mission St.
In person  
Mission Cultural Center For Latino Arts
2868 Mission Street
SF
Join us to complete our community process to
create and implement a community-led plan for
24th and Mission Street
Come prepared to actively participate in one of the working groups
Bring constructive ideas 
Info: Bing
9. Thursday, 6:00pm – 8:00pm, Vigil in Memory of Willie McCoy
In person & on/off facebook
Starbucks
974 Admiral Callaghan Lane
Vallejo
We will be gathering to hold space to honor the life of Willie McCoy. Willie was murdered by Vallejo PD’s badge bending gang when they found him asleep in the Taco Bell drive through. They fired 55 shots into Willie’s car, as he started to wake up.  
Info: Vigil in Memory of Willie McCoy | Facebook  

Tyre Nichols’ death shows that diversity alone won’t save policing

Justin Phillips

Feb. 5, 2023 (SFChronicle.com)

San Francisco police Chief Bill Scott speaks outside of City Hall last week to honoring the memory of Tyre Nichols. Scott’s department has robust policies around increasing diversity within its ranks, yet the department still struggles to address its biased policing.
San Francisco police Chief Bill Scott speaks outside of City Hall last week to honoring the memory of Tyre Nichols. Scott’s department has robust policies around increasing diversity within its ranks, yet the department still struggles to address its biased policing.Yalonda M. James, Staff / The Chronicle
A demonstrator carries a sign during a January rally outside the Hall of Justice in San Francisco in support of the families of Sean Moore and Keita O’Neil, two men of color killed by San Francisco police officers.
San Francisco resident Lydia Vincent-White holds a sign during a City Hall event last week to honor the memory of Tyre Nichols, who was killed by Memphis police in January. Nichols, who was Black, was killed by Black police officers. The tragedy spurred a national dialogue, with some questioning how important diversity is in making the institution of policing more equitable.

Even in this digital age where law enforcement killings of Black people seem to go viral on a sickeningly regular basis, the video of Black Memphis police officers punching, kicking and pepper-spraying Tyre Nichols, a Black man, was unfathomably disturbing.

I’m a columnist who frequently writes about police violence and its disparate effects on communities of color. It took me three days to get through all of the body camera and street surveillance footage of the Jan. 7 traffic stop that resulted in Nichols’ brutal death.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize in the days since: Nichols’ death exposes the error of thinking diversity in policing is a panacea for injustice in policing. Law enforcement unions and lobbyists, trying to stave off deeper reforms, have been feeding us this misleading narrative for decades, only to rebrand and sell it anew after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd.

The myth that racial diversity alone fixes policing may be traced back to 1967, when President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission examined the causes of racial unrest in several U.S. cities. In addition to white supremacy and systemic racism, the commission blamed police brutality for fueling tensions. The report, among other things, called for more representative hiring and promotion in law enforcement, which started significantly improving in the 1970s, according to a 2006 study by the Northwestern University School of Law.

From 2013 to 2020, the percentage of Black police officers stayed relatively constant, at around 12%, almost matching Black people’s share of the U.S. population at 13%, U.S. Department of Justice data shows. Hispanic representation among officers rose from 11.6% in 2013 to 14% in 2020. Hispanic people account for about 19% of the U.S. population.

The increased presence of Black and brown officers has not made interacting with the police safer over the past decade. According to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit research organization that tracks law enforcement killings, 2022 was the deadliest year since it began collecting statistics in 2013.

“It’s not a diversity challenge that police departments have; it’s a culture challenge,” said Damon Hewitt, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “A part of policing’s toxic culture is how there is a quick resort to violence.”

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In 2009 and 2010, Hewitt led a New York state task force’s nationwide investigation of mistaken-identity police-on-police shootings. The study covered a 30-year time frame, and its data showed that when police departments were mostly white, white off-duty officers were most often shot by white on-duty officers. As departments started hiring more Black and Latino officers, more Black and Latino off-duty officers started becoming victims of police-on-police shootings.

“Not only does diversity among police not keep this from happening in communities, the data showed that it doesn’t stop these shootings from happening among cops themselves,” Hewitt said.

Police departments in San Francisco and Oakland have spent years pursuing policies, plans and partnerships to increase diversity in their ranks. Today, about 54% of SFPD officers are people of color in a city that is about 60% non-white, while nearly 60% of Oakland Police Department officers are people of color in a city that is around 70% non-white.

Yet both departments still struggle with stubborn disparities in policing: In S.F., Black people are much more likely to be subjected to pointless police searches than white people, while Black people in Oakland can expect to be stopped and searched six times as often as white individuals.

Both departments are also struggling to achieve systemic reforms: Of the 272 recommendations made in a scathing 2016 U.S. Justice Department report, SFPD still has 27 to enact, according to a February 2022 report on the department’s progress, while OPD can’t seem to get out from under a 20-year federal oversight decree.

Without fundamental changes to the institution of policing, increasing who wears the badge just desensitizes a wider demographic of officers to the institution’s many flaws.

“I can’t really speak to what’s in the hearts and minds of the San Francisco and Oakland police chiefs, but I know what’s used a lot is departments wanting people to ignore the bad data and look at how we’re diversifying our staff,” Brian Cox, director of the Integrity Unit at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, said. “In some sense, that pull for diversity almost distracts from the violence and racism of policing in itself.”

I don’t know yet if Tyre Nichols’ killing will launch a referendum on policing like George Floyd’s did. But I do know that the footage of his killing is the most damning indictment yet of the notion that diversity alone can course-correct a corrupt institution — or that it was ever meant to.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Justin Phillips appears Sundays. Email: jphillips@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @JustMrPhillips

Written By Justin Phillips

Justin Phillips joined The San Francisco Chronicle in November 2016 as a food writer. He previously served as the City, Industry, and Gaming reporter for the American Press in Lake Charles, Louisiana. In 2019, Justin also began writing a weekly column for The Chronicle’s Datebook section that focused on Black culture in the Bay Area. In 2020, Justin helped launch Extra Spicy, a food and culture podcast he co-hosts with restaurant critic Soleil Ho. Following its first season, the podcast was named one of the best podcasts in America by the Atlantic. In February, Justin left the food team to become a full-time columnist for The Chronicle. His columns focus on race and inequality in the Bay Area, while also placing a spotlight on the experiences of marginalized communities in the region.

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BOOK: “HUMANKIND: A HOPEFUL HISTORY”

Humankind: A Hopeful History

Rutger BregmanElizabeth Manton (Translator)Erica Moore (Translator)

From the author of Utopia For Realists, a revolutionary argument that the innate goodness and cooperation of human beings has been the greatest factor in our success

If one basic principle has served as the bedrock of bestselling author Rutger Bregman’s thinking, it is that every progressive idea — whether it was the abolition of slavery, the advent of democracy, women’s suffrage, or the ratification of marriage equality — was once considered radical and dangerous by the mainstream opinion of its time. With Humankind, he brings that mentality to bear against one of our most entrenched ideas: namely, that human beings are by nature selfish and self-interested.

By providing a new historical perspective of the last 200,000 years of human history, Bregman sets out to prove that we are in fact evolutionarily wired for cooperation rather than competition, and that our instinct to trust each other has a firm evolutionary basis going back to the beginning of Homo sapiens. Bregman systematically debunks our understanding of the Milgram electrical-shock experiment, the Zimbardo prison experiment, and the Kitty Genovese “bystander effect.”

In place of these, he offers little-known true stories: the tale of twin brothers on opposing sides of apartheid in South Africa who came together with Nelson Mandela to create peace; a group of six shipwrecked children who survived for a year and a half on a deserted island by working together; a study done after World War II that found that as few as 15% of American soldiers were actually capable of firing at the enemy.

The ultimate goal of Humankind is to demonstrate that while neither capitalism nor communism has on its own been proven to be a workable social system, there is a third option: giving “citizens and professionals the means (left) to make their own choices (right).” Reorienting our thinking toward positive and high expectations of our fellow man, Bregman argues, will reap lasting success. Bregman presents this idea with his signature wit and frankness, once again making history, social science and economic theory accessible and enjoyable for lay readers.

(Goodreads.com)