Black Ghettos: The Role of Segregation, Deindustrialization and Interstate Freeway Construction

Black Lives: Truth, Racial Segregation Legacy Keeps America Divided

RT (2019)

Film Review

The fourth episode of Black Lives visits segregated Black slums in Baltimore and Pittsburgh that were thriving African American communities before the US government allowed Wall Street to destroy the country’s manufacturing base (in the 70s and 80s) and move thousands of factories overseas. The Black area of Homewood (Pittsburgh), which initially survived de-industrialization, was a thriving African American business district until the city fathers decided to tear it down to build a freeway.

Many US cities adopted this strategy. In the early eighties, Seattle City Council gave their blessing to a plan by Washington Department of Transportation to crush Seattle’s African American community by running an I-5 extension through it. This destroyed any remaining good paying jobs in the central city.

The filmmakers record it all: the dilapidated unheated housing, the drug dealers that moved in as businesses were boarded up, the ubiquitous police presence and the intrusion of homicide into Black family life.

East Baltimore has been compared to a war zone – at present it’s the murder and heroin capitol of the US.

 

 

Omnipotent: Amazon, Jeff Bezos and Collecting Data

Omnipotent: Amazon, Jeff Bezos and Collecting Data

DW (2019)

Film Review

Amazon, which presently controls 50% of the US retail marketplace, relies heavily on data collection to flog its products, as Facebook and Google do. In addition to books and consumer products, Amazon also sells insurance, medication, films, TV programs and facial recognition software. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns Whole Foods and the Washington Post.

In addition to aggressively buying out competitors to maintain his retail monopoly, he also uses the massive amount of personal data he collects to suggest products for his customers to buy. .

In 2018, Bezos used his monopoly status to force the Seattle City Council to repeal a 0.7 payroll tax to provide housing for the city’s growing homeless population. Amazon, which pays virtually no taxes, provides 45,000 jobs in Seattle. About a third receive such low pay they qualify for food stamps.

Across the US and throughout Europe, the growing Amazon monopoly has led to the closure of hundreds of thousands of brick and mortar retail stores and the virtual death of numerous city centers.

As a matter of policy, Amazon declined to be interviewed for this documentary. So the filmmakers interviewed Alexa instead.


*Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice activated Internet search service.

 

 

Taxing Amazon and Starbucks: Seattle Passes Corporate Wealth Tax to Fund Low Income Housing

According to the The Guardian, Seattle City Council has passed a new tax that will charge large corporations $275 annually per worker to help address the city’s growing homelessness crisis.

About 60% of the tax revenue will go to new housing projects for low and middle-income Seattle residents. The remainder would go to homeless services, including shelter beds, camps and overnight parking.

Source: Tax Amazon: Seattle Passes Corporate Wealth Tax to Fund Housing

Cities Take Back Power

Power to the City

VPRO (2014)

Film Review

This documentary argues for shifting major political power away from countries to cities, in part due to the current paralysis national governments face in enacting legislation and in part to the greater likelihood of bottom-up democratic participation in decisions that are made locally.

The filmmakers interview various political scientists who argue for a return to the system of city-state governance that was prevalent prior to the era of colonization.

They give three recent examples in which cities have collaborated with grassroots citizens movements to enact reforms which went on to have major national and global influence:

1. Seattle (Washington) – which in 2014 voted to enact a mandatory $15/hr living wage.

2. Eindhoven (Netherlands) – where citizens collaborated with business leaders and elected officials to create a high tech hub to replace 36,000 jobs that were lost overseas.

3. Hamburg (Germany) – which has  retained its pre-1871 city-state governance structure as a federal state within the German federation. As such, it takes on numerous functions normally performed by a national or state government – such as collecting taxes and running schools and universities. It allows its citizens to enact legislation by binding referendum, and in 2014 they voted to buy back the energy grid from a private Swedish company (to hasten its transformation to renewable energy).

 

Relocalization: “Reshoring” the US Garment Industry

Seattle Madephoto credit: seattlemade.org

The creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 would lead hundreds of US corporations to shut down their American factories and “offshore” them to third world countries with lower wages and fewer environmental regulations. This trend was most pronounced in the textile and clothing industry. Between 1900 and 2011, US employment in apparel manufacturing dropped by over 80% from 900,000 to 150,000 jobs.

Thanks to the largely grassroots relocalization movement, this trend seems to be reversing. According to economist and author Michael Shuman, rebuilding local economies devastated by trade deregulation is one of the most effective tools for dismantling corporate rule. For every dollar spent in a local business, 45 cents remains in the local economy – in contrast to 10 cents for every dollar spent in a corporate retail chain. (See 2010 Harvard Business Review)

America’s Burgeoning Sewn Goods Industry

While most local economy activism has focused on food production and banking, the last decade has also witnessed numerous attempts across the US to “reshore” sewn goods production. Efforts in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Portland have been the most successful. Consumer research suggests the most important driver behind this movement has been growing consumer demand for corporate transparency and accountability. A  2014 Nielson Survey reveals that 42% of consumers are “willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies committed to positive social and environmental impacts.”

Consumers are also increasingly concerned about the environmental profile of the textile and clothing industry, the world’s second most polluting industry (behind oil). Third world dying mills, which use 200 tons of water for one ton of fabric, cause serious contamination when they return the water to local rivers untreated.

They’re also really wary of a particularly environmentally destructive trend known as “fast fashion”. The latter produces cheap, poorly constructed clothing to be worn once or twice and discarded.

Seattle’s Experiment with Sewn Goods Manufacture

Seattle is the latest city to attempt to foster the development of a local sewn goods industry. In 2015, the Seattle Good Business Network (SGBN)* received a Duwamish River Opportunity Grant to investigate opportunities for expansion of sewn goods manufacture in Seattle.

Sewn Goods Case Studies by Rachel Beck and Molly Parkhan, the report of this investigation, is a fascinating read. I was particularly intrigued by their detailed descriptions of the origins thriving sewn goods industries in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Portland. The report finishes with some optimistic predictions and solid recommendations for the successful expansion of Seattle’s local sewn goods industry.


*Founded in 2010, SGBN is a “network of residents, local businesses and non profit and municipal organizations dedicated to building a vibrant and sustainable local economy based on shared environmental and community values.”

Is Private Car Ownership Doomed?

auto graveyardphoto credit: Doha News

According to the business press, auto manufacturers are investing big time in car sharing companies. The reason? Declining new car ownership among young people. Americans under forty (most of whom work for minimum wage) simply can’t afford the luxury of a new car at $32,000 a pop. According to Zero Hedge, half of 25-year-olds still live with their parents, and  one third of US households struggle to pay food, rent and transportation every month (ie they have to choose between the three).

Despite all the hype put out by the Obama administration, the economy isn’t recovering. The global economy is shrinking, and more importantly the total number of jobs is shrinking (as Wall Street continues to transfer our jobs to third world countries or replace us with computers or robots). A significant decline in wage and salary levels has accompanied the loss of jobs – with most workers extremely grateful to have any work at all.

Thanks to this dire economic scenario, an entire generation is opting not to buy cars but to rely on public transportation, active transport (ie cycling, walking etc) or car sharing. Auto manufacturers, seeing the writing on the wall, are all joining forces with car sharing companies. Last month, the New York Times reported on the partnership Toyota is forming with Uber, with Volkswagen is investing $300 million in the European car sharing company Gett and General Motors $500 million in an Uber competitor called Lyft. Meanwhile BMW, Mercedes Benz, Daimler and Audi are starting their own car sharing companies.

According to TechCrunch, BMW, which already operates a European car sharing program in ten cities, has just started a program in Seattle called ReachNow. It enables enable Seattle residents to access 400 cars that they can pick up and drop off wherever they like. Daimler has a similar service called Car2Go that’s available in New York, Austin, Minneapolis, Vancouver and Portland, Oregon. Earlier this year, Audi has launched a car-sharing service in San Francisco and Miami called Audi at Home.

The fact that financial analysts (and auto makers) are anticipating the end of private car ownership is one of the more ominous reminders that the middle class is vanishing. As wages and employment levels continue to decline, private cars are going the way of airplanes – only the 1% can afford them. The other 99% of us are expected to share.

 

Reclaim the Commons: Take Back the Grid

800px-POWER_LINES_PASS_FROM_NEARBY_HOOVER_DAM_TO_SOUTHERN_CALIFORNIA_-_NARA_-_549011

On average, Germany obtained 27.8%  of their electrical power from renewable sources in 2014, up from 6.2% in 2000. This contrasts with 13.2% renewably produced electricity in the US and 18% in the UK.

Writing in the October 22, 2014 Guardian , Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, attributes much of Germany’s success in greening their power supply to a growing grassroots movement to re-muncipalize power production. Since 2007, 170 German municipalities have bought back their grid from private power companies. This is in addition to 650 energy cooperatives owned by private individuals and cooperatives. Due to the innate inefficiency of power grids,* numerous communities have abandoned large regional grids for local distributed energy projects.

As Nick Rosen writes in Off the Grid, there’s no question that smaller, decentralized energy supply networks are cheaper and more efficient for consumers. Grids only developed because they’re more profitable for power companies.

I totally agree with Henderson’s premise: citizens need to quite relying on dishonest politicians and sociopathic corporations to help them reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. It makes much more sense to take back power generation into local community control.

What I find especially exciting is that it’s already happening.

Taking Back the Grid

In late 2013, the citizens of Hamburg (Germany’s second largest city) voted to buy back their electrical power grid. Two other major cities, Frankfurt and Munich, resisted privatization in the 1990s and retained their electrical supply in public hands. In 2013, Berlin voters also passed a referendum to re-muncipalize their power supply, but the voter turnout was too low for it to take effect.

Several US cities have hosted similar re-municipalization movements. In 2011 owing to Xcel Energy’s reluctance to pursue solar energy alternatives, Boulder Colorado passed two ballot initiatives  empowering the city council to buy back the power grid. The process has been stalled fighting Xcel lawsuits challenging the city’s right to buy the energy grid.

The Privatization of US Energy Utilities

Until about the 1980s, most US cities had public utilities. However, the lingering effects of the 1970s energy crisis and the privatization and deregulation frenzy of the Reagan and Clinton years led many cities to sell their power plants and distribution grids in the eighties and nineties. Since that time, large energy conglomerates, most of which are hooked on coal-fired power or fracked gas, have controlled most of America’s energy production.

Santa Fe and Minneapolis are also considering initiatives to buy back their electricity supply.

Sacramento, Austin and Seattle, which never gave theirs up, are far ahead of the rest of the country in their reliance on renewable power generation.

Sacramento derives 38% of its electricity from renewable resources, Austin 20% and Seattle 93.8%.


*According to the EPA. Our current electrical power system operates at approximately 33% efficiency.

photo credit: wikimedia commons