Thursday, August 10, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Ben Carson in Cairo


Ever since reading about it in Huck Finn, I have been a little obsessed with Cairo, Illinois, a town at the very bottom of Illinois, much closer to Mississippi that to Chicago. As a river town at the critical juncture of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, it played a significant role in American history. Lately, though, it has been fading away.  A British paper laments that it is being reclaimed by nature, and another report asserts that it suffered death by racism. Both seem true.

I drove through Cairo several years ago and was mesmerized. I'm used to decay; I was living in Detroit at the time and about to move to a fading Waco. Both Detroit and Waco reversed course, though; Cairo has not. From a peak population of over 15,000, it is down to about 2400 people and lacks even a grocery store or gas station. Of those remaining residents, about one-sixth live in two decrepit public housing projects.

And that's what brings us to Ben Carson, the former presidential candidate and current secretary of Housing and Urban Development. 

HUD announced earlier this year that it was going to demolish the two housing projects and not rebuild them. Because there is little housing left, residents will have to go elsewhere to live. 

Carson visited Cairo this week-- an admirable thing, given the grim situation. He seemed moved by the experience, and said he would do what he could. But if they are not going to build housing-- and HUD has said it is out of that business-- it seems unlikely the problem will be solved.

Also, President Trump said we would attack North Korea if they made any more threats. Hours later, North Korea threatened to attack our base in Guam. So... that, too.  Sigh.

Here are three articles highlighting the low level of mobility by Americans--- lowest level on record. The idea is that people used to move to where the jobs are.

The Atlantic piece goes into more detail about how difficult that's become. What with all the bureaucracy and paperwork in our lives, pulling up stakes is difficult! I always laugh when I read kids' books featuring a family that moved. None of the practical issues are addressed.

And when you've got nothing, how the heck can you afford to move? Where will you go and what will do you when you get there? Its not like you can get off the boat at Ellis Island, walk into Manhattan and get a job that afternoon shoveling coal or feeding horses. Getting a job, even the most menial of jobs, requires forms, papers, background checks and hassles.

Even so, in the end, moving is often the best solution, unfortunate as that seems. And let's face it, there are virtually no Americans whose ancestral family has NEVER moved. Even the American Indians were relocated (forcibly, but still they moved). My ancestors moved west, west, west in the 19th Century and early 20th Century ending up in Minnesota and Indiana, marrying immigrants from England, Scotland and Poland who came here with very little. Then my parents moved across the midwest eventually landing in Virginia.

Come to think of it, I am the first in my "line of descent" to live in the same place I grew up since a farmer who died in about 1803.

Cities in the South became more dynamic in the latter part of the 20th Century thanks to the influx of Northerners and Midwesterners.

Should we "save" Cairo. I don't know enough about it to tell you. Much bigger places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland had to go through some pretty tough times before rebounding. And if the articles and stories I see are true, Detroit is finally climbing out of its hole. In every case, the cities are smaller than they were 50 years ago. But cleaner and with more opportunity. Can this happen to smaller cities and towns? Don't know. But hanging around and waiting for Gandalf or Dumbledore or some other Wizard to show up and magically fix things doesn't sound like the best option.
Hmm . . . Haven't read the articles yet, IPLG, but it sounds as though those 400 people who are going to be out of a home--when their public housing is torn down--will end up being refugees, since they'll have nowhere to live. They'll be refugees in our own country.

If they do move, it seems that these displaced people will have to choose a city with good social-safety networks, or else go live with friends or family if they can. This sounds like a real crisis that needs a federal-level solution, at least something initiated at the federal level.

Good God, and then there is North Korea . . .
Here's another one:


Tom Quinn, president of the local Kirtland Community College, says the rationale boils down to: “I’ve got good social services. I’m stuck in one big rut. If you ask me to go to Indianapolis, I can’t—even if there’s a job there.”

“People can’t move,” says Mandi Chasey, county economic development director.

Another obstacle to mobility is the growth of state-level job-licensing requirements, which now cover a range of professions from bartenders and florists to turtle farmers and scrap-metal recyclers. A 2015 White House report found that more than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a license to do their jobs, with the share licensed at the state level rising fivefold since the 1950s.

And worse yet, check this out:

Beyond the practical difficulties, rural residents and experts say there is another impediment to mobility that is often more difficult to overcome—the growing cultural divide.

Tom W. Smith, who runs the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, says that cities’ welcoming attitudes toward immigrants from abroad, same-sex marriage and secularism heighten distrust among small-town residents with different values. That widens the cultural gulf.

The "People can't move." mindset is the biggest problem. Of course they can move - they don't want to move, for a variety of reasons. Cairo is a shining example of this. People are provided social services and housing - why should they? If the housing is torn down, they will have to move - social services will move with them.

Job licensing isn't the problem - the will to get the education and training is. There is a cycle of generational assumptions that I don't need these things - the government will take care of me and my children. We as a society have been unwilling to take the steps that will break this cycle, such as free or low cost women's health care and birth control, work requirements for the able bodied (such as working in low cost day care for the children of those who have the skills to work), mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, and vocational training in public schools. We have substituted prisons and ghettos for common sense programs that have been proven to work. The barriers to societal reintegration after prison are a big problem, as you have pointed out.


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