excerpted from the article

Republicans, Cities and Cruise Ships

by Paul Street

Z magazine, February 2004


... The Republican War on Cities

The truth is, the federal government, under the lead of what urban-ecologic writer Mike Davis calls "the Republican war on the cities," has ~ been disinvesting in cities for more than two decades. J This anti-urban civil "war" has created massive shortfalls in the municipal monies available for subsidized housing, job training, public education, welfare, and much else of pressing need in the nation's abandoned urban core. Between 1977 and 1985, under the influence of "Reagan revolution in urban finance," the federal government's contribution to the budget of New York City fell from 19 percent to 9 percent. For Los Angeles, the comparative decline was from 18 to 2 percent. "For cities with more than 300,000 inhabitants," Davis notes, "the average federal share of the municipal income stream...plummeted from 22 percent in 1980 to a mere 6 percent in 1989." The consequences were especially harsh for impoverished inner-city neighborhoods, particularly reliant on federal assistance and already reeling from the savage, policy-enabled deindustrialization of central metropolitan districts.

They were exacerbated by the federal government's determination to "shift the costs of many national problems onto Democrat-dominated localities," including immigration regulation and the noxious, racist Republican-led War on Drugs. The latter has led to an expensive militarization of the cities, provided a steady stream of black and brown bodies to the prison industrial complex, deepened many minorities' already extreme labor market disadvantages with mass, racially disparate felony marking (one in three black adult males now possesses a felony record), and done nothing to stem the ravages of substance abuse.

The "Reagan-Bush era's various anti-urban policies," Davis found, "combined with huge tax subsidies to suburban retail and office development" to create a spectacular "new Spatial Apartheid" between fiscally starved and disproportionately black and Latino urban centers and very disproportionately white, affluent, and over-funded suburban rings. Reaganite policy "subsidized white flight and metropolitan re-segregation" by "exiling core cities into the wilderness " and " smothering commercial suburban developers and renegade industrialists with tax breaks and subsidies"-a process that reapportioned away cities' "once-decisive political clout in national elections" and entrenched "suburban voters and their representatives as the political majority in the United States" (Mike Davis, Dead Cities, New York, NY: the New Press, 2003).

No More European Vacations

Three days after Bush II landed on the Abraham Lincoln to declare victory in Iraq, Michael Powell, chief of the Washington Post's New York Bureau provided an interesting perspective on the current White House's response to the fiscal and social crises of urban America. "The traditional conversation heard during national recessions-in which the federal government, Republican or Democratic, talks of rescuing state and local governments, had," Powell noted, "been turned on its head" by the Bush team. "While cities and states slash budgets for public hospitals, firehouses, and schools even as they raise [regressive sales] taxes to make ends meet, the Bush administration talks of cutting more taxes. Federal tax cuts enacted under Bush have led to a $10 billion drop in total revenue for the states, many of which link their taxes to those of the federal government." "The Bush J administration," a leading urban policy expert (Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution) told Powell, "is fundamentally indifferent to the fiscal crisis of the states. "

Actually, however, Republican "conservatives" within and outside the White House openly and honestly endorse that crisis. "They say," Powell observed, that "squeezing states and cities will introduce better services for less-or force them to turn to the private sector." Powell cited a recent study produced for the radically regressive Republican think-tank the Heritage Foundation-a White House favorite second in influence only to the American Enterprise Institute-by Ohio University professor Richard Veeder. Veeder compares hard-pressed states and cities slashing human services programs needed by children and families to an affluent family that needs to "tighten its belt." "Instead of eating out three days a week, the family eats out once. Instead of taking European vacations, the family goes to Florida." It's fine advice for the millions of U.S. citizens who lack the time and money for any kind of vacation or for dining out and who depend on government simply to keep their heads above water. The insult and injury are compounded by the Bush administration's unfunded urban mandates around education, immigration, and homeland security.

Bush "is wearing a wartime halo," notes Richard Schrader, a New York City labor and political consultant, "but someone needs to ask him why we can rebuild Baghdad but we can't rebuild...our cities and states" (Michael Powell, "Rescue's Just Not Part of the Plan, Washington Post, May 4, 2003)...

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