02-19-2017  6:09 pm      •     

I drove into Flint during the early evening. Turning off the main highway we drove through neighborhoods that evidenced no human activity. 
We reached a business area and saw plenty of sex shops, fast food chain establishments, and an occasional store. We could not find a decent restaurant until a Chinese restaurant appeared almost out of no where.
After eating we proceeded downtown seeking a hotel where the conference we were to attend was to be based. We saw no people; none. There was an occasional car, and one we did see had been pulled over by the police.
Flint has a population of about 124,000, according to the 2000 census, of which 53 percent are Black. It has a poverty rate of about 32 percent (at least as of 2005), and, as of September 2007, an unemployment rate of about 14.6 percent. In other words, the city is in trouble. 
In fact, those stats were clearly illustrated in looking at a city that seemed to have been hit by a neutron bomb: buildings standing, but no people around.
Flint stands as a representation of the restructuring U.S. (and global) economy and the manner in which it is crushing so many of those who actually made the U.S. economy work in the first place. The auto plants that were once running 2-3 shifts, have in many cases closed or downsized, and there have not been comparable sources of employment for the workers who are now treated as useless (the polite word is "redundant").
One would think that we would hear more about this in the U.S. presidential campaign, but it seems to be drowned out by either motivational speeches; calls for experience; or near pointless quarreling — and that is only on the Democratic side! 
The Republicans have nothing particularly innovative to say about the economy, and their calls for tax cuts are worn out. Yet the media has not focused on these issues as they relate to the candidates other than to mention that the economy is becoming more important for the elections. Well, there is a surprise!
The two top contenders, Sens. Obama and Clinton, have barely mentioned the crushing impact of the economy, a crushing impact that preceded the most recent collapse of the housing market and the proliferation of debt. The living standard for the average U.S. working person has been either stagnating or declining since the mid 1970s, kept afloat largely through increased credit (such as credit cards or home refinancing). For African Americans, it has been worse than the average. Given how urbanized we are as a people, we suffered disproportionately when industries, such as auto and steel, downsized, moved or closed outright (beginning in the 1970s), leaving places like devastated Flint, Mich. in their wake.
Flint, Mich. is not going to be saved by a "stimulus package" of a few hundred dollars per person. There needs to be a comprehensive plan for the city's development that will involve state and federal assistance. In other words, there will have to be a public commitment to rebuild the city and to ensure that Flint is more than a ghost town. This, however, runs against the mantra of privatization, so-called free markets, and small government that we have been bombarded with since the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
A discussion of Flint, Mich. needs to happen during this campaign. There needs to be a discussion about the Flints around the country and the fact that a changing economy has a personal, human impact. Driving through Flint, all of the stats came together for me: this country is polarizing wealth, with the rich living in their guarded and gated communities, sending their children to private schools and living well. As for the rest of us, well, we are on the road to Flint, whether we are aware of it or not.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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