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Public Banking Bill

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Rashida Tlaib have proposed a bill that would pave the way for public banks across the country. This could save our cities and states millions of dollars — our tax dollars.

For example, the city of Boston now pays $67 million a year in interest to Wall St Banks. Just interest — this doesn’t include all the fees they have to pay up front. And this money, Boston taxpayer money, goes out of state immediately. A public bank would mean that cities, towns and states would be able to get loans without taking huge hits in fees and interest.

COVID has put cities and towns across America in dire straits. We can’t continue with “business as usual” where Wall St banks are allowed to gouge those least able to pay. We shouldn’t allow them to charge 30% interest rates to people with low credit scores, and we shouldn’t allow them to charge our cities and towns high interest and fees either.  City money is public money — it should be handled by a public bank.

And for a tasty climate-action bonus, AOC and Tlaib’s bill also prohibits public banks from investing in or doing business with the fossil fuel industry. About time.

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Community Land Trust

The Somerville Community Land Trust is having its Fall 2020 Launch event (virtually) on Saturday, November 14th, at 11am. Everyone is welcome to attend to discuss this innovative and fundamental solution to having more affordable housing.

Lack of affordable housing is a difficult problem to solve. For example, granting more permits for developers to build while requiring 20% of their new housing to be classified as affordable does get us more units of affordable housing, but it also accelerates gentrification by raising the rental and purchase prices near the development.

Community land trusts are a great solution that creates more affordable housing out of our current housing stock while also slowing gentrification. How does it work?

The Community Land Trust buys the land under the house while the buyer buys the house itself. In Somerville, more than 2/3 of the price of housing is the value of the land. If you have identical houses in Somerville and in Detroit, you’d pay a lot more for the house in Somerville because of the location. The Somerville Community Land Trust can buy existing housing (not favoring developers or raising nearby land prices) to convert more of our housing stock into permanently affordable housing.

Join them on November 14th!

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Does Inequality Lead to Violence?

Two researchers have combined inequality and a number of other factors into a statistic that tells us a society’s risk of erupting into violence.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the US is at high risk.

I studied inequality in grad school, and it was clear that inequality researchers equate high levels of inequality with political instability and social unrest. The last time there was inequality this high was before WWII, and different countries’ political unrest manifested differently: Italy and Germany elected authoritarian leaders, while the US elected a left populist.* Both led to major changes in policy, to say the least.

Trump was an outcome of political instability (as well as an instigator of it). But if we don’t resolve our deep structural problems, inequality at the core of them, we will end up with someone far worse than Trump. The researchers come to the same conclusion, saying the numbers “herald a disturbing future for the US that won’t be solved by politics as usual after the 2020 election.”

The only way to ward off the coming violence is to drastically reduce inequality. While tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, billionaires have increased their wealth by $854 billion — and that is just since COVID began in March. We need a wealth tax to reduce the wealth of the highest; we need a Medicare for All system (as every other major country has had for decades) to stop the hemmorhaging of low-income American’s money; we need to start thinking about debt forgiveness for both medical debt and student debt; and we should provide a job guarantee as a social safety net.

We can choose not to do that, but we should be careful just how far down the inequality path we go. We’ve probably already passed the breaking point.

*I wrote an article in 2016 warning of the dangers of inequality and a Trump election.

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GDP, the Stock Market, and well-being

Quick reminder that GDP isn’t synonymous with human wellbeing.” Well said.

Our pro-corporate establishment on both sides loves to look at our GDP and the stock market as if those accurately measure how well our country is doing. Not only do they not measure human wellbeing, they aren’t even good measures of the economy.

As to human wellbeing, our GDP puts us near the top of richest countries per capita. But our life expectancy, our infant mortality rate, our maternal mortality rate, our incarceration rate, even how our education system ranks, it is clear that our people are not doing well.

As far as the economy goes, the vast majority of the wealth is in the hands of the top ten percent. This means that much of our money is captured by people who have maxed out in their ability to buy goods and services, and that many of our people have no discretionary income and are struggling just to pay rent and food. Our GDP does not include unpaid work like unpaid household and child care work; over 80% of our stock market is owned by the top 1%; there are many glaring issues with both these measures.

We need other measures to turn to for measuring the health of our country — what are your favorites?

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Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! It is a good day to pass four overdue bills here in Massachusetts:

  • S.1877/H.2776 to change the MA state flag,
  • S.247/H.443 to end the use of Native American mascots by public schools, and
  • S.1811/H.2948 to protect Native American heritage.
  • H.3665 to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in Massachusetts.

Our flag, which features a colonial broadsword held over a Native American, is the last state flag that still includes representations of white supremacy. Change is hard, but it’s not that hard. We’re supposedly one of the most progressive states in the US, and honestly, how many people living in Massachusetts have an affinity to the state flag? How many even know what it looks like? This should be an easy win, and if we can’t change this out-dated symbol that no one cares about, what hope have we of creating a more equitable world?

I thought it would also be a good day to post some news related to Indigenous peoples here in the US.

The Supreme Court made a landmark decision this July that about half of the land in Oklahoma is still under the jurisdiction of Native American nations, basically confirming that their treaties are still in effect. But a few days ago, the EPA essentially revoked that, granting the state of OK control over environmental regulation on tribal lands. At the request of Governor Stitt, any corporation may now dump a variety of waste and/or pursue fracking on native land in OK.

The California wildfires, which have focused national attention on the accelerating nature of climate change, are exacerbated by decades of forestry practices that prevent fires. Firefighting experts and policymakers are now turning to Native Americans to learn Indigenous forestry practices that may prevent future “megafires” from burning out of control.

A Montana court has ruled to strike down a law that suppressed the Indigenous vote. Unfortunately, mail-in voting does not work well for the Navaho nation for many reasons. For example, some voters on reservations have to drive up to 150 miles roundtrip to pick up their mail because tribal lands have very few post offices.

This Pawnee public health expert talks about the disproportionate toll COVID-19 is taking on native populations. She says the true impact of the virus on Indigenous communities is not yet known because of the exclusion of Indigenous communities from data sets and analyses used to make health policy decisions.

If you’ve got some time to watch a movie today, make it Dawnland. This Emmy Award-winning documentary about the recent Truth and Reconciliation process between Maine and its Native American tribes will shock you with the reality of how recently our government has been oppressing Indigenous communities. If it doesn’t bring you to tears I’ll owe you a coffee. And the director & DP of Dawnland lives in our district, so by watching you’re supporting our own Ben Pender-Cudlip. You can watch it tonight at 8pm online.