Author Archives: Justin

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Researching Inequities in Pittsburgh Arts Funding!

imbalanced-scalesVery excited about The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council forming a Learning and Leadership Committee to study issues of equity in funding for the arts in greater Pittsburgh, both current and historical. The committee will collectively determine an approach to examine the allocation of arts funding in Pittsburgh through the lens of race and will then share their findings with the larger community. In no small issue of equity, participants will receive a $1,000 stipend for their labor and since there are ten people on the committee, they essentially become a collective $10,000 consultant, but with the dollars going to the people who are to benefit, namely Black artists, the issue of trickle down community engagement is prevented. In the past, looking at Heinz giving by race, one of the things that I’ve found interesting is trying to figure out what I think defines the racial classification of an organization. Is it the CEO? The majority of staff? The majority of staff & board? The majority of staff, board and audience? What if the grant is for Black led work in a predominantly white organization? Is that the same as dollars to a white led organization for work primarily impacting white people?

In a study done by consulting firm TDC called The Unsung Majority, which was commissioned by The Heinz Endowments, an anonymous foundation & the Pittsburgh Foundation, an organization was racially defined by saying “it’s race” was whatever its majority was in 2 of the 3 categories of board, staff and audience. The Equity in Funding project will work on answering those kinds of questions as well as deciding what are the critical questions to ask funders when it comes to thinking about how our funding is dispersed in racial terms. I’m super interested in what they come up with.

The research is supported by a grant from a program jointly funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments called the Advancing Black Arts Program. To see more about the project copy and paste the link below.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfJZCiFCJykxtRl-X6sTnIANqwYfV8nNEb9KJUfg2dLieTaxw/viewform?c=0&w=1

We Are All Neoliberals Now

trump-devosBefore U.S. Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, was Betsy DeVos, she was Elisabeth Prince, older sister to Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, the private security (military) company.
(Shouts to my friend Chaka who mentioned this to me, but I didn’t catch it at the time). This book, the inside of cover of which is pictured below, Blackwater, was an eye-opener when I read it almost a decade ago. It introduced me to the issue of outsourcing public services to private contractors and writers like Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and who laid a framework for me to think about neoliberalism, the political ideology wherein taxes are cut and/or kept low, public services like education, prisons or military services are outsourced to private companies, and “the market” or competition is the model to answer any vexing policy question.

According to Scahill, in 2007 when this book was written, Blackwater had more than 2000

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My dusty old copy of Blackwater

private soldiers spread over 9 countries on its payroll with a database of more than 20,000 former U.S. Special Forces, troops, soldiers and retired law enforcement it could call at a moment’s notice. Blackwater had grown to this size thanks in no small part to Dick Cheney , who served as Secretary of Defense under Bush I and Vice President under Bush II, and Donald Rumsfield, who was the Sect of Defense under Bush II, and had a desire to see the U.S. military have a “smaller footprint” in terms of the size of the active force and to become more flexible by outsourcing  major services to companies like Halliburton, from whom Cheney made a fortune when he sold his shares earned from his time as CEO, a position he held between his terms as Secretary of Defense and Vice President. Prince’s company eventually unraveled due to a number of horrors, including convictions of employees for slaughtering 14 people while serving as private contractors in Iraq. Prince sold the company in 2010 although there are concerns he is attempting to bring back a new and improved security company under the Trump administration. Today, Prince has a reported net worth of $2.4 billion.

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Erik Prince testifying in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2007 in response to charges of abuse

But, despite these references to Trump, Devos, Bush I & II & Cheney, as Kufere Laing said in his last post, it’s too easy to tell ourselves that the privatizing we see in DeVos/Prince is a Republican problem. This is the state of U.S. capitalism, and we could not be here without active Democratic Party participation. However, I recently came across an article on an 1819 Supreme Court Case: Dartmouth vs. Woodward,  that has me considering  the non-profit sector as a whole area of privatizing public services and wondering why we criticize and point out the dangers of charter schools, while not making the same case about non-profits. Dartmouth vs. Woodward is thought by many to set the stage for the non-profit sector in that it decided that corporations, such as universities were not representatives or under the control of the state, as had originally been intended in colonial England, but were instead private corporations whose governance and thus direction could be decided by their boards without outside interference from the government. In this sense, the non-profit sector represents the idea that we should not look to government for our general human needs be they artistic, human service, higher education, job training or health care, but rather look to comparably small corporations that can serve these needs through the entrepreneurial management of staff and boards and the funding largely from the private sector. This is especially true in the arts where government support pales in comparison to financing from the private sector. Of course receiving this support feels great when we get it, but what does the largely private financing of our non profit art sector do to our sense of an artistic life as a public benefit or even right?

In 1971, Richard Nixon, had attributed to him a quote from Milton Friedman, the eventual friedman-and-reagan(1976) winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and author of the paper linked above on neoliberalism, and was said to have remarked  “We are all Keynesians now”. What Nixon actually said was “I am now a Keynesian in economics” reflecting on how his coming budget was going to increase government spending and the similarity of that approach to the one recommended by John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist who advised increasing government spending in economic downturns. This was a dramatic statement since Nixon was a Republican and it was likened to a staunch Christian deciding Mohammed was right. As we in the non-profit sector rightly go hard on Betsy Devos for the neoliberal strategy of privatizing public education, we gotta ask ourselves, are we all neoliberals now?

Ujamaa Review: Slavoj Zizek’s “First As Tragedy, Then As Farce.”

firstaszizekAs President Obama leaves office, it was a strange walk down memory lane to read Slavoj Zizek’s First As Tragedy, Then As Farce”, a 160 page, relatively easy to read book published around the time Obama was taking office. But though a walk down memory lane, like all walk down memory lanes, it is very much about what is happening right now. The title is a reference to a quote of Karl Marx’s “(Friedrich) Hegel remarks somewhere that all great events and characters occur, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Zizek begins by explaining the bombing of the World Trade Towers on 9/11 and the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector as examples of the tragedy/farce cycle and crises of liberalism. A prolific Communist writer, Zizek gets a lot of love (and hate) as the most insightful Leftist out. While, the title is not an idea he stays with throughout the book, it’s a short jump from 2009 to 2016 and an update to the tragedy/farce frame: Hitler. Tragedy. Trump. Farce. But, as a thoughtful Hegelian philosopher using “dialectics” or the idea that all symptoms are a part of a larger and unified whole, Zizek has powerful analytical tools and offers a number of really good insights. His opening on liberalism currently being so pervasive and all-encompassing that it operates as “non-ideology ideology” is still relevant as is his commentary on lberalism’s tendency to offer only one good “choice”.

However, Zizek’s Eurocentrism, which is really just a polite 90’s term for white supremacy, causes him to stumble when directly considering Black people. At one point, Zizek chides Stokley Carmichael, the father of Black Power, for Carmichael’s idea that Black people must “Fight for the right to invent the terms that will allow us to define ourselves and define our relation to society, and we have to fight that these terms will be accepted.” To Zizek, Carmichael has it wrong because this strategy of creating our own terms cuts Black people off from the “Western Egalitarian Tradition” (WET). Instead of creating our own terms, what Black people must do is use the terms of this tradition and in doing so “deprive from the whites the monopoly of defining their own tradition.”  While there is value in citing the egalitarian tradition, as Dr. King demonstrated, ultimately Zizek’s stance of offering a corrective is wrong. African people have a tradition of justice going back to the Kemitic idea of Maat and the 42 laws of justice, as well as many other traditions. To say Black people must root our ideological fight in an “egalitarian” tradition we’ve become acquainted with though slavery is farcical in itself.

It is an interesting question as to whether Black people have a history of overthrowing oppressive systems prior to colonialism that could be drawn upon today. However, as the West has yet to build any of its proposed utopias and Haiti, who Zizek offers as an example of Black people grounding a revolution in the WET, as we should, is still struggling against world forces that don’t seem to care what tradition it has grounded itself in, this argument comes up short. Actually, what he comes off as doing is reinforcing a core notion of white supremacy: African culture is ultimately incomplete and needs European culture to complete itself. Talk about abuser logic. This, in turn, undermines his core contention that his version of Communism is a big enough tent for all us. And somehow Zizek manages not to mention that Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Toure, a  name that is a fusion of leading African socialists Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure. It also goes unmentioned that Toure was also probably the most steadfast and visible American advocate for Socialism in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Strange.

On this the 4th day of Kwanzaa, Ujamaa-Cooperative Economics, it may seem odd to offer a review of a book by a contemporary white Communist. But Kwanzaa comes out of the Kawaida Theory which is an ongoing synthesis of the best of Pan African, nationalist and socialist thought. And Kawaida poses that culture always matters and even in its advocacy for socialism, race and culture still matter. Zizek’s critique of Carmichael/Toure shows how even in politics this is true. Still, First as Tragedy, Then As Farce’s penetrating critique of liberalism, introduction to the reader unfamiliar with the contemporary European Left (like this one) to many of its writers and thinkers, and the book’s relative brevity, make this a worthwhile read. 3.75 “hmmm that was deep”s  out of 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lentil Walnut Burgers

So, I like to cook a little bit and after seeing the film Forks over Knives at the behest of my DP and good friend, Chappale Burton, I’ve been on a vegan diet. Started as a 30 day thing, but I may hang out here for a sec, at least more often for sure. So, here’s an easy lentil walnut burger recipe and pretty tasty too. From the Moosewood Cookbook with a few extra spices added by me. Ingredients: cup of dry lentils, peanut oil, small onion, bunch of garlic cloves, 7-10 mushrooms, cup of walnuts minced fine, handful of spinach, black pepper, paprika, salt, cayenne and cup and half of bread crumbs. To make: Cook the lentils In just enough water that it is boiled away after 45 min of cooking the lentils (maybe an inch above the lentils). Simultaneously, sauté onions and garlic for 5 minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients except the bread crumbs. When the lentils are very soft and water is boiled away, so that you really don’t have individual lentils anymore, add the onions etc and then then read crumbs. The bread crumbs hold it together, so don’t scrimp there. The refrigerate for an hour. This refrigeration is what makes this more of a lunch next day meal then a same night prepare and eat meal. Maybe quick zapping it in the freezer would do it. The fridge and the bread crumbs are key. Tried it without this the first time and just had hot lentils in a pan 😳 With the tomato and lettuce it’s a solid 4 lip smacks out of 5. 

Standing Rock & Negro Removal #NoDAPL

nodevelopmentbeyondthispointThanksgiving Day and sickened and angry about the physical, cultural, economic violence being perpetrated by Energy Transfer Partners against the #StandingRock Sioux Tribe and the more than 300 Indigenous tribes and other peoples standing with them as they prevent the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thinking about the organizing against DAPL in relation to the Hill District takes me to when the Hill District and folks like Ms. Alma Speed Fox organized to say “no further” in response to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s forced removal of residents and businesses from the Lower Hill. The removal and redevelopment stopped and thank goodness, if it hadn’t been stopped I might not even be here writing this post. 50 years later the entire effort delivered almost nothing on its promises and had to be “fixed” by having its development rights essentially given to the Pittsburgh Penguins, so that they would not leave.  About ten years later there’s still really no development on the Melody Tent site in the Lower Hill. To make a contribution to support the protesters, here is a link to support those at the Sacred Stone camp. They have been there since April. #NoDAPL

Sixteen Hundred Below

In 2012, after the 2nd election of President Obama, I posted he had lost Hill District votes since 2008  and in reviewing Hill District voting data from the Allegheny County Elections Division, the trend of fewer people voting in the Hill District continues. Here is the raw data I’ve been compiling and there are some other interesting things here. The Hill District, as we Black people generally do, overwhelmingly votes for the Democratic Party. This past election the Hill gave Hillary Clinton almost the same % of our vote as we gave Obama in 2012, 92% vs 94%, and  70% of us voted straight Democratic and by this I mean hit the button to autofill the Democratic Party. However, alternative choices have crawled up a bit, and by this I mean Green, Libertarian or write-ins, with this number tripling its very small number since ’08 to go from  less than 1% of total ballots cast to about 3% total. I am one of those who can be counted in that number (Green), and, yes, I still feel I made the right decision.

But, the big news is the large drop in registered voters over the last eight years in the Hill District. In 2008, there were 10,507 registered voters, but in 2016 there were just 8,878 registered voters. That is a loss of 1600 registered voters in 8 years. 16%. Not good for Hill District power. How did this show up for Hillary? Well, Obama got 6,071 votes in ’08 and HRC got 4,786 this time. More than 1,200 fewer votes. My guess is that this is the result of all of the public housing that has been removed from the Hill District, but public housing has been taken down all across the city and country. What effect will this have on Black urban power over the next decade.

This is why my wife, Dr. Bonnie Young Laing and others have advocated for Build First anti-displacement policies that make sure people are found housing in the neighborhood before they have to vacate their house so that the housing can be replaced. Democratic President and a Democratic city, but somehow there is weakened electoral power for this community. Is there a neighborhood that has contributed more or been more loyal for the Democratic Party than the Hill District. When those voters come back, who will they be racially, economically, politically. The continued drop in Hill District registered voters represents one of the important indicators, although not the most important, to take away from Election 2016.

 

 

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Digging this view coming down Wylie Ave. Bomani Howze was the person I knew who really campaigned to connect Wylie Ave to downtown for the Hill’s economic benefits. I hadn’t thought about the aesthetic benefits. The reports that this connection has now been made are greatly exaggerated , but the plans are to get it to Washington Place, so I am good with this first connection to Fullerton.  I get a relaxing breath just going down this street. A piece of the Greater Hill District Master Plan that is coming to pass.