Month: October 2018

The United States Is Facing A Housing Crisis 

20.8 million households pay more than 30% of their income on rent, and 11 million pay more than 50% of their income on rent according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. 47.7% of renters in metropolitan areas, and 38% of renters across the U.S. experience rental burden in 2015 (latest numbers available) according to the NYU Furman Center. Individuals and households experience rental burden when more than 30% of the household income is spent on rent each month. This burden is disproportionately experienced by low-income and minority households. On average, low-income families (lowest 20% of income) spend 56% of their income on rent according to the Federal Reserve.

553,742 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2017 according to a recent report from The Department of Housing and Urban Development. This was a 0.7% increase from 2016. The report found that increasing rates of homelessness were particularly prevalent in high-cost areas, and in areas where rent is rising faster than incomes.

The United States is facing a housing crisis.

There are a number of ways that the federal, state, and local governments have addressed or worked towards addressing this issue including expanding the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, raising the minimum wage, repairing and building more public housing, providing rental assistance, and implementing rent control.

Let’s take a deeper look at rent control: Rent control limits the amount that landlords can charge for rent. It can: limit the frequency of increases in rent, regulate when rents can be increased, regulate the services that are connected to rentals, limit when and how landlords can evict tenants, and mandate arbitration or mediation in the case of disputes. Rent control measures can also allow for decontrol when the rental unit is vacant and permit special rent increases if the unit is changed (e.g. renovation or improvement.)

Rent control works to ensure that low- and extremely low-income households have access to affordable housing. Spending less money on rent allows households to cover basic necessities, and spend money on local businesses thereby boosting local economies. It helps teachers, firefighters, and other civil servants (who, despite their service to their communities, earn less on average than the median pay in America) stay in areas close to their communities and places of work.

Despite these clear benefits, only four states currently allow some form of rent control: California, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Eleven states do not have rent control but also do not prohibit it, while 24 states have prohibited it.


Rent Control Map


Even in the states that do allow rent control, there are rules and limitations that restrict local governments from making rules that fit their local communities and economies. For instance, California’s rent control rules restrict its local governments severely to the detriment of its citizens.

In California, rental burden (households that spend >30% on rent) exceeds 50% of the population in each of the three largest cities. Rental burden is experienced by  61.2% of the population in Los Angeles, 54.3% of the population in San Diego, and 53.3% of the population of San Jose according to BallotPedia.

According to a report by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, “The majority of Californian renters — more than 3 million households — pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent, and nearly one-third — more than 1.5 million households — pay more than 50% of their income toward rent.” In addition, the report found that “California is home to 12 percent of the nation’s population, but a disproportionate 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population.”

However, this may be about to change.

On November 6th 2018, California voters will vote on a ballot proposal entitled Proposition 10 (Prop 10). Prop 10, also known as the Local Rent Control Initiative would repeal the Costa Hawkings Rental Housing act and remove restrictions on the age and type of buildings that can be controlled by rent control ordinances. However, it also will ensure that those ordinances would not abridge a fair rate of return for landlords.

The Costa-Hawkings Rental Housing Act was passed in 1995. It restricted the types of buildings for which rent control could be implemented. Specifically, it stipulated that cities could not enact rent control on: housing occupied after February 1, 1995, and housing units like condominiums and townhouses where the title is separate from connected units. The act also provided landlords the ability to increase rent prices to market rates, determined by the landlord him or herself, when a tenant moved out (a policy called vacancy decontrol.)

Essentially, it allowed landlords of residential apartments and houses built after the law was passed in 1995 to raise rents as much as they wanted, despite local laws that could and would prevent those increases. Therefore, repealing this act would allow local communities to make decisions that would best benefit those citizens of those communities.  

While the housing crisis across the country can feel like a daunting problem to solve, Prop 10 in California is an example where dedicated activists are using ballot initiatives to move our country forward.

Small steps can lead to better housing and better lives for our communities.

My Morehouse Brother Chinedu Okobi Died After Being Electrocuted By Police

Every single day, families suffering from police violence find themselves in the fog of unspeakable setbacks. Some have lost their fathers or sons, their mothers or daughters, their brothers or sisters, their neighbors or friends. I am sometimes enlisted to help them. Before I was a journalist, I was a pastor, and it was often my job to guide families through grief and loss. But it’s a unique crisis to have the life of your loved one taken by the state. Who do you call? 911? Who leads the investigation? Who brings you justice? The answers for these families are altogether different than in other murder cases.

When I got the call that Chinedu Okobi had been killed by police from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was different. This was my Morehouse brother. You’d almost have to have lived at 830 Westview Drive, on that red clay hill in Georgia called Morehouse College, to truly understand how that bond is formed. We are close. We have each other’s back. Comparing Morehouse to a regular Greek fraternity is not good enough. It’s a brotherhood in the truest sense: It’s a family.

I was Chinedu’s student government president. He and I lived in the same dorm. He was close friends with many of my close friends. His sister Ebele, a revered executive at Facebook, is close with many of my closest friends at the company.

When I got a call from her this past Saturday to discuss Chinedu Okobi’s death, I had to fight hard to hold back tears. I was surprised at my own fragile state. My dear brother, Jason, just passed away a few weeks ago. While his death had absolutely nothing to do with police violence, for the first time I understood the unique pain of losing a brother who was supposed to have his whole life ahead of him.

Chinedu Okobi should be alive right now. At the very most, he should be in a hospital receiving mental health treatment. By now, he likely would’ve been released back to the care of his family. Local police have not responded to my repeated requests for more information about Chinedu’s death, but this much we know: While he was technically unarmed, meaning that he had no gun or knife or illegal weapon on his body, he was armed in a very American way. He was a big Black man, a dark-skinned Nigerian who was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed 330 pounds. In the eyes of American police, that might as well be armed. This nation has long since weaponized blackness.

This country has also weaponized mental illness. Chinedu lived with mental illness. He received treatment, took medications, and worked hard to balance his life the best he could. I never knew it. What I do know is that in this country, when someone is having a mental health crisis, police are called — which is like bringing in a bulldozer to fix a leaky faucet. It’s a stupid system.

Chinedu needed to go to the hospital. He needed medical treatment. Instead, he was surrounded by officers who appear to have repeatedly used a Taser on him until he died. Let me phrase that another way: Chinedu was still shot, but by guns that electrocute people to death instead of tearing apart their flesh and organs with bullets. In the name of being safer than guns, hundreds of thousands of police officers have now been armed with Tasers, but they aren’t safe — not at all.

Chinedu’s black life didn’t matter. Those cops would not have treated their own family that way. If Chinedu was their son or father or brother, those men would’ve found another way to deal with his crisis.

Since 2000, American police have killed at least 1,000 people with Tasers. They are horrible. The primary company that makes them, Taser, has changed its name to Axon — just like Corrections Corporation of America, the notorious private prison company, changed its name to CoreCivic. It’s an attempt to escape their baggage, but it’s the same old shit.

And Axon has gotten a complete pass for what the company makes. The company deflects from the fact that they make machines that send uncontrollable electricity into people’s bodies. The problem, of course, is that the human body simply was not built to take these surges of electricity. Axon advertises these weapons as “less lethal,” but the comparison to guns and other weapons would be cold comfort for the more than 1,000 people who have died from the electric shocks.

Worse yet, the “less lethal” moniker has meant that many cities and states don’t have robust regulations for how law enforcement is supposed to use these weapons. So the mythical “less lethal” marketing is working — for the company, not for victims of the weapons.

That such dangerous shocks would be administered to people with mental illnesses is especially upsetting. Every single day in this country, hundreds of thousands of nurses treat adults and children who are living with mental illness. Those patients are regularly in crisis, and nurses consistently face them down without ever having to electrocute them into submission. If five police officers were unable to do the same thing with Chinedu without killing him, the problem is not Chinedu — it’s the police officers. It’s the consistent impatience with black people in distress that is shown by law enforcement.

The United States, particularly the United States government, seems to have long ago given up on completely reimagining how to solve its most complex problems. This much, though, should be obvious: Electrocuting people into submission is a horrible idea, no matter how supposedly “less lethal” the weapon is.

Living In A New Gilded Age

The Trump Justice Department has approved a $69 billion merger between CVS, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, and insurance giant Aetna. It’s the largest health insurance deal in history. Executives say the combination will make their companies more efficient, allowing them to gain economies of scale and squeeze waste out of the system.

Rubbish. This is what big companies always say when they merge.

The real purpose is to give Aetna and CVS more bargaining power over their consumers and employees, as well as pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers (which have also been consolidating).

The result: Higher prices. Americans already spend far more on healthcare and medications per person than do citizens in any other developed country – and our health is among the worst.

America used to have antitrust laws that permanently stopped corporations from monopolizing markets, and often broke up the biggest culprits.

But now, especially with Trump as president and lobbyists and CEOs running much of the government, giant corporations like Aetna and CVS are busily weakening antitrust enforcement and taking over the economy.

They’re also keeping down wages. Workers with less choice of whom to work for have a harder time getting a raise. So when local labor markets are dominated by a major drug chain like CVS or a big box retailer like Walmart, these firms essentially set wage rates for the area.

These massive corporations also have a lot of political clout – another reason they’re consolidating.

We see the same pattern across the economy. Wall Street’s five largest banks now account for 44 percent of America’s banking assets – up from about 10 percent thirty years ago. That means higher interest rates on loans, higher late fees, and a greater risk of another “too-big-to-fail” bailout.

But politicians don’t dare bust them up because Wall Street pays part of their campaign expenses.

Oh, and why does the United States have the highest broadband prices among advanced nations and the slowest speeds?

Because more than 80 percent of Americans have no choice but to rely on their local cable company for high capacity wired data connections to the Internet – usually Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon. And these corporations are among the most politically powerful in America. (In a rare exception to Trump’s corporate sycophancy, the Justice Department is appealing a district court’s approval of AT&T’s merger with Time Warner.)

Have you wondered why your airline ticket prices have remained so high even though the cost of jet fuel has plummeted?

Because U.S. airlines have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up routes and collude on fares. As recently as 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four. And all are politically well-connected.

Why does food cost so much? Because the four largest food companies control 82 percent of beef packing, 85 percent of soybean processing, 63 percent of pork packing, and 53 percent of chicken processing.

Monsanto alone owns the key genetic traits to more than 90 percent of the soybeans planted by farmers in the United States, and 80 percent of the corn. Big Agribusiness wants to keep it this way.

Google’s search engine is so dominant “google” has become a verb. A few years ago the staff of the Federal Trade Commission recommended suing Google for “conduct [that] has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and to innovation.” But the commissioners decided against the lawsuit, perhaps because Google is also the biggest lobbyist in Washington.

The list goes on, industry after industry, across the economy. Antitrust has been ambushed by the giant companies it was designed to contain.

Under Trump and the Republicans, Congress has further squeezed the budgets of the antitrust division of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission. Politically-powerful interests have squelched major investigations and lawsuits. Right-wing judges have stopped or shrunk the few cases that get through.

Trump and his Republican enablers rhapsodize about the “free market,” yet have no qualms about allowing big corporations to rig it to boost profits at the expense of average people. As the late Robert Pitofsky, former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, once noted, “antitrust is a deregulatory philosophy. If you’re going to let the free market work, you’d better protect the free market.”

We’re now in a new Gilded Age of wealth and power similar to the first Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century when the nation’s antitrust laws were enacted. But unlike then, today’s biggest corporations have enough political clout to neuter antitrust.

Unless government un-rigs the market through bold antitrust action to restore competition, the hidden upward distributions from consumers and workers to corporate chieftains and major investors will grow even larger.

If Democrats ever get back in power, one of the first things they need to do is revive antitrust.

How To Fix Western Democracy

All over the world, we are seeing the rise of authoritarianism that is rejecting the norms of democracy, freedom of the press and individual rights. In many countries, we are seeing leaders using political position for personal gain and watching the deliberate instigation of bigotry and intolerance toward the “other”. We are witnessing the undermining and imprisonment of public officials, opposition leaders and journalists. Russia, China, Hungary, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are only a few of the countries moving in this direction.

Most of us who live in democracies believe “it cannot happen here”. But, for many of us in America, it has been stunning to see how quickly President Trump and his administration are shattering the cultural norms of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy.

All of this is not happening by accident. European and American right-wing factions are in close contact with each other, share tactics and goals, and are organised, led and sometimes even funded by some of the same people.

Democracies, such as ours, that assert equal protection under the law and government accountability to its citizens are foundational to a healthy and humane society, must comprehend the scope of the ultra-conservative movement if we are to effectively confront it.

These organised groups are actively tearing down a post-second World War global order and replacing it with autocratic leadership based on self-interest. Unfortunately, the establishment is defending the existing order and ignoring the fears and insecurities of the people that this outmoded status quo has wrought.

Neither is conducive to a positive future, as neither will provide what so many are asking for: simply put, a decent quality of life. If we are to prevail, we must clearly articulate a vision of shared prosperity, personal freedom, economic fairness and, most importantly, human dignity – the basic tenets of a vital democracy.

That means creating policies that effectively tackle economic, environmental, racial and social justice issues. We must not be satisfied with incremental, transactional change that makes little progress and carefully avoids affecting those in charge or offending their lobbyists and large donors.

We must fight for transformational change that shifts the balance of power back to ordinary citizens and makes a real difference in their lives. The United States and Ireland have each had recent successes in terms of individual rights and economic justice.

These victories were hard won by people standing up and fighting back together – the only way real change ever takes place. We need to build on these successes and expand our partnerships on both a local and global basis.

The issue of war and peace is central to this fight for democracy. The United States has long used “democracy” as a reason to wage regime-change wars which have resulted in serious “unforeseen” consequences – whether it was overthrowing Mosaddegh in Iran, Allende in Chile, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or a whole range of clandestine operations, interventions all over the world.

Many of these military actions might not have taken place if the public had been educated about the issues, if those with different ideas and foresight had not been marginalised, if there had been a civil debate of ideas rather than a group-think acquiescence.

I’m an educator. And I believe democracy depends upon an educated populace. Some of the important elements of education – inclusive with respect to human rights, accessible regardless of economic status, and essential in preparation for global citizenship – are also some of the most important aspects of a strong democracy.

Recognition that public funding for pre-school through university is not only an investment in the individual, but an investment in the future of the country, could shift the spending priorities of a nation while enhancing democratic values.

As we prepare our teachers, doctors, childcare workers, economists, lawyers and other professions for their chosen careers, we should also educate them for democracy. Perhaps we could learn from the Native American culture and cultivate a practice for our students – and our policymakers – of determining how today’s decisions will affect the next seven generations, impact the environment, and influence the growth and development of our children. Perhaps the media could assist by offering broader perspectives and fostering more debate on the facts, ethics and morality of particular stances regarding the economy, income inequality, budget policy and democratic principles in general.

In our schools and colleges, we need to put greater emphasis on economists working with students on global inequality and poverty. We need more scientists exploring the root causes of the planetary climate crisis and the necessity of sustainable development and renewable energies. We need greater focus in teacher-education programs on sharing the latest neuroscience discoveries and considering their implications for nurturing curiosity, creativity and confidence and cultivating a thirst for lifelong learning.

A consistent interdisciplinary approach could bring students in various fields together to work collaboratively, in teams, in respectful civil discourse. And, since we’re discussing democracy, there could be discussions about why policies that are best for the largest number of people, fairer for all, are – or are not – adopted in our nation’s capitals. Perhaps we could incorporate real-world case studies that review policies and actions not just from a what happened perspective, but why, what were the results, and how could we have done better?

Educating for global citizenship requires the ability to think critically, write clearly and communicate effectively. It requires media literacy and analysis. It requires an understanding of sustainable development, and the ability to identify and research complex issues. And it requires ethical behaviour.

Which brings me to our current electoral process. In today’s politics, the conventional wisdom is that it is no longer enough to defeat your opponent in a contest of ideas. According to the omnipresent highly paid consultants, the politics of today requires you to destroy them.

Negative television ads and mailings, paid for by special interests and large donors, bombard voters with reasons not to vote for this one or that one. The result is, they often decide not to vote – at all. We need to get money out of politics and, in the meantime, we need to not listen when money speaks. Don’t believe the negative messages. Demand that candidates give reasons to vote for them, not against their opponents.

In terms of civil discourse, we need to set the bar higher for our elected officials, candidates, the media and ourselves. We need to voice our opposition when we see the harsh, divisive and partisan rhetoric or the politics of personal destruction at work – regardless of whether we support or oppose the speaker or the target.

We can ask, and ask, and ask again that they all actively resist this coarsening of our culture whenever they observe it. We can let the candidates and the media know that we expect in-depth questions and answers about issues that affect our lives and that we expect them to engage in issue-oriented civil debate.

It’s Up To You

How do we get out of this mess?  It’s up to you.

First and most obviously: Vote! Even if you’re in a pure blue or deep red state or district, don’t assume your vote doesn’t count. You never know how close the vote can be.

Verify your registration, find your polling place, and make a plan to vote on Election Day. If you still need to register, do so today.

Second: Encourage others to vote. Typically, in midterm elections, only about 40 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. The upcoming election will be decided by turnout.

The most powerful way to motivate others to vote is the personal touch. So call your friends and family. Talk about what’s at stake in this election. If you live in a blue state or district, be sure to also call family and friends in red or purple states and districts.



Third: Get young people to the polls. In the last midterm election, in 2014, only 16 percent of eligible voters aged 18 to 29 voted, compared to 55% of people over 50.

The millennial generation is now the largest voting block in America, for the first time outnumbering Baby Boomers and older Americans.

So please urge your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and even their friends to vote. If they don’t already know, explain how important this election is to them and to their future.

Fourth: You can do even more to get out the vote. Host a phone bank, knock on doors, make sure people know where to vote, help drive them to polling places. Groups like MoveOn have tools to get you started today.

Folks, our democracy depends on all of us – now more than ever. This November 6th, please do your part.

Hoola Na Pua Gala Message

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard received the Ho’ola Na Pua Advocacy Award on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, for her dedication to serving and empowering human trafficking survivors in Hawai‘i. The award was announced at the annual Pearl Gala that recognizes individuals, organizations, and companies, who have demonstrated courage and advocacy in fighting against sexual exploitation of children in Hawai‘i.



“Unfortunately, tens of thousands of men, women, and children are victims of human trafficking every year – around the world, and in Hawai‘i,” said Rep. Gabbard. “Kids as young as ten or eleven years old have been taken from schools, beaches, and malls through an intricate network of sex traffickers. Too often, these cases remain under-reported and under-prosecuted. I’m grateful for the great leadership and service that Ho’ola Na Pua provides, shining a light on this epidemic, and supporting, caring for, and empowering female sex trafficking survivors. I am humbled to receive the Ho’ola Na Pua Advocacy Award and will continue to do my best to support these courageous survivors and ensure they get the care they need to heal and move forward with their lives.”

“Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has a long-term passionate record and commitment to bringing increased awareness and systematic change to the anti-human trafficking movement both nationally and locally,” said Ho’ola Na Pua. Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has fought to combat human trafficking throughout her time in Congress.  She is an original co-sponsor of the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act (H.R.459) and has supported a series of human trafficking bills, including the Global Child Protection Act (H.R. 1862), the Strengthening Children’s Safety Act of 2017 (H.R. 1842), the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 1188), the Targeting Child Predators Act of 2017 (H.R. 883), the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2017 (H.R. 695), and the TARGET Act (H.R. 1625).