betsy hodges

What We Have In Common With Jeb

Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush (Image (c) The Atlantic 2015)

Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush (Image (c) The Atlantic 2015)

By JT Haines — July 15, 2015

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says we should work more hours. Fortunately, “Jeb!” has been appropriately chastened, with many pointing out (among other things) that Americans already work a ton of hours and productivity gains have gone to the 1%.

But while inartful and misguided, Jeb’s comments also reflect a sacred goal that is actually shared by most in American politics, including those doing the chastening: Growth.

The examples are everywhere. Minneapolis’ Democratic Mayor Betsy Hodges — the same mayor who has recently been invited to the Vatican to discuss climate change — had this to say at her inaugural address last year:

“To grow our city, and make it more than great, means above all that we must grow a population where 500,000 people — no, 500,001 and more people — live and thrive in Minneapolis, with the greatest density along transit corridors.” [MinnPost]

The current population of Minneapolis is 400,000.

Twin Cities, MN, traffic. 5:08PM, today, July 14, 2015.

Twin Cities, MN, traffic. 5:08PM, July 14, 2015.

Of course, it’s not difficult to understand why mayors trumpet growth. The whole system relies on it, and Mayor Hodges still needs to show up for work in the morning.

But how does growth align with the real world in the broader sense? In addition to the increasing social pressures and infrastructure costs that accompany population growth — which seem to go under-appreciated by elected officials seeking to increase budgets — we are faced with a much larger problem as well.

By that I mean, it’s odd, to say the least, to receive the daily mythology about growth alongside the increasing number of articles about climate change, drought, and population overshoot.

The same day I read about Jeb’s comments, I also took note of Dahr Jamail’s article in Truthout entitled “Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The article is about University of Arizona Ecology Professor Guy McPherson and his research on the possibility/likelihood of near term human extinction. (Sorry, say again?) Prof. McPherson says “we’re in serious population overshoot,” and that “our version of civilization is the least sustainable of them all.”

Yet, the received political debate is whether poorer Americans should work more to achieve an extra two percentage points of GDP growth (and accompanying emissions), not whether growth itself.

The usefulness of Jeb’s “work more” comment, while idiotic on several levels, is that it exposes a fundamental contraction which we all perpetrate: Hard facts about the planet and prescriptions about growth simply do not align.

Of course, what to do about that is the question, but at the very least it’s time to blow the idea door wide open. The New Economics Foundation has proposed a 20-hour work week. That’s an idea. Unless you’re one of the saintly and indispensable among us who work 1 on 1 with real human beings every day, we could probably actually use less of what you’re selling. In today’s context, these things are not radical (more likely radically insufficient), Jeb is.

So slow down if you can manage. Do something close to home with the family. And as always, don’t believe the hype.

This piece also appeared in MinnPost on July 20, 2015.


Latte Levy Funds Dwarfed by MPLS War Spending

The kazillion dollar error ridden Lockheed Martin F-35, which "won't be able to fire its gun until 2019."

The kazillion dollar error ridden Lockheed Martin F-35, which “won’t be able to fire its gun until 2019.” (Daily Beast)

By JT Haines — January 3, 2015

The City of Minneapolis has been embroiled in an important, but ultimately standard, tax vs. community investment kerfuffle as of late. Basically, there was a reaction to some property tax increases particularly from higher-cost Minneapolis neighborhoods like Linden Hills. The City tried to dial some of those increases back with spending cuts, some of which landed on important community investment programs including a racial equity program and a clean energy initiative. The cuts had a minimal impact on tax bills to boot (thus “latte levy”). This, of course, drew a reaction as well, bringing hundreds of people out to City Hall. Some of the cuts have since been reversed. Good news. (For more details, TC Daily PlanetNOC, and Strib.)

More than the details of the compromise, though, what I’d like to take a minute to reflect on is this:

The total Latte Levy amount in dispute: $620,000 (TCDP)

Minneapolis residents’ share of the 2014 US Department of Defense Budget: $683,970,000 (National Priorities Project).

In other words, the amounts in dispute in the Latte Levy are minuscule in comparison to Minneapolis’ share of out of control and privatized military spending (as well as corporate welfare generally).

Notably, the Minneapolis City Council has unanimously passed the MNASAP (Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project) resolution calling for a reduction in the bloated and increasingly privatized federal military spending. The point of the resolution is to connect the dots between, for example, Lockheed Martin largesse (F-35 Fighter, the most expensive and error-ridden US military project ever), and direct impacts on both the property tax payers in Linden Hills and community investment programs.

Obviously it’s hard to run a city and talk about the big picture at the same time. The immediate bottom line takes precedence, and most of the time that’s simply necessary. But “that’s not our budget” is too easy a thing to hide behind — it is our money. Given that these situations will forever arise, we should also highlight the real problem whenever possible.

The Latte Levy situation presents a great opportunity for the Minneapolis City Council and community groups on all sides of the issue to remind each other of the MNASAP resolution and what it could mean for the city. 

I look forward to a world where we spend less time choosing between investments in clean energy initiatives and racial equity investments on the one hand, and retired educators trying to make an admittedly large city tax bill on the other, and more time uniting in a much larger fight.

This quote from Zoe Holloman about the Latte Levy funds about sums it up: “This is not a lot of money. It’s kind of sad that we have to beg for it.”

On Mayor Hodges’ Pointergate Statement

by JT Haines, November 14, 2014

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has been thrust in to the cops/community conversation with the, fairly incredible, #pointergate fiasco. Fortunately for us, she’s answering the call.

The first-year Mayor issued a statement yesterday on her website at Bottom line, it is excellent, and I highly recommend giving it a read. Pretty solid stuff from a major-city mayor, particularly in comparison to some of the, shall we say, less authentic stuff we’ve seen elsewhere in recent history.

The statement does stop a bit short of departing from the “good apple/bad apple” narrative for more systems analysis — which I think would be an appropriate next step in the conversation. Fortunately, others (most notably are doing a nice job adding context.

And given that the head of the federation of her MPLS Police Department is saying appalling things like “Is she on the side of the cops or the gangs?” (oh, good grief), I think we give an overall thumbs up here, and say — Thank you, Mayor, for your leadership on behalf of the community.