Monitor Daily Podcast

May 04, 2017
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Monitor Daily Intro for May 4, 2017

Jan Egeland was appalled. Returning from Yemen this week, the European diplomat said he was “shocked to the bones.” The nation is on the brink of famine, but that famine is the work of men, not nature. War is the cause.

War “is all hell,” Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman said during the American Civil War – an opinion echoed through history. But there are signs of a growing rebellion against simply accepting that mind-set. Aid agencies are responding quicker and more innovatively than ever to looming war-caused famines in Yemen and elsewhere, as the Monitor’s Peter Ford has reported. They are not accepting the collateral tragedy of war as inevitable. Western militaries, too, are taking unprecedented steps to avoid civilian casualties – warplanes have returned from bombing runs without having dropped a bomb.

The atrocities of war are not to be understated. But nor are they to be surrendered to without a fight from our own conscience and effort.

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The ‘values test’ at the heart of healthcare reform

Partisan lines are easy to draw and disparage in the media, particularly on a day like today, when Republicans passed a replacement of Obamacare. But under every position is often a principle that isn't just about politics. And that's true today, too. 


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Are Republicans heartless? That’s a key criticism of their effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. So why did House Republicans go ahead and pass this bill today? It’s not just about keeping a campaign promise, though politics played a part. A prominent factor is lawmakers’ principles, from free-market competition to empowering states. As Republicans look at an increasingly expensive health-care system, they argue that these principles could prove vital to making health care more affordable and accessible. House Republicans praise the legislation, which now faces an even tougher path in the Senate, for giving individuals and states more choice in health care and reducing the federal budget deficit. An earlier version of the bill was projected to cut the federal deficit by $337 billion, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO), but would leave 24 million more Americans uninsured over the next decade. Moderate Republican senators will push to mitigate that, perhaps reflecting how Obamacare has shifted public expectations on the government’s role in health care. 

The ‘values test’ at the heart of healthcare reform

Carlos Barria/REUTERS
President Trump gathers with congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, dismantling major parts of Obamacare on May 4, 2017.

Republicans, who today narrowly won a House vote aimed at dismantling key parts of Obamacare, have opened themselves up to being cast as heartless by political foes and many constituents. Experts estimate that the legislation would result in lost or reduced coverage for millions of Americans.

So why has the GOP pushed forward? Partly, of course, it’s the politics of a highly polarized era. But another prominent factor is lawmakers’ guiding principles.

As Republicans look at a health-care system that’s imposing ever higher costs on both average Americans and on the federal budget, they argue that principles like free-market competition and consumer choice could prove vital to making health care more affordable and accessible. In tandem, other conservative values are being championed: limited government, turning power back to the states, and curbing federal deficits.

And they are impassioned about it.

Rep. Dave Brat (R) of Virginia calls freedom the “ultimate American value” and says “that value produced the best pharmaceutical system, the best hospital system, the best insurance system, the best everything.”

The nation’s challenges with spiraling health costs, Representative Brat says, are rooted in over-regulation by the federal government. “We’re ruining it,” he says, as “everything in the world is run out of this city.”

Although those views generally resonate across the Republican base, the GOP effort will face a values test as the bill faces a tougher path in the Senate – and increased public scrutiny. Freedom is one bedrock value for Americans, but not the only one.

And health care, more than most issues, hinges around questions of compassion: In the case of this bill, is it right that as many as 24 million Americans could lose their coverage?

More basically, constituents are asking themselves how it will affect their pocketbook and their health.

Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel struck a chord with many Americans with a monologue Monday night that went viral online, telling viewers why he had missed a string of shows – that his newborn son had undergone surgery after doctors diagnosed a rare condition which they said was life-threatening.

"No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life," he said. "It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.”

Varied views among Republicans

President Trump railed against the Affordable Care Act, known as ACA or Obamacare, during the election campaign. But he also promised to improve coverage for Americans.

Shrinking government, shifting care for the poor (Medicaid) toward the states, and loosening federal mandates on insurance are all top priorities for most Republicans in Congress – especially those in the Freedom Caucus wing that rejected an earlier version of the bill as too liberal.

Yet lawmakers also know their constituents have very immediate concerns on their minds: What will happen to their coverage, their premiums, their out-of-pocket costs? Party moderates are concerned about striking the right balance.

“I think everybody in this country should have access to affordable health-care coverage. And I think that a policy that ensures that if you have preexisting conditions you will not face price discrimination is essential,” Rep. Ryan Costello, from a Pennsylvania a swing district outside Philadelphia, said in an interview on May 2. He voted against the bill on Thursday.

Key points in the legislation

Although labeled by Republicans as a key step toward “repeal and replace,” the bill leaves much of Obamacare intact. It does, however, make major changes that critics say the result would be to undercut the viability of state-level marketplaces (exchanges) for buying insurance and to reduce Medicaid coverage by 14 million people.

Key points in the legislation include:

  • Removing the tax penalty on individuals who do not sign up for minimum insurance.
  • Maintaining the requirement that insurers grant policies regardless of medical history, but allowing waivers for states to set up “high-risk pools” for people with pre-existing conditions. (Federal subsidies would help cover people in those pools.)
  • Adjusting subsidies and the regulation of premiums so that insurance becomes more affordable for young people but costlier for older people.
  • Cut about $880 billion from Medicaid by shifting toward a per capita allotment and giving states greater responsibility.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), looking at an earlier version of the plan, estimated it would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the coming decade, but would leave 14 million more Americans uninsured in 2018 and 24 million by 2026. Most of the initial 14 million would come from people opting out of the individual mandate, the CBO said.

Democrats say the bill turns its back on principles most Americans embrace.

“We believe – in the values debate – that health care is a right for all Americans, not just a privilege for the few,” House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California said recently. “Here they are – giving a tax break.  And ironically, many of the people who will lose their health care voted for President Trump, live in red areas. Much of the money that will go to richest people in America are in blue areas. Now, isn’t that something?”

As the vote was being taken Thursday, the Democratic leadership said the bill will also endanger the quality of employer-based health plans, by allowing employers to choose the benefit requirements from any state, including ones that might lower their benchmarks under a waiver.

Even after passing the House 217-213 on May 4, the road ahead in the Senate is uncertain.

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine has co-authored a bill with fellow Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is a doctor. Their bill would allow states that want to keep the ACA to be able to keep it, while others could take ACA money and use it to increase health care coverage.

Where many Republicans promote “universal access” to affordable insurance rather than the goal of universal coverage, the effort by these two senators may reflect how Obamacare has shifted America’s goalposts on that point.

“Affordability and access have always been key Republican values when it comes to designing a health care system,” Senator Collins said in a recent interview. “There is increasing awareness that those two issues are linked to coverage and that if you don’t have insurance, access is going to be more limited.”

She said “one of our goals is to expand coverage and help reduce the 30 million Americans who are still uncovered despite years of the Affordable Care Act.”

Delegating power to the states

Even to some health-care experts who are fans of conservative-style reform, it looks like Republicans are still feeling their way on how to blend free markets and fiscal discipline with widespread coverage and security.

But conservative experts on health policy say that implementing more competitive markets, consumer choice, and empowerment for states could make a positive difference. Today health care accounts for nearly one-fifth of the nation’s economy, a proportion that is rising.

In many ways, the debate over what to do about rising costs centers around just how different health care is from other goods and services. Most consumer choices don’t have life-or-death implications, but conservatives say that doesn’t mean the task of providing care needs to become increasingly government-driven.

Paul Howard, a health policy expert at the Manhattan Institute in New York, sees value in the ideal – dating back to the drafting of the Constitution – of delegating much to the states, which are already in the business of regulating the industry.

“We need to give incentives for those markets to work as well as possible … to encourage competition,” Mr. Howard says. “Federalism could allow blue and red states to have their experiments within a common fiscal framework.”

Other options for controlling costs

Across the spectrum of policy experts, however, many are skeptical of how big a role consumer choice can play. One Republican goal has been to lop off some of the elements that basic insurance plans must include, for instance, and then let people choose if they want to add additional coverage.

“A whole bunch of people didn't think they need mental health care” (something included in Obamacare-compliant health plans), until a need arose, says Gary Claxton of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health-care research.

He and other experts say competition has been diminished by a trend of hospital consolidation.

But many experts see other avenues for cost control, including a nascent shift toward “bundled payment” for each episode of care, rather than letting providers charge incremental fees for each test or service.

And although government regulation is anathema to Republican values, it has been used to bring down the cost of everything from prescription drugs to medical procedures. “Compared to other countries we regulate far fewer prices,” says Mr. Claxton.

Staff writer Francine Kiefer contributed reporting from Capitol Hill.

France’s upstart centrist: a career of bucking norms

Across the world, we're seeing a sense that change can come only from someone on the fringes – the center is staid and stagnant. France's Emmanuel Macron is interesting because he's trying to prove that wrong.

Martin Bureau/Reuters
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, works a crowd during a campaign visit to Sarcelles, near Paris. He leads in polling for Sunday’s runoff in the French presidential election.

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Last year, when Emmanuel Macron brought up his plans to run for the presidency of France, his mentor, Alain Minc, urged him to hold off until 2022. But Mr. Macron insisted that now was the time. “He said, ‘You are describing the world of yesterday,’” says Mr. Minc. “‘Now it doesn’t work that way,’ and he was right.” Today, Macron is on the verge of winning the French presidential election, in large part not out of support for him, but rather fear of his opponent, populist Marine Le Pen. But Macron is not simply the anti-Le Pen. He sees himself as the sort of revolutionary, one neither right nor left, who can break France of its rigid labor patterns and into the globalist, successful society that the European Union community idealizes. And while Minc admits that Macron is lucky – in running in a year when the mainstream parties crash out, in facing the most divisive French politician of the new millennium as his opponent – he is talented as well. “Talent and luck,” says Minc. “That’s exactly what Napoleon requested from his generals.”

France’s upstart centrist: a career of bucking norms

Thibault Camus/AP
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron gestures during a victory celebration outside the Louvre museum in Paris, Sunday. Speaking to thousands of supporters from the Louvre Museum's courtyard, Mr. Macron said that France is facing an 'immense task' to rebuild European unity, fix the economy, and ensure security against extremist threats.

The love story of Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte, who is 24 years his senior, has long generated gossip. But it’s not the French presidential candidate’s first unconventional relationship.

It was the singular bond he shared with his late maternal grandmother, Germaine Nogues, who he called Manette, where observers see the first inkling of a person who would live unconstrained by convention, who would show a willingness and even a need to be different and undaunted – ultimately poising him to win the French presidency on Sunday.

Intellectually exacting, his grandmother wasn’t the type “to bake cookies,” as his biographer puts it. Instead, as a young boy he spent long hours reading aloud excerpts of Molière and Georges Duhamel with her. Their relationship grew so strong that his own mother wondered if her mother was stealing the young Emmanuel away from their nuclear family.

These are themes that reappear in the candidate’s life – loyalty, determination, and perhaps above all, a need to be free to choose his own path.

In a country deeply attached to pomp and political tradition, he launched an upstart centrist party a year ago, claiming allegiance to neither the left nor right. Aged 39 and virtually unknown the last time the French elected a president, Macron is now the youngest leader in modern French history. He soundly beat Marine Le Pen for the French presidency Sunday with 65.8 percent of the second round vote, despite his minimal political experience.

Ms. Le Pen sought to paint Macron as an elitist insider who, far from the revolutionary he claims to be, is just a continuation of the status quo. Indeed, the former investment banker – seen almost as a political prince, often called France’s or even Europe’s John F. Kennedy – embodies so much of what populists are rejecting today. But rather than soften his position on key populist bête noires like the European Union, he has embraced them – his May 1 rally in Paris was a sea of EU flags waving aside French ones. Europeans from the outside see in him the newest champion of the EU – and possibly the last defense for a bloc that could crumble under a Le Pen victory.

Mr. Macron promises to shake up a country desperately in need of it. But can a man, who has been buoyed as much by luck as intellect and savvy, have the fortitude to bring France forward with the tough reforms it needs?

Hope for France?

Looking back through his life, many says he’s been willing to fight against established norms since age 5.

“He is sort of the perfect product of what we call the ‘French system,’ ” says Anne Fulda, a French journalist who authored the recent biography, “Emmanuel Macron: Un Jeune Homme Si Parfait” (A Young Man So Perfect). “But in politics he dared to do this very crazy thing, deciding to run for president when nobody knows you.… It’s a way to act against the system.”

This is far from the first unexpected choice he's made, she says, pointing at his marriage. “When ... you choose a wife that is so much older, when you choose difficulty, it’s a way to be different. At the same time when he chose to have this special link with his grandmother, it’s a way to be different too. I think he was like that from the beginning.”

On May 1, Macron and Le Pen led huge rallies around Paris. In the suburb of Villepinte, Le Pen, the anti-immigrant, anti-EU candidate of the National Front, warned supporters that Macron would put globalism ahead of French interests. “On May 7, I ask you all to stand tall against finance, arrogance, and the rain of money,” she told the crowd.

Her message has drawn not just the far-right fringe but the so-called “left behind,” and has resonated in a deeply pessimistic country where the sitting president is the most unpopular in history. A 2016 Ipsos global poll showed the French the gloomiest of all countries surveyed, with 88 percent of respondents saying the country was headed in the “wrong direction.”

Macron forged ahead with a message of renewal, promising to upend the current economic paralysis and help the French get beyond the fear of labor reform, which he says will boost everybody. “The French have hope and optimism, that’s why they put us in the lead,” he said at his rally Monday, referring to his first-round victory. “The second thing, and it’s just as important, is that the French are angry,” adding, “we need to hear them as well.”

At the event hall, filled with dance music and illuminated by skylights, Martial Sanglard, a nightclub singer, says Macron to him is like JFK. “I’m a socialist, but I support Macron as the only one who offers hope for France,” he says. “He is the youthful candidate we need.”

Isabelle Potier, a pharmacist at the rally who says she comes more from the right, says she is confident that he’ll be able to turn his words into policy despite a short record in governing behind him. “Look at what he’s been able to put together in a year, from nothing.”

'Talented, and lucky'

Macron was the economic minister under President François Hollande when he left to start his own movement “En Marche.” Alain Minc, a business consultant and Macron's mentor, says when he first met Macron 15 years ago and asked him what he wanted to do, Macron told him he wanted to be president of France.

But last year when Macron shared with Mr. Minc his plans to run for president now, Minc says he urged Macron to hold off until 2022. “I told him not to go too quickly,” Minc says. “His answer was fascinating. He said, ‘You are describing the world of yesterday. Now it doesn’t work that way,’ and he was right. He understood the political world is moving very quickly.”

Macron studied at the elite Ecole National d’Administration (ENA). He later worked at the finance ministry before leaving for Rothschild Bank. He returned to government in 2012 as an adviser to President Hollande, and was later tapped as economy minister. He resigned last summer and officially launched his campaign in November – an audacious gamble that succeeded in part because of the implosion of the mainstream parties in the race.

“I told him recently, you have a contract with God, I never met someone so lucky,” Minc says. “But he was talented, and lucky. That’s exactly what Napoleon requested from his generals: talent and luck.”

Macron grew up comfortably in the provincial city of Amiens, the son of two doctors. He says in his book "Revolution" that he lived his childhood a bit in “another world,” largely “through texts and words,” which his grandmother helped foster. For years he aspired to be a novelist. He was the perfect child: a prize-winning pianist, at the top of his class. He also loved drama, which is how he met his future wife Brigitte Trogneux.

Their relationship began when she was his high school drama teacher, and her daughter Laurence was in Macron’s class. The two got to know one another through a play they wrote together. Brigitte, who at the time was a married mother of three, has been quoted as saying of the time: “I had the feeling I was working with Mozart.” She has said she always saw Macron as a contemporary, that she couldn’t see the age difference everyone else saw.

While Macron’s parents initially hoped the passion would cool, especially after he moved to Paris to finish his studies, the two stayed together, marrying in 2007. She told Paris Match magazine in an interview: "At the age of 17, Emmanuel said to me, 'Whatever you do, I will marry you!’ ” The only member of Macron's family who at the time approved of the relationship? Grandmother Manette, says Ms. Fulda.

Macron talked about his unusual family on the campaign trail, including having seven grandchildren who call him “daddy,” using the English word. But he says that doesn’t mean there is less love in his family – part of an inclusive message he espouses on everything from the economy to Europe to same-sex marriage. He also used his family situation to sell himself as an asset: that he fights established norms, and wins.

A pessimistic electorate

Not everyone buys his left-right brand. His critics say he is short on substance and purposely vague about his centrist platforms. Le Pen zinged him during a televised debate in March: “Mr. Macron you have an amazing talent, you've spoken for seven minutes and I'm unable to summarize your thinking. You've said nothing!” she said.

Despite a start-up campaign that has been embraced by young people, more voters ages 18 to 24 supported Le Pen and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon than they did the youthful Macron. Many said they would vote not for Macron, but against Le Pen.

Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on the extreme right in Europe at the Fondation Jean-Jaurès, says that the level of hatred toward the system in France cannot be underestimated, a risk for any future president.

“There is really a possibility that if Macron is elected and doesn’t really bring something new, something strong especially with regard to the economy but also with the way the political system works, we certainty will have a very difficult time,” he says. “If he only appeals to start-uppers, young educated people, winners of globalization, those in the professions and so on, he will not remain for five years.”

An exchange that went viral last year already shows the challenges he’ll face convincing the working class. In small-town France, the fluent English speaker who advocates for more French entrepreneurism was confronted by a T-shirt clad protester goading him about his fancy suits. “The best way to buy yourself a suit is to work,” Macron shot back – a comment which critics say showed how disconnected he is from the life of ordinary French.

Macron seems at pains to emphasize that he is an outsider who was not born with a silver spoon. “My grandparents were a teacher, railway worker, social worker, and bridges and roadways engineer,” he writes in Revolution. “All came from modest backgrounds.”

He’s made some missteps curating that image, including a lavish celebratory dinner after his round-one victory April 23 that was widely panned.

Kind or hard?

The question of likeability also hangs over Macron, despite a dazzling smile and piercing gaze that makes individuals feel on the campaign trail that he’s speaking directly to them. A schoolmate from L'ENA told Fulda, for example, that he wasn’t always natural. “He was very pleasant, smiling, and shaking hands with everyone, but there was something, they felt, there was something fake, in fact,” Fulda says. “His wife says something, she says he doesn’t need anyone, and that no one can come into his perimeter.”

And yet, almost paradoxically, Fulda sees a strong desire to be liked – what she considers his biggest liability as president. “Perhaps it’s his strong desire to be always loved,” she says. “If you want to please everyone you cannot do a lot of reforms.”

Minc disagrees. “He looks kind, he smiles,” he says. But “he will be brutal, cynical, not a mild king, but a strong one.”

He says he’s seen a change in just over a week – after he was confronted in Amiens last week by Le Pen, who ambushed his visit to a Whirlpool factory set to close down. He stood in front of the workers, and told them Le Pen was lying to them. “He did something very important. When people are accused of being elite, the best countermeasure is to make sure you are physically bold.”

Ultimately he says Macron is like a cat. “You throw him through the window and at the end he falls on his feet,” Minc says.

Houston’s bid to let better housing blur social strata

How do we view our neighbor? With affordable housing, that can be a tough question. We found that Houston was an important window into how communities weigh legitimate concerns with a desire to help others build better lives. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Iyoba Moshay lives in Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood, in a housing complex that accepts federally funded housing vouchers. The city has pushed to help lower-income residents gain access to better education and services.

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It’s a universal wish: to live in a better community, a place where children feel safe. For low-income families living in deprived parts of Houston and other cities, of course, it's a wish that tends to be deferred. Multifamily housing can be scarce. Just finding the money to move is tough. But research has shown that children in poor families who move to wealthier districts – especially in cities highly stratified by race and class – see big gains in education, health, and, eventually, income. Advocates call it a cost-effective way to give poor kids a shot at a better life amid rising concern over economic inequality. Last year, Houston stepped up: Its housing authority proposed a 233-unit apartment complex in which the majority of rentals would be subsidized. The $53 million project was to be built in a predominantly white neighborhood not far from Houston’s fanciest mall. But it has hit roadblocks. How Houston responds – and how key federal policies shape up during the Trump administration – could shape the national debate over where to build low-income housing.

Houston’s bid to let better housing blur social strata

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Iyoba Moshay photographed in her low income apartment at Villa Americana, on April 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

Iyoba Moshay had just started her shift when she got a text from Alvin, her 7th-grade son.

His school was on lockdown after a shooting, he said. There was a body prone on the street outside, visible from his classroom window.

Ms. Moshay gulped, and went back to her job tending bar downtown at the Houston Astros’ stadium. It was the second shooting that month near the school, which has an F grade from Texas regulators. For Moshay, a single mother, it was one more reason to wish she could move to a different part of town, far from the crime and poverty of her all-minority neighborhood.

“We want to live in a better community, and we want our children to feel safe,” she says.

For low-income families living in deprived parts of Houston and other cities, that’s easier said than done. Rentals cost more in better neighborhoods, and multi-family housing can be scarce. Even finding the money to move is tough.

But a body of research, notably by Stanford economics professor Raj Chetty and colleagues, has shown that poor families who move to wealthier districts see significant gains in their education, health, and income for their children. This upward mobility holds out particular promise for poor children who live in cities like Houston that are highly stratified by race and class.

Under President Barack Obama, federal housing policy sought to apply this lesson: Cities were coaxed to set goals for reducing racial segregation and to build low-income housing in integrated, low-poverty neighborhoods with better opportunities. This push coincided with a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that Dallas had violated the Fair Housing Act – the same civil-rights law that Mr. Obama was using – by concentrating subsidized housing in minority districts.

Last year, Houston stepped up to the plate: The city’s housing authority proposed a 233-unit apartment complex in which the majority of rentals would be subsidized. The $53 million project was to be built in a predominantly white neighborhood just over a mile from Houston’s fanciest mall, the Galleria.

Local opposition was swift, sustained – and effective. Thousands packed public hearings to berate officials for their choice of location and mobilized political allies in government. Last summer, the city pulled its support for the project.



Alfredo Sosa/Staff
View of low income apartment buildings at Villa Americana, a housing complex that accepts federal funded housing vouchers, on April 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

In January, the Obama administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said Houston had caved to “racially motivated opposition” in rejecting the Galleria-area project. It called on the city to remedy its housing policy or face referral to the Department of Justice’s enforcement division.

How Houston responds, and what stance HUD takes under the Trump administration, could shape the national debate over where to build low-income housing. The case also shows the strength of NIMBYism in stymying what advocates say is a cost-effective way to give poor children a shot at a better life at a time of rising concern over economic inequality.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson has offered little guidance on how he views affordable housing, though he previously criticized Obama for overreach in telling cities where to build. His department is one of many that Trump has targeted for cuts: HUD would see a 15 percent reduction under Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017.

Hard to find compromise

Dr. Carson will have discretion over how to handle the dispute with Houston, as would the Department of Justice in case of referral, says Michael Stegman, who served as senior housing adviser to the White House in 2015-16. But the rule issued by HUD in 2015 that requires cities to “affirmatively further” desegregation – and penalizes those that don’t – remains in effect and can’t be changed overnight by the new administration.

“Secretary Carson is going to have to oversee the implementation of the rule,” he says.

The dilemma for HUD, says Mr. Stegman, who is a fellow on housing policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, is that the Obama-era rule is all stick and no carrot, since Obama couldn’t get extra funding from Congress to reward cities that pursued anti-discriminatory policies. This makes it harder to find compromise over fair housing provisions.

“We have these additional tools, but these are state and local practices, and litigation or taking back entitlements are very strong penalties. There’s nothing in between,” he says.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is African-American, has rejected HUD’s complaint and said the city will continue to expand its affordable housing. He argues that the government must invest more in communities of color like the neighborhood where he grew up. “I still live in one of those communities. The answer is not to just move them over there. The answer is to invest in the communities where they are,” he said in a speech in January.

That message resonates with the Rev. Harvey Clemons Jr., a pastor who leads development projects in Houston’s Fifth Ward, a historically black neighborhood that is starting to gentrify. He faced resistance from HUD to financing 63 new housing units in his ward to replace a storm-damaged complex. Federal officials pressed the city to add housing in a higher opportunity area, in keeping with Obama’s policy, but eventually relented.

This is what the community needs, and shifting federal housing dollars elsewhere isn’t the answer, says Mr. Clemons. “You don’t run from a problem, you solve it.”


Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Rev. Clemons (blue shirt and shades) and ommunity leaders meet to organize an annual street festival in the city's 5th ward on April 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The fifth ward is a historic black neighborhood.

Jeffrey Lowe, an associate professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston, says it shouldn’t be an either/or choice. “We can do both,” he says, noting that cities like Boston have upgraded existing low-income housing while also financing new projects in higher opportunity areas.

“I’m hopeful that what the mayor desires and what HUD desires will begin a conversation around our values, and what Houston could do in terms of furthering fair housing opportunities,” he says.

History of segregation

Critics say that conversation has to start with the fact that Houston has a history of residential segregation, which its hands-off regulatory approach to housing has perpetuated. In its letter, HUD noted that since 2012 the city had directed 85 percent of tax credits for low-income housing to non-white neighborhoods. While some housing has been built in affluent suburbs, the main beneficiaries were the elderly, not black and Latino families with school-age kids.

Mr. Lowe says it’s impossible to remove race from the debate over where to build. “Most people in Houston when they think of public housing they think of black people. They certainly think of poor people. But I think the images that come to mind are black people,” he says.

The Galleria proposal was for mixed-income housing; only 10 percent of units were set aside for families with very low earnings. One-fifth would be rented at market rates. The majority would be for families who made between $25,000 and $41,500 a year, depending on household size.

“These people are the bank tellers and the wait staff that serve you. They’re good enough to serve you but not to live with you,” says Chrishelle Palay, Houston co-director for Texas Housers, a statewide advocacy group, referring to the opposition from Galleria residents. 

Moshay, who earns up to $600 a week in salary and tips from her stadium job, fits this category. She’s lived in her current apartment for five years, using federally funded vouchers to help cover the $900 monthly rent. Most residents in her complex, a drab expanse of two-story buildings, are voucher recipients. When she’s home, she sits outside to keep a wary eye on her son.

“My idea of a community is that it’s somewhere where you feel comfortable with your kids living there,” she says. “I want him to have a normal life.”

In theory, Moshay could use her housing vouchers to move to a safer neighborhood. But she says it’s not worth trying because many landlords reject voucher recipients, which is legal in Texas but outlawed in other states. “People will just turn you down,” she says.

Points of Progress

What's going right

For African-Americans, encouraging signs on health

Health and death-rate disparities between the white and African-American populations remain a real concern – as do some sobering, society-wide trends including an increasing use of opioids, a rise in suicide, and an overall drop in US life expectancy. Death rates among black Americans in all age groups under 65 remain much higher than for whites. Their life expectancy is four years lower. And those ages 18 to 34 are nine times as likely to die from homicide as whites in the same age group, according to a report this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the report also shows that African-Americans have made major gains in life expectancy, with the mortality gap between white and black Americans halved since 1999. Between 1999 and 2015, black people saw a 25 percent drop in overall death rate, compared with a 14 percent decrease for white people. Contributing to the decline: a drop in deaths from disease among older African-Americans. Those 65 and older now have a lower death rate than their white counterparts.

SOURCE: US Centers for Disease Control
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

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Applause that drowns out hate

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Earlier this week, Boston baseball fans countered an expression of hate toward a black ballplayer with an act of love – a standing ovation. Afterward Adam Jones said he appreciated the support. He then added: “I don’t need all that stuff. Just be normal.” Red Sox officials had quickly apologized for the initial act and promised to punish such fan behavior. Massachusetts leaders denounced the racism. But the personal act seemed to matter most. Indeed, communities that want to prevent hate speech must actively “be normal,” or embrace those of a different race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Punishment of hate speech can help deter such acts, but an enduring solution lies in communities coming together to offer a collective response of affection.

Applause that drowns out hate

AP Photo
Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones warms up before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, May 2, in Boston. Jones called the incident in which he said fans inside Fenway Park yelled racial slurs at him and threw a bag of peanuts in his direction was "unfortunate," with no place in today's game.

What’s the best way for a community to counter hate speech? A good example happened in Boston after Adam Jones, an African-American and a star baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles, was subjected to racist heckling on May 1 by some fans at Fenway Park. 

Red Sox officials quickly apologized and promised to punish such fan behavior. Massachusetts political leaders denounced the racism. “We are better than this,” said Mayor Martin Walsh. When Mr. Jones came to bat in the first inning the following day, almost the entire stadium gave him a sustained standing ovation. Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale stepped off the mound to let the crowd continue its warm response. One hot dog seller told fans in the outfield bleachers, “Be nice to that guy, guys.”

Afterward Jones said he appreciated the love and support and then added, “I don’t need all that stuff. Just be normal.” 

Indeed, communities that want to prevent hate speech must actively “be normal,” or embrace those of a different race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Punishment of hate speech can help deter such acts, but an enduring solution lies in communities coming together to offer a collective response of affection.

Another example occurred in February after gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis were toppled and community activists rushed to repair them. Also that month, commuters on a New York City train took out their hand wipes and erased Nazi symbols painted on the windows. 

In Evanston, Ill., hundreds of runners hold an annual “race against hate.” The event marks the 1999 killing of a basketball coach, Ricky Byrdsong, by a white supremacist. The race has inspired similar events, such as a recent teen basketball game called “Hoops Against Hate” in Yonkers, N.Y.

In New York, a group called CONNECT provides training to help bystanders know how to intervene when witnessing a hate incident. In South Dakota, a multifaith coalition of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clerics is rallying communities against hate with a theme of “Love Thy Neighbor: No Exceptions.” 

“We have seen communities confronted with hate and discrimination come together across perceived differences to support each other and try to prevent future hate incidents,” says Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a former Justice Department civil rights prosecutor. “Education, awareness, and acceptance of group differences are the cornerstones of a long-term solution to prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry in this country.”

And, she might have added, so is a standing ovation for a ballplayer who just wants people to be “normal.”

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Love without limit

There’s something about a ballpark on a summer night. You can’t help feeling a kind of open caring about the people in the seats around you. So it’s not surprising to hear that a black ballplayer who was subject to racial abuse by a few fans at a recent Major League ball game was, at the next game, given a standing ovation by the largely white crowd in the stands. Something deep within rose up in their hearts and brought them to their feet in joyous solidarity. It reminded me that doing the moral thing isn’t just struggling to do the right thing. It’s about finding the truest nature of myself and others. Wouldn’t it be that anyone created by a God who is Love itself, would love others without limit? That’s the spiritual perspective Christian Science offers me. It makes “Love thy neighbor” as natural, vital, and exciting as rounding third base, and sliding into home plate.

- Allison W. Phinney


Training day

Paramilitary police participate in a training session in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. Earlier this year – days after Washington outlined a hike in the US defense budget – Beijing announced it would increase military spending by about 7 percent.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

On behalf of the Monitor staff, thank you for taking the time to think more deeply about the day’s news – and about how perspective matters. Come back tomorrow. We’re working on a story about seeking financial stability: It turns out even middle class Americans are coping with big swings in their earnings.  

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