Tag Archives: poverty

Deadly backstreet abortions to rise with Trump restrictions

Thousands of women will die from unsafe abortions and millions will have unwanted pregnancies following President Donald Trump’s decision to ban U.S.-funded groups from discussing abortion, activists said this week.

Trump reinstated the so-called global gag rule, affecting U.S. non-governmental organizations working abroad, to signal his opposition to abortion, which is difficult to access legally in many developing countries due to restrictive laws, stigma and poverty.

“Women will go back to unsafe abortion again,” said Kenyan campaigner Rosemary Olale, who teaches teenage girls in Nairobi slums about reproductive health. “You will increase the deaths.”

The East African nation has one of world’s highest abortion rates and most abortions are unsafe and a leading cause of preventable injury and death among women, government data shows.

Globally, 21.6 million women have unsafe abortions each year, nine out of 10 of which take place in developing countries, according the World Health Organization.

The gag rule, formally known as the Mexico City Policy, prevents charities receiving U.S. funding from performing or telling women about legal options for abortion, even if they use separate money for abortion services, counseling or referrals.

It will hit major reproductive health charities, such as International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International, as the United States is the world’s largest bilateral family planning donor.

Unless it receives alternative funding to support its services, MSI estimates there will be 2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths during Trump’s first term that could have been prevented.

“Abortion is a fundamental right for women and also very necessary public health intervention,” said Maaike van Min, MSI’s London-based strategy director.

MSI has been receiving $30 million per year in U.S. Agency for International Development funding to provide 1.5 million women in more than a dozen countries with family planning services.

It will have to cut these services unless it finds other donors, the charity said.

“Women won’t be able to finish their education (or) pursue the career that they might have, because they don’t have control over their fertility,” said van Min.

“Aid is under pressure everywhere in the world and so finding donors who have the ability to fund this gap is going to be challenging.”

INHUMAN

Women who live in remote areas without government services will suffer most, van Min said, highlighting mothers in Nigeria and Madagascar where MIS has large programs.

“If they don’t now control their fertility, they are at high risk for maternal mortality,” she said. “I remember this lady who had had too many pregnancies and she came up to me … in this village and she was like: ‘Can you make it stop?'”

Other important health services are also likely to be cut, said Evelyne Opondo, Africa director for the Center for Reproductive Rights advocacy group, recalling the large number of facilities that closed down in Kenya after President George W. Bush came to power in 2001 and reinstated the gag rule.

“They refused to adhere to the global gag rule so they lost quite a substantial amount of funding,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

“They were also forced to drastically reduce other services that they were providing, including for survivors of sexual violence (and) for HIV.”

Abortion rates across sub-Saharan Africa increased during the Bush administration, according to a WHO study.

“It’s really unfortunate that the lives and the health of so many women are subject to the whims of American politics,” Opondo said. “This is really unethical, if not inhuman.”

Reporting by Neha Wadekar; Editing by Katy Migiro and Ros Russell. This report is from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.

Walker proposes new welfare work requirements

Parents who work fewer than 80 hours a month could face food stamp benefit cuts under a proposal Gov. Scott Walker released this week.

Walker’s proposal also would require adults with children between age 6 and 18 to attend job training and search for work five days a week.

The proposals are part of a package called “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” that Walker released during a series of news conferences across the state.

Under current state law, childless adults in the FoodShare program have to meet the work requirement. They lose all food stamp benefits after three months of non-compliance.

Since the law took effect in April 2015, about 64,000 have lost their benefits.

Under Walker’s new proposal, adults with children who don’t meet the program’s work requirements would face a “partial” reduction in benefits. The governor didn’t say how much the loss in benefits could be.

Walker also is calling for a similar work requirement for people receiving housing vouchers from the federal government.

His proposals could require law changes by Congress and waivers from the Trump administration before taking effect. They would also have to pass the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Walker has been saying that he hopes to work closely with the Trump administration on a variety of initiatives, including on welfare. Walker is expected to seek a third term in 2018 and will be spelling out his priorities for the next two years in the state budget he releases next month.

The governor provided few details of the welfare reform package this week, saying those would come in the budget.

Both of the new work requirements would begin as pilot programs, but Walker didn’t say where. His outline also doesn’t say how much the new requirements would cost.

Walker said he also reduce child-care assistance from the state once people become employed. Once someone becomes employed and hits 200 percent of the poverty line, the person would start contributing $1 copay for child care for every $3 earned.

Walker also is calling on the Trump administration to clear the way for the state to drug test some welfare recipients.

“We fundamentally believe that public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock,” Walker said.

Robert Kraig, with the progressive advocacy group Wisconsin Citizen Action, criticized Walker’s proposals, saying they will do nothing to help create more family supporting jobs. Kraig said Walker was penalizing low-income residents for their own poverty.

State Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Walker wants to create one set of rules for working families and another set of rules for the wealthy and well-connected.

“For too many hardworking Wisconsin families, Gov. Walker’s race-to-the-bottom economy is not working for them. Republican tax breaks that favor millionaires and corporations are shifting a greater burden onto workers,” Shilling said. “Since Gov. Walker took office in 2011, Wisconsin has fallen below the national average for job creation for 20 consecutive quarters. If Gov. Walker really wants to help workers and grow our middle class, Democrats stand ready with a range of proposals to raise family wages, lower student loan debt, invest in infrastructure and expand child care tax credits. It’s time we reward hard work, not the wealthy and well-connected.”

 

Globalization took hits in 2016; Will 2017 lead to more?

Globalization, the path that the world economy has largely followed for decades, took some hefty blows in 2016.

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union have raised questions over the future of tariff-free trade and companies’ freedom to move production to lower-cost countries.

Borders are back in vogue. Economic nationalism is paying political dividends.

“We want our country back” was the rallying cry of those backing Brexit, a sound bite that had echoes in Trump’s “Make America great again.”

The rise of Trump and the triumph of Brexit had their roots in the global financial crisis of 2008.

Eight years later, the world economy has still not yet fully gotten past that shock to its confidence — people are nervous, some are angry, and many are seeking novel solutions to their problems. Next year, there’s scope for more uncertainty with elections in France and Germany.

Here’s a look at the year’s top business stories for 2016:

BREXIT SHOCK

In what was a sign of things to come, Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June. The decision came as a surprise — certainly to bookmakers and many pollsters who had consistently given the “remain” side the edge — and means Britain has to redefine itself after 43 years of EU membership. David Cameron resigned as prime minister after the vote and the new Conservative government led by Theresa May is planning to trigger the formal process by which Britain exits the EU early next year. There are many shades of potential Brexit, from an outright divorce that could put up tariffs on goods and services, to a more amicable parting that sees many of the current trading arrangements kept in place. The pound’s fall to a 31-year low below $1.20 at one point is testament to that uncertainty.

 

TRUMP CARD

Pollsters and bookmakers got it wrong again a few months later when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election. Whether he translates his “America First” platform into action following his inauguration in January will help shape the global economy for the next four years at least. Trump has railed against long-standing trading agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and vowed to punish China for the way it devalues its currency against the dollar and to tax U.S. firms that move jobs overseas. He has also laid out plans to bring America’s creaking infrastructure up to 21st-century standards, a new spending pitch that has the potential to boost jobs — but which could also lay the seeds of higher inflation.

MARKETS MARCH ON

Trump’s victory did not cause the bottom to fall out of the stock market rally that’s been largely in place since 2009, when the world economy started to first claw out of its deepest recession since World War II.

In fact, both the Dow and the S&P 500 rallied to hit a series of record highs. Stocks have also benefited from a raft of big corporate deals this year — executives are seeing takeovers as a fast way to generate growth in what is otherwise a low-growth global economy disrupted by non-stop technological innovations.

Notable deals in 2016 included the announcement of an $85 billion merger of Time Warner and AT&T and the $57 billion takeover of Monsanto by Germany medicine and farm-chemical maker Bayer. The $100 billion takeover of SABMiller by Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch InBev was also completed.

FED FINALLY DELIVERS

During his campaign, Trump criticized Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, saying she should be “ashamed” of the way she’s run policy since taking the helm in 2014. A year ago, the Fed appeared set to follow up its first interest rate hike in nearly a decade with three or four more in 2016. But there was no move until Dec. 14, when the U.S. central bank raised its main interest rate to a range between 0.5 percent and 0.75 percent. Many factors explained its hesitation to raise rates, including unease over the global impact of China’s economic slowdown and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. election. But with the U.S. economy continuing to do better than most developed countries — with unemployment below 5 percent and inflation on the way up — the Fed finally delivered another hike. The markets are predicting another three or four increases next year. Those expectations have helped the dollar rally, especially as other major central banks persevere with super-loose monetary policies to breathe life into their economies.

CHINA’S KEY ROLE

As the world’s second-largest economy, China is playing a bigger role in the functioning of the global economy. Nowhere was that more evident than in the early months of 2016, when jitters over the scale of the slowdown in China caused wild swings in financial markets. Stocks took a pounding while commodities tanked, with oil skidding to 13-year lows, as traders factored in lower demand from resource-hungry China. The slump in commodities weighed heavily on economies like Australia that are big exporters of raw materials. China’s economy is ending the year in relatively good health as authorities try to pivot the economy’s focus from manufacturing to more consumer spending. But Trump’s promises to take a tough stance in trade will be of concern to Beijing.

OPEC TAKES A STAND

For the first time since December 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cut its production levels in 2016. November’s cut, soon followed by more cuts by non-OPEC countries like Russia, helped push oil prices sharply higher. At over $50 a barrel, benchmark New York crude is markedly higher than the near 13-year lows around $30 recorded at the start of 2016, when investors focused on high supply and concerns over an economic slowdown. The oil slump helped put several crude-producing countries into severe recessions, including Brazil and Venezuela, and even saw wealthy Saudi Arabia cut back on spending. The question for 2017 is whether OPEC — and non-OPEC — countries can deliver on their production promises. If they do and higher oil prices stick, that will push up inflation in the global economy.

IT JUST GRATES

One of the major reasons why popular sentiment has turned against governments has been a growing distrust of elites. Perhaps nothing illustrated the issue more than the “Panama Papers,” a leaked trove of data on thousands of offshore accounts that helped the wealthy, the powerful and celebrities shelter their cash from the taxman, often without breaking the law. Critics say these tax schemes are the core of a system that gives an unfair advantage to big corporations and the wealthy. Outrage grew in the U.S. when it was revealed that Wells Fargo employees opened up to 2 million bank and credit card accounts fraudulently to meet sales goals. Bank employees also allegedly moved money between those accounts and created fake email addresses to sign customers up for online banking.

It just grates.

Silent victims of violence: 4 million children orphaned in Congo

More than 4 million children have lost at least one parent in Congo over the past two decades, the silent victims of continuous cycles of violence.

And more than 26 million orphans live in West and Central Africa, where Congo is located — the second highest number in the world behind South Asia, according to the United Nations.

These children have grown up amid conflict fueled by ethnic strife and the fight over Congo’s valuable minerals. The violence and displacement are eroding the tradition of families caring for their own.

The breakdown in family means some orphans are forced to look after themselves and their younger siblings. Some are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

And many also face sexual exploitation, in a country where rape has become commonplace on the streets.

“They are the orphans with a story of violence since 1994 — it’s a generation of victims that continues,” says Francisca Ichimpaye, a senior monitor at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center.

And the children “lose their story in the violence.”

As Congo falls once again into violence in the face of a delayed election, here are profiles of some orphans in Goma.

ALPHA MELEKI, 6

Alpha Meleki was found in a pile of bodies after an attack by rebels on his village in Congo’s eastern Beni earlier this year. He had been shot and left for dead with his parents in the bush.

The bullet wounds and the vine-like surgery scar on the 6-year-old’s pudgy belly have only recently healed. He hobbles around, pulling his loose shorts up on his tiny body.

The emotional scars are still fresh. When held by someone new, Alpha sits limply. His large eyes glaze over, and sometimes glare with angry distrust. He saves his smiles for those he trusts, often seeking the hands of adults he knows.

He cannot stand to see others suffer. Whenever another child at the INUKA center needs medical attention, Alpha cries and screams.

In a quiet moment, he touches a short, wide scar on his head. He lets others touch it.

“They hit me with a machete,” he recalls.

The center says it could take years to find any family members, as attacks persist in the northeast.

JEANNETTE UMUTSI, 17

At 17, Jeannette Umutsi has become the caregiver for her little brother, whom she hopes to protect from the horrors she has seen.

At first she recounts her story stoically and with distance. She was born only a few years after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled into Congo. Armed fighters stormed her home, hit her in the leg with a shovel and nearly killed her sister.

She and her family fled her hometown of Kirolarwe in 2008 to escape the violence. In the next village, she hid in a toilet enclosure with wooden plank floors for three days to save herself from another attack. Alone, she would sneak out to grab tomatoes that grew nearby.

For days, she heard gunshots and saw dead bodies, including that of her uncle. As she continues to talk of violence, she breaks down into tears and gasps.

“I have so many nightmares now. So many nightmares,” she says.

Her mother returned to save her. But she later died after giving birth to her brother Shukuru, now 5.

Her father used to be a fighter, she says. Once, he threatened to kill her with a machete. As she talks about him, she folds over herself, head in her skirt, and the fear is palpable in her eyes.

Finally she fled the family. She wrapped Shukuru up, put him on her back, and walked for days, struggling to breathe, on the way to Camp Mugunga in Goma. She is now an older sister to more than a dozen other children at the INUKA center, where she helps cook the fish and rice for lunch and rounds the kids up for naps.

MOISE, 7, AND AGATA MUNOKA, 5

Moise Munoka, 7, sits still, looks down and speaks in a near whisper when he recounts the loss of his mother.

She died in 2013 after health complications from rapes left her quite sick. Rape is a constant in Congo, where it has become a weapon of war. At the Children’s Voice Virunga Centre in Goma, where Moise and his sister Agata gather during the day, at least 30 children were born of rape.

Though Moise never knew his own father, he knows that he was probably a fighter who raped his mother. When asked if he wants to meet him one day, he scrunches his nose up and shakes his head in disgust, “No!”

He is happy to have left his war torn village of Massissi.

“It’s a bad place because there’s war, trouble, people don’t like each other, they like to kill,” he says. “There’s always dead people, and blood.”

He lights up as he explains that he and his sister are now being cared for by a widow, Arlette Kabuo Malimewa, 45. She has three children of her own and also cares for a third foster child.

Agata sleeps in the living room, which has several posters of Jesus Christ lining the walls. Moise has his own room, where his two book bags hang from nails on the wooden planks.

Malimewa sells bed covers in bright pinks and whites that hang over her black lava rock gate, and makes about $5 a week.

“I love them, but it is difficult,” she says. “I want to keep them until my death … because who would they go to?”

ANUARITA MAHORO, 12

Anuarita Mahoro, 12, has been ostracized because she was born with a right hand problem that leaves her too weak to do hard labor.

She lived with her father until he was asked to chop wood for armed men who then killed him in 2014. Her mother lived with “the men of the forests,” as she refers to the fighters. They eventually killed her mother, too, and left.

Anuarita fled to her grandparents in Kiwanja. When her grandfather died, she was forced to leave her grandmother to find work to eat. Starving and sick, she was eventually taken in by a center for orphans.

Here, her right hand tucked between her legs and leaning on her left elbow, she apologizes.

“I have suffered so much so I might sound confused,” she says.

She hopes to return to her village and reclaim her grandmother’s land, showing those in the community her worth.

“After the death of my parents, the community discussed who would take this child. And no one was prepared to take me on as a parent. So since no one wanted me, when I grow up they better not come and ask me for any help,” she said, grinning widely, and then covering her face and laughing.

She would like one day to set up a center for orphans. And if she ever got the conversation she wants with the men who killed her parents, she solemnly reveals the one thought that won’t leave her mind.

“I would ask why they killed my father and my mother and didn’t kill me?”

DAMIEN MATATA BIZI, 22

Damien Matata Bizi looks down, his shoulders heavy, when he hesitantly recounts his past as an orphan who became a child soldier.

Many of the thousands of other former child soldiers in Congo over years made a similar choice, or had none at all. Rwanda’s 1994 genocide pushed fighters into Congo, and multiple rebel groups now fight over the mineral-rich region.

Matata Bizi became a rebel after his father, also an armed fighter, died. He was only 10 years old.

“I was angry when I learned of my father’s death. So I wanted to avenge my father, so I entered into the rebellion to fight,” he said. “My mother could never pay for school, and we could never find money to pay for food so I thought this was best.”

Matata Bizi says he was treated well, but others weren’t.

“The life that vulnerable children have is hard,” he says. “They don’t have education, they don’t have clothes, so it may be better to be in an armed group with the ability to find food and clothes than to be at a loss.”

When asked about having to kill people, his eyes narrow and he impatiently takes a deep breath, visibly angry.

“There’s a difference between the militants and child soldiers,” he says. “The adults have the occasion to reflect on what they’ve done. But for a child, we can only execute an order we are given. We don’t think of things, we do what we are ordered to do. “

Matata Bizi was found, rehabilitated by the United Nations and integrated into the army in 2009. He signed papers that say he is no longer a child soldier. He carries the dirtied, crumbling pages around in his shirt pocket. They brand him now.

He came to Goma in 2013. He was trained as a mechanic at the Don Bosco center in Goma but has no work. He says it’s easier to make more money and move up in rebel groups than in the army.

“War I know isn’t good, and neither is violence. It’s not good or normal,” he says. “But the armed groups exist because the country is badly organized. There’s no work. There’s no occupation for the young.”

On the Web

Children’s Voice

 

Strikers arrested during protests for better wages, fight for $15

Police on Nov. 29 handcuffed fast-food cooks and cashiers, Uber drivers and home health aides and airport workers who blocked streets outside McDonald’s restaurants from New York to Chicago.

The demonstrators had launched a nationwide wave of strikes and civil disobedience by working Americans in the Fight for $15.

In Detroit, dozens of fast-food and home care workers wearing shirts that read, “My Future is My Freedom” linked arms in front of a McDonald’s and sat down in the street. As the workers were led to a police bus, hundreds of supporters chanted, “No Justice, No Peace.”

In New York City’s Financial District, dozens of fast-food workers placed a banner reading “We Won’t Back Down” on the street in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway and a sat down in a circle, blocking traffic, until they were hauled away by police officers.

In Chicago, scores of workers sat in the street next to a McDonald’s as supporters unfurled a giant banner from a grocery store next door that read: “We Demand $15 and Union Rights, Stop Deportations, Stop Killing Black People.” Fast-food, home care and higher education workers were arrested, along with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

The strikes rolled westward, as workers walked off their jobs in 340 cities. They were demanding decent wages and union rights. Among them were baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and skycaps on picket lines at Boston Logan International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport to protest.

“We won’t back down until we win an economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few at the top,” said Naquasia LeGrand, a McDonald’s worker from Albemarle, North Carolina. “Working moms like me are struggling all across the country and until politicians and corporations hear our voices, our Fight for $15 is going to keep on getting bigger, bolder and ever more relentless.”

The wave of strikes, civil disobedience, and protests follows an election defined by workers’ frustration with an economy and business practices that have meant only stagnant wages.

“To too many of us who work hard, but can’t support our families. America doesn’t feel fair anymore,” said Oliwia Pac, who was on strike from her job as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare. “If we really want to make America great again, our airports are a good place to start. These jobs used to be good ones that supported a family, but now they’re closer to what you’d find at McDonald’s.”

U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, joined striking workers on the picket line and Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia got arrested supporting strikers.

In New York City, Councilmembers Brad Lander, Mark Levine and Antonio Reynoso got arrested alongside workers outside a McDonald’s in Lower Manhattan.

 

Some voices from the Fight for $15:

Dayla Mikell, a child care worker in St. Petersburg, Florida: “Risking arrest today isn’t the easy path, but it’s the right one. My job is all about caring for the next generation, but I’m not paid enough to be able to afford my own apartment or car. Families like mine and millions others across the country demand $15, union rights and a fair economy that lifts up all of us, no matter our race, our ethnicity or our gender. And when it’s your future on the line, you do whatever it takes to make sure you are heard far and wide.”

Sepia Coleman, a home care worker from Memphis, Tennessee: “For me, the choice is clear. I am risking arrest because our cause is about more than economic justice—it is about basic survival. Like millions of Americans, I am barely surviving on $8.25/hour. Civil disobedience is a bold and risky next step, but our voices must be heard: we demand $15, a union and justice for all Americans.”

Scott Barish, a teaching assistant and researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina: “I do research and teach classes that bring my university critical funding, but the administration doesn’t respect me as a worker and my pay hasn’t kept up with the rising cost of living. I could barely afford to repair my car this year. And I’m risking arrest today because millions of American workers are struggling to support their families and the need for change is more urgent than ever. We are ramping up our calls for $15 and union rights, healthcare for all workers, and an end to racist policies that divide us further.”

Justin Berisie, an Uber driver in Denver: “Everyone says the gig economy is the future of work, but if we want to make that future a bright one, we need to join together like fast-food workers have in the Fight for $15 and demand an economy that works for all. Across the country, drivers are uniting and speaking out to fight for wages and working conditions that will allow us to support our families and help get America’s economy moving.”

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota: “When I talk to people on the picket lines in Minnesota and around the country, they tell me they’re striking for a better life for their kids and their families. They tell me they’re working harder than ever, and still struggling to make ends meet. In the wealthiest country in the world, nobody working full time should be living in poverty. But the power of protest and working people’s voices can make all the difference. Politics might be the art of the possible, but organizing is the art of making more possible. Workers around the country are fighting to make better working conditions and better wages possible. And I stand with them.”

Wisconsin’s lead poisoning rate among kids close to Flint’s

A new analysis shows the lead poisoning level for children in Wisconsin is lower than in recent years, but is nearly as high as Flint, Michigan, where lead contamination caused a drinking water crisis.

Wisconsin Public Radio reports that the analysis released this week by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families includes data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that shows 4.6 percent of children under the age of 6 who were tested in 2015 had lead poisoning. The rate in Flint was 4.9 percent.

Analysis author Leland Pan said the state’s rate of lead poisoning among children is a serious issue because it can negatively affect a child’s development.

“Lead poisoning is correlated with increased rates of learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, it hampers with brain development, it’s correlated with increased aggression and juvenile incarceration,” Pan said.

The report suggests that many children are exposed to lead-based paints in older homes. The state also has at least 176,000 lead service lines that carry drinking water to homes and businesses.

A disproportionate number of African-American children living in Wisconsin were also diagnosed with lead poisoning. The analysis referenced 2014 data from the Wisconsin DHS that showed 10 percent of the 16,221 black children under 6 who were tested had lead poisoning. Out of the 27,984 white children who were tested, only 2.9 percent had high blood lead levels.

The analysis provides recommendations for prevention, such as increased state supporting for public health departments and providing funding to restore accountability initiatives to increase the number of children tested for lead.

Trump ‘got as much as he could and then pulled out’ of blighted Gary, Ind.

Donald Trump swooped into Gary, Indiana, on his private jet and pledged to make the down-on-its-luck city great again.

It was 1993, and the New York mogul was wooing officials in the mostly black city to support his bid to dock a showboat casino along a Lake Michigan shoreline littered with shuttered factories. Trump and his representatives later told state gaming officials he would leverage his “incomparable experience” to build a floating Shangri-La, with enough slot machines and blackjack tables to fill city coffers and local charities with tens of millions each year, while creating scores of well-paid jobs for minority residents.

“We are looking to make this a real peach here, a real success,” Trump said of the project.

Today, as the Republican presidential nominee pursues black voters with vows to fix inner-city troubles, many Gary residents say his pitch to solve the problems of crime and poverty is disturbingly familiar. Like others who have done business with Trump, they say their experience offers a cautionary tale.

Little more than a decade after investing in Gary, Trump’s casino company declared bankruptcy and cashed out his stake in the boat, leaving behind lawsuits and hard feelings in a city where more than one-third of residents live in poverty. Trump’s lawyers later argued in court that his pledges to the city were never legally binding. Trump told The Associated Press that his venture was good for Gary.

Local civic leaders disagree.

“What you had was a slick business dealer coming in,” said Roy Pratt, a Democratic former Gary city councilman. “He got as much as he could and then he pulled up and left.”

Charitable foundation promised

A company town founded by U.S. Steel just 30 miles southeast of Chicago, Gary peaked in size in the 1960s at nearly 200,000 as black residents arrived from the South looking for jobs and an on-ramp to the American dream.

Gary’s fortunes fell with the steel industry. The remaining 77,000 residents abide persistent crime and chronic unemployment. Broadway, the once-thriving main thoroughfare, is now lined with vacant buildings, a boarded-up wig shop here, a once-regal theater there.

In 1993, when Gary was to get Indiana’s first licenses for riverboat casinos, there was Trump, presenting a plan for a casino he claimed would revitalize the city’s waterfront.

Due to concerns over his finances after two then-recent corporate bankruptcies, city officials initially did not recommend Trump for a license, but he didn’t give up. Trump went directly to the Indiana Gaming Commission with a beefed-up proposal.

In a September 1994 presentation, Trump’s team touted his “superior marketing and advertising abilities” to pitch a 340-foot long vessel called Trump Princess with more than 1,500 slot machines and enough nearby parking for 3,000 cars. Trump also said he would revamp an “eyesore” hotel near City Hall, according to a transcript.

Trump’s team projected an annual take of $210 million by the fifth year the casino was operating. Gary’s cut would be 1 percent of the gross gaming revenues along with other taxes, a projected haul of about $19 million annually.

To sweeten the pot, Trump’s representatives said they would try to ensure that at least two-thirds of the casino’s staff would be minority residents from the surrounding area, according to the transcript.

He offered to fund a new charitable foundation endowed with a 7.5 percent stake of the casino’s stock, estimated by Trump’s company to be worth $11.5 million. His official proposal also listed eight “local minority participants” in the project, a diverse group of men in medicine, business and law.

“When we put our name on something it’s more than just recognition,” Trump told the commission. “It’s very important to us so we’re looking for a long-term, very solid relationship.”

Trump reneged after license approval

Based on the strength of Trump’s revamped proposal, the state gaming commission overruled Gary officials, awarding Trump one of the two casino licenses. A May 1996 agreement signed by the Trump organization said the developer would “endeavor” to fill 70 percent of its 1,200 full-time jobs with minorities, and more than half of them women. Trump was to invest $153 million, including $10 million on local redevelopment projects that included renovation of the sagging downtown hotel.

The eight business partners in Trump’s license application had been offered a chance to buy shares worth more than $1 million, but most didn’t have the money.

So both sides negotiated a deal. For no cash up front, they would be given 7.5 percent of the stock for the riverboat and another 7.5 percent was to go into a trust benefiting local charities, according to a summary of the deal Trump’s lawyers sent to one of the men, Buddy Yosha.

The men were to pay in promissory notes and would be repaid later in cash or dividends from the casino.

A brief outline of the agreement was in the original casino application. And Trump’s Indiana-based attorneys confirmed the investors’ role in a February 1994 letter, saying they were confident they would get the license, show “genuine interest in being a good corporate citizen” and “provide substantial benefit” to local residents.

However, the men said Trump reneged once the license was approved. None got stock in the casino, and the money for charity was less than promised.

All eight sued Trump for breach of contract, alleging they were used to “Hoosierize” Trump’s application with gaming officials and then dumped once the license was approved.

“We felt cheated,” Yosha told the AP. “He said he’d do one thing and then he changed. It’s like what he’s doing with every position. He changes in the middle of the stream.”

As construction on a dock for two side-by-side riverboats proceeded in spring 1996, Trump’s company began hiring in advance of the casino’s grand opening in June. But his commitments to hire minorities and local businesses never came to fruition, according to local leaders.

“Trump reneged on both of those commitments,” said Richard Hatcher, a Democrat who was Gary’s first African-American mayor. “It simply did not happen.”

Hatcher helped bring a 1996 lawsuit, weeks ahead of the casinos’ opening, alleging Trump’s organization failed to meet promised hiring goals for minority and local residents and businesses, and had only hired 20 percent minorities. Though more than half of Trump’s casino staff was eventually made up of racial minorities, the lawsuit said blacks were overwhelmingly relegated to minimum wage jobs, such as valets and janitors. The better-paying positions on the casino floor, such as table dealers and pit bosses, were reserved for whites, according to the lawsuit.

Trump’s lawyers said the minority hiring goals were not legally binding. They succeeded in getting the lawsuit dismissed on procedural grounds.

The other lawsuit, filed in federal court by the eight jilted business partners, continued. Six of the men dropped out of the case after Trump’s company agreed to pay them a combined $2.2 million, but Yosha and another man, William Mays, refused to settle.

When the case went to trial in March 1999, Trump testified he didn’t know the men.

“I have never even seen them until this morning,” Trump told jurors. “I never had a contract (with them). I never even met any of these people. I was shocked by this whole case. I had no idea who these people were.”

Yosha acknowledged that he had not met Trump but said he had negotiated extensively with Trump’s lawyers.

The jury awarded Yosha and Mays $1.3 million. But Trump appealed, and in 2001 a federal appeals panel overturned the jury’s award, saying the agreement between Trump’s company and the two men had not been legally binding.

The judge also said Trump had met his charitable obligations through The Trump Foundation, a more modest effort than originally proposed, which was to give $5,000 college scholarships to 10 graduating high school seniors in Gary each year.

Profiting from bankruptcy

In 2004, Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts Inc., the parent company of the Gary casino, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Trump sought to restructure $1.8 billion in debt, much of it tied to hotels and casinos in New Jersey and New York.

Don Barden, a prominent black businessman from Michigan who owned the casino boat moored next to Trump’s, bought out Trump’s stake in Gary the following year for $253 million. According to financial disclosures, the proceeds from the sale were used to shore up the financial condition of Trump’s other casino and resort properties.

Through his spokeswoman, Trump told the AP he stood by his record but declined repeated requests to discuss the details.

“It worked out very well and was very good for Gary, Indiana,” Trump said, according to his campaign.

Current Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, a Democrat, said there were some benefits to bringing gambling to the city. Gary still gets about $6 million a year in gambling revenues, but not the $19 million Trump originally predicted. Trump also brought his Miss USA Pageant to Gary twice, briefly providing some of the glitz and glamour he had promised.

What remains today is far from the world-class facilities Trump boasted he would create two decades ago.

A decade after Trump pulled out, the two original riverboats, now called The Majestic Star and Majestic Star II, are still docked in Gary’s industrial harbor, hemmed in by a gray vista of dirt piles and cold smokestacks visible from the dingy windows. The carpets are faded and interiors dated with mirrored ceilings and walls. On a recent workday, a sparse jeans-and-sweat-pants crowd lined up for the serve-yourself soda and coffee between games.

The dilapidated hotel by City Hall was never renovated and was demolished in 2014. As for promises of high-paying jobs, a study for the state gaming commission found the median annual salary of a Trump casino employee in 2004 was $25,000, worth about $31,800 today when adjusted for inflation. That amount is slightly higher than the city’s median household income.

“When a community brings in gaming to spur economic development, I think one of the things we look for are long-term partners,” Freeman-Wilson said. “That was not what we found in Donald Trump.”

Trump won the county that includes Gary in May’s Republican primary, but the area is expected to continue to be a Democratic stronghold in November. A GOP presidential candidate has not carried the county since Richard Nixon.

Headed into November, Trump hopes to win over black voters.

“What do you have to lose?” Trump asked at a recent rally in Florida. “It cannot get any worse. And, believe me, I’m going to fix it. I’m going to make it so good.”

Asked about Trump’s pitch, former Indiana gaming commissioner David Ross, who was on the board that awarded Trump the casino license, said it would be a bad bet.

“What you have to know is that Trump is for Trump and he’s not for any black voters or anybody,” said Ross, a physician in Gary and a Democrat. “He’s not a guy who’s looking to help people. What he’s looking for is to make some money for Trump.”

— By Sophia Tareen and Michael Biesecker, AP writers

 

WHY IT MATTERS: Income inequality in America

Income inequality has surged near levels last seen before the Great Depression. The average income for the top 1 percent of households climbed 7.7 percent last year to $1.36 million, according to tax data tracked by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That privileged sliver of the population saw pay climb at almost twice the rate of income growth for the other 99 percent, whose pay averaged a humble $48,768.

But why care how much the wealthy are making? What counts the most to any family is how much that family is bringing in. And that goes to the heart of the income-inequality debate: Most Americans still have yet to recover from the Great Recession, even though that downturn ended seven years ago. The average income for the 99 percent is still lower than it was back in 1998 after adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, incomes for the executives, bankers, hedge fund managers, entertainers and doctors who make up the top 1 percent have steadily improved. These one-percenters account for roughly 22 percent of all personal income, more than double the post-World War II era level of roughly 10 percent. One reason the income disparity is troubling for the nation is that it’s thinning out the ranks of the middle class.

 

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton has highlighted inequality in multiple speeches, with her positions evolving somewhat over the past year. Bernie Sanders held her feet to the fire on that subject in the primaries. Clinton hopes to redirect more money to the middle class and impoverished. Clinton would raise taxes on the wealthy, increase the federal minimum wage, boost infrastructure spending, provide universal pre-K and offer the prospect of tuition-free college.

Donald Trump offers a blunter message about a hollowed-out middle class and a system “rigged” against average Americans. Still, he has yet to emphasize income inequality in the campaign. To bring back the factory jobs long associated with the rise of the middle class, Trump has promised new trade deals and infrastructure spending. But Trump has also proposed a tax plan that would allow the wealthiest Americans to keep more of their earnings.

 

WHY IT MATTERS

President Barack Obama has called rising inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” And experts warn that it may be slowing overall economic growth. Greater inequality has created a festering distrust of government and of corporate leaders whose promises of better times ahead never fully materialized.

The result has been a backlash against globalization that many Americans feel tilted the economy against them. For the top 1 percent, the ability to move money overseas and reach markets worldwide concentrated pay for “superstars,” according to economists. At the same time, factory workers now compete with 3 billion people in China, India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere who weren’t working for multinational corporations 20 years ago. Many now make products for Apple, Intel, General Motors and others at low wages. This has depressed middle-class pay. These trends have contributed to a “hollowed out” labor market in the United States, with more jobs at the higher and lower ends of the pay scale and fewer in the middle.

Social factors have amplified the trend as well. Single-parent families are more likely to be poor than other families and less likely to ascend the income ladder. Finally, men and women with college degrees and high pay are more likely to marry each other and amplify income gaps.

 

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

Total U.S. wealth doubled between 1989 and 2013, but probably not your family’s wealth

Total wealth in the United States doubled between 1989 and 2013, but the wealth of  families in the middle of the economy barely budged during that period.

This finding comes from a new report prepared by the Congressional Budget Office for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who waged a hard-fought battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“Over the period from 1989 through 2013, family wealth grew at significantly different rates for different segments of the U.S. population,” CBO wrote. “The distribution of wealth among the nation’s families was more unequal in 2013 than it had been in 1989.”

Sanders, in a press statement, said, “The reality, as this report makes clear, is that since the 1980s there has been an enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the wealthiest people in this country. There is something profoundly wrong when the rich keep getting richer and virtually everyone else gets poorer. That is unacceptable, and that has got to change.”

As of 2013, the top 10 percent of families owned three-quarters of total family wealth in the United States. The average wealth of the top 10 percent was $4 million, but families in the bottom 25 percent were $13,000 in debt on average, according to the CBO report.

More about the numbers

Since 1989, the amount owed by indebted U.S. families tripled. In 2013, families in the bottom 25 percent were $13,000 in debt, on average, whereas they had virtually no debt in 2001. A total of 15 million families were in debt in 2013, with an average indebtedness of $32,000.

Higher education plays a role in determining family wealth, according to the report. In 2013, households headed by someone with a college degree had four times more wealth than households headed by an individual with a high school degree.

Yet student loan debt was largely responsible for the increase in debt among the bottom 25 percent of families. Between 2007 and 2013 “the share of families with student debt increased from 25 percent to 36 percent, and the average amount increased from $24,000 to $36,000,” CBO wrote. The percentage of indebted families with outstanding student debt rose from 56 percent in 2007 to 64 percent in 2013, and their average student loan balances increased from $29,000 to $41,000.

“If we are going to reduce wealth inequality in this country, we must make public colleges and universities tuition-free and substantially lower student loan interest rates so that millions of young people do not leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades,” Sanders stated.

Bar rises for Milwaukee police review after latest shooting

Milwaukee, shaken by violence after a shooting by police, is one of a few U.S. cities to have volunteered for federal government review of its police force and may now be held to higher standards for how it responds.

Beginning in December, the review included a public “listening session” that, according to Milwaukee media, drew 700 people to a library auditorium to air their frustrations to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

Some community leaders said the weekend violence should result in a tougher review and real change.

“I would hope that the cries of the unheard … are now being heard around the country out of Milwaukee,” said Rev. Steve Jerbi, the lead pastor at All Peoples Church in the Wisconsin city of about 595,000 people.

The Obama administration has promoted a $10 million nationwide voluntary review program as a way to improve policing amid nationwide complaints of racial profiling and targeting. Milwaukee has become the latest U.S. city to experience discord after high-profile police killings of black men over the past two years.

The review in Milwaukee will look at issues such as use of force, the disciplinary system and diversity in hiring. The city was 45 percent white in the 2010 Census, while the police department is 68 percent white.

“Expectations of the report itself and of departmental compliance with the report are going to be raised,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies police behavior.

There is skepticism of how Milwaukee authorities will respond to federal recommendations, after past responses fell short of demands.

Fred Royal, president of the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch, noted that the recommendations would not be legally binding, unlike those for cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, where police use of deadly force and other practices were being scrutinized under so-called consent decrees — settlements without a final ruling by a judge.

“They don’t have the teeth that a consent decree has,” Royal said.

Businesses were torched and gunfire erupted in Milwaukee after the shooting on Saturday of a black man, Sylville K. Smith, 23. Police said he refused to drop a handgun when he was killed, and on Monday, the city imposed a curfew.

“My experience with the Milwaukee Police Department has been that it is a department in desperate need of fundamental change,” said Flint Taylor, a Chicago civil rights lawyer who has sued Milwaukee over police tactics.

A spokesman for the Milwaukee Police Department said officials were not available for an interview.

Police Chief Edward Flynn has said previously that his department has made progress and can withstand scrutiny.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said officials there declined an interview request.

The Justice Department is expected to release its findings within about two months. Milwaukee could then receive outside assistance and monitoring for up to two years.

Making the challenge tougher are deep problems of poverty and segregation in Milwaukee, the 31st largest city in the United States.

Milwaukee was ranked as the most segregated city in America by the Brookings Institution last year and in the neighborhood where the rioting took place more than 30 percent of people live in poverty.

Residents have protested past police shootings, such as the 2014 killing in which an unarmed, mentally ill black man, Dontre Hamilton, was shot 14 times. An officer was dismissed but no one was charged.

In 2011, another black man, Derek Williams, died in the back of a Milwaukee police car after he told officers he could not breathe and needed help, according to a lawsuit his family filed. The city has not responded to the lawsuit.

And in January this year, Milwaukee officials approved a $5 million settlement with 74 black men who said they had been subjected to illegal strip and cavity searches.

Las Vegas, which volunteered for the same federal program after a series of shootings there in 2011, was handed a list of 75 findings and recommendations by the Justice Department, and 18 months later it had completed 90 percent of the recommendations, the department said.

Philadelphia and San Francisco are among other cities under review.

Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou Contini and Grant McCool.