“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Can the Democratic establishment get it right this time?
With the first Democratic primary still about eight months away, the Democratic party establishment appears prepared to throw all of their weight behind Joe Biden.
To hear MSNBC or CNN tell the story, Joe Biden has been the Democratic party's frontrunner since before he even declared his candidacy. Whether or not this is entirely true, however, is debatable. Misleading polls are being conducted and then misrepresented by many liberal news outlets as a means of solidifying Uncle Joe's frontrunner status early on in hopes of swaying voters toward the "more electable" candidate in the primaries. If Joe Biden can be made to look like he actually has the best chance of clinching the nomination or winning against Trump in a general election, then, voters will be more likely to vote for him as the safe bet.
IVN, or the Independent Voters Network, self-described as "a platform for unfiltered political news and policy analysis from independent-minded authors," has highlighted the biased nature of many political polls. IVN writer, Rudolpho Cortes Barragan reports:
"FiveThirtyEight, which is owned by ABC/Disney, functions as a sort of gatekeeper for polling, and polls are extremely important for candidacies. The public is told that polls judged as A+ by FiveThirtyEight are to be seen as real bellwethers of popular opinion. In reality, 'the polls' are manufactured to produce the results that the pollsters (and their corporate funders) want to see."
Barragan goes on to cite a recent Mammoth University poll as evidence. "The results showed Biden 9 percentage points ahead of Sanders," he writes, "but if you look closely you will see that more than 70% of the people polled are over the age of 50. Any honest person would be able to tell you that the 2020 electorate will be far younger than 50." The data is seldom presented within its full context on mainstream news outlets like MSNBC or CNN, and instills in voters a false sense of Biden's electability and props him up as the "safe" vote.
If this sounds eerily familiar, it's because the same thing happened in 2016. Hillary Clinton, like Biden, was prematurely propped up as the most electable candidate, even though an anti-establishment candidate like Bernie Sanders may have stood a better chance against Trump's "outsider" persona, which resonated with many voters (particularly across the midwest). This was proven in the wake of Trump's victory when analyses showed that many Bernie supporters either did not vote in the general election or jumped on the Trump ticket, preferring the radical change suggested by Trump's "drain the swamp" narrative over Clinton's years of experience as a politician.
Joe Biden, like Clinton, is firmly rooted in the Democratic establishment. While Trump's approval rating has wavered over the last few years, hitting its low at 35% in 2017, it has remained around 40 to 45% — a number that should be alarming for Democrats going into 2020, as there have been only three single-term presidents since World War II.
Either way, the Democratic party and its voters must avoid making the same mistakes if there is any hope of preventing a Trump reelection. Poll manipulation was not the only issue in the 2016 election. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) was also exposed for unfairly tipping the scales toward Clinton in 2016, effectively rigging the primary against Bernie Sanders.
Donna Brazile, former interim chair of the DNC, revealed in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House, the nefarious– although not technically illegal, according to US District Judge William J. Zloch, who dismissed a class action lawsuit against the DNC – actions of the Committee.
"Hillary would control the party's finances, strategy, and all the money raised," writes Brazile. "Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings."
It's unclear whether the DNC's current chair, Tom Perez, will run an honest and fair ship as we approach the 2020 election cycle. Perez held the position of labor secretary during the Obama administration, and Biden publicly threw his support behind Perez during his campaign for DNC chair; whereas Sanders preferred Keith Ellison, who lost by a narrow margin. Only time will tell if Perez will tip the scales in Biden's favor due to their favorable history together, but the Democratic party is no stranger to nepotism, so Perez – especially in light of 2016 – should be watched carefully in the months to come.
Even if the DNC does run a fair election this time around, electing Joe Biden would be a grave mistake. A mistake that the party already made last time around in the form of gifting the primary to Hillary Clinton. This election will not be one for tepid, center-of-the-road policies. We've already seen how an establishment centrist performs against Donald Trump. The Democratic party must embrace and adopt the progressive push to the left provided by candidates like Sanders and others if they have any hope of winning in 2020. Playing politics as usual will cost the Democratic party, and the nation, another four years of a Donald Trump White House.
A history of stalled construction, deferred maintenance and funding problems have left the subway with a seemingly hopeless future
The subway system, winding beneath, through and over the streets of New York City, moves almost six million people every day. The system stretches over 665 miles of track from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. The subway opened in 1904 with 28 stations in Manhattan, and though it now connects the five boroughs through 472 stations, many regular riders complain that not much else has changed in the last 114 years. Some trains are more often delayed than not. And while the city's population is, again, rising and overcrowding on subway platforms continues to cause problems, the city has basically stopped building new subways. Why? And why can't the MTA keep its trains running smoothly and on-time?
Photo: Raymond Francisco
The New York City subway opened in October 1904, but it was privately built and managed until 1940 when Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia bought and consolidated the two private companies who'd owned it for over $300 million. Yet, ridership was already peaking as the country saw a future of personal automobiles on the horizon. After decades of refusing to raise fares, the city finally doubled the price to a dime per ride. Soon, a statewide referendum approved an exemption from the state's tax limit for the city to continue its subway expansion. Instead, the administration used the money to reduce what had already become a giant deferred maintenance problem. The MTA New Yorkers know today wasn't formed until 1965, by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Though the subway system was finally under its present state-controlled organization, its problems continued to grow as the city neared bankruptcy.
A history of large problems and inadequate or emergency solutions has defined the aging but essential subway system of today. The cheap and accessible movement of those six million daily riders around New York's boroughs drives the city's economic, innovative and artistic engines. New York City and its surrounding areas create over $1.5 trillion in gross metropolitan product: close to 9% of the country's GDP in 2016. Researchers have estimated that losing the subway for a month due to a Hurricane Sandy-sized storm would cost New York City $60 billion in "lost economic output."
The city's economy—and a large chunk of the U.S. economy—depend on an out-of-date, complex public transportation network that doesn't have enough money to repair itself or to continue expanding. The city's inability to catch up on the long list of repairs only increases the number and severity of the system's problems.
Only 3% of the subway's tracks meet the cleanliness standards required by their own governing body, the MTA. Meanwhile, parts of the signal system that controls train movements are so old and obsolete that they have to be built in-house by the MTA because no company manufactures them today. And almost half of the 6,400 cars running on tracks daily were built between 1960-1989, with half of those due for repairs or replacement. The subway's problems are as old as its parts.
Governor Cuomo introduced an $800 million "NYC Subway Action Plan" to help fix the struggling system. He wants the state to pay for half of the plan and the city to cover the rest, but Mayor De Blasio refuses to add to the huge amount the city already pays in taxes to maintain its subway. Why the governor of a state—in which a significant portion of the population does not live in the city or use its subway—controls the MTA and appoints its chairman is another question.
The New York Times Magazine estimates that the needed repairs to the subway would cost at least $111 billion. This doesn't include the increased flooding and unforeseen damage caused by more powerful storms and rising sea levels. Subway tunnels snake below sea level beneath a city surrounded by water. Alan Weisman's book, The World Without Us, highlights the role workers play in keeping the subways dry. Over 750 electric pumps work ceaselessly to pump 13 million gallons of groundwater (the water already in the ground) uphill every day. At one station in Brooklyn, 650 gallons of water per minute must be pumped out. Half an hour without the pump makes the station impassable. When it rains, the water rushes below ground even more quickly, and when a hurricane floats up the coast, the amount of water is incalculable.
The subway is always under construction because the list of repairs is impossibly backlogged. The city cannot fix the subway's problems quickly enough without great, preventative changes to the way the system operates in the future. That is exactly what the president of New York City Transit, Andy Byford, has proposed. His ambitious 10-year plan, called Fast Forward, promises a modern NYC subway within the decade. The agency will begin installing a modern switching system, replace subway cars, improve stations, and make dozens of them wheelchair accessible. By changing the way the MTA spends money, the plan could complete the most important parts of that $111 billion renovation for about $40 billion.
Why has the city stopped building new lines? That is a simpler question to answer. Too much money must be directed toward repairs to undertake any significant, new building projects. And New York City has become the most expensive tunneling area in the world. The city spent between $100 million and $250 million (in 2017 dollars) per mile, building the original tunnels and tracks in the 1900s and '10s. Last year's long-awaited 2nd Avenue extension cost $2 billion per mile.
If the city and state can agree to fund Byford's plan, the subway might soon receive the upgrades it needs. Any future expansion of the subway will depend on the success of Fast Forward's changes to the MTA's operation and its spending on maintenance, repairs, and construction. The subway is the heart of New York City. How do you perform open-heart surgery on something that doesn't sleep?