Charisse JonesUSA TODAYhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.435.0_en.html#goog_978138837

A key pledge in President Joe Biden’s plan to build the nation “back better’’ is to be bolder in addressing the systemic racism that has hindered the advancement of Black Americans, and other people of color, for generations.

The pursuit of racial and economic justice informed the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birth is being celebrated in a national holiday Monday. And along with health care disparities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the police abuse brought to light by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other African Americans, economic inequality is front and center in the national consciousness.

“These crises have ripped the blinders off the systemic racism in America,” Biden said of COVID-19 and the nation’s struggling economy in written remarks delivered Dec. 11, when he announced nominees to his governing team.

“The Black and Latino unemployment gap remains too large,” he continued. “And communities of color are left to ask whether they will ever be able to break the cycle where in good times they lag, in bad times they are hit first and the hardest, and in recovery they take the longest to bounce back.”

Biden’s proposals include boosting lending to entrepreneurs of color; creating and restoring parks and infrastructure in Black, Latino and indigenous communities; and empowering the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to more forcefully root out discrimination in the workplace. He will take office Wednesday. 

Biden’s plan for COVID aid:Here’s how a Biden stimulus plan could impact wages, stimulus payments and unemployment checks

A nation divided:As Biden prepares to take office and America reels from Capitol riots, Black and white still define the nation

But the challenge of narrowing a racial gap that spans areas from homeownership to wages to property taxes is vast.

While the Biden-Harris administration has outlined “solid proposals” to challenge some economic inequities, to significantly “rectify racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist within Black communities, they need to address the root causes of these issues,” says Arisha Hatch, vice president and chief of campaigns for the racial justice group Color Of Change.

President-elect Joe Biden is pictured speaking at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware.

“With the systemic racism that has locked us out of job opportunities, education, and access to health care,” Hatch said, “it’s going to take more than well-intentioned plans to close the racial wealth gap for Black communities.”

Black homeownership: Lowest level in 50 years

An array of policies, practices and in some cases, outright violence, have impeded the ability of African Americans to own, or hold onto, their own homes, a key asset for building wealth. 

In 2019, homeownership among whites stood at 73.3% compared with a homeownership rate of 42.8% among Black households, the widest gap since 1983, according to Harvard University’s State of the Nation’s Housing 2020 report, sponsored by Habitat for Humanity.

The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic may make that disparity even greater. 

While 36% of homeowners lost pay from March through September, 41% of African American homeowners saw a drop in income according to the Harvard report, citing data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. And at the end of September, 17% of African Americans who owned a home were behind on paying their mortgage versus 7% of whites, the report said.

April 11, 1968: Fair Housing Act     • Location:  Washington, D.C. The Fair Housing Act of 1968, one of the last pieces of civil rights legislation signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, banned discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, creed, national origin, or sex. The measure, intended to add to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, had been held up in Congress, but passed quickly by the House of Representatives following the slaying of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed housing discrimination. But “these barriers continue,” says Kilolo Kijakazi, an Institute Fellow with the Urban Institute, a think tank focused on economic and social policy.

Homebuyers of color, for instance, were frequently steered toward high-interest subprime loans that are more difficult to repay, even when those same customers qualified for more affordable lending options. That left them more vulnerable to potentially losing their homes. 

The subprime lending crisis contributed to the Great Recession that began in 2007.

“African American homeownership is at the lowest level that it’s been in 50 years in part due to some of the loss incurred after the subprime lending debacle,’’ Kijakazi says.

Lack of homeownership creates a domino effect, depriving families of assets to hand down, and equity that can be tapped to seed a business, pay for unexpected expenses like medical care, or to fund higher education.

“If you’re Black and your parents didn’t own a home, you’re more likely to take out loans,” says Andre Perry, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, and author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.” “So wealth begets wealth. But a lack of wealth also begets debt, and that’s what’s happening all across the country.”

Destruction and theft of property

And then there was theft. In perhaps the first documented theft of Black people’s property, Virginia’s 1705 law took and sold off possessions belonging to “any slave,” and the profits were directed to benefit “the poor,” according to “Stamped From The Beginning” by anti-racism scholar Ibram X. Kendi.

“The story would be told many times in American history,” Kendi wrote. “Black property legally or illegally seized, the resulting Black destitution blamed on Black inferiority, the past discrimination ignored when the blame was assigned.”

In the 19th and early decades of the 20th century, white mobs frequently attacked and destroyed thriving Black communities.

An African-American photographer  looking at the ruins of the Midway Hotel. The Goodner-Malone Co. is in the background.

“Greenwood, Rosewood… the reality is that was going on all over the United States,” Perry says of communities in Oklahoma and Florida that in 1921 and 1923 experienced two of the most infamous episodes of such destruction.

The Tulsa massacre, which destroyed that city’s all-Black Greenwood District, began after a 19-year-old African American man, Dick Rowland, was accused of allegedly attempting to rape a 17-year-old white elevator attendant, Sarah Page.

Goaded by articles in the local newspaper, and likely fueled by white resentment of the success and affluence of the district known as “Black Wall Street,” whites descended on the community of roughly 10,000, burning 1,500 homes to the ground and bombing more than 600 Black-owned businesses, according to the Tulsa Historical Society.

Thousands were left homeless, and personal property and financial losses and damages totaled over $2 million, including cash some residents kept at home because they didn’t trust white-owned banks.  

Two years later, a days-long massacre destroyed the Black community of Rosewood, Florida, as an alleged attack of a white woman by a Black man spurred mobs to torture and murder African American residents and burn the town to the ground. 

In more recent decades, so-called urban renewal efforts that officially set out to revamp blighted pockets of cities often stripped Black Americans of their property without sufficient compensation.

For instance, eminent domain was used starting in the 1960s to clear more than 500 acres in the predominantly African American southwest section of Washington, D.C., uprooting 1,500 businesses and displacing 23,000 mostly Black residents, according to a paper co-authored by Kijakazi.Will Kamala Harris as vice president finally change how corporate America sees and treats Black women? Stimulus checks: There’s a new round of scams, too. Here’s how to avoid them Three signs your money management skills need an overhaul Trying to pay off debt? Here are 4 mistakes to avoid when doing that. The Daily Money: Subscribe to our newsletter

Redlining now outlawed

Redlining, a discriminatory practice that prevented Black homebuyers from getting mortgages, also left many Black neighborhoods depleted.

While redlining is now outlawed, underinvestment in Black neighborhoods continues, Perry says. And the new building and restoration that comes with gentrification often result in Blacks being displaced, unable to afford higher taxes or rents, as more affluent whites move in.

“You’d be surprised how much destruction you can do with tax policy,” Perry continues, “by selling off land to developers without consideration of the Black communities around them. It can absolutely devastate a community like a bomb.’’

Overtaxed: Blacks pay more property taxes

In 1910, it’s estimated that African Americans owned up to 16 million acres of land. Today, they own under 5 million acres, says historian Andrew Kahrl, a professor at the University of Virginia who has extensively studied African American landownership. 

Based on Black population numbers in 2020 as compared with 1910, the average Black American owned 14.5 times more land a century ago than they do today, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

One reason for that staggering loss is property taxes, which, at times, have been used overtly to strip African Americans of their property.

“A lot of this was very subtle” Kahr saysl. “Many African American landowners didn’t know they were being overtaxed… But over time, it added up to being a very heavy burden with long-term consequences for Black wealth-building and economic mobility.’’

1954: Brown vs. Board of Education     • Date:  May 17     • Location:  Washington D.C. In a landmark case involving Linda Brown of Topeka, Kansas, who had to cross a railroad track to reach an all-black elementary school even though an all-white school was closer, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the segregated school system was unconstitutional on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The clause would be used again by the courts to reverse state-level racial segregation practices and ordinances.     ALSO READ: Most Important Historical Event in Every State

During the time of “Jim Crow,” when segregation and discrimination against Black Americans were enshrined in local and state laws, white landowners in the South, particularly those with a large amount of property, would often be given unreasonably low assessments, and local officials would shift the tax burden to smaller, often African American landowners.

“It’s putting your thumb on the scale for white landowners,” says Kahrl. But additionally “it was part of a larger philosophy of taxation that guided Jim Crow policy in general and is a part of our politics today … A philosophy of taxation that tried to sock it to the poor, the Black poor in particular, out of a sense that they weren’t deserving of the benefits of those tax dollars to begin with.’’

The discrimination could be blatant. In 1967, white officials in the town of Edwards, Mississippi, doubled the assessed value of most homes owned by African Americans to punish Black residents who were protesting the town’s continuing discrimination.

But even if bias is unintentional, structural issues continue to put Black taxpayers at a disadvantage.

Today, Black and Latino residents pay 10% to 13% more in property taxes than their white counterparts, according to a paper published in June by Carlos Fernando Avenancio-León of Indiana University and Troup Howard of the University of California, Berkeley.

That may be due in part to a history of segregation and underinvestment in communities of color. Assessments are based on the perceived market value of a home, and tax officials may factor in a house’s number of bedrooms or size, but not whether it’s located near a park or highly regarded school, features that can inflate a home’s worth.

Because Black neighborhoods are less likely to have amenities like parks or highly regarded schools, even a white owner’s home would be less valued in a Black neighborhood. 

And Black and Latino homeowners – who appeal their assessments less, win those appeals less often, and see smaller tax cuts than whites when they are successful –  tend to pay higher property taxes wherever they live. Lack of access to lawyers, and a reluctance to trust and challenge the official process are some of the reasons.

Bias on the part of potential buyers also plays a role.

“The same property in the hands of an African American, or located in a predominantly Black neighborhood is going to be devalued because of its location” or the race of its owner, says Kahrl, who was not involved with the Indiana University and U.C. Berkeley study. “Invariably, it means the assessment is at a higher percentage of market value than white-owned property.” 

An activist wears a "Fight For $15" T-shirt during a news conference prior to a vote on the Raise the Wage Act July 18, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The legislation would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025.

The pay gap: Blacks paid less than whites

In 2016, the net worth of a typical white family was $171,000, almost 10 times that of an African American family, which typically had a net worth of  $17,409, according to Brookings.

While wealth involves assets that go beyond weekly wages, income plays a significant part, and Black Americans on average are paid less than their white peers, no matter their profession or education.

Recent census data reported that the median income for white non-Hispanic households was $76,057 in 2019, a 5.7% increase over the previous year, and an 8.2% increase since 2000.

The median income for Black households saw a steeper spike – 8.5% – in one year. But it hovered at $46,073 in 2019 and had crept up just 1.4% from where median income was in 2000. 

“There are barriers in the labor market that further contribute to the gender and racial wealth gap,” says Kijakazi, who added that African American workers also experience higher rates of joblessness at every level of education. “Racial discrimination in hiring has persisted despite the enactment of legislation.”

Black men on average make 71 cents for every dollar paid to white men, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Black women, meanwhile, earn 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. That adds up to a loss of $24,127 a year for Black women, or $965,078 over the course of a work-life spanning 40 years, according to an analysis by the American Association of University Women. 

Lower wages, longer gaps in employment, and jobs that are less likely to offer pensions or savings plans like 401(k) plans also impact how much income people have to carry them through retirement. 

“African American seniors are less likely to have financial assets, retirement accounts, and home equity than white seniors,” says a July 2019 paper, “African American Economic Security and the Role of Social Security,” that was co-written by Kijikazi.

Remedies to root out systemic biases

Despite entrenched beliefs in race, there are ways to root out systemic biases, experts say.  

“We created these concepts to suppress, we can create new concepts to create inclusion,” Perry says. Black Americans “are over-policed. We are discriminated against in the job market. These things you can correct, and it will help change the perception of people of color.”

Remedies to bridge the wealth gap can include measures like federal job guarantees, in which any adult who wants a job can get one from the government, higher taxes on wealth versus income, and the introduction of trusts known as “baby bonds,” economists, civil rights advocates and lawmakers say. Such initiatives would also have an impact on lower-income families regardless of race. 

Conceived by the economist Darrick Hamilton, baby bonds would be federally funded accounts set up for every child born in the U.S., with larger contributions given overtime to those in poorer families. 

In July 2019, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.,  and Representative Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., reintroduced the American Opportunity Accounts Act, which would start every newborn with $1,000. Each child would receive up to $2,000 more each year, based on their family’s earnings, and at age 18, he or she could tap that money to buy a home or pay for higher education.

The Biden administration also has some promising initiatives, says Hatch of Color of Change. They include improved access to credit that could help narrow the racial wealth gap, and making sure that half of new funds allocated by a federal Paycheck Protection Program go to businesses with no more than 50 employees. That could be especially helpful to Black-owned businesses, the majority of which are solo ventures or employ no more than two people.

“Our priority will be Black, Latino, Asian and Native American-owned small businesses,” Biden said when announcing his economic and jobs team on Jan. 8. “We’re going to make a concerted effort to help small businesses in low-income communities, in big cities, small towns, rural communities that have faced systemic barriers to relief.’’ 

Still, more far-reaching measures, like federal business grants and a higher minimum wage are also necessary, Hatch says. 

“What we need from the Biden-Harris administration is a federal jobs guarantee, an influx of affordable housing, a higher federal minimum wage, and much more,” Hatch says. “If Black communities are going to survive this crisis, we need the new administration to act with the urgency this moment requires.” 

Biden has said he is hopeful it will be easier to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour now that Democrats control Congress in the wake of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning the recent Georgia runoff elections for two seats in the Senate.

With such initiatives, race could perhaps become less of a barrier and more of a marker to measure progress and change.

“You can’t create a whole society based on race and then” just stop, says Deena Hayes-Greene, co-founder of The Racial Equity Institute. “We have to take account of race until we change the structure that perpetuates these differences over and over again. Then we can stop checking the boxes.’’

Contributing: Jayme Fraser

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The NFL is about a 1/4 of the way through the season. The Saints have battled through displacement, injuries, inconsistency, and an adjustment period. Here’s a statistically based assessment of where they stand.

Offense:

The offense has been terrible this year, one of the worst of Sean Payton’s career. They’re down in almost every statistical category – points per game, total yards per game, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game. 5 games into the season, the offense has just struggled to move the ball, especially through the air.

At quarterback, Jameis Winston is only completing 60% of his passes for 178 yards a game. That’s near the bottom of the league statistically. His overall QB rating is skewed by the fact that he has 12 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. But 4 of those came in one game where he threw goal line touchdowns after the Saints ran the ball down the field. 4 others have come on big plays. Simply put, the Saints have had few sustained drives through the air. In a quarterback driven league, there’s no way you can consider yourself a SuperBowl contender with stats like that.

Part of it can be chalked up to the Saints missing both starting wide receivers. And part of it can be chalked up to Winston just not reading the coverages, or bad play calling on Sean Payton’s part. Whatever the reason, the Saints have got to get the passing game together in order to make the playoffs for the 5th consecutive year.

Saints All Pro Receiver Michael Thomas

Reason to be optimistic: Michael Thomas is coming back. There’s no getting around it. The Saints’ season hinges on Michael Thomas. On paper, he’s not only the best player on the team, but he’s one of the best in the league. The last time we saw a healthy Can’t Guard Mike he was the 2019 Offensive Player of The Year, leading the league in yards and receptions. That year he caught 80% of the balls thrown to him for an average of 9 receptions and a 107 yards per game. To put that in perspective, Jameis Winston barely threw for over 107 yards in each of the first 3 games this season.

Thomas’ presence should open up the offense. With less attention thrown his way, Marquez Calloway should shine as a 2nd option. Alvin Kamara should see more favorable matches coming out the backfield. And in pressure situations, Thomas should serve as a security blanket for Winston when no one else is open or he has trouble reading coverages down the field.

Reason to be concerned: Who knows which Michael Thomas will return. His consistency on the field has been matched by his inconsistency off of it. The last 2 years, his tweets have risen to Antonio Brown levels. Last season, he was suspended for fighting. And this year, he stubbornly waited until training camp neared to have ankle surgery, which is why he’s not on the field now.

Defense:

The defense has been carrying the team. And if you had to pick a MVP so far, it would have to be defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Since 2017 all Allen has done is scheme up the best defense the Saints have had since the Dome Patrol.

Reason to be optimistic: The defense is actually slightly better this year. They’re only giving up 18 points per game, 3 points less than the 21 they gave up last year. They’re also only allowing 79 yards rushing. That’s down from 93 last year. And despite going up against 3 of the best running backs in the league – Aaron Jones of the Packers, Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers, and Saquon Barkley of the Giants, they have yet to give up 100 yards to a single back.

This means that opposing offenses have been forced to be one dimensional. And even with teams resorting to throwing the ball more, the Saints D hasn’t been giving up big plays down the field consistently. They also rank 3rd in creating turnovers, up a spot from last year.

Reason to be concerned: They’re not sacking the quarterback. The Saints rank 29th in sacks so for this year. Last year they were 8th. They loss an elite pass rusher in Trey Hendrickson. And no one has stepped up to replace him. Cameron Jordan is in year 2 of a late career slide. Marcus Davenport is inconsistent when he does manage to stay on the field. Carl Granderson and Tanoh Kpassagnon have shown flashes. But this lack of a pass rush is partly why the Saints failed to close out the Giants game. This may become a big problem when they step up in QB class later in the season.

Special Teams:

Punter – Blake Gillikin has made us forget all about Thomas Morrestead.

Kicker – absolute disaster. The Saints are now on their 3rd kicker – 5 games into the season.

Reason to be optimistic: Wil Lutz will eventually come back.

Tidbits:

*  Alvin Kamara is averaging 3.9 yards per carry, down from 5.0 last year, but he’s a much better runner now.

*  Malcolm Jenkins is actually playing good football. He’s projected to finish with 86 solo tackles, 3 interceptions, 6 pass defenses, and 10 tackles for a loss.

*  11/14 – 12/2. @ Tennessee, @ Philly, then home against the Bills, and Cowboys. Those 4 weeks will tell you all you need to know about this team.

Prediction:

This team most likely has a ceiling of 11-6. But they’re a disgruntled Michael Thomas or an injury away from being 9-8 or 8-9. In the meantime, sharpen your teeth. Because this should turn out to be a nail biter of a season.

Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.

What you learned to do isn’t working. 6 ways to begin to turn your life around.

KEY POINTS

  • We often struggle because our old coping styles no longer work.
  • Knowing your old dysfunctional patterns helps you know how to begin to run your life better.
  • Discover what you can’t do and experiment with acting differently.

Life can deliver its share of troubles and we step up and handle them as best we can. But, for some, their struggles seem never to end. While they, too, are doing their best, what often fuels their difficulties is how they are running their lives. They seem to repeatedly fall into the same potholes, replicate the same dysfunctional patterns, and react to problems in old ways that no longer work.

If this seems to be true for you, maybe it’s time to step back, stop doing what isn’t working, and begin replacing this outdated psychological software with upgraded versions. Here are some of the most common potholes and patterns to stop alongside their new-and-improved replacements. See which resonate most with you:

Stop being a victim

You’re upset because your partner always brings up that incident at Christmas that he knows makes you angry. You’re tired all the time because you’re always going a hundred miles an hour juggling work, kids’ demands, and everyday life. The core problem here is that you see yourself as a victim of others and their reactions, a victim of the life that you have created.

What to start doing: Yes, you can’t control your partner; you feel trapped in a lifestyle that drains you. But most of all you’re not taking responsibility—for your emotions and your reactions, for the choices you make even when you feel like you are not making choices.

Stop being emotionally driven

Being emotionally driven easily overlaps with feeling like a victim. What we’re talking about here is you running your everyday life based on how you feel. You’re tired, so you don’t mow the lawn or do your taxes; you’re overwhelmed about the new project at work, so put off tackling it; it’s already 2:00 pm, the day is shot, and so you mentally kick back and coast—you’ll tackle it tomorrow.

Folks who have high anxiety or who have AD/HD are often emotionally driven: They do what they do based on how they feel. The problem with this is that you understandably avoid what you don’t want to do, what is uncomfortable, and don’t follow through when the going gets tough.

What to start doing: The underlying problem is that your emotional brain is driving your life rather than your rational brain. It’s time to stop your rational brain from being a passenger and to allow it to become the driver: time to learn to act despite how you feel; time to develop some perseverance, some discipline so your feelings aren’t constantly derailing you from success.

Stop being passive

It’s okay; that’s fine; no problem; whatever. If you find yourself saying these often, you probably get kudos for being laid back and accommodating, and as an extra bonus, you avoid a lot of conflict and confrontation. But it comes at a cost: by going along and essentially letting others make choices for you, you are living the life of a child rather than an adult who shapes his life by making his own decisions. Periodically, you may find yourself feeling resentful; you may flare up and be self-destructive. Rather than living a life that reflects your unique purpose, the moral of your life is to not make waves, not get into trouble.

What to start doing: While those who are emotionally driven pay too much attention to their emotions, those who are passive tend to not pay enough attention to them. If you feel like it’s time to stop being passive, you have two skills to develop: One is listening to your gut, paying attention to what you don’t like, don’t want to; two is doing something with it.

Speak up, be assertive, tell others how you feel and think. Even if it takes three days to figure out how you feel, that’s fine; it’s okay to take baby steps. All you have to do is act. Not perfectly, not because you expect some magical outcome, not because it will make someone else happy. Simply speak up and act rather than leaning back and doing nothing.

Stop being a martyr

You volunteer for every committee; you’re always doing for others. That’s fine if that is part of your values, your vision of a good life. But all too often, it’s about anxiety, walking on eggshells. While the story you tell yourself is that you are just being a good person, you’re being over-responsible and being good so others like you, to avoid the conflict that may come from saying no. You can tell when you are losing control of your life when you get burned out, or, like those who are passive, you periodically feel resentful that others aren’t appreciating what you’re doing or are not pulling their weight. If this happens to you, your life is out of balance; you’re being a martyr.

What to start doing: Like the others, realize and acknowledge when this is happening. Next, do what you struggle to do. Keep your hand down when they call for volunteers; learn to say no. Change your expectations about what you expect from others in return. Use your burnout as a wake-up call to tell you that you are not living your life.

Stop settling

The vacation your partner planned was “okay.” The salary increase wasn’t what you expected but “understandable.” Good for you for not overreacting and being critical. But…if you are doing this a lot, if your life is an endless series of compromises and watered-down experiences, if you are always settling, eventually it’s going to back up on you. Yes, it is good enough, but like that poor woman who in old age regretted eating too many beans and not enough ice cream, do you too need to learn to slow down on the beans and try going for more ice cream?

What to start doing: Speak up and try not to rationalize that what you get is good enough, or that it’s probably what you should only expect. You deserve more than you think; you can get more than you believe you can. And you have to believe it and try living it to find out.

Stop cutting and running

The relationship isn’t working out—you ghost him. Your supervisor is awful, and you quit. Your mother makes some nasty comments about your partner, and you decide you’re done and never want to talk to her again.

This is about coping with hurtful situations by cutting them off—the situation, the pain, the person. The problem here is your anxiety and your coping style works so you keep doing it. But the downside is that your life becomes a series of emotional cutoffs and unresolved problems; the hurt isn’t ever really resolved. You never learn the lessons that life can teach you. You stay the victim; your life is an accumulation of problems swept under the rug.

What to start doing: Don’t run; talk. Don’t run; tackle the problem. Your supervisor may still be a monster, your mother sticks to her nasty ways, but you’ve pushed back. You’ve been that adult rather than the scared, angry 10-year-old who runs away. At some point, what you say will be heard and the problem will be fixed.

The theme here is clear: Figure out what you can’t do, where you settle, resign, go on auto-pilot, or avoid what is hard. Stop doing it. Try doing the opposite.

The NOLA Project theatre company is getting a new leading artistic

voice.

Ensemble member Brittany N. Williams (HARRY AND THE THIEF, SPARE MISSION 1) has

been tabbed as TNP’s first-ever Co-Artistic Director. She will assume the role in January of

2022.

Brittany N. Williams

“I’m thrilled to be joining The NOLA Project team as Co-Artistic Director,” Williams said.

“Working with this brilliant group of artists as an ensemble member has been wonderful and I’m

excited to help us grow and evolve as a company and as part of the greater New Orleans

community.”

Williams, is an actor, singer and writer. You last saw her on stage in TNP’s last in-person production,

HARRY AND THE THIEF (Vivian), at the Contemporary Arts Center in 2020. During the

pandemic, she penned one of the company’s four original PodPlays as well as provided her

voice for it and two others. Outside of TNP, Williams’ credits include Stage Door Songbook: Cole

Porter (Susan), Mary Full of Gray (Mary/writer) and she was the The National World War II

Museum’s 2019 Stage Door Idol winner.

Williams will share Artistic Director duties with current AD A.J. Allegra.

“I couldn’t be happier to announce the addition of Brittany N. Williams to our new shared

leadership model at The NOLA Project,” Allegra said. “She is a passionate, smart, and creative

theatre artist with an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. The pandemic-forced

pause in our work allowed our ensemble to look inward at ways in which we could strengthen

and improve our organization. And, I am so pleased that in the tradition of NOLA Project, and the

spirit of ensemble, we selected one of our own to co-lead the next era of The NOLA Project.”

Originally from Baltimore, MD, Williams performed across three continents – including a year

spent as a principal vocalist at Hong Kong Disneyland – and several US states prior to

relocating to New Orleans in 2017. Some favorite out-of-town credits include Universal Robots

(Helena), Margaret I (Joan of Arc), Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds (Nansi – Helen Hayes Award

nom.), Antony and Cleopatra (Soothsayer/Clown), and Lear (Cordelia/Fight Captain). Williams

holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Howard University and an MA in Classical Acting from the

Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.

Last time we saw her

Williams’ latest work will be on display this fall when The NOLA Project and the New Orleans

Museum of Art present her new play, TELL IT TO ME SWEET, in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

For more information on the original outdoor production, running October 29-November 14, please visit

NOLAProject.com. PRESS CONTACT: kclaverie@nolaproject.com | 504.913.5057

 In an unprecedented move, two opponents endorse each other during an election

District “C” Councilmember Kristin Palmer and District “D” Councilmember Jared Brossett announced that they are taking the unprecedented step of endorsing each other for the Council At-Large before the November 13th Primary. Palmer and Brossett are running against each other in a four-way race for the Division 2 Council At-Large seat that includes former State Senator JP Morrell. Typically opponents in the same race do not endorse the other until after one loses.

Why would they do this?

The opponents see an opportunity to move voters away from their primary opponent JP Morrell.  Polling shows Morrell making the runoff with either of them.  For Palmer this is a political calculation.  In addition to politics, the personal dispute between Brossett and Morrell just got revved up significantly. 

Brossett and Palmer have worked together on the Council on multiple issues, including the $15 an hour minimum wage for city employees. They worked on the growing Airbnb problem. But this unforeseen action is not only shocking but politically risky for each of them.  

We will see how or if this unprecedented move affects the primary.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Wait, the party out of power was complaining about the party in power trying to raise the debt ceiling? What year is it? I feel like we’ve been here before. Some would call this deja vu. Others would call it a glitch in the Matrix. But this is the debt ceiling debacle.

This episode played out predictably. I had trouble deciphering if it was a new one or just a re-run. At the heart of it all was the funding of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget.

Democrats, the party in power, we’re trying to rally two holdouts in the Senate. And Republicans were running around talking about how the budget would usher in the total ruination of the country. This all made for high drama.

Senators Sinema and Manchin contribute to the Debt Ceiling Debate

HOLDOUTS 1 & 2

Senator Krysten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, also known as holdout #1, got jacked up in a bathroom by some citizens who still actually take national politics seriously. Not like literally jacked up, but you know, confronted, politely questioned in public about why she’s stalling President Biden’s budget.

Holdout #2, Senator Joe Manchin, a Republican who identifies as a Democrat, did what he usually does in highly partisan showdown. He got squeamish when Democrats started asking how he’ll be voting. Manchin subjected his fellow Democrats to a lot of public foot stomping over the green energy policies included in the budget. This shouldn’t be surprising. He’s a Democrat from West Virginia, a coal mining state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000.

Meanwhile, Republicans were dealing with their own internal drama. In one breath, it wouldn’t make proper partisan sense to be seen voting with the Democrats. But in another, it also wouldn’t make much political sense to sit back and watch the Democrats nuke the filibuster.

The filibuster is the only weapon a minority party in the Senate has to influence legislation. It takes 60 votes to break one, which is something no party in recent memory has had. So, a compromise is forced. Naturally, the threat of losing the filibuster scared the bee gee bees out of Mitch McConnell. So, he did the unthinkable: he rallied votes on behalf of the Democrats.

In the end, McConnell betrayed his party (their words) and did just enough to throw Democrats some cover fire until December. Instead of actually voting to raise the debt ceiling to cover the budget, Republicans and Democrats agreed to raise it just enough to cover the bills until December. The price – $480 billion.

People who try to make sense of this ask: why when they vote to spend money we don’t have, they just don’t also raise the debt ceiling to cover it?

The answer: because there’d be no incentive to curb spending. Imagine if every time you were about to max out your credit card, the bank just increased your credit limit. You know all the trouble you’d get into?

Right now, the federal government is in $28 trillion of trouble, mainly because it has just that – unlimited credit. The debt that incurs is usually only a problem to the party that’s not in control of spending.

Over the years, the rhetoric surrounding the budget and federal spending has degenerated to stomp speeches and red meat for constituents. You can look for this to intensify until one party, probably Republicans, actually do something crazy like block the other party from raising the ceiling. Then all catastrophes will break loose.

But the good people in Washington made sure that is something we won’t have to worry about until Christmas. Think of it as a premature lump of coal in your stocking. In a month and a half, we’ll actually see if they will take all the merry out of Christmas.

By TiOnka Writez

On September 9, 2021,  President Biden signed the executive order to mandate the vaccination of all federal employees and employees operating with one hundred people within the private sector by 12/08/2021. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued guidelines. Unvaccinated employees are to submit a negative COVID-19 test result every 72 hours before reporting for duty. In true American fashion, the edge of a life-altering event stirs dissent. We understand the need to stop the virus. But the plan of tampering with the working classes’ lively hood is a bit extreme.

The three most common vaccine questions are:

1) Are you vaccinated?

2) When will you get vaccinated?

3) Why won’t you get vaccinated?

Depending on who is asking, you may need to ere on the side of caution when preparing to answer. The decision to vaccinate or not is causing a rift in home and work environments worldwide. The unvaccinated now face hostility. How did we, as a “united” nation, get here?

Now, I know what you are thinking. This COVID-19 virus is no joke. Humans have never faced this before. And you cannot fathom why anyone would object to a scientifically formulated and tested solution. However, The unvaccinated have real issues to consider. Initially there was confusing and mixed messaging. For instance, medical professionals advise patients to take the “shot” to save lives. But a liability waiver is necessary to proceed with vaccine administering. And multiple contracting cases and deaths by COVID-19 are on record in vaccinated individuals. Warnings of use labels, of course, are available on all over-the-counter and prescribed medications. But the difference here is choice and the ability to proceed with informed consent.

The first amendment (“Freedom of Speech”) means freedom of expression. If individuals express their desire not to receive the vaccination, accept their decision. Amidst the debt ceiling debate, now is not the ideal time to threaten Americans’ job security. Stifling employee wage-earning potential and restricting medical coverage for COVID-19 testing is counterproductive to replenishing a depleted economy.

We should develop a solution that considers the position of all parties involved. The most relevant question here is, who or what constitutes a valuable person?” The answer is simple; every living person holds value. And their opinion matters. Don’t bully or shame people for staying strong in their conviction. Placing restrictions on employment is not the best create trust and cooperation with the citizens you are attempting to save.

To vaccinate more people, appeal to what matters to them. Implement a solution to address daily issues like the unstable workforce or unjustly inflated insurance rates in certain areas. Address their concerns without gaslighting them, overlooking how they perceive your message or threatening them with excessive force.

RELATED: For some lack of access is the issue

         

            In my recent pandemic rant, I railed against adults, who, for no good reason, refused to get vaccinated. I argued that it constitutes reckless endangerment of our children. As I write this, yesterday (August 25), a baby and a 14-year-old football player died in Louisiana of COVID.

            My daughter Rebecca, who is a physician and has a nine-year-old, thought my rant was spot on. My son, Jonathan, also a physician and whose 8-year-old just recovered from COVID, could relate to my frustration, but he thought I should be more understanding of the unvaccinated. And my unvaccinated friend V called me up to say I can’t just call her a baby killer. I didn’t, and yet . . . what do the facts say?

            I know V extremely well and love her. But I can’t for the life of me see how she reaches her anti-vax conclusion. She’s not stupid. In fact, she is brilliant. She doesn’t buy conspiracy theories. She’s never been betrayed by doctors or the medical establishment. She’s generous and community oriented. But she’s not a Republican. And yet she’s one of those people I referenced in my rant that you can’t reason with.

            I have to grant, therefore, that my son’s approach may be more useful. He had a patient last week, an elderly woman with underlying conditions, who refused to get the shot because she was sure that the Lord would take care of her. He affirmed her strong faith and said he wanted to tell her a story/joke. You know, the one about a person in dire straits who refuses three rescue offers because she believes God will save her. She dies and then takes God to task for not answering her prayers. And God says, but I sent you X, Y, and Z.

            Jonathan, being a homeboy, gave it the New Orleans spin of a woman on a rooftop after Katrina. Boats and a helicopter came to the rescue, and she waved them away. His patient laughed uproariously and said she’d think about it. He had occasion to call her several times as a follow-up to their appointment asking various questions about her medical history. On the fourth call, she said she had some surprising news. She got the shot.

            “Great!” he said. “What made you decide?” She said she shared the hilarious story with a friend. When Jonathan called, she said that was God’s second message to her. When he called again – that was God’s third message. “I got in my car,” she told him, “To drive to the Walgreens. And if nothing happens on the way, I’ll know that God wants me to get the shot.”

            Jonathan is 1 for 0 on convincing people. I am 0 for 0. So I have to admit, as good and righteous as my rant felt – yes, his approach is proving more effective.

Breakthrough infections are to be expected, but it doesn’t mean the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t working.

by Linda Geddes

As a growing number of people in wealthy countries get fully vaccinated, questions are being asked about why some of them are still becoming infected with coronavirus, in some cases even being hospitalised with COVID-19. Such “breakthrough infections” are to be expected, but just how common are they, and what should you expect if you test positive for SARS-CoV-2 having been fully vaccinated?

Vaccine efficacy

No vaccine is 100% effective. Even the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine – one of the most powerful disease prevention tools we have – is only 96% effective against measles after two doses, while the seasonal flu vaccine is only 45% effective. Still, it is estimated to prevent 130,000 flu deaths in the US alone each year.

COVID-19 vaccines can and do protect the majority of people from hospitalisation and death, which is why as many doses need to administered around the world as rapidly, and equitably, as possible.

Clinical trials of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines found them to be 94-95% effective against all symptomatic COVID-19 disease after the second dose. This doesn’t mean that we’d expect 5-6 in every 100 people to develop COVID-19, but that there was a 94-95% reduction in new cases of the disease among people who had been vaccinated, compared to unvaccinated individuals. China’s Sinopharm vaccine was 78% effective and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 67% effective in clinical trials. Protection against hospitalisation or death from COVID-19 was even higher.

With large numbers of people being vaccinated, and as almost all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in some countries, it is inevitable that a small proportion of fully vaccinated individuals will become infected. An even smaller proportion will become seriously ill and die. What’s important is that the risk of a serious outcome is vastly lower for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to those who have received no vaccine doses.

Breakthrough infections

In the US, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has been quantifying the number of breakthrough infections, which it defines as cases in which SARS-CoV-2 is detected in a respiratory specimen 14 days or more after an individual has completed all recommended vaccine doses. Between 1 January and 30 April, 2021, 10,262 breakthrough infections were reported from 46 US states. At that time, 101 million people in the US had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For comparison, there were 11.8 million COVID-19 infections recorded during the same period – so these vaccine breakthrough infections represented only a tiny fraction of the total number. Also importantly, not all of these individuals reported feeling ill – 27% of those experiencing a breakthrough infection were asymptomatic.

Since 1 May, the CDC has only been identifying and investigating those breakthrough cases in which the individual was hospitalised or died due to any cause (i.e. not just as a result of COVID-19). As of August 2, 2021, more than 164 million people in the US had been fully vaccinated. In that time-span, the CDC identified 7,525 patients with a breakthrough infection who were hospitalised or died.

Shorter milder illness

Another recent analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analysed breakthrough infections among almost 4000 essential and frontline workers in Arizona, USA, vaccinated with either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Of the 205 coronavirus infections identified, the majority occurred among unvaccinated workers – with only five fully and eleven partially vaccinated individuals testing positive between mid-December 2020 and mid-April 2021. Those who had received at least one vaccine dose had a 40% lower viral load (the amount of live virus a person carries) on average, a 66% reduced chance of testing positive for COVID-19 for more than a week on a PCR test, and a 58% lower risk of experiencing fever, compared to unvaccinated individuals. Their other symptoms also subsided about six days earlier and they spent two days fewer ill in bed, on average.

“The mechanisms by which vaccination attenuates COVID-19 are largely unknown, but the effect is probably due to recall of immunologic memory responses that reduce viral replication and accelerate the elimination of virally infected cells,” the researchers wrote.

Delta variant

The initial clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines were conducted before the emergence and spread of new variants, such as Delta, which are able to overcome the immunity afforded by COVID-19 vaccines to some degree.

In a recent study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, researchers at the Indian Council of Medical Research explored the possible reason for an increased number of breakthrough infections reported across the country. They collected nose and throat swabs from 677 individuals who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after receiving one or two doses or India’s Covaxin vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, or the Sinopharm vaccine. Genetic analysis revealed that in 86% of cases, the breakthrough infection was triggered by the Delta variant – although this could simply be a reflection of the variant’s prevalence at that time.

Other research also indicates that the vaccines may be less effective at preventing coronavirus infections in the face of the Delta variant. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infections, whereas the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 67% effective. A single dose of either vaccine was only 37% effective, underscoring the importance of receiving both doses.

However, COVID-19 vaccines still appear to be highly effective at preventing hospitalisation and deaths from the disease. Data from Public Health England, where the Delta variant now accounts for most COVID-19 cases, suggested that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 96% effective against hospitalisation with Delta after 2 doses, while the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 92% effective after 2 doses.

Living with the virus

Most experts agree that COVID-19 is now effectively endemic, meaning it will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population and trigger outbreaks, although it may pose less a danger over time. Many had hoped that once a certain proportion of the population had been infected, or vaccinated against the disease, herd immunity would kick in, meaning those who hadn’t encountered the virus would be buffered from infection by those who were already immune to it. The spread of Delta, and other variants that can partially escape the immunity provided by vaccination or previous infection has raised the threshold for herd immunity, with some even questioning whether it can be achieved at all. However, COVID-19 vaccines can and do protect the majority of people from hospitalisation and death, which is why as many doses need to administered around the world as rapidly, and equitably, as possible.

Could New Public Board Do a Better Job?

In New Orleans, the city council regulates the power company.  This is a unique occurrence.  Everywhere else across the state, the state-run Public Service Commission regulates the power companies for local municipalities.  The commission regulates insures that every district has safe and reliable power at reasonable rates.  Utility regulation is complex and important.  Utility commissions make life changing decisions.  Should the city council regulate Entergy?

The state’s Public Service Commission has  five commissioners that represent different parts of the state. In New Orleans, while the entire council must approve any regulation, the utility committee interacts directly with the power company.  This unique authority provides citizens direct access to all of the regulators.  That council members are the regulatory body, a heightened sense of politicization affects the policy decisions. 

Is this the best solution? 

The notion of local control seems great.  Now, council members have direct management of the power company with access to the company executives circumvents excessive bureaucracy.  And for the company, New Orleans officials directly hear their concerns.  Win-win right?

The complexity of utility regulation is significantly high.  Even the state’s commission hires advisors and experts to help it understand their choices.  And the New Orleans City Council annually spends over a million dollars on utility consultants and attorneys.  Finding the sweet spot – a financially strong and profitable power company that provides safe, reliable and affordable electricity – is an extreme challenge.  Add in climate change and the stakes get higher.  Our Hurricane Ida experience exposes our vulnerability.  100% of the metro was out of power. 

Role of the City Council

The council is the legislative and partly administrative branch of city government.  New laws, potholes, marijuana laws, city budget, crime, internet and cable TV, housing, water and land use are some of the important work done by the council.  Our members serve four-year terms.  The approve the city budget.  The council has several subcommittees that meet regularly in addition to the normal every other Thursday regular meeting.

Entergy New Orleans(ENO) is a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation, the city’s only Fortune 500 company.  ENO has been the power company in New Orleans for 99 years.  And ENO is guaranteed a reasonable profit. They must provide always on electricity and gas to homes and businesses. Additionally, the company must maintain the power grid for the city.  ENO attempts to maximize its’ profit through efficiency and minimizing expenses while continuing to provide high quality service.

Justice and Beyond Meeting Headed by Pat Bryant and Dr. Dwight Webster

Relationship Issues

The very nature of this business partnership requires informed and committed regulation.  Business intends to make the most profit possible providing desired service or products.  In the case of Entergy, cutting costs to increase profits might result in potential calamity.  Some have claimed the tower that collapsed during the storm is a prime example. They say the rusted and twisted metal indicates lack of proper maintenance.  Though not a part of ENO, this example provides insight into the difficulty regulators face.  How to oversee the wide and complex power grid.

But the New Orleans City Council is much more than just a regulatory body.  The city council must provide public policy, laws, budgets, and a host of other responsibilities. And the complexity of utility regulation is immense.  Even our state commission hires consultants and law firms.  Furthermore, none of the current council members is a utility expert.  The field is a specialty that requires specific skills and knowledge. We ask too much of council members. They are already burdened with everyday city stuff to oversee a powerful company.  Combine term limits to this equation and it’s no wonder that the same questions come up year after year.

Entergy is able to monetize our city government structure.  Council members cycle off every eight years.  New council members usually have no knowledge of the utility committee’s actions. Sometimes the new members’ campaigns were supported by ENO. Their ability to regulate may not be compromised. However, they may have more information about Entergy’s desires than the city’s position.

Therefore a diverse new board comprised not only of City Council members, but also citizens, independent industry experts, Entergy representatives, the New Orleans representative on the Public Service Commission, and university representatives should serve staggered 8-year terms.  This board should only regulate ENO.  This relieves burdened and inexperienced council members.  This new board will ensure that the threats of climate change are mitigated.  In other words, if we can not keep the lights on, then we no longer exist. 

The new power and gas board of New Orleans means we have a strong city for another 100 years.

               

                I’d like to speak to upper management. I don’t think the City Council’s Utilities Committee is making a big enough mess of its relationship with Entergy. Yes, I know, both sides have been throwing around the D word lately. But this is shaping up to be more of a public tantrum than a full-on split. I feel that any day now their beef will be settled behind closed doors with both sides vowing to never ever take each other for granted again. Public displays of affection will soon follow. And before we know it, the two will be back to old times. As responsible citizens we can’t allow this to happen. Can the city council be trusted to regulate Entergy?

                The Committee is an abusive relationship with Entergy. It may or may not know this. But one thing remains clear: it is powerless to do anything about it. Entergy lies to the Committee at will. It subjects it to rounds of emotional and intellectual abuse. There was even a widely publicized bout of infidelity where it paid for a public display of affection.

                Each time that this happens Entergy is either able to woo itself back into the Committee’s heart with words or money. Twice lately it has thrown a couple of million at the Committee, slapped it on the ass, and told it to go buy itself something nice. Afterwards, the cycle of abuse just starts all over again.

                Clearly, the Committee is too compromised at the moment to be effective regulators of Entergy. As a result, we all to often find our homes reduced to dark, powerless caves, making it clear that we citizens are the ones caught in the middle. No more. But what are our solutions?

                We can suggest the two seek counseling. An intermediary board can act as a go between, a regulator of the regulators. But then it’d become clear that the Committee’s role would be redundant. And the only logical thing to do at that point would be for the Committee and Entergy to split. That’s not going to happen. The Committee will never voluntarily breakup with Entergy. And despite all the hee-hawing and foot stomping, Entergy is never going to voluntarily breakup with the Committee either.

                Maybe we can have a vote, some type of City Charter or City Council amendment to force a legal separation. Yes, the Committee would be hurt, and left feeling betrayed. But at this point, it may be the best thing for both parties. The Committee can disband, and the individual members can devote their time to areas they actually have expertise in. And we can find Entergy a new partner, an equal that will force it to be the best energy provider it can be. It’s a long shot, but who knows.

                Meanwhile, a few suggestions for the Committee going forward:

  • If somebody tells you they can build a plant that’ll do this or that, as a regulator you should be able to look at the specs and determine if that’s the case beforehand. Yelling WTF afterwards is just not acceptable.
  • When hurricane season approaches, maybe, just maybe you should demand some type of state of the power grid report to identify any weak points that may need to be addressed. Otherwise, what exactly is being regulated?
  • Just do better. Somehow, someway. If Sean Payton can squeeze 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions out of Jameis Winston, surely you can squeeze some type of consistent respect and energy out of your relationship with Entergy.

                Hopefully, this makes its way to upper management. You know we citizens can be emotional too. And we tend to let that emotion out during elections. Don’t take that as a threat. Well…maybe you should. Or maybe you shouldn’t. I don’t know. Just find a way to keep the lights on.