Thursday, October 31, 2013

Something insane just happened in Congress

Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act - Amends the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to extend the exemption from the prohibition against federal government government assistance to (bailouts of) swaps entities to any major swap participant or major security-based swap participant that is a U.S. uninsured branch or agency of a foreign bank.
Declares the prohibition against federal government bailouts of swaps entities inapplicable to:
(1) a foreign banking organization supervised by the Federal Reserve; and
(2) an insured depository institution or a U.S. uninsured branch or agency of a foreign bank that limits its swap and security-based swap activities to hedging and similar risk mitigating activities (as under current law), non-structured finance swap activities, and certain structured finance swap activities.
Repeals the exemption from the prohibition for any insured depository institution that limits its swap and security-based swap activities to acting as a swaps entity for:
(1) swaps or security-based swaps involving rates or reference assets that are permissible for investment by a national bank; or
(2) credit default swaps, including those referencing the credit risk of asset-backed securities unless they are cleared by a derivatives clearing organization or a clearing agency registered, or exempt from registration, under the Commodity Exchange Act or the Securities Exchange Act.
The New York Times reported on the front page that Citigroup drafted most of the House bill that allows banks to engage in risky trades backed by a potential taxpayer-funded bailout. The Times notes that "Citigroup’s recommendations were reflected in more than 70 lines of the House committee’s 85-line bill."

Special-interest lobbyists often play a role in writing legislation on the Hill, but such sausage-making is rarely revealed to the public. In this instance, members of Congress and a band of lobbyists have been caught red-handed, and Mother Jones has obtained the Citigroup draft that is practically identical to the House bill.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Controlling the Deficits

It should be clear from the charts above that getting control over U.S. spending will require addressing both mandatory and discretionary spending.

Mandatory spending accounts for almost two thirds of the budget. Without addressing it, we get nowhere fast. However, Social Security and Medicare come under mandatory spending and politicians have been loath to address these programs, and for good reason. Even TEA Party people have made it clear that they want the government to, "keep its hands off Medicare!"

Unfortunately, things won't get any easier for our political "leaders." The latest census forecast says the number of Americans 65 and older will double over the next 30 years to 80 million. On top of that, the under-65 crowd will grow more slowly than estimated four years ago. As a result, the percentage of Americans 65 and older will increase from 13 percent in 2010 to 21 percent by 2040. Bad news for those having to pay into the system, because benefits will have to be decreased and/or contributions will have to be raised to ensure the system remains viable.

On the discretionary piece of the pie, military spending seems an obvious target. After all, the U.S. spends more on Defense than the next 13 nations COMBINED! But every military program has its congressional proponent, and cutting enough to make a difference will hurt in someone's backyard, and they'll balk. Again.

Politically, there are no easy answers. Practically, there are answers. Can we please have a reasonable debate about how, over the long term, we can ensure sustainable deficits and a healthy economy in which no one demographic; the elderly, the poor, the middle class, shoulders an unfair burden?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Seeing is Believing

My good friend, a died-in-the-wool conservative, contested an earlier post, The Absurdity of Conservative Economics, arguing that stimulus spending doesn't work because we never reduce spending after increasing it to stimulate the economy. Really?!

There is a legitimate debate about so-called deficit spending and Keynesian Economics, and whether in the long term it helps or hurts economic growth, but there is no debate about whether federal spending is ever reduced after increases -- maybe I misunderstood him. He's old and I'm older. But here's the picture that's worth a thousand words.

Outlays, Receipts & Deficits as % of GDP
The data were downloaded from the Office of Management and Budget and then opened using an Apple Works spreadsheet program. Clearly, the outlays as a percent of GDP during WWII greatly exceeded receipts and deficits grew larger. After the war, federal spending dropped dramatically and deficits shrunk. You can see the same pattern throughout the chart, although far less dramatically.

It's also interesting to note that our current deficit problems started in George W. Bush's first term in 2001 and grew worse until he left office. Under the Obama Administration, outlays and receipts are converging and deficits are shrinking -- another fact that my friend and his conservative golf buddies at the country club are loath to recognize (there were three Democrats at the country club, but two of them died and the other one disappeared mysteriously after birdieing the 8th hole and causing a 'redistribution of wealth' among the foursome (JK)).

The contraction during the Great Recession precipitated by Bush's economic policies and an under-regulated financial industry is the largest decline since quarterly data became available in 1947. Cumulatively, real GDP fell by 4.3% during the recession. The steep drop in economic activity caused by the recession makes it imperative that more work is done to raise economic growth and speed job creation.

Republicans say they're focused on creating jobs, but actions speak louder than words. They manufactured two debt crises in the last two and a half years. In the first one they managed to get an across-the-board cut -- the sequester -- causing all kinds of chaos (which they then tried to reverse with selective appropriations). In the second they got basically nothing (except some $3b for a dam project in Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky).

But they'll be back for more cuts, both in spending and taxes, as well as "fixes" to the Affordable Care Act. Everything they do will hurt the economy -- count on it!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What was Really Behind the Republican Shutdown?

"If the Republicans had not fought on ObamaCare,
the compromise would have been over the budget sequester." 
The government shutdown is over and recriminations, ruminations, and machinations are rebounding around the halls of Congress, mainstream media, and the blogosphere. Here I am to add my $.02.

The general wisdom seems to be that Republicans are taking the brunt of the blame for the shutdown, as well they should. Allowing TEA Party members of the House to dictate a defund or die fiscal fiasco was a fool's errand and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was the errand boy. Recriminations within party ranks have made the Republican Party look disorganized to the point of disarray. Speaker Boehner comes off looking particularly bad as leader of his party. Politically, the circus orchestrated by Cruz hurt Speaker Boehner's reputation as leader of a cohesive Party, and seems to have made Cruz a pariah among rank and file Republicans.

President Obama was seen generally as holding the upper hand in refusing to negotiate on the Affordable Care Act under threat on the Republican-led shutdown and the looming possibility of a government default. His position got stronger as the shutdown dragged on and Republicans began vacillating on what they hoped to get out of the impasse.

The Republican cause wasn't helped by some of the ludicrous things Republicans, without a consensus message for once, were saying. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told a reporter, "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this and I don't know what that even is." And that was the crux of the matter. Republican leadership knew that getting the President to cave on the ACA -- his signature first term achievement -- was a pipe dream. So what the hell were they hoping to achieve by another round of budget brinkmanship?

It may be that an analysis of the Republican shutdown that assesses the question as a party tactic won't get us a sensible answer. Rather, the shutdown may have been orchestrated by individuals within the party, with help from outside political groups, like the Heritage Foundation and its sister advocacy group and political arm, Heritage Action. The purpose in this case, would be to shift the power base of the party from the moderates to the ultra-conservatives, including the TEA Party. How did they hope to do this? By doing exactly what they did. Making party leadership look bad, and then threatening members coming up for reelection with an all-out primary challenge to replace them with their brand of no-holds barred conservative.

Between now and the 2014 Congressional elections we will see Republicans continue to thwart the President on every front, but mostly on spending. There will continue to be attacks on the Affordable Care Act, but these will be focused on undermining the act, and making it look bad (through such tactics as Congressional investigations), with the hope that Republicans can make it a cause célèbre for the 2016 Presidential election.

It will be interesting to see how Republicans structure their primary for the 2016 election. They would certainly want to avoid an all-out battle with the TEA Party over who the presidential candidate will be, but this might not be possible. People might forget the debacle that was Ted Cruz reading from Dr. Seuss during his irrelevant filibuster, but the angry Republican moderates won't. They'll be a search for a compromise candidate. In steps Jim DeMint. Know who he is?

The Absurdity of Conservative Economics

There's another "economy lesson" floating through the blogosphere, courtesy of the conservative propaganda machine. This one attempts to defend the Republicans latest round of budget brinkmanship by once again comparing the federal budget to your household budget. "Oh, my! Imagine how you'd feel if you were trillions of dollars in debt!" Yeah, I'd feel like some bank loan officer wasn't doing his/her due diligence.

The "Fiscal Cliff" is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Republican polity whose only motivation is antipathy for the President and disdain for the poor.

The US economy is no more like your household budget than the Idaho militia is like the US Marine Corps.

There will always be a national debt and there should be. Budget deficits have been decreasing and will decrease more as the economy continues to improve. Had it not been for the obstructionist practices of poor-loser Republicans, we'd have a stronger economy and even lower deficits. As it is, deficits have fallen from over 10% when Bush left office in 2008, to 7% in 2012.
What Republicans refuse to acknowledge is that George W. Bush left an economic disaster in 2008, unemployment was rising, revenues were falling (both due to his crazy-ass tax cuts and to loss of jobs), and spending on safety net programs were necessarily rising (that's what they do when people lose their jobs). Economists will tell you that recovering from a deep recession like the one Republicans left, can take ten years (Japan has suffered for decades).

But, if you're a Republican, look on the bright side. If Republicans can succeed in denying the vote to women and [even more] minorities, and they can come up with a candidate that isn't a dick (or doesn't keep stepping on his dick), they may win the Presidency in 2016. Then they can claim credit for reducing deficits in 2018 in their attempt to win back the House.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Doc Hastings -- Common Sense for Congress?

Prior to the impasse over reopening the government after the Republican manufactured shutdown, a majority of House members went on record saying that if given the opportunity to vote, they would support a "clean" continuing resolution.

According to the standing rules of the House, any member could have brought the CR to the floor, a vote would have been taken, and the shutdown would have ended early, or perhaps avoided altogether. Much of the damage to the economy and to people’s lives could have been prevented.

However, on the eve of the shutdown, the House Rules Committee slipped through a resolution (H. Res. 368) denying members their long-standing privilege and giving that right exclusively to House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, R-VA.

This was a shameless attempt by Republicans, pressured by their TEA Party caucus, to undermine the Nation’s democratic processes. Only nine House Republicans had the courage to vote against this travesty. Doc Hastings (R-WA) was not one of them. Doc Hastings, who was elected to represent a district (WA-4th) whose very existence as a viable economic entity depends mightily on the federal government, abandoned the interests of his constituents and bowed to the more extreme elements of the Republican Party.

Common Sense for Congress? Hardly.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Speaking Up For Democracy

It was a small gathering of people willing to assemble at the offices of Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) to voice their opposition to the Republican government shutdown, and Republican efforts to sabotage democracy. Hastings wasn't there, but NBC/KNDU "Right Now" News was there, took video, and interviewed a few people, including me. I spoke about the Republican-led House passing House Resolution 368, which prevents anyone but Eric Cantor or his designee from bringing a Continuing Resolution bill to floor. My little speech didn't make it off the cutting room floor, but a young man named Nik Foster gave a very good interview on the absurdity of Republicans shutting down a government that essentially keeps the Tri-Cities humming.
Mary Wilcox (with sign), who organized the event on behalf of
Nik Foster speaks about how the Republican shutdown effects Hanford and the Tri-Cities 
Mary Wilcox, the woman who sponsored the event, admitted that she was out of her element as a political organizer, but she overcame whatever trepidations she may have had and soldiered on. She did her civic duty because she felt strongly about how democracy should work, and about how the Republicans in congress were undermining the democratic process. Good on her!

People at the event talked mostly about the shutdown, but there were also comments about Senate Republicans abuse of the filibuster. One held up a sign saying, "Let Them Vote," and another saying, "Stop the Madness."

One man spoke angrily, characterizing Republican tactics as "sedition," a view expounded upon recently by the journalist, Andrew Reinbach of the Huffington Post. Whether Republican actions are sedition or not would have to be argued by someone more versed in law than I am, but what they're doing undoubtedly falls under the definition of extortion, i.e., "an oppressive misuse of the power with which the law clothes a public officer."

We cannot allow this abuse of power to succeed. And come election 2014, the people that did this must be held accountable, including "What's Up Doc" Hastings.

This Shameful Video Speaks for Itself

Monday, October 14, 2013

What Now?

Republicans seem to have given up hope of blackmailing the Obama Administration into repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). They're still muddling around trying to figure out what they can wrangle out of the Administration for ending the government shutdown. So, what now?

Well, given that the Republican tactic for repealing/de-funding the ACA have so far failed, they are moving ahead with their parallel effort of undermining it, by stripping out provisions that would save money or bring in revenue (including taxes on high-cost health insurance plans, medical devices, tanning salons, and capital gains and dividends). They will then point to studies that show health care costs rising, and demand repeal all over again. Fanatics don't give up.

The fact is, health care costs in the U.S. are bound to increase initially as millions of people (some 44 million Americans have no health insurance) gain access to health care by virtue of obtaining affordable insurance. This has been born out by the experience in Massachusetts, where near universal health care was instituted in 2006, and the state's costs rose to 15% more per person than the national average (although there's no way to know how much costs might have risen anyway).

It will be difficult to assess the benefits to the economy of a healthy workforce, and fewer visits to the emergency room -- the most expensive way to obtain care. In addition, assessing the cost savings from fewer people having to be hospitalized because they now have routine care will only be possible in the aggregate and then only over the longer term.

Facets of the ACA that attempt to control costs, such as "accountable care organizations" (a system that gives doctors more incentive to better manage their patients' care) and the Independent Payment Review Board (an organization formed to review ways to reduce Medicare costs), were targets of Republican hyperbole, including the infamous reference to "death panels."

In fact, Republicans made all sorts of outlandish, patently false claims about "Obamacare" in their attempts to move the public to act against their own self-interests. They were quite successful in doing this. A recent pole showed that 43% of Americans oppose the law. Interestingly, more oppose "Obamacare," than oppose the Affordable Care Act. Further, more people support provisions of the ACA, such as preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, when they aren't told the provision is part of Obamacare. People are funny about the idea of a black president, especially the people who aren't black.

It is unlikely that a reasoned debate will ever take place in the halls of congress -- not a natural state of affairs in American politics. If it did, one of the questions that might be asked is, "What's a life worth?" How much are we as a society willing to spend to improve a fellow citizen's quality and/or length of life? Take HIV as an example. Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment has transformed HIV from a death sentence to a chronic condition, allowing people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives (Linnemayr, et al, RAND 2012). But highly active ARV drugs are expensive, about $15,000 per year per patient (an examination of why ARV drugs are so expensive is beyond the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say, "free market economics" is not part of the equation). Before the development of ARV drugs (the first was developed in 1987), treating HIV was cheap -- you got HIV, then AIDS, then you died.

Washington policy makers aren't thrilled by the relatively inexpensive cost of saving the life of an HIV patient, they're outraged by the cost of Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). Thus, the debate centers on whether ART should be covered under Medicare, or Medicaid, or Social Security for people on disability (SSI / SSDI). Currently, fewer than one in five (17%) people living with HIV has private insurance and nearly 30% do not have any coverage. This will change dramatically under the Affordable Care Act, and many on the right (especially the religious right) see this as another reason to oppose ACA.

A critic of the Affordable Care Act, who worked on George W. Bush's health care proposals, Phillip Swagel, wrote recently that, "The goals of the Affordable Care Act are laudable. But achieving them will require an honest assessment of both successes and problems, and a willingness to make adjustments going forward." Swagel does not see President Obama as willing to make such an assessment.

I think Swagel is right on the first count, adjustments going forward, and wrong on the second. It's the TEA Party coalition in the Republican Party, and by extension, the party itself, that won't be willing to make an honest assessment of the ACA and will instead do everything in their power to either kill it or cause it to fail. Why? Because they prize their ideology over the health of millions of Americans.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

While Rome Burns

While Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives "wile" away their time by shutting down the government and threatening to blow up the global economy by refusing to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, the issues and activities that the federal government is required to manage continue apace. We all know that the shutdown has put thousands of people out of work, had devastating effects on veterans, hurt business, and stunted the recovery. But what many people seem not to realize, is that America's ability to effectively combat threats to national security has been degraded. The longer the shutdown goes on, the greater the risk that something will blow up in our face, figuratively or literally.

There are both domestic and foreign threats to consider. Iran, for example, under its new president, Hassan Rouhani, has launched a charm offensive to waylay fears over its nuclear program. Do we believe the program is strictly for peaceful purposes? No way. Do we know how close Iran is to realizing their ambition to create a nuclear weapons development capability? We have a close approximation. Is there a chance we can, through an coalition of foreign powers with similar concerns and interests, persuade Iran to accept limits on its nuclear developments? Yes; not a good chance, but worth a shot. How are we doing on the latter initiative? Not worth a damn. We're shut down.

North Korean scientists are thought to have attained the ability to build uranium-based nuclear bombs on their own, cutting the need for imports that had been one of the few ways outsiders could monitor the country's secretive atomic work. How are we doing tracking on the Hermit Kingdom's nuclear weapons and delivery systems? Who knows. We're shut down.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told Congress this week that the partial federal government shutdown has forced the furlough of some 70 percent of employees throughout the intelligence community. Intelligence agencies are focusing on the biggest threats: counter terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation. So some other issues, such as detecting and defending against cyberattacks and keeping an eye on ballistic missile launches around the world, have to fall by the wayside. Why? We're shut down.

The Department of Homeland Security has promised to stay on the job protecting Americans from foreign and domestic terrorists, but the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers run by DHS have shuttered training operations for federal agents. The closure of these services could delay when newer employees with the Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and Capitol Police can go on the job. Meanwhile, FBI activities are suspended for longer-term types of investigations of crimes that don't involve an immediate threat. Training and other support functions have been slashed. Hopefully, terrorists will do the right thing and take a break while Republicans continue their hissy fit over not winning the 2012 presidential election and insist on keeping the government shut down.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which monitors the nation's 100 commercial nuclear power plants, is set to furlough 3,600 employees on Thursday after depleting funds amid the government shutdown. The shutdown will disable non-emergency licensing of nuclear reactors, emergency exercises, and the inspection of nuclear materials and waste licensees. What will the impact be? Well, as Condoleezza Rice might say, let's hope it's not a mushroom cloud floating over some unfortunate city while FEMA is shut down.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they could handle recalls and high-risk foodborne outbreaks, but they are less likely to discover them because most of the people who investigate outbreaks have been furloughed. Routine food safety inspections conducted by FDA are suspended, so most food manufacturers won't have to worry about periodic visits from government inspectors to make sure their facilities are clean. U.S. food inspections abroad have also been halted.

I've always thought that America's leaky food inspection system presents terrorists a great target to create death and destruction. Americans would be well advised to either stop eating, or march on the Capital and tell the stupid-fuck House Republicans, "ENOUGH, ALREADY!!"

Stop this fucking SHUT DOWN!!!

Negotiate Under Threat?

Paul Krugman

"Everybody not inside the bubble realizes that Mr. Obama can’t and won’t negotiate under the threat that the House will blow up the economy if he doesn’t — any concession at all would legitimize extortion as a routine part of politics. Yet Republican leaders are just beginning to get a clue, and so far clearly have no idea how to back down. Meanwhile, the government is shut, and a debt crisis looms. Incompetence can be a terrible thing."

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein

The G.O.P. has become “an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Law of the Land; Holding the Government Hostage

Robert Reich

"The Affordable Care Act ('Obamacare') is the law of the land. A majority of the House and Senate voted for it, the President signed it into law, its constitutionality has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and a majority of Americans reelected the President after an election battle in which the Affordable Care Act was a central issue... We don’t repeal laws in this country by holding hostage the entire government of the United States."

"The Act is hardly perfect, but neither was Social Security or Medicare when first enacted. The Constitution allows Congress to amend or delay laws that don’t work as well as they were intended, or even to repeal them. But to do any of this requires new legislation – including a majority of both houses of Congress and a president’s signature (or else a vote to override a president’s veto)."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

East of Anywhere: America's Soweto

From: Savage Inequalities Life on the Mississippi: 
East St. Louis, Illinois by Jonathan Kozol
St. Louis: The other side of the tracks

"East of anywhere," writes a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "often evokes the other side of the tracks. But, for a first-time visitor suddenly deposited on its eerily empty streets, East St. Louis might suggest another world." The city, which is 98 percent black, has no obstetric services, no regular trash collection, and few jobs. Nearly a third of its families live on less than $7,500 a year; 75 percent of its population lives on welfare of some form. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development describes it as "the most distressed small city in America."

Only three of the 13 buildings on Missouri Avenue, one of the city's major thoroughfares, are occupied. A 13-story office building, tallest in the city, has been boarded up. Out side, on the sidewalk, a pile of garbage fills a ten-foot crater.

The city, which by night and day is clouded by the fumes that pour from vents and smokestacks at the Pfizer and Monsanto chemical plants, has one of the highest rates of child asthma in America.

It is, according to a teacher at the University of Southern Illinois, "a repository for a nonwhite population that is now regarded as expendable." The Post-Dispatch describes it as "America's Soweto."

Fiscal shortages have forced the layoff of 1,170 of the city's 1,400 employees in the past 12 years. The city, which is often unable to buy heating fuel or toilet paper for the city hall, recently announced that it might have to cashier all but 10 percent of the remaining work force of 230.

In 1989 the mayor announced that he might need to sell the city hall and all six fire stations to raise needed cash. Last year the plan had to be scrapped after the city lost its city hall in a court judgment to a creditor. East St. Louis is mortgaged into the next century but has the highest property-tax rate in the state.

Since October 1987, when the city's garbage pickups ceased, the backyards of residents have been employed as dump sites. In the spring of 1988 a policeman tells a visitor that 40 plastic bags of trash are waiting for removal from the backyard of his mother's house. Public health officials are concerned the garbage will attract a plague of flies and rodents in the summer. The policeman speaks of "rats as big as puppies" in his mother's yard. They are known to the residents, he says, as "bull rats." Many people have no cars or funds to cart the trash and simply burn it in their yards. The odor of smoke from burning garbage, says the Post Dispatch, "has become one of the scents of spring" in East St. Louis.

Railroad tracks still used to transport hazardous chemicals run through the city. "Always present," says the Post Dispatch, "is the threat of chemical spills.... The wail of sirens warning residents to evacuate after a spill is common." The most recent spill, the paper says, "was at the Monsanto Company plant.... Nearly 300 gallons of phosphorous trichloride spilled when a railroad tank was overfilled. About 450 residents were taken to St. Mary's Hospital.... The frequency of the emergencies has caused Monsanto to have a 'standing account' at St. Mary's."

In March of 1989, a task force appointed by Governor James Thompson noted that the city was in debt by more than $40 million, and proposed emergency state loans to pay for garbage collection and to keep police and fire depart ments in continued operation. The governor, however, blamed the mayor and his administrators, almost all of whom were black, and refused to grant the loans unless the mayor resigned. Thompson's response, said a Republican state leg islator, "made my heart feel good.... It's unfortunate, but the essence of the problem in East St. Louis is the people" who are running things.

Residents of Illinois do not need to breathe the garbage smoke and chemicals of East St. Louis. With the interstate highways, says a supervisor of the Illinois Power Company, "you can ride around the place and just keep going...."

East St. Louis lies in the heart of the American Bottoms -- the flood plain on the east side of the Mississippi River opposite St. Louis. To the east of the city lie the Illinois Bluffs, which surround the flood plain in a semicircle. Towns on the Bluffs are predominantly white and do not welcome visitors from East St. Louis.

"The two tiers -- Bluffs and Bottoms" -- writes James Nowlan, a professor of public policy at Knox College, "have long represented . . . different worlds." Their physical separation, he believes, "helps rationalize the psychological and cultural distance that those on the Bluffs have clearly tried to maintain." People on the Bluffs, says Nowlan, "overwhelmingly want this separation to continue." Towns on the Bluffs, according to Nowlan, do not pay taxes to address flood problems in the Bottoms, "even though these problems are generated in large part by the water that drains from the Bluffs." East St. Louis lacks the funds to cope with flooding problems on its own, or to reconstruct its sewer system, which, according to local experts, is "irreparable." The problem is all the worse because the chemical plants in East St. Louis and adjacent towns have for decades been releasing toxins into the sewer system.

The pattern of concentrating black communities in easily flooded lowland areas is not unusual in the United States. Farther down the river, for example, in the Delta town of Tunica, Mississippi, people in the black community of Sugar Ditch live in shacks by open sewers that are commonly believed to be responsible for the high incidence of liver tumors and abscesses found in children there. Metaphors of caste like these are everywhere in the United States. Sadly, although dirt and water flow downhill, money and services do not.

The dangers of exposure to raw sewage, which backs up repeatedly into the homes of residents in East St. Louis, were first noticed, in the spring of 1989, at a public housing project, Villa Griffin. Raw sewage, says the Post-Dispatch, over flowed into a playground just behind the housing project, which is home to 187 children, "forming an oozing lake of . . . tainted water." Two schoolgirls, we are told, "experienced hair loss since raw sewage flowed into their homes."

While local physicians are not certain whether loss of hair is caused by the raw sewage, they have issued warnings that exposure to raw sewage can provoke a cholera or hepatitis outbreak. A St. Louis health official voices her dismay that children live with waste in their backyards. "The development of working sewage systems made cities livable a hundred years ago," she notes. "Sewage systems separate us from the Third World."

"It's a terrible way to live," says a mother at the Villa Griffin homes, as she bails raw sewage from her sink. Health officials warn again of cholera -- and, this time, of typhoid also.

The sewage, which is flowing from collapsed pipes and dysfunctional pumping stations, has also flooded basements all over the city. The city's vacuum truck, which uses water and suction to unclog the city's sewers, cannot be used be cause it needs $5,000 in repairs. Even when it works, it some times can't be used because there isn't money to hire drivers. A single engineer now does the work that 14 others did before they were laid off. By April the pool of overflow behind the Villa Griffin project has expanded into a lagoon of sewage. Two million gallons of raw sewage lie outside the children's homes.

In May, another health emergency develops. Soil samples tested at residential sites in East St. Louis turn up disturbing quantities of arsenic, mercury and lead, as well as steroids dumped in previous years by stockyards in the area. Lead levels found in the soil around one family's home, according to lead-poison experts, measure "an astronomical 10,000 parts per million." Five of the children in the building have been poisoned. Although children rarely die of poisoning by lead, health experts note, its effects tend to be subtle and insidious. By the time the poisoning becomes apparent in a child's sleep disorders, stomach pains and hyperactive behavior, says a health official, "it is too late to undo the permanent brain damage." The poison, she says, "is chipping away at the learning potential of kids whose potential has already been chipped away by their environment."

The budget of the city's department of lead-poison control, however, has been slashed, and one person now does the work once done by six.

Lead poisoning in most cities comes from lead-based paint in housing, which has been illegal in most states for decades, but which poisons children still because most cities, Boston and New York among them, rarely penalize offending landlords. In East St. Louis, however, there is a second source of lead. Health inspectors think it is another residue of manufacturing, including smelting in the factories and mills whose plants surround the city. "Some of the factories are gone," a parent organizer says, "but they have left their poison in the soil where our children play." In one apartment complex where particularly high quantities of lead have been detected in the soil, 32 children with high levels in their blood have been identified.

"I anticipate finding the whole city contaminated," says a health examiner.


In the night, the sky above the East St. Louis area is brownish yellow. Illuminated by the glare from the Monsanto installation, the smoke is vented from four massive columns rising about 400 feet above the plant. The garish light and tubular structures lend the sky a strange, nightmarish look. Safir Ahmed, a young reporter who has covered East St. Louis for the Post-Dispatch for several years, drives with me through the rutted streets close to the plant and points out blocks of wooden houses without plumbing. Straggling black children walk along a road that has no sidewalks. "The soil is all contaminated here," he says.

Almost directly over our heads the plant is puffing out a cloud of brownish smoke that rises above the girders of the plant within a glow of reddish-gold illumination.

A superfund site is essentially an overpoweringly potent toxic waste bin.
After Monsanto transitioned to a predominately agricultural company in the late '90s,
the megacorp abandoned their chemical-laden factories all over the United States,
and 41 of them have since been classified as superfund sites. Monsanto also created
toxic wastelands in Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Alabama, West Virginia and Missouri
that are laden with arsenic, radium, PCBs, dioxin and many other carcinogenic poisons.

Two auto bridges cross the Mississippi River to St. Louis. To the south is the Poplar Street Bridge. The bridge to the north is named for Martin Luther King. "It takes three minutes to cross the bridge," says Ahmed. "For white people in St. Louis, it could be a thousand miles long."

On the southern edge of East St. Louis, tiny shack-like houses stand along a lightless street. Immediately behind these houses are the giant buildings of Monsanto, Big River Zinc, Cerro Copper, the American Bottoms Sewage Plant and Trade Waste Incineration, one of the largest hazardous-waste-incineration companies in the United States.

"The entire city lies downwind of this. When the plant gives off emissions that are viewed as toxic, an alarm goes off. People who have breathed the smoke are given a cash payment of $400 in exchange for a release from liability.

"The decimation of the men within the population is quite nearly total. Four of five births in East St. Louis are to single mothers. Where do the men go? Some to prison. Some to the military. Many to an early death. Dozens of men are living in the streets or sleeping in small, isolated camps behind the burnt-out buildings. There are several of these camps out in the muddy stretch there to the left."

"The nicest buildings in the city are the Federal Court House and the City Hall-which also holds the jail-the National Guard headquarters, and some funeral establishments. There are a few nice houses and a couple of high-rise homes for senior citizens. One of the nicest buildings is the whorehouse. There's also a branch of the University of Southern Illinois, but it no longer offers classes; it's a social welfare complex now.

"The chemical plants do not pay taxes here. They have created small incorporated towns which are self-governed and exempt therefore from supervision by health agencies in East St. Louis. Aluminum Ore created a separate town called Alorton. Monsanto, Cerro Copper and Big River Zinc are all in Sauget. National Stock Yards has its own incorporated town as well. Basically there's no one living in some of these so-called towns. Alorton is a sizable town. Sauget, on the other hand, isn't much more than a legal fiction. It provides tax shelter and immunity from jurisdiction of authorities in East St. Louis."

In Our Backyard (A Monsanto Introspective) from Namreblis Ekim on Vimeo.

The town of Sauget claims a population of about 200 people. Its major industries, other than Monsanto and the other plants, are topless joints and an outlet for the lottery. Two of the largest strip clubs face each other on a side street that is perpendicular to the main highway. One is named Oz and that is for white people. The other strip club, which is known as Wiz, is for black people.

The lottery office, which is frequented primarily by black people, is the largest in the state of Illinois. "The lottery advertises mostly in black publications," Ahmed says. "So people who have nothing to start with waste their money on a place that sells them dreams. Lottery proceeds in Illinois allegedly go into education; in reality they go into state revenues and they add nothing to the education fund. So it is a total loss. Affluent people do not play the lottery. The state is in the business here of selling hopes to people who have none. The city itself is full of bars and liquor stores and lots of ads for cigarettes that feature pictures of black people. Assemble all the worst things in America -- gambling, liquor, cigarettes and toxic fumes, sewage, waste disposal, prostitution -- put it all together. Then you dump it on black people."

East St. Louis begins at the Monsanto fence. Rain starts falling as we cross the railroad tracks, and then another set of tracks, and pass a series of dirt streets with houses that are mostly burnt-out shells, the lots between them piled with garbage bags and thousands of abandoned auto tires. The city is almost totally flat and lies below the Mississippi's flood line, protected by a levee. In 1986 a floodgate broke and filled part of the city. Houses on Bond Avenue filled up with sewage to their second floors.

The waste water emitted from the sewage plant, according to a recent Greenpeace study, "varies in color from yellow-orange to green." The toxic substances that it contains become embedded in the soil and the marshland in which children play. Dead Creek, for example, a creekbed that received discharges from the chemical and metal plants in previous years, is now a place where kids from East St. Louis ride their bikes. The creek, which smokes by day and glows on moonless nights, has gained some notoriety in recent years for instances of spontaneous combustion. The Illinois EPA believes that the combustion starts when children ride their bikes across the creek bed, "creating friction which be gins the smoldering process."

"Nobody in East St. Louis," Ahmed says, "has ever had the clout to raise a protest. Why Americans permit this is so hard for somebody like me, who grew up in the real Third World, to understand....

"I'm from India. In Calcutta this would be explicable, perhaps. I keep thinking to myself, 'My God! This is the United States!' "


East St. Louis-which the local press refers to as "an inner city without an outer city"-has some of the sickest children in America. Of 66 cities in Illinois, East St. Louis ranks first in fetal death, first in premature birth, and third in infant death. Among the negative factors listed by the city's health director are the sewage running in the streets, air that has been fouled by the local plants, the high lead levels noted in the soil, poverty, lack of education, crime, dilapidated housing, insufficient health care, unemployment. Hospital care is deficient too. There is no place to have a baby in East St. Louis. The maternity ward at the city's Catholic hospital, a l00-year-old structure, was shut down some years ago. The only other hospital in town was forced by lack of funds to close in 1990. The closest obstetrics service open to the women here is seven miles away. The infant death rate is still rising.

As in New York City's poorest neighborhoods, dental problems also plague the children here. Although dental problems don't command the instant fears associated with low birth weight, fetal death or cholera, they do have the consequence of wearing down the stamina of children and defeating their ambitions. Bleeding gums, impacted teeth and rotting teeth are routine matters for the children I have interviewed in the South Bronx. Children get used to feeling constant pain. They go to sleep with it. They go to school with it. Sometimes their teachers are alarmed and try to get them to a clinic. But it's all so slow and heavily encumbered with red tape and waiting lists and missing, lost or canceled welfare cards, that dental care is often long delayed. Children live for months with pain that grown-ups would find unendurable. The gradual attrition of accepted pain erodes their energy and aspiration. I have seen children in New York with teeth that look like brownish, broken sticks. I have also seen teenagers who were missing half their teeth. But, to me, most shocking is to see a child with an abscess that has been inflamed for weeks and that he has simply lived with and accepts as part of the routine of life. Many teachers in the urban schools have seen this. It is almost commonplace.

Compounding these problems is the poor nutrition of the children here -- average daily food expenditure in East St. Louis is $2.40 for one child -- and the under immunization of young children. Of every l00 children recently surveyed in East St. Louis, 55 were incompletely immunized for polio, diphtheria, measles and whooping cough. In this context, health officials look with all the more uneasiness at those lagoons of sewage outside public housing.

On top of all else is the very high risk of death by homicide in East St. Louis. In a recent year in which three cities in the state of roughly the same size as East St. Louis had an average of four homicides apiece, there were 54 homicides in East St. Louis. But it is the heat of summer that officials here particularly dread. The heat that breeds the insects bearing polio or hepatitis in raw sewage also heightens asthma and frustration and reduces patience. "The heat," says a man in public housing, "can bring out the beast...."

The fear of violence is very real in East St. Louis. The CEO of one of the large companies out on the edge of town has developed an "evacuation plan" for his employees. State troopers are routinely sent to East St. Louis to put down disturbances that the police cannot control. If the misery of this community explodes someday in a real riot (it has happened in the past), residents believe that state and federal law-enforcement agencies will have no hesitation in applying massive force to keep the violence contained.

As we have seen, it is believed by people here that white developers regard the land beside the river and adjacent sections of the city as particularly attractive sites for condominiums and luxury hotels. It is the fear of violence, people believe, and the proximity of the black population that have, up to now, prevented plans like these from taking shape. Some residents are convinced, therefore, that they will some day be displaced. "It's happened in other cities," says a social worker who has lived here for ten years. "East St. Louis is a good location, after all."

This eventuality, however, is not viewed as very likely or not for a long, long time. The soil would have to be de-leaded first. The mercury and arsenic would have to be dealt with. The chemical plants would have to be shut down or modified before the area could be regarded as attractive to developers. For now, the people of East St. Louis probably can rest assured that nobody much covets what is theirs.


The problems of the streets in urban areas, as teachers often note, frequently spill over into public schools. In the public schools of East St. Louis this is literally the case.

"Martin Luther King Junior High School," notes the Post-Dispatch in a story published in the early spring of 1989, "was evacuated Friday afternoon after sewage flowed into the kitchen.... The kitchen was closed and students were sent home." On Monday, the paper continues, "East St. Louis Senior High School was awash in sewage for the second time this year." The school had to be shut because of "fumes and backed-up toilets." Sewage flowed into the basement, through the floor, then up into the kitchen and the students' bathrooms. The backup, we read, "occurred in the food preparation areas."

School is resumed the following morning at the high school, but a few days later the overflow recurs. This time the entire system is affected, since the meals distributed to every student in the city are prepared in the two schools that have been flooded. School is called off for all 16,500 students in the district. The sewage backup, caused by the failure of two pumping stations, forces officials at the high school to shut down the furnaces.

At Martin Luther King, the parking lot and gym are also flooded. "It's a disaster," says a legislator. "The streets are underwater; gaseous fumes are being emitted from the pipes under the schools," she says, "making people ill."

In the same week, the schools announce the layoff of 280 teachers, 166 cooks and cafeteria workers, 25 teacher aides, 16 custodians and 18 painters, electricians, engineers and plumbers. The president of the teachers' union says the cuts, which will bring the size of kindergarten and primary classes up to 30 students, and the size of fourth to twelfth grade classes up to 35, will have "an unimaginable impact" on the students. "If you have a high school teacher with five classes each day and between 150 and 175 students . . ., it's going to have a devastating effect." The school system, it is also noted, has been using more than 70 "permanent substitute teachers," who are paid only $10,000 yearly, as a way of saving money.

Governor Thompson, however, tells the press that he will not pour money into East St. Louis to solve long-term problems. East St. Louis residents, he says, must help themselves. "There is money in the community," the governor insists. "It's just not being spent for what it should be spent for."

The governor, while acknowledging that East St. Louis faces economic problems, nonetheless refers dismissively to those who live in East St. Louis. "What in the community," he asks, "is being done right?" He takes the opportunity of a visit to the area to announce a fiscal grant for sewer improvement to a relatively wealthy town nearby.

In East St. Louis, meanwhile, teachers are running out of chalk and paper, and their paychecks are arriving two weeks late. The city warns its teachers to expect a cut of half their pay until the fiscal crisis has been eased.

The threatened teacher layoffs are mandated by the Illinois Board of Education, which, because of the city's fiscal crisis, has been given supervisory control of the school bud get. Two weeks later the state superintendent partially relents. In a tone very different from that of the governor, he notes that East St. Louis does not have the means to solve its education problems on its own. "There is no natural way," he says, that "East St. Louis can bring itself out of this situation." Several cuts will be required in any case-one quarter of the system's teachers, 75 teacher aides, and several dozen others will be given notice-but, the state board notes, sports and music programs will not be affected.

East St. Louis, says the chairman of the state board, "is simply the worst possible place I can imagine to have a child brought up.... The community is in desperate circumstances." Sports and music, he observes, are, for many children here, "the only avenues of success." Sadly enough, no matter how it ratifies the stereotype, this is the truth; and there is a poignant aspect to the fact that, even with class size soaring and one quarter of the system's teachers being given their dismissal, the state board of education demonstrates its genuine but skewed compassion by attempting to leave sports and music untouched by the overall austerity.


Teachers like Mr. Solomon, working in low-income districts such as East St. Louis, often tell me that they feel cut off from educational developments in modern public schools. "Well, it's amazing," Solomon says. "I have done without so much so long that, if I were assigned to a suburban school, I'm not sure I'd recognize what they are doing. We are utterly cut off."

Of 3 children who begin the history classes in the standard track, he says, more than a quarter have dropped out by spring semester. "Maybe 24 are left by June. Mind you, this is in the junior year. We're speaking of the children who survived. Ninth and tenth grades are the more horrendous years for leaving school.

"I have four girls right now in my senior home room who are pregnant or have just had babies. When I ask them why this happens, I am told, 'Well, there's no reason not to have a baby. There's not much for me in public school.' The truth is, that's a pretty honest answer. A diploma from a ghetto high school doesn't count for much in the United States today. So, if this is really the last education that a person's going to get, she's probably perceptive in that statement. Ah, there's so much bitterness-unfairness-there, you know. Most of these pregnant girls are not the ones who have much self-esteem.... "

"Very little education in the school would be considered academic in the suburbs. Maybe 10 to 15 percent of students are in truly academic programs. Of the 55 percent who graduate, 20 percent may go to four-year colleges: something like 10 percent of any entering class. Another 10 to 20 percent may get some other kind of higher education. An equal number join the military....

A girl in a white jersey with the message DO THE RIGHT THING on the front raises her hand. "You visit other schools," she says. "Do you think the children in this school are getting what we'd get in a nice section of St. Louis?" I note that we are in a different state and city. "Aren't we citizens of East St. Louis or America?" she asks. A tall girl named Samantha interrupts. "I have a comment that I want to make." She then relates the following incident: "Fairview Heights is a mainly white community. A friend of mine and I went up there once to buy some books. We walked into the store. Everybody lookin' at us, you know, and somebody says, 'What do you want?' And lookin' at each other like, 'What are these black girls doin' here in Fairview Heights?' I just said, 'I want to buy a book!' It's like they're scared we're goin' to rob them. Take away a privilege that's theirs by rights. Well, that goes for school as well.

"My mother wanted me to go to school there and she tried to have me transferred. It didn't work. The reason, she was told, is that we're in a different 'jurisdiction.' If you don't live up there in the hills, or further back, you can't attend their schools. That, at least, is what they told my mother."

"Is that a matter of race?" I ask. "Or money?"

"Well," she says, choosing her words with care, "the two things, race and money, go so close together-what's the difference? I live here, they live there, and they don't want me in their school."

A boy named Luther speaks about the chemical pollution. "It's like this," he says. "On one side of us you have two chemical corporations. One is Pfizer-that's out there. They make paint and pigments. The other is Monsanto. On the other side are companies incinerating toxic waste. So the trash is comin' at us this direction. The chemicals is comin' from the other. We right in the middle."

Despite these feelings, many of the children voice a curiously resilient faith in racial integration. "If the government would put a huge amount of money into East St. Louis, so that this could be a modern, well-equipped and top-rate school," I ask, "with everything that you could ever want for education, would you say that racial segregation was no longer of importance?"

Without exception, the children answer, "No."

"Going to a school with all the races," Luther says, "is more important than a modern school."

"They still believe in that dream," their teacher says. "They have no reason to do so. That is what I find so wonderful and ... ah, so moving.... These kids are the only reason I get up each day."

I ask the students, "What would happen if the government decided that the students in a nearby town like Fair view Heights and the students here in East St. Louis had to go to school together next September?"

Samantha: "The buses going to Fairview Heights would all be full. The buses coming to East St. Louis would be empty."

"What if East St. Louis had the very best computer classes in the state-and if there were no computer classes in the school of Fairview Heights?"

"The buses coming here," she says, "would still be empty."

When I ask her why, she answers in these quiet words: "I don't know why."


Clark Junior High School is regarded as the top school in the city. I visit, in part, at the request of school officials, who would like me to see education in the city at its very best. Even here, however, there is a disturbing sense that one has entered a backwater of America.

"We spend the entire eighth grade year preparing for the state exams," a teacher tells me in a top-ranked English class. The teacher seems devoted to the children, but three students sitting near me sleep through the entire period. The teacher rouses one of them, a girl in the seat next to me, but the student promptly lays her head back on her crossed arms and is soon asleep again. Four of the 14 ceiling lights are broken. The corridor outside the room is filled with voices. Outside the window, where I see no schoolyard, is an empty lot.

In a mathematics class of 30 children packed into a space that might be adequate for 15 kids, there is one white student. The first white student I have seen in East St. Louis, she is polishing her nails with bright red polish. A tiny black girl next to her is writing with a one-inch pencil stub.

In a seventh grade social studies class, the only book that bears some relevance to black concerns; its title is The American Negro, bears a publication date of 1967. The teacher invites me to ask the class some questions. Uncertain where to start, I ask the students what they've learned about the civil rights campaigns of recent decades.

A 14-year-old girl with short black curly hair says this: "Every year in February we are told to read the same old speech of Martin Luther King. We read it every year. 'I have a dream....' It does begin to seem -- what is the word?" She hesitates and then she finds the word: "perfunctory." I ask her what she means.

I have a dream!

"We have a school in East St. Louis named for Dr. King," she says. "The school is full of sewer water and the doors are locked with chains. Every student in that school is black. It's like a terrible joke on history."

It startles me to hear her words, but I am startled even more to think how seldom any press reporter has observed the irony of naming segregated schools for Martin Luther King. Children reach the heart of these hypocrisies much quicker than the grown-ups and the experts do.

"I would like to comment on that," says another 14-year old student, named Shalika. "I have had to deal with this all of my life. I started school in Fairview Heights. My mother pushes me and she had wanted me to get a chance at better education. Only one other student in my class was black. I was in the fifth grade, and at that age you don't understand the ugliness in people's hearts. They wouldn't play with me. I couldn't understand it. During recess I would stand there by myself beside the fence. Then one day I got a note: 'Go back to Africa.'

"To tell the truth, it left a sadness in my heart. Now you hear them sayin' on TV, 'What's the matter with these colored people? Don't they care about their children's education?' But my mother did the best for me she knew. It was not my mother's fault that I was not accepted by those people."

"It does not take long," says Christopher, a light-skinned boy with a faint mustache and a somewhat heated and perspiring look, "for little kids to learn they are not wanted."

Shalika is small and looks quite young for junior high. In each ear she wears a small enameled pin of Mickey Mouse. "To some degree I do believe," she says, "that this is caused by press reports. You see a lot about the crimes committed here in East St. Louis when you turn on the TV. Do they show the crimes committed by the government that puts black people here? Why are all the dirty businesses like chemicals and waste disposal here? This is a big country. Couldn't they find another place to put their poison?"

"Shalika," the teacher tells me afterward, "will go to college."

"Why is it this way?" asks Shalika in a softer voice again. But she doesn't ask the question as if she is waiting for an answer.

"Is it 'separate but equal,' then?" I ask. "Have we gone back a hundred years?"

"It is separate. That's for sure," the teacher says. She is a short and stocky middle-aged black woman. "Would you want to tell the children it is equal?"

Christopher approaches me at the end of class. The room is too hot. His skin looks warm and his black hair is damp. "Write this down. You asked a question about Martin Luther King. I'm going to say something. All that stuff about 'the dream' means nothing to the kids I know in East St. Louis. So far as they're concerned, he died in vain. He was famous and he lived and gave his speeches and he died and now he's gone. But we're still here. Don't tell students in this school about 'the dream.' Go and look into a toilet here if you would like to know what life is like for students in this city."

Before I leave, I do as Christopher asked and enter a boy's bathroom. Four of the six toilets do not work. The toilets stalls, which are eaten away by red and brown corrosion, have no doors. The toilets have no seats. One has a rotted wooden stump. There are no paper towels and no soap. Near the door there is a loop of wire with an empty toilet-paper roll. "This," says Sister Julia, "is the best school that we have in East St. Louis."


In East St. Louis, as in every city that I visit, I am forced to ask myself if what I've seen may be atypical. One would like to think that this might be the case in East St. Louis, but it would not be the truth.

At Landsdowne Junior High School, the St. Louis Sun reports, "there are scores of window frames without glass, like sockets without eyes." Hallways in many schools are dark, with light bulbs missing or burnt out. One walks into a school, a member of the city's board of education notes, "and you can smell the urinals a hundred feet away...."

A teacher at an elementary school in East St. Louis has only one full-color workbook for her class. She photocopies workbook pages for her children, but the copies can't be made in color and the lessons call for color recognition by the children.

A history teacher at the Martin Luther King School has 110 students in four classes-but only 26 books. Some of the books are missing the first hundred pages.

Each year, Solomon observes of East St. Louis High, "there's one more toilet that doesn't flush, one more drinking fountain that doesn't work, one more classroom without texts.... Certain classrooms are so cold in winter that the students have to wear their coats to class, while children in other classrooms swelter in a suffocating heat that cannot be turned down."

Critics in the press routinely note that education spending in the district is a trifle more than in surrounding districts. They also note that public schools in East St. Louis represent the largest source of paid employment in the city, and this point is often used to argue that the schools are overstaffed. The implication of both statements is that East St. Louis spends excessively on education. One could as easily conclude, however, that the conditions of existence here call for even larger school expenditures to draw and to retain more gifted staff and to offer all those extra services so desperately needed in a poor community. What such critics also fail to note, as Solomon and principal Sam Morgan have observed, is that the crumbling infrastructure uses up a great deal more of the per-pupil budget than would be the case in districts with updated buildings that cost less to operate.

Critics also willfully ignore the health conditions and the psychological disarray of children growing up in burnt-out housing, playing on contaminated land, and walking past acres of smoldering garbage on their way to school. They also ignore the vast expense entailed in trying to make up for the debilitated skills of many parents who were prior victims of these segregated schools or those of Mississippi, in which many of the older residents of East St. Louis led their early lives. In view of the extraordinary miseries of life for children in the district, East St. Louis should be spending far more than is spent in wealthy suburbs. As things stand, the city spends approximately half as much each year on every pupil as the state's top-spending districts.

It is also forgotten that dramatic cuts in personnel within the East St. Louis schools-for example, of 250 teachers and 250 nonprofessional employees, as demanded recently by state officials-would propel 500 families with perhaps 2,000 children and dependents to the welfare lists and deny the city the stability afforded by a good chunk of its rapidly diminished lower middle class. Nothing, in short, that the East St. Louis school board does within the context of its penury can benefit one interest in the city without damaging another.

It is accurate to note that certain of the choices and priorities established by the East St. Louis school board do at times strike an observer as misguided, and state politicians are not hesitant to emphasize this point. The mayor of the city for many years, a controversial young man named Carl Officer, was frequently attacked by the same critics for what sometimes was alleged to be his lack of probity and of far sighted planning. There may have been some real truth to these charges. But the diligence of critics in observing the supposed irregularities of his behavior stands in stunning contrast to their virtual refusal to address the governing realities of destitution and near-total segregation and the willingness of private industry to flee a population it once courted and enticed to East St. Louis but now finds expendable.

In very few cases, in discussing the immiseration of this city, do Illinois officials openly address the central fact, the basic evil, of its racial isolation. With more efficient local governance, East St. Louis might become a better-managed ghetto, a less ravaged racial settlement, but the soil would remain contaminated and the schools would still resemble relics of the South post-Reconstruction. They might be a trifle cleaner and they might perhaps provide their children with a dozen more computers or typewriters, better stoves for cooking classes, or a better shop for training future gas station mechanics; but the children would still be poisoned in their bodies and disfigured in their spirits.

Now and then the possibility is raised by somebody in East St. Louis that the state may someday try to end the isolation of the city as an all-black entity. This is something, however, that no one with power in the state has ever contemplated. Certainly, no one in government proposes busing 16,000 children from this city to the nearby schools of Bellevue, Fairview Heights or Collinsville; and no one in tends to force these towns to open up their neighborhoods to racially desegregated and low-income housing. So there is, in fact, no exit for these children.

East St. Louis will likely be left just as it is for a good many years to come: a scar of sorts, an ugly metaphor of filth and overspill and chemical effusions, a place for blacks to live and die within, a place for other people to avoid when they are heading for St. Louis.