Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A "Little Damascus" In Baltimore?

I'm almost afraid to say this, but I don't want anyone out there to be fooled:  Larry Hogan hates Baltimore.  Never mind this self-serving puff piece published under his name in the Baltimore Sun recently.  The Republican Governor of Maryland hates--really, really hates--the largest city in his state, at one time the sixth largest city in the nation and, even today in its pitifully shrunken state, still the 26th largest. Hates it so much, in fact, that he literally threw away Federal funds by cancelling the Red Line project, one that would have brought long-term benefits not only to the city, but to the surrounding suburbs as well.

Why?  Very simple.  Politically, for the "Guv," it was a three-fer.  It satisfied the enemies of "big government," in his party, just as his mentor Chris Christie did in cancelling a proposed new Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson (and look how well that worked out).  It freed up State funds to pay for splash new road projects in Republican-leaning areas of the state (guess "big government" isn't all that bad if it's "big" on behalf of Republican).  And, finally, it sticks a finger in the eye of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who the "Guv" blames (not without reason) for the rioting that devastated the city in the wake of the Freddie Gray tragedy.  Sadly for Hogan, Rawlings-Blake has wisely decided not to run for re-election, meaning that the hunt will be on for a new political punching bag.

But, in the eyes of the "Guv," not to worry.  According to the aforesaid puff piece, why, he's got loads of good ideas for Baltimore.  For example, let's tear down large sections of it.  Doesn't matter whether anyone's living there or not, does it?  We can just shove them someplace else where it'll be easier to forget about them.  I can understand why that idea might appeal to Hogan's inner real-estate-developer, but it overlooks the inconvenient fact (as Dan Rodricks recently pointed out in the Sun) that much of what he considers "blight" happens to be in neighborhoods where people still live, own property, run businesses, attend churches, and generally strive to live their lives and make their neighborhoods and their city at least a little bit better.  Bulldozers aren't going to make their lives better; arguably, mass demolitions could themselves create areas that could in turn become magnets for criminal activity.

And Hogan's puff piece works hard to overlook an inconvenient truth, bulldozers have the same problem that the Red Line had for the "Guv":  they cost money, and lots of it.  But just try telling that to this Administration.  Start trying to drill down into the issue of how much money will be spent, to say nothing of where it will come from.  Why, that's dirty pool.  How dare you get into the specifics of governing, when everybody else will let us spin glittering generalities?

Hogan has no concrete plan for rebuilding Baltimore, because Hogan has no concrete intention of rebuilding Baltimore.  He just wants to spend the next four to eight years talking about rebuilding Baltimore as a side show to hide his political behind-the-scenes efforts to shift State spending from Democratic to Republican regions within Maryland.  Don't believe me?  Fine.  Take a look at the next budget proposal that comes from the "Guv," and try to use it to prove me wrong.  You won't be able to do it.  Unless, of course, you're Carly Fiorina, and you just make it up.

The sad thing about this is that there is a good idea available to help rebuild Baltimore, and it involves doing it the old fashioned way, by importing human capital.  In case Hogan hasn't noticed, Europe is experiencing a bit of a refugee crisis right now, largely driven by the exodus of people from the geopolitical disaster that used to be Syria.  Many, if not most, of those people are decent, hard working people who just want a place to live their lives.

Why can't that place be Baltimore?  Why can't we volunteer to accept the lion's share of these refugees and resettle them in a city with thousands of vacant buildings?  Why can't we believe in the potential of those people, with help from both the public and private sectors, to rebuild neighborhoods instead of senselessly bulldozing them.  Why couldn't Charm City, whose economy is now built almost exclusively on tourism, be the location of America's first "Little Damascus"?  Why can't we believe in the power of human capital to save cities?  Time and time again, that's the way our cities can be renewed.   There's no reason not to believe it can happen again.  Here.  And now.

How about it, "Guv"?  How about proving I'm wrong?  How about putting some real meat on the bones of your empty rhetoric?  How about doing what real leaders do, and lead?  How about doing something beyond satisfying the demands of your campaign contributors, something that would, absolutely and truly, put people first?

The ball's in your court.  Don't just dribble.  Shoot.

Mr. Boehner's October Miracle? Maybe It Should Be Mr. Obama's

The long-overdue departure of John Boehner from his lack of leadership as Speaker of the House should really be an insignificant story, for a number of reasons.  First, there's the aforesaid lack of leadership.  Boehner took his Constitutional position as the third most powerful individual in our nation's government, and turned it into a nearly five-year excuse to guzzle free bourbon and point fingers at the President trying to fix the economy the GOP nearly destroyed.  Second, and to be fair (but only slightly), Boehner's near-invisibility as a leader is due largely to the fact that the House Republican caucus is effectively ruled by a crazy minority of individuals (I feel using the word "people" would be an act of charity) that are convinced they can turn the moon into green cheese, if only they insist enough that Barack Obama "caves" so that it can happen.

This intransigence, largely an artifact of gerrymandering (and demonstrating the downside of trying too hard to manipulate the power to vote), is not going to go away anytime soon.  So says the establishment chattering classes; here is but one example.  But not everyone is thinking along those lines.  It turns out that there are a few optimists left in the mainstream media in the world, ones who are floating an idea that would allow Boehner to potentially undue the most legislatively and morally egregious act of his Speakership.  That idea:  Boehner using his remaining days at the podium to introduce comprehensive immigration reform, perhaps even reviving the bill the Senate passed in 2013.

Let me, as we lawyers say from time to time, refresh your recollection.  That bill, passed by a more than two-thirds bipartisan majority, was far from perfect,, if (as I am) you're an immigration advocate.  Still, it managed to get Democrats and Republicans on board behind the most significant immigration legislation in decades.  That's because, for all of its flaws, it successfully addressed border control, guest worker visas and the human rights crisis that we have all allowed to fester in our midst--the 11 million stateless souls (even "undocumented" is too polite a way to put it) that have become the most embarrassing political football of our time.

And Boehner, in order to keep himself swimming in free bourbon and away from the crazies in his own party, spiked it.  Didn't allow debate.  Didn't attempt to amend it.  Didn't even allow a simple two-hour floor vote, one that would have shaved a little time off of House members' weeks of paid vacation.  Despite being the leader of "the People's House," Boehner shut down a debate the people of this country needed to have--for no other reason than to pad his ample majority in the 2014 election.

Well, mission accomplished, John.  You got your padded majority.  And now you see what little good it does you.  It doesn't insulate you from the crazies, nor does it keep you in free bourbon (but don't worry, K Street can help you with the latter).  So why not do the right thing, and put this issue behind all of us once and for all?  It would be good for your party, good for the sagging reputation of the House, and, above all, good for the American people.  You remember the American people, don't you, John?  Long ago, before the Supreme Court made elections something that could be bought at Tiffany's or Cartier's, they were the ones that fought the wars and ran the country.  Chris Matthews wants you to do it.  The New York Times wants you to do it, saying it would be an "October Miracle" for you.  Why NOT go for it?

Ah, but here's the rub:  Republicans do not admit making mistakes, even when everyone, including them, knows that they have made them.  Not when it comes to self-financing tax cuts.  Not when it comes to self-financing wars.  Not when it comes to granting its followers the religious freedom to take away the religious freedom of others. And not, absolutely NOT, when it comes to passing legislation that would benefit non-white members of our society.  After all, a party that is becoming whiter by the minute can't afford to share the people's power with THOSE people.  Can they?

Well, what if our President finally inserted himself into the immigration debate in the way that many of us had hoped he would years ago?  What if he went beyond administrative acts of prosecutorial mercy (which are bottled up in the courts in any case)?  What if, above all, he taught the Republicans a meaningful political lesson, to wit:  budgetary blackmail is a two-way street?  Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Obama could be the real author of the "October Miracle."  Maybe he could be the one to force Republicans to embrace the reality of a changing country in a changing world.  And all he would have to do is say something that goes like this.

"Mr. Speaker, I wish you the best in your retirement.  By the way, that retirement is probably going to be spent largely at places, from golf courses to nursing homes, that depend heavily on immigrants. So let me do you a favor.  Let me be sure than you'll have a steady supply of practical help in your declining years.  That's why I've decided not to sign a budget bill until you and Mitch McConnell hold a vote in October on the CIR bill you choked to death last year."

DO IT, Mr. President.  Draw the line, and dare the drunkard not to cross it.  It's the only way to get him to do the right thing.  It may be the only way to do the right thing by 11 million souls.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Wind Power Isn't Practical?

Tell that to Denmark.

"Why I've Leaving The South"

Something else that says it all.

It's About Time!

Democrats renewing their push on behalf of the Voting Rights Act, that is.

Southern White Male Business Owner (40+) Explains Why He's A "Dem"

This says it all.

When It Comes To Fighting Anti-Intellectualism ...

... sadly, we have a long way to go.  I recently wrote about the importance of brains.  Here, however, is ample evidence of what the absence of brains can do.

Here are some additional thoughts along the same lines.

And here is an illustration of how deeply the problem has penetrated the corridors of power.

A Public Health Approach To Gun Violence?

I've long been a advocate of taking a public-health approach to our worst vices, rather than a criminal-justice approach.  Maybe there's something to be said for taking that approach with gun violence.  One wonders, however, whether the NRA could ever get on board with this.

Brains Matter

If you watched last Wednesday's Republican presidential debate, you definitely got an earful.  You heard a lot about what a horrible President Barack Obama has been, and how we need to undo everything he's done.  You heard a lot of posturing from each candidate about how, with the help of their bumper-sticker bromides, they'll save our country from the one-half of its population they so desperately hate.  You even heard the occasional whopper, whether it was Carla Fiorina describing a Planned Parenthood video that doesn't exist, or Jeb Bush talking about how his brother kept America "safe."  (G-d keep us from that level of "safety.)

But you also didn't hear any evidence of something this country hasn't had enough of over the past thirty-five:  intelligence.  No ideas on how to make our nation stronger, or about how to make the lives of most Americans better.  It was a Samuel Taylor Coleridge debate:  blather, blather everywhere, and not a thought to think.

There was a time when, say whatever you will otherwise about it, conservatism had ideas.  You may have thought they were good or bad ideas.  I wasn't necessarily opposed to all of them.  But the ideas were at least there, and conservatives spent time and energy advocating them loudly and fearlessly. Not any more.  There could be no more naked admission of the failure of those ideas, as adopted and practiced over the past three and a half decades, than the refusal of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates to advocate or even mention any of these ideas.  How could they?  Self-funding tax cuts?  Peace through "strength"?  Making America more "godly" by encouraging religious bigotry?  Outside of the incredibly shrinking Republican base, where is the market for any of this now?

The sad truth, of course, is that the solutions to America's problems has nothing to do with the departure of Barack Obama for the White House  In fact, America is better off than it was seven years ago because President Obama has been a tremendously effective advocate for some very powerful ideas.  True, most of those ideas involve the role that government plays in our lives.  But those ideas have been tested over the course of Obama's two terms and have been successful.  The power of public spending and regulation to stimulate a depressed economy and reign in the excesses of financial markets.  The ability of government to work with the health industry and expand access to health insurance for millions of Americans.  The power of government to help create a whole new industry centered around renewable energy, which has the additional benefit of helping to fight climate change.

All of this is based on one simple aspect of President Obama:  he is smart.  He understands the power of ideas, and values good ones.  He understands that stupidity can not be saved by its short-term popularity.  He understands that the value of ideas and the popularity of those ideas are not always the same thing.  And it has not deterred him from advocating good ideas.  And all of us are benefiting from that advocacy.  How much more would we be benefiting, if stupidity powered by money hadn't gotten in the way?

On the state level, in California, a state with a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature, we can see the power of good ideas successfully fighting the power of devastating drought. California, the birthplace of modern conservative ideology, is now the laboratory for ideas on how to fight the changing climate of our world.  And, because it has embraced good ideas, and enacted them into law, California is winning the battle.

How much more all of us would be winning, if we could embrace a politics of ideas--of good ideas, for that matter?  You will only get that type of politics if you get out next year, get over the idea that there are no differences between the two major parties, and vote every Republican out of office and replace each one with a Democrat.  Otherwise, you will get nothing but what the current Republican presidential clown car is offering.  Rhetoric.  And failure.