Thursday, April 30, 2015

Values Cost Money, Whether You're Black Or White

And here's the proof.  Thanks, Mr. Krugman.

An Early Monument To Recycling

A hill in Rome, made up of pottery shards recycled during the Roman Empire.  One aspect in which we should not be afraid to emulate Rome.

Even Some Conservatives Get It

The fact that there is both money and freedom in the sun, that is.  Somehow, it's not surprising that enlightenment on this point would happen in Florida, though it kind of makes you wonder about the naysayers in what is called, after all, the Sunshine State.  I can only assume that (a) they all own oil stock, and (b) they don't care that their beachfront properties will be under water in 20 years.

The "Bipartisan" Lie

And how Obama got over it, and why the rest of us should stay over it.  Read here.

The Numbers Don't Lie

Recycling makes dollars and sense.

I'm Sick And Tired Of Hearing About So-Called "Responsible" Gun Owners

And here's why.

Baltimore: The Truth Isn't Black And White (Or Black Versus White)

In the past seven days, my home town has exploded, literally and figuratively, into the national consciousness.  We've all seen the same media coverage.  We've all watched the same footage of protests, peaceful and violent.  We've all experienced the same mix of emotions:  sadness, anger, frustration, despair.  We've already seen the process of understanding these events degenerate into an exercise in finger-pointing that is, in many cases, transparently and ridiculously self-serving. And, perhaps worst of all, we've failed in our national discussion to move beyond the simplistic description of this tragedy as though it were some sort of football game:  Black Protesters Versus Police In Riot Gear, and Who Scored The Most Today?  (I guess that's what we should expect from Fox, given all of the money they spend on sports coverage.)

But cities are complicated organisms, which is a major part of what has always made them so fascinating to me.  They are made up of individuals, each of whom is more than the sum total of their demographic mix.  They are deeply affected by individual events, good and bad (an employer leaving town, for example, or a new one showing up).  Over time, the people, the events, and the ways in which all of them interact with each other create the image of each city that visitors and outside observers have of them.  The bottom line:  We didn't get here overnight.  And all of us, for better or for worse, have a share in the blame for where things are now, as well as a stake in making them better.

When one is writing about the impact that individual people and events can have, one should disclose all aspects of one's personal stake in the discussion.  I have family members whose lives were nearly ruined as a result of the 1968 riots in Baltimore, as well as one family member who had adverse dealings with the current Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  I do not believe that those facts will slant what I have to say here but, if you feel otherwise, I won't stop you from clicking elsewhere.  If you are willing to hear me out in spite of that disclosure, please read on.

Let's start with the bigger picture, and work from there.  Baltimore's problems did not begin with the Obama Administration or, for that matter, with the transformation of both Baltimore and Maryland into reliable bastions of Democratic voters over the past 50 years.  They began much, much earlier, over 100 years ago, with the deliberate use of land regulation to shove African-Americans into communities where they could be effectively "contained" by the then-white majority. This history, which still shapes the neighborhoods of Baltimore today, is documented here.

And here, you can find a discussion of other forces that have accelerated the downward spiral of the African-American community into poverty and despair.  Redlining, which began in the 1930s.  The subprime mortgage crisis, in the first decade of this century.  And, in between, the war on drugs--a war that drugs have won hands down, along with the private prisons that have gained a market for their services.  The article also mentions gentrification and urban renewal; I tend to think there's room for debate about the negativity of those trends, which have after all helped to maintain the tax base of cities otherwise desperate to pay for essential services.

There is no room for debate, however about the city's police department.  Its arrest record speaks for itself.  And I'm not talking about the police arresting civilians; I'm talking about police officers being arrested themselves.  As well as the city losing or settling over 100 police brutality cases over the past four years.  And the police themselves are clearly worried enough about their image to go after the press.  Directly.  Well, There is no perception problem here; Baltimore has a serious crisis within its police force, one that harms black and white residents.  And no small amount of the problem lies in the fact that.most of them don't even live there.  That gives them neither knowledge nor accountability when it comes to the residents of the city they are responsible for protecting.

Which takes me from the big picture to the immediate picture:  the violence of last Saturday and Monday night.  I hate violence.  All violence.  It begets nothing but itself.  And the role of outsiders in that violence cannot be discounted.  But here's an example of how journalism isn't happening when it comes to this story:  who's paying the bills of the outsiders?  Who's to say that they aren't on the payroll of forces who benefit from the politics of racial division?  Why assume that they're being sent here by Al Sharpton and not, let's say, Donald Trump?  And why are "reporters" not asking those questions, and getting answers?  Could it be that they don't want you to know?

And, if we then go from the immediate picture down to the individuals who form it, we don't find the us-versus-them portrait that the corporate press want to frame in your mind.  We find the director of a homeless center for youth, a homeless center burned down, who nevertheless finds the community anger to be "legitimate."  We find a baseball executive whose team's games were cancelled and then relocated as a result of the protests, who nevertheless defended the rights of the protesters.  And we find a mother wading into danger to pull her son out of a confrontation and discipline him.  And this doesn't even begin to get into the stories of thousands of protesters protesting peacefully, or cleaning up their communities after the violent nights.

Baltimore is not a monolith.  It is not a divide.  It is what every city is:  a collection of individual lives that, jointly and severally, strive to get beyond the weight of their personal and collective history to make their world, and our world, a better one.  And we can help them do so by giving a lot more than a damn about them, as our President has said.  We can, hopefully, at the same time develop a less two-faced attitude toward the subject of violence.

All of that said, there is one more thing to say.  Notwithstanding any of the foregoing, there must be accountability for the violence.  And that accountability must be as individual as the city itself. It must, of course, include the immediate perpetrators.  But it must also include the Mayor, who, throughout this entire horrible week, has demonstrated no understanding either of the feelings of the communities harmed by police brutality, nor a clear understanding of either the problems within her own police force or of how to address those problems.  It must also include the Police Commissioner, whose deployment of his own forces has raised serious questions about whether any of this needed to happen in the first place.

Both of them need to spend less time defending themselves, and more time learning about the problems that have festered on their watch, and to which their own actions and/or inactions may have contributed.  And, if that cannot or will not do that, they at least ought to have the decency to resign.

As for the rest of us?  Let's stop making assumptions about how and why things happen.  Regardless of where we live, or how light or dark our skin is, let's spend as much time listening as we do talking. It might be the only way to prevent more deaths like the one suffered by Freddie Gray, whose loss of life may not yet be in vain, if it becomes the turning point in our national conversation about race.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I Love Elizabeth Warren--As A Senator

You've got to admire their tenacity.  Up to a point, that is.

I'm talking about the folks who want Elizabeth Warren, the freshman Democratic Senator from Massachusetts and champion of the 99%, to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016.  Of course, they don't just want her to run; they want her to win. And they are convinced that America's next President will be a Republican if she doesn't run.

Of course, she has said that she is not running.  More than once.  And, when she has done so, there's been nothing coy about it.  Nothing to suggest that she's waiting for the media or her party to seduce her into running.  Nothing to suggest that she has any ambition other than to continue giving the 1% hell in the U.S. Senate.  But that hasn't stopped her supporters from pushing her to run. Against the odds and the facts, they keep on pushing.

Why?  Hillary seems like a sure thing, in spite of her early missteps, for not only the nomination but also for the general election.  And it's not like she doesn't have at least some credentials for progressives to respect.  All you can really say about Warren, by comparison, is that she has more of them.  Is it about all those deals that Hillary's husband cut with congressional Republicans?  Maybe. But isn't it at least a little bit sexist to assume that Hillary would function as a President exactly the way that Bill did, just because she was his First Lady?  Is it really the "dynasty" angle?  Maybe, although, if she ends up facing Jeb Bush, that issue may not be much of a weapon against her.

But I think it is something related to this latter point, in a way.  And it's not something that her supporters should take as a compliment.

The authors of our Constitution decided against allowing a legalized aristocracy in their new nation, knowing the harm that hundreds of years of aristocracy had done in Europe.  While that has no doubt served our country well in a number of ways, it left us hungry for the opportunities that nobility in a nation provides for the expression of our innate desire to not simply love our country, but to worship it through the pageantry and formality that an aristocratic class provides.

The reality of presidential elections is that, every four years, we elect a new government.  But for conservatives who detest the very idea of a government, presidential elections are about something different.  Since all forms of government are evil to them, they are not as concerned about Republican candidates' positions on issues as they are about what type of person they are being asked to vote for, and what that person believes.  Republican voters want to be inspired by who the person is, and by the feeling of patriotism evoked by who they think the person is.  In short, they view presidential elections as the process for choosing a new king.

I may bite my tongue for saying what I am now about to say, but I fear that Democrats, who value government and its impact on political issues (and who therefore should know better) have for some reason adopted a mode of thinking about this election that closely resembles the Republican mindset. They are not interested in the candidate most likely to get across the finish line in a position to advance one or more of their causes.  They want someone whose ideology is pure beyond question, someone they can worship from afar, someone who will spare them the day-to-day necessity of worrying about their favorite cause.  In short, they too want a king--or, in this case, a queen.

I worry that this line of thinking, if in fact it is real, shows that the ideological ferocity of Republican politics over the past several decades has destroyed within Democrats the capacity for civilized debate and, ultimately, for civilized government.  After the damage done by the last Bush Administration, the last thing this country needs is an ideological war that nearly pushes the country over the cliff.  We desperately need someone who not only believes, but thinks, and can work with people who don't necessarily think identically.  I believe Hillary has shown that she can do that.

And I think that Elizabeth Warren is capable of that as well.  But as a President, term limits would cut short the length of her career, and of her effectiveness as a progressive advocate within our government.  Better that she should grow old and serve long in Teddy Kennedy's old Senate seat, and become the next Lion of the Senate.

And better for all of us if we took all of the energy now being directed to pushing Warren into the White House, and used it to elect a Senate with more Senators like her, who would also not be term-limited.  There's no reason for it to be either-or--in fact, either-or could set the cause of progressive politics back years, if it cost us the White House and failed to pick up the Senate.  Just imagine what the Supreme Court might look like in that case.

Hillary in the Oval Office, and Warren at the head of a new Senate majority.  Perfect together. Let's start aiming together for that.  Today.

No Empire Lasts Forever

Not even the British Empire.  And, like most dying empires, it is being pulled about from within.

Solar Roads?

They are possible, and they have enormous potential.  Take a look.

A $2 Trillion Foreign-Aid Program

That's what tax cuts for the rich really are.

For Every Man Who Is Self-Conscious About His Appearance

Take heart from this.  And good for you, sir.  Dance your heart out!

Selfishness And Self-Interest Are NOT The Same Thing

I've made that point before.  And I'm happy to make it again.

Greening The Autobahn?

If only we had the political will to do this to our Interstate Highway System.  The potential benefits would be enormous.

There Is Only One Villain In The Pete Rose Tragedy

And his name is Pete Rose.

I'd like to think that this is an obvious point.  I've seen it from the very beginning.  And, while Pete Rose is far from being my favorite baseball player, I think it's a genuine tragedy that he is ineligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Statistically, and otherwise, his career is the sort that deserves recognition with membership in the Hall.

Except, of course, for one thing.

He violated a rule that is posted in every professional baseball clubhouse from rookie leagues all the way up to the majors.  He would have seen that rule every single day of his career.  He was on notice, every single day of his career, that he was in danger of being excluded permanently from the sport he obviously loved so much if he violated that rule.  And, in spite of all that, he violated it anyway.

Why?  Why would he do something with the potential to destroy his relationship to baseball? Because he was Pete Rose.  Because he thought he had charmed everyone, especially in the media, to the point where he was bulletproof.  To the point where he thought he was bigger than the game.

And, sadly, there are still people, especially in the media, who are so charmed.  Take Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, for example.  He recently wrote about Rose, making the point that he is the only player in baseball history to have his permanent ineligibility from the game extended to potential membership in the Hall, and adding that, if the baseball writers who vote on Hall membership are forced to sort through the steroid generation of players, they should at least get a chance to have a say on Rose's fate with Cooperstown.

That's fair enough, so far as it goes.  But, on reflection, it starts to feel like an argument that allows leeway for both gamblers and substance abusers.  If we're going to make peace with expanding the range of bad behavior that's forgivable in the game, where does that stop?  Rose's gambling and the steroid sinners are bells in the history of the game that can't be unrung.  But they ought to serve as guideposts for how the game operates going forward.  The solution isn't to relax the gambling rule, but to make the drug rules tougher.  One drug violation, a year's suspension; two violations, a lifetime ban and the erasure of all statistics.  And don't say it can't be done with the players' union; take a strike, if you have to.  Baseball executives might be surprised by the percentage of the public that would support them on this.

I hold no brief for the Hall of Fame, or the people running it.  Their conduct in excluding Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon from participating in a Hall event because of their political views is, among other things, a violation of their tax-exempt status.  Despite that fact, they certainly have the right to define the terms of membership in the Hall.  That they have chosen to exclude Rose from membership consideration based on his permanent ineligibility from MLB speaks to nothing other than a real respect for the integrity of the game.  There is no reason to think the decision stems from any personal animosity toward Rose.

There certainly is no personal animosity from the media toward Rose.  And why should there be?  He courted them, gave them great quotes, probably passed along more than his share of scoops.  And they responded by making him ... well, Pete Rose.  A guy who thought he was so popular that he was bigger than the game.  Are they really the best people to be evaluating Rose's fate with the Hall? Doesn't their own participation in elevating his image create a conflict of interest for them in making that evaluation, since it would effectively allow them to validate their own role in Rose's tragedy?

And, once again, it is tragedy with only one villain.  And his name is Pete Rose.  He's the one who broke the rule.  He is paying a price that is proportionate to the offense.  He's not in jail.  He's free to pursue any work he wants, including baseball-related work, such as his new job with Fox Sports. His records are all allowed to stand, and are even included in Hall exhibits.  He just can't be a member of the Hall.

He did this to himself.  I'd not happy he did it.  I can understand why Mr. Madden is not happy about it.  But none of us can undo the dilemma Pete Rose created for himself.  And, even as things stand, his life serves to illustrate a principle that should be considered as American as any:  no one is above the game.

Not even Charlie Hustle.