Monday, February 29, 2016

There May Yet Be Hope For Our Culture ...

... as independent bookstores make a comeback.

The Beginning Of The Post-Heller World

Scalia's gun-rights decision effectively invited a new host of gun cases to test his words on reasonable gun restrictions.  This may be the first one.

Thank You, Dan Morhaim!

For recognizing that, now that the war on drugs is lost, the treatment of drugs as a public-health problem can finally begin.

What A Terrible Idea!

Turning a former concentration camp into a resort?  Obscene!

A Conservative Case For Solar Power?

Yes, in fact, there is one.

In Baltimore, A Possible Combination of Civil Rights History and Theater

I'm rooting for the Audrey Herman Spotlighter's Theater to take over the former Read's Drugstore on Howard Street!

Perhaps The Best Reason NOT To Support Donald Trump

He's making money for the enemy.

Be Thankful That, Even In Depressing Times ...

... we still have the ability to do amazing things.

We Must Take Control Of Our Tax System

Because, right now, the rich are running it.

An ISIS That Made It

Saudi Arabia, that is.  Thanks to oil money.  One more reason to ditch fossil fuels.

This Is What Socialism Should Look Like

The next president, whoever he--or she-- may be, should take a page out of Finland's book.

Does Combating Climate Change Hold The Key To Equality?

Naomi Klein thinks so.

Why New Yorkers Should Celebrate The Name Guastavino

Take a look.

We Need To Save More Of These!

Old movie palaces, that is.  For our history, our communities, our children and ourselves.

It Didn't Happen, Sly

It looked like it might, but it didn't.  Too bad, but your place in Hollywood history is secure.

It IS Bush's Fault!

Iraq, and ISIS, that is.

A Small Step Into The Future ... Or, Perhaps, The Past

Scientific proof that time travel may be possible.

And, Speaking Of New York ...

... if you have ever cared about the city at all, you need to read ... well, I'll sum it up in two words:  Pete Hamill.  He celebrates the city that once existed, the city that everybody could feel a part of.  Including me, in a former life.  The city, sadly, that no longer exists.

Is The New York Post Going Green?

Recent articles are making me think that it's a possibility, including this one.

Caution Tape For Gentrification?

One artist thought it was worth a try.

If Only New York Still Had This!

The old Metropolitan Opera House.  Think of how the reborn New York City Opera could have used this!

A Glimmer Of Hope In The War-Torn Middle East

Boiled down to one word:  Rojava.

How We Build Affects How We Feel

Big,boring buildings are destroying our cities by destroying our souls.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

And A Child Shall Lead Them

Lead all of us, that is, away from hatred of Muslims and toward greater acceptance of our differences and greater understanding of each other.  Take a look.

The New Times Square, And The Old

I might as well admit it:  I hate going to Times Square now.

From the moment that the New York Times moved uptown and built the building from which the New Year's Eve ball drops, at the southern end of the bow-tie "square" created by the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenues in Manhattan, and re-christened a horse-stable district known as Longacre Square with its own name, the so-called Crossroads of the World has been, at any minute in history, a mirror for the rest of American society.  It has always been an odd but exciting mix of commerce and culture, of celebrations and news tickers, of ordinary people making a decent living, and hucksters living on the edge of, and off of, the rest of society.

During World War II, its theaters and signs brought news of the war, and encouraged us to buy war bonds and support our troops.  During the decadent, self-absorbed 1970s, it became a shopping market for sex and drugs.  And more recently--and, sadly, perhaps permanently--in the corporate 1990s and today, it has become what a theater preservationist friend of mine refers to as a corporate theme park, one in which skyscrapers and supersigns have squeezed many smaller, more idiosyncratic businesses out of existence.

True, the sex and drugs are gone, or are at least banished to other neighborhoods.  But they've been replaced by different forms of hustle.  Painted topless women and men dressed as comic-book characters now offer to pose with tourists for photos--and very hefty fees.  And many legitimate businesses that gave the neighborhood personality and bargains are gone, replaced by franchises and names that carry high prices along with their ubiquity.

I vividly remember taking my stepdaughter on one of our theater trips to New York to the now-departed Tower Records, so that she could by sheet music.  I am so grateful that we could share that experience--but angry that she won't be able to share it with her daughters.

My wife and I were recently in Times Square one Wednesday morning after we attended a family wedding in Brooklyn the night before.  We sat in a pair of very uncomfortable chairs in the pedestrian mall that was created by closing off parts of the streets, making midtown traffic even more insane than it had been previously.  I found myself looking around with a sense of despair.

I had been a part of the Save-the-Theaters movement in the 1980s that ultimately got most of the Broadway theaters landmarked.  In hindsight, I found myself thinking that the goal should have been to declare the whole theater district a protected area.  That way, people coming into it wouldn't feel like they were in the middle of the world's biggest video game.

But my wife and I had come there anyway, looking for tickets at the half-price TKTS booth to a Broadway matinee.  After looking at the alternatives, we settled on "The Gin Game," with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson, at the John Golden Theater.  This was a very special choice for me; nearly forty years earlier, as a college student on an internship in New York, I had gone to see the same play at the same theater, with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.  Then, I was in the back of the balcony; this time, we were third row center.

The play, unchanged of course, was wonderful.  Jones and Tyson brought their own brand of stage magic, as Tandy and Cronyn had four decades before.  And the Golden was still the Golden, beautifully designed and immaculately maintained by the Shubert Organization.  For an afternoon, we were part of a larger cultural tradition and experience, one that, with the help of landmark laws, has become timeless.

Whatever doubts my experience in the pedestrial mall gave me, the John Golden wiped away.  It had been worth the effort to save the theaters, even though I still wish we had done more.  All of us involved in that effort helped to keep one of the best aspects of New York alive; its ancient legitimate theaters, the birthplace of so much of our culture.

So, when the new Times Square gets you down, be sure to enjoy what's left of the old Times Square, where the magic of history and culture still mingle and can come alive for you.

I Think I May Have Actually Found Something I Like About Donald Trump

And I can't say it was easy.  The man is a blowhard, a buffoon, a bigot, a bankrupt, several other things that begin with the letter B, and many things (none of them good) that begin with the other 25 letters of the English alphabet.  His virtues, such as they may be, do not exactly announce themselves. But I came across this item the other day, and, for a few moments at least, I took a few moments to give the Donald a little moment of private respect. Then, of course, I remembered all the bad stuff, and I put him back at the top of my S-list.

Still, it's worth dwelling on the point that Trump made about how raising income taxes gives the rich an incentive to invest and create jobs.  I've been making the exact same point for years, here in this blog and elsewhere.  And, while it seems like an obvious one to me, it apparently isn't so obvious to anyone else except Trump and me.  After all, he's the only person besides me that I've ever heard making it.

As for Dean Baker, co-director of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research, who is quoted in the same article as being skeptical about Trump's/my point, shame on him.  If it is not obvious to Mr. Baker as to why higher income taxes on the wealthy would stimulate investment, well, let me explain (as I have before, and suspect I will have to do again).

You may recall so-called "welfare reform" from the Bill Clinton years.  Its essence was to impose lifetime limits on benefit amounts, along with work/job training requirements to get those benefits. The theory behind this inhumane approach to society's most defenseless people is that no one is poor unless it's their own fault.  No one.  If a person is poor, that is merely an outward manifestation of some deep moral weakness.  It's therefore only fair that helping them take the form of punishment.

This perspective, to use an excessively dignified word for it, is sadly rooted in our country's Puritan heritage.  Puritan theology linked holiness with wealth, the latter being viewed as a consequential reward for spiritual purity.  Poor people couldn't be trusted with anything, including money, because of the fact that they were poor, thereby ensuring that they would continue to be poor ... and that the rich, by virtue of their theoretical goodness, would continue to be rich whether or not the were in fact actually good.

We've seen what 30-plus years of this kind of thinking, translated into public policy by Republicans with the indirect and direct help of Democrats, has done for this country.  The vast majority of us, whether virtuous or not, are sinking further and further into poverty, while the investing class that almost brought this country to its knees with its casino-style "goodness" rolls along merrily, without a worry in the world.  Why should they have any?  They haven't just raided the hen house, they've bought the farm, and made the rest of us pay the mortgage.

Tax cuts for the rich haven't trickled down into prosperity for the rest of us.  They've trickled overseas into tax shelters and sweatshops.  They've expatriated our money, our businesses and our dreams for a better future.  Are these the actions of the virtuous?

This is America.  All of us are supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law and each other.  If poor people can be forced to justify the money they receive, the rich should be subject to the same compulsion.  Don't just give them money.  Force them to put it to work.  So that America can work again for all of us.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Wars Cast Long Shadows (Part II: World War II)

As discussed in my previous post, it has taken well over a century to begin to address the shadows that continue to be cast by World War I:  the strangling of the dreams of indigenous peoples in Africa and the Middle East by the dead hands of colonial boundary-makers.  The war's direct offspring, World War II, casts giant shadows of its own, especially for the victims of the Holocaust. But America struggles with shadows of its own from "The Big One"--the shadows that come with victory.

As the war ended in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union were the dominant military powers on Earth.  But, when economic prosperity was factored in, there was no question that America, quite literally, was Number One.  From the end of the war until well into the 1970s, the prosperity of the U.S. and its people were the envy of the world.  As a consequence, American culture began to ascend as the dominant culture in the world.  And, in many ways, it still is the dominant culture, even as other nations have replace our dominance in key areas.  Toyota may be bigger than General Motors, for example, but Hollywood is still synonymous with films and television.

I was born in 1956 (there, no lying about my age; I'll be 60 in September, G-d willing), so I remember what it felt like to live and to come of age in this era.  Most Americans felt like they had more than enough to not only survive, but to enjoy life.  And no one questioned whether this feeling would last indefinitely.  Somehow, to all of us, it seemed like it would.  And should.  And so, all of us, together, including those of us who should have known better, ignored the lessons of history that should teach us all about the precarious nature of life, and the position of nations in relation to each other.

Unfortunately, the post-war era, was also the beginning of what was called movement conservatism, best exemplifed by the beliefs of William F. Buckley as expressed in his syndicated column and the magazine he founded, National Review.  With NR in particular, Buckley's goal was twofold: to purge American conservatism of its racial, anti-intellectual tendencies (an admirable goal, then and now), but to otherwise freeze the cultural, social and economic development of the country at a point that Buckley and his followers could tolerate.  Or, as Buckley himself memorably put it, to stand athwart history and yell, "Halt!"

The ahistorical arrogance of that goal should tell you something about the giddy optimism of the post-war era.  Only people surrounded by an overpowering sense of success could conceive of a project that would actually freeze everything in the nation from developing, from improving, from changing in any way.  Or believe that such a project could ever be successful.  The ultimate irony, of course, is that conservatism is a political philosophy that is allegedly grounded in the need to learn the lessons of history.  One of the most important of those lessons was best summed up by someone a Wall Street-centric type like Buckley should have admired:  T. Rowe Price, a pioneer in the world of mutual funds:  "Change is the investor's only certainty."*

History is not something that one can stand athwart; if one does so, one is more likely than not to be run over by it.  And no amount of economic prosperity can stop that, because history is affected by far more than the saving and spending of money.  It is ultimately affected by the changing needs of people, especially as those changes are expressed in the hopes and dreams of successive generations, and especially as each of these generations see what their predecessors have left undone.  For these reasons, it is not the business of a truly great nation to stop history, but to adapt to the changes brought about by each generation.  The narrative of history is filled with the stories of seemingly invincible empires and nations states that failed to survive because they failed to adapt.

Yet here we are, some sixty years after the founding of National Review, and conservatives are still trying to freeze history--or, in the words of Donald Trump, "make America great again."  Wrong, Mr. Trump:  America has never stopped being great, because America, however fitfully, has never failed to adapt to change.  Only movement conservatives, still wrapped up in a post-war mentality when it comes to American power and might, fail the need to do so.

For the sake of the nation, and the human race, I hope and pray that their view of history and American power does not prevail at the ballot box this fall.

*Full disclosure:  I was born in and live near Baltimore, where T. Rowe Price Associates is headquartered, and worked for the firm in the 1980s.

Wars Cast Long Shadows (Part I: World War I)

Wars can and do end on the battlefield, and the diplomatic tables.  But they leave fingerprints behind for years, even decades.  In the lives that were meant to be lived, but were lost.  And in the fates of nations and their various peoples, whose lives, if not destroyed, are disrupted and dislocated in many ways.  Sometimes, nations disappear, only to reappear later.  Sometimes, their boundaries are transformed, perhaps forever.  And sometimes, they are simply created by fiat, because another nation has decided that doing so is politically and economically useful, so long as the new nation is essentially a vassal state.

Putting it more simply with regard to the third category, I'm talking about former colonies.  To be even more specific, I'm referring to the former colonies of former imperial powers in Europe that were created in the Middle East and all across Africa.  These "nations," for the most part, were cobbled together with little if any real regard for the cultures, religions and other traditions that were indigenous to the colonized peoples.  Some groups, such as the Kurds, were split apart among multiple nations, while others were herded together in states that gave them nothing to unite around except a deep-seated hated for the colonizing powers.  To those powers, none of this mattered; only the need for cheap natural resources to feed their imperial ambitions mattered.  As for the peoples that came along with the resources, from the colonizers' perspective, they created no danger that couldn't be successfully addressed by bullets.

If you're up on your history of the early 20th century, you know that a single gunshot in Sarajevo was the beginning of the end of all that.  World War I was the end of the German colonial system, as well as the Russian, Austrian-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires, and the beginning of the end for the systems of the other imperial powers.  True, Great Britain and France emerged from the war with expanded empires, as they moved in to fill the void left by the Turks in the Middle East.  But both countries found that they got far more than they bargained for, when it came to civil and religious unrest.  Ultimately, they were relieved to relieve themselves of their acquisitions.  (Neocons, take note, if you can).

Logically, the end of colonial period should have been a time when the local populations should have been given a chance to find their voice, develop their own national identities, and ultimately form nation-states that respected local cultures and traditions.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Perhaps it was a sense of over-confidence by the departing Western powers in the lessons of democracy they had hoped to leave behind.  Perhaps it was the fact that multinational corporations quickly filled the economic void that the departing nations left behind--and those corporations had their own reasons for accepting and evening wanting those boundaries.  Perhaps it was a combination of both.  But the results are painfully familiar:  almost all of these states have descended into dictatorial chaos and kleptocracy poverty, as ruthless rulers exploit the lack of unity and sense of belonging among the peoples they rule.

It remains to be seen whether anything will ever change in Africa.  Nations such as Kenya and South Africa offer faint glimmers of hope, but they are isolated cases at best on a continent dominated by craven and cruel "governments."  And, from the U.S. perspective, Africa poses far less of an existential threat than does the Middle East, where the "nations" of Syria and Iraq are falling apart at the hands of Islamic terrorists unleashed by the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq.  Each of these nations is composed of various ethnic/national/religious groups that deserve to have a peaceful chance to determine their own destinies, within boundaries that respect their ancient and current differences.

Which is why I was glad to see this article on Slate.  It discusses an idea whose tires have been kicked a number of times over the decades.  But, as other ideas have come and gone, maybe, just maybe, this time this one has a chance.

So, come on, John Kerry.  Find your inner Sykes, or Picot, and get it done like you did with Iran.  It may be the overdue turning of history pages left in place for far too long.  Like the boundaries that so desperately need to be changed.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cost-Push Inflation: When The 1% Bid Everything Up

Once again, the New York Post has come up with a pleasant surprise, i.e., a departure from praising everything associated with those at the top of the heap.  This article by Diane Francis, describing in detail the ability of foreign investors to stash illicit cash in U.S. real estate anonymously through shell companies, provides some insights into how insidiously and ruthlessly inflation works in an economy where the majority of the money is not controlled by a majority of the people.

There are basically two types of inflation:  cost-push inflation, and demand-pull inflation.  The latter is what most of us have been talking about over the past several decades:  the tendency, in a consumer society, for consumption to increase to the point at which the prices of various goods and services are bid up higher than the ability of most consumers to pay for them, directly or indirectly.

Demand-pull inflation is what the U.S. and much of the Western world experienced in the 1970s, as consumers demanded more and more goods and services that depended in one way or another on petroleum.  On the other hand, now that we have finally heeded Jimmy Carter's advice and turned to alternatives, demand-pull inflation has largely vanished.

On the other hand, it has been replaced, in the age of the 1%, by cost-push inflation that stems from the bidding-up of the price for resources by people desperate to promote their social or political status.  This is especially the case in New York City, where foreign investors have been pouring money into real estate for decades and slowly but surely sent the price for even the smallest apartment through the proverbial roof.

Let me illustrate the problem by way of a personal example.  When I moved to New York in 1979 to take a federal civil-service job, I was able to live on a starting salary of just over $10,000 a year in an apartment that cost about $195.00 per month.

Today, the starting salary would be about $36,000 per year, but the rent would be somewhere around $1400 per month, an increase of almost 700%.   It would literally not be possible for me to take the same job today without a roommate.  And, while that would not be the worst arrangement in the world, it does illustrate the extent to which real estate values  in the Big Apple have skyrocketed.

And, in this century, the problem has gotten even worse, as foreign investment flees less stable nations and comes into American cities.  As Ms. Francis' article attests, some of this money comes from some of the most unsavory sources, making New York, and other cities in America, unwitting and unwilling nests for "dirty money."

At the same time, that "dirty money," combined with the trickle-up economics of the past 35 years, have created a real estate climate in which people with average incomes find it almost impossible to pay for a decent place to live.  In the case of New York, this is having a devastating effect on arts institutions, a major player in the city's tourist economy.

It's good, as Ms. Francis points out, that the federal government is cracking down on the shell-company loophole.  But, for the purpose of controlling cost-push inflation overall, it would be better if, somehow, we could find our way back to being a society in which the majority of the people controlled a majority of its money.  Without a major rethinking of economy policy in a progressive direction, we aren't going to find our way back there soon.

Antonin Scalia, The Advocate With A Robe

I never met the late Justice Antonin Scalia and, as I will subsequently explain, I was far from being a fan of his judicial philosophy or the decisions he authored while serving on the Supreme Court. But even I was appalled by the speed with which his death created Washington's latest political football: the battle to replace him on the Court.

Replacing Justice Scalia would be seemingly be a relatively straightforward process, as Greta Van Susteren pointed out recently.  The President nominates a successor ("shall" do so, to use the Constitution's Article II language), and the Senate considers and either approves or rejects the nominee, thereby giving its "advice and consent" (again, the language from the Constitution). And yet, before Justice Scalia's body even had a chance to get cold--in fact, even before the news of his death was fully confirmed in the media--up pops Mitch McConnell to say that President Obama should pass on this constitutional responsibility in the hope that a Republican successor to Obama, combined with a Republican Senate, will select a conservative replacement.

Never mind the fact that McConnell and his cohorts would be short-handing an entire branch of government for over a year, or the fact that an Obama nominee would not be the first such nominee in a presidential election year, or the fact that it has never taken more than 125 days to approve a nomination.  Mitch's lust for power is greater than his willingness to risk using it in a way that would generate an uprising among his Tea Party base.  Or, for that matter, to use his authority to compel the Senate to carry out a specific constitutional duty.  He knows that rejecting a well-qualified Obama nominee would put certain Republican-held Senate seats in blue states up for grabs, and threaten his power in a different way than would be the case if the nomination was approved.  So McConnell's first instinct is to do nothing, and thereby prove how valueless power is in his hands.

This much should be clear:  Antonin Scalia is beloved among Republicans and conservatives not because he was a brilliant jurist.  Being a brilliant jurist would have required him to be fair and impartial in rendering judgment and authoring decisions.  Fairness and impartiality were not the hallmarks of his judicial career.  He refused, for example, to recuse himself from cases in which he was arguably connected with more than one of the parties.  And, while I appreciated his occasional votes on the right side of history and constitutional law (e.g., for flag-burning as protected First Amendment speech), his opinions were more often than not an effort to move existing law toward a pre-conceived conservative conclusion.

Nowhere was that tendency more graphically on display than in the majority opinion he wrote in District of Columbia v. Heller, which establishes an individual right to bear arms.  Despite being allegedly committed to the text of the Constitution, rather than any related legislative history, he dismisses the Second Amendment's militia-related language as a "prefatory" clause with no substantive relationship to "the right of the people" enunciated in the Amendment's "operative" clause, and justifies this in part by reference to three contemporary state-sponsored amendments that referred to an individual right to bear arms.  Scalia goes on from there to ignore the fact that the Amendment refers to the right of the "people," not "persons," and incorrectly quotes the Fourth Amendment as a basis for doing so.  Finally, knowing that he is on the verge of amending the Constitution from the bench, and overturning hundreds of common-sense restrictions on guns in the process, he pulls out of thin air a vague authority rooted in tradition for such regulations.

Put simply, Scalia threw his announced constitutional philosophy out the window when it came to something he cared about passionately and personally:  guns.  Scalia was an avid hunter; in fact, his passing occurred while he was on a hunting trip at a ranch.  And nothing, not even fidelity to the text of the Constitution, was going to stop him from finding an individual right to use and own guns. Ironically, he could have found an implied fundamental right to individual gun ownership under the line of Supreme Court cases dealing with substantive due process.  To do that, however, would have meant providing support to a line of cases loathed by conservatives, including Justice Scalia himself.

I do not rejoice in Justice Scalia's passing.  The man had a family and friends; their feelings deserve far more respect than he has received from McConnell and those joining in McConnell's call for a year-long delay in the process for finding a replacement.  But I do not deny that I welcome the opportunity to see what will come out of the Supreme Court now that it no longer has a conservative advocate on the bench.

R.I.P., Justice Scalia.  May you be succeeded, and promptly, by a true jurist.

The Only Way To Give People More Money ...

... is to actually give them more money.  But, unfortunately, over the past two decades, we've been actively moving in the opposite direction.  Two big reasons behind that move are discussed at some length here and here.

I remember how disappointed I was back in 1996 when Bill Clinton signed the Republican sponsored-and-passed "welfare reform" bill that did, in fact, end welfare as we knew it.  Truthfully, it's more nearly correct to say that it ended welfare, period.  Under the new law (still in effect, of course), either you find a job in five years, or tough luck, buddy.  The only exception allowed in the law: the ability to request a Presidential waiver of the five-year requirement during a national economic crisis.  Of course, the economy was booming at the time the bill become law, so no one thought waivers would ever be needed.  But guess what President Obama has needed to given to more than one Republican governor?

"Welfare reform," as designed by Republicans, was built by people who believe that it really is possible to make a dog hunt by beating it.  All you need to do to create full employment is to threaten everyone to get jobs that may or may not exist.  Clinton, of course, signed it only to guarantee his re-election and to head off any effort to impeach him.  In the end, he had to settle for thinking that one out of two isn't bad.

The rest of us, however, had to deal with the consequences of his short-term calculation.  By taking away the guarantee of an income for families with children, he effectively cut consumption throughout the entire country.  Stores could sell less food, and other consumables.  The companies that produce those consumables have less revenue, and need fewer workers.  Those workers have less money to spend.  And so the ripple effect has gone on.  And all those "jobs" that welfare "chiselers" were supposed to be scared into taking disappeared.  It would have been far better to step up efforts at investigating fraud. That would have punished only the guilty and created jobs at the same time.

At least, during the Clinton years, it was still possible to raise the minimum wage.  Republicans were still too insecure about the reach of their power to resist Democrats on that subject. But no longer. Today's Republicans race each other to the bottom to see who can eliminate the minimum wage fastest.  Which is one reason why the minimum wage, to have any ability to keep people out of poverty, would need to be well over $20.00 an hour.  Most progressives are only asking for an increase to $15.00 an hour.

If we even got that much of an increase, and the kind of welfare reform we needed that combined guaranteed benefits with stepped-up efforts at combating fraud, the increase in both consumption and investment would send the economy through the roof.  And the federal budget battles might come to an end; we could pay down the national debt, safeguard Social Security and give average Americans tax cuts paid for with real money.  After all, it's consumers, not investors, who are the real job-creators in America.  Investors have too many off-shore options; consumption generates spending and investing among the consumers within our own borders.

It was Chief Justice John Roberts who famously said that the only way to end discrimination based on race is to end discrimination based on race.  Unfortunately, he was wrong about that.  But it has always been true that it takes money to make money.  Which is why the only way give people more money is to do exactly that.  Raise the minimum wage, create real welfare reform, and Americans will have the financial floor they need to reach for their dreams.

What Does It Mean To "Secure The Border"?

Secure the border.  When it comes to immigration, that's the only thing the Republicans say they'll do if you give them complete control of Pennsylvania Avenue next year.  Secure the border.

But have you ever heard any of them provide a working definition of what a secured boarder would look like?  Or how we would know whether we had a secured border?  I'd be very surprised if anyone reading this could honestly say "Yes."

Well, there's a reason for that:  They don't really mean it.  They repeat the phrase "Secure the boarder" over and over again, because they know it's what their xenophobic, race-baited audience wants to hear.  But, from a practical policy standpoint, those words are bones to which no meat will ever be attached.  And for two very simple reasons.

First, that most unpleasant of subjects (unless you happen to have a lot of it):  money.  The United States immigration system is the only part of the Federal government that pays for itself with user fees.  And those fees, currently, are obscenely high, which has a lot to do with why we have the current mess we have:  we have a system very few people can afford to use.  If fees were raised to the level at which it might be theoretically possible to have a near-totally secured border, we wouldn't need to have an immigration system at all, because almost no one would find it to be affordable.

And my phrase "near-totally" begs the question:  even if money were no object, would it even be possible to have a completely secured border--a border so tight it would look like it had been designed by the Ziploc bag people?  In a word, no.  Of course, Donald Trump would disagree with me.  He loves to amuse his highly susceptible audience with the idea that he's going to convince the people of Mexico to build a giant wall between their county and the U.S. AND make them pay 100% of the cost.  Of course, he never explains why the people of Mexico would want to do such a thing, because (of course) they don't.

And many of them don't, of course, because they both want and need to come here.  And we need them, whether we want to admit it or not.  Just ask the farmers of Pennsylvania, or of any other state for that matter.  That's why they will always find a way to come here.  Build a wall, and they'll dig a tunnel.  Plug the tunnel, and they'll hire a boat.  Blockade the ports, and they'll charter a plane.  Flood the airports with police, and they'll pack themselves inside of tractor-trailers.  Stop all of the tractor-trailers ... well, by then, you'll have bankrupted the nation looking for people we should be welcoming with open arms.

Especially since they'll be here anyway.  Because we need them, and they need us.  And that's never going to change.  Because that's how America was created, and how it continues to be re-created, over and over again.

None of this is meant to obscure the need for a secure border.  The truth is that the border currently is already a great deal more secure than most people realize.  And if you want to talk in practical terms about practical steps to make it more secure, fine, so long as your words include numbers, especially the cost of taking those steps.  If you want to stipulate that those numeric goals must be reached before steps are taken to increase visa numbers, or aid the undocumented, fine.  Back in 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill designed to address all of those goals.  It was systematically destroyed by the Republican House of Representatives and the conservative pundocracy, because both understood that passage would have cost them a political issue, and an avenue to more political power.

And that is why today's Republican presidential candidates don't want to be any more specific about immigration than the phrase "secure the border."  Because they don't care about the border, or immigrants, or their voters, or the nation.  The one thing they care about, truly, madly, deeply, is power.  And they see endless exploitation of the immigration issue as the best way to keep and expand that power.

What does it mean to "secure the border"?  Don't expect the Republicans to answer that question for you, GOP voters.  They're too busy using the issue to manipulate you.  And you're too satisfied with bumper-sticker answers to call them on it.