A vicious cycle of looting in America’s cities

How did Washington DC’s Anacostia neighborhood become a festering slum and why has it become trendy again? What can that cycle tell us about events in Ferguson, Missouri?

Almost sixty years after the murder of Emmitt Till we continue to murder young black men for reasons we barely understand and seem powerless to stop. We are in broad, national agreement on our desire to free ourselves from racism, yet racist ideology still distorts our best efforts at political and economic progress. Only by confronting this history and recognizing its continuing hold on our culture can we neutralize it and move on.

Blight-ridden stretches of our inner cities are being restored to their former splendor, but those burned out hulks have a crucial story to tell. Before the last crack house in Chicago’s West Town becomes a yoga studio we should stop to bear witness. The history of these troubled battleground neighborhoods holds clues that could help us understand our illness and its cure.

Picture if you will, a thriving working class neighborhood in a busy northern city. The year is 1950 and the Supreme Court has recently struck down deed restrictions that block African-Americans from purchasing homes in this neighborhood. An opportunity looms. Someone is going to seize it.

Black neighborhoods are severely overcrowded due to a history of racist restrictions and informal practices that prevent them from buying outside their neighborhoods or building new ones. The most affluent black families are ready to take advantage of the new opportunity, but banks still will not lend to them and very few realtors in white neighborhoods will broker a sale.

A new business model emerges. It requires a very small capital investment and a nasty streak of cynicism. It works like this.

First you purchase a home in a white neighborhood and resell it to a black family. The black buyer is forced to buy the home at a steep premium, sometimes referred to as the “black tax,” necessary because their access to brokers and capital is blocked.

Since banks will not finance the transaction, the seller can further profit by self-financing. The black family regularly brings a 10-20% down-payment, but they do not receive a conventional mortgage. They obtain no ownership interest and gain no equity in the property until (unless) they complete their 30 years of mortgage payments on time. They have no access to foreclosure protections or redress beyond what is available to renters.

If that’s where the grift ended then the story of African-Americans’ progress into the middle and upper classes might be completely different. We would recall a tough, but generally successful climb against long odds as a formerly oppressed group made their way into the American mainstream. That’s not where the grift ended.

There was good money to be made helping the most affluent black families find new homes in better neighborhoods. There was spectacular money to be made by extorting those vulnerable families, shaking down powerless low-income white families, and converting successful working neighborhoods into smoking holes of blight, crime and misery.

After moving one successful black family into a financially precarious new existence in a white neighborhood, the grift entered a new phase often called “blockbusting.” With the arrival of a black family on the block, nervous whites worried that blacks would ruin their neighborhood. The blockbusters worked hard to exacerbate and capitalize on those fears.

In some cases they would hire African-Americans to walk the block, dressing and behaving in ways meant to feed cultural stereotypes. A poorly dressed black woman would walk down the sidewalk with several crying children. A black man would cruise the street playing loud music. The blockbusters would then go door to door at the white homes explaining that black families were moving in and making low-ball offers for their houses.

What followed was a kind of Dutch auction for the remaining homes on the block. Whoever responded to the racist appeal first got the best price. As the process continued prices of white-owned homes on the block would plummet. White families faced a stark choice. Get out fast or see your investment in your most valuable asset ruined. As the process peaked, there are examples of brokers buying an undervalued home from a terrified white owner for $10K and selling to a black family for $25K in the same week.

Ironically, the black families moving in were the most educated, affluent and successful members of their communities. Generally, they were far more educated and accomplished than the people they were replacing. That dynamic wouldn’t last long. As the grift continued it exacted a toll.

Black families with no opportunity to gain justice through the courts and few economic options poured every available resource into a desperate bid to gain access to solid neighborhoods and schools for their children. Some would survive the machine of piracy and exploitation into which they were being fed, but they were the exceptions.

If they were able to make their very steep payments, they would soon be presented with “code violations,” which would render their homes legally uninhabitable if not repaired. Often these were outright frauds. In other cases they were organized in collusion with local authorities in a misguided effort to stop the blockbusting. Families that had strained and borrowed to the very limit had few resources available to deal with any eventuality. Repairs faltered. Both spouses took multiple jobs. The fabric of a vulnerable community unraveled.

Default rates were high. With no legal recourse, black families consistently lost their homes along with capital carefully accumulated across multiple generations. The broker simply removed the family, retained for himself whatever equity had accumulated and repeated the process.

By the mid-‘60’s the prime opportunity to profit from this scheme had passed. Most of the black families with enough resources to be looted had been looted. In the turned neighborhoods, a few survivors kept making payments and working hard to hold their homes. The rest had reverted to being renters, sometimes in the very same home they had originally “purchased.” Remaining properties that could no longer be flipped to vulnerable buyers with a little money became slum rentals or were often simply abandoned.

By the mid to late ‘60’s when the Federal government finally intervened to give African-Americans protection from housing discrimination this cycle had largely completed. Discriminatory lending practices still would not be outlawed for another decade. After they were finally barred by law, discriminatory lending would still linger in practice for at least another decade and a half.

Chicago’s Lawndale with its beautiful stone mansions was by the ‘70’s a dangerous ghetto. Black families who invested their savings in the neighborhood were once again trapped in a slum. The accumulated wealth of an emerging generation of black elites had been systematically and legally looted.

The working class whites targeted in the scheme had lost their communities and much of their savings. A Saturday Evening Post article from 1962 poignantly describes their experience:

Some white owners simply stare, almost dumbfounded, as we draw up sale papers for them. Others break down and cry. Some say, “It’s OK to show the place to Negroes before we move, but we don’t want to be in the house to watch it when you do.”

What little protection they enjoyed came as a perk of their racial identity. Being white did not save them from extortion, but it gave them the opportunity to start over in new suburban communities with access to legitimate financing, legal protections, police support, and full public capital for schools, parks and libraries. A financial reversal caused by blockbusting was often compensated over time with appreciating suburban home values.

Lessons were learned. Those with the keenest ear for a racist appeal suffered and lost the least. In a great American irony, working whites’ experience of being victimized by their own racism and by the racist exploitation of their black neighbors actually reinforced and hardened their racism.

When they returned to visit the neighborhoods they had left, their eyes told them that their prejudices were valid. As those neighborhoods burned in the late ’60’s, whites congratulated themselves on their inherent superiority. After all, as was so often said, what kind of people would “burn down their own neighborhood”? A racist assumption filled the gap in whites’ understanding. If black families would just work as hard as “we” did, their neighborhoods would not be burning.

Aided by the slightest compassion or curiosity, those white families might have discovered that black residents by that time owned virtually nothing in those neighborhoods. Everything around them from the homes to the liquor stores was part of an infrastructure engineered to extract every penny they earned before it could be converted to capital or power. Looting that occurred in the riots of the ‘60’s was as much a metaphor as a reality, the only avenue by which African-Americans could participate in a legal and economic model constructed for organized extortion.

The entire cycle would be repeated in a refined and far more sophisticated form in the subprime lending boom of the early ‘aughts. Once again, black families who had managed to accumulate a little capital were systematically looted, leading to a broader economic meltdown. As in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, none of the perpetrators would be prosecuted because the process was entirely legal.

Today in places like Brooklyn, Washington DC, Chicago and elsewhere, white residents are taking advantage of depressed prices to move closer to a newly vibrant urban core. Many of these white residents see themselves as progressive pioneers, converting swaths of burned-out ghetto into gleaming urban playgrounds.

Victims and survivors of a generation of racial extortion are displaced as the process comes full circle. Elaborate beards and skinny jeans are to them what a black woman with a crying baby was to a previous generation of white residents. Black residents priced out of what’s left of their homes rightly see the new influx as the final step in a cycle of exploitation. A vicious circle is closing. Now that their neighborhood has some renewed promise it’s time for the black survivors to get out of the way.

They are shipped off to suburbs like Ferguson, Missouri that are the suppurating new focus of American poverty, where struggling blue collar whites will once again greet them as a portent. Their influence is contained through aggressive, discriminatory police tactics, their little accumulated wealth siphoned away by selective law enforcement and political tactics designed to dilute their influence.

Ferguson is the depressing postlude to blockbusting. The wheel keeps turning.

Young white progressives ignorant of the process that turned Chicago’s Near North or DC’s Anacostia into slums, react with righteous frustration to the hostility of black residents. Similarly, a thin, emerging class of successful African-Americans whose families narrowly survived the urban meat grinder sometimes look back on those whose families were destroyed with a complex blend of emotions.

A lucrative new niche industry has emerged for black figures willing to cast themselves as Horatio Alger, confirm white racist stereotypes, and help Americans hide from our past. They assure audiences that America has no obligation to blacks. After all, if Dr. Ben Carson can become a surgeon then any African-American could be just like him if they would stop wearing hoodies, pull up their pants, and speak properly. Insult is added to injury as blacks are told to take “personal responsibility” for the wholesale expropriation of their capital and the disintegration of their communities.

History denied is history repeated. America’s great Achilles Heel is her racial mythology. The damage has never been limited to the black community, yet we relentlessly resist an honest reckoning. Over the last half-century we have very nearly exhausted the capacity of legislation to combat our own racism. Younger Americans are less invested in the myths of white supremacy that define the shape of the world for older Americans. Yet, judging from the shape of the arguments over gentrification, they are only marginally more aware of our history and its continuing impact.

Truth is powerful. Perhaps we can muster the courage to confront our history honestly and honorably, and thereby begin to escape the political distortions created by lingering racism. Our national debate over the murders of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin might offer glimmer of hope. By openly wrestling with the demons of our past we might begin to recognize their fingerprints on our present and break their hold on our future.

Resources:

The Saturday Evening Post, 1962, Confessions of a Block-Buster

Edward Orser, 1997, Blockbusting in Baltimore

The Atlantic, 2014, The Case for Reparations

New York Times, 2014, In Ferguson, Black Town, White Power

The Atlantic, 1972, The Story of the Contract Buyers’ League

 

 

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Posted in Civil Rights, Race

What Reagan said about a border wall

For those who wonder why I’m a Republican, let’s take a look at what the term used to mean back when I was a kid.

This is what Ronald Reagan said about immigration and border security when running for President in 1980:

Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they’re working and earning here, they’d pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back. They can cross. Open the borders both ways.

That’s right. Reagan’s approach to working with Mexico was to “open the border both ways.”

While reviewing Reagan’s comments, look at what George Bush, the senior Republican in the state of Texas at the time was saying about how to treat those here illegally:

If they’re living here, I don’t want to see…six- and eight-year-old kids being made, one, totally uneducated, and made to feel like they’re living outside the law. Let’s address ourselves to the fundamentals. These are good people, strong people. Part of my family is Mexican.

What makes these comments even more striking is the context. Reagan and Bush made these statements when they were competing for the Republican nomination in 1980.  Better yet, this exchange happened during a debate in Texas just before the Texas primary. Freer borders and providing an education for undocumented immigrants was the platform that both Republican candidates thought they needed in order win over Texas Republicans.

A generation later, why such a stark change? Back then, Dixiecrats like Rick Perry were still Democrats while the Elizabeth Warrens of the world were still Republicans. That’s what’s changed.

More detail and the actual footage from the debate where that occurred is available from our good friends at Reason online.

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Posted in Immigration

A thought to ponder for the weekend

25 years ago, Rick Perry was a Democrat and Elizabeth Warren was a Republican.

That is all. Have a great weekend.

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Posted in Republican Party

Four true facts

The miserable state of the Republican Party can perhaps be understood through its response to four simple truths. Each item on this list is measurable, provable and broadly regarded as obvious. Failure to acknowledge these four truths means being as clearly, empirically wrong as it’s possible to be in the otherwise mushy, gray realm of politics:

1) Climate change is real and it is caused primarily by human activity.

2) Human beings evolved from simpler life forms, and the same evolutionary process shapes all living systems.

3) Abortion is a complex issue because it involves two legitimate liberty interests in conflict with one another.

4) Race still skews economic outcomes in the United States.

It is possible, with great care and a willingness to avoid exposure to facts, for an adult to carry on a reasonably competent existence while living in denial of these four realities. However, no one incapable of recognizing these obvious truths is qualified to serve in a public leadership capacity of any significance. Like a poorly aimed weapon, any legislation or executive action crafted in defiance of these truths will, at best, yield unnecessary collateral damage. In many cases, it will reap calamity.

Unfortunately, there is almost no corner of America in which a Republican can survive a primary election while openly acknowledging all four of these truths. As a consequence, however mistaken a Democratic policy may be, it is likely to be less damaging at the national level than a Republican alternative for as long as this condition persists (it’s worth noting, however, that Democrats have their own issues with #3).

None of those four realities dictate a particular policy response. Acknowledging these irrefutable realities would not force Republicans to abandon market economics, embrace abortion or violate any of the party’s traditional tenets. Some of these truths might be politically uncomfortable, but it is possible to devise policy responses to each of them that are entirely in line with traditional Republican agendas.  The Republican Party stubbornly refuses to acknowledge these realities because the party has developed over the past twenty years a purpose completely divorced from effective public administration.

A largely white, rural and Southern demographic bloc for whom the faster, freer world of global capitalism is a living nightmare has transformed the Republican Party into a bulwark against reality. Those who continue to look to religion not only to provide meaning, but to define their reality, are in a broad general state of panic that seems likely to continue until an older generation has seen their influence dissipate. They are determined to ensure that no government action of any kind, no matter how necessary for the protection of your interests or theirs, will in any way challenge the brittle, manufactured reality on which their mental security depends.

Republicans of a previous generation helped grant us this world. Republicans of this generation are determined to roll it back at all costs. If they must fail, they are content to see it all burn to the ground rather than confront a world of pluralism, accelerating change, and endless uncertainty.

Mediation begins by reaching some agreement on a defined, provable set of facts. The truth is slow, but relentless. Over time it becomes irresistible. Anyone who is looking for a first step, a template for building a newly relevant Republican establishment should look first to those four truths. If we can ever generate a core of Republican strategists, activists and officeholders willing to acknowledge these simple, demonstrable truths without evasion or flinching, we’ll be on our way to a far brighter future for the party, the country, and our world.

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Posted in Evolution, Political Theory, Republican Party, Uncategorized

Cowering behind a border wall

Over the next few weeks we can expect to hear a lot from Republicans about border security. What we will not hear is any explanation of what border security actually looks like. That’s because border security, as used in this debate, is nothing more than a diversion.

Despite the ugly rhetoric and the long series of mistakes, there may still be time for Republicans to get out ahead of this issue and build a 21st century immigration platform that we can look back on with pride for the next few decades. Thanks to the Democrats’ nervous dithering, the door is still open, but we are running out of time. Obama’s pending executive actions are going to force the issue to the front in a way that will give Republicans just enough rope for a good clean suicide.

If Republicans are going to have any hope of navigating the trap being laid for us, we’ve got to come to terms with a few realities around immigration, starting with the meaning of “border security.” Perhaps pictures might help. This is a secure border:

belgium

This is an insecure border:

gaza

Travelling from Egypt across the border into Gaza is a miserable, nearly impossible ordeal. No legitimate commerce can be maintained across that boundary. It is guarded by steel walls with watch towers manned by armed guards. Occasionally Egypt closes all traffic crossing the border (in recent months it has been closed almost all the time). And yet it remains one of the primary methods used by Hamas to move illegal goods and weapons into Gaza. It is a tense, insecure border and a consistent security problem consuming enormous energy and money.

Meanwhile people travel back and forth across the border between Holland and Belgium on their way to the bathroom. Border security operations there cost very little, yet with the exception of Dutch families crossing into Belgium to purchase fireworks, the border is entirely secure.

These two images illustrate the problem with the empty Republican rhetoric on “border security.” Building a healthy border capable of protecting a country’s sovereignty and interests starts and ends with policy. Holland is able to protect its sovereignty without steel walls because its political policies are aligned with its physical situation. They didn’t achieve a secure border by building a better fence. They achieved a secure border by building better political arrangements.

Egypt’s border with Gaza is a costly, dangerous and occasionally deadly human nightmare because the political arrangements governing that border are absolutely insane. No fences ever built will make that border safe until some political settlement is reached. In the meantime it will remain a barrier to trade, a massive economic burden, and a flash point for potentially destabilizing violence.

Real border security comes from sound policy.

The bad news for us is that we are the destabilizing force on our southern border. Fortunately, that is also the good news, since in theory it means that we are capable of fixing the problem.

Bad policy inside the United States has broken our border security in ways that are expensive and dangerous. First, our short-sighted and utterly failed attempt to manage our drug problem has turned our border into a war zone, feeding criminal gangs in neighboring countries. Second, we have shut down almost any practical means of legal immigration while refusing to craft enforceable laws against hiring illegals.

Want to secure the border, spend less taxpayer money, improve American economic competitiveness and create a massive economic shot in the arm? Fix those two problems.

Through a failed policy of blanket prohibition, we pay people to breach our border. That bounty is roughly $100bn a year, or about eight times as much as we spend on all aspects of customs and border control.

Tear down the walls and send home the dogs. We could end that illegal trade tomorrow by adopting regulatory schemes similar to what we use for liquor, prescription drugs, or Sudafed. We could still control usage, better than we do today, and crush the black market in illegal drugs with a regulated market.

Similar to illegal drugs, we dangle billions of dollars’ worth of incentives to illegal workers while blocking any access to meet that demand through legal channels. We have hundreds of solid options available for fixing this problem, including methods that would be market based and privately enforced, involving little government involvement. We can’t get started on any of them because we are less concerned about legal immigration than we are about protecting our culture from change.

We will achieve real border security when we start making intelligent policy choices. Republicans should be well positioned to lead the way on border security since many of the best solutions are based on market mechanisms rather than big government. Unfortunately, the GOP is not only the party of markets and commerce; it has become the central political expression of aging whites terrified of losing their cultural dominance.

That’s where Republican border security rhetoric confronts border security politics. The policies that will make America more powerful, wealthier, and more secure will also make America increasingly more diverse. Too many core Republican voters are willing to live in a weaker, poorer country so long as people who speak English and look like me remain securely dominant. As long as Republicans are more interested in cultural security than border security, Republicans will not regain leadership on immigration reform.

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Posted in Economics, Immigration

About Virginia…

One of the items from my 2014 election analysis that’s caught the most flak is my assertion that Virginia may have moved behind the “Blue Wall” in last week’s election. After all, Democratic Senator Mark Warner won his election by a hair and Republicans were winning Federal elections in Virginia pretty consistently up to 2004.

After looking at the numbers across several years, it’s pretty clear that I was actually too conservative. Virginia is as solidly behind the Blue Wall as New Hampshire. For the near future, Virginia is off the map of realistically competitive states in Presidential politics. Until the demographics or party alignments change, Democrats have 270 Electoral votes locked up before the candidates are even selected.

First, look at the 2014 results. This was a historically big year for Republicans nationally, so what did it mean for Virginia? The Republican wave, an off-year election, a very strong Republican Senate candidate, and dismal voter participation almost led to a Senate upset. Meanwhile Democrats lost one seat – that’s one – in the State Assembly.

To put it another way, absolutely every potential combination of forces was working strongly in the Republicans’ direction and we still failed to win Virginia’s US Senate seat or make significant gains in the Assembly. That was the pattern all over the country last week in blue states. The Republican wave moved the needle in places that are southern or rural. That’s about it. Virginia is increasingly urban. With every step toward urbanization it becomes less Southern.

This pattern has been in effect for more than a decade. Virginia Republicans had a good year in 2009 when Bob McDonnell won the Governor’s Office and Republicans won the other major statewide races but that was an isolated victory, largely a product of the Great White Freakout after Obama’s win. It’s the only time Republicans have swept Virginia’s statewide offices the past decade. Republicans have lost every statewide office in Virginia since McDonnell’s 2009 win.

The 2014 wave was not high enough to breach the Blue Wall in Virginia. That state is no longer dominated by its rural, Confederate heritage. Like Lindsay Graham said a few years ago, “we’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” This election did not change that. Virginia is off the Presidential map for Republicans.

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What the Republican Party could be

The dull, purblind folly of the very rich men; their greed and arrogance…and the corruption in business and politics, have tended to produce a very unhealthy condition of excitement and irritation in the popular mind which shows itself in the great increase in the socialistic propaganda.

Teddy Roosevelt, 1906

The Republican Party is the party of commerce and markets. Across generations, stretching back to an age before Republicans were organized under that name, Republicans have channeled the political will of ambitious tradesmen, merchants and professionals. Whatever else the party has come to represent or has represented during various periods, our understanding that commerce is the engine of a successful civilization has always been its core, its heart.

Republicans have forgotten what it means to protect that heart. Swamped beneath a hopeful, but sometimes disorienting tide of social and economic change we are confronting an accelerating world with a fear often dipping into paranoia. You can win an election on the power of paranoia, but it will not let you govern. Building a more relevant, more successful Republican Party which can thrive in these conditions begins with a fundamental refocus on a simple core value.

America best achieves its promise when all of us have a fair opportunity to develop, capitalize and reap the rewards of our talents and efforts in the marketplace. We do not guarantee outcomes, but we must leverage every ounce of our energy to pry open and hold open the gates of opportunity. Regaining our grip on these values amidst endless shiny distractions will help the party recalibrate the rest of its message and its policy agenda to fit America’s rapidly evolving needs.

A commitment to free markets comes with contradictions which constantly demand balance. Adam Smith himself repeatedly warned of the dangerous tendency of unrestrained markets to descend into monopoly, corrupt influence, and then collapse. Preserving the power of markets requires constant, careful regulation; never so much as to destroy the ability of participants to make free judgments and never so little that a few powerful people might pervert them entirely, destroying the capacity of those markets to reward merit and effort.

Markets do not survive under weak or inept government. The Republican Party was originally organized to thwart powerful interests who, unhindered by a government too weak and ineffectual to provide justice, violently stole the labor and resources of an enslaved people. It took the force of a muscular, determined central government to end slavery. A century later it took a muscular, determined central government to enforce the rights of the formerly enslaved to participate freely in markets.

That battle for justice has not ended and may never end. Republicans will not regain our balance until we recognize one essential reality – government is not our enemy and it not the enemy of markets.

Why are Americans so pessimistic about our future? The profits generated by our economy are higher than they have ever been. We are living through an unprecedented run of stock market success. Only a few years after a catastrophic economic collapse, unemployment is approaching Reagan-era lows. Yet, something about this environment has Americans on edge.

We are living through a wrenching economic transformation that has ended the middle class as we knew it, upset old notions of the purpose and rewards of employment, severely undermined the value of labor, and concentrated power, wealth and opportunity in fewer and fewer hands. Government has a critical role to play in adapting our society to this emerging reality, yet both Democrats and Republicans continue to peddle 20th century explanations and solutions while neither has any continuing relevance. Democrats are gaining ground, but only by being less frightening than Republicans. Neither party has built a persuasive agenda. Our political future is wide open, waiting for leaders who can deliver a compelling, hopeful, sensible vision.

Few today remember that Republicans were in the vanguard of every constructive effort to use government to protect the integrity of markets. A century ago President Taft signed the country’s first Federal law attempting to regulate child labor. In that era Republicans led the fight against lynching, supported women’s right to vote, pressed for Federal laws mandating equal pay for women, and passed the nation’s first conservation and environmental protection laws.

A generation ago it was a Republican President who created the Environmental Protection Agency. President Nixon also became the first President to propose replacing our complex welfare state bureaucracy with a Federal minimum income. He created new agencies to protect workers from dangerous and exploitative conditions. He came very close to passing a taxpayer-funded national health care plan that would have covered everyone.

The challenges we face today are in many ways unique, but the same commitment to limited, but intelligent government holds the key to solving them. A willingness to look honestly at the inconvenient realities around us combined with a careful refocus on core Republican values would yield new positions on these key issues and push the Republican Party back into national leadership for this generation:

Health care – Cutting edge technology and research-driven healthcare cannot be financed by bartering chickens for doctor visits. On the other hand, a centralized command economy will be a constant drag on innovation. What Republicans knew forty years ago, what a Republican Governor recognized in Massachusetts just a decade ago, and what Americans are increasingly coming to understand, is that there can be no free, just access to markets so long as a simple illness can destroy everything one has earned. Republicans must propose a simpler, less bureaucratic alternative to the Affordable Care Act which offers universal, private, tax-subsidized access to health care for all Americans.

Cultural values – A potent, persuasive, humane social conservatism is not based on religious sectarianism. It is premised on the notion that some values are too important to be commoditized. Capitalism is mankind’s greatest force for prosperity, but without constraints it will reduce every valuable thing to the price it can command in a marketplace. From parenthood, to health, to our most intimate values, social conservatism means placing intangible human values above profit.

Social conservatism based on the authoritarian imposition of sectarian religious values will fail and should fail. Social conservatism based on compassion, evidence, and the pursuit of humane values will be more modest in extent, but vastly more successful.

Safety net – A party of commerce is a party of work, struggle and achievement. Under the pressure of an increasingly automated economy, the basic shape of a successful career is changing. America today generates more profit than ever before with less demand for labor than ever before. For people who lack the family resources to support many years of fantastically expensive post-high school education, many years of career experimentation, and the economic jolts of often unplanned or unintended career changes, the rewards of this new economy are simply out of reach.

The purpose of the safety net is to hold open the doors of opportunity for everyone, regardless of poor luck, illness, or other disadvantage. Instead of demonizing the poor, we need to refocus our resources on addressing the greater investment required to access the bottom rungs of the economic ladder and reducing the bureaucracy that burdens the current system. A shift away from the welfare state toward a basic or minimum income, as first proposed by Nixon era Republicans, should be a priority.

Climate change and the environment – Climate change is real. It is driven by human carbon emissions. If ignored it promises a threat to civilization unmatched by any challenge we have ever confronted. Denial is a humiliating scandal that undermines our credibility on every other issue. Republicans should be on the leading edge of carbon reduction and climate mitigation strategies that preserve the influence of market forces and preserve the potential of carbon reduction technology to stimulate prosperity and employment.

America in the wider world – If markets bring freedom and prosperity, then those who would subvert markets with violence cannot be tolerated. In our era, no organized national military offers a meaningful challenge to our security. Our security and the continuing spread of our values abroad are most potently challenged by localized chaos. From disease, to terrorism to unrestrained immigration, it is chaos more than any organized deliberate enemy that threatens us.

America should use its influence to build a new series of international alliances with countries who share our values. Those alliances should aim to tackle the civilian challenges that so frequently drag us into military engagements. Image if the resources and energy we pour into the Peace Corps came anywhere close to what we devote to the military, and image that a force of that kind of were combined with the resources and talents of other free nations.

Immigration – Across our history one of the greatest drivers of our success is our constant influx of ambitious new immigrants. One of the more depressingly self-defeating themes of our history is our consistent fear and suspicion of these new arrivals. Our current immigration policy makes elective immigration to the US nearly impossible for almost everyone who desires it. That is costing us enormously.

Our counter-productive fear of the cultural changes these new migrants bring continues to hobble our efforts to incorporate these new neighbors and open the doors of opportunity to their contributions. Republicans, as the party of commerce, are the natural allies of immigrants. We must end our opposition to legalization and take the initiative on drawing up new, rational, enforceable laws that will make orderly, legal immigration a practical possibility for far more people from around the world.

Drug prohibition – Prohibition is a catastrophic failure which grows more expensive every day in terms of money, deaths, and political instability in neighboring countries. We must find a more intelligent way to limit the damage of drug addiction without a blanket prohibition.

Rationalizing the tax code – America imposes one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. When combined with state and local taxes many businesses face rates that approach half their earnings. Meanwhile, wealthy hedge fund managers who in many cases are involved in no productive activity can earn million dollar salaries while paying taxes on a capital gains rate, allowing them an effective tax rate often lower than middle-income workers.

Money we give in tax breaks to homeowners for their property taxes and mortgage interest, even on multiple homes, is significantly greater than what we spend on food stamps each year. Exceptions, exemptions, loopholes and their accompanying complexity are an invitation to mischief and a punishment to honest taxpayers. We have less need for lower taxes or higher taxes than for a clearer, simpler, more honest tax code.

Needless to say, none of these items are on currently the Republican policy agenda. Worse, it is entirely unclear what the Republican policy agenda actually consists of apart from opposition to a template of Democratic proposals and pandering to paranoids.

A garden must be tended. Republican hero Teddy Roosevelt, like generations of Republicans since, recognized that restraining the excesses and failures of capitalism is essential to preserving the power of markets. Commerce depends on competition, and competition is weakened when fewer and fewer of us are allowed in the ring. These policy shifts will be essential to a new generation of Republican dominance, but we cannot begin to put concrete reality behind any coherent, practical vision while clinging to the soft comfort of denial. Before any slate of potential policy goals can receive any useful treatment, Republicans must collectively gather the courage to participate in a world of facts.

When that happens, when Republicans rejoin the debate over America’s future with eyes wide open, the party will once again be positioned to lead the way toward a wealthier, freer, most just America. The way is open, at least for now, if we are ready to take it.

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book 1, Ch. VIII

contact at gopliferchicago at gmail

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Posted in Republican Party

A reality-check on the 2014 results

For Republicans looking for ways that the party can once again take the lead in building a nationally relevant governing agenda, there is one vital takeaway from this year’s election. It starts with a graphic.

Behold the Blue Wall:

The Blue Wall is block of states in which no Republican Presidential candidate can realistically hope to win. Tuesday that block finally extended to New Hampshire, meaning that at the outset of any Presidential campaign, a minimally effective Democratic candidate can expect to win 257 electoral votes without even really trying. That’s 257 out of the 270 needed to win.

Arguably Virginia now sits behind that wall as well. Democrats won the Senate seat there essentially without campaigning in a year when hardly anyone but Republicans showed up to vote and the GOP enjoyed its largest wave in modern history. Virginia would take that tally to 270. Again, that’s 270 out of 270.

This means that the next Presidential election, and all subsequent ones until a future party realignment, will be decided in the Democratic primary. Only by sweeping all nine of the states that remain in contention AND also flipping one very solidly Democratic state can a Republican candidate win the White House.

By contrast, Republicans control a far more modest Red Fortress, which currently amounts to 149  electoral votes. This election saw Georgia fall out of that shrinking and increasingly brittle base, after losing our previous lock on North Carolina and Virginia in recent years.

A few other items of interest from the 2014 election results:

- Republican’s failed to pick up a single Senate seat Blue Wall. Not one. The only GOP candidate to win a Senate seat behind the Blue Wall was the party’s last moderate, Susan Collins of Maine.

- Behind the Blue Wall there were some new Republican Governors, but their success was very specific and did not translate down the ballot at all. None of these candidates ran on social issues, Obama, or opposition the ACA. Rauner stands out as a particular bright spot in Illinois, but Democrats in Illinois retained their supermajority in the State Assembly, similar to other northern states, without losing a single seat.

- Republicans in 2014 were the most popular girl at a party no one attended. Voter turnout was awful.

- Democrats have consolidated their power behind the sections of the country that generate the overwhelming bulk of America’s wealth outside the energy industry. That’s only ironic if you buy into far-right propaganda, but it’s interesting none the less.

- Vote suppression is working, but that won’t last. Eventually Democrats will help people get the documentation they need to meet the ridiculous and confusing new requirements. The whole “voter integrity” sham may have given Republicans a one or maybe two-election boost in low-turnout races, while kissing off minority votes more or less permanently.

- Across the country, every major Democratic ballot initiative was successful, including every minimum wage increase, even in the red states.

- Every personhood amendment failed.

- Almost half of the Republican Congressional delegation now comes from the former Confederacy. Total coincidence, just pointing that out.

- Democrats in 2014 were up against a particularly tough climate because they had to defend 13 Senate seats in red or purple states. In 2016 Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats and at least 18 of them are likely to be competitive based on geography and demographics.

- Republican support grew deeper in 2014, not broader. For example, new Texas Governor Greg Abbott won a whopping victory in the Republic of Baptistan. That’s great, but this is a race no one ever thought would be competitive and hardly anyone showed up to vote in. Texas not only had the lowest voter turnout in the country, a position it has consistently held across decades, but that electorate is more militantly out of step with every national trend then any other major Republican bloc. Texas holds a tenth of the GOP majority in the House.

- Keep an eye on oil prices. Texas, which is at the core of GOP dysfunction, is a petro state with an economy roughly as diverse, modern and complex as Nigeria, Iran or Venezuela. It was been relatively untouched by the economic collapse because it is relatively dislocated from the US economy in general. Watch what happens if the decline in oil prices lasts more than a year.

- For all the talk about economic problems, for the past year the US economy has been running at ’90’s levels. Watch Republicans start touting a booming economy as the result of their 2014 “mandate.”

- McConnell’s conciliatory statements are encouraging, but he’s about to discover that he cannot persuade Republican Senators and Congressmen to cooperate on anything constructive. We’re about to get two years of intense, horrifying stupidity. If you thought Benghazi was a legitimate scandal that reveals Obama’s real plans for America then you’re an idiot, but these next two years will be a (briefly) happy period for you.

This is an age built for Republican solutions. The global economy is undergoing a massive, accelerating transformation that promises massive new wealth and staggering challenges. We need heads-up, intelligent adaptations to capitalize on those challenges. Republicans, with their traditional leadership on commercial issues should be at the leading edge of planning to capitalize on this emerging environment.

What are we getting from Republicans? Climate denial, theocracy, thinly veiled racism, paranoia, and Benghazi hearings. Lots and lots of hearings on Benghazi.

It is almost too late for Republicans to participate in shaping the next wave of our economic and political transformation. The opportunities we inherited coming out of the Reagan Era are blinking out of existence one by one while we chase so-called “issues” so stupid, so blindingly disconnected from our emerging needs that our grandchildren will look back on our performance in much the same way that we see the failures of the generation that fought desegregation.

Something, some force, some gathering of sane, rational, authentically concerned human beings generally at peace with reality must emerge in the next four to six years from the right, or our opportunity will be lost for a long generation. Needless to say, Greg Abbott and Jodi Ernst are not that force.

“Winning” this election did not help that force emerge. This was a dark week for Republicans, and for everyone who wants to see America remain the world’s most vibrant, most powerful nation.

contact at gopliferchicago at gmail

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Posted in Election 2014, Election 2016

First glance at 2014 results

Data. My God there is so much data. It’s going to take some time to pull this apart and unfortunately time is at a premium. Here are a few observations and some of the numbers I’ll be combing over.

New Republican Governors in three deep blue states, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland, is a very promising development. This is where interesting policy is made. If there is going to be a truly national resurgence of the party its likely to start there.

Republican coat-tails in those blue-state Governors races were short and weak. Whatever Republican “wave” there was Tuesday, it stopped at the big blue wall. Republicans did well in some of the battlegrounds, but failed to win a single Senate race in a blue state. If the Presidential map in 2016 looks like the Senate map 2014, we’ll all be saluting President Clinton. Again. This election did not shift the national dynamic at all.

I’m very interested to see final turnout numbers, particularly in the states that were most aggressive in limiting voting. Clearly, Republicans in this era thrive on poor turnout. How poor was it and why?

Texas isn’t just Republican, it has shifted off the map to become a sort of Baptist Iran. It’s unclear whether the Obama Administration will step in to stop Gov. Abbott from developing nuclear weapons, but they should look into it.

Though Abbott was at the top of the ballot and got all the attention, whack-job Lt. Governor Dan Patrick will now be the most powerful political figure in the country’s second-largest state. The righteous need not fear. The rest of you might want to make some alternate plans.

Most interesting phenomenon of the night – the massive vote gap between winning Republican Governors in the blue states and the other Republicans in the same states who statewide races. Needs more research.

What will life be like for Mitch McConnell for the next two years? That is going to be the worst job in the world.

Finally, Republicans probably collected enough Senate seats on Tuesday to avoid falling into super-minority status in 2016, when they get their turn behind the 8-ball. They’ll be defending 22 seats in 2016, and at least 18 of them are likely to be competitive. They needed this cushion.

Posted in Election 2014

Look at the average age of that crowd

If you’ve been wondering why Wendy Davis and the rest of the Texas Dems seem so cheery while getting drubbed, look at the average age of that crowd:

 

 

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Posted in Texas, Uncategorized
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