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“Abandon Your Bipartisan Fantasies: The Baltimore Uprising Won’t Make GOP Get Serious About Urban Reform

Elite pundits like Richard Cohen may expect zombie Richard Nixon to soon sweep the nation with a new campaign of law and order, but for those of us who see something more in America’s future than an endless rehash of the 1960s, the political ramifications of the uprising in Baltimore are still unclear.

Are we destined to live through another round of backlash politics, largely driven by white and affluent voters’ fears? Or might the dysfunction and injustice that was so explosively revealed in Baltimore — and Ferguson before it — kick-off a rare bout of genuinely useful bipartisan cooperation?

Cynics will likely find these questions gratingly naive, but you don’t have to be a pollyanna to see reasons for optimism. After all, ending mass incarceration and reforming the criminal justice system were making their way into the political mainstream before anyone had heard the name Freddie Gray. And even conservative politicians like Sen. Rand Paul, a man some people (wrongly) consider a serious threat to be the next president, have been talking about these issues frequently and at length.

Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but although I think a return of “tough on crime” politics is unlikely, it still appears to me that a serious response to urban poverty and mass incarceration won’t be coming out of Washington any time soon. This useful Tuesday article from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent helps explain why, but the answer can be boiled down to two words: demographics and location.

If you want to understand why Republicans in D.C. will ensure this problem goes unaddressed, you must start, as always, with the House of Representatives, where the GOP’s grip on power is white-knuckle tight. According to Sargent (via David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report) one way to think of the Republicans’ dominant position in Congress is to look at one of the usual explanations — the fact that Democratic voters are inefficiently packed into a smaller number of overwhelmingly Dem-friendly districts — from a new angle.

Viewed through the lens of land mass rather than population, Sargent reports, Republicans control nearly 86 percent of the United States, despite holding “only” 57 percent of the seats in the House. Democrats, on the other hand, lay claim to 43 percent of House seats yet only control around 14 percent of actual American land. As Wasserman explains to Sargent, what that means, in practice, is something you probably intuitively got already — in the House, the coalition that makes up the Democratic Party is very urban; and the Republican one, conversely, is not.

Put simply, the GOPers in the House whose constituents look like (or care about) the folks in Baltimore, Ferguson and so forth are few and far between. Most Republican members of Congress’s “lower” chamber represent people in rural or suburban areas. Except as a place they fear and prefer kept at a distance, these voters are not thinking about the American city. And even if they are, the fact that they’re Republicans will tell you all you need to know about whether they’d be open to a plan that involved increased social investment, as any bipartisan agreement no doubt would.

If you’re someone who believes politics is driven more by big, indifferent forces — like the economy or geography or demographics — rather than personal relationships, that would seem to be the end of the discussion. Politicians want above all else to be reelected, and they respond to incentives accordingly. It’s hard to see why a far-right representative of rural Kansas would be particularly interested in joining up with Nancy Pelosi to try to make it suck a little less to be an African-American kid in Jersey City. Someone so inclined probably wouldn’t even make it through their district’s GOP primary.

Still, as useful as that political science 101 framing can be in most cases, it is not all-seeing. At least that’s what someone trying to make a counter-argument would say, before pointing to the Senate. In the “upper” chamber, of course, Republican politicians have to worry about representing all of their state’s citizens. So you might expect a GOPer from Ohio (home of Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland) or Virginia (which shares a border with Baltimore’s Maryland to its north) to be more interested in reform. And that goes double for the next Republican presidential nominee, who will need to win some of those big, purple states in 2016.

Moreover, while politicians are often astonishingly simple-minded creatures, the same is not always true for voters. There are plenty of suburban moderates, for example, who don’t want to send a Democrat to Washington to represent their district but don’t want to have a Republican “eat-the-poor” ogre as president, either. Such voters shouldn’t be mistaken for true believers in social justice, mind you — but the desire to assuage a nagging sense of guilt by supporting a “compassionate” conservative can be a powerful thing. Pure self-interest, then, would lead a smart GOP presidential contender to support at least some elements of urban investment and reform.

But here’s the reason why I don’t expect that alternative scenario to play out in the real world, and why I suspect we won’t see a response to Baltimore from Washington — certainly not a bipartisan one — any time soon: Most of these elements were present during the 2012 election, but they had basically no influence on the behavior of House Republicans. Then-candidate Mitt Romney sure could have used some leeway to wander a bit from conservative orthodoxy and prove he was no real-life Mr. Potter. He got an Ayn Rand fanboy as his teammate instead.

It doesn’t feel like that was quite so long ago but, in political terms, America was a different place. This was before the lily-white Republican base had to endure two full terms of a relatively liberal African-American president, and before that same base had begun spending much of its time defending cops and describing poor communities of color as mired in a “tailspin of culture” and “government dependence.” This was when Darren Wilson was just another run-of-the-mill, mildly thuggish cop; and before “black lives matter” became a national slogan.

If the chances of congressional Republicans supporting a bipartisan legislative response to inequality were slim a few years ago, the likelihood of their doing so now, in the face of civil unrest, has to be right around zilch.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Riots, Bipartisanship, Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Race, Class And Neglect”: Baltimore, And America, Don’t Have To Be As Unjust As They Are

Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race — that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be — along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn’t an isolated incident, that it’s unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.

And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.

Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.

Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World nations. But what’s really striking on a national basis is the way class disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.

Most notably, mortality among white women has increased sharply since the 1990s, with the rise surely concentrated among the poor and poorly educated; life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist Russia.

And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack of opportunity, even in those cases where their direct cause lies in self-destructive behavior. Overuse of prescription drugs, smoking, and obesity account for a lot of early deaths, but there’s a reason such behaviors are so widespread, and that reason has to do with an economy that leaves tens of millions behind.

It has been disheartening to see some commentators still writing as if poverty were simply a matter of values, as if the poor just mysteriously make bad choices and all would be well if they adopted middle-class values. Maybe, just maybe, that was a sustainable argument four decades ago, but at this point it should be obvious that middle-class values only flourish in an economy that offers middle-class jobs.

The great sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that widely-decried social changes among blacks, like the decline of traditional families, were actually caused by the disappearance of well-paying jobs in inner cities. His argument contained an implicit prediction: if other racial groups were to face a similar loss of job opportunity, their behavior would change in similar ways.

And so it has proved. Lagging wages — actually declining in real terms for half of working men — and work instability have been followed by sharp declines in marriage, rising births out of wedlock, and more.

As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution writes: “Blacks have faced, and will continue to face, unique challenges. But when we look for the reasons why less skilled blacks are failing to marry and join the middle class, it is largely for the same reasons that marriage and a middle-class lifestyle is eluding a growing number of whites as well.”

So it is, as I said, disheartening still to see commentators suggesting that the poor are causing their own poverty, and could easily escape if only they acted like members of the upper middle class.

And it’s also disheartening to see commentators still purveying another debunked myth, that we’ve spent vast sums fighting poverty to no avail (because of values, you see.)

In reality, federal spending on means-tested programs other than Medicaid has fluctuated between 1 and 2 percent of G.D.P. for decades, going up in recessions and down in recoveries. That’s not a lot of money — it’s far less than other advanced countries spend — and not all of it goes to families below the poverty line.

Despite this, measures that correct well-known flaws in the statistics show that we have made some real progress against poverty. And we would make a lot more progress if we were even a fraction as generous toward the needy as we imagine ourselves to be.

The point is that there is no excuse for fatalism as we contemplate the evils of poverty in America. Shrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect. The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources — which we can afford to provide — and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide through everything from training and subsidies to higher minimum wages. Baltimore, and America, don’t have to be as unjust as they are.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 4, 2015

May 5, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Official’s Under Pressure To Confront The Issues”: Did Violence In Baltimore Lead To Cops Being Prosecuted For Freddie Gray’s Death?

This is just extraordinary news out of Baltimore:

The six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray – who died last month after being injured in police custody – have been charged criminally, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday.

Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 45, who was the driver of a police van that carried Gray through the streets of Baltimore, was charged with second-degree murder, assault, manslaughter, misconduct and other charges.

Officer William Porter, 25, and Lt. Brian Rice, 41, were charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Sgt. Alicia White, 30, was charged with manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Edward Nero, 29, and Officer Garrett Miller, 26, were charged with assault and misconduct.

We’re going to learn more in the coming days about what the prosecutors say happened, what the officers say happened, and what evidence there is for each story. But police officers getting charged with murder and manslaughter is an extremely rare occurrence, and it forces us to ask a difficult question:

Would this have happened if the protests in Baltimore hadn’t turned violent? Is that what it takes to get accountability when someone dies at the hands of police?

Before I go any farther, let me make it clear that I’m not arguing in favor of rioting. The destruction that occurred Monday night in Baltimore had real victims, including not only the store owners whose businesses were damaged but also the residents of the affected neighborhoods. But it’s hard to argue that it didn’t have an impact.

We have no way of knowing whether Mosby would have pursued these charges had no one outside of Freddie Gray’s friends and family ever heard of him. But it would be foolish to deny that she was under enormous pressure to make a case against the officers involved.

You may have seen the video from Tuesday of a woman named Danielle Williams, who said to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts:

“When we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us. So now that we’ve burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us.”

She was absolutely right. The violence led to a huge increase in media attention, and even if much of that coverage was sensationalistic, there was also a lot of attention paid to the substantive issues involved. Those included the Baltimore police’s record in dealing with the public generally, and in particular the use of “rough rides” as a method of abusing suspects, which is a likely explanation for how Freddie Gray came to have his spine broken in the back of a police ban.

All that national attention put every public official under pressure to not only bring calm but also to confront the issues that have the people of Baltimore so angry: The police commissioner, the mayor, the governor, and yes, the state’s attorney. While every official would like to believe that he or she would make all the same decisions regardless of whether there are people chanting in the streets and news cameras parked outside their office, they can’t possibly be immune.

There are some interesting details that emerged from Mosby’s press conference, including her statement that Gray’s arrest was unlawful in the first place; while it had been reported that Gray was arrested for possessing a switchblade, Mosby said that the knife Gray had in his pocket was not a switchblade and was perfectly legal. We’ll no doubt be learning more. But what matters is that in this case, unlike so many others (Gray wasn’t the first suspect in Baltimore who went into a police van and came out with a fatal spinal injury), there’s going to be a prosecution.

Perhaps this prosecution — and whatever reforms might happen in the near future — would have occurred if the protests had stayed peaceful. There’s no way to know for sure. But you don’t have to approve of rioting to acknowledge that in this case it may well have led to results.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 1, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Baltimore Riots, National Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Immoral Worldview Common Among Republicans”: Police Violence Is Putting The Lie To The Tea Party Conservatism

As with so much else in modern America, the experience of Ferguson and Baltimore has turned police brutality into a partisan issue. With a few rare exceptions, Democrats and progressives tend to fall on the side of the victims of discriminatory and violent behavior by police, while conservatives tend to go to bat for the authorities.

The primary reason for this is racism: conservative whites tend to see urban minorities as either subhuman or guilty of cultural sins that are supposed to explain their endemic poverty. In that context, any police violence is excused as the necessary quelling by any means of an aggressively violent population unable to fit into civil society and unworthy of the civil rights afforded to non-minorities. It’s an immoral worldview, but extremely common among base Republicans.

The other reason is discrimination against the poor in general. Conservatives wrongly assume that the wealthy are society’s job creators, and the poor are simply moochers who eat off the generous fruits of the holders of capital. The military defends the righteous and free producers in America against the socialist and Communist freeloaders outside the U.S., while the police vigilantly defend property rights and social order against the ever-dangerous fifth column of parasites from within. That Objectivist viewpoint is just as factually wrong and immoral as the racist one, but it’s also far more acceptable within polite society largely because it’s so convenient to the wealthy elite and their enablers.

The problem, of course, is that these views run directly counter to supposed conservative stances on liberty and the 2nd Amendment. Republicans claim to be the defenders of freedom against big government tyranny. More disturbingly, they insist that deadly arsenals be permitted in every American home and even on the streets–primarily as a defense against the potential for infringement on civil rights by a totalitarian state.

But where we see the government most actively and destructively impinging on the rights of its citizens, not only are conservatives mostly silent on the abuses but they stridently stand on the side of the unaccountable state enforcers.

The reason is obvious, of course: the only government tyranny conservatives truly fear is one in which the poor–and particularly the non-white poor–have the ability to constrain their property rights. Cliven Bundy becomes a hero for threatening to shoot law enforcement that holds him accountable for stealing water and land, even as killer cops are lauded for killing unarmed black men for no legitimate reason. Welfare via taxation is seen as a greater evil than corporate malfeasance.

Conservatives can’t be upfront and honest about their immoral beliefs because only about 30% of the American population shares them, and it’s not OK to say most of these things in polite society. That’s why they’re so angry, why they feel oppressed, and why they “want their country back.”

But honesty here is necessary. We can’t move forward as a society without honest conversation, and if conservatives refuse to be openly honest about what they believe, it falls on us to provide that honesty for them.

But most of all, it’s time to stop pretending that Republicans care about liberty or government abuse of power. They really care about keeping poor people and minorities from having access to the same quality of life they purport to enjoy, and they’ll use every lever of tyranny to keep it way–whether through the ballot box or the ammo box.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 2, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Partisan Politics, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I’m Glad The Train Didn’t Stop”: So Much For Rand Paul’s Minority Outreach

There’s an interesting Eli Stokels piece at Politico up today about Rand Paul’s less-than-sympathetic initial reaction to the trajectory of the Baltimore protests, which Team Paul folk are frantically suggesting was just a “gaffe,” even as most observers believe he’s bending to the inevitable pressures of running for president as a Republican:

On Tuesday, as Baltimore burned in the wake of the latest episode surrounding the alleged use of deadly excessive force, Paul’s response was notably off-key. “I came through the train on Baltimore last night,” Paul told host Laura Ingraham. “I’m glad the train didn’t stop.”

The senator’s breezy response came just before he blamed the violent uprising there on “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society.” He also expressed his sympathy for “the plight of police,” all without speaking to the circumstances surrounding the troubling death of Freddie Gray in the custody of Baltimore Police.

His camp now acknowledges the lost chance.

“We recognize how it may have sounded to some people,” said Elroy Sailor, a senior adviser to Paul who has helped orchestrate more than two years of sustained outreach by Paul to the African-American community. “We’re listening and learning every day and we learned from this. We’re also leading this conversation.”

As if. Sailor’s implying that Paul “owns” the criminal justice reform debate. But even if you buy that, it doesn’t mean Paul is even on the same page as African-Americans when it comes to police reform, a parallel but hardly identical issue.

Stokels notes the Baltimore “gaffe” was by no mean unprecedented.

The day after his early April campaign launch, as attention focused on South Carolina — where a video showed a local police officer shoot an unarmed black man as he tried to flee — Paul took the stage in New Hampshire and said, “Today we sit atop a powder keg.” He was talking, though, about the national debt.

Asked later that day about the shooting of Walter Scott — after he didn’t weigh in on his own — Paul steered clear of addressing the outrage from many African-Americans, instead noting that “98, 99 percent of police are are doing their job on a day-to-day basis and aren’t doing things like this.” The following day, at a campaign event just 20 miles from where Scott has been killed, Paul didn’t mention it at all.

You can he said/she said this thing to death, but in reality, Paul’s priorities right now are obvious. Nobody, I hope, seriously believes that a Rand Paul-led Republican Party is going to suddenly start attracting a large African-American vote. Perhaps his gestures could open the door to some future Republican leader making inroads, and maybe burnish his image among white swing voters. But Rand stands first and foremost for fiscal policies that would largely trash the social safety net and shirk the needs of urban communities, and for monetary policies that would likely plunge the country back into a major recession. He opposes absolutely every accomplishment of the Obama administration, with the possible partial exception of the opening to Cuba. And then there’s his own and his father’s history of association with racists and neo-Confederates.

So on the one hand you have a rather fantastic speculative future appeal to African-Americans, and on the other the present reality of a Republican nominating contest in which virtually no African-Americans are going to participate. What do you think matters most to Team Paul right now?

It’s true Paul’s alleged party-broadening powers are an important part of his electability argument to Republican voters, along with the idea that dope-smoking, NSA-hating kids will vote for him against HRC. But without any question, Republicans want the maximum of general election odds with the absolute minimum of compromise on issues–which is why Scott Walker’s Wisconsin record is so seductive to them. And with the foul odor of racial politics in the air, Paul will have to show his solidarity with conservative white voters appalled once again at the bad behavior of those people. If he doesn’t, I’ll be genuinely impressed, even as I downgrade Paul’s odds of winning the nomination another ten or twenty points.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 1, 2015

May 2, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Minority Outreach, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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