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No Country for Old Parties

On a cold Saturday, I was doing my laundry and browsing the internet, when I saw my old Talking Points Cafe buddy Jason in a Facebook video. Jason has started Artisan Politics, and plans to host interactive videos on Sunday evenings, and perhaps during the week. I skyped to ‘Artisan Politics’, and we had an off-the-cuff discussion – which is harder than it looks on TV – for about forty minutes.

At one point Jason said he thought that Richard Nixon had broken the Republican Party and that Ted Kennedy had broken the Democratic Party when he primaried President Jimmy Carter. That seems like ancient history, but it does roughly correspond with the regime change timeline proposed by Professor Corey Robin, which I summarized in a previous post. I was reminded of Jason’s comment while watching Press the Meat this morning. Chuck Todd introduced John Kasich:


Welcome back. Even though Governor John Kasich of Ohio won only one primary, Ohio, last year, he developed a reputation as a Republican who was willing to work with Democrats and really say what’s on his mind. And Friday he had an op-ed column in the New York Times arguing that Democrats created Obamacare without Republican support and that Republicans are now trying to repeal and rewrite the law without Democrats. He said Democrats were wrong then and Republicans are wrong now. Governor Kasich joins me now. Not surprising to hear something like that from you.


Well, it’s not sustainable. If you don’t get both parties together, nothing is sustainable. I mean, if they pass this just by themselves, we’ll be back at this again.


In three years when Democrats take over or whatever.


Well, you know, look. The other thing is I was there when we created the CHIP program, the health program for children. It was done on a bipartisan basis. It was sustainable. I was there in ’97 when we did the budget deal. I was one of the architects. It was sustainable. But when you jam something through just one party over another, it’s not sustainable. It becomes a point of attack.

Kasich failed to mention that the Republicans were committed to opposing everything Obama proposed, but sure, he wants to work together now. But back to broken parties:


We’re all big boys and girls in this town. I mean, if you really want to be a leader. Look, I believe the political parties are disintegrating before our very eyes. I think more and more people across this country see no purpose for political parties.


Do you?


Because — I’ll tell you something. You talk to people. There are more and more independents because of the squabbling. What’s at risk here to Democrats is you can’t turn your back on these people. And to Republicans, you need to invite Democrats in because we’re talking about lives.

All this consumption with who gains politically, you know, life is short. And if all you focus on in life is what’s in it for me, you’re a loser. You are a big time loser. And this country better be careful we’re not losing the soul of our country because we play politics and we forget people who are in need.

Unfortunately the moment of candor ended when Todd tried to put Kasich on the spot about his loyalty.

The question I have is whether the parties can be revitalized or whether something will arise to take their place.

Making Lives Matter

Last Saturday, players of the Minnesota Lynx, a Women’s National Basketball Association team, warmed up wearing dark shirts with white lettering. On the front, “CHANGE starts with US” was in bold above, “Justice and Accountability.” On the back, “Philando Castile” above, “Alton Sterling,” above the Dallas Police Department shield, above “Black Lives Matter.”

As reported in the Minnesota Star-Tribune, team captains Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen had appeared at a pre-game news conference, where Brunson had explained,

“In the wake of the tragedies that have continued to plague our society, we have decided it’s important to take a stand and raise our voices. Racial profiling is a problem. Senseless violence is a problem. The divide is way too big between our communities and those who have vowed to protect and serve us.

“ … Racism and unjust phobic fear and disregard of black females is very real. I’m scared for my brothers and sisters, my nieces and nephews, my future son or daughter.

“I’m scared I can’t teach them to stand up for themselves, to be young, proud, strong people.”

League MVP Maya Moore had emphasized,

“We do not, in any way, condone violence against the men and women who serve on our police force. Senseless violence and retaliation will not bring us peace. … One aspect of our team’s culture is accountability. It’s kept us strong over the years. We, as leaders, try to hold ourselves and each other accountable as an organization.

“We as a community, especially our leaders, have accountability in owning our weaknesses and really humble ourselves to realize the conviction that we must improve the realities of justice, freedom and safety for all people. This is a human issue and we need to speak out for change together.”

The sentiments do not seem controversial, but the Star-Trib also reported that four Minneapolis police officers working off-duty as security immediately walked off the job. Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the local union later said, “I commend them for it … If [the players] are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there.”

In the late 1970s, I read a Washington Post article in which a black motorist was stopped by Prince Georges County police, and thanked them for not shooting him. While driving to and from a meeting on Monday, July 11th, I listened to discussions of police shootings on the Diane Rehm and Kojo Nnamdi shows on WAMU radio. Nnamdi interviewed Chief Hank Stawinski of PG County Police, who talked a good game about community policing, but claimed that video alone was not enough to really know what happened in either case. In Nnamdi’s next segment, people were obviously believing what they saw in the video.

During Rehm’s show, Washington Post reporter Kimberly Kindy asserted that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile had been killed for no reason, while Criminology Professor David Klinger insisted that Sterling was resisting arrest, though admitting that that wasn’t, by itself, justification for being shot. Klinger also is a former patrolman, a senior fellow of the Police Foundation, and author of Kill Zone: A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force.

Ta Nehisi Coates noted that most people think of this as an issue of good or bad policing, while the deeper question is: why it is that the police are the major instrument for dealing with the African-American community? Coates feels that with armed police responding in place of social workers, health care workers, etc, bad things are bound to happen. Klinger agreed with that.

Coates’ point reminded me of Economics Professor Mark Blyth’s assertion that with neoliberal austerity politics, the British working class has become a group to be policed. “And you make that move and you basically take the bottom 30% of the income distribution and you say, We don’t care what happens to you. You’re now something to be policed. You’re now something to have your behaviours changed. … They’re there to be policed and excluded in their housing estates, so that you feel safe in your neighborhoods, …”

Except that in America, blacks have been a group to be policed in both good times and bad. Claiming Black Lives Matter has led to the furious counter assertions that All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, meaning of course, “Our tribe matters more than yours.” The system is set up so that police can detain, choke, rough up and shoot black people virtually at their discretion. The patrol officers learn it from their sergeants, who learn it from their lieutenants, and it is reinforced by judicial decisions. Having black police, black officials, or even a black President hasn’t changed that system. Only widespread use of video has made it obvious, which is why police urge that we not believe what we see in the video. Even though it makes their jobs more and more dangerous, and as seen in Dallas makes them targets, they will continue to follow orders that are never captured on video, and perhaps never even spoken, only learned by experience.

Did April Riots Bring May Murders?

Watching local news on WBALTV, it seems to be a given that the Freddie Gray protests and riots directly led to the increased murder rate in May 2015. The unstated argument is that police need to be allowed to crack down hard, and maybe even kill a few bad people here and there, to keep the good people safe. If they can’t, well, just look what happens.

In the eight years I have lived here, the murder rate always increases with the good weather, so while this May is bloodier than last May, it is not otherwise unusual. Mayor Rawlings-Blake has been touchingly urging someone to step forward with information about one little girl, but there have been, and always are several children killed in the Spring crossfire. Are black people killing each other because of Freddie Gray? Of course not. They are killing each other – and innocent bystanders, and children – over drugs.

Akim Reinhardt covers it in The Current Spike in Baltimore Violence:

In other words, what the May murders probably represent is a slight up tick in business as usual in the town we sometimes call Bodymore, Murderland a.k.a. Harm City a.k.a. the City that Bleeds a.k.a. Mob Town. The politicians feign righteous indignation whenever someone mentions these sobriquets, but the bloody truth is, no one from the outside gave them to us; Baltimore gave itself these nicknames, and we use them knowingly.
The drug war is likely the most important historical and structural factor explaining Baltimore’s juiced murder rate for May. Yet it has gone completely unmentioned in all of the national press reporting I’ve encountered.

The city is trying to figure out how to pay for the riots of last month, and presumably want no more riots. But after the Board of Public Works quietly resurrected the “youth jail” that had been shouted down years ago, commuters endured a morning of slow traffic on Interstate 95/395 into the city. In response, the mayor announced she would tolerate no more traffic stopping protests. Good luck with that.

Police leaders claim the rank and file officers are “confused.” They consider the DA that indicted the six officers accused of mishandling Freddie Gray to death as an enemy of the police – even though she comes from a family of police officers. Her serious indictments probably saved the Preakness, but now lawyers for the indicted six want a change of venue. Granting that change will probably lead to more protests. After that, the trial may take years.

An eventual verdict of guilt for serious offenses would send shock waves through police forces throughout the US. Retired NYPD officers with a group called POPPA have been sympathetically counseling Baltimore’s cops who feel that the public is against them. With a guilty verdict, I wouldn’t be surprised if the police find other retribution than the work slowdowns we’ve seen so far.

But change of venue and a predominantly not guilty verdict will almost certainly lead to more protests, and probably riots. The implication that May murders are the result of confused police tells me that the city is expecting not guilty. I’m betting that dedicated revolutionaries – like the anarchists that ran the Occupy movement – are waiting patiently.

Baltimore Heating Up

This morning, One two of my coworkers is are upset after spending two hours in a traffic jam getting to work from Columbia.

After a Memorial Day weekend in Baltimore with some twenty-seven shootings and eight deaths, activists including Rev Jamal Bryant, using hashtags ‘One Baltimore’ and ‘Baltimore Uprising’ are blocking interstate 95/395 into Baltimore to protest that $30 million is going to a new youth prison instead of education. More at WBAL.

I remember a youth jail being protested during Occupy Baltimore. In 2013 that youth jail project was abandoned, but another project was just approved by the Board of Public Works – without discussion.

Police morale is reportedly low, and the Freddie Gray riots are still fresh in peoples’ minds. More demonstrations are not what the city wants to see right now.

Freddie Gray protest + riots

We are living in interesting times in Baltimore this week. On Sunday April 12th, six Baltimore police chased down and arrested Freddie Gray, who reportedly ran quickly through several housing complexes when he saw police, but was eventually caught. In photos you can see one of the officers put his knee into Gray’s back while handcuffing him. They then put him in the back of a police van, but did not buckle him into safety belts. The van stopped once so they could put leg irons on Gray, and stopped a second time to “deal with Gray.” The van stopped a third time to take on another prisoner, and an officer lifted Gray off the floor and into a seat. When the van arrived at Western District, police called for an ambulance. Gray had a broken spine. A week later he was dead.

Last week there were several weekday protests at Western District and City Hall. They chanted the, “No Peace – No Justice,” refrain familiar to anyone that followed the Occupy movement, and variants of, “March All Day for Freddie Gray.” A larger demonstration was planned for Saturday. I wanted to go, but I’ve been trying to shake a persistent chest cold, so I watched on TV. The protests went well until late afternoon when a small group of young men and boys began running quickly through the streets near Camden Yards (baseball’s Orioles home stadium), smashing some police car windows, some shop windows and getting in fights with white citizens.

Occupy Baltimore’s website claims that Red Sox fans in bars near the stadium shouted racist slurs at the protestors to start the trouble. So does CIty Paper. It wouldn’t be hard to believe that a Southie would say something, but the result was some misunderstood photos of whites and blacks fighting in the streets.

I frankly thought the situation would die down as everyone went back to work and school. On light rail Monday morning some black men near my age were shaking their heads, saying, “What were they thinking? Didn’t they realize their faces were on camera?” But late Monday a coworker told me a cop friend told him that there was going to be trouble. Then the bosses sent out an email warning us that T Rowe Price and University of Maryland Baltimore had closed early due to, “an abundance of caution.” We had permission to leave early and several women coworkers were trying to organize an escort to their parking spots.

My coworker just shook his head when I told him I was biking down Martin Luther King Boulevard as usual. I took off a few minutes early. Vendors were setting up for the White Sox game, and though the road was crowded, the MLK sidepath was if anything, emptier than usual. Going up Eutaw Street was uneventful until I got to Druid Hill Park. Police were turning cars off Druid Hill Ave onto Swann Drive – through the park. I always go through the park because people drive way too fast on Druid Hill Ave, and had no trouble getting up to Park Heights, but I did see a phalanx of police on foot blocking off Gwynn’s Fall Parkway and Liberty Heights Road. Further up Park Heights I saw police cars at intersections, and heard sirens.

When I got home I saw what everyone else saw on WBAL TV: a burning police car and MTA police van next to a CVS drugstore that was being looted. That was on North Avenue and Fulton, just a few blocks from where I saw the blockade. Reportedly Mondawmin Mall had been looted, which is also a few blocks from there. WBAL switched to a check cashing store being looted then went back to the CVS, which now had billows of brown smoke pouring out the smashed windows.

Later on WBAL showed Christian and Nation of Islam church leaders in suits and ties trying to insert themselves between the looters and businesses, but the looters were just too fast. The WBAL broadcast team was unanimously dismissive of the looters, who they began calling rioters. Only Kweisi Mfume, who called in for an interview, showed any sympathy for the years of frustration that led to such actions. Later they announced that the baseball game had been postponed and that Governor Hogan had called out the National Guard.

In the morning I heard reports that there were scattered lootings and burnings over night. On light rail another fellow was complaining that the school let kids out early but didn’t provide transportation home. I wasn’t so sure that would have helped, but later read, Those kids were set up. Another pointed out that there are areas near there that haven’t recovered from the MLKing riots. When I got off at Convention Center, I rode one block and saw a line of khaki-clad national guardsmen and state police cars moving slowly down Conway from Camden Yards towards the Inner Harbor. They let me skitter through to Sharp Street.

This morning I heard a new meme that Gray had actually been injured riding an ATV before he was captured. I’m not sure how he could have run from police for several blocks with a broken spine, but it will satisfy the people who want to believe the police can do no wrong. In any case the problem is not just Freddie Gray – there is a long history of grievances.

The ideal since Gandhi has been to conduct non-violent protests, and often that has been sufficient, but it is worth pointing out that Gandhi lived in an era where there was a large middle class in Britain with some political power to effect change. Gandhi sensed that the right sort of protests would reach the British consciousness.

We live in an era where political power is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy. Moreover we live in an era where even white girls raped at colleges engender remarkably little sympathy among the public at large. As much as I hate to be stuck in the middle of all this, I do understand why it may seem to young people that non-violence is a failed strategy. I don’t look forward to violent struggle, but I do expect it.

Update 20150428: At ScienceBlogs, Greg Laden compares Baltimore rioting with events that led to the American Revolution, which I’m sure will thrill Tea Party members.

Update 20150429: Talking Points Memo has an article by a Morgan State prof on how the police sparked the Monday riot.

Peak Car, Split Cities

Is this the end of the automobile-dominated era? Resilience reposted this On The Commons article, Way To Go!, by Jay Walljasper:

Americans made 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2013–the highest number since 1956 when the massive mobilization to build highways and push suburban development began.

These numbers represent a 37 percent transit increase since 1995. Meanwhile bike commuting is up 60 percent over the past decade, according to census figures. And people are walking 6 percent more than in 2005, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Significantly, the number of miles Americans travel in cars and trucks per capita has dropped nine percent since 2005.

Walljasper paints a rosy picture of the automobile-depleted future:

It’s good news for everybody because broader transportation choices are linked to a bounty of social and economic benefits, including expanded economic development, revitalized urban and suburban communities, increased social equity, reduced household transportation costs, improved public health, decreased traffic congestion, and improved environmental conditions.

But in, 3 Big Challenges for Planning Multi-Modal Cities, David King of CityLab sees more complexity:

As the cost of driving increases through higher gas prices, tolls, and parking charges, more people will look toward alternatives. Yet less driving does not necessarily mean more transit use. When people drive less they travel by all alternatives more; they also telecommute and use home deliveries. Greater use of alternative modes to driving adds bikes, pedestrians, trucks, transit, and taxis to already crowded streets. New thinking about the design and use of street space is needed as new modes, actors, technologies, and uses change the function of public roads.

And in, Atlanta Hopes a Three-Mile Streetcar Route Will Help Foster a New Urban Image, are two unusually frank quotes about whom this new mass transit is intended to serve:

“The streetcar just goes round and round,” said C. T. Martin, a member of the City Council. “At best, it’s a tourist attraction, but it doesn’t touch the bigger issue of regional transportation.”

“To all of those who may still have a slight doubt of the significance of the Atlanta streetcar, I say to you, frankly, ‘We did not build it for you,’ ” said A. J. Robinson, the president of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District. “We are building it because Atlanta is in a global competition for attracting future human capital. This beginning step of streetcar infrastructure is a critical tool in that competition.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution blogged, Trolling for millennials with the Atlanta Streetcar:

… if the streetcar system succeeds, we may someday look at the tail end of 2014 as the serious beginning of regional competition for the hearts and souls of Georgia’s millennial generation.

If A.J. Robinson is right, if a generation of Georgians less smitten with cars and home ownership is in fact on the rise, millennials could become the anchor babies behind the revival of downtown Atlanta as an economic and political force.

“Millennials are definitely coming into the city of Atlanta. The recent census data verifies that,” a very happy Mayor Kasim Reed said after the ribbon-cutting. “Our population numbers are moving in a very competitive direction with the suburbs for the first time in a long time.”

Eight Hundred Words feels present Atlanta residents are being slighted:

As I read this comment, the people who live in Atlanta are not  important. Those who do matter are the hypothetical out-of-town Millenial “knowledge workers” who might consider living here if the city can meet their desire for quaint urban trappings and the businesses who might someday employ them. It is hard not to feel dismissed by Mr. Robinson’s statements which hopefully do not reflect the priorities of the city.

In, Globalization and Atlanta’s Gated Urban Core, PSMag’s Jim Russell sees a future with Atlanta breaking along class lines:

Our cities are splitting into two: One for the privileged and one for the poor. … For the poor moving out to the suburbs, aspirationally or otherwise, public transit does not extend far enough away from the city center. The folklore typically used to explain this infrastructure oversight is that affluent whites wanted to keep the riffraff in town, away from the suburban idyll. [but now that is inverting] … In the city of Atlanta, transit is a luxury good used to attract and retain talent. The urban core is a gated community for one Atlanta, but not the other.

It seems clear that the urban tension over the Eric Garner choking has its roots in an effort to gentrify NYC streets through aggressive and racially-profiled policing. If cities are going to split along class lines, expect the police to be at the front lines of efforts to make the urban cores attractive and safe for the privileged. Expect the homeless and scary-looking people of color to be chased away or rounded up.

Killer Cops and Cop Killers

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” – frequently attributed to Jay Gould.

According to New Yorkers Who Like Cops Don’t Like De Blasio, an article on FiveThirtyEight, Mayor Bill DeBlasio finds himself in the middle of an almost even split between New Yorkers who approve of the police and those who disapprove.

… in a recent Quinnipiac University poll in which support for both the police and de Blasio were split nearly down the middle. Fifty-one percent of voters approved of the job the police were doing, while 41 percent disapproved. A similar 47 approved of the job the mayor was doing, while 38 percent disapproved. Among the 17 subgroups (age, borough, political identification, race, sex, etc.) released by Quinnipiac, support for one is the inverse of support for the other.

That conservatives like former Mayor Giuliani are playing to that division is no surprise. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, flag-waving conservatives in power exploited the tragedy to attack an oil-rich country and ram through the homeland security act, brooking no middle ground or discussion. Anyone that opposed them was shouted down as, “not supporting the troops.”

As police have come under increasing scrutiny across the nation for videotaped shootings of unarmed citizens, and as grand juries and courts have been criticized for a lack of indictments and convictions, police union spokesmen are responding by insisting that all such killings are entirely justified to preserve order and that anyone who opposes them, “supports attacks on police.”

There will be some fringe, anti-government support – as there was for Eric Freyn – but most people realize that the killing of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu was a pointless tragedy. However the media can always select, or manufacture, stories to highlight the divisiveness. The Baltimore Fox affiliate actually altered the sound of a group protesting the choking of Eric Garner with a chant about putting, “killer cops in cell blocks” to make it sound like, “kill the cops.” The Garner protestors disavowed any calls for violence, but sadly other protestors in NYC *were* chanting about dead cops. And on the other side, a retired investigator sang, “Dead, dead Michael Brown, deadest man in the whole damn town,” to a roomful of retired LA policemen.

Those stories will get big play while those with a nuanced view who want to stop both unsupportable killings by police and killings of police will be lost in the media shuffle. Which is exactly what authorities want. In a declining economy, they have no intention of reigning in the police.