Monday, August 14, 2006

The Democrats' Dilemma

So the Democratic voters of the Nutmeg State have sent a message to Washington: We don't want no war no more. (From some of what I've read in the press, the message may also have been We don't want no self-serving guy who backs his party only when it's convenient no more, but that dilutes the clarity of the message.)

I'd love to be able to endorse this message. But I can't. That's because our President, may buzzards pick at his innards and those of his Vice President and Defense Secretary, has gotten us into a trap that we can only fight our way out of.

The problem is that, unlike Vietnam, if we simply take our guns and bombs and go home, we won't be free of the messy war or the threat of a future attack. For one thing, the enemy--which wasn't in Iraq to begin with--is still with us, stateless and constantly shifting--and thanks to our invasion of Iraq, he is there now too.

We have also enabled the mullahs in Iran to spread their influence further than it had gone before--and soon it may be at the point where we can no longer expect Israel to pull our fat out of the fire. (Indeed, the current stalemate in southern Lebanon suggests that we may already have reached that point.)

Unfortunately, this leaves us with several bad choices. The worst one is the one the Democratic voters of Connecticut endorsed: Just leave. If we do that, this time, they'll follow us.

The next one is worse politically, but possibly the only way out militarily: Send more troops over to the Middle East. And here's where the Democratic voters of Connecticut have mucked things up: It shouldn't be a Republican President doing the sending. The current one has shown his contempt for both reality and the Constitution often enough to poison the well for his successor. But as long as the Democratic base won't tolerate a Presidential candidate who is willing to prosecute this war, however reluctantly, the general electorate will rightly shy away from trusting whichever Democrat gets nominated to wrap this botched job up properly.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is it just me?

Or does anyone else out there find it a bit disturbing that we have black men walking around on the streets wearing clothing that has "State Property" emblazoned all over it?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

One-and-a-Half Cheers for Mayor Street

I'm sure that some of you who know me will accuse me of having taken leave of my senses, but I'm going to say this anyway:

John Street isn't as bad a mayor as I think he is.

Over the course of his two terms, he has identified some of the major issues that need addressing in this city, and on some of them, has come up with some programs that may produce results in the long run.

Chief among these is the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. Here he managed to put some very good minds to work looking at the issue of reclaiming deteriorated, largely abandoned communities, and these minds have produced solid thinking and good, workable strategies for their reclamation. Little by little, these bombed-out neighborhoods are coming back from the near-dead, and if a decade hence, we no longer look on large swaths of North Philadelphia as places to pass through as quickly as possible (unless we live there), Mayor Street will deserve the credit for having gotten the process started.

And while it was in force, Operation Safe Streets worked as designed: it chased crime away from some of the city's worst crime zones.

Unfortunately, Operation Safe Streets is also a reason why Street gets no more than a cheer and a half. This program was more a show of force than it was an effective long-term strategy to reduce crime, and it worked only at huge cost in police overtime. It might have been cheaper to simply hire additional full-time cops to identify, track and fight crime. Moreover, now that violent crime especially has taken a turn for the worse in the neighborhoods again, he cannot apply a "Safe Streets II" Band-Aid to the problem, nor can he implement the sorts of strategies that worked so well under Police Commissioner John Timoney in the previous administration.

Combine that with the fact that he has almost never run across a tax cut he could stomach at a time when cutting taxes would do so much for the city's long-term economic health and his public endorsement early in his administration of the cozy pay-to-play ethos that has long pervaded City Hall, and it should become clear that while Street may not be as bad as I think he is, he's still far from a good mayor, let alone a great one.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose...

Remember "Urban Renewal"?

No, not the Tower of Power album from about 1972--the grand 1950s and '60s project, backed by the best planning thought of the time and buckets o'Federal bucks, that would--as in Vietnam--save our cities by destroying them.

Only it wasn't pitched that way. It was pitched as removing "blighted" neighborhoods so that new development could take place more easily on the acres of land thus cleared.

Well, the funny thing was, many of the people who lived in these "blighted" neighborhoods considered them anything but. These people were almost always poor or working class, and usually members of minority groups. Some of them raised a stink about what was happening, but nobody listened--or at least nobody listened in time to throw the engine of Progress into reverse. So they were removed, their houses condemned and bought for a song, and replaced some cases, nothing. In others, light industry. And in those few "successes," among them Philadelphia's Society Hill, rich people. At least in Philadelphia, they took the neutron rather than atomic bomb approach: They left the buildings standing, most of them.

But everyone agrees that "urban renewal"--or, as some black activists put it, "Negro removal"--was a mistake in hindsight.

Or do they? For we are fighting the same battles again.

Consider this tale out of Camden summarized in the commentary section of today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

The setting is Cramer Hill, a largely Hispanic neighborhood in Camden's north end. If you read the article, it seems like the only "blight" in the neighborhood is that the residents can't keep their properties up to upper-middle-class standards.

Or, I guess, pay upper-middle-class taxes on them. Which is reason enough for the City of Camden to back a developer's proposal to replace the neighborhood with new housing, shops and a golf course.

Legal Aid attorneys are helping the residents fight to save their neighborhood. But this also seems like one of those eminent domain abuse cases that have produced the odd spectacle of right-wing and libertarian activists riding to the defense of the little folk. I imagine it's only a matter of time before one of the conservative legal foundations weighs in on the side of the residents as their argument goes to court, as it is sure to do.

We can only hope this happens. "Urban renewal" was a mistake then, and it's a mistake now. And the Supreme Court decision that made it much easier needs to be revisited, and soon.