Tag Archives: Baltimore

Baltimore hasn’t been ‘neglected.’ It has been misgoverned into the ground.

Rich Lowry writes in Politico

Obama doesn’t have the slightest idea how to fix Baltimore. While parts of his diagnosis are sound — communities like West Baltimore obviously lack for fathers and business investment — his solutions fall back on liberal bromides going back 50 years.

Obama said, cuttingly, that this Congress won’t approve “massive investments in urban communities.” Dating back to the Kerner Commission in the aftermath of the riots of the 1960s, the left’s go-to solution to urban problems has been more social programs. Since then, we’ve gotten more social programs — and just as many urban problems.

Exhibit A is Baltimore itself. The city hasn’t been “neglected.” It has been misgoverned into the ground. It is a Great Society city that bought into the big-government vision of the 1960s more than most, and the bitter fruit has been corruption, violence and despair.

All you need to know about the confused ineffectuality of the city’s leadership was evident in the purposefully inadequate initial response to the mayhem, apparently on the theory that a little rioting is OK.

And why not? The left has a soft spot for rioters. As soon as the windows start breaking, it rolls outs its intellectually rancid excuse-making for the destruction of property.

As police cars burned and businesses were ransacked, progressives declared nonviolence “a ruse” (Ta-Nehisi Coates); hailed looting as “a legitimate political strategy” (Salon); and called the senseless rampage part of a series of, sententiously all-caps, “UPRISINGS” (Marc Lamont Hill).

The lesson is that when the revolution comes, you best not own or operate a small business, or especially a CVS (drugstores, apparently, are notorious enemies of the people)

So what is the solution according to Lowry

We don’t know all the facts surrounding Freddie Gray’s tragic, and highly suspicious, death. But as a general matter, it is easy to believe that the Baltimore police are corrupt, dysfunctional and unaccountable — because most of the Baltimore government is that way. Mayors and police commissioners get convicted of crimes.

This is a failure exclusively of Democrats, unless the root causes of Baltimore’s troubles are to be traced to its last Republican mayor, Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, who left office in 1967. And it is an indictment of a failed model of government.

Baltimore is a hostile business environment and high-tax city, with malice aforethought. “Officials raised property taxes 21 times between 1950 and 1985,” Steve Hanke and Stephen Walters of Johns Hopkins University write in The Wall Street Journal, “channeling the proceeds to favored voting blocs and causing many homeowners and entrepreneurs — disproportionately Republicans — to flee. It was brilliant politics, as Democrats now enjoy an eight-to-one voter registration advantage.”

To counterbalance the taxes, they note, developers need to be lured to the city with subsidies, and the developers, in turn, contribute to politicians to stay in their good graces. This makes for fertile ground for the city’s traditional corruption.

Baltimore’s preferred driver of growth has been government. Urban experts Fred Siegel and Van Smith write in City Journal that Baltimore has “emphasized a state-sponsored capitalism that relies almost entirely on federal and state subsidies, rather than market investments.” The model makes for some high-profile development projects, but trickle-down crony capitalism hasn’t worked for everyone else.

For those left behind, Maryland has one of the most generous welfare systems in the country, according to Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute.

Baltimore has been good at sucking up federal and state subsides, and at taxing and at spending. The other functions of government? Not so much.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke, in office for three terms beginning in the late 1980s, was notoriously soft on crime. Siegel and Smith write, “During the nineties, tolerant Baltimore’s crime rate, much of it drug-fueled, rocketed upward (75 percent of the city’s murders were drug-related); tough-on-crime New York’s plummeted.”

Under Mayor Martin O’Malley’s subsequent, more strenuous policing (something he got heckled for in the streets of Baltimore the other day), the crime rate dropped. But it is still a violent city. Murders went up in 2013, and Baltimore had the fifth-highest murder rate among cities with a population of 100,000 or more.

The schools, predictably, are a disaster, run by and for the teachers unions. (If the left’s vigilantes for justice really wanted to strike a blow against The Man, they would have besieged the headquarters of the Baltimore city schools.)

On top of all this, two-thirds of births in the city are out-of-wedlock. Toya Graham is being rightly celebrated for smacking her 16-year-old son and getting him out of the streets during the rioting. You can admire her pluck and still be daunted by the challenges she faces as a single mother of six.

Okay, I can agree that Baltimore his corrupt.  It has a long history of racial and corrupt politics but to stay that these riots are happening because of taxation and a lack of a free market economy is a little much.

At the same time part of me kind of agrees with Lowry.  A more charitable business climate, more entrepreneurship, and more and better jobs would have made a difference but there are other factors at play.  Racism in the workplace that limit many capable black men and women, inferior schools, redlining which limits lending and investment based on neighbourhoods (a racist lending practice that has long devastated black communities), and of course problems in the police force, something that David Simon has written on for years. 

Baltimore is not a partisan problem.  It is much more complicated than that and if anyone from the right or left who says otherwise is wrong.

The Privatization of Our Cities

From The Guardian

“It may well be the case that democracy and capitalism, which at moments in their youth were allies, cannot live together once both have come of age.” So wrote the historian EH Tawney in 1938.

Tawney’s prescient quote could well apply to London today, where the “Boris Boom” is overseeing a version of extreme capitalism that is privatising vast swaths of the capital. Publicity so far has focused on the 250 planned skyscrapers, but at least as important is the fact that all this new development will be privately owned and privately controlled. Nine Elms in South London, for example, an enormous, 195-hectare private estate that will be home to the new ultra-high security American embassy, is typical of this new wave of privatisation. So is London’s Olympic Park, which is private in as much as all the new communities within it, such as the Olympic Village, are also privately owned.

But does this mean that London – boosted by the receipts of quantitative easing, a lax tax regime and foreign oligarch money – is becoming the most private city in the world?

It is notoriously difficult to quantify and map the privatisation of space and place.Dubai, which must lay claim to being one of the most privatised cities in the world, is defined by its newness – and it is this newness which is generally an indicator of how private a place is likely to be. This is because today’s dominant economic model is reflected by high-security, privatised plazas which house shopping areas, conference centres and luxury apartments in an environment less reminiscent of the public realm than an airport lounge.

How does it happen?

In general, the privatisation of public space in the west accompanied the traumatic transition from an industrial economy to one based on financial services, shopping, entertainment and “knowledge”. This model began in 1970s America, where downtown waterfront areas that were former industrial heartlands were redeveloped into entertainment complexes: Baltimore’s Inner Harbour, described by the Urban Land Institute as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment”, is the prime example.

London’s Docklands, once the hub of the UK’s shipbuilding industry, became a centre for privatised financial services districts such as Canary Wharf, gated developments and private campuses such as the Excel, the enormous conference centre where the potential to “lock down” the site ensures it is well suited to host such events as the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition.

War very often leads to heavily privatised areas, too. In downtown Beirut, the rebuilding of the city centre provided the opportunity for Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and the former prime minister, to form Solidere, a company that has remodelled a 200-hectare area of the city centre.

Jerold S Kayden at Harvard has coined the term Pops (“privately owned public space”) for these types of places, and found that there are 503 in New York City alone. One of the highest profile is Manhattan’s latest tourist attraction, the High Line, which also appears to be the model for London’s contentious Garden Bridge – an urban “park” that bans all sorts of activities, closes for corporate events, does not allow political protest and requires groups of more than eight people to book ahead.

Indeed, the key question in determining how “private” a city might be could be about access, rather than ownership. Zucotti Park, another Pops in New York, was for many months the venue for the Occupy Wall Street protests. Contrast that with London’s Paternoster Square, home to the London Stock Exchange, where Occupy was quickly evicted when the owners took out an injunction. Political activity has been almost entirely squeezed out of London’s square mile, and Occupy had no choice but to camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, on the only genuinely public space left in the city.

So while it may be impossible to name a city or a place as the “most private” in the world, what we can say is that societies with high levels of inequality are also those where the privatisation of the public realm and life behind gates increasingly defines the urban fabric. In Britain and North America, where democracy remains the system by which we define ourselves, the spread of this kind of city space is extremely problematic, as it suggests that Tawney was right. While our leaders preach democracy, the increasingly private architecture of our cities is telling a more honest story.

Without newspapers, who hold’s government’s responsible?

The Washington Post has a good article on the importance of reporters holding police accountable.

There is a lot of talk nowadays about what will replace the dinosaur that is the daily newspaper. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers and media pundits have lined up to tell us that newspapers are dying but that the news business will endure, that this moment is less tragic than it is transformational.

Well, sorry, but I didn’t trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick’s identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn’t anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.

I didn’t trip over a herd of hungry Sun reporters either, but that’s the point. In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it.

At one point last week, after the department spokesman denied me the face sheet of the shooting report, I tried doing what I used to do: I went to the Southeastern District and demanded the copy on file there.

When the desk officer refused to give it to me, I tried calling the chief judge of the District Court. But Sweeney’s replacement no longer handles such business. It’s been a while since any reporter asked, apparently. So I tried to explain the Maryland statutes to the shift commander, but so long had it been since a reporter had demanded a public document that he stared at me as if I were an emissary from some lost and utterly alien world.

Which is, sadly enough, exactly true.