So . . . I was walking back from the home of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman and instead of doing the normal thing and taking Q Street west to 5th and then walking south, I wanted to take a shortcut by walking south on North Capitol to then cut southwest on New York. But then lo and behold right by Catania Bakery a couple of dudes ran up from behind, punched me in the head, then kicked me a couple of times before running off. Once, years ago, in Amsterdam a guy threatened me with a knife and took my money. These guys took nothing, and just inflicted a bit of pain. All things considered the threaten/rob model of crime seems a lot more beneficial to both parties than the punch-and-run model. But I guess it takes all kinds.
To offer a policy observation, higher density helps reduce street crime in an urban environment in two ways. One is that in a higher density city, any given street is less likely to be empty of passersby at any given time. The other is that if a given patch of land has more citizens, that means it can also support a larger base of police officers. And for policing efficacy both the ratio of cops to citzens and of cops to land matters. Therefore, all else being equal a denser city will be a better policed city.
That said, as a matter of personal ethics you really shouldn’t run around punching random dudes in the back of the head irrespective of the prevailing level of population density or policing.
Yesterday, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission — an entity within Congress chaired by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) charged with investigating human rights abuses — held a hearing titled “Human Rights in Bahrain,” designed to probe abuses against pro-democracy activists in the Arab monarchy.
Noticeably absent among the witnesses testifying were any representatives from the U.S. government, which has been closely allied with Bahrain throughout the uprising and resulting humanitarian crisis. On the hearing’s website, you can see that both witnesses called from the State Department, William J. Burns and Jeffrey D. Feltman, declined to appear:
McClatchy reports that “scheduling conflicts” are the reason that the two officials did not appear, although no explanation is given why the State Department did not send replacements. “I was expecting at least one, possibly two witnesses from the State Department to testify,” said a disappointed McGovern.
At the hearing, Human Right’s Watch’s Joe Stork stressed the need for a more forceful response from the United States, which has been very mute in reaction to the abuses in the country, an oil-rich monarchy that houses U.S. military forces:
And unfortunately, in contrast to Syria, Libya, and other sites of unrest and repression, the United States government has had little to say about any of this, at least in public, and those few words have tended to be general in the extreme. [...]
Quite frankly, at a time when night after night masked armed men, both uniformed and plainclothes, are breaking into homes and hauling off Bahrainis to unknown locations, to interrogation centers where torture or ill-treatment are routine, a time when people are pulled out of cars at checkpoints and beaten, a time when people suffering gunshot or other wounds inflicted by security forces fear going to medical centers where other security forces beat and arrest them – these are times when something more forceful and more specific is badly needed.
The latest outrage in the brutal crackdown in Bahrain involves the demolition of mosques. Dozens of mosques frequented by the oppressed Shiite majority have been bulldozed and destroyed by the ruling government, including some that were centuries old.
Ta-Nehisi Coates heard the dog whistle loud in clear in Newt Gingrich’s proclamation last night that Barack Obama is “the most successful food stamp president in modern American history.” But the speech also featured a straightforward call for the revival of the kind of techniques that were used to prevent African-Americans (and many poor whites as well) from voting in the Jim Crow South:
“You know, folks often talk about immigration. I always say that to become an American citizen, immigrants ought to have to learn American history. [applause] But maybe we should also have a voting standard that says to vote, as a native born American, you should have to learn American history. [applause] You realize how many of our high school graduates because of the decay of the educational system, couldn’t pass a citizenship test.”
For one thing, Gingrich really shouldn’t be running for president on a platform of adding an American history component to the citizenship test without trying some sample questions first. He might realize that history questions already feature prominently on the test. Meanwhile, if Gingrich himself wants to avoid flunking history he might take note of the fact that making US citizens take a poll test would be illegal under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That’s for the very good reason that the historical purpose of such proposals has been to prevent black people form voting. This is certainly more subtle than Ron Paul’s direct criticism of the Civil Rights Act but either way the spirit is hard to miss.
Even a model libertarian state requires the existence of the ultimate “big government” program—a bunch of dudes with guns authorized to threaten to shoot people who don’t agree to be handcuffed and imprisoned. And this program needs to work well. Which is difficult to do if you have a force of poorly paid and poorly trained cops dependent on corruption to make a living. As Mark Kleiman explains, you can easily get stuck in a bad equilibrium:
Also not news, but something I hadn’t reflected on: the “neoliberal”/IMF/Washington Consensus emphasis on reducing taxes and public spending made the problem – already bad enough – worse, and almost impossible to fix. One reason the Colombian security/rule of law situation has gotten better (which is not to say good) is a special tax levy on high incomes dedicated for the use of the security services. The back story on that tax, according to Zedillo, is that Bill Clinton went to Bogota in 1999, met with a bunch of rich folks, and told them that if they wanted security they’d have to pay for it. Apparently they agreed, and basically volunteered the tax increase.
But when Zedillo at about the same time (when he was President of Mexico) talked to Mexican “civil society” groups that were complaining about lawlessness, and told them “The taxes you don’t pay are the security you don’t have,” he got nowhere. “Right away, I lost eye contact,” he said. Prosperous Mexicans would rather hire private “security firms” to protect their children from kidnapping, without too much concern about that fact that some of those firms maintain demand for the service by kidnapping the children of non-clients.
This is in part a “policy problem.” But I think it’s also pretty clearly to an extent a problem of public ethics and public morals. In societies with a decent level of public spiritedness, social solidarity, and moral responsibility, elites concerned about public safety respond by trying to improve pubic safety. For the past 15 years or so, Colombian elites have, among other things, sincerely wanted their country to work better and it’s paid off.
Something I’ve been interested to see lately (also flagged by Kevin Carey is that “education reform” skeptics have gotten very interested in citing the success of Finnish public education. I heard a good deal about this from AFT President Randi Weingarten when I spoke to her last week. On one level it makes a great deal of sense since Finland tends not to have the kind of labor market model oriented around quantitative assessment of teacher performance that reformers have been pushing in the United States.
On a deeper level, though, what reformers are saying is that the United States of America needs better teachers and is promoting these changes in compensation/retention models in order to try and generate this outcome. And that does seem to me to be the upshot of what you see looking at Finland. They don’t do extensive test-based assessment of teacher performance, but the human capital inputs into the profession are very high quality. It’s not just that their teachers are extensively trained, but admission to the training programs is highly selective—only about 15 percent of applicants are admitted. More broadly, as an important McKinsey report released last year showed, just 23 percent of American teachers are drawn from the “top third” of college graduates. By contrast, in Finland (and Singapore and South Korea) 100 percent of teachers are from the “top third.” And while American schools in general seem to be undersupplied with excellent teachers, the problem is especially severe in high-poverty schools where only 14 percent are coming from the top third.
I think reasonable people can disagree about what approaches exactly would move the United States away from 23 percent up to something closer to 100 percent. But whatever approach you favor, if you’re talking about Finland (or South Korea or Singapore) you’re necessarily having a conversation about how to get different people into the profession than the ones who are currently there.
Last night, GOP presidential primary candidate Newt Gingrich appeared at the Georgia Republican Party’s state-wide convention, where he delivered a wide-ranging speech covering a variety of issues related to his presidential run.
At one point during the speech, Gingrich derided progressive economic policies that value public investment and spending to get back to work, saying that “we’re at the crossroads” and that “down one road is a European centralized bureaucratic socialist welfare system” and the other road is a “proud, solid reaffirmation of American exceptionalism.” He then went on to declare Obama to be a “food stamp president”:
GINGRICH: President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history. [...] I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history.
The theme of Gingrich’s economic critique was clear and blunt: Democrats and progressives want to use government to stifle the economy and imagine a future of government dependency for everyone. Gingrich, on the other hand, believes in the free market and capitalism, which are the correct paths.
There’s one glaring problem with Gingrich’s narrative: as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1990′s, he himself was one of the most avid big spenders in the entire country, using government cash to enrich his district and lift it up to being one of the wealthiest in the country.
During his tenure in Congress, Gingrich represented large portions of Cobb County, Georgia. Cobb was a mostly-white district and largely suburban — completely different from the crude stereotypes Gingrich and others used to blast the welfare state, which were generally portrayed as minority-heavy urban environments. At the same time Gingrich was working with President Bill Clinton to cut back on spending for programs for the poorest Americans, Gingrich made Cobb one of the most subsidized districts in the entire country.
[Gingrich] represents Cobb County, a prosperous jurisdiction that ranks third among suburban counties in federal dollars returned per resident. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the federal government spent $4.4 billion in Cobb County in 1994, some $10,000 per resident, or nearly twice as much per capita as it spent in New York City.
Linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky noted at the time that the two districts that received more federal funds were in Arlington, Virginia, the base of many of the nation’s top defense and tech-sector contractors, and Brevard County, Florida, the home of the Kennedy Space Center.
Filmmaker Michael Moore found it both ironic and unfair that Gingrich was decimating public investment and spending on the social safety net while making his own district one of the most government-subsidized in the entire country. So he grabbed his video camera and headed down to Cobb, where he filmed a segment of his show “TV Nation.” Moore confronted Gingrich about federal spending in his district and the Speaker refused to endorse cutting any of it. Watch it:
So the next time you hear Gingrich deride government spending to improve the lives of Americans, know that he actually does believe in doing so — as long as it’s his own already-wealthy base.
Our guest blogger is Kiley Kroh, Associate Director for Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress.
One year after the BP oil catastrophe, marine life in the Gulf of Mexico is exhibiting some disturbing trends. Over 150 dead dolphins, including several with oil from the BP spill on their bodies, have washed up along the Gulf Coast this year. Now, scientists are expressing grave concern over the shocking number of fish they’ve discovered in inland waterways and the Gulf of Mexico with skin lesions, fin rot, spots, liver blood clots and other health problems. Richard Snyder, director of the University of West Florida Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation, calls the discovery of so many diseased fish “a huge red flag“:
In the years following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the herring fishery collapsed and has not recovered, according to an Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee report. The herring showed similar signs of illness — including skin lesions — that are showing up in Gulf fish
Many of the symptoms scientists see in Gulf fish are consistent with oil exposure. If these recent trends prove to be a result of the BP disaster, then this could very well be a sign of worse things to come. Scientists currently working in the gulf stress that “findings so far demonstrate that studies need to continue far into the future,” again emphasizing the critical need for significant investment in scientific study and the long-term restoration of the Gulf.
The lesson of Prince William Sound’s herring fishery shows that the most devastating effects of the spill could take several years to present themselves. Therefore, Congress, which has failed to pass any sort of post-spill legislation, must use its authority to ensure BP and other responsible parties continue to be held accountable and that funds are directed into research and restoration projects.
I watched Ron Paul on Hardball yesterday afternoon talking about his opposition to the Civil Rights Act and while this of course reminds you of his troubling racist associations, I think that’s actually the least significant part of the story. The real issue here is Paul’s perfectly sincere non-prejudiced, non-biased reasoning here. The Civil Rights Act is, after all, a genuinely large infringement of people’s private property rights. It says that just because you own a hotel doesn’t mean you can decide to bar black people from staying at it. It says that just because you own a bus, you can’t decide to make black passengers ride in the back. It says you can’t buy—at any price—a seat at a whites-only lunch counter. It’s a massive instance of big government medaling in people’s private business.
It was also in the 1960s and 1970s an absolutely vital tool in resolving a social and political crisis of gargantuan proportion. And though it has less practical significance today (it’s not like people are chomping at the bit to open segregated hotels), the Civil Rights Act remains an important tool against racism and an important token of America’s strong commitments to non-discriminatory norms.
But Ron Paul, like Rand Paul before him, opposes this measure not—or not only—out of some bias against black people but out of a deeply-held belief that the state should never solve any social problem no matter how severe the problem or how effective the solution.
Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-TX) presidential campaign is already living up to the far-right brand of libertarianism he’s come to symbolize for his followers. In one of his first interviews after announcing his 2012 bid yesterday morning, he called for eliminating FEMA, even as much of the country suffers from devastating natural disasters, suggesting that people who happen to be in the path of a tornado or wildfire are “dumb.”
But in an an interview just minutes later yesterday evening, Paul outdid himself by telling MSNBC host Chris Matthews that he wouldn’t have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it was unfair to property owners. When Matthews asked if Paul thought it should be legal for a store to refuse to serve African Americans, Paul dodged, saying, “that’s ancient history.” Finally, when asked if he thought we would be better off without the Act and other government programs like Social Security, Paul replied we would be “better off” if government stayed out of such matters:
MATTHEWS: You would have voted against that law. You wouldn’t have voted for the ’64 civil rights bill.
PAUL: Yes, but not in — I wouldn’t vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws.
MATTHEWS: But you would have voted for the — you know you — oh, come on. Honestly, Congressman, you were not for the ’64 civil rights bill.
PAUL: Because — because of the property rights element, not because it got rid of the Jim Crow law.
MATTHEWS: Right. The guy who owns a bar says, no blacks allowed, you say that’s fine. … This was a local shop saying no blacks allowed. You say that should be legal?
PAUL: That’s — that’s ancient history. That’s ancient history. That’s over and done with. [...]
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. We have had a long history of government involvement with Medicare, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. And I think you are saying we would have been better off without all that?
PAUL: I think we would be better off if we had freedom, and not government control of our lives, our personal lives, and our — and policing the world.
Paul has expressed opposition to the Civil Rights Act on numerous occasions in the past, even taking to the House floor on the 40th anniversary of the law’s passage to give a speech calling it an unconstitutional attack on “individual liberty”:
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the federal government unprecedented power over the hiring, employee relations, and customer service practices of every business in the country. The result was a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of free society. The federal government has no legitimate authority to infringe on the rights of private property owners to use their property as they please and to form (or not form) contracts with terms mutually agreeable to all parties.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only violated the Constitution and reduced individual liberty; it also failed to achieve its stated goals of promoting racial harmony and a color-blind society.
He later appeared on Meet the Press to defend his position. But it’s noteworthy that he took such an extreme position on the same day he announced his run for president.
Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), got in trouble during his Senate campaign last year for also opposing the Civil Rights Act from a similar libertarian position. He eventually recanted and said he would have voted for the landmark law.
The fight for marriage equality is currently on in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, and Rhode Island, but for the first time, its opponents do not have majority support at their back. In Minnesota and Pennsylvania, legislators are pushing to redundantly ban marriage for same-sex couples in their constitutions — redundant because it’s already illegal for those couples in those states to marry. New Yorkers and Rhode Islanders, on the other hand, are advocating for full marriage equality. The important thing that all four of these states have in common is that the legislators opposing equality are completely out of touch with their constituents:
- NEW YORK: A new, albeit controversial, poll shows that 79 percent support relationship recognition, with 51 percent support for full marriage equality. Despite intense enthusiasmfor making 2011 the year for New York marriage equality, the legislature still doesn’t have the votes necessary to make that a reality.
- RHODE ISLAND: There has been a strong push for marriage equality in Rhode Island since the beginning of the year. Given that 59 percent support (including 63 percent of Catholics) support marriage equality and the state already recognizes the marriages from its neighbors Connecticut and Massachusetts, it’s unfortunate that the legislative support is still not there. A bill to support civil unions is now being considered, but it’s seeing little support from advocates. Given the local availability of marriage equality, advocates see nothing to gain from civil unions except a reminder of their second-class status.