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The Truth About Baltimore

07 Jul
by John, posted in leadership, Urban Policy   |  3 Comments

The truth is we as a nation do not have a remedy for a troubled city that loses more than a third of its population in fifty years.  I worked in downtown Baltimore for eight years on its central tourist drag, Pratt Street, which runs from Camden Yards to the Inner Harbor redevelopment.  Baltimore is a contrast in fascinating history, beautiful scenery, interesting cuisine, great museums and stadiums, grinding poverty, poor public schools, and continuing decline.

The press and various groups on both sides of the political divide have tried to overlay race, falling unionization, globalization, over regulation, high taxes, and all the usual divisive narratives onto the city to explain this year’s crisis.  Many of those issues do exist, but the root cause of Baltimore’s grinding poverty is the extraordinary loss of people over time.

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You cannot solve a problem if you are not honest about the root cause of the problem.  Since 1960 for a variety of good and bad reasons people have left Baltimore at a rate far above those moving into the city.  That is the root cause of the problem.

All across my travels in Europe and Latin America you come upon the ruins of once great cities who are no longer cities or are ruins.  Much of the Middle East and Asia Minor contain massive ruins of Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Egyptian, and other ancient cities.  It is not a new phenomenon for cities to shrink or fail.

It was also true during my eight years in Baltimore that many of the data driven solutions that modern business and government use failed.  Baltimore city government endlessly quoted the number of visitors, the number of conventions, the reduction in crime, the growing amount spent on education, and a host of other statistics.  But it was done not to understand why people were leaving, but to cover up the fact that they were leaving.  There was a total absence of focusing on people.

In 2004 for the second time in less than a month one of our employees was mugged on Pratt St. at noon in front of the federal building.  Our CEO was so incensed that he called the mayor’s office and I was tasked with setting a meeting including all of the major businesses on Pratt Street, the federal government, and the mayor’s office.  Mayor O’Malley did not attend and instead sent an official.

The most shocking revelation in the meeting was how every business, particularly the hotels, revealed that crime on Pratt Street was an everyday occurrence.  Ominously, all of the hotel managers warned that a high profile tourist murder would shut down the convention trade.  But the response from Martin O’Malley’s office was that crime was down statistically in Baltimore and here was a powerpoint to prove it.

What is needed in Baltimore is a focus on people.  Why are they leaving?  What would cause them to stay?  What would cause them to ask their families, friends, and business associates to move back?

This is not to say that racism, police brutality, high taxes, a byzantine business regulatory environment, pollution, and terrible schools are not problems.  But they are the symptoms of the root cause that is dramatic population flight.  What is needed in Baltimore is leadership to stop dividing the city and instead focus on uniting it around why citizens believe their future lies anywhere but in Baltimore.

Muslim Community Must Face Its Demons

13 Jan
by John, posted in leadership, Liberty, Life   |  No Comments


There were so many awful things about last week in Paris:  the killings;  the apparent ethnic and religious targeting of Jews in a country with a long history of Anti-Semitism; the exclusion of the French right because of their speech from a “unity march” supposedly in defense of free speech; the sensational press coverage so often wrong; and the dawning realization that Je Suis Charlie is the next #bringbackourgirls media event. An event devoid of lasting meaning or generating effective action.

It was heartening in a very sad way to see the sacrifice of one French Muslim police officer and the heroic act of a Muslim employee of the kosher grocery in hiding some of the hostages.  But the bottom line is that the Muslim neighbors of the killers discovered their weapons cache, suspected their criminal enterprise, and decided to do nothing.  The killers’ mosque heard their objections to participation in French life and decided to “respect their opinions”.  Decided it was too dangerous to report these convicted criminals to the police.  Decided to take the benefits of French citizenship, but not its responsibilities.

That was the best opportunity to change the outcome and to prevent the brutal death of seventeen people.  And carrying signs in a march saying “I am a Jew” or  or “Not In My Name” while laudable sentiment is not effective action.

I do not understand why it is so hard to say:

  1. the problem is within the Muslim community;
  2. the weapons and funding are coming from within the Muslim community; and
  3. they aren’t doing enough to deal with it.

Certainly, Islam as a whole is not responsible, we should not respond by discrimination or intolerance, but this constant message from some that we should not look to the Muslim community is contributing to the brutal killings. The West cannot solve this problem – it has to be the Muslim community and it is long past time for them to stand up, acknowledge the problem, and do a lot more than show up to march, hold up signs, send tweets, etc.

So what  should the Muslim community do?  First, it should denounce not only killers, but anyone within their community that decides it is enough to “stand idly by”.  And importantly Muslims must stop saying that criminals killing people, while shouting “Allahu Akbar” and spewing religious dogma are somehow not Muslims – somehow not the Muslim community’s problem.

Fortunately, there is some gathering sentiment in Europe that Muslims have a special burden.  As reported in the London Times, Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary in the British government, was blunt:

Whether we like it or not, these terrorists call themselves Muslims.  It is no good for people to say they are not Muslims, that is what they call themselves.  You can’t get away from the fact these people are using Islam, they are taking a great religion, a peaceful religion of a billion people around the world, taking this religion and using it as their tool to carry out their horrible activities.

That special burden must begin with reporting Jihadis to the police.  Imans must preach without any excuse that Jihadis must be turned into the police.  And it also might help if outside every Western military recruiting office a line of young Muslim men and women were photographed volunteering to fight.  No ISIS/ISIL or Al Qaeda fighter was scared of a crowd in Paris, but they might be of a photograph of thousands of Muslims signing up to fight against them.

Because if the Muslim community does not stop talking and start acting, I fear for its future in the West.  Standing idly by is not only contributing to the killing, but is providing the narrative boosting the extreme right in Europe. And we know from history all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to stand idly by.

John McCain – A Hero Yet Again

10 Dec
by John, posted in leadership, Liberty, Life, Pursuit of Happiness   |  No Comments

The best American speech in quite a long time – perhaps all the way back to President Reagan.  Short, direct, with zinger after zinger, supporting one central theme – we, “Americans, are different, stronger, and better than those that would destroy us.”

This will require me to be more thoughtful again when he speaks on national security.  I do not take back my abhorrence to sending in the military for every crisis, but this is simply too good a speech to be an outlier.



What Kristof Doesn’t Get About White Privilege

28 Nov
by John, posted in Government Spending, leadership, Liberty, Life, Policy, Poverty, Pursuit of Happiness, Urban Policy   |  No Comments


Photo by Julie Clopper /

The eminent New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, has written four pieces over the summer and fall regarding race relations.  He identifies a variety of statistics that once again demonstrate a white child is statistically more likely to succeed in America than a black child.  He then blames that result on “white privilege”.

This is the concept that whites have it so good in terms of resources: good schools; good lawyers: access to people of power; jobs; good parenting; and a variety of other advantages that whites are oblivious to the plight of black youth. Oblivious to an unjust war on drugs, failed racial justice policies, and despair. No matter how much they give to charities, how much they volunteer, how much they pay in taxes toward federal poverty programs, they are oblivious.

Given the amount of ink, television, and new media attention devoted to Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and the relentless procession of killings of black children does that theory really pass what lawyers call “the straight face” test?

Except for the out and out racists, the “white” population is enormously frustrated that progress on race relations is so fraught after so much effort following the 1960s.  They are not oblivious, but rather keenly aware that five decades of federal intervention (busing, affirmative action, minority contracting, poverty programs) still allowed for a predominantly African-American community, Ferguson, governed and policed by whites.

Most “whites” one way or the other do “get it”.  What unites them in frustration is commentators purposely targeting them for shame when they too want a solution.  Tell me what the answer is? Beyond my own personal efforts, what are the policies measurable with real data that will heal this wound that dates from the founding of the republic?

Kristof is a proponent of data. Let me once again point out how selective and therefore frustrating Kristof can be.  And as a policy matter how dangerous this faux argument is for the poor.

As I have previously written Head Start, the federal program designed to deliver early childhood education to the poor, does not.  But Kristof refuses to accept the bipartisan study funded over three administrations, including presidents of both parties, that found Head Start failed to deliver effective early childhood education to the poor.

What that study and subsequent studies  do show is the unintended consequence of this massive federal program. It provides adequate part-time daycare.  Now I would argue that quality safe daycare that allows mothers to work or focus on their families is in itself a worthy goal.  But is it too much to ask that a federal program designed to deliver early childhood education, deliver it?

And worse talk about not “getting it”.  While Kristof may have sent his kids to local Head Start or equivalent programs in his overseas assignments, most politicians in Washington, D.C. appear to send their kids to elite privately funded childhood education programs. Programs that actually deliver early and lifelong advantages in reading and math.

Talk about separate but equal.

Every citizen regardless of race who cares about equality shares a disappointment about the lack of success versus investment in fifty years of racial justice and reconciliation.   I would argue a majority of “whites” are keenly aware of that failure, the differences in the communities, and share a desire for new effective ideas for racial justice. Many are frustrated with talk that wants to shame them as a racial group as a way of expanding failing federal programs.  Can you imagine the reaction to an article titled “when blacks just don’t get it.”  Yet it is somehow helpful and persuasive for Kristof to title his article “when whites just don’t get it.”

A huge part of the “white” reaction to Mr. Kristof’s columns is also really an argument for empowerment.  Register to vote, elect your prefered local candidate, and hold them accountable.  Do not wait on Mr. Kristof and the federal bureaucracy. Take control of your destiny. Because as Mr. Kristof so aptly demonstrates a certain section of the intelligentsia preaching equality and delivering poverty remains alive and well.

Our Resignation From Save the Children

21 Nov
by John, posted in Israel/Palestine, Middle East, UK   |  No Comments

November 21, 2014

Ms. Janet Brady
Associate Director, Donor Services
Save the Children
501 Kings Highway East Suite 400
Fairfield, CT  06825

Re:  Val Howard, Donor ID:  XXXXXX

Dear Ms. Brady,

Val and I are in receipt of your note of November 10th.  We have given a lot of thought to Save the Children since the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip began sending rockets into Israel.  Both of us at times fail to understand Israeli policies, particularly in Jerusalem and the West Bank. We often find the issues throughout the Middle East difficult to reconcile with modern morality.

But we were appalled by Save the Children’s statements:

We demand a lasting ceasefire for children in #Gaza and #Israel. We don’t choose sides. We #ChooseChildren.

We have carefully reviewed your website and watched your video.  We can not give money to an organization that would make a relative comparison between Israel and Hamas.

The facts in Gaza are clear.  Hamas breached a ceasefire and began firing thousands of rockets into Israel.  It rebuffed multiple warnings that Israel intended to act in self-defense as recognized in the United Nations charter. Israel as a recognized member of the United Nations exercised its right to self-defense.  I am not sure we in the United States or Great Britain are in a position to pass judgement on whether that action was somehow disproportionate.  The bombing seems entirely consistent with the level of collateral casualties our countries inflicted in an effort to protect our citizens in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

But at any moment Hamas could have halted that collateral damage.  They could have halted the killing and wounding of Gaza’s children.  But they chose to reject multiple ceasefires and to continue firing rockets and sending suicide teams into Israel. They did this because they believe as stated in their charter in killing every last Jew, including children, in Israel.

Those are the facts.

What you should have done is unambiguously call upon Hamas to stop the root cause of the violence – the rocket attacks.  But I am sure because you want to serve the children of Gaza, you chose to knuckle under and engage in this despicable moral relativism.

There is good and evil in the world.  You chose to say there is not. We cannot support an organization whose moral judgement differs so much from our own.

Please accept this letter as final notice that we are terminating our twenty year relationship with Save the Children and remove us from your mailing lists.

Very truly yours,

John and Val Howard