Uniting Around Poverty

31 Mar
by John, posted in election, innovation, Policy, Poverty, Urban Policy   |  No Comments


My last piece, Stop Making Race a Divisive Issue, generated a few on-line comments, but depressingly most comments were off-line.  I did want to follow-up those comments and explain why I think these attacks on Republican and/or conservative politicians hurt the country and the Democratic party.  For me it begins with poverty.

When I was sixteen and seventeen  years old I spent two summers working part time in an Episcopal Church program known as Ole.  A group of us, all from the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas and most of us from the Highland Park High School, spent a large part of the summer looking after underprivileged elementary and middle school kids during the day.  Every morning we fed them a hot breakfast, let them run around on the Church grounds, then took them to community pools or parks, and gave them lunch.

Many days we took them to rich homes with pools.  It always struck me that they were more excited to jump into a private pool, then I in my teenage superiority would ever admit about anything.  On at least one day a week we would take them to a marquee event, such as Six Flags.

Many of the kids were African-American, but there were Hispanics and some whites.  The only commonality was they were often poor beyond any experience I had seen outside poorest Mexico.  And regardless of race they were really good kids almost always grateful for food, a bit of kindness, and a day of safe play.

Those two summers changed everything for me in thinking about the poor.  They were children.  The bore no responsibility for anything.   And their parents at pick-up time were so grateful.

When I first became the general counsel of a US public company, I had a colleague that I had trouble working with for reasons of approach.  It was nothing more than oil and water.  But it did cause a barrier.

I never got a chance to tell her how much I admired her efforts at minority hiring. What she taught me was the much the same as I learned in OLE.  If you wanted to attract minority candidates you had to do more than talk about it, you had to physically go to where minority candidates studied and worked.  You had to go to historically African-American colleges, to community colleges, churches, and community centers.  It was the only company I worked in where minorities and women were truly represented throughout the headquarters.

Today I am a Board Member of the Student Conservation Association.  We place high school and college kids as labor crews or interns into the National Parks, other parks, and conservation agencies.  Our commitment to diversity starts with our founder’s and board’s commitment to it.  But in the end it is the staff of SCA going into urban centers that physically results in poor kids, often minority, entering our programs.  It is that physical contact that makes the difference, not federal law or chats at the board level.

These are the types of experiences that in my view awaken in every successful American’s heart a commitment to diversity.  They call upon the best of our secular and religious traditions to give unto others, especially others less fortunate than us.

But imagine now that you are a conservative admirer of Representative Paul Ryan who some members of the civil rights community labeled a racist for comments on urban poverty as I described in my last post.  Are you more likely or less likely to visit an urban center racked with poverty?  Are you more or less likely to invest your time and money in fighting poverty in urban centers?

You need successful and middle-class citizens with time and money regardless of politics to tackle poverty.  You need their support to volunteer in the community, to produce innovative solutions for education and jobs in urban centers, or even to pay higher taxes.  Whatever the policy differences, calling conservatives racist for their policy views is a pathway to division not unity.

And given midterm Congressional elections are predominantly affluent and middle-class voters with minorities under represented, it is a pathway to more polarization not unity.




Stop Making Race A Divisive Issue

22 Mar
by John, posted in Nazi, Policy, Poverty   |  1 Comments

I went into a meeting so angry over Charles Blow’s recent column in the New York Times that one of my colleagues actually recoiled when she saw me.  I had to apologize and explain that I had just read an article on race that upset me.  She recoiled for the second time.

That is the problem with discussions on race.  People are afraid to talk about it.  That has to stop.

This blog is dedicated to being fearless in the search of moderate solutions.  It has not shied away from discussing the canard that one cannot make Nazi comparisons – instead it has argued it is the duty of all of us whose families the Nazis butchered to speak out when Nazi tactics and theories raise their ugly head.

This blog will not shy away from race either.  And if being called a racist is the cost, so be it.  I grew up in the South in the 1960s and I saw racism often in its most pernicious post-Jim Crow expressions.  Paul Ryan may have never held a real job outside government and is wholly unqualified for executive office, but he is not a racist.

Here is what Blow quotes Ryan as saying and one of the attacks on Ryan:

“In a radio interview with Bill Bennett, Ryan said, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Reactions to the comment were swift and brutal.

Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said in a statement, “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’ ”

Here is my question:  If “inner city” and “culture” are racial epithets directed at African Americans, what words are acceptable for discussing poverty in cities?  What term can Mr. Ryan use to have a discussion on these topics?  And the answer is none.

Mr. Ryan is simply precluded from talking about this topic unless he wants to raise taxes to fund programs that those that are allowed to discuss the topic view as the solution to poverty in cities.  It is the inescapable conclusion of the last few days.

Much of Blow’s critique and even more virulent attacks uses a razzle dazzle move to side step the issue.  First, he displays graphs that supposedly show that rural, suburban, and urban areas all have the same basic poverty problem.  Except for the graphs show just the opposite – rural poverty is dropping and lower.  Poverty is a complex topic with many layers, but you do occasionally have to look at the data you yourself publish in your piece.

Then Blow goes on to say what Ryan said was “horrific” and implies he was calling black men lazy.  I cannot find any evidence that Ryan called anyone lazy.  No evidence, because what he is saying is that the anti-poverty programs or lack of effective ones in urban America are contributing to high urban poverty.  Ryan believes the traditional Republican position that these programs breed dependency and have failed on the merits.

If you disagree, make your case.

But to avoid a merit based respectful discussion, Blow hits hard on Ryan for reading and admiring Charles Murray.  Murray is the conservative social scientist at Harvard famous for the Bell Curve in the 1990s.  A book I read and found incredibly boring without any meaningful action plan for reducing poverty.

But it is not racist to discuss data on IQ, genetics, and environmental factors.  It is just not useful in helping individuals rise from poverty.  Why?  Because to actually help someone, you have to delve into their individual situation not lump them into a population segment and begin making grand assumptions.

So for example, implying everyone who says “inner city” or “culture” is a racist in a racist party.

The Coming Military Option in Ukraine

13 Mar
by John, posted in leadership, Liberty, Life, Policy, Russia, UK   |  No Comments


Photo by Alexander Noskin of the Soviet/Afghanistan War Memorial in Kiev.

Friends rather publicly asked me at a recent dinner function what I thought of the Ukraine crisis.  The table had produced the typical CNN or Foreign Affairs analysis of the situation, which frankly is not very comprehensible.  Much of that understanding fails to really plumb the history of this part of the world.

I, violating the principles of my spouse’s multi-decade training program, drew immediate gasps by suggesting the US and NATO were about to have an enormous military opportunity for intervention.  That is the last thing anyone wants to hear at an American dinner party in 2014.  The subject was quickly changed.

The first Tsars of Russia came from Kiev.  Crimea is Russian at great cost in several wars.  The Ukraine suffered horrendous genocide from the Nazis in World War II, but still welcomed them in 1941 as liberators from the Soviets.  As a Soviet Republic it suffered all the dysfunction and immorality of the USSR’s exploited non-Russian states.

It is in short a mess that there is no evidence the foreign policy elite and CNN anchors understand  in any strategic sense.  They can report who is rioting and who is fighting back, then perhaps tie that to some other actors.  But they have no analysis ability beyond their immediate found expertise.  You see that in their strident and factually baseless statements that there is no military solution.

But the US, Britain, Canada, France, Poland, and perhaps the other non-paper tigers (Norway and Denmark primarily) in NATO may have an opportunity in the coming months.  The time for the disarmed useless members of NATO to lecture Mr. Putin is rapidly passing.  These members have no effective military and no will to use it, so as usual the burden is going to fall mostly on the same countries that went ashore at Normandy in 1944.

If the Ukrainians do not fight, then eventually much if not all of their country will become Russian.  Mr. Putin will have won and will turn his attention to identifying his next victim. But if they do fight as they have a long partisan history of doing, then Mr. Putin will find himself and his armies in Vietnam unable to halt the flow of arms producing Russian body bags.

NATO will be able to supply such a guerrilla war with small arms, hand held anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, IEDs and related experience from Iraq and Afghanistan.  There is very little risk of those weapons falling into the hands of Muslim extremists.

When the Ukrainians chose not to fight in Crimea, perhaps listening to NATO and others calling for calm, they may have missed a golden opportunity.  The sight of Russian troops machine gunning Ukrainian troops would have changed the dynamic.  Dictatorships are notoriously brittle when confronted early.  Their resilience comes later after democracies in search of peace dig a hole almost too big to overcome.  That is one of the crucial lessons of the 1930s.

But if the Ukranians fight the next round of Russian aggression, the opportunity to save the rest of their country will live on albeit at a great cost.  I suspect we have heard so little about this option, because the Pentagon will want the flow of weapons through Poland to remain secret as long as possible.  We can also hope diplomacy will work.

The Russians are invading across an internationally recognized border they agreed to in the early 1990s.  This would not be a civil war where we have a terrible track record of ineffective intervention. Rather supplying others to fight against a foreign invader as the United States did for Britain in 1940 and 1941 and in Afghanistan in 1979 is an effective policy on the merits.

A no boots on the ground, no air, no naval strategy that saps the strength of the Putin regime over time.  Mr. Putin is not one step away from Munich, but rather one step from Afghanistan in 1979.  Assisting the fall of the Soviet Union was a lot harder than assisting the fall of Vladimir Putin trapped in a sinking pit of body bags.

Gentrification and the LID

28 Feb
by John, posted in Colorado Politics, Government Spending, leadership, Policy, Poverty, Rural   |  2 Comments



Tomorrow I will pay my property bill, including the LID tax of $9,420 that we will pay over the next 15 years for the repavement of the roads here in Fairview Estates.  Our three roads are:  Ord, Theresa Dr., and Fairview.  Three roads that by visual inspection anyone can see do not “need” repaving.

I would invite any interested Boulder County resident to visit Fairview Estates.  There are two entrances to this collection of homes without a homeowners association in the eastern part of the county between Boulder and Louisville.  You can enter onto Ord off Baseline just east of 76th or onto Fairview directly off 76th between South Boulder Road and Baseline.  You can drive, or ride your bike, or take the bus which stops right by Ord on Baseline.

Fairview Estates at the eastern end of Fairview has an entrance to a unique piece of county open space, which makes for a nice walk with a great view of the county back toward Boulder.  What you will see is three roads with very little traffic that are thoroughfare to nowhere.  Nobody but residents and visitors use these roads.  The neighborhood just west of 76th still has gravel roads.

It is part of why people live in the county.  Fairview Estates is a throwback to a simpler time in Boulder where you could own an acre.  Some of those commenting on the LID assessment have made derogatory comments about free riders and rich county residents.  When you walk or bike Fairview Estates you will see mixed housing.  Yes, the redevelopment the City of Boulder has adopted and has transformed it into a modern mix of high end brands for elites or the middle-class willing to live in overpriced often tiny housing has impacted the neighborhood.  But it also retains a high percentage of folks who bought their houses decades ago, have not remodelled, and live on a fixed income.

Nine thousand dollars goes a long way for a retired couple, or a middle-class family putting a child through college, or a young family buying their first home in a county with a big down payment requirement.  It goes a long way for any taxpayer.  And that really is the issue  - people in Fairview Estates need the money but they do not need a new fancy St. Julien access road.

The taxpayers in the county have voted over and over again to support open space and school taxes.  They are not freeloaders.  They voted last fall  not to reject taxes, but to reject the idea that the roads need repavement at these costs.

The legal aspects of all this will play out in court.  This piece is not about the court case or intended to divide city and county residents from each other in a divisive play so cynically typical in the politics of our day and age.  Rather it asks you to come out on a nice spring or summer day and see for yourself.

The politicians that have lost an election on this issue, by all accounts lost the communications and marketing battle, also told you  these roads need repaving.  The sad story is that they have never taken the time to visit our little neighborhood and see the truth.  Nobody would pay nine thousand dollars to repave these three roads, because all they need is a few hundred dollars of annual pothole and crack repair to handle a trivial amount of traffic.

I love downtown Boulder, but let the county keep an echo of our history.  In a time of scarce resources the Commissioners should focus on the homeless, the hungry, the flood victims, and the less fortunate. Leave the centrally planned gentrification projects on the shelf for the day after they pass in an election.


Early Childhood Education Going Down the Rathole

30 Jan
by John, posted in Government Spending, Policy, Poverty   |  8 Comments

One of the main reasons to be a Democrat is the idea that the poor need help that the government can provide effectively.  That last word is important if you are a moderate Democrat who wants to govern not fight.  And it is especially important in discussing pre-K education.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago on Head Start and the fact that Head Start is a failure as pre-K education.  It is as inarguable as President Obama’s State of the Union Address pronouncement that the debate on the existence of climate change was over. This was established clearly and unarguably in the blue chip  bipartisan Federal government study conducted over three presidencies released in 2012. (see my earlier piece for web links to the source material).

That is why it is so distressing to wake up day after day with truly passionate pre-K advocates on the left arguing against the data.  They argue that the study actually demonstrates Head Start may have no lasting educational benefit, but we should still continue it.  They base this argument on much less rigorous studies that are nevertheless valuable in proving one point.

That Head Start is effective day care for poor children.

Anyone who has dropped a child off at day care knows that high quality adult interaction in a safe environment with healthy food is good for the child and the family.  In other words let us have the argument over whether we ought to have a national day care program for the poor.  As I point out in my earlier piece, it is not a stretch of imagination to believe quality day care helps adults deal with all the other grinding challenges of poverty and gives the child structure and nutrition that could be helpful  later life lessons.

But that is not early child education.  Early child education focuses on providing children the basis for math, reading, and other elementary school curriculum.  When it is effective it does not generate vague results decades later, but higher achievement immediately in elementary school that continues into middle school and beyond.

That is why to wake up today to Nicholas Kristof bemoaning conservatives misreading of the HHS study that demonstrated clearly that Head Start was a failure is so upsetting.  If you slog through the whole study and the following studies Kristof references, they all can be read clearly to agree.  Head Start is a failure as early childhood education preparing kids for elementary school.  Head Start probably has some success as quality daycare preparing poor kids for the rigors of life.

But why is this upsetting?  Because Kristof is a passionate, brave, and successful champion of women’s and children’s issues.  Going into brothels in Southeast Asia to save young girls deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom.  But if he and other liberal intellectuals that are currently running the Democratic Party go off on “conservatives are now expanding their war on women to children”, we will have a campaign fight and no help to kids.

We cannot allow the pre-K education debate to descend into the usual right versus left of cost vs. heartlessness.  Effective day care and effective pre-K education have the potential to produce more self-sufficient contributing members of society.  The cost savings over time in reduced drug dependency, incarceration, and the drag on the social safety net are clear.

But we are not going to push this initiative forward by misrepresenting the facts and once again alienating the House of Representatives with cries of heartlessness.  We have had five years of the President and his allies on the left bludgeoning the Republicans.  It is not working, except in winning Presidential elections.

If Democrats cannot return their party to the center, cannot offer one single concession to Republicans, cannot face the data it is poor children that will suffer.  It is time for the President to stop giving speeches and start negotiating on the facts.  It is only fair on pre-K, since he is demanding the same of the Republicans on climate change.